Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2014 Jeff Wignall.

"Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better."


Albert Einstein

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Photo Book Suggestions

Books make great holiday gifts and throughout my life some of the best Christmas presents I've ever received were great  photo books. If you're looking for a good photo book to give as a gift, look at my holiday photography book guide. I've chosen a few dozen books that are aimed at a variety of different photo interests and learning levels.

Books inspire, they educate, they're fun and they last a lifetime. I've had some of my favorite photo books for more than 40 years--gifts from my parents that thankfully knew the value of having great books in the house. My mother never missed an opportunity to encourage my photography, my writing and my wanderlust with books.

By the way, the book pictured here is Michael Freeman's fantastic book The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos. Michael is one of my favorite photographers and authors and this is one of his finest books. Feel free to email me if you're looking for a book on a particular topic, I'll be happy to help you find one.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Help with Buying a Digital Camera


If you're thinking of buying someone (or yourself) a new digital camera this holiday season, you know what a confusing task it can be! It seems like newer cameras with more features are introduced everyday (it seems that way and it's probably true). In addition to the help below, I've have a written a camera-buying guide that you'll find on my website and it might help you sort things out a bit.

One of the things that changes rapidly is just the types or categories of cameras available--while you once only had to choose between a point-and-shoot or a DSLR (digital single-lens-reflex), now there are  new categories like advanced zoom cameras, mirrorless DSLR cameras and, of course, some very sophisticated cell-phone cameras. While my buying guide doesn't make specific camera suggestions, it does provide an overview of camera types/categories and what you should for and what you can expect from each type of camera. 

Whenever someone asks me (which is almost every day!) which camera to buy I suggest that they make a list of things they need from a new camera to help them narrow down not only the type of camera that will best suit their needs, but even help with comparing specific brands and models. If you take a few moments to answer the questions below, you'll find that choosing a camera will probably come down to just a few different models and your job will be a lot simpler. Here are the primary things I think you should consider:

  • How much do you want to spend on a camera?
  • Is the camera for you or is it a gift?
  • Is size and weight a big consideration?
  • Do you want to carry this camera in a purse or pocket or are you willing to carry a shoulder bag just for your camera?
  • How long have you been taking pictures?
  • Do you have a passion for photography? (Or does the person you're giving it to?)
  • What subjects do you want to photograph? 
  • Do you mainly want to shoot snapshots of the family, or are you hoping to photograph specialty subjects like sports, wildlife, birds, etc.?
  • Do you want to add more lenses at some future date?
  • Do you want the power of an accessory flash or is a built-in flash powerful enough (keeping in mind the range of a built-in flash is probably limited to 12' or so)?
  • Does a camera that's waterproof matter? (If you live near the beach, that might be a consideration.)
  • What brands do you feel comfortable with? Generally people feel more confident buying a brand that they already own or use--or that a friend suggests. Most of us are very brand loyal. I use Nikon DSLR cameras, for example, but own Canon, Olympus and Kodak point-and-shoot and zoom cameras. I like them all.
  • Does image-stabilization (anti-camera-shake technology) mean a lot to you? If your hands aren't steady or if you shoot in low light a lot, that might be a big consideration.
  • Do you want to download photos via wireless technology? (A growing trend.)
  • Does the color of the camera matter? (What?!)
  • Finally, are you going to replace this camera a year from now when something new comes out?
Answer these questions and you'll have a much better picture of what you or your lucky friend wants and needs. I strongly suggest that you print out these questions and jot down your answers and then bring the page with you to the camera store. These are some of the questions that a good camera salesperson will want to ask you and if you have the answers ready, it can save you (and them) a lot of time--and probably save you some money. And prepared customers get much better customer service from busy salespeople.

One other question I get asked a lot is whether it's better to buy a camera locally or online. Good question! If you have a good local camera shop, I strongly suggest you go see them (and go on a weekday morning and you'll get a lot more personal attention) because nothing beats good advice from an experienced camera salesperson. I don't like big box stores or electronic stores--the people there have to know too much about too many products to keep up--and lots of them are on commission. But I also buy a lot of gear online and I find it very helpful to read others' reviews on sites like Amazon Search Amazon.com for digital cameras because you get to read honest reviews based on personal experiences. Yes, some reviews are stupid and talk more about shipping experiences than the cameras, but most are about the product and are very useful.

Also, places like B&H (highly recommended--see ad in the side margin) and Amazon (highly recommended) have the best prices you'll find. Personally, I'm often willing to pay a little more for in-person service, but for speed and cheap prices, you can't be a good online site. But know the site before you buy--never buy online strictly by price. There are a lot of scam sites out there. Stick with Amazon or B&H.

Feel free to print this article or email it to friends. Email me if you have questions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Another Great Neon Sign is Gone

Some of you are probably familiar with the shot above--I've used it in at least one of my books and variations of it have been shown on this blog. I also have the shot in my Flickr Photostream and the other day I got a message from Flickr member Rick Ibsen that the sign was destroyed in a winter storm in March of 2010. The motel apparently switched hands around that time also and the sign isn't going to be replaced. Below is a shot of the sign after the storm shot by Rick (for more of Rick's great photos, check out Rick Ibsen's Flickr Photostream).

I always tell my students and readers: when you see something great, shoot it--you never know if you'll get the chance again. It's easy to drive by something neat and say, "Oh, I'll come back and shoot that another time." But fate does not always cooperate so nicely. It will only take five minutes out of your life to shoot something interesting and you'll always be happy that you did--and that goes for old friends, favorite trees and the pear ripening in the morning sun on the windowsill, as well.  Let your camera be your instant journaling machine.

By the way, speaking of old friends (!), if you're looking for some cool books to buy for one of them, check out my photo book suggestions on my main site.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Close Encouter: Windsufer vs. the Coast Guard

I took this shot about two weeks ago, a few minutes after I shot the one below--and it's the same windsurfer (Mike Colombo) in both shots. And if you're wondering what the big spray is all about, you won't believe this...

Before I ended up photographing windsurfers at the Stratford (Connecticut) seawall, I had driven over to the nearby airport to see if I could catch a glimpse of President Obama, who was in town to hold an election rally at Harbor Yard Arena in Bridgeport. And I actually did get a quick glimpse of him whizzing by in his motorcade (I'll run one of those photos later in the week). While I was driving down what we call the Burma Road that runs through the Great Meadows marshland (part of the Stuart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge), I noticed a Coast Guard boat in the marsh at the foot of the main runway--obviously there to protect the President. There were also five big Chinook helicopters on the runway, so I knew that the Prez had landed and was either at the airport or enroute to Bridgeport.

Anyway, an hour or so later, I did catch a glimpse of Obama's limo and motorcade as it sped back to the airport. Funny, it was just me and a half dozen kids from a nearby neighborhood standing on the corner where we saw him. He waved, but the windows were up and he was on the far side of the limo, so basically what you saw was the shape of a head and a palm waving. Well, anyway, I can say I photographed him!

But on the way home after that, I decided to drive by the seawall (as I always do) to see what was happening. Seeing a half dozen or more windsurfers I, of course, stopped to shoot. I'd been shooting for about a half hour when I saw the Coast Guard boat that had been in the marsh heading up along the coast, right off of the seawall, presumably heading back to New London or wherever it had come from. Since I wasn't shooting a windsurfer at that moment, I focused on the boat and tracked him as he headed east moving at a fairly good clip--apparently a little too good.

The Sound was a bit rough (wind being the reason there were so many windsurfers) and I shot a half dozen or so frames of the CG boat as it moved by--and an instant later I realized it was on a collision course with Mike. Apparently the captain of the boat realized it at the same instant and pulled a very hard fast turn to starboard, right into a wave and into the wind. The collision of the boat and the waves sent up an enormous spray (blow up the photo and you'll see just how huge it was) that completely engulfed the CG boat! Amazing! And I was focused right on the scene--capturing both the CG boat and Mike in the same frame.

How close were they? Pretty damn close if you ask me.  I don't know if there was a real risk of collision or not (I think there was), but it was certain that the CG boat did not see the windsurfer. Also, the windsurfer was on the correct side of the boat, was under sail and was a smaller craft--so had the right of way on all three counts. I also think the CG boat was very far in on the shoal--though there's probably nothing wrong with that. And the seas were rough, so visibility was tough for everyone, but since that was the case, you'd think the boat would have been traveling a bit slower.

Anyway, every one survived and so there was a happy ending. And I not only got a good shot, but a good story. Amazing though that I was focused right on the boat when the incident occurred--which is why I tell everyone that your camera is no good sitting at home or in a case. Imagine the headlines if a boat that had been guarding the President had been in a collision that day!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Surf's Up Dude: Go Find an Action Subject!

This time of year is kind of an off time for scenic photos outdoors--at least here in New England. The leaves are pretty much gone, the pumpkins have been picked and the days are getting shorter. But there is a lot of sports action at this time of year--football is in full swing, the outdoor rinks will be frozen soon and, believe it or not, there are still people playing in the water.

I photographed windsurfer Mike Colombo off of the seawall in Stratford, Connecticut last weekend and it was quite a challenge to get a good sharp photograph of someone moving so incredibly fast. The day was a bit gray and the wind was really blowing, so just holding the camera steady was a challenge too; I tried using a tripod but the windsurfers (there were probably 6 or 8 there) were whipping by so fast that the tripod, while great for holding my 70-300mm lens steady, did slow down my reactions a bit. This photo was shot using the tripod (a Manfrotto 3021), however, because Mike was heading right toward me and it was easy to predict where he was heading.

The keys to stopping this kind of action and getting good focus are to set your camera to its highest burst rate (if you have that option) and to place your autofocus in the "continuous" mode. In this mode the camera will continue to fire whether the focus is exact or not, so it's a bit risky, but at least the camera won't balk when you press the shutter. I shot this with a Nikon D90 and I have to tell you, most of the frames are extremely sharp and well focused--and I give a lot of credit to Nikon's predictive autofocus. I also give some credit to the fact that last summer I spent a lot of time photographing high speed subjects, including the Blue Angels and really practiced with the various focusing/metering/burst combinations. You can't just show up and start shooting with action subjects like this, you really need to study the action modes in advance and keeping working at it.

In my next posting I'm going to show you an incredible shot of Mike in a near collision with a U.S. Coastguard boat...a very exciting shot! And trust me, the collision would not have been his fault!