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Photo Tech & Tips


The lens of choice will usually be around 35mm in focal length (23mm for APC sized sensors or cameras with a crop factor of ~1.5),  or even less. You will be close to large objects so a wide angle is a must and having a fast f/stop will also do well here, at least for focusing purposes. I use a 24-105mm (16-70mm for a crop factor of 1.5) zoom lens but try to use 35mm when I can to reduce distortion; at other times I use a 14mm lens specifically for the distortion I can get when at an oblique angle, or when I have to be extremely close to the subject. I shoot at f/8–f/11 whenever I can, but get by with f/5.6 when I must.

I mostly use the 14mm lens when I just cannot get back far enough or when I prefer its distortion. The 14mm (10mm for a crop factor of 1.5) doesn’t distort all that much except around the edges, but when a round object or when a vertically oriented  linear object are in this area some interesting effects can come into play  — typically wheels become oval in shape while vertical lines converge. Care has to be taken whenever the sun is within the view of the lens — serious lens flares will occur. But the flares can also be an artful design element, as my photo crony Marty noted, some look like a re-entry vehicle’s trail.


ISO settings:

I try to keep it to less than 800 but there are times when I must use 1600, or even 3200 — c’est la vie.


Panoramic Images:

What do you do when the aircraft won’t fit into the viewfinder? In those situations I use panoramic stitching techniques — they work well, and are easy to do, so experiment a bit and soon you will be coming back with photos that are “unobtainable” by most photographers you may know. There are many applications that can do this for you, I happen to use routines that are in Adobe Photoshop Elements. The key is to work left to right, set one manual exposure for all images, take each image as a portrait (vertical) format and have extra space around the subject for later cropping, also overlap each image by about 20%. It’s helpful to use a tripod but not mandatory, but take care to have the back of the camera at the same angle to the ground with each image taken.


Image Compositing:

What do you do when the airplane fits into the viewfinder but one must choose whether to have the nose in focus or the tail in focus? There is a solution to this one as well — shoot both! But then use Helicon Focus software to merge the images. The program takes the best focused portions of each image and makes a composite image of them, voilá. Note: this method works better when using a tripod.


What to do when you have bright brights and dark darks:

What do you do when the scene has so much contrast that you must expose for the highlights or expose for the shadows, losing part of the scene either way? There is a digital solution for this as well. The technique is called, somewhat over the top, high dynamic range (HDR) photography. HDR is simple to understand and to do — take the image at a normal exposure, another that is two stops over exposed and another that is two stops under exposed. Then use software like Photomatix that can use the best information from each photo and merge it all into one single image where the highlights and shadows show all their detail. Note: like image compositing, above, it is best to use a tripod.


We can all use more support from time to time:

Some museums allow the use of tripods and some do not and this will determine your shooting strategy. All the programs above work better when a tripod is used, but can also be used with hand-held shots. Before I travel I ask the museum if I can use a flash or a tripod — many are accommodating and some are not. If they are not, I may end up shooting at f/4.5 and an ISO of 1600, c’est la vie — that is part of the excitement of traveling, meeting the challenges!


Bringing the light with you:

The same goes for flash usage though many more museums allow the use of flashes than not, as long as they are not independently mounted. In dark places this may be the only way to go but, even then, avoid direct flash — bounce it, diffuse it, whatever you can think of to mute the harshness of the electronic flash. I also take a few “identical” photos since each image will be exposed in a slightly different way with each shot.


Getting rid of distracting people:

I’ve learned that having people in my photographs is usually a good thing. I try not to have their faces identifiable so that I don’t have to worry about having signed model releases, or running after people to get them signed. So … waiting is always a good option and patience is often a photographer’s best asset. There are times that doesn’t work … but there is another way! Place a neutral density filter on the lens, set up using a tripod, use the lowest ISO that you can as well as the smallest aperture — and a shutter speed measure in several to dozens of minutes. If the people don’t linger more than a few seconds or so they will not register on your sensor or film. Magic! It will be as if they were not there with you.


The fence is 10 feet high and I am about half of that:

A monopod works wonders in these situations. Of course I am talking about shooting an image above a chain link fence — but definitely not about trying to peek over a privacy fence. Place the camera on the monopod, set the focus, trip the remote timer and hold the camera aloft so that it is above the fence line. Once the image has been taken, review it on the LCD screen and repeat as necessary.

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