Walking With a Camera:
Part 7: Basic Photo Techniques One
When I walk with a camera I try to keep everything as simple as possible: one camera, one lens, no tripod, and a mind wide open to what might make a good picture. Here are a few ideas for keeping things simple and still getting some great pictures.
How to carry your camera when walking with a camera.
If you are using a small point-and-shoot camera, carrying it is not a problem; put the camera in your pocket or hang it around your neck if the camera is medium size. However, as cameras get larger and heavier, carrying a camera on a long hike gets much more difficult.
When the walk is going to be a short one, or if I expect good shots to show up soon, I usually carry my camera around my neck, not in my pack. Or actually, I don't carry it around my neck as this will quickly give you a stiff neck if your camera and lens are very heavy, as is my Canon 1Ds Mark II. This camera plus lens weighs six pounds.
I carry this very heavy camera with the strap over one shoulder and I rest the lens in the crook of my arm on the opposite side of my body. Often I also interlace the fingers of this hand with my other hand in the center of my belly. I can comfortably walk for ten miles or so this way with no strain on my neck. And the camera is ready for instant use. Sometimes I slip my arm out of the strap to take a picture, but more likely I just pull the camera up to my eye and shoot with the strap still over my shoulder.
The above technique isn't really necessary for many lighter cameras but I find that I still use it for my newest camera, the Canon 5D MarkII which is half the weight of my heavier Canon. After a while I feel like I'm not even carrying a camera.
However, there are times when you really don't want the camera hanging around your shoulder--like when you are into walking just for the joy of walking, or if the stuff you really want to shoot is three miles down the trail or if it looks like rain or if the trail is really rough and you don't want to risk smashing your camera in a stumble. So, be sure your pack is big enough to carry your camera comfortably and handily. This sounds like a small obvious point, but if you have to fight with your pack every time you want to put the camera away or take it out, walking with a camera soon becomes a hassle. Rather unbelievably, it is little nit-picky stuff like this that makes the difference between taking good pictures and saying the hell with it and not getting anything at all.
ISO Speeds and Camera Noise
OK, I have left my tripod at home. If I want to get really good quality pictures without it, it means I have to pay attention to a few extra details. For one thing, if I want to get good sharpness in the both the foreground of a picture as well as the background, I need to have what is called a good depth of field. And to get a good depth of field I will need to shoot at a small lens aperture, or f-stop as it is often called. And this in turn means I will have to shoot at slow exposure speeds. And this unfortunately leads to blurry pictures unless I can raise the slow exposure time by using a high ISO .
By setting your camera at a high ISO number, you can raise a slow exposure times to much faster exposures so that pictures won't be blurred. Unfortunately, shooting at higher ISO speeds can result in pictures with a lot of digital noise unless you have a fairly good quality camera. However, since reasonably priced cameras that take noiseless pictures at high ISO's are becoming more and more common, there is a good chance that your camera may take good pictures at ISO speeds like 800 or 1000 and this will do the job.
The easiest way to see how your camera works at ISO 1000 is to go out and shot a few pictures at ISO 1000 and then open them on your computer and see how they look. You really can't tell if you have noise or not until you enlarge the picture size in your computer. The best think to do is to enlarge the picture to the size at which you want to print it. To do this, you need some kind of image viewing program like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. If you only want to print at 4x5 or 5x7 or even 8x10 you probably don't need to worry about noise. However, if you want to print at 16x24 or 24x36, you definitely need to worry about noise.
So, enlarge the picture to 16x24, or whatever size you want the final picture to be, on your computer screen and look at it carefully. At this resolution only a part of the picture will be on your monitor of course, but you can scroll around to look at all of it. Look for both luminance noise and color noise. Luminance noise is black and white, it looks like black and white fish scales or speckles or general bad picture quality. Color noise looks like small red, purple, yellow or blue speckles or patches that can sometimes almost take over the picture, especially in the dark areas.
At high speeds like ISO 1600 and above almost all cameras introduce some noise. The good news is that if you have Photoshop almost all of this noise can be removed in the Camera Raw section of Photoshop.
If you want to learn more about all the ins and outs of hand-holding cameras and ISO speeds and camera noise, I wrote a series of articles on the subject. Here is the first article about hand-holding cameras. You can access the rest of the articles from this first article.
Using Point-and-Shoot Cameras for walking with a camera.
The very simplest way to hand-hold cameras and get good results is to use one of the better point and shoot cameras. These are the smaller cameras with a built in zoom lens and a built in flash. Many of these will take quite high quality pictures while handheld. I sometimes use my Olympus C-8080 point-and-shoot as a hiking camera and it works very well, even when I'm shooting at very slow ISO's like ISO 50 or 100. I often get a decent depth of field with this camera because, like all small point and shoot cameras, its lens has an extremely short focal length. (A general rule in photography is that the shorter the focal length of a lens, the greater the depth of field it has.) Thus this camera doesn't need small f-stops to get a good depth of field. Point and shoot cameras like this often get good enough depths of field at relatively large f-stops like f-8 and thus exposure times often never get below 1/125 in average daylight conditions.
Another factor is that these small point and shoot cameras are very light and are thus easy to hold steady. Also, these cameras often have stabilized lenses and this will allow you to shoot quite slowly, down to 1/60 or 1/40 of a second.
When I am using my small point and shoot, I often just shoot at the P (automatic) setting, focus on the closer details in the picture and don't even worry about depth of field. The background is not always razor sharp, but it is always sharp enough that no one notices.
Small point and shoot cameras have another big plus. They often have a built in flash which is very useful for smoothing out the dark shadows and bright high-lights that develop on sunny days. To use your flash this way just set it on fill-flash when you are shooting a scene with a dark foreground or a foreground that is a mix of dark and light. It is amazing how much this will help these sorts or pictures.
Different cameras have different ways of setting the built-in flash on the fill-flash function. Check out your camera manual. It is just a matter of going to the flash settings and clicking on the right logo. Once you figure it out you are in for a real treat. All that ugly, contrast in the foreground smooths out and looks like something shot with professional lighting. Just don't expect the flash to carry very far. Point and shoot flashes won't fill shadows for more than four or five feet of so. And flash isn't of much use when it begins to get really dark; flash lit foregrounds in late evening landscape pictures look totally fake. Try it if you don't believe me, you'll soon see for yourself.
Experiment with your point and shoot camera. If it is a good one, it may make an excellent hiking camera. For a point and shoot to work well it does need to be a pretty decent camera. It needs to have at least eight or ten megapixels and a good lens. A tiny el-cheapo camera under $200.00 probably isn't going to work well. It just doesn't have enough quality built into it. As I have mentioned several times earlier, I have a very good eight megapixel C-8080 Olympus point-and-shoot that I paid $800.00 for six or eight years ago. I have printed very sharp 33x50 pictures that I shot with this camera.
However, it does take some knowledge of Photo Shop to print good 33x50 pictures using a small camera like this one. This is one reason for buying and learning Photoshop. Photoshop does a great job of fixing the less than perfect pictures shot with less than wonderful cameras. My first digital camera was a much less than wonderful five megapixal Nikon point and shoot. It took great pictures except that it was impossible to make these pictures very big because they were filled with both luminance and color noise.
Unfortunately I took a lot of pictures of some quite nice scenes with this Nikon while I was leaning the ins and outs of digital shooting in the early years of digital photography. Unfortunately I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures with that little Nikon, but I could never use any of them professionally because they were so noisy. After the latest upgrade of Photoshop last year, which was a pretty great upgrade, I decided to go back to these old Nikon pictures and see what could be done. Even though the Photoshop that was in existence at the time I shot them was no help at all, I was quite surprised at how much I could improve them with this newest Photoshop.
And I was truly amazed at what newest Photoshop's Camera Raw mode could do with these pictures. And this in spite of the fact that most of these pictures were not even shot in RAW, they were lowly jpegs. I cleaned up all the noise, both luminance and color noise, sharpened the pictures and enlarged them to 24x36 and they looked like they had come out of a $10,000 professional camera.
Buying and learning Photo Shop is probably the very best way to make your pictures a whole lot better in a big hurry. It is an especially a good thing to know if you are trying to get away with a small, light, inexpensive camera to use while hiking.
Speaking of small, inexpensive point-and -shoot cameras, I was in Costco a couple of days ago and noticed they were featuring a little Panasonic 16.1 MP, 8x zoom, point-and-shoot camera that had a Leica lens for $149.00 including a case and a 4 GB card. This camera also has a built-in stabilizer. I was tempted to buy one just to see what it was like but I resisted long enough to get out of the store. I have no idea what the quality of this camera is like or whether it would be good enough to use as a serious camera for walking with a camera. However, if you are looking for a small point-and-shoot, this might be a good one to research and possibly buy. Here is a link to this camera on Costco's site. Here is a link to a bunch of other digital cameras on Costco's site. I make no recommendations for any of these cameras, but some of the prices look pretty good. If you find some reliable info on any of these cameras or have some experience after buying one, let me know and I'll publish it in the next newsletter.
The next article is about a disastrous mistake that is extremely easy to make while hiking with your camera.
9062, Virgin River, Green Spring Leaves and waterfall, Zion National Park
8250, Little Redfish Lake, Reeds and Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho
This article is part of a series of articles about "Walking With a Camera". Links to the first six articles are below.