Photography Tips and Walkthroughs

General Photography Tips:

Backing Up Your Images – How to prevent the loss of images by backing up your data.

Blurry Images– The basics of photography and how to take better pictures.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography– Describes what High Dynamic Range photography is and how to create HDR photos.

Lunar Photography– Take better photos of the moon.

Reducing Red Eye– What is creating red eye in photos and how to get more pictures with less red eye.

Sensor Cleaning– What a dirty sensor looks like and what to do if your camera is in need of cleaning.

Sharpening In Photoshop– A basic walkthrough of creating sharper images using Adobe Photoshop.

Time Exposures– Create unique images by adjusting how long your shutter stays open.

Tripods– Take better photos in a variety of situations with a tripod.

alanvideVideo: Landscape Photography– Join Photographer and Bergen County Camera Employee, Alan Schwab as he discusses landscape photography.


paulvidVideo: Outdoor Lighting Tips– Join Photographer and Bergen County Camera Manager, Paul Carretta as he discusses lighting subjects outdoors.

Seasonal Photography Tips:

Summer Photography– Take better photos in the summer months while keeping your camera safe.

Fireworks Photography– Take better photos of fireworks.

Fall Photography– Use the changing foliage to your advantage.

Winter Photography– Tips on taking better photos in a variety of cold weather situations.

How To Get White Snow– Snowy photos coming out grey? Learn how to fix it.

Holiday Photos– Advice on a variety of different holiday photo situations.

Intro to Video Formats: Part 4 – High Definition or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Digital

Within the past few years high definition has become more commonplace than ever before. HD televisions are constantly dropping in price as well as getting better in terms of image quality and design. The same is occuring within the consumer camcorder market.

The obvious advantage of a high definition camcorder is that it is able to record and display video at more than double the resolution of a standard definition camcorder – depending on the camcorder, of course. SD (standard definition) video displays 480 horizontal lines of resolution at any given time. HD video can display up to 1080 horizontal lines of resolution at any point.

Within the consumer camcorder market there are two types of resolution currently available – 720p and 1080i. 1080i sounds better, right? Not really. If we were talking still photo resolution that would be the case but with video it’s a different story. The “i” and “p” come into play when we start talking about motion. The “i” stands for interlaced. When recording or playing video that’s interlaced the display (or camcorder) assigns each alternating line of resolution into odds and evens. It first displays the odd lines and then the even lines – each line being refreshed 30 times per second. This is occuring so fast that the human eye is not able to percieve the lag time. If you pause interlaced video you’ll see what the video industry justly calls “jaggies”*.

The “p” stands for progressive. Progressive video refreshes the entire picture 30 times a second. This type of video will alway produce smoother motion.

Many of the newer LCD and plasma televisions will display at 1080p but, as of this writing, there aren’t many consumer camcorders on the market that can record at that resolution.

Now let’s get into the fun stuff. Depending on what type of high def camcorder you purchase there are different types or “formats” of video that it might record in. A HD MiniDV camcorder will record in a format called HDV. HDV is the eldest of the HD crowd and is widely compatible with different types of editing software.

AVCHD is the most popular of the compression formats and is used in almost all non-cassette format camcorders. Though AVCHD may be the future of high-def video there are still many improvements that need to be made. It is still very unfriendly when it comes to editing software and certain types of computer systems. Always double check your software and system specifications before investing in this type of high-def camcorder.

MPEG-2 Transport Stream is a format that is currently used exclusively in JVC camcorders. The image quality is somewhat poor comparted to it’s AVCHD competition.

AVC/H.264 MPEG-4 is only used in certain Samsung and Sanyo brand cameras. Image quality is decent but it records solely in 720p resolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if this format becomes obsolete when the popularity of 1080 resolution rises. I also can’t see marketing execs falling in love with it’s oh-so-catchy title.

High-def video is the way of the future. It’s actually more like “the way of the now” but who’s counting? Depending on what type of video you’re looking to record (and of course what you’re looking to do with it afterwards) going high-def will ensure your video future will not be behind the times.

* Yes, that’s a technical term – as is “jagginess”.

Intro to Video Formats: Part 3 – Flash Memory/HDD

Flash Memory and HDD (Hard Disk Drive) are the most recent video formats to be introduced into the consumer camcorder market and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Flash memory (also known as solid state memory) camcorders record video information onto a small removeable memory card. If you own a digital still photo camera you’re likely to be very familiar with what a memory card is and how it works.

The main advantage of a solid state memory device is the simple fact that there are no moving parts – hence the name “solid state”. Unlike a hard drive which writes information mechanically, solid state memory electronically writes information onto the card, thereby making it more stable than mechanically written information. The other great benefit to flash memory is that it has the ability to read/write information much faster than a standard hard drive. A solid state drive on average can read/write information at approximately 40 megabytes per second whereas a good quality hard disk drive can read/write information at about 7 – 10 megabytes per second.

Of course like anything else there are disadvantages to flash memory. The first is that flash memory is more expensive per gigabyte when compared to a standard hard disk. A camcorder with 60gb of hard disk memory is generally around the same price as a camcorder that takes solid state – not including a memory card. A high capacity, reliable, class based SD memory card can cost as much as $200. That’s a significant amount of money to spend on top of the cost of the camcorder itself.

Hard disk drive camcorders are the modern alternative to flash memory. Hard drives will usually have more storage space than flash memory at a similar price. The first and most pronounced advantage to using a hard drive is obviously cost. At a specific price point you can get much more storage on a hard drive than flash memory though you will be sacrificing a small amount of reliability and speed.

In terms of reliability you shouldn’t be concerned with the camcorder suddenly up and failing on you. It has more to do with if the camera is dropped or takes a significant hit – by having more mechanical parts there is more of a chance of a component breaking upon impact. Take care of your equipment and I wouldn’t be overly concered with reliability. Certain models of hard drive camcorders can make a slight amount of noise which can be heard in the video’s audio if you’re recording in a very quiet environment. Most major manufacterer’s models don’t suffer from hard drive noise so again I wouldn’t be hugely concerned with it. The final drawback to hard drive camcorders is that they’re somewhat larger and heavier than their flash memory counterparts.

I have found that most people go with flash memory camcorders based solely on size itself. If you’re looking for a high quality, pocket sized camcorder then flash memory is the way to go. If you’re looking for a budget alternative and size is of no concern then hard drive is the way to go.

Come visit again next Wednesday for Intro to Video Formats: Part 4 – High Definition.

Intro to Video Formats: Part 2 – DVD

In our last installment we spoke somewhat briefly about the MiniDV format of camcorders. This time around we’re going to go into the DVD format. DVD was first introduced in the computer industry in 1995, the same year MiniDV made it’s introduction into the video market, but it was not available for video or consumer use until early 1998. DVD camcorders did not gain popularity until the year 2000. At first the image quality on DVD camcorders was lacking at best. The quality has gotten much better over time but is still not on par with either the current tape formats or the solid state/hard drive formats. This might not sound like the most compelling argument for DVD. I mean, who wants to spend money on a format in which the quality is less than it’s competing formats? Read on and you will discover.

The biggest advantage to DVD format is that it’s the simplest of the video formats. It has two basic fuctions – to record and to play back. If you don’t want to fuss around with connecting the camcorder to your television DVD is the way to go. Pop the DVD into your DVD player and you’re ready to go. There can be compatability issues with playing DVD’s, though that is of minimal concern. Almost any modern DVD player (from the last 2 to 5 years) will be able to play recordable DVD’s.

Other than quality the other main disadvantage is that standard DVD’s for these camcorders can only hold up to 30 minutes per disc. The discs aren’t expensive (around $15 for a 10 pack) but it can be a nuisance when recording an event that’s longer than the disc’s capacity.

There is something that needs to be mentioned when it comes to different types of recordable DVD discs. There are three types of discs on the market. DVD-R (know as either “minus R” or “dash R”) will work in any DVD camcorder and is readable in almost any DVD player. DVD+R is a format that was introduced by Sony to compete with the already popularly available -R discs. +R discs hold slightly less information than -Rs but the trade-off being that the +R discs are more stable when writing information at higher speeds. You need to make sure your camcorder/DVD player are able to write/read +R discs. Both -R and +R discs also come in -/+RW formats. RW stands for re-writeable. They give you the ability to delete and re-record scenes on the DVD itself. I don’t recommend RW discs for camcorders due to the fact that they’re less reliable than standard R discs. The last and least popular of the formats is DVD-RAM. RAM discs (which stands for Random Access Memory) are also re-writeable but are more stable than their RW counterparts. RAM discs are great but just like the +R discs you need to make sure your equipment is compatible with that format.

Overall I can fully recommend DVD camcorders for those looking for simplicity above all else. The image quality issue (if you would even call it that) isn’t of huge concern. To the untrained eye the image quality differences are negligible.

Check back here next Wednesday for the third installment of our Intro to Video Formats column – HDD/Flash Memory.

Intro to Video Formats: Part 1 – MiniDV

Amongst the video formats available today MiniDV has been around the longest. Initially introduced as a pro video format back in 1995, MiniDV would eventually grow into the most popular video format for both consumers and semi-professionals. Though MiniDV is becoming eclipsed in popularity by the solid state and hard drive camcorders, it is still a viable format for video recording.

The first and main advantage with MiniDV tapes is the fact that it is still the most uncompressed consumer video format on the market. A single 60-minute, standard definition, $9.99 MiniDV cassette can hold up to nearly 20 gigabytes of video information. A comparable flash memory camcorder can hold 80 minutes of video on a $90 4gb SD card. If you do large amounts of video recording MiniDV can also be surprisingly affordable.

The other main advantage is the ability to easily edit video from tape. Almost any computer with a firewire input has the ability to import and edit video from tape. With DVD format camcorders editing is a possibility but not recommended. It takes a lot of time and energy to edit from DVD. Flash memory or hard drive camcorders are easier to import and edit than DVD, but you do need to double check the camcorders compatability with your computer and it’s software.

Now onto the disadvantages of MiniDV tape. The most evident drawback is the fact that tape is slowly going the way of the dinosaur. Blank tapes will still be available for quite some time, though it may get difficult to find the camcorders themselves. Every generation camcorder manufacterers tend to discontinue a tape model and replace it with either a flash memory or hard drive model. I’ll give MiniDV another 3 years before they’re no longer available – and I believe I’m being pretty generous.

The other considerable drawback is the construction or build of the camcorders themselves. A well made camcorder will always be a well made camcorder but there’s something that all MiniDV camcorders have in common – the actual tape mechanism that inserts and ejects the tape is quite fragile. I’ve seen numerous faulty tape mechanisms over the years and it can be a real pain. Remember to treat the camcorder with care and I don’t think you’ll have a problem.

I can still fully recommend MiniDV has a viable medium for video. Since it has been around for quite some time there’s not a whole lot of innovation that can be done. It’s an almost-perfected format that can’t get a whole lot better – or a whole lot worse, for that matter. If you’re shopping for video on a budget MiniDV is a great way to go.

Check back next week for the following installment of our Intro to Video Formats segment – DVD.