Forums > Photography Talk > Technical Advice

Photographer

S Hoggard Photography

Posts: 74

Mint Hill, North Carolina, US

I admit I still have much to learn as a photographer. In fact, because I cared for my little brother and attended school for the past two years or so, I hardly had time to take pictures until recently, and I have gotten rusty with the camera! I'm starting to get back there now, but it wouldn't hurt to try and refresh my memory and to also learn more about the camera I'm using and what I could add to it to improve my work.

I remember the Rule of Thirds, and never to center the subject unless the picture calls for it. I remember to observe the "exposure meter" in my viewfinder when taking the picture to try and make sure the picture would be properly exposed (in recent shoots I had to shoot one stop below or above for some reason in some of the pictures I took.) I also know to try and remember to change the white balance. Most of the time, I try to shoot my models in the shade so there aren't any harsh shadows. I did forget one major thing, and that was to invest in a reflector. I plan on doing that soon, possibly a silver one from Amazon within the next two or three days. I also know I should use the tripod, though I neglect the poor thing too often...

Still, are there any equipment I could invest in to help with my camera? I use a Nikon D3100 and did recently invest in a lens for it last year, a Nikkor AF 50mm 1:1.8D. For me, it does get a little frustrating to use this lens because, while it says it has Auto-Focus capability, that feature doesn't work with my camera. I don't mind using the manual focus, but in some of my recent shoots more than enough pictures would come out even slightly blurry and that's the most frustrating part of it.

I just moved to Charlotte, NC, and while I want to get started with models, I would hate to disappoint them in the process if I don't get a chance to improve a little beforehand. Of course, practice makes perfect.

EDIT: I wanted to point out that for now, because I don't have any studio lighting, I work with natural light. Which is why I'm often shooting in the shade, or, if weather permits, on cloudy days. I would definitely love to take pictures in the rain, but it's my only camera! For now.

Sep 12 17 07:38 pm Link

Photographer

LightDreams

Posts: 1135

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I'm sure that you'll get all sorts of different suggestions.  But I can't help thinking that MAYBE, where you'll get the best "bang for the buck" with the least money spent, might just be to solve your existing lack of autofocus problem on your 50mm lens.  I'm basing that purely on your description and apparent frustration about that particular aspect.

You have a Nikon 50mm AF 1.8D lens which, as you say, doesn't support auto-focus on the D3100 camera.

Any Nikon lens that says "AF-S" (instead of just "AF") will support auto-focus on your camera.   The question is how much can you get by sell your existing lens used, versus how much will the new (or used) Nikon 50mm AF-S DX 1.8G lens cost you.  I would guess somewhere between $85 and $150 difference(?).

Another possibility is a cheaper lens that isn't as good, but does have auto-focus on your camera.  Amazon lists the Yongnuo 50mm F1.8 (Nikon mount) for $72.50.  Not as good, but not that bad either. It's advantage is that it has auto-focus on your camera (at least when you're shooting through your viewfinder, not sure about live view) and it's relatively cheap.  It's NOT going to compete in terms of image quality with the more expensive Nikon.  But then again, if you're budget is tight and the lack of auto-focus is a critical problem for you then...

Auto-focus generally is not perfect, but it does have a pretty good "hit" rate.  And that's time that could be spent looking at the composition of your photo in the viewfinder and concentrating on the person's "look" rather than trying to get the focus right.

Just one suggestion to consider when you're thinking about what will help you the most!

Sep 12 17 09:01 pm Link

Photographer

HV images

Posts: 586

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Following on the advice to get an AF-S lens, I will highly recommend the 35mm F1.8G. I shoot entire weddings with it and a 85mm F1.8.

Sep 13 17 12:04 am Link

Photographer

Derek Ridgers

Posts: 1505

London, England, United Kingdom

My best advice to you is to not fixate on the gear.  What you have already is fine.  Subdued light is fine.  You don’t even need a reflector since you could use white card or a bit of board painted white.  And if you want to take photos in the rain, a plastic bag with a hole in it should suffice.

In précis, you have what you need.

Everything else - the really important part - will come from you.

And it’s good to hear you’ve been looking after your little brother. 

A sense of proportion and figuring out what’s really important in life helps with creativity too IMHO.

Sep 13 17 01:45 am Link

Photographer

portraiturebyBrent

Posts: 270

Round Rock, Texas, US

+1 on the 35mm F1.8G. It's just under $200 new, very sharp and a good focal length for the D3100. If you like the 50mm focal length, I'd recommend Nikon's 50mm f/1.8G for a little over $200. Both lenses are highly regarded. Did your camera come with an 18-55 kit lens? If so, shoot with it at 35mm and 50mm and see which focal length works best for your style of shooting. It will be sufficient for now, so don't go throwing money at a problem you don't need to solve right away, but an autofocus lens will help tremendously. Check craigslist in your area for good, used lenses. In my area, there's an 18-55mm lens listed for $60 and willing to negotiate for a "reasonable, serious offer"

Understanding exposure is a critical step in your moving forward. You can leave your camera in an automatic mode and let it make the decisions for you and get a decent exposure most of the time, or you can take control and have the pictures look like you envisioned. A good way to learn is to take a picture in an automatic mode, then look to see the what settings the camera chose. Knowing how changing shutter speed, aperture, or ISO will affect the exposure, you can then start changing the settings for the look you want.

Reflectors come in all shapes and sizes. You can spend a little or a lot, but don't spend a lot unless you know why it's worth the extra expense to you. Amazon lists a Neewer brand, 5-in1 collapsible, 43" reflector for $17.50. This gives you lots of options, but remember, a little bit of the silver goes a long way. It's easy to throw too much light onto someone (or into their eyes). An even less expensive but good reflector is a piece of white posterboard (think school science fair). If you want more light, use some aluminum foil wrapped around a piece of cardboard.

Don't worry about using the tripod unless you're doing some testing while learning about exposure and want to see how your changes affect the pictures and want to take out variability of having different subjects/background. As you learn, you'll know when you need it, rather than when others tell you is should be used.

Good luck. Learn all you can about exposure and practice/experiment. You'll make your own luck.

Sep 13 17 02:00 am Link

Photographer

Mark Salo

Posts: 10022

Olney, Maryland, US

My rather old Nikon displays a green dot in the upper right hand of the viewfinder when the lens is focused, whether in manual or AF.  Does your camera do that?

Sep 13 17 04:11 am Link

Photographer

GM Photography

Posts: 6289

Olympia, Washington, US

Getting a better lens is certainly a worthwhile investment.  From there, the "equipment you can invest in" is like a black hole. 

One of the best investments you can make (in my opinion, others may disagree) as a newish photographer is to take some classes.  See if your local community college, camera club, etc. has photography classes available. 

Having a basic foundation of knowledge about photography will allow you to be more competent at the technical aspects, provide you with a better understanding of how to make interesting photos, and let you focus more on the creative aspect of your photography.  If you have that understanding you can make interesting photos with any camera.  You will also gain a better understanding of what gear will help you the most to take your art to the next level.

Sep 13 17 05:45 am Link

Photographer

LightDreams

Posts: 1135

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The point that was made previously by HV Images that should you decide to go with an auto-focus lens, you don't HAVE to replace it with the SAME 50mm length is a good one.

Consider the shoots you've been doing until now.  Do you find yourself stepping further back to get the shot you want?  If not, then fine, your 50mm is probably a good match for you.  But if you do find yourself stepping back a lot, then a 35mm may be a better choice.  Or, if you're looking from something cheaper (but not as good), while still keeping auto-focus, then there's also a new Yongnuo 40mm f2.8 "pancake" lens that's only about $85.  Although it's very new so I haven't seen any reviews on it yet.

Personally if you do want a slightly wider lens, then I'd try and find a good deal on a used Nikon 35mm AF-S DX 1.8G lens.  The image quality for the price is very good.

Remember, that only you can figure out what works best for you. Is the lack of auto-focus your biggest issue?  Or just a minor annoyance.  Is your 50mm lens length (mostly) best for you?  Then great.  Otherwise consider a different length BUT I'd echo the comments about keep your spending down as much as possible.  If making a change is a major improvement for you with not a lot of money spent, then great!  A great example was spending less than $20 on a 43" 5 in 1 reflector for your outdoor use.  Little money spent, with a good payback.  Same can be said for the suggestion about many of the reasonably priced courses.

Hope this thread helps and good luck!

Sep 13 17 10:08 am Link

Photographer

MikeW

Posts: 368

Cocoa Beach, Florida, US

First, there are multiple reasons for blurry images and you should be able to manual focus to capture sharp images. I would increase ISO so you can shoot at a faster shutter speed and increase your F stop to at least F5.6 if not F8. Image blur can also result from camera movement so you may need to concentrate on your holding the camera steadier. As for a wider lens, I would not recommend that if you want to photograph models as a 35mm lens will distort faces slightly for portraits. You could test the lens by focusing on a stationary target while the camera is on a tripod or table to see if the images produced are consistently in focus.

My guess is that if you adjust your F stop to F8 and your shutter speed to 1/200 by increasing your ISO setting, your blurring issues will be minimized if not eliminated.

Sep 13 17 12:52 pm Link

Photographer

LightDreams

Posts: 1135

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

MikeW wrote:
... a 35mm lens will distort faces slightly for portraits.

I'm sure that's not quite the way MikeW intended to actually say it. As many have repeatedly pointed out over the years, the distortion in the face is due to the viewing angles when the shooting distance gets too close.  An 85mm lens does encourage people to shoot from further away avoiding the issue.  A good rule of thumb (to avoid facial distortion) is to shoot from a minimum of 5 to 7 feet away, regardless of the lens. 

Now in the particular case of the OP, he is using a crop sensor camera and his portfolio suggests a preference for 2/3 length shots.  A 35mm lens on his D3100 gives him a 2/3 length shot at about 7 feet with no facial distortion.  Almost a perfect match for that particular scenario.

Now would it be a recommended lens for a head and shoulders shot?  No, as it would encourage the shooter to get in too close (with bad viewing angles of the face) creating the facial distortion issue.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiMxL1qfNE0

Sep 13 17 07:07 pm Link

Photographer

Select Models

Posts: 36608

Los Angeles, California, US

S Hoggard Photography wrote:
I use a Nikon D3100 and did recently invest in a lens for it last year, a Nikkor AF 50mm 1:1.8D. For me, it does get a little frustrating to use this lens because, while it says it has Auto-Focus capability, that feature doesn't work with my camera.

Nikon shooter also.  That 50mm you have is a sharp lens, but very limited in scope and usage.  My recommendation... get the Nikon 16-80 ED-VR Nanocoat lens.  I have this lens... great for wide-angle shots and pretty decent for headshots and fashion... fast enough at F4 for some low light images.  With the exception of extreme low light and extreme telephoto usage, it's a pretty sharp lens that will offer you much more versatility than the 50mm you have... wink

Sep 13 17 09:04 pm Link

Photographer

PhotoRealism

Posts: 177

Dallas, Texas, US

S Hoggard Photography wrote:
I admit I still have much to learn as a photographer. In fact, because I cared for my little brother and attended school for the past two years or so, I hardly had time to take pictures until recently, and I have gotten rusty with the camera! I'm starting to get back there now, but it wouldn't hurt to try and refresh my memory and to also learn more about the camera I'm using and what I could add to it to improve my work.

I remember the Rule of Thirds, and never to center the subject unless the picture calls for it. I remember to observe the "exposure meter" in my viewfinder when taking the picture to try and make sure the picture would be properly exposed (in recent shoots I had to shoot one stop below or above for some reason in some of the pictures I took.) I also know to try and remember to change the white balance. Most of the time, I try to shoot my models in the shade so there aren't any harsh shadows. I did forget one major thing, and that was to invest in a reflector. I plan on doing that soon, possibly a silver one from Amazon within the next two or three days. I also know I should use the tripod, though I neglect the poor thing too often...

Still, are there any equipment I could invest in to help with my camera? I use a Nikon D3100 and did recently invest in a lens for it last year, a Nikkor AF 50mm 1:1.8D. For me, it does get a little frustrating to use this lens because, while it says it has Auto-Focus capability, that feature doesn't work with my camera. I don't mind using the manual focus, but in some of my recent shoots more than enough pictures would come out even slightly blurry and that's the most frustrating part of it.

I just moved to Charlotte, NC, and while I want to get started with models, I would hate to disappoint them in the process if I don't get a chance to improve a little beforehand. Of course, practice makes perfect.

EDIT: I wanted to point out that for now, because I don't have any studio lighting, I work with natural light. Which is why I'm often shooting in the shade, or, if weather permits, on cloudy days. I would definitely love to take pictures in the rain, but it's my only camera! For now.

Believe it or not, photography existed long before autofocus was even a thing. Set a bottle of water on your kitchen table, go to the other side of the room, and practice hitting that manual focus. No, it won't happen instantly, but with a little practice, you can grab those great shots in manual focus. I actually find autofocus irritating, because it frequently doesn't catch the part of a subject that I want sharp. The amount of time spent trying to get your autofocus to grab the correct eye, for example, is frequently longer than it would take for you to zone in on that eye with the manual focus ring. This is especially true when shooting with shallow DOF, where focus is everything.

You seem to understand the fundamentals of good composition and lighting (overcast skies are like giant softboxes). I highly recommend getting a big reflector, as you already know to do -- it will benefit your photos so much and eliminate a lot of post-processing work. If you are going to buy one, get a 5-in-1 for versatility.

If you haven't, brush up on your knowledge about the basic relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This will help you get the exposure right consistently when shooting outdoors where light can change from shot to shot.

A 50mm prime lens is good, but be mindful of the type of photo that you are taking and whether or not that focal length is ideal. For example, a 50mm lens is great for full-figure model photos on both full frame and cropped sensor camera bodies; but it if you are doing headshots, a 50mm lens on a full frame camera will require you to stand close enough to your model that his/her facial features will be distorted by the proximity. On a cropped sensor body, a 50mm lens is usable for headshots, but consider the benefits of adding a longer focal length such as 85mm to your gear if you will be doing a lot of headshots. The longer the focal length, the more compressed the facial features will be, and -- usually -- the more attractive the portrait will be.

Practice. Practice. Practice. No amount of knowledge will make you a good photographer if you don't get out and practice your techniques. If you don't want to book a model until you are more confident, have a friend or relative pose for you for some practice shoots.

Sep 14 17 07:02 am Link

Photographer

AgX

Posts: 2265

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

S Hoggard Photography wrote:
Still, are there any equipment I could invest in to help with my camera?

I agree with a lot of the responses.

Derek Ridgers wrote:
My best advice to you is to not fixate on the gear.

A more talented photographer can take my gear and s/he will shoot better images with it than I can. The equipment isn't the limiting factor; I am. I don't need more gear, I need to learn to use my gear better. I wouldn't be surprised if that's true for many, if not most of us.

GM Photography wrote:
One of the best investments you can make (in my opinion, others may disagree) as a newish photographer is to take some classes.

PhotoRealism wrote:
Practice. Practice. Practice.

Wait, you knew that already. smile 

S Hoggard Photography wrote:
Of course, practice makes perfect.

Sep 14 17 07:21 am Link

Photographer

S Hoggard Photography

Posts: 74

Mint Hill, North Carolina, US

LightDreams

I was trying to remember what someone had said about the lens before... I had mentioned the auto-focus issue once and learned there was a difference. I just couldn’t remember what it was until you pointed it out, so thanks! As for selling the old lens, I still have the standard 18-55mm lens and I do take good pictures without the annoying blur with it more often. I just can’t use it much because I accidentally dropped the camera once and part of the lens that attaches it to the body snapped off. An easy fix, maybe with super glue, but not if I don’t have the piece I needed. It works. It’s just loose and tends to go off every now and then while I’m shooting.

HV Images

An 85mm lens could help… I might consider that too.

Derek Ridgers

The poster-board and white poster paper is an innovative idea and cheaper too. Plastic bag? I will have to try that.

portraiturebyBrent

I’m on a tight budget right now since I just moved and I’m still looking for a job too. You have given good advice, though! That isn’t a bad idea using aluminum foil too.

Mark Salo

Yes, it does. For some reason, though, even with the green dot some of my pictures would still be a little blurry. I could be focusing on the wrong thing and not realize it until after I pull it up on my computer. My LCD screen doesn’t show me everything I need to see so that’s something I might have to fix.

GM Photography

I did take a photography class once, but the teacher, may he rest in peace, didn’t really teach us much. He just told us to go out and shoot, and had us working on Photoshop in class too. There weren’t any specific lessons on how to improve but he did explain some of the technical parts such as aperture and shutter speed. I was actually one of his best students because I knew most of what he taught us already, and I even taught him a thing or two.

LightDreams
That’s right. I want to be able to take full-body shots and headshots. I might be able to do that with one single lens since I hardly take headshots. Most of the time, I shoot full-body or upper-body portraits, though I try to focus on the full body as much as possible. Eventually, I might invest in that reflector pack when I am back on track with my photography. For now, I’m going to go with the cheap option; two poster boards, one with white glossy poster paper and the other with aluminum foil.

MikeW

I never want anything distorted. I once took a picture of my brother and his abs looked so... alien-ish. I am not even sure what I had done in that picture but neither of us liked the picture and so it was deleted. I also remember taking pictures of my stepsister and some of them made her look like a “bobble-body”. Like a bobblehead, just the other way around… LOL I think it was because I was too far and shot at a weird angle too. By the way, I shoot at ISO 200. I try to most of the time. ISO 100 I use but not as much. Anything higher, I tend to avoid; I haven’t really done any night photography yet and probably won’t for a little while longer.

LightDreams

I honestly can’t be far enough from the model before it seems to ruin some of the picture. I also have an issue trying to take pictures indoors with the 50mm lens. My brother and I found red halogen lights in my shed once and decided to do a crazy shoot with them. Unfortunately, while shooting, I had to crop out parts of his body and so it somewhat defeated the shoot. We did get some good shots out of that though. Like I said earlier, I would like to shoot full-body pictures and headshots in the same shoot, though the headshots would only happen a couple of times before I’m back to more of the body, including full-body.

Select Models

I will have to check out the lens. I don’t normally shoot in low-light, but if I had to shoot indoors for any reason, such as a sudden burst of rainfall, this lens could help? Especially if I don’t have a plastic bag at hand.

PhotoRealism

You’re right about it being around for so long, starting back in the late 1800s. Learning how to manual-focus can help. Just in case, wouldn’t it be helpful to have the option to switch between auto-focus and manual? I remember some things about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I can’t remember what ISO stands for, but I know the lower (or smaller) the aperture, the higher the shutter speed. Darker the area, the higher the ISO needs to be. And the higher the ISO gets, the more noise that comes into a picture. By the way, I thank you for that… I forgot one thing about the aperture and shutter speed – I need to make sure I change the other when I change the one (depending on the picture I want to take.) I totally forgot how to change the aperture until I just tested it on my camera. I am definitely practicing. I don’t have any friends, yet, in Charlotte, but I hope that changes soon. Anyone wanna be friends and help? tongue

AgX

I understand it’s not the gear or the camera that takes a great picture. A little technical help can come in handy, but I do need to get back to where I was as a photographer. I wasn’t working strictly with teens at the time, either… Over the years, watching my little brother, we both focused on the project for so long that I neglected to shoot other things so I could get that extra practice. Even then, I was busy with him and college. Now that he’s not living with me and I am not in school, and currently unemployed, I have more time to practice and I’m taking advantage of that.


Ultimately, I will invest in a lens that has AF-S but might prefer to shoot anywhere between 50mm-85mm? If that’s even possible, I will look it up and see if there’s anything that would help. I did see that someone posted about a “pancake” lens. Could help with the weight? I will also get a poster board with the white paper and the aluminum foil. I will practice more with my camera and shoot anything interesting to try and get back into that stage where I was before the “break.” I will try to use my standard lens while waiting to get the new lens, too, but will practice with both lens on the aperture, shutter speed, manual focus and auto focus, and ISO, which would probably stay around 200. I just need to remind myself to always check the white balance when I shoot.

Sep 14 17 01:41 pm Link

Photographer

GM Photography

Posts: 6289

Olympia, Washington, US

S Hoggard Photography wrote:
GM Photography

I did take a photography class once, but the teacher, may he rest in peace, didn’t really teach us much. He just told us to go out and shoot, and had us working on Photoshop in class too. There weren’t any specific lessons on how to improve but he did explain some of the technical parts such as aperture and shutter speed. I was actually one of his best students because I knew most of what he taught us already, and I even taught him a thing or two.

Don't give up after one experience.  I did something much the same.  Took a half day class that was mostly the "instructor" showing off his photos and talking about how great they were.  After I was fairly experienced and mostly self taught I found a course at the local community college where the instructor had a degree in art and was also very good at explaining how to use your camera.  It was the artistic and creative direction she provided that I found most helpful and the time I spent was very worthwhile.  You might consider taking an art class even if you can't find a good local instructor.  Learn about color theory, composition, lighting, and the other things that go into making an image appealing.

Sep 15 17 05:51 am Link

Photographer

AgX

Posts: 2265

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

GM Photography wrote:
...You might consider taking an art class even if you can't find a good local instructor.  Learn about color theory...

Color?! Humbug! wink

Sep 15 17 07:07 am Link

Photographer

GM Photography

Posts: 6289

Olympia, Washington, US

AgX wrote:

Color?! Humbug! wink

If it's B&W, it's art!

Sep 16 17 06:56 am Link