Web album on Landshuter Hochzeit

My wife and I visited the Landshut Wedding or better known as Landshuter Hochzeit a few weeks ago. The Landshuter Hochzeit is a medieval festival that is celebrated once every four years in Landshut, which is a city in the state of Bavaria. It is one of the most famous and as far as I know, the largest medieval festival in Germany. As you can guess, there are other medieval festivals in Germany as well. During the Landshuter Hochzeit, the city and its folks turn back time to the middle ages. People dress up in medieval costumes, set up huts and stalls typical of those times, parade through the city playing music, perform juggling acts and so forth. They become a medieval community. This year, the Landshut Wedding was celebrated from the 27th of June till the 19th of July.

Our visit to the Landshuter Hochzeit was a splendid one. You can read all about it in my Living in Munich blog. I have published three posts on our vist and here are the links to them: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Apart from sightseeing, our visit to the Landshuter Hochzeit was an excellent photo shooting session for me. I was truly able to put my recently acquired photography skills to the test and I'm pretty content with the outcome. I have finished working on the shots I took that day and just uploaded them to my Picasa Web Gallery. Click on the image below to get to the album. Unfortunately, I've not had the chance to include captions yet but I promise to do so a.s.a.p.

Landshuter Hochzeit (07.09)

In the next post(s), I'll share some learnings and experiences gained from the visit and discuss the technicalities behind some of my favorite shots.

Do tell me what you think about the photos.


Reflections and forced perspectives from Nymphenburg

If there is one website that I have learnt most about photography from, it would be Digital Photgraphy School, also known as DPS. DPS is a blog where professional and semi-professional photographers regularly share tips, ideas and learnings about photography gained through their years of experience. The posts are typically quite short, which makes them easy to chew. They are also very inspiring and has often given me new ideas for my photography sessions.

During my visit to Nymphenburg Palace a few weeks ago, I used a couple of ideas I had previously learned from DPS. First, I was inspired by an article entitled "20 Effective Reflection Photos" by Nate Kay. This post really encouraged me to look for opportunities to take shots with reflections in them. This wasn't too difficult in Nymphenburg Palace since there is a lot of water in the palace grounds. Nate mentions in his article that reflections can make simple shots look extraordinary. Looking at the 20 pictures he selected for his article and the ones I took that day in Nymphenburg Palace, I tend to agree. Of course, compositional rules are still absolutely vital but reflections can make the difference between charming and captivating.

The second article that inspired is "15 Forced Perspective Technique Examples", by Nate Kay as well. Honestly, I had never heard about forced perspective techniques before reading this. As quoted in the post, the forced perspective technique manipulates our human perception with the use of optical illusions to make objects appear larger, smaller, farther, or closer than they actually are.

When I was in Nymphenburg Palace, I was on the lookout for compositions that would constitute a forced perspective. This indeed made things more fun as it gave me some idea of what I should be looking out for. The picture on the right is one of the "forced perspective" shots I took that day. The statue is indeed much smaller than the palace but the picture has been composed to convey a different message altogether. The image makes the statue look a whole lot bigger than it really is - well, at least that was my expectation.

I hope this has given you some ideas for next photo shoot. You can see my other shots of Nymphenburg Palace via this link.


To HDR or not to HDR ?

In my last photography tips post, I promised that I would share some HDR and non-HDR photos from my outing to Nymphenburg Palace, which is located here in Munich. I was there two weeks ago. You can read about my outing and the Nymphenburg Palace in general on my Living in Munich blog. Here's the link to that particular post. Overall, the outing was fun and I'm pretty content with most of the shots I took.

Above is a HDR image of the Palace's facade and the beautiful lake in front of it. To the right is the regular version. I find the colors to be more vibrant and dream-like in the HDR version. The regular one looks less vibrant, but more realistic. Most photography tips I've gotten point out that this is a general characteristic of HDR images.

To the left and below are slightly tighter shots of the facade. The one on the left is the HDR version and the one below is not.

Like the pair above, I find the HDR version to be more idealistic and less realistic as compared to the regular version.

Here we have pictures of the palace's rear. To the far left is a HDR image of the palace and a pond behind it. Next to it is the regular version.

The regular version has a slightly over-exposed sky and because of that there is almost no detail visible in the clouds. The HDR version on the other hand has successfully kept the sky correctly exposed (for the most part) and much of the detail intact.

Now we come to the final set. Once again we have pictures of the palace's rear but this time in landscape composition. To the left is the HDR version and below is the regular one.

HDR photography, high dynamic range, photography tips

In this set, I find the regular version to actually be more outstanding. Contrasts are stronger in the regular version and this accentuates the reflections in the pond.

Tell me what you think. Hope you enjoyed this photography tips posts on whether to go for HDR or not.


Intro to High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR photography, high dynamic range, photography tipsThis post on photography tips is about HDR. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it is an art of photography that is getting popular in the world of digital photography these days. Surf around for photography tips and you're bound to stumble upon some HDR-related resources. A regular photo taken with a single shot has a limited dynamic range. This is how I understand it: imagine the darkest and brightest tones possible in this whole universe representing the furthest left and right corners of a histogram respectively. A camera's sensor is not able to capture the entire range of tones on this histogram. There is a point on the left beyond which everything is recorded as black and likewise, there is a point on the right beyond which everything is recorded as white. The range of tones between these two points is the sensor's dynamic range.

In a bright scene, the dynamic range shifts to the right and correspondingly in a dark scene, the dynamic range shifts to the left. The problem occurs when there is a scene with high contrast - some parts are very bright and others are very dark. With regular photos, setting the camera to correctly expose the bright parts will cause the dark parts to be under exposed. On the other hand, setting the camera to correctly expose the dark parts will cause the bright parts to be over exposed. Setting the camera's exposure in between the two has been the best solution before the advent of HDR photography. It resulted in slightly overexposed and underexposed parts but it was the lesser of evils.

With HDR, several shots are taken of the same scene but with different exposure settings. The idea is to have a set of identically composed photos where each correctly exposes a part of the scene. The pictures are then merged together using the appropriate software such as Adobe Photoshop. The resultant HDR image has a much larger dynamic range and ideally, everything of the scene is perfectly exposed. While it is possible to create a HDR image with only two or three photos in the set, I find that the best results require at least five. There was a group test in Digital Photo magazine a few months ago on HDR software. Photomatrix Pro v3.0 came out first. A free HDR software called Picturenaut was also reviewed. It didn't do very well in the group test but hey, it's free.

The picture on the top left is a HDR image composed from a set of five photos. It is a picture of the facade of Nymphenburg Palace in MuniHDR photography, high dynamic range, photography tipsch. So, how did I take a set of photos with different exposure settings suitable for creating the HDR image above? I've found various photography tips on how to do this and settled for the method I feel is most convenient. First, I mounted up my camera on the tripod (since all photos in the set must be identically composed) and properly composed the shot. I set my camera to matrix metering, which is a Nikon proprietary light metering mechanism (Canon has an equivalent as well). I took the first shot without any exposure compensation i.e. 0 EV. Then I set the EV to -0.7, -1.3, +0.7 and +1.3 respectively for the next four shots. The picture on the right is also a HDR image. It was taken at the rear of Nymphenburg Palace.

HDR is not the best form of photography. There are benefits and drawbacks to it. In my next post, I'll share more pictures and thoughts on HDR photography from my outing to Nymphenburg Palace. I'll show you some HDR and non-HDR images for you to judge.

I hope you found this post on photography tips for HDR beneficial.


“Shutteria.com” is mine!

I bought the shutteria.com domain through Blogger yesterday. While Blogger does not directly sell domains, they do resell them on behalf of GoDaddy.com. It costs a mere USD 10 per year for the domain and some extras, which I think is money well-spent.

This blog (shutteria.com and the previous shutteria.blogspot.com) is hosted by Blogger, which offers free blog hosting. Blogger is owned by Google. So, if you already have a Google account, you can log into Blogger with your Google username and password, and create your own blog almost immediately. This is the route I took. It was simple, fast and risk-free.

However, the blog does not come with a custom domain. By default, it uses the blogspot.com domain. I believe that owning a custom domain is essential. It adds credibility to a blog and is absolutely essential for branding. Previously, the only way I thought that this could be done was to buy a domain, subscribe to a web hosting package and install the blogging engine and related software on my own. I wasn’t comfortable with this. Sure, many people claim that this isn’t as difficult as it sounds and I do believe that things will get easier once the ball starts rolling. Nonetheless, I still found the task to be too daunting and kept procrastinating.

I stumbled upon a solution as I was surfing through my dashboard on Blogger and came to the Settings Publishing section. There was the option of switching to a custom domain. When I selected that, I was led through the purchase of my own domain – shutteria.com. The domain costs USD 10 per year and was immediately linked to various Google Apps (e.g. email, calendar, docs and sites) for free. That was simple.

Another drawback about using free blog hosting services is the limited selection of blog templates that they have. I do think that some templates look pretty good, but they just don’t look very professional. Additionally, the size and dimensions are often not optimized for the blog content or its readers. I found an excellent solution for this – free blog templates. I googled around and found btemplates.com to have the most comprehensive collection blog templates. I downloaded two of them – one for this blog and another one for my Living in Munich blog. The templates came with a brief readme file that described the installation procedure. Once again, it was simple.

Simplicity works.


Web album: sharing on Picasa Web

There are various websites that offer free photo sharing and web album services on the Internet. Among the most popular are Picasa Web and Flickr. I believe that Nikon has one too but I have never used it before. There are also some online photo retailers that allow you to create an account, upload your pictures to a web album and share them with others. Authorized visitors can then order prints of these photos directly from them. This is an excellent tool for occasions when everyone wants prints from themselves. It eradicates the formerly cumbersome task of someone taking the orders from everyone, printing them out and then collecting the money - well, there usually isn't a profit in it anyway, right?

I use Picasa Web. Picasa Web, which is part of Google, allows a user to upload pictures to any web album in his / her online gallery to be shared with others. The free service comes with 1 GB of storage space. If this is not sufficient, users have the option of purchasing more storage space at very reasonable rates. Prices range from USD 20 / year for 10 GB of storage all the way to USD 500 / year for 400 GB.

Picasa Web is also very well integrated with Picasa, a free photo management program by Google. I use Picasa a lot. There are some limitations with it, but I can live with them. I like the fact that Picasa can be set to scan certain folders in my computer for changes and will then automatically update my collection accordingly. It also allows me to upload photos to a web album with a simple push of a button.

Here's a slide show of the pictures I have in my online gallery. Picasa Web allows you to do this too.

You can visit my Picasa Web gallery through this link. Feel free to browse through any web album. If you're a Google user and would like to receive updates on my gallery (e.g. new photos, new web album), I would encourage you to make me a favorite. You can do this by signing in to your Google account, visiting my gallery (via the link given above) and clicking on the button located on the right that states something about making me a favorite, becoming a fan or so. As a fan, you will receive regular updates from Picasa about activities in my gallery.

Happy surfing.

Flashing about in low light

photography tips, flash nikon, sb600In my last post, I bragged a little about how great it is to have a proper flash and I thought I'd share some pictures and photography tips for you to judge yourselves. Although, a flash can be very useful in extremely bright situations with high contrast as well, this post is about using a flash in low light conditions.

On the left is a picture of my friend, Ken that was taken during a birthday party of a mutual friend. I was about 1.5 meters away from Ken then. I tilted my Nikon SB-600 flash towards the ceiling, which was fortunately white, set my aperture to maximum and took the shot. By directing my flash towards the ceiling, I was able to avoid a ghastly glare from the window and instead got a nice reflection of the living room from it. Nonetheless, I do feel that this picture is a little overexposed. I probably should have stepped back a meter or so.

photography tips, flash nikon, sb600

On the right is a picture of Donald, our host for the evening. Likewise, no glare but a nice reflection. Another problem with aiming a flash directly at a subject is the unnatural tone it brings. Using a flash diffuser definitely does help but I still find that bouncing the flash off the ceiling yields the best results.

photography tips, flash nikon, sb600

You can even get creative with your flash and bounce it off the wall to get a different effect, as I did with the picture on the left. This is one of the photography tips I got from a colleague. Make no mistakes, this shot could have and should have been better composed. But at least it demonstrates its effect.

photography tips, flash nikon, sb600

On the right is Mark, from Australia. I added a little Sepia to this one.

photography tips, flash nikon, sb600

And finally, Ken looks content. We all had a great time at the party that day and the photos I took were well received.

So, what do you think? I hope I gave you some useful tips on flash photography.

Deciding on my "Kitt"

Kitt - isn't that the name of the car in Night Rider? Anyway, now you know that I have a Nikon D60. Like most of you who are thinking of getting into photography, I did a lot of online research and asked around for a lot of tips before settling for the D60. At first I was considering either the Nikon D60 or Canon's EOS 450D. I have to say that I always favored having a Nikon. Probably because I know many people who use Nikon and also because I've seen many photojournalists using Nikons on TV. For me, it felt like Nikon was always the first choice for SLRs and photography in general. However, I have colleague who's a Canonite (in case you don't know what I'm talking about, read "Canon fan"). He told me that Canon is by far a much bigger camera manufacturer. They have much higher volumes and this is translated to better costs. In his opinion, Canon offered excellent value for money and I have to agree that he is right. On a feature level, you would probably get more from a Canon than an equivalently priced Nikon. However, I think that we would all agree that photography is not about features. It's art, not science.

Another question I asked myself was, "Which brand would I prefer to stick to all my life?" A great thing about having a digital SLR is that you can usually reuse lenses, flashes and other accessories when you upgrade the camera body as long as you stick to the same manufacturer. This greatly encourages people to stick to one manufacturer for life. In this respect, I was in favor of Nikon.

Anyway, I looked for lots of photography tips on the two and probably read every major review about them before deciding in favor of the Nikon D60. Digital Photography Review is probably one of the best online resources for such reviews and product-specific photography tips. I have to say that I was a little pissed off that almost every D-SLR by Canon or Nikon gets a "Highly Recommended" rating. While this doesn't help the decision process, I think that it truly reflects the state of digital photography these days. It is now a mature industry and manufacturers have improved their offerings so much that as a beginner, you can't really go wrong with any of them (as long as you stick to well-known, reputable makes like Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and so forth) . Anyway, back to my decision. I think that it should be noted that the Canon EOS 450D is more expensive than the D60 and definitely has a great set of features that I would have loved to see on my D60 as well. Nonetheless, between the two, I decided on the D60.

However, I soon started comparing the D60 against its bigger brother, the D90. I started looking for reviews and photography tips on the D90. The D90 has all the major features the EOS 450D has to offer and more, it has excellent reviews, it has a built-in motor that would allow the use of a wider range or lenses (some lenses supported by the D90 and not on the D60 are cheaper and in the long run the total cost of ownership may be less with the D90 - or so I argued) and additionally, it was brand new.

I had a chat with my colleague about this new alternative. He didn't recommend one over the other but he gave me some tips and said something that really stuck with me. He told me that in photography, it's very important to invest into the whole kit and not just the camera body. In fact, he added that it's much better to have a good lens on an entry-level body than the other way around. He also encouraged me to immediately invest in a reasonably good flash and tripod. I would rank this as one of the top photography tips I've ever received. I started looking at my investment from a more holistic perspective and realized that if I went for the D90, I would have to cut back on the other things. So, I decided to invest in a good entry level "kit" instead to kick-off my photography.

I bought my D60 together with the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105MM F/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens (kit lens for the D90), a Nikon SB-600 flash, a Tamrac bag and a Hoya UV filter. Recently, I added a Slik Pro 400DX tripod to my kit. I'm really glad that I decided on this kit and saw things holistically and beyond just the camera body. I have taken many nice pictures that I could never have had if I had decided to invest in a higher-end body and miss out on a good flash and tripod. Indoor pictures taken at night look best when you can fire a flash off a white ceiling and outdoor landscapes taken during sunrise or sunset look best when you can use a very small aperture (you will need to use a slow shutter speed and to mount the camera on a tripod).

photography tipsThere you have it - that's how I decided on my kit. I hope I offered you some practical advice and tips you don't typically get from reviews.