Using higher ISO value on dslr can be good sometimes.

When I started photography 2 years ago with a cropped sensor dslr, ISO was one of the terms that would make me feel nervous about my own shots. Going through various blogs, there was a general perception about higher ISO values being always bad. I made a real solid picture in my mind that anything above 100 ISO would make pictures look really ugly and noisy even when the format was RAW. 
Switching slowly from landscapes to event and indoor photography after one year, the struggle to get properly exposed shots started to become fairly evident. Cultural events, music concerts and indoor sports taught me how important is the value of ISO. The need for faster shutter speed in a low light environment is one of the most common scenarios every photographer has to face at some point in his photography journey. 

Increase shutter speed -> Less light
Wider aperture-> More light. 
Environment lighting -> Already very less. 

As seen above, an already poorly lit environment makes it harder to do dslr photography even when a lens with wide aperture is available. ISO or external flash can be the only life saver here. I recently shot my first indoor dance event with a prime lens and a telephoto zoom lens. Interestingly even my 50 mm 1.8 mm struggled to get properly exposed shots because I was still in my old mindset of not bumping up the dslr ISO. The event was in progress and I was losing shots, there is no worse feeling than this. Had to swallow my low ISO pride and changed the value to 800. Voila! The shots looked much much better from an exposure point of view. I came home and copied the photos to laptop for post processing followed by 2-3 hours of post processing. Here is what I observed:
A poorly exposed low ISO shot when post processed is inferior in quality as compared to a properly exposed high ISO shot. 

Pro tip: Use of external wireless flash units can help with properly exposed shots without bumping up the ISO, but most of the events don't allow this. 

Astro and star trail photography is another huge branch of photography that involves usage of higher values. What would you think is a flexible range of usable ISO value for a cropped sensor dslr? 

How to focus while doing night photography?

In the previous blog post we discussed taking pictures of moon with dslr. The reason for this post can be contributed to the fact that focusing on moon is still easier as compared to stars. Also, what to do when you are in middle of nowhere trying to take pictures of star trails, night sky, milky way, etc. It is hard to see your camera controls on a night without moon and away from city lights.
Here are a few things I have personally tried when trying to do night photography. Pretty sure at least one of them would work for you.

1) Switch to live view and zoom in all the way using your camera functionality (not lens). Point it to the brightest star or moon, focus by rotating the focus ring manually. Lock the ring with gaffer tape or electrical tape.

TEST: Take a shot at higher shutter speed. If in focus, stars will appear as small shiny dots and clearly visible. If the focus is missing, they won't show up or would be blurry.

2) Use magic lantern. This software adds multiple inbuild functionalities to your camera. Here is link to magic lantern website where you can download the zip file for your dslr camera make and model.

3) Prefocus (auto) at a very distant object during daytime (mountain peak or a building) and then turn into manual focus.You have to be really careful about not disturbing the focus ring which might lead to blurred images.

Pro tip: To see your camera controls in dark, buy a red colored light source. It keeps the light disturbance to a minimum level and your eyes will adjust easily.

Be a dslr ninja.

How to do macro photography using reverse lens technique?

If pictures of extremely small objects sometimes draw your attention, then this post is for you. Taking pictures of small insects, objects, etc comes under the branch of macro photography. There are multiple techniques in order to do close up or macro photography as mentioned in the list below. In the next section we will get started with the third technique i.e. reverse lens macro photography.

1) Extension tubes: Electric and Non electric.
2) Macro lens
3) Reverse lens technique.

Close up or macro photography can be done using a cheap kit lens. The quality of pics produce by using the reverse lens macro technique is simply astonishing.  All you need is a reverse lens macro ring matching your lens filter size. Filter size of my canon 18-55 kit lens is 58 mm, ring is shown in image below.

ring adaptor for reverse macro photography
Reverse macro ring for canon 58mm
 Once you have the ring, following are the steps:
1) The ring comes with threads. Screw the ring to front element of your kit lens. Set the lens focal length to 55 mm. Lower the focal length, the closer you have to be the subject and thus greater magnification.

reverse macro photography ring attached to kit lens
Canon kit lens with reverse macro ring attached

2) Disconnect the lens from your dslr body and attach it backwards. The ring has threads which help in the attaching the lens in reverse direction.

Reverse ring adapter used to attach kit lens.
Kit lens in reverse macro style on 40D

3) Turn on the dslr camera. F stop value would be 00 as there is no electrical connection between the lens and the dslr body. Don't worry about controlling the depth of field as of now. Manual focus lenses (ring to adjust f stop value) really help to achieve superior depth of field, will make a separate post explaining this.

4) Look through the viewfinder and go close to a really small object such as a coin, almond, pen cap, etc. Everything would look blurry and out of focus. For accurate focus, concentrate on one object and move back n forth. You will see a particular distance at which the object would get in focus. This is your optimal distance, stick to it.

5) Take a few shots and adjust shutter speed accordingly for exposure. As there is a lot of shake, I would definitely recommend either a higher shutter speed or using a tripod. To compensate for a proper exposure, in built or hot-shoe mounted flash can also help. This topic would be covered in detail in next post.

Here are some sample shots taken by me using this technique.

Reverse lens macro photography example

Reverse lens macro photography example
Cumin Seed

Reverse lens macro photography example
Water drops

Reverse lens macro photography example
Ray ban logo on sun glasses
Reverse lens macro photography is not an easy technique, it needs a lot of patience and practice. I would definitely add that the pain is totally worth it, as you can see the in example images. A 5 dollar reverse macro lens ring from ebay is all you need, so why not give it a try? Share your results in comments.

Pro Tip:
18 mm -> Example photography subjects: Cumin Seed, Fruit fly, Ant, etc.
55 mm -> Example  photography subjects: Currency coins, cashews, keyboard alphabet, etc. 

Be a DSLR Ninja. 

Metering mode on a canon dslr camera with examples.

Metering is a process in which a dslr camera measures the amount of light entering the camera depending on the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO). Once the light is measured, it informs the user to adjust either shutter speed or aperture to get a properly exposed image. Older cameras never had a lightmeter preview, so an external light meter was a necessity. The same external light meter logic applied to film cameras as well. 

In this age of dslr cameras, there are few quirks about various metering modes available in almost all of the brands. A metering mode is a way for camera to determine the correct exposure settings. Your dslr then tells you to adjust the settings, so that the meter needle sticks to zero. This can be achieved by changing the shutter speed, aperture or ISO settings. Let's see how does metering mode works with examples. 4 images below are taken from a kit lens using Canon 40D dslr with same shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings. All of them are exactly similar which is expected as no setting was changed except the metering mode dial. 
Evaluative, Partial, Spot, Center weighted average. 

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Evaluative

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Partial

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Spot

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Center weighted average

Above 4 images clearly explain that the image exposure would not change just by changing the metering mode dial, settings need to be varied. Look at the 4 images below now, exposure settings were changed for every mode in order to keep the metering needle at center. In all of the images, same spot was used to focus using center cross point. Here are the settings for individual shots:
1) F5.6, 1/25 second. 100 ISO. Evaluative
2) F5.6, 1/20 seconds. 100 ISO. Partial.
3) F5.6, 1/15 seconds. 100 ISO. Spot. 
4) F5.6, 1/20 seconds. 100 ISO. Center weighted average. 

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Evaluative

F5.6, 1/20 second, 100 ISO. Partial

F5.6, 1/15 second, 100 ISO. Spot metering

F5.6, 1/25 second, 100 ISO. Center weighted average

My personal favourite out of the above 4 would be first image, for the fact that it has somewhat properly exposed background. 
How does it work?
As soon as the in camera meter is balanced (any mode), the metered area records at 18% gray tone of a gray card. Under normal circumstances, metering would yield the expected results. Most commonly used or default option: Evaluative metering mode (matrix in Nikon). 
Evaluative/Matrix: Takes the whole scene into consideration. Works for 90% of the cases, will make another post on where it fails and the possible workarounds. 
Spot metering: Only considers the AF point exposure which is roughly 2-3 % of the total scenery. Let's say you focus on the subject's forehead while taking portraits, spot metering will ignore the background ( Example: Sun) in this case and expose for the forehead only. This mode is also good for taking pictures of moon as explained in my previous post on how to take pictures of moon using a dslr
Partial: Quite similar to spot metering except for the fact that it takes into consideration approx 6% of the total scenery. 
Center weighted average: Extra focus on the center while ignoring the corners. It does take into account 75% of the scene.  

Be a DSLR Ninja. 

How to photograph the moon using dslr?

I learn something new every time I go out with my dslr camera to do photography. An ultra wide angle lens is a part of my gear now, and I have experimented a lot with it in last couple of days. The motivation behind this post is my most recent work doing night photography including moon and stars. It required a fair amount of dabbling with camera settings and post production work too. If you have ever wondered on how to take pictures of our planet's natural satellite, this post will walk you through each and every step. Let's get started.

Equipment required:
Telephoto lens. 
Sturdy tripod. 
Any APS-C or full frame dslr camera. You don't need a fancy full frame or high fps camera. 

Camera settings: 

Manual Focus.
Spot metering.
White balance: Auto if shooting RAW.
Aperture: Somewhere between f8- f12.
Bracketing: Not necessary though, but you can take 3-4 different shots by varying shutter speed. 

1) Attach the telephoto lens to your dslr and turn the power on. 
2) Set up your dslr on a stable surface using a really sturdy tripod. 
3) Point it to the moon and zoom your lens to its maximum focal length. Look through viewfinder if you can see the moon.
4) Turn on live view and magnify 10x times. 
5) In manual focus mode, try to adjust focus on the moon by rotating the focus ring on lens. This takes a lot of patience as the camera shake is really strong since we are zoomed all the way in.
7) Once focus is set up, adjust the shutter speed for proper exposure. I am happy with single shot for now, but you can try 3-4 bracketed shots as well. 
8) Take a picture of some other interesting subject such as highway light trails, a person or a tree to act as foreground. This would add so much more interest to the photograph and make it stand out a lot. For me, I took an image of highway using wide angle lens with exposure time of 30 seconds. 

After photography work: Import both the images in ACDSee Ultimate 10, Adobe Photoshop, or any other layer editor. Combine the image from step 7 and step 8. I would love to show my post production workflow, but it will make this post too long. Stay tuned, will do another post soon. 

Here is what my final image looks like after merging two images:

79% moon during night
F11, 100 ISO 30 seconds.
F11, 100 ISO, 1/80 seconds for moon.

Be a DSLR Ninja.

How does flash exposure compensation works in a dslr camera?

When doing photography in a dark environment with dslr camera in auto mode, the pop up flash gets activated automatically. This is because the brain of camera thinks it is too dark, and requests help from pop up flash to throw in some light. Most of the entry and mid level dslr photography cameras have an on board flash system from the manufacturer itself. Example: Canon Rebel series, 20D, 30D, 40D, etc.
FEC(Flash exposure compensation) is the ability to adjust output power level of a dslr flash unit. The need for flash exposure compensation is due to the fact that the internal flash can cast really harsh shadows or can even lead to an over exposed subject. The adjustment of power level allows a better control over the lightning which leads to properly exposed subject. 
For most of the canon dslr cameras, flash exposure compensation value can only be changed in manual, program, aperture priority, and shutter priority modes.  The images below were photographed in a totally dark room with the external Yongnuo flash unit as the subject.

Image 1: FEC -2
Image 2: FEC Zero
Image 3: FEC +2

Decreased exposure compensation in flash

Flash exposure compensation 0
FEC Zero

FEC +2
The impact of changing flash exposure compensation is clearly visible in above 3 images. Image 3 has the highest value of flash exposure compensation, and that's why it is the brightest.

Use: This flash exposure compensation technique can be used to assist in filling shadows for outdoor portrait photography. Another use can be for indoor events. Increase the exposure compensation and use a bounce card or cover to reflect it from the ceiling. This would light up the whole area with a very pleasing light. Bouncing flash prevents harsh reflections and over exposed edges while doing indoor photography. 

Pro Tip: Camera retains the flash exposure compensation values even after switch off, restart. Let's say you finished a photography session with fec+2 and switched off the dslr, keep in mind that this value would be retained next time whenever a photograph is taken. 

Be a DSLR Ninja.