Engineers

I have always been a good teacher because I am, at heart, very simple. I think intelligence means “making complex things simple” – not the other way around. Ask any consultant. The consultant who uses obfuscatory language (complicated words) is the wrong consultant. The one who explains complex things in simple words is the one you use.

And as an engineer, I think sometimes other engineers make things seem too complex.

So, an example. Somewhere deep in its menu, my Canon 1D MkIV camera has (among many other settings) four possible settings for how it achieves focus when you are shooting a burst of shots. Here’s how Canon explains it is an explanatory document (and remember this is meant to clarify!):

The Engineers’ Version…:

C.Fn III-3: (AI Servo 1st/2nd image priority) has had the optional [3: Release/Tracking priority] setting added. Shutter-release priority (rather than focus priority) is given to the first shot. During continuous shooting (from the second shot onward), stable focus-tracking of the subject is given priority. This new setting, which was the only option for AI Servo AF release/tracking priority with the original EOS-1D, EOS-1D Mark II and EOS-1D Mark II N, was conspicuously absent on the EOS-1D Mark III. Now, EOS-1D Mark IV users will have the best of both worlds together with the new improvements to AF hardware and software.

Now the detail:

(Michael’s note: Four options in the C.Fn III focus customization setup menu are explained here. Each one defines “First frame during continuous shooting/All subsequent frames in burst”.)

  • 0 AF priority/Tracking priority: Shutter is released once subject is in focus. There may be a delay when image is blurred./Focus is prioritized. Continuous shooting speed may slow down depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness.
  • 1  AF priority/Drive speed priority: Shutter is released once subject is in focus. There may be a delay when image is blurred/Continuous shooting speed is prioritized. Continuous shooting may slow down. (depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness) but is faster than for tracking priority.
  • 2 Release/Drive speed priority: Shutter is released even if subject is out of focus/Continuous shooting speed is prioritized. Subject tracking may not be active depending on amount of blur , contrast and brightness.
  • 3 Release/ Tracking priority: Shutter is released even if subject is out of focus/Focus is prioritized. Release timing may be delayed depending on amount of blur, contrast and brightness.

All clear? I did not think so: I have spent time deciphering this. So now let’s look at…

Michael’s Version:

The camera focus system has the following options for “burst shooting”:

  • It can either start shooting only when good focus is achieved, or it can start shooting as soon as possible, even if focus may not be perfect yet.
  • And that decision can be different for the first shot versus for all subsequent shots.

There are therefore four different setup possibilities:

  1. First shot: shoot only when focused. Subsequent shots: shoot only when focused.
  2. First shot: shoot only when focused. Subsequent shots: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect.
  3. First shot: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect. Subsequent shots: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect.
  4. First shot: shoot as quickly as possible, even if focus may not yet be perfect. Subsequent shots: shoot only when focused.

Another, simpler way to explain this would be:

  1. First shot: shoot accurately. Subsequent shots: shoot accurately.
  2. First shot: shoot accurately. Subsequent shots: shoot quickly.
  3. First shot: shoot quickly. Subsequent shots: shoot quickly.
  4. First shot: shoot quickly. Subsequent shots: shoot accurately.

When do you use these modes? If “getting the shot” is more important, in developing news events, for instance, then you should probably shoot quickly. If quality is more important, and if events repeat, as in some sports, then you should shoot accurately.

The default is to always shoot accurately. We recommend that you leave it like that, unless you are shooting events where you simply must get the shot, even if it may not be quite as well focused.

——–

And you realize, that is just one of the many options and settings on the 1D MkIV camera. I would love to produce a plain English “how to”-guide, including a “recipe book” of all the recommended starting settings for various situations and sports (Canon, if you are interested, do let me know).

Setting sun

Look at this photo I shot of Yasmin Tajik, Sunday in Nelson, outside Las Vegas, NV:

Yasmin in Nelson, NV, photo by Michael Willems

Yasmin in Nelson, NV

Nice late afternoon light, and lit by the late afternoon sun.

Except it wasn’t. Yes, it was late afternoon, but Yasmin was not lit by sunlight. She was lit by my flash.

  • The flash was on camera, since I was traveling without light stands. I would normally take it off camera. But when you can’t, as long as you are mixing light, it is OK to shoot with the flash on camera. Outdoors, therefore, straight into your subject’s face is OK, if you have to.
  • Since both I and the subject were moving constantly, I used TTL rather than manual flash.
  • The nice late afternoon colour on Yasmin? Glad you asked. A 1/2 CTO Honl Photo gel on the flash’s Speed Strap, and the camera’s White Balance set to “Flash”.
  • I ensured that the shutter speed would stay below the camera’s sync speed of 1/300th of a second, in order to give the flash maximum range (“Fast Flash/FP Flash” would decrease available power drastically, which at this distance is not a good thing). Doable late afternoon, when the light is not as bright.

As you see, even very simple means can lead to well-lit pictures.

Site of the day

I see that this site is today’s Site of the Day at http://www.1001noisycameras.com/ – that’s great! Welcome, 1001 Noisy Camera fans.

As you will see, on this blog I teach daily – a teaching post every single day. Enjoy, and search back through the past year – many useful tips here from a working photographer and teacher to everyone who is interested!

Few posts of mine come without a snap or two, so here are a couple from yesterday’s shoot – the Hon. Minister Harinder Takhar MPP, a truly charming man:

The Honourable Minister Harinder Takhar, MPP, photographed in June 2010 by Michael Willems

The Honourable Minister Harinder Takhar, MPP

I used three lenses: one long (70-200 on the 1D Mark IV) and two wide (24-70 and later 16-35 on the 1Ds Mark III).

Wine being poured at a reception, photograph by Michael Willems

Wine being poured, photograph by Michael Willems

Manual and with a flash for fill.

Reception Buffet, photograph by Michael Willems

Reception Buffet

Cheers,

Michael

Hyper real

With today’s fast cameras, big sensors, and great noise reduction technology, like that in Lightroom 3 tha I described earlier (magic), we can see better with our cameras than we can in real life. It is fun to experiment with that.

Like in Montreal the other day. Here’s a street the way it looked to me:

McGill College in the dark, photographed by Michael Willems

McGill College in the dark

But with my camera (a Canon 1D Mark IV) set to auto ISO, and at 3,000 ISO, I got this:

McGill College in the dark, photographed by Michael Willems

McGill College in the dark, at 3000 ISO

And by white balancing this RAW imaging to correct the yellow Sodium light, we get this:

McGill College in the dark, photographed by Michael Willems

McGill College in the dark

I can actually see better with my cameras than I can see in real life.

And I suggest you all try this. Go out and use auto ISO or a very high manual ISO. Apply noise reduction (in the camera if you shoot JPG, or in Lightroom so you get more control). See what happens!

Le Chat, etc: Montréal ce soir

A quick walk through Montréal. 32-12800 ISO and Lightroom noise reduction.. Wow. Wow. And wow. Both Montreal and the low noise performance:

Montreal church, by Michael Willems

Montreal church, by Michael Willems

Montreal Wall, by Michael Willems

Montreal Wall, by Michael Willems

Montreal, by Michael Willems

Montreal

And my favourite:

Le Chat, photographed by Michael Willems

Le Chat (en Montréal)

All this shot handheld with a 1D Mark IV and a 16-35 f/2.8 lens. At ISOs up to 12,800, and with Lightroom 3 noise reduction applied.