Controlling Sharpness

  • Use a Tripod – We humans don’t make for a very sturdy platform, so (whenever possible) use a tripod to steady your camera. Some alternatives to the tripod are monopods, beanbags, logs, rocks, and string. Yes string (look up “string tripod”).
  • Shutter Speed – If you’re ignoring tip #1, you should at least be using a fast shutter speed. The rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed faster than 1/(focal length) — so a 200mm focal length should get at least a 1/250 second shutter speed. If you are using a tripod, you’ll want to avoid the 1/30 to 1/4 second range unless you lock your mirror up. The mirror slap can actually cause enough vibration to shake the camera a bit. If you can lock your mirror, do it.
  • Aperture – The first part to this one is depth of field, more of which will at least create the appearance of higher sharpness. As you stop down the lens, more of your image will be in focus. The second part to the aperture tip is using the “sweet spot” for that lens. Every lens has an aperture that produces optimal sharpness results. For most, this is somewhere around two or three stops down from the maximum aperture (but do a little research on your particular lens).
  • ISO Speed – Slower ISOs tend to resolve more detail, in addition to producing less noise. ALWAYS use the lowest ISO value possible! You should only bump the ISO when you can’t achieve the results you need by altering the shutter speed and aperture.
  • Good Glass – High quality lenses give you the capability to produce high quality photos (technical quality). Buy the best you can afford. When doing your lens research, look for lenses with high resolution and high contrast. If you’re out for ultimate sharpness, a high quality prime lens will typically out-perform a high quality zoom.
  • High Contrast – Our eyes naturally pick up on high contrast situations, and this can give your photo a better appearance of sharpness. Look for subjects that display high contrast, such as direct sunlight situations. You can also boost the contrast in post-production by using things like Photoshop’s levels and curves adjustments. In addition to lighting contrast, color contrast can improve the appearance of sharpness. Both types of contrast can be smothered by light hitting the front of the lens, creating a hazy photo. To avoid this, use a lens hood or shade the lens by some other method. Polarizing filters and UV filters also tend to help with sharpness by cutting out some of the haze and boosting contrast.

Shooting Interiors

  • Use a wide angle lens. Shooting wide can make the room look great, especially when in Hong Kong, the size of the property is most likely less than 100 sq. meters. In a confined space, sitting tight into one corner while you try to get the other three corners in just looks wrong. You shouldn’t shoot all three walls into one picture. Showing the highlights of the interior design features is important. About the lens, anything in the 16-24mm range on full frame (or the APS-C equivalent which equates to 10-16mm approx. on some less expensive camera) is great. I often use 17mm full frame for my wide interior work.
  • Sufficient indoor and natural lighting are both important. Light up the room. If there is good natural light coming through the windows, use that as well. Adjust the overall feeling of the lighting to a balanced and optimized level.
  • Find the best angle. Take time to explore different angles to shoot from. Decorate the room with small artistic items, plants or anything you like to add a bit of creativity. We can’t all afford a tilt-shift lens to keep perspective in check, so it’s a really good idea to shoot with the camera at or slightly above mid-room height. This means you can keep the camera aimed out straight to keep the walls vertical. While the perspective distortion you get can be corrected in post-production, it’s much easier to get it right in camera. This is another reason to use a tripod as well.
  • Use post-processing software, e.g. Photoshop or Lightroom. You should bring the Highlights down and open up the Shadows. Next bring the Blacks down to ensure that the contrast lost from opening up the Shadows doesn’t impact the image too much.

Flat Bed Scanner Fustrations

This is a nightmare of a question and one which is not easily answered without first responding with the question ‘what do you know about image post processing and pre-press?’, followed, usually in my case, by the whole book preamble on the history of photography. It serves little purpose. Most individuals in my experience of this subject, are impulse buyers who have swallowed the manufacturer carrot and purchase on the basis of product appearance and little understanding of the mechanics or specification. By the time I have gotten to Niepce, listeners are already bored stiff. You know the glazed eye look…

This aside, there are novices with a genuine interest and limited budgets to spend. So here goes.

Several years before I purchased my first flat bed scanner and at a time when I was building digital stock for the future digital archive, I used a local lab which had invested (early to mid 1990s) in some expensive kit. They had Agfa digital film recorders, a raft of Apple Mac computers, a Scitex flat bed and top-end Umax scanners. With all this stuff, the lab could meet the professional quality demands of its advertising agency client requirements – and believe me, they had some big players in the game.

I used their Scitex and Umax scanning services mainly for digitalising medium and large format film. Costs ran at around £10 – £20 per image, depending on set-up time. This was expensive and I only used the service when I knew I could sell the image and have the client pay for everything on top of the repro fee. Still, it was cheaper than another local lab which offered laser drum scans.

In time, I acquired my own flat bed scanner; a Microtek, which I was running on an Apple Mac Performa-Pro (1993). The only time you could tell you had done things right was when the magazine came out; my Performa screen had pitiful resolution and this combined with some dreadful scanning software was a non starter when it came to visualising what was right or wrong. It was very much seat of the pants scanning; you just crossed your fingers and hoped. And most of the time, reproduction was acceptable, only occasionally could I tell it had been a really long night on the pixels.

Soon I graduated to an iMac G3. The screen resolution was higher and a lot clearer. I bought one of the then new Heidelberg Linoscan flat bed scanners with a tranny hood, having first investigated the software it was bundled with and sweet-talked the distributor into demo scanning a stack of 120 format Kodachrome’s – yes, in the 1990s, my preferred reversal stock was available in medium format.

The demo scans were not perfect but the difference in quality between them and what I had been paying an arm and a leg for off the Scitex or Umax, was marginal. The test would be in the final repro quality and after a few weeks I had sold enough and seen the results to have a pretty good idea of what the machine could do.

Life went on. I scanned and scanned and spent a lot of time making up special holders for old glass plates and larger format transparencies to avoid the problem of Newton’s Rings. I hardly thought about what went on inside the box until one day, the lamp used for reflective scans gave out.

To fit the new lamp, follow the maker’s instructions by undoing two retaining machine screws and lift off the plastic glass platen frame. It was then that it hit me.

Light travels in straight lines right?

Right. Except when it’s inside a flat bed scanner.

Then it gets bent all over the place by thin mirror strips before finally being focused through a tiny objective onto a CCD.

Let’s just have a short think here about what we are dealing with. Light, imaging and scanning. A sort of electronic enlarger. The principle is almost the same. Light is passed through film and its rays are collected somewhere in the box to make a digital image.

Now, if I recall, the old film enlargers I used in my darkrooms in decades past, all had their insides well painted with a matt black, non light reflecting paint. Indeed, in high quality machines, light baffling was so sophisticated, one never had any concern for leakages. More attention was paid to the darkroom door.

But what have we here in the average flat bed scanner? Well, light is transmitted first through two large sheets of platen glass (one in the tranny hood, one on the bed) between which are sandwiched the negs or trannies being scanned. These are glass sheets the size of foolscap paper (or larger on A3 models.) Hold one sheet up to a lamp and anyone can see what it does to light transmitted through it – scatter, scatter,scatter. And lo, the whole of the interior box of the machine is a nice shiny grey plastic. All the bits of metal and other plastic used to house the lights are all highly reflective. Even the black plastic bed on which the thin mirror strips are mounted for collecting the reflected rays and bouncing them to another mirror strip before transmission to the lens, is all shiny and new.

What were the dumbells who designed this machine thinking of? Rhetorical. This Heidelberg turned out to be a rebadged Umax – made in Japan. I suspect many other similar products are put together the same way, with little thought given by designers or engineers to the real purpose of the device.

The question trickling through my mind at the time was, what happens if I paint all of the accessible shiny parts with matt black paint? Would this have any effect on improving image quality? Would it push up contrast; would it increase the dynamic density range?

There was nothing to lose. Out came the matt black Humbrol, masking tape and a paint brush. Soon, all of the parts I could reach were matted. On some of the edges of black plastic mouldings where it looked as if light rays would almost certainly be reflected back but which were difficult to reach with a loaded brush, I used double side tape and strips of black velvet from the gates of old film canisters. When I figured I had done enough, I cleaned the insides of both platen glasses and reassembled the machine.

Immediately, there was a noticeable improvement in the final scans, particularly in the area of shadow detail where the Heidelberg had not previously been able to extract much detail. Contrast went up and with it, apparent sharpness. So far so good. Scan quality improved as I learned to tweak the finer points of the bundled LinoColor software; clients were happy.

A note about the software.

LinocolorElite was put together by a company whose origins were deeply rooted in the British printing industry – remember Linotype machines? The German company Heidelberg bought Linocolor, marketed a raft of hi-end and low end rebadged Umax scanners with bundled Linocolor software and then jumped out of the business. Used Heidelberg machines can still be found but the better specified machines from the 1400 model up usually only run on old SCSI connections.

But I digress. The point about this is that most current flat beds have not significantly improved in mechanical design at the same rate at which resolution capacities have increased and while reproduction quality generally looks acceptable, I don’t see the giant leap. Visual appearance depends on printing methods, paper, inks and all the rest of that side of the business, but what I want in an ideal world is the near perfect scan and for this, one usually has to pay a premium.

Just recently, I noticed a slight fall off in scanned image quality while digitalising a batch of old b+w prints. One side of the image was o.k. the other side slightly fuzzy, as if someone had sprayed the screen image with diluted milk. I cleaned the monitor. It made no difference. An inspection of the flat bed platen glass provided no clue as to the cause.

In a fit of pique, I stripped the machine again. The thought of micro bugs similar to those sometimes seen in a camera viewfinder crawling all over the three line CCD low pass filter and leaving their minute traces of dirt, was uppermost.

I could neither find nor see anything. The interior was spotless, except when I shone a high powered torch onto one of the thin collecting mirrors; a barley visible thin patch of surface blooming like a small cloud such as would be visible on a steamed up lens, was the obvious culprit.

I suppose that even if one worked these machines in a scientifically audited clean room, foreign matter and atmospheric pollution would, in time, affect component performance. In the real world home or office environment, the risk of attack over a short period of time is much higher. I still do not know what caused the blooming, but for good measure I cleaned all the mirror strips and the collecting lens with impregnated tissues supplied by Carl Zeiss. And while I had the top off the mirror box, I added more velvet strips to parts which looked vulnerable to light scatter and blacked out the inside of the fluorescent light tube housing with more Humbrol.

The mirror cleaning cured the original problem, and now there was also another hike in both contrast and apparent sharpness levels. An acquaintance in the USA with access to special measuring equipment reported a recent set of scans from 5X4 inch Fujichrome originals having only a 1.2% colour balance error; better than the 2-3% normally experienced from scans produced on high end machines and far better than the 10 -20% errors often experienced on off-the-shelf consumer products. And this from the raw un-post processed scans made using my own ICC profile for the film.

Displaying Photography on Web

Image Scan Quality

Resolution is the image quality measured in terms of how many pixels make up your image. It is commonly referred to as “ppi”; (pixels per inch). One of the common dilemmas when scanning photo transparencies to digitize them for use on a person’s website is how detailed of a scan do you need to provide your webmaster to post your imagery online. I’m going to sidestep the issue of image copyright concerns for the time being as I’ll cover that in an upcoming article on its own. However, because your images are to be viewed on a screen, all web graphics should be no larger than 72 ppi and thus anything higher has no improved effect, and only creates longer download times. This will also reduce what an individual could do with the image file if they had alternate motives.

Image Dimension Size

Pixels are the unit of measurement for the screen and most webmasters design a website to fit one of the standard display sizes. Based on statistics that can be looked up on the internet, we have found that most people today have their monitor’s set to display at least 1024 x 768, if not larger.

Why this is important, is that if your scan dimensions in Adobe Photoshop say that the image is 8.5 inches by 11 inches, saving the file at those dimension will not allow a user at 1024 pixels by 768 pixels to see the image in its full presentation without scrolling both vertically and horizontally. Adobe Photoshop provides the ability to resize the image to a size that will fit within your website design. As an added bonus, it will also reduce the download size of the image that the view of the image will experience without losing image quality. This is something that you will need to work with your webmaster to come up the proper tradeoff between file size and the presentation size of the image in your portfolio. It is important to realize that not everyone has broadband connections, so thumbnails are very much appreciated by those who use dialup connections. One thing I would recommend is to come up with standard dimension sizes for your horizontal, vertical, panoramic and thumbnails and stick to them as it will make your life, and your webmaster’s much easier.

There are two types of color that can be used in Web graphics. The colors can be associated with the Web graphic file formats we just mentioned: GIF and JPG.


GIF is short for Graphics Interchange Format and consists of the 216 common colors found on all computer monitors and within all Web browsers. These common colors reside in a Web palette and its advantages are that it is supported by practically all web browsers, can include transparent backgrounds, supports interlacing (providing a low-resolution preview of the graphic to the viewer while it downloads), and can be used as an image map (allowing the viewer to click on the graphic as they would a regular link to another site).


JPEG is short for Joint Photographers Experts Group and is superior in rendering color and detail found in photographs or graphics using blends, gradients, and other tonal variations. JPEG files use red, green, and blue (RGB) for graphical color. The strength of these colors is set in from zero to 255 with zero being the least intensity and 255 being the highest intensity. When red, green and blue are combined at zero intensity the result is black. At full strength, high intensity, where the values are set at 255, 255, 255, the result is pure white. As a photographer, it is important to utilize photographs as much as we can within your Web portfolio to present your work in the best possible quality so that it captures the true spirit of the subject work.

Learn Photoshop With Movie Tutorials

To harness the potential of Photoshop in your image editing, consider making use of movie tutorials. This type of tutorial allows you to see how a given feature is used or effect is accomplished in real time, as the action is performed. You can even stop the video to go try it out in your own copy of Photoshop. Because of the ability to stop, rewind, and replay scenes in video tutorials, you can use them as a constant reference. If you do not have time or money to attend classes and seminars, video tutorials can be a great help in learning to use your copy of Photoshop.

Some video tutorials are available for free, others require some payment for the effort that has gone into them. These latter type are more likely to be professional. The saying goes that you get what you pay for, and this is still the case with Photoshop tutorials. However, even the free type of tutorial can be useful. They are readily available online, and can be used to find out if you like the video style of tutorial before you buy more professional video instructions. These tutorials may be offered in one of two ways. They can either be purchased individually, or a user who is learning Photoshop may purchase a membership in a site that offers tutorials.

Membership in a video tutorial site brings you the widest variety of professional video tutorials to help you learn how to maximize the features in your copy of Photoshop. Some topics which may be covered are how to remove red eye from your photos, cropping your photo to a more attractive size, and removing unwanted objects from the photograph. Video tutorials can also be found to help you remove damage and make recent photographs appear to be antique. Video tutorials allow you to learn how to use the many features of Photoshop easily. Compared to bulky, confusing manuals, these short movies are the best choice when it comes to learning this versatile program.

Digital Aerial Map

It is adding a great extra dimension to the hobby with an old camera but with today’s modern digital cameras that are running on low costs and with no need to develop the film. If you are doing a lot of photography then this will actually add up quite rapidly and you will be able to either save a lot of dollars or just be able to take a lot more pictures.

The most obvious way to control a digital camera is to use a servo with a camera pressing on the shutter button. You might have seen some really good photos taken with a Canon Digital Ixus camera using this exact method as this is a method that is commonly used around the world.

However this might not appeal to you as it interferes with the normal use of the camera. In this age of fly by wire it seems a bit agricultural to do it this way. But every man does it his own way and I am not to tell you how to take your pictures.

Now you might think: Is there no way to do this in an automatically and electronically way? To do that you would be able to completely remove the need for a servo, and it would offer you a great deal of simplicity and a superior flexibility. This could, as an example, be done with an interval timer function. At the time of writing this I couldn’t seem to find any commercial interfaces that would allow you to do this and you would therefore have to build you own.

A suggest for the solution is that you should choose would be to base it on a commercially available Stamp micro-controller. A brief description of what I mean can be explained by this:

The algebra is a decent size (3 meter), good handling no-nonsense airplane, and a perfect choice as a camera platform. A Multiplex mc3030 transmitter would be a great choice with controlling ailerons, spoiler, rudder, elevator and then of course the camera.

When you do the flight tests, a cardboard dummy can be used in the place of the camera, so you can determine the effect of a large bluff object sticking above the wing. I suggest that you do at least three test flights with the dummy mounted in different positions before the actual flight.

A camera falling to earth from a plane is not a pretty sight so please make sure to fasten it the best you can when you are doing your digital aerial maps photography.

Take Better Night Photos

If you’re having difficulty understanding metering, then you’ll probably want to take up night photography as this is one of the types of photography where you don’t have to worry about your metering. You can forget about honeycomb, matrix, spot and multi-metering systems as these will not be utilized in night photography.

The best metering system that you’ll ever need for night photography is your eye coupled with some experience on your belt. Since we are no longer dealing with daylight, a metered reading is only as useful as a “starting point”.

There are so few factors in night photography that can make the metering system unreliable. It is because whenever you read meter systems, they work on the premise that the area being read has equal amounts of light and dark areas. If you’re metering with that premise then the system will not work 100%.

What you want to do is to simply start out with an aperture of 2 seconds with an aperture of around f/5.6 if your depth of field is not a priority. Should you need a longer exposure, just try the shutter. If your camera is able to go up to 30 seconds of open shutter time, you should remember to use the self-timer to fire the camera instead of pushing it down yourself.

This will eliminate any type of camera shake that will come out of pressing down on the shutter button and taking your hand off it to allow the mirror to capture light for 30 seconds. In cases like this, it is highly recommended to use some sort of cable release.

So whenever you are exposing a photograph during the night, you should always remember to use the Bulb setting if and when you have it, mount your camera on a sturdy tripod to minimize any type of camera shake and finally use a wired or remote trigger in order to take away any chances of you blurring the shot with the act of taking your finger away from the shutter button. Aside from these advices, you are on your way to capturing the best possible night shot.

Lighting for Video

Light comes in two basic categories:

  • Diffused
  • Direct

Direct light is what you have on a sunny day.

Diffused light is what you get on a cloudy day. The clouds act as a diffusion filter.

Think back to elementary school science. Light rays do not bend. If you point a flashlight, the light won’t bend around the corner of the building, you’d have to move the flashlight to see the side of the building.

Direct light (sunny day) creates deep, harsh shadows that have distinct edges.

Diffused light, (cloudy day) can be very bright but completely shadow less.

Generally speaking, diffused light is best for simple video production.

The easiest way to transform a direct light into a diffused one is by bouncing it off the ceiling or wall. Do this by simply placing the light near the wall (or ceiling) and pointing it toward the wall, not your subject. The light bounces off the wall and is diffused nicely. (Don’t get it too close though, I once burned a guy’s wallpaper cuz a 500 watt tungsten lamp get purdy hot. Oops.)

Bouncing a light is the quick, cheap, no hassle way to do it. However, if you want to spend money and achieve better effects, professional photographic lighting uses tools like soft boxes, umbrellas, cloths and filters to produce diffused light.

The only drawback to diffusing your light is that as you diffuse, you lose intensity. Diffusion is so desired though most people accept that trade-off. Have you ever wondered why they bother to paint the inside of most light bulbs white? The answer is that the white paint diffuses the light and makes it more pleasing to the eye. On top of that, people usually add a lamp shade for even more diffusion.

Quality lighting is key to quality video production. That doesn’t mean it needs to be difficult.

Urban Landscapes

When you have decided to give urban landscapes photography a try, you have to bring along a wide-angle lens, telephoto (zoom) lens, polarizing filer and a tripod. You need a wide-angle lens to capture wide shots while you need a zoom lens to capture distant details, for example, the cross of a cathedral. The polarizing filter will help to darken blue sky and remove reflections from non-metallic surfaces. Needless to day, the tripod is for low shutter speed usage.

One of the challenges when doing urban landscapes photography during weekdays and working hours are the people and traffic. These two elements will inevitably be part of your foreground images. To avoid this, you can do it on weekends. However, this may not be possible all the time if you have other commitment.

Since we cannot get rid of these two elements (people and traffic), we might as well use them as part of our composition. As recommended by Practical Photography (Apr 07 edition, page 36 by Chris Rutter), one of the recommended approach is to blur these moving objects. For slower moving objects such as the pedestrians, you can use a shutter speed of around 1/8 sec to 1 second. Whereas for the fast moving traffics, you can try using shutter speeds of 1/8 sec to 1/30 sec.

When you are ready to shot a building against a blue sky, remember to put on your polarizer filer. This is extremely useful when the building is glass fronted. With the filter, it will help to increase the saturation of blue skies as well as reducing the glare and reflections from glass fronted building.

Another viewpoint you can consider is to shot upwards. This is a different composition and you can get rid of the people and traffic in you foreground. You will get some great shots from this viewpoint as well. You can see some upward viewpoint shots here [].

If you have been doing nature landscape photography, you might want to consider doing some urban landscapes photography. As you walk along the road everyday, try to look out for something that you can create a stunting and memorial picture. You do not need to go out far and get it. It is how you compose it.

About Digital Photo Revolution

Digital photos are liked the most these days as they have reduced the loads of paper copies. Because of the mini-computed devices, it has become easier to carry and take digital forms of photos. Digital camera has thus surpassed the sale of film cameras. These cameras are updated version and include features to store and record images and pictures on a memory chip, of which the film cameras are deprived. There are several forms of them in the market ranging from mobile phones and PDAs to Hubble Space Telescope.

These, if deleted by chance or by anything can be recovered, restored, and maintained with use of software like Data doctor. The software can recover all missing and deleted photos from the hard drive or any USB media. It also fetches back pictures from disk partition and storage media. In digital photography, the number of pixels matter as they increase the quality of a photograph or an image.

High resolution gives a hint of the amount of detail captured, but it is just other factor to determine the quality. The Sigma SD14 camera functions on the Foveon technology. It is different from all other digicams. It is a 14 megapixel camera. Increase in resolution may help in photo quality. Also, the deleted data can be retrieved.

Mainly digital cameras are manufactured to operate as auto-run units so that even a new user could use them without any difficulty. There are simple zooming options and flashes which can not be changed.

One has to be skilled at taking photos without any effort. You can capture an image in a panorama. You should have battery packs ready in outdoor photography mission along with tripods. It will make your photography mission simple and easy. Just rely on simple technique and don’t try to experiment to get stunning pictures with your camera. The photos or images are ever fresh and do not erode like hard photos do. And, with the introduction of new technology, the digital photos are on the way to more improvement in terms of quality.