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Guide to choosing a tripod

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A tripod can be a great help in getting sharp photos and making you think more carefully about your composition. Many landscape, architecture, and product photographers would rate the tripod as being an essential bit of kit.

But if you're looking at purchasing a tripod, you may be a bit bewildered by all the different options available. In this article we'll look at the various features and specifications of tripods, and how they relate to real life use.

Guide to choosing a tripod

Deciding what you need in a tripod

Before you look for a tripod to purchase, it is important to understand what you really want from a tripod. Are you going to be walking long distances with it? Then weight is probably a strong consideration. Or will it just be used in a studio? Then the weight doesn't really matter.

Do you need it to pack up small? How much weight of equipment does it need to be able to handle? How quickly do you need to be able to set it up? How high does it need to extend? How low does it need to go? And probably the most important question, how much can you afford to spend?

When you have a good idea of what you need from a tripod, then it will make narrowing down your choice of tripod a lot easier. Of course, we'd all like a tripod that packs up tiny, extends really high while also allowing ground level shots, weighs next to nothing and costs nothing too. But that's just not realistic. So make sure you prioritize the features that are most important to you.

Look at the photography you do at the moment, and also the types of photography you'd like to do in the future to aid you with this practice. For example, if you're taking lots of low down macro and close up shots, then you'll want to make sure that any tripod you consider can go very low down to the ground.

Construction material

Tripods are typically made from either Carbon Fiber or Aluminum. You can also purchase some made from wood. The material the tripod is constructed from will affect its performance.

Aluminum tripods tend to be quite heavy. But at the same time, the heavier a tripod, the better (generally) it is at reducing vibrations. Aluminum tripods also tend to be strong, though of course this does depend on the thickness of the material used.

Manfrotto MK294A3-A0RC2 294 Aluminum Tripod leg

Aluminum conducts heat, which can make the tripod more difficult to handle in very cold weather. Most manufacturers include a leg muff (usually a piece of foam) around at least one of the top leg sections. This can certainly help when handling the tripod, but when extending and retracting the leg sections, it would be difficult not to touch the metal of the tripod at all.

The way aluminum conducts heat well is not a big issue for most people, but it is something to be aware of. (Especially if you live somewhere cold).

Carbon Fiber tripods are typically more expensive than Aluminum tripods, but are just as strong (or stronger) while weighing less. Carbon fiber tripods are more expensive to make, and hence cost more than equivalent aluminum models.

Manfrotto MK294C3-A0RC2 3 Section Carbon Fiber Tripod legs

Carbon fiber does not conduct heat as much as Aluminum, though it can still become quite cold in the winter and hot in the summer. As with Aluminum tripods, most manufacturers wrap at least one of the upper leg sections with a foam muff so you don't have to touch the actual leg.

Wood tripods are few and far between, but there are some manufacturers who specialize in them (Berlebach being the main one). Wooden tripods don't pack up as small as aluminum and carbon fiber tripods, and tend to be quite expensive.

Berlebach #12322C/75 UNI 22C/75 Tripod Legs (Camouflage Finish)

In terms of weight, they tend to be heavier than even aluminum tripods. The main selling point for wooden tripods are that they are very good at vibration dampening. While they will still get a bit cold in cold weather and hot in the sun, the effect is much less than with aluminum tripods.

Video or Photo Tripod?

If you're doing a lot of video work with your camera, or working with a particularly heavy system, then you may want to consider a video tripod.

Video tripods tend to have wider legs, with spreaders between the legs. This gives a steadier setup than a photo tripod with its legs that are only connected together at the top.

Manfrotto MVT502AM Video Tripod with Telescopic Twin Legs (Black)
Manfrotto MVT502AM - an example of a video tripod

Gitzo GT-531 Series 00 Carbon 6x 3 Section G-Lock Tripod - Replaces GT350 (Black)
Gitzo GT-531 - an example of a photo tripod

However, because of the leg spreaders, the leg angles are not as adjustable as with a photo tripod. If you pick a video tripod where the spreaders are not removable, and want to get very low down to the ground you'll be out of luck.

Another difference between video and photo tripods is the mounting plate on top. Photo tripods have a screw thread on top, while video tripods often have a bowl. This bowl can vary in size, being 65mm, 75mm, or 100mm (depending on the size and load carrying ability of the tripod).

A video tripod may come with a 3/8″ half ball adapter, so you can mount any head designed for photo tripods on it. However, you won't be able to mount video heads with bowl mounts on a photo tripod. Similarly, you won't be able to mount a head designed for a 75mm bowl on a tripod with a 65mm bowl either.

For the vast majority of photographers, a photo tripod is going to be a better choice due to the better flexibility of leg positioning, and more choices in terms of size and weight.

Sturdiness / Weight bearing ability

The weight bearing ability of a tripod is one of the most important points to look at. You want to make sure that the tripod can handle the heaviest load you are likely to use with it.

Man hanging from a tripod at a demonstration by tripod manufacturer Benro
Benro used to advertise the weight their tripods could handle by showing a person hanging from one

Generally the more weight a tripod can handle, the larger and heavier it will be. (Though weight for weight a carbon fiber tripod will be able to take a heavier load than an aluminum one). So you need to strike a balance between the amount of weight you need the tripod to handle and the portability of the tripod.

Vibration reduction

Vibration reduction ensures that vibrations from the surrounding area are not carried up the legs to the camera. It also ensures that if the tripod is knocked, the vibration dissipates quickly. Even the handling of the camera / tripod head will cause vibrations, so you want the vibrations gone as quickly as possible so you can get on with taking the shot.

For example, if you're taking a long exposure photo by the side of a road and a heavy truck comes past. You don't want the vibration caused by the truck traveling through the ground and then up the tripod to your camera.

ISS Flyover 2012 Oct 11 - long exposure photo with blurring / shake in the image caused by vibrations from passing cars
ISS Flyover 2012 Oct 11 by brownpau on Flickr (licensed CC-BY) - although this was taken on a tripod, vibrations from passing cars have affected the image

Unfortunately you are unlikely to find details about how well the tripod deals with vibration in its specifications. But some tripod reviews do include information about this.

Most tripods do a good enough job of dampening vibrations for the vast majority of uses. But if this is something that is important to you, then you might want to check reviews of any tripods you are considering to see how they compare in this aspect.

Height

Along with weight and the weight bearing capacity of the tripod, the height of a tripod is one of the main points to consider. The height that a tripod will extend to is a trade off with the height of the tripod when collapsed, and the weight of the tripod.

Travel tripods can be collapsed quite small and weigh quite a bit less than standard tripods. But as a consequence they don't extend as high. The majority do not extend to eye level height, meaning you'll have to bend down to look through the camera's viewfinder when mounted on the tripod. (As a side-note, eye level is not always the best height to take a photo from anyway).

Cheap smaller tripod compared to larger standard tripod when collapsed
Cheap smaller tripod compared to larger standard tripod when collapsed

Cheap smaller tripod compared to standard tripod when fully extended
Cheap smaller tripod compared to standard tripod when fully extended

You'll find that two maximum heights are typically given for a tripod - one with the center column extended, and one with it collapsed. While extending the center column does let you get the camera up higher, it is generally not a good idea. It makes the camera much more susceptible to shake.

I would suggest to look at the height with the center column down as the true maximum height of the tripod. The fact the center column can be extended should be looked on as a bonus.

The other aspect of height is how low the tripod will go. This is a combination of the minimum length of the center column and the maximum angle of the legs. Most tripods will have the minimum height listed in their specifications.

Some tripods have a special short center column that allows you to get lower than you can with the standard size center column. Some tripods come with both a short and standard size center column, while others don't have a short center column available even as an extra. So this is a point worth checking.

Most tripods use a center column that can be reversed. This means that you can mount the camera upside down under the under tripod for low-angle shots. While this is usable, it is certainly not as convenient as having a tripod that will let you get low angle shots with the camera the right way up.

Rotating center column

Related to the previous point of the tripod's minimum height, some tripods come with a rotating center column. This allows you to extend the camera away (and down) from the center of the tripod - very useful for low angle shots.

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 055 Carbon Fiber 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column (Black)

However, since it moves the weight of the camera away from the tripod's center of gravity, it does affect the stability somewhat.

Size when collapsed

The size of the tripod when collapsed can be important when traveling Most travel tripods use a clever design where the legs fold back up against the center column and head. This, combined with using shorter leg sections, allows the tripod to fold up smaller than a standard tripod.

SLIK Sprint Mini GM
SLIK Sprint Mini GM by Eric Wüstenhagen on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-SA)

The benefit of this is that it can easily fit in a bag or suitcase. Larger tripods may not fit at all, or be quite a squash to fit in, depending on the size of the tripod and your bag / suitcase, of course.

The small size also makes them easier to carry around with you, making them more suited to attaching to the outside of a camera bag. Or even carrying around inside your bag.

Weight

There's not a lot to say about weight, other than the heavier a tripod, the more stable it is likely to be. If you're going to be carrying your tripod around with you a lot, then weight is probably a primary consideration. There's little point in having a tripod if it's too heavy to take with you.

Miller 1726 Arrow 55 ENG CF Tripod (Black)

Leg lock type

There are two main types of leg lock - twist and lever. With twist leg locks, you untwist the lock to unlock the leg section. Then after extending the leg section you twist the lock back again to tighten the leg section in place.

Tripod leg sections with twist locks
Tripod leg sections with twist locks

With a lever lock, you flip the lever up to open the leg section. Then close it back down to lock the leg in place.

Tripod leg sections with lever locks
Tripod leg sections with lever locks

Both twist locks and lever locks are popular. If possible, it would be a good idea to try out both at a local camera store or photographers' meet-up before you buy.

With twist locks, there is no definite 'locked' position. So you can sometimes tighten a leg only to find it slipping, and that the lock needs tightening more. You don't want to tighten the locks as much as you physically can either, as then undoing the locks will be pretty difficult.

With lever locks this is less of an issue, though it is possible to think that you've fully closed a lever when actually it's just partly closed, which could then result in slippage of the leg section.

In theory, lever locks will wear out / become less effective more quickly than twist locks, which you can just tighten as much as is needed. However, lever locks wearing out is hardly a common problem in practice.

One disadvantage of twist locks is when you are working in varying temperatures. If you move from a cooler to a warmer environment, the legs will expand slightly. This can make getting the locks undone a lot harder if they were already locked tightly in the cool environment.

Number of leg sections

The number of leg sections in a tripod affects not only how small the tripod will fold up, but also how quickly you can set it up. Travel tripods typically have 5 sections meaning they fold up very small. But then you have to extend all 5 of these sections to get the tripod up to its full height.

Most standard tripods, on the other hand, only have four leg sections, and would be the same height as a travel tripod with only three sections extended. So setting up a standard tripod will be much quicker than a travel tripod.

The number of sections also affects the stability of a tripod. With 5 leg sections, it gives 5 joints where possible wobbliness can occur. It also means that the bottom most section is likely to be quite thin. But with fewer sections, the wider the bottom section will be, and thus the better stability you'll get.

Leg positioning

Tripod models vary in the angles the legs can be set at, the number of different angles they support, and also how the angles of the legs are set. The wider the maximum angle and the larger the number of angles the legs can be positioned at, the more flexible the tripod will be.

The ease of setting the legs into position should also be considered. Some tripods feature an angle lock you must pull out to unlock the leg, and notches on the plate above the leg that the lock can rest against to set the angle of the leg.

Close-up of a tripod's pull-out leg angle lock
Example of a pull-out leg angle lock

Other designs have legs that will automatically lock into place as they pulled in one direction, while pressing an unlock button down is required to unlock the legs when moving them back in the opposite direction.

Monopod option

A feature often seen with travel tripods is that one leg can be unscrewed, and used as a monopod. This means that rather than buying both a tripod and monopod, you can just buy a tripod and use the monopod leg whenever that's more convenient.

AFAITH Q-666 SLR Camera Tripod Monopod & Ball Head Portable Compact Travel

It could be particularly useful when traveling as it gives you both tripod and monopod without taking up the extra room and weight of a dedicated monopod.

Weight hook

A feature of most tripods is a (usually detachable) weight hook at the bottom of the tripod's center column. This can be used to add some extra weight to the center of the tripod, which helps in steadying it.

Weight hook at the bottom of a tripod's center column
Weight hook at the bottom of a tripod's center column

While you probably don't carry around a bag of weights with you, hanging your camera bag from the weight hook can work well. This is particularly useful with travel tripods, which tend not to be as sturdy as a full size tripod.

Feet

Most tripods come with rounded rubber feet on the ends of the legs that work well in most conditions. However, being able to use different feet on the tripod can be quite useful.

Tripods that feature interchangeable feet often have an option for using spiked feet. These are useful when working outside, as the feet can be pushed into the ground, further securing and stabilizing the tripod.

Gitzo GS5030VSF Video Rubber and Spike Feet for Series 2 and up Tripods

Some tripods come with feet that feature retractable spikes (or have them available as an optional extra). This means that you don't need to bother changing the feet when you want to use the spikes - just extend the spikes from the feet instead. This does typically require a tool (screwdriver) though.

Snow shoes are also available for some tripods. These are usually in the form of feet that slip over the rubber feet. These give the tripod feet a larger footprint and help stabilize it on surfaces such as snow, sand, and gravel.

Mounting screw

There are two main screw / thread sizes used in photography equipment - 1/4″ and 3/8″. The vast majority of tripod heads use a 3/8″ thread, and most tripods come with a 3/8″ screw on top for mounting these heads on.

There are some tripod heads though that use a 1/4″ thread, and some tripods that have a 1/4″ screw. You can purchase adapters to go from 1/4″ to 3/8″, or even from 3/8″ down to 1/4″. But these are not ideal (particularly the 3/8″ to 1/4″ adapters).

So it is best to look for a tripod that features a reversible screw, with a 1/4″ screw on one side and 3/8″ on the other. This gives you more flexibility, so you can use heads with either thread size on your tripod, with no need for adapters.

Changing the screw thread size on a tripod with a reversible screw
Changing the screw thread size on a tripod with a reversible screw

Some tripods come with a head included. In terms of very cheap tripods, this may be a fixed head that cannot be removed - I would avoid this type of tripod.

If the tripod does come with a head included you need to think about how useful the head will be to you. For example, if you're going to be mainly using the tripod for macro photography, and it comes with a ball head, this probably won't be much use to you. A geared head would be much better.

Induro AKB2 Tripod  with Ballhead 65-Inch Max Height 18.7lb Load Capacity

Also consider how much you save by getting the head included with the tripod. And look for reviews of the head to see how good it is. If one tripod comes with a head included and costs $40 more than one with no head, this might seem like a good deal. But if the head isn't very good, then it's not such a bargain.

There's certainly lots to think about when looking at buying a new tripod. There are big trade-offs between the sturdiness of a tripod and the weight / size. The important thing is to look for the features that suit you and type of photography that you like to do.

Written by Discover Digital Photography

August 17th, 2014 at 2:45 pm

What is EXIF & How is it useful?

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EXIF is a form of metadata (data about data) that is recorded in digital photos. It includes information such as the camera model used to take the photo, the camera settings used, and the date and time the photo was taken.

In this article we'll look at how to view the EXIF data of a photo, how EXIF can be useful, and even how it can help you improve your photography.

What is EXIF & How is it useful?

Technically, EXIF is a certain form of metadata that can be stored inside an image file. There are also other formats of metadata such as IPTC and XMP that can also store additional metadata in an image.

EXIF, IPTC, and XMP - all types of metadata that can be stored in a digital photo

EXIF has a set number of properties that it includes, which are generally just the camera settings used to take the photo. The IPTC and XMP formats can be thought of as extensions to EXIF. They allow the inclusion of other metadata, such as the name of the person shown in an image, or the name of the location where the photo was taken.

Generally when people refer to EXIF, they mean all metadata stored in an image file (including XMP and IPTC). In this article I'll be using the same convention - when I refer to EXIF I mean any metadata stored in the file.

The EXIF data stored in an image doesn't affect how the image looks at all. It's not like those old cameras that used to stamp the date and time of the photo onto the actual image. We'll look at how to view the EXIF later in the article.

How EXIF data can help you improve your photography

Back in the days of film, there was no such thing as EXIF data. If you wanted to know what camera settings you took a photo at, you'd have to write them down at the time with the shot. And make sure that you kept a reference to the frame number and roll of film so you could tie the written settings back to the actual photo.

Notes of camera settings used for photos shot on a roll of film
Settings by Nigel Wade on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-SA)

Quite a lot of work compared to just looking at the automatically recorded EXIF of a digital photo. But photographers did sometimes go to the effort of recording this information.

The reason for this is so that when you look at an image you've taken you can evaluate the technical aspects of it. If something went wrong, or went well, you can check the camera settings you used. Then you know not to use (or to use) those same settings in a similar situation in the future.

As an example, let's say you were photographing a sports game. When you later you review your photos you find that some have come out blurry due to subject movement. You can look at the EXIF data for those images and check what shutter speed the camera (or you) chose.

Then you know that you must use a faster shutter speed than that in the future. (And shooting in shutter priority mode or manual mode to ensure the camera uses the faster shutter speed would be a good idea too).

And it's not just shutter speed you can check. You can look for exposure problems, depth of field issues, focusing issues, pretty much anything to do with the camera settings. By identifying problem images and then viewing the EXIF data to see what setting caused the problem, you can learn what settings to use and not use in each situation.

This information can be particularly useful if you're just trying out a new technique or learning a certain style of photography. It helps you quickly learn what settings work and which don't.

How to view a photo's EXIF data

In-camera

Nearly all camera models allow viewing the most useful pieces of EXIF data in the images they record. Generally you need to put the camera into image review mode, and then use a button (often marked i / disp / info) to scroll through the different display screens for the image.

Image review playback on camera showing some EXIF data such as Shutter speed, Aperture, ISO, Metering mode, White balance

Depending on your camera it may just display a minimal amount of EXIF information (date / time, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and whether flash was used). Or it may have a lot of information that is displayed over a couple of screens.

The exact implementation varies from camera to camera, so for precise instructions consult your camera manual.

On the computer

For Windows users there are a couple of built-in ways you can view the EXIF of a photo. The first is in the file info / properties pane at the bottom of Windows Explorer. When you select a photo, then a limited amount of EXIF data will be shown here.

Viewing EXIF data for an image in the file info pane at the bottom of Windows Explorer

The larger you have the file properties pane, the more EXIF information you can see.

Windows Explorer with file info pane expanded to show more EXIF data

The other option for Windows users is to right-click on a photo and choose 'properties', then go to the details tab.

File properties window in Windows showing EXIF data for a photo

Note that for both these options, you can only edit some of the EXIF fields if you are viewing the EXIF for a JPEG file. If you're viewing the EXIF of a RAW file, then Windows will give you an error message if you try to change / add to any of the EXIF properties.

For Mac users you can right-click on the photo and then choose 'Get Info' from the context menu that pops up. Alternatively, press Cmd + I with the image selected in Finder. Then click on the 'More info' section to expand it and see the EXIF info.

However, whether you're on a Mac or Windows, using the built-in EXIF viewers is not really a great solution. Instead you are much better off using Image management software such as Lightroom, Adobe Bridge, Phase One Media Pro, ACDSee, or any of the many other similar software packages.

Image management software will allow you to view the most relevant EXIF data more easily. It will also allow you to easily change and add EXIF data, as well as searching and sorting images by their EXIF data.

Viewing EXIF data for a photo using the metadata panel in Adobe Bridge

One thing worth noting is that the majority of image management software does not write EXIF data to RAW files. Instead the information is stored in a sidecar file (a file saved alongside the RAW file) or in a database.

The issue with storing EXIF in a database is that if you change the software you use, or loose the database, then any EXIF data you have entered / modified for your images will be lost. (All the original EXIF data stored in the images by the camera will still be retained though).

Using EXIF to help organize your images

Using Image Management software it is quite simple to add tags / keywords to your photos. Typically you'd do this based on the content of the image, for example, for a photo taken at the beach you might tag it with 'Beach, sand, sea, seaside, vacation'.

This makes it much easier to find images in the future, as you can search for them (or browse them) by tag.

Some cameras also allow you to add star ratings or some other form of marker to images. This can be very useful as it allows you to easily mark images that should be prioritized for processing. You can then sort the photos by rating, and easily find the ones to work on (or just post to social media) straight away.

Setting an image rating for a photo in camera

It should be noted though that some camera models store the rating / marker information in a way that is not accessible by most Image Management software. In this case the extra metadata stored by the camera has to be converted to something accessible by your image management software, which involves an extra step when importing the photos to your computer.

You can read more about general organizing of images and the use of metadata here: How to organize and manage your photos.

Making lens choices based on EXIF data

Another benefit of EXIF data is that you can analyze it to discover what focal lengths you take most of your photos at. This data can be useful in a couple of ways.

ExposurePlot EXIF anaylsis result graphs
ExposurePlot by Piper Gu on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

First, you might be deciding on what lens to take on holiday with you. Or maybe you're looking at purchasing a new lens or camera (with lens included). By seeing what focal length(s) you use most, you can make an informed decision, and make sure that your choice covers those focal lengths.

For example, lets say you have a 24-70mm zoom lens, but analyzing the EXIF of your photos you find that 90% of your photos are taken at the 24mm end. You might decide to sell the lens and invest in a 24mm prime lens instead (smaller and cheaper).

Or maybe you currently have a camera with a built-in lens, and you're looking to upgrade to a DSLR or CSC. You can check what focal lengths you shoot at most, and then make sure that any new camera you purchase comes with a lens (or lens kit) that will cover those focal lengths.

Lens
Lens by live on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

The other way in which this information might be useful is the exact opposite. You could try force yourself to use a focal length that you don't often use. Too often we can just use a certain focal length or camera setting just because that's what we always use, not because it is necessarily the best choice for the photo.

By forcing yourself to use a focal length you're not used to using, you'll learn when that focal length is a good choice. It will also likely make you have to think more about how to capture the image you want, resulting in better, more thoughtful images.

But how do you see which focal lengths you use the most? Well, many image management software programs allow you to filter your images by focal length, showing you how many were taken at each focal length. There is also a piece of Windows software called Exposure Plot that can perform this analysis for you (but only for JPEG images). You can find some other suggestions for similar solutions here: What software can show my most frequently used focal length?

Other people's EXIF

I mentioned earlier how checking the EXIF of your images can help you improve your photography. Well, checking the EXIF of other people's images can also help you improve.

When you see an image you particularly like (or maybe don't like!) then you can check the EXIF to see how the photo was shot. Now, this won't give you the full story on how a photograph was created. But it can still give you some helpful pointers.

You can see the information such as the focal length (or maybe the lens) used, the shutter and aperture settings. This can give you at least some idea of the settings to use to create a photo in a similar style.

For viewing the EXIF of a photo online, some photo sharing websites display the EXIF alongside the photo. For example, Flickr displays basic EXIF data on the photo page, with a link for viewing the full EXIF data for the image.

Example of basic EXIF information displayed for a photo on Flickr

You can also download plugins for most internet browsers to allow you to view the EXIF of any image on the web. Just search for the name of the internet browser you use, followed by 'exif plugin', e.g. 'Internet Explorer exif plugin' or 'Safari exif plugin'.

Problems with EXIF

Now, you should note that not all photos on the web will have EXIF data. In fact, many of them won't. The issue is that storing all the EXIF data in an image obviously takes up some room. In terms of a full size image, the amount of space EXIF takes up is pretty tiny.

For a web size image the amount of space EXIF takes up is still relatively small. However, to ensure images load as fast as possible some websites (e.g. Facebook) will automatically remove the EXIF data from any images uploaded to them. Some photographers may also decide to strip the EXIF from their images before they upload them.

Comparison of the file size of an image resized for web use. One with EXIF intact, and the other with the EXIF stripped. The file size saving of removing the EXIF is not negligible as a percentage (14% smaller), but is quite small in terms of actual size (49kB smaller).
Comparison of the file size of an image resized for web use. One with EXIF intact, and the other with the EXIF stripped. The file size saving of removing the EXIF is not negligible as a percentage (14% smaller), but is quite small in terms of actual size (49kB smaller).

The other issue with EXIF is that it could contain personal information that you don't want shared on the internet. For example, if you take a photo at your house using your phone, it is likely that the phone will automatically include the GPS co-ordinates of where the photo was taken in the EXIF data. If you then upload this photo to the web, anyone can view the EXIF data and find out exactly where you live.

Another example is that some images contain a copy of the image embedded in the EXIF. This is true for all RAW files and some JPEGs, typically it is a slightly smaller and / or lower quality version of the image, intended for use as a preview image.

If you crop an image to exclude some part you don't want other people to see, and then upload it to the web, it may still include the original preview image embedded in the EXIF. Someone viewing the EXIF can then extract the uncropped preview image.

Images with embedded preview images in the EXIF are also a case where the EXIF can add considerably to the file size, making the image slower to load than it should be.

Hopefully you'll agree that overall, EXIF data can be very useful, and it's great that all cameras include this information by default.

Written by Discover Digital Photography

August 10th, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Summer Photography Tips

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Summer can be a bit of a paradox in terms of its suitability for photography. In one aspect it's great for photography - it's nice weather for going out, there's often lots happening to photograph, and there's plenty of light.

On the other hand, the sun spends a lot of the day high up in the sky, creating harsh lighting and strong shadows. The light is very contrasty and capturing an image with detail in both the shadows and highlights can be nigh-on impossible.

In this article I want to look at how you can deal with the problems of photographing in the summer. I'll also look at some of the good points of summer photography compared to other times of the year.

Summer Photography Tips

Dealing with harsh light

I covered a few tips on coping with harsh light in my previous article Midday photography tips, however I'll just briefly go over those tips again here.

Capture the shadows

Make the harsh light work to your advantage by trying to photograph subjects where the strong shadows become part of the composition. This won't generally work well for portrait photography, but parts of buildings with things sticking out causing a shadow can give some very photos.

Shadows on side of building
Everything Has A Purpose - Shadow S5141e by Harris Hui on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

Go B&W or abstract

The harsh contrast can be dealt with to some extent by going black and white. In black and white strong contrast tends to be much less objectionable than it does in color photography.

Abstract black & white photograph of shadows at the Chicago Museum of Art
Chicago shadows by Kevin Dooley on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Abstract photography, where the photo is more of lines or shapes also often works well with the strong contrasty light you get in summer.

Use HDR

If you want to shoot during the daytime, but don't want to go for a high contrast image, then HDR or a similar technique may be the answer. One of the problem with harsh summer light is that the difference in brightness between the dark areas of an image and the bright areas (known as the dynamic range) can be too much for your camera to capture. So you end with an image that has blown-out highlights and / or blocked-up shadows.

The way HDR works is that you take both underexposed and overexposed images of the scene (without moving the camera). This then gives you detail in both the highlight areas and the shadow areas of the image. The images can then be blended together into a single image with detail in both the highlights and the shadows.

Gold buggys tonemapped HDR photo
start your engines by Theodore C on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

Most cameras today offer an HDR mode that will take the multiple images and then blend them into a single image for you automatically. Alternatively you can use auto bracketing and then process the resultant images into an HDR image later. This second option gives you a bit more control over how the final image turns out, but involves more manual work.

Try some silhouette photography

The strong light in summer can make it relatively easy to achieve silhouette photos. Just position your subject (or yourself) so that the sun is behind your subject. Most of the time the camera will adjust for the brightness of the sky, and so give you an exposure where your subject becomes a black silhouette.

City skyline silhouette
Late Summer Silhouette by SPDP on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

If you find that you just get an image with your subject properly exposed but a blown out background, there are a couple of things you can try. The first is to just apply some negative exposure compensation and then take the shot again.

The other thing you could try is to switch over to manual exposure mode. Manually set a small aperture (e.g. f/8) and fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/1000s). This will reduce the amount of light the camera captures, and should result in a good silhouette photo.

Move into the shade

Summer is a popular time for both portrait and flower photography, but the harsh light is unflattering for both people and plants. The solution is simple - move into the shade.

Portrait photo taken in the shade
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. by Girish Suryawanshi on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

For people you can easily ask your subject to move underneath the shade of a tree or beach umbrella. For plants you may be able to shade the flower with your body while taking the photo. Otherwise a diffusion panel that can be held over the flower to soften the direct light can work wonders.

Large diffusion panels can be used for photographing people too. Though due to the size you will either need a stand or an assistant to hold the panel between your subject and the sun.

using a scrim to diffuse harsh sunlight for a portrait photo
scrim by Jessie Pearl on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Use a polarizer

For landscape photography a polarizing filter is very useful. By polarizing the light it cuts down on specular reflections from foliage, resulting in deeper, more saturated colors.

Photo looking out from near Colorado's triangle pass summit, taken using a polarizing filter for saturated colors and a deep blue sky
Mountain High by Zach Dischner on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

It also turns the sky a deeper blue. This is particularly effective when the sky is filled with white fluffy clouds, which contrast against the dark sky.

Note that the effect of a polarizer is maximized when photographing at an angle of 90° from the sun.

Sunsets & Sunrises

While there's not anything particularly special about sunrise and sunset in the summer, the photography experience can be more pleasant at this time of year. The main thing is that after the sun sets the temperature still stays quite high. Whereas later (or earlier) in the year the temperature can drop quite quickly after the sun has set.

Sunset Lake
Sunset Lake by Don Miller on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

The timing of sunsets is quite late, which makes them much more convenient to shoot. You're less likely to be coming home from work or having dinner during sunset than you are at other times of year.

The earliness of summer sunrises can be looked upon as a blessing or a curse. On the one hand you can easily get to a nice location for sunrise without worrying about traffic as it's so early. On the other hand, many of us find it very difficult to motivate ourselves to get up that early.

One possible negative of photographing sunsets in summer is the mosquitoes. Make sure you use some repellent before you go out to avoid coming back covered in bites.

Summer Storms

When I mention summer storms, I mean rainstorms rather than tornados or typhoons. While there are 'storm chasers' who capture awesome photos of these phenomena, I wouldn't recommend it unless you really know what you're doing.

Rainstorms, on the other hand, are relatively safe for photographing. You do need to be careful about lightning, but at least you don't have to worry about having a car blown into you.

Summer storm
Summer storm by Gabriel Carlson on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

These storms can make for some great photo opportunities, particularly at the end of a storm as the light starts to return. Keep an eye out for storms off in the distance too, as you can sometimes capture them dumping their rain on the fields or town below.

Look to capture both the storm itself, and also subjects with backlit or sidelit rain. (This helps the rain show up in the photo).

Street photography portrait - summer rain
summer rain 01 by Zuerichs Strassen on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Go Infrared

Summer is the best time for infrared photography for a number of reasons. You have plenty of green foliage around, that will show up nice and bright in IR photos. The sky is often blue (rather than overcast), which will show up nice and dark in IR photos.

Infrared photograph of the Linderman Library, Lehigh University
The Home of Humanities by Alan Strakey on Flickr (licensed CC-BY-ND)

And IR photos typically tend to have quite low contrast, so the strong contrasty light of summer is actually well suited to IR photography.

Sadly infrared photography is not quite as simple as most other types of photography - it requires a special filter and a suitable camera. However, many cameras can be used for infrared photography, so long as you don't mind putting up with a long exposure time. You can read more on the subject in this article: An Introduction To Infrared (IR) Photography.

Flowers and insects

Summer is also a great time for flower and insect photography, just because there are so many around at this time of year. For tips on photographing flowers please see Macro & Close-up Photography Tips – Plants & Flowers, and for tips on photographing insects: Macro & Close-up Photography of Insects.

Grasshopper
Grasshopper by siamesepuppy on Flickr (licensed CC-BY)

Be careful at the beach

One last point to take is to take care of your gear if taking photos at the beach. You really don't want sand getting in your camera. As well as jamming up dials and rings, sand can be quite sharp, and you could risk scratching your camera's lens (or even worse, the image sensor).

Salt water is also very bad for electronics as it is corrosive. If you do happen to get some on your camera, wipe it off with a cloth damped in fresh water. But better to be careful and avoid getting sea spray on your camera in the first place.

And wherever you're photographing, don't get too carried away with your photography that you forget about your health. Remember to use plenty of sunscreen, and take plenty of drink with you when going out to photograph in the heat.

Have fun taking photos in the nice summer weather, and I hope you find these tips useful.

How to achieve a soft-focus dreamy look

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Soft focus filters are used for reducing the local contrast in an image, and sometimes also for adding a kind of dreamy glow. The main use for this is in portrait photography - the filter reduces the appearance of fine detail such as skin pores, giving a smoothing effect.

The effect is not the same as just blurring an image. A good quality soft focus filter reduces the contrast of fine detail rather than blurring it away.

How to achieve a soft-focus dreamy look

Soft focus effects were often used in Hollywood films in the 1950s for scenes with the leading actress. If you look closely when watching these films you can clearly see how the look of the image changes when a scene alternates between showing the male lead and the female lead.

Because of their heavy use in Hollywood, the look given by a soft focus filter is sometimes referred to as the 'Hollywood look'. In this article we'll look at several ways you can produce the same effect in your own photography.

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Written by Discover Digital Photography

July 27th, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Improve your photography – Ditch the kit (for a day)

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In this article I want to look at why using a different lens to the one that came with your camera might be a good idea. I'm not going to go into details about the quality of the lens - most 'kit' lenses sold with cameras today are perfectly fine.

Rather, I want to look at how restricting yourself to using a lens or focal length you don't normally use much can help you hone your photographic technique.

Improve your photography - Ditch the kit (for a day)

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Written by Discover Digital Photography

July 20th, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Create a Hand-Colored Black and White Photo

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Before the advent of color photography, a process of hand coloring black and white photos was sometimes used. Color (often using watercolors) was simply painted on top of the photograph, to create a color image.

This process gives the images quite a unique look. In this article I want to look at how you can do the same, giving any image that hand-colored black and white photo look.

Create a Hand-Colored Black and White Photo

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The art of the Double Exposure

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A double exposure is a creative technique where you combine two (or more) photos in a single image. It is quite an old technique, before digital it meant capturing two exposures on a single frame of film. But with today's modern cameras and software, creating a good double exposure image is much easier.

The art of the Double Exposure

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How to create a Droste Effect recursive photo

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The Droste effect is the name given to the effect when a picture appears within a picture of itself.

It is named after a brand of Dutch Cocoa powder, whose box featured an image of a woman holding a tray with a cup of cocoa and the same box with the same image on it.

The infinite recursion of the Droste effect is an unusual technique, but can produce some great images. In this article I'll look at how to create two different versions of the effect - the frame within a frame technique, and the spiral technique.

How to create a Droste Effect recursive photo

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Written by Discover Digital Photography

June 29th, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Product Photography Tips – White subject on a white background

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Photographing a white subject on a white background can be quite tricky, particularly if you are looking for a pure white background. In this article I'll look at a number of ways of achieving a pure white background while keeping the white subject exposed nicely.

Product Photography Tips - White subject on a white background

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Written by Discover Digital Photography

May 11th, 2014 at 7:26 pm

onOne Perfect Effects 8 software Free for a limited period

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Just a quick heads-up that onOne software are currently giving away their Perfect Effects software for free for a limited time. The software normally retails for $99.95.

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Written by Discover Digital Photography

May 6th, 2014 at 8:39 am