A reader and follower of FreePhotoCourse.com named Sarah sent an email to our general mailbox yesterday with a very good question. We felt that our answer could be of value to all digital photographers with DSLR cameras, so we decided to post an extended "Tips" answer/article in our readers' forum and on this blog.
So here it is!
Sarah asked "I just paid $120 to have my CMOS sensor chip cleaned because it was filled with microscopic dust and particles that were leaving translucent splotches on my pictures. I've only had this particular DSLR for about 8 months and I do not live in a dusty environment, so what have I done wrong and/or why is this happening?"
Well, Sarah, this is a frustrating experience for all digital photographers and it seems to show up at exactly the wrong time...such as during special events, weddings, breaking news or other events that cannot be restaged. Argghh!!!
The first thing is to understand that under most conditions, even dusty ones, your camera is sealed and will not allow particles into the body of the camera. Very rarely will dust somehow 'get into' a camera that has either a lens or body cap in place. But, the problem generally occurs when changing the lens. There can be all sorts of microscopic dust particles floating around that you can't see. Also, any dust around the base of the lens or on the camera near the lens can easily find its way into the body of the camera when a lens or body cap is removed, because removing a lens creates suction.
There are certain environments that you should try at all costs to avoid if a lens change is necessary. Beaches are notorious for soiling sensor chips. All of the microscopic sand particles, particularly on windy days, as well as the salty humid breeze can quickly make a deposit during that brief moment when the camera is in-between lenses.
Dust bowls and arid deserts would obviously be a bad choice, but windy conditions in just about any area can whip-up all sorts of stuff that's just waiting to meet your sensor chip. Certain industrial environments can also be spoilers with various nano-particles that can be part of a manufacturing process.
The best advice is to:
1. Try to change your lenses INDOORS if at all possible.
2. If you are doing an outdoor shoot and must change lenses, try to get to a vehicle, restroom or other protected spot to do it.
3. Be quick with the process. NEVER leave a camera uncapped or without a lens for ANY period of time beyond a few seconds. Have the new lens ready to roll and get it in place as soon as the previous lens is removed.
4. Don't put the rear lens cap on the first lens before you mount the next lens. Do the rear cap thing AFTER you've replaced the lens.
5. Always spray off the front of your camera and lens with a rocket blower or can of compressed air before changing lenses. Wait a minute or two after doing this to avoid any unwanted movement of air and particles. (Warning: Never use compressed air to clean a sensor chip because it can deposit oil onto the chip.)
6. IF you MUST change your lens outside and can't get to a protected location, then try to do it in a large clean plastic bag. (Maybe not a camera bag, because they can be dusty from the fabric they are made from.)
7. If your camera condenses because you have gone from a cold air conditioned room to a warm humid environment (or from the cold, dry wintry outside to a warm, humid inside location), then wait until all condensation dries before you change lenses.
8. If your DSLR has an automatic sensor cleaning option, turn it on and choose the cleaning to occur at every camera power-up and power-down. Although this won't solve or clean serious dust problems on the chip, this feature can prevent the odd particle from hunkering-down on your chip.
Following these steps will help avoid the inconvenience and cost of having a sensor chip cleaned.
We hope this answers Sarah's original question and is helpful for all of our readers!
A visitor to our site contacted us yesterday with an interesting question about shutter speed. "Jim" is a newcomer to the DSLR world and is beginning to acquaint himself with manual exposure controls. His question is logical, but he's missing an important piece of the puzzle. Here is his question:
It makes sense, doesn't it? Jim is concerned about the overall clarity of his pictures (as any photographer should be) and he understands that there are two reasons why an image may not be clear. The first and most obvious reason is that the lens is not focused properly on the focal point. The second reason is that the shutter speed may be too slow to adequately freeze the motion of the subject and/or the camera itself.
Assuming that the camera lens has focused on the focal point (the most important part of the overall content that you want to see most clearly), motion is the only other thing that will affect clarity. If your subject moves - even slightly - a shutter speed that is slower than the subject's motion will result in a picture showing a blurred subject. And if the photographer moves the camera - again, even slightly - then everything in the frame will be blurry.
Our friend is correct in suggesting that the fastest shutter speed that's available on the camera will reduce the potential for motion blur. A shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second is fast enough to freeze most subject and camera movement. So his recommendation to always use the fastest shutter speed has merit.
But we also mentioned at the start of this post that a piece of the puzzle is missing. Consider that the faster the shutter speed, the shorter the exposure will be. 1/60th of a second (or a shutter speed of '60') is about the slowest recommended for everyday hand-held photography. Anything slower than that will almost certainly result in motion blur. 'Shutter speed' is, basically, the length of time the shutter is open, allowing light inside the camera
Now, stick with us here, because this is where it can get a bit confusing for newcomers to the DSLR. Try this. Count-off one second out loud. Next, imagine breaking-up that one second period of time into sixty equal segments. Imagine how little time just one of those segments lasts. This is the length of your exposure at a shutter speed of '60'. It's not a lot of time to allow light to enter the camera and make an exposure, is it?
That tiny segment of time gets even shorter as the shutter speed gets faster. So, at 1/4000 of a second, the sensor chip in Jim's camera is getting light for such a short period of time - a tiny fraction of a second - that there is far less light available to produce an image.
You see, when we talk about light in photographic exposure, it's a cumulative thing. Just like going to the beach on a sunny summer day. If you sit in the sun for fifteen minutes without sunscreen you'll likely see very little, if any, evidence of sun exposure on your skin. However, if you sit there for two hours, you'll definitely see the result on your skin and appreciate how light exposure can accumulate with time.
To wrap it up, Jim is right that the fastest shutter speed will help avoid motion blur, but it comes at a cost. And the cost is light. In order to use the fastest shutter speed, a photographer needs a combination of a tremendous amount of light, and/or a wide-open aperture (low number f/stop), and/or high sensitivity ISO. The reality is that you don't usually have a tremendous amount of light, wide-open apertures produce a soft focus (which you often do not want) and high ISO settings produce a lot of noise (which kind of cancels-out the clarity thing).
Our contributing photographers here at FreePhotoCourse.com often shoot with very fast shutter speeds, but usually in very specific circumstances with ample bright light when very fast moving subjects.
We hope this helps clear-up a question that a lot of our readers have posed to us over the years!
Now that spring has FINALLY decided to stick around (we feel really sorry for the folks in the US northwest and midwest who had to deal with snow even as May settled-in) we thought we would revisit the idea of spring photography and what it means in terms of your subject matter.
Nathan Anderson, one of our staff writers/photographers, decided to take his camera along on a spring photo shoot and see just what kinds of photo opp's he could find that exemplified spring. Here's what he had to say about his photo day trip:
"Well, first of all, it struck me as I began planning my day, that the first thing I wanted to do - quite instinctively - was to search out spring flowers. You know, I think most people who live in mid-to-northern climates get quite bored of seeing brown and grey vegetation for a good six to seven months of the year.
Our hearts and minds tend to zero-in on those richly saturated reds, fuschias, yellows, periwinkles and purples that you're sure to see wherever flowers are either sold or popping-up out of the ground. And since we gravitate to flowers after the long months of winter, our photographic pursuits tend to follow in step! However, I realized as I approached the first greenhouse at the first plant nursery that I visited this past Saturday, that there's a whole lot more to spring photography than capturing the exciting colors of spring flowers; indeed, there are even more exciting opportunities that say 'SPRING' all around us! For most photography enthusiasts, it's likely that your lens sees a lot more that's spring-like than your eyes will ever notice!
To be honest, I'll admit that I'm still drawn to the spring flowers, but I'm going to do my best to look for alternative spring photo subjects that I now realize can have an even bigger impact."
As the Feb. 28 deadline nears for entries in our "Winter Magic 2013" photo contest, we've been busy reviewing loads of images that have been pouring in. It's been a great experience seeing so many beautiful pictures. Some of them are so spectacular and dramatic that even the winter haters among our team here at FreePhotoCourse.com, have grown to appreciate the beauty and majesty that God paints with his own brush...and yes, in all four seasons!
We would like to thank all of the many casual and professional photographers who decided to participate and, being our very first contest, we are astounded by the response! :)
Take a look in the gallery of the best photo submissions and you'll agree that the content, locations and themes have varied widely, featuring everything from a stately four-point buck standing in the Ottawa, Canada snow...to a playful "snow bear" (aka snow man) in Colorado...to snow-dusted red mountains in Sedona, Arizona...and everything in-between. And while snow is a common denominator in many of the submissions, some of the participants have shown us that winter reveals itself in other ways, too. One young photographer felt that the city hall building in his hometown of Monroe, Georgia was, for him, the quintessential winter scene. He makes a point when you look at the yellow-brown grass and leafless tree limbs. Another photographer felt that the idea of winter is somehow embodied in the interior of an abandoned old school house in Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C.
We're not going to say if any of the pictures described above are being considered for the top two prizes. There are many other excellent photos in terms of their content, composition and technique. But we can tell you that whether or not they win the top two prizes, all of the photos that we decided to feature in the gallery have won the distinction of being remarkable photos for a variety of reasons.
This brings us to the overall lesson we learned by launching this first of what will be many more future photo contests. Take a look at the picture at the top of this blog post and you'll see what's left of an old, lifeless, dried-up, spent rose atop a browning single stem. It's not particularly attractive and doesn't leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. Nonetheless, it is a very real and valid part of winter. Yes, look around in the dead of winter and you might find remnants of fall or summer that have somehow survived; just in a different form.
And as much as you may hate winter (guess it all depends on who you are and where you live...), you've got to admit that, depending on your location, there are some interesting changes happening. And it doesn't always have to do with snow. There are some very real and interesting things that you may see in your own backyard or just down the street. You just have to be open to appreciating them.
Take a second look at the picture above. Click on the picture to expand it (or just click here) and you will see just how interesting nature can be in the winter. The bloom may have died, but what's left is incredible! Have you ever noticed the fluffy golden cottony stuff inside a living rose? Nope, it's not there. But leave it on the stem, wait for winter and voila! And what about the miniature curly brown thingies at the bottom of the golden cotton? Ever notice these before?
So the lesson we learned, if you haven't already figured it out, is that for a good photographer, winter is as much a state of season as it is a state of mind. An open mind to be precise.
Spring Photo Opportunities
No, this is not going to be a post about "cute cats", "cuddly little kittens" or "fabulous felines"! But, looking at the photo, it's easy to understand why you might think that. Despite all appearances, this blog post is actually an important reminder about looking for less obvious and more rewarding subjects when it comes to springtime photography.
One of our photographers was scouting-out spring photo opportunities the other day, when something occurred to her that should be an important talking point for all photographers at this time of the year. After arriving at a local park with conservatory-like gardens overflowing with spring blooms, she quickly mounted her macro lens on her DSLR and began shooting picture after picture of the inside, outside and underside of all sorts of flowers. Her results, although stunning, were somewhat cliché and expected.
Showing us her pictures, Emma said, "Yup, I got the highly saturated colors and beautifully crisp edges of many, many flowers from every imaginable perspective, but in the final analysis, the images were not as intersting and spring-like as much as they were - basically - overdone flower pictures."
Her macro shots of flowers were actually quite amazing - technically perfect. We even plan to post several of them in our "Nature - Free Images and Wallpapers" section over the next few weeks. But, she is correct about one shortcoming; the pictures do not really capture the essence of a very special season. In a very real sense, spring is a time of rebirth, new horizons, hope, excitement, rekindled love, second chances and fresh perspectives. However, when you mention the term "Spring Photography" to most people, the first...and only...thing that comes to mind are pictures of flowers.
Emma reminds us that, while spring photography can (and should) include fresh blooms and the birth of flora, there is so much more to be captured that speaks more sincerely to the spring season! Look for photo subjects that answer these questions: Beyond flowers, what else reminds you of hope? How can you show the excitement of the season? Who is experiencing "spring fever" - the kindling of the love spark? These are the kind of questions photographers need to be asking and looking for answers to, as they go about their springtime photo sessions.
So...what about the cat? Emma tells us that while she was lying on her side, photographing a frilly tulip from an interesting perspective, she heard something rustling in the tall grass behind her. Something...or someone...was watching her work. When she turned to see what it was, she saw that a cat was sitting quietly, taking-in the whole scene. Emma realized that she was not only a photographer, but was also a subject and her act of photographing a spring flower was as much a part of "spring" as anything coming out of the ground. She took it a step further. "I suddenly realized that the picture of me lying on the ground, camera in hand pointed at a tulip, was an even more interesting springtime image than that of the tulip itself. The cat, it seems, had a better understanding of spring photography than did I!"
Bottom line here? Look around at how people, animals, nature and society in general interacts with the spring season. You might just find that there's a lot more to spring than what's pushing out of the ground.
A Look Back at Summer 2011...A Day at the Beach
Aside from its important historical roots and local parades, for most people Labor Day generally signals the end of summertime fun and leisure. Traditionally and, thankfully still in some jurisdictions, kids and parents would see Labor Day as the day before school begins. It doesn't seem so long ago that Dad would put his white slacks and shoes toward the back of his closet until Memorial Day came around the following year.
The summer of 2011 brought unrelenting, record-breaking heat to a huge portion of the country. And, once again, just days before Labor Day, oppressive heat returned to many areas. But then, like clockwork, Labor Day 2011 made a less than welcome entrance with weather that, for many, was cloudy, wet and downright chilly. Waking up to this change made us here at FreePhotoCourse.com think of the colder months ahead. As we sat round the table at a staff meeting, Labor Day now behind us, we sipped the morning coffee and lamented that summer had already come and gone.
Whether it's back to school or simply the end of that summery feeling, the passing of Labor Day has always engendered a mindset that it's time to put aside the thoughts of vacationing, poolside mojitos and, perhaps, beach umbrellas, and instead, put the nose to the ol' grindstone and get back to work.
However, the one thing about photographers that helps us move from one season to the next, is that we tend to bank a lot of images from the previous season and look forward to working on them later. Call it a visual retrospective, a photo-essay or whatever works for you; here's our gift to you – a warm and sunny look at a beautiful summer day at the beach.
So, sit back and enjoy (...mojitos are optional)!
By the way, you can find these and many more updated beach pictures in our Free Images section.
A Change of Mind (and Heart)...
Back in September, we blogged about an absolutely spectacular photo that we received from a reader that we had considered posting in our Contributor's Gallery. If you recall, the picture depicted a young boy from a remote mountainous area of Chile. The boy was dressed in traditional clothing, the llama wool hat and sweater were interesting and said a lot about where and how he lived. But what stole the show was the boy's expression; one of wonder and honesty. The photographic technique was flawless; exposure, focus and composition were on a professional level. The image was National Geographic cover material caliber.
We were initially excited about hosting this incredible image on our site. And then our Submissions Review Team began talking about the ethics of publishing this boy's picture. In the end, we decided against publishing it because, although it was taken in a public place and we could legally do so with editorial content, it just didn't seem right. We felt that children have a special right to privacy - one that at least their parent should have some say about.
Well, wouldn't you know it...the issue came up again very recently. But this time, the photographer sending us of his work turns out to be a professional documentary photographer, but with a twist. His name is Soham Gupta and he is deeply committed to using his work to advance the lives of the people he encounters in his work - in short, he is a humanitarian. Gupta works in and around Calcutta, India, and uses his photography as a means to bring attention to the human rights abuses, exploitation and suffering that are so much a part of so many peoples' lives.
Our Submissions Review Team was stunned. The depth of expression in Gupta's pictures is arresting. The authenticity unquestionably honest. The composition of the photos in his portfolio is highly insightful; he sees the symbolism in aspects of his locations and content, and uses it to make a strong point. His pictures reveal that India's booming economy is not a boom for everyone there and that a big slice of the population remains in abject poverty.
We had a change of mind. From an ethical perspective, we embraced the opportunity to publish Gupta's photos because the situation is so different from the one involving the Chilean boy. Gupta has a story to tell and his story is one that absolutely needs to be told, and to be told again and again. Yes, we are thrilled to host the works of such a highly talented photographer - there is no question about that; any serious photography site or publication would welcome the opportunity. But the fact that his work is a means to an even greater end is what drove us in our easy and heart-felt decision to feature Gupta and his compelling pictures.
As a photographer, Gupta is well on his way to making his mark. He has already been published in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, several other humanitarian publications and will soon participate in a major exhibition in London, UK. But after talking with him a lot over the past month, we know that he'll only feel true satisfaction in his work when it helps bring about change for the very subjects of his photography.
If you've gotten this far in reading this blog post, then you'll obviously want to see the exhibit.
NYC Exposed - Get Your Photos in Soon!
If you haven't already heard about it or had a chance to see it on our site, FreePhotoCourse.com has launched a new photography exhibit. It's called NYC Exposed, and it's the first in what we hope will be a series of high quality reader-submitted images from different cities around the globe.
Our Submissions Review Team is looking for pictures that depict the most interesting and artistic perspectives of different parts of New York City; both the well known and not so much! What we're really hoping to do is to reveal the personal viewpoint of both travellers to the City and, of course, from people who are New Yorkers down to their very soul! As we sift through the photos that are being submitted, we're getting very excited about the wonderful diversity that's being shown in the locations and in the very different styles of photography.
From the iconic landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, to the fun style of the Mermaid Parade, the photos in this exhibit are illustrating just how different NYC can be and how varied different people's perspectives are. It really is a city that is all things to all people - the greatest city in the world!
If you have what you think is a well-composed and interesting picture of NYC - one that captures the essence of an important element of what the City means and does so from your own perspective - then why not submit it to the exhibit? If we select your work to be part of this fantastic new gallery, your photography will have an increased presence on the web by being included in this very special international gallery. You'll also receive a personalized limited edition poster designed specially for this new exhibit; if you're an amateur photographer, this poster would look great mounted and displayed on a wall. If you're a professional photog, the poster would be a fantastic addition to your portfolio or vitae.
Check out the new exhibit and consider sending us your NYC photos soon, because the Call For Submissions deadline is approaching quickly!
Autumn Photo Opportunities...
Yup, it's right on schedule; the nights are getting quite a bit cooler, the leaves are changing and the smell of autumn is in the air.
But beyond putting a few pumpkins on the front porch and opening the windows at night, have you given much thought to how you'll change your photography habits to best capitalize on the unique opportunities this season offers? Photo professionals say that a huge part of photography - perhaps the most important part - is how the artist "sees" his or her world. That being said, how is it that the observant and creative photographer "looks" differently at his or her surroundings while mother nature does her thing?
We asked our own photographers here at FreePhotoCourse.com and we'd like to share their words of imaging widsom with you. First off, they all agreed that you really can't create truly authentic and interesting autumnal photos unless you dive into the season. This means that you need to think about doing fall-ish types of things first and then think about the camera second. (Their reasoning is that you'll be oblivious to the many beautiful visual opportunities if you're not actually participating.)
To further explain, our photog's suggest that you make it your priority to participate in various autumn activities rather than making the camera and gear the priority. Take the cam along, but keep don't make it the most important thing. They say that you should embrace the season rather than the camera and that by doing this, you'll notice a lot more that will inspire you photographically speaking.
Go for some hikes on leaf-scattered trails. Take-in the beauty of a foggy autumn morning; the haze that embraces leafless trees can be just as awesome as the filtered rays of sunlight spreading along another morning's fog. Pick your own pumpkin at a county pumpkin patch. Go and get lost in a corn maze!
Have a free lunch hour? Check out the nearest park and see how visually inviting leaves can be when they sit on just about anything. Get invigorated by going for a run just after an October rain and you might notice some really cool reflections in puddles on your path that reveal gorgeous distorted mirror images of trees filled with crimson and gold leaves.
Go to some farmers' markets that are likely bursting with a bounty of local harvest. Go for a drive down a lonely country road and see how a decaying old barn makes you feel during this season compared to any other.
Our photographers suggested that if you go out looking for photo opportunities of these delightful autumn subjects, you'll cheat yourself of many special experiences. They say you should go for the experience first and the photo second. After all, autumn is a time of pause and reflection - a time to consider where we've been and the things that winter will bring. It's a time that all of the frenetic activities that so much a part of the rest of the year seem to slow down so much that the falling leaves become the preferred movement of the day.
Fall is already in full-swing. Are you ready for it?
An Ethical Dilemma
Last week one of our website visitors submitted a truly striking photo for possible publication in our Contributor’s Gallery. The image that Enrique, our Peruvian visitor, emailed us portrayed a beautiful Peruvian child who looked about three years old. He noted in his message that the picture was taken in a small mountainous village in the northern part of his country, about 4,000 meters above sea level.
We were floored. Of the hundreds of visitor photo submissions we’ve received since FreePhotoCourse.com went online, this is by far the best one, without a doubt. It would clearly win the best image of the year, hands-down, no contest!
We’d love to show you Enrique’s beautiful photograph; heck, we’d like to use it as an anchor photo to support a new how-to article about travel photography. The image is in all respects perfect. It is definitely National Geographic front page caliber, in all aspects of quality related to technical, composition and content.
The little boy portrayed in this image is absolutely adorable. His huge brown eyes seem to look deep inside your soul and they speak of a cautious curiosity. The boy’s beautiful warm skin tone contrasts pleasingly against his slate blue colored hat, ivory sweater and dark coat, all of which appear to be hand-made from local llama or alpaca wool.
The shaded location allowed the natural light to fall gently upon most of the boy’s face, his right cheek defined more sharply by a bit of sunlight. Short depth of field blurs an outside wall in the background, creating a beautiful bokeh in which the viewer can barely discern a patche where a large piece of paint has peeled off.
Beyond all of this attention to photographic detail, the boy’s eyes are the winner here. The honesty and innocence are exquisite.
So, do we go ahead and post the picture?
First we consider the legal. We always ask for a model or parental consent release if there is a recognizable subject in the photo. It isn’t legally necessary for our purposes, but we like to have it in any event. The photo in question did not have the accompanying release. Having said that, photos in our Contributor’s Gallery are not commercial in nature, in that we don’t use these images to sell, associate with or endorse any product or service. We also do not sell these Contributor’s Gallery images to anyone. Our gallery is merely a way for our visitors to have their best photographic work celebrated and displayed.
With these facts in mind and since the image was photographed in a public place, we are as reasonably entitled to post it in a free gallery, as would be Flickr, Photobucket and a multitude of other free photo viewing sites. (Hint – search for "Peru Child" in Flickr; you’ll find over 16,000 results and it is unlikely any of those photographers had a release.)
So, even though we’re reasonably entitled to publish it, why did we decide against posting Enrique’s remarkable photograph?
In a word, ethics.
As we discussed what to do, one of the members of our submissions team said something that left everyone speechless. She said, "Fine, so it’s legal. But just humor me for a minute. Imagine that you were at a local outdoor market with your three year old child. A tourist happens to think your child has an interesting ‘look’ and takes his picture. The next thing you know, that picture has won a contest and is posted on a photography website that gets visitors from over fifty different countries every day. So just how comfortable would you feel as a parent if that happened?"
She made an excellent point and we all understood.
You see, what we’ve come to realize through this experience is that it really doesn’t matter whether a child is in a remote village way up a mountain in a far-off country or in the park a block from where you live; the child should have the right to his or her privacy in a way that surpasses specific legal rights. And parents deserve to have a say in what happens with images of their own children.
This is the reason we decided not to publish this picture. In the end, we’re happy with our decision, despite how much we really wanted to let our visitors appreciate Enrique’s photo work.
p.s. We did send Enrique an email to recognize and congratulate him for his excellent photography. We also mentioned that we’d be thrilled to publish his picture if he were able to get a parent release to us. Let’s hope that happens!