Posts Published in May 2009

Your Favorite Photographers and Photobloggers


One of the things we’d like to regularly feature on PetaPixel are interviews and guest posts from outside photographers and photobloggers. I have a pretty solid lineup of noteworthy photobloggers that will soon be interviewed for this site, but was wondering if any of you had suggestions for people you’d like to hear from.

If you have any people in mind, please leave a comment and suggest them!

Cambridge in Colour

cambridgeincolourCambridge in Colour is a great photography resource on the web for beginners and advanced photographers alike.

This site has a large number of visual and interactive digital photography tutorials that can help you fill in gaps in your knowledge of digital photography. Articles range from things as basic as “Understanding Depth of Field” to subjects as advanced as “Understanding Diffraction: Pixel Size, Aperture and Airy Disks“. If you’ve never visited this resource, it’s definitely worth a look.

Editing for Portraits

This entry will describe my thought process when editing a portrait, though it could apply to general photos too.

Here’s the original photo I will be working with straight out of camera (i.e. RAW but processed to JPEG without any edits using Adobe Standard for color settings).


My initial reaction is that it’s underexposed on the skin. Then I notice that it’s crooked, but that doesn’t bother me too much in this picture. I also notice that it’s a bit on the cold side. (Read: Check exposure, composition, and white balance. Not necessarily in that order).

So I make some really basic edits. Since I’m not going to crop or rotate (I usually worry about composition first), I increase the exposure until I like where the skin tones are (while making the WB a bit warmer). Sometimes I’ll use fill light or recovery depending on the situation but in this case increasing the exposure was sufficient. In the end, it’s about making the skin look as I want (and harsh change in dynamic range on the skin usually looks bad but it’s not a problem in this picture). The next thing I usually do is to play with the black clipping and contrast until I’m happy. However the contrast in this picture is already to my taste so I didn’t touch anything. Then I sharpen using preset sharpening in LR. I usually don’t change the preset sharpening unless I think it looks bad. So here’s the picture after those edits (hover over to compare):


Now take a look at the following picture. Can you figure out the two things I did to finish it off? (Hover your mouse over it to compare)


The first edit is a bit more obvious than the second. I added a lens correction vignette to the outside. I do this to most of my images and it’s more of a personal taste thing (and to bring the subject out more) than anything else. The second edit is a bit harder to catch, but it’s all in the eyes…

Did you catch it? Look at his eyes. Often for single person portraits, I will do spot editing on the whites of the eyes to make them a bit whiter because they tend to be shaded in soft lighting due to eyebrows/eyelashes/eyelids.

That is all! Of course, this isn’t comprehensive in any way but is just an example of how I typically think and how I thought about this picture.

This article was originally published here.

Dandelion in the Wind

Here’s a photograph I took today while hiking with friends on the Bailey Cove Trailhead in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest:


Since I wanted to capture the small flowers flying off of the dandelion as my friend blew it, I needed to separate them from the busy background by using the smallest depth of field possible (in this case, it was f/2.8). This blurred the dry grass in the background enough to make the flying dandelion flowers stand out more.

While this photograph captured what I intended to, it still needs a good amount of post-processing work. First, notice that white balance is off, my friend’s face is blown out, and that certain areas of the photograph are too dark. We can correct these things (and add a little vibrance) with the following settings (shown in Adobe Camera RAW):


These changes result in the following image (hover your mouse over it to compare it with the original):


Now we can finish off this basic post-processing improvement by increasing sharpness a little, tweaking the hue of the yellow grass in the background, and adding some vignetting. This is what results (hover to compare):


Using SLRGear for Lens Research

slrgearlogoHere’s a useful resource I found a while back that many of you might find helpful. is a website that conducts comprehensive tests on camera lenses, and publishes them in the form of diagrams and illustrations.

One of the features my friends and I have found most useful is the blur index illustration that it provides. This interactive chart helps you find the “sweet spot” for your lens, showing you where the lens is sharpest as you choose a specific focal length and aperture.


From the screenshot above of the Canon 24-70mm blur index chart, you can see that there is a sizable “sweet spot” of sharpness in the center of the frame at 35mm f/2.8. As you move towards the outer edges of the frame, there is less sharpness and more blur. Most of the time you will find that lenses have the largest sweet spot at f/4.0 to f/5.6. If you increase the f-number beyond that, you start losing sharpness again.

Recovering Lost Photographs

memorycardA few times in the past I’ve had to recover data from memory cards. Once it was a friend who accidentally reformatted the card and deleted hundreds of photographs from a recent vacation. Another time I accidentally deleted precious images from the memory card before I had backed them up. What I’ve learned though, is that in most cases, you can easily recover the data you fear was lost, even if you do something drastic such as reformat your card.

When you “delete” a photo from your memory card, it simply goes to that section of storage and marks it as “available” to be used again. The data of the original image is still there on your memory card, though the camera will not display it as an image. Thus, the most important thing you need to remember to do if you accidentally delete data is to stop using the memory card. This is because the only way for the data to truly become unrecoverable is if you delete it, then overwrite it with new data (or even blank data). Thus, to ensure that you can recover your deleted photo, you need to be sure to stop using your card immediately to ensure that nothing is written to that storage location on the card.

To do the actual recovery, you could take the card to a photography place and have a professional recover the data for you, but I’ve always relied on free software that can do the same thing. Here are some popular and free programs to try:

Most of the good, safe, and free programs available for recovering photos are available only for Windows users. PhotoRescue is a popular program for Mac users, but costs $29.

Finally, the fact that data is so easily recoverable means that you need to be careful when selling things like computers and memory cards. Simply “deleting” data will not prevent what was on the card to fall into the wrong hands. If you’re selling a memory card that contained data you don’t want others to possibly recover, then be sure to overwrite the card completely, or look online for a program that helps you safely delete data.

Using a Shallow Depth of Field for Portraits

People often use a shallow depth of field in portraiture to separate a subject from the distracting background, allowing the face (more specifically, the eyes) to be in sharp focus while the background is blurred. Instead of doing this, sometimes I enjoy focusing on something closer towards me, putting the subject’s face out of focus instead and drawing the viewers attention to something else. Here are some examples:


Even if what you choose to focus on does not have any meaning or significance, it can still make the photograph much more interesting than if everything were in focus.


Here I blurred the face enough to bring attention to what I want the viewer to focus on, but not so much that the viewer cannot tell who the subject is or what the facial expressions are.


Combine the shallow depth of field with interesting angles and creative framing to spice up the portrait even more.


Using a shallow depth of field can help you communicate something about a person in a unique way. My friend Joseph often fell asleep on the floor of my room during long undergraduate nights. Here I chose to focus on his hand while telling the story in the blurred background.


Here I tried to make the photograph more interesting by combining a shallow depth of field, a unique angle, and a wide-angle lens.

How to Take This Type of Photograph

The main technique for taking this kind of photograph is to focus on something and then recompose the photograph before taking the picture. The two main factors that will affect how blurred the background are relative distance and the aperture.

For relative distance, the closer you move in toward what you’re focused on, the more blurred the things in the background (i.e. the face) will be. Thus, you might need to get in very close to the point you’re focusing on in order to throw the subject’s face out of focus, and doing this might require a wide angle lens.

Also, the larger your aperture is (lower f-number) the more blurred the background will become, so to achieve maximum blur you should use the lowest f-number your lens allows.

If you have any other suggestions, tips, or examples regarding this technique, leave a comment and share!

A Guide to Buying Used DSLR Gear

craigslistThis article is the second part of the previous article titled “Pro Camera Gear on a Student Budget“, and contains some advice for what you should do once you find a good deal and have arranged a meeting with the seller. I personally consider purchasing used gear on craigslist to be a much better route than other services (i.e. eBay), since you can check out the gear personally and walk away from the deal if anything doesn’t seem right. Here are the tips:

Know What to Look Out For

Just as you need to know a good price on a piece of gear from a bad one, you need to be able to distinguish something that looks and works like it should from something that doesn’t. I’ll be covering some specific things on what you should look for, but bring along a photographer friend if you haven’t used the kind of gear you’re buying before.

Check the Camera’s Sensor

sensorThe sensor on a DSLR is what captures the image you photograph. You don’t want to buy a camera and then later find out that the sensor is scratched or damaged in some way, since this might affect the quality of all of your photographs. Different cameras let you examine the sensor in different ways, so be sure to know how to check the sensor on the camera you’re looking at before going to the meeting. Just taking off the lens won’t expose the camera’s sensor, since it’s naturally hidden behind both the mirror and the shutter curtain. You’ll have to use the feature of the camera that locks up the mirror and opens the shutter curtain in order to see the sensor.

Ask How Many Actuations the Camera Has

Cameras are like cars, and mileage matters. Each camera has a “life expectancy” for how many actuations, or shots, the shutter system is expected to be able to handle before it fails and needs to be replaced (which is expensive). A camera is generally in pretty new condition if it has less than 10,000 actuations, and very used if it has more than 50,000 or 100,000 actuations (since many cameras are only rated for this many). Research your specific model to see how many actuations the manufacturer rated the camera for. Since for most cameras there isn’t an easy way to verify the actuation count with certainty, the figure is meant to give you an idea of how used the camera is, and how much life you might still get out of it.

How to Tell if A Camera is More Used than the Owner Claims

From personal experience, the best indicator for how much use a camera has seen is the strap attached to the camera. If the owner claims that the camera has barely been used, but the strap is worn and faded, then a warning bell in your head should go off. Gentle and minimal use won’t wear down a strap much.


Other areas you can check for wear are the external flash hot shoe and the LCD screen. On certain camera models, the hot shoe has a black paint coating that slowly rubs off every time an external flash is attached or removed. If the hot shoe is used and worn, then the camera probably is too. Newer LCD screens also will appear smooth, and lack the hairline scratches that appear over time. A flawless LCD screen does not prove the camera is in new condition, but one with many small scratches indicates the opposite.

Check the Front and Back Elements of the Lens

If you’re buying a lens, take off both lens caps and hold the camera up to the light. Make sure theres no scratches or other imperfections in the glass on either side of the lens.


Ask the Seller to Pose for Portraits

The benefits of this are two-fold. First, this allows you to test the sharpness of the lens. Focus on the seller’s eyes with the lens wide open, and check whether the eyes are sharp. This also gives you an opportunity to have a photograph of what the seller looks like, as an extra precaution. Honest sellers might even be more than willing to let you copy down their contact information from their drivers license, as I’ve experienced a few times.

Test for Front and Back Focusing

Make sure the seller isn’t selling the lens because it focuses incorrectly. You can do this by focus testing the lens at the meeting. If you don’t want to bring something specifically to use for testing the focus, learn to do focus testing quickly on any sheet of paper with text on it.


Tips for Meeting the Seller

Try to meet during the day, since it’s both safer, and easier to examine and test camera equipment. Sufficient light will help you to more easily test the quality and sharpness of photographs. Of course, there’s always the general craigslist tips for being a “safe buyer”. Meet sellers in person at a public location, and with another person if possible. I’ve found that meeting in a coffee shop at noon generally works very well. I’ve even managed to make the process very quick and painless, since many times sellers will agree to meet me at the coffee shop just down the block from where I live.

In Conclusion

The things I shared in this article were certain things I picked up through the past few years of doing gear transactions through craigslist. It’s definitely not a comprehensive list of what to be wary of, and you should examine all the normal functions of the equipment to ensure that they’re working flawlessly. If there are other important things that I failed to include, please leave a comment and share!

Pro Camera Gear on a Student Budget

craigslistMy first DSLR camera was a Canon 20D that my parents purchased for me as a graduation present back in August of 2005. We went to the store expecting to purchase the camera for $1,599, but found that it was selling for only $1,299. Boy was I excited. Looking back, I consider purchasing that 20D the worst photo-related decision I’ve ever made.

When other photographers see some of the lenses I own (i.e. 24-70mm, 16-35mm), they often wonder how I can afford such expensive gear. After all, I was only an unemployed college student from a middle-class family. What most people don’t know is that I almost exclusively purchase my equipment used from sellers on craigslist. This article is about everything I’ve learned through years of buying and selling camera equipment on that site. If you have the money to purchase the gear you want new, then this article obviously isn’t for you. However, if you want nicer gear without paying absurd amounts of money (maybe photography is just a serious hobby for you), then these tips might be useful to you.

First of all, something I’ve found very useful over the past years is keeping a detailed log of equipment transactions, since it helps me to keep track of how much I’ve spent on this serious hobby of mine. I do this in a Microsoft Excel file, but any spreadsheet software or website (i.e. Google spreadsheets) will do.

Here’s the current state of my equipment log:


The columns I add entries to are “equipment”, “purchase price”, and “sell price”. The values in “expense”, “revenue”, and “net” (cheesy names, I know) are automatically calculated (i.e. expense is “=SUM(B:B)/2″). As I add purchases and sales to the log, I see how much money I’ve given, how much I’ve received, and what my net spending (or earning) is at the current state.

In the log above, you can see that I’ve spent a net of $3,584 on all the camera equipment I currently have. If I were to sell everything I currently have at very reasonable prices right now, my chart tells me that I would have only spent a total of $300-$500 on all the photography I’ve done since I purchased that 20D back in 2005. That’s roughly the cost of the point and shoot camera I used throughout high school before it finally broke during a trip to china! In fact, the reason I’m still at a net loss right now is because of the few bad choices I’ve made along the way (20D, 24-70mm, 70-300mm). If I had followed what I’m going to write in this article from the very beginning, I would have actually ended up making money while using professional gear at the same time.

So what have I learned?

Know the Street Value of Camera Gear

This doesn’t mean knowing how much a camera body or lens retails for. This means knowing the average price a certain piece of equipment is being successfully sold for on craigslist. After all, if you don’t know how much something is worth, how will you know when you see it being sold for a good deal? If you see multiple listings of a certain piece of equipment that are roughly in the same price range, then that’s probably pretty close to the street value.

Buy Low, Sell High

Now that you know the street value of what you want, avoid it. If you buy it at street value now, you’ll have to sell it at lower than what you paid for if you ever sell it later down the road. If you look at my equipment log, you’ll see that most of the time I sell something, it’s either for the price I originally paid or higher. I’ve often used a lens or body for quite a long time and many actuations before selling it for a good amount more than I paid.

Look For Packages

packagesIt’s pretty much always the case that someone selling multiple items together as a package must sell it for significantly less than the sum of each item separately. They are, in a sense, exchanging the extra money they could earn for the time they save by selling it all at once. This presents a great opportunity for the photographer looking for a good deal on a particular item in the package. If a package you come across includes a piece of equipment you want along with many pieces you don’t want, and is extremely cheaply priced, buy it all and sell off everything you don’t want. If the price was good enough, there’s a good chance you’ll end up paying nothing for the gear you wanted after selling off the rest.

Always Sell Items Individually

This is pretty much the previous point reversed. Buying items in packages and selling them individually can get you free gear and maybe even allow you to pocket some cash with your free gear. Buying items individually and selling them in a package will probably lose you money.

Camera Bodies Depreciate Like Cars and Computers

This is what I wish someone would have told me before I started out, since I sold the original 20D I purchased for $1,200 a couple years later for $380. The moment you take the first photo on a camera you purchased new, the value of the camera instantly plummets. Furthermore, camera technology advances very, very quickly, and the next model of your new camera will be released within the next couple years. When this happens, your camera instantly depreciates even more.

The moral of the story is, buy camera bodies used and from a couple generations back (since depreciation will be much slower). Also, “upgrade” often (you’ll want to anyway, right?). This allows you to constantly move up in camera technology without paying extra money.

Professional Lenses Don’t Depreciate Like Camera Bodies

Lenses made for the Canon EF and Nikon F lens mounts are interchangeable and can be used on cameras from as far back as 1987 and 1959 (respectively) and as recent as the latest models. Lens quality and features do not improve nearly as fast as the camera bodies they’re used on, so it’s possible hold onto a professional lens for many years without losing much of its street value. The caveat is that if you accidentally break the lens this tip goes out the window, so take very good care of your gear. Always use a filter.

I’ve found that top of the line lenses (like Canon’s L series) depreciate least quickly, and probably won’t break or fail on you due to their spectacular build quality. As a result, I don’t own any EF-S or third party lenses, though I’m sure you could go for those and do just fine as long as you go for high quality ones that get good reviews.

Jump At Ridiculously Good Lens Deals

jumpEven if you don’t plan on adding the lens to your collection, you will be able to try out a wide range of lenses while pocketing money after you’re done with it. People sometimes pay to rent lenses they’re interested in, which seems funny to me (unless you’re pro, rich, employed, or all of the above). Why rent when you can buy, sell, and profit?

People also talk of variations in sharpness and quality from lens to lens. This is definitely true, but is all the more reason to buy lenses used on craigslist. Some people buy and return a lens repeatedly in order to find a “good copy”, but buying and selling the lens on craigslist will help you do the same thing while potentially putting money in your pocket.

Never Sell Interchangeable Accessories Along With Your Gear

A couple years ago when I sold a copy of the 70-300mm, I threw in a B&W filter along with it, thinking I didn’t need it anymore. B&W is a pretty high-end brand when it comes to filters. When I needed the filter again in the future on a different lens, I didn’t have it. Don’t include things like filters, extra batteries, or extra memory cards when you sell off gear, since you can keep those things for future use (and they don’t really add value to what you’re selling anyway).

There’s More To Come…

If following the guidelines I laid out in this article was as easy and straightforward as I made them seem, then I’m sure a lot more budget conscious photographers would be following these tips to save money on their gear. The truth is, there are definitely a lot of risks, dangers and things to avoid that I’ve come across and learned from as well. My next post will deal with how to know when to buy and when to run away from the deal. That’s the second part of this two part series, so stay tuned!

Update: My new article on how to make safe and smart decisions for used gear on craigslist can be found here: A Guide to Buying Used DSLR Gear.

Sharpening Your Photos like Flickr

flickrWhen browsing around on Flickr, I used to be amazed by how sharp many of the photographs I came across were, and thought that the reason my web-res images weren’t as sharp was because I had poor technique or an inferior lens. However, even after I upgraded my camera equipment I still wasn’t achieving the same type of sharpness I saw on Flickr.

I eventually learned that the reason is this: Flickr applies sharpening to the smaller sized versions of your uploaded images, whether you want it or not. This is something that most people don’t realize and never think about, but it drastically improves the apparent quality of most photos. Thus, having a sharp lens and good focusing technique is only half the solution to sharp web-res photos. The other half is knowing how to sharpen your low-res images well. In this article I will describe a method of imitating Flickr’s sharpening.

As an example, here is a photograph that I resized to a 500px standard size using Adobe Photoshop:


The original image was sharp, but much of the sharpness was lost in the resizing process. When the original image is uploaded to Flickr, this is the 500px wide version that results (hover over it to compare it with the original):


As you can see, Flickr’s sharpening helps to make many of the areas of the soft areas of the resized photo sharp and seemingly detailed again.

To achieve the same sharpening with Photoshop, one possible way is to run an unsharp mask filter on it (Filter->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask) after resizing the image to your desired low resolution. I found that the following settings give a 500px resized image exactly the same sharpness as Flickr:

Amount: 400%
Radius: .2 pixels
Threshold: 0 levels


Doing this will help you to achieve sharp web-resolution photographs in addition to your sharp hi-res images. This technique should specifically be used for lower resolution photographs though (i.e. 500px). For sharper hi-resolution photographs, use techniques such as high pass sharpening, and improve your gear and focusing technique.