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Reasons For Common Focusing Problems and Some Possible Solutions.

Reasons For Common Focusing Problems and My Personal Thoughts on Some Possible Solutions.

                                         Index is at base of tutorial.

The following tutorial is based on my personal experiences and my attempts to get around the problems of focusing and the precieved problems related to sharpness and blur only. Pictures with lines running underneath, can can be clicked on to get to larger versions. It is quicker to right click a picture and 'open in a new window'. Close that picture window to come back to this page.                      Alternatively

Any picture in this tutorial that has a line running directly beneath can be viewed full size by clicking on it. Use your web browser's back button to return you to the tutorial.

 An in depth and hopefully simple explanation of how to recognise focusing problems and how to overcome them including How to track fast moving subjects such as sports photography, and focus through zoo fencing to get clear pictures of the animals behind.

When something is easier to do and when it's not.

Different workarounds for different levels of camera where possible.



First thing to say is that not all of the problems have solutions that are practical. How practical is in the eye of the photographer and how desperately they need the picture. Some of the solutions require very expensive solutions. Others do not, but where the cut off point is both in cost and practicality is again personal choice. A lot of common problems arise though from not understanding what focus is about. By that I mean you need to understand how and what you aim at makes a difference to how good a focus result you get.

This tutorial will not cover any other aspect of the associated problems arising from getting the right focus such as white balance or metering which happen at the same time. They have nothing to do with focus problems whatever you may hear to the contrary and are not relevant to this tutorial. Maybe another time I will do further tutorials to cover those topics.

It will cover use of Aperture; Shutter Speed and ISO where applicable to focus issues.


1: Section 1.

 The Technical Side. Understanding What's Going on and Why.

The speed of a camera's Auto Focus system is really dependent on the maximum aperture offered by the lens. F-stops (the size of the hole that allows light to pass through the lens) of around f/2 ( measurement of the size of the hole) to f/2.8 are generally considered optimal in terms of focusing speed and accuracy. Faster lenses than this of say f/1.4 or f/1.8 ( A smaller number indicates a larger hole) have a small depth of field, (dof; depth of field; the amount of a picture that remains in focus from the foreground to the background;) meaning that it takes longer to achieve correct focus, despite the increased amount of light. Stopping down some of these lenses (decreasing the aperture) can sometimes help.

Most consumer camera systems will only auto focus reliably with lenses that have a maximum aperture of at least f/5.6, while professional models can often cope with lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/8 or higher. These specifications are still talking about use in good light and things still get worse in lower light situations. The use of increased ISO settings, of coming away from base ISO which is considered to be ISO 200, is not really a part of this Tutorial but needs to be referred to at some points during the tutorial to help with some explanations.

 Part One.

  So What is Auto-Focus?

Auto focus is the cameras ability to focus a picture for you rather than you having to do it yourself.

At a basic level the camera is always in focus and some basic cameras are sold like this. The problem is the focus is fixed. To have a fixed focus can be a problem as it relies on a big depth of field to work well. This in turn needs a small aperture or 'hole' for the light to get in and that in turn makes capturing the light more difficult. To capture the light you then have two choices. Amplify the light or capture it for longer. A longer capture is OK for stationary objects but makes for a limited selection of photographic subjects. Amplifying small amounts of light leads to mistakes in the output as less light means less well defined colour. Look at the problem of seeing in twilight. That moment when it gets so dark you are not sure whether you are seeing in colour any more or not. Then imagine being an amplifier. Was that a bit of red or orange? Pink or red? which bit of the light is the right bit to amplify? The less light and the more amplification the worse the problem. Even shadows and highlights start to get intermixed as the light levels fall away.

In the days of film instead of amplifying the light a faster film that needed less light was used. The result was the same, meaning the faster the film was the more noise that was seen in the developed picture. Referred to as grain the results of high speed film though not great was more pleasing to most people to look at than the modern equivilent of the digital noise produced by electronic cameras.

Sounds bad?

If you are old enough to remember using a disposable film camera or a box brownie, or a polaroid camera, you have have used a film version.

Not brilliant by today's standards for either colour,contrast or definition.

So although possible and usable in certain circumstances it's neither conducive or useful to today's more discerning or expectant consumer who rightly or wrongly would like their pictures to look something more along the lines of those seen in magazines.

I will promise at this point not to laugh.

For that you need more speed for the shutter and more choice of depth in the image. That in turn means more choice for you to select how you want to take the picture. Meaning what do you want of your picture? Do you want a close up or a wide angle ? Do you want to show some movement or a frozen moment in time? Do you want everything in sharp detail or only the subject in question to be sharp relief?

So how to overcome a fixed focus system and make it so that the camera can do the work for you?

You will have noticed by now that the old chestnuts of Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO (amplification of light) is coming back into the equation but only briefly.

If you can accept for this tutorial that you you understand the principles of selecting those three parameters and how to apply them at a basic level to get your desired effect of depth and speed for that picture we can concentrate on the problems with the auto focus and what stops it working effectively.


Part Two

2: How Does a Camera See a Focus Point?

 Well it doesn't.

What has to happen is the operator has to point the camera to a suitable position. The better the position the better the focus.

What does that mean?

Think about how you read this text. What do you see? I'm not talking about the words but the letters. Each letter shape is a sharp contrast, black on white. It is easy to see because of this.

The camera sees it the same way and tries to replicate the edge of the letter. The sharper the better. One pixel white with the adjacent pixel black would be ideal.


Because if you had a grey between the black and white section this would be caused by the lens focusing too close or not close enough causing in effect something similar to double vision. Only black with white would mean the lens has focus so the lens will start off focusing too short or too long and wait until it gets to the best contrast then go past that (as it doesn't know when to stop) and when it looks worse will change direction until it gets back to the best contrast it saw on it's first movement. The camera may instruct the lens to do this several times depending on the contrast available until it stops at the the sharpest contrast point. Say the letter was grey on white, or cream on yellow. The ability to see an edge becomes increasingly difficult so more verification is needed. More and more the lens will hunt back and forth until it reaches an average of good contrast and comes to rest. Beyond a certain level this becomes impossible or near impossible and mistakes in focus or missing focus all together becomes a possibility if not a certainty.

So any of the points mentioned in the 'Why does Auto focus not always work?' section can seriously effect the accuracy of the auto focus system.

 How Does That Help?

Well, knowing you can only get auto focus to work where there is reasonable contrast means you now know where to point the focus point on your camera to obtain a reasonable focus. How fast that happens if at all depends on the difficulty of getting enough contrast in the focus position.

That position is within the [ ] symbol in the view finder or screen. ( Not an exact symbol but close enough.)


Part Three

 3: Why does Auto focus not always work?

 Basically Auto-focus systems can be confused into not working.

Most of these are covered in camera manuals and include.

Low contrast problems;

including low light and bland featureless subject matter or insubstantial subject matter such as smoke.

That would include;

where the focus needs to be in the shaded area throwing the focus out by the shadow being too dark.

Repetitive patterns;

such as fine weave fabric, geometric, or fur.

Shiny subjects;

because of reflections and shooting through glass or other semi transparent materials.

Fast moving subjects;

too quick for the system to react.

Focal distances;

being too close to focus to or too far away to get adequate contrast for the auto focus to lock on to.

More than one focus point;

a caged animal where the cage gets in the way of a clear shot, a wire fence that moves the focus point backward while panning.

a person or other interruption walking across foreground of the frame.

There are two main versions of auto focus in common use in today's cameras. There are more but for this tutorial I am not differentiating between them as mostly the differences really are about speed of focus and accuracy. These differences are not always that great in practical terms except when getting into extremes of what is possible. In other words excessive light and speed conditions where the more expensive and sophisticated systems cope more accurately.

The two main different methods of auto focus are.

4: Phase Detection and Contrast measurement.

An expansive explanation for those interested can be found here.

For now though I will try to explain how to get good focus from your camera and what to avoid to help prevent the camera from not focusing.

Any solution here will work with all auto focus systems. Only the accuracy and speed at which it happens will change slightly.


 Part Four

5: What Happens if the Point I Want to Focus on is Not Where the Focus Point is?

That depends on the camera you use.

There are several ways around the problem but for some types of photography the more complex it is the easier it will be to achieve in harder types of shots.

Most digital cameras have more than one form of focus setting telling the camera what type of focus solution is needed and where the focus should be within the screen . If the camera does not have a movable focus spot or selectable focus spot other solutions can be found.

Finding which to use when is a matter of experimentation and what will work for one person may not work for another but in general these places are where I would start.

 Selecting (Camera allowing) a Viewfinder or Screen Focus Point or Type of Focus Point.


6a: Center Focus.

 Found on all Digital cameras. It is the [ ] symbol in the center of your view finder or screen in the camera's default set up.

This is the normal default setting and when used with 'Single Focus' mode (explanation further down) is the way a majority of normal photographic shots are taken.

It will focus on any high contrast area that crosses within that framed area as any selectable focus spot should. This is the primary position and the best place to obtain the best focus.

 6b: Selectable focus.

 Comes in many different flavours depending on manufacturer and type of camera. In general the higher the specification of the camera the more choice. Normally found on DSLRs though a variation is on the theme is found on newer compacts, bridge cameras, and the new four third format cameras.

Similar to the fixed central focus spot these are spread around the screen so you can get maximum focus to the sides or towards the sides of a frame.

                                                 For the Fuji S100fs


                                                  The S100fs Back Panel


      The 'Bow Tie' button picture is shown further down with the lens focus type selection.

Advantages are just that in some circumstances it can be quicker and easier to use than the focus and re-compose method. Useful in all types of photographic genres but especialy sports, action and wildlife. On DSLRs and some bridge cameras the selection of where you want your focus point is done by the rear command wheel. On some bridge cameras, four third cameras and compacts, touching the screen selects the focus point.

Want your focus on the eyes of a bird of prey rather than the beak? Easy with this option as you won't loose your focus due to movement that can occur during a recompose using the center focus spot method.

 6c: Dynamic Area Focus or Predictive Focus Tracking.

 Will track a moving object for you across the screen. Some will track more than one object or focus point within the depth of feild selected.

Available on some bridge, four thirds, and DSLR cameras.

Can be useful for tracking erratically moving subjects like wildlife.

Depending on camera the amount of focus points it uses can be selected from a list.

For instance the D3 series Nikon cameras have the option of selecting between 9, 21, and 51 focus points.


 The less focus points the faster the system can lock on.

Disadvantages are the less focus points you use the less chance the exact spot where want the clearest focus to be is less accurate within the frame.

Although the bridge cameras and compacts only have one focus point to track, because they use the Contrast Measurement System of auto focus it is not as fast as the DSLRs Phase Detection system. Contrast Measurement is also less effective in low light situations.

Again if you want to know why, scroll up to the wiki link above in part two.

6d: Auto Area Focus.

This can be different on different cameras. Some work with static and moving / tracking sujects, others with static single focus modes only.

 If it can be used with constant focus is extremely useful for tracking subjects coming toward you and across your path keeping the target in focus while you try to keep a good framing of the scene.

  7a:   Bridge Cameras.

    My Fuji S100fs for instance only works in the Single Focus mode and not continuous.

It does not lock onto a moving target but will find the sharpest contrast to lock onto starting it's hunt from the center outwards both above and below the central focus point. To date I have not found a use for that mode though I assume one exists. The HS10 in the time I had it could track moving objects but up to what speed and how accurately I wouldn't like to say as I only had a few days to put it through it's paces in the time I had free.

You can see it will find an off centre focus spot for itself. The down side and the reason I found it not useful is, it may not be the focus spot you want. Which I found to quite be often.

S100fs Back screen

While this is not the best taken example in the world it will do to show how it works. I may update this picture  at a later date.



7b: Top model DSLRs.

Will track without any visible focus points in certain modes. Highlights everything in focus in other modes.

This mode goes for the easiest thing to track so good for group photos but not for tracking wildlife say.

Look at whatever manual you have for your camera to see which if any extra versions you have.

Get to understand the differences, their strengths and weaknesses for a given job. There is no 'one selection fits all' solution.

As if that was not complex enough, by changing from manual to Single or Continuous Focus for your lens focus option can change the behaviour of any of the above settings. Again these are camera or sometimes manufacturer specific.

7c: Selectable Focus Area.

 Bridge Cameras and Compacts and Some Four Third models.

 The S100fs Bridge Camera.

While I reviewed the HS10 I did not check whether this function was available with the continuous focus function.

It may be worth checking because if it does work it is a useful feature.

7d: Advanced Compacts and Four Third Cameras.

Some cameras with ipod style touch screens have another method of selecting a focus position.

For people with problems using a viewfinder if the camera produces good enough images this type of technology  will be very useful. The response to touch from this unit I tried was very good with no false feedback from the screen. Combined with nice large icons on the screen this made use extremely easy.

         7e:   The Rest of the DSLR Focus Choices for the D300, D3, D3X, and D3S.


On top of those features you can get some DSLRs to display and try to lock onto focus areas that should be in focus for the aperture you have selected and display it in the viewfinder.

Sharpness in depth of field

7f: Other options that may be camera dependant are.

How the shutter button decides how to activate can be set in the menu, between when it's in focus only, meaning a picture can not be taken unless the camera has confirmed a lock, or set to the shutter actuating when fully depressed whether the frame is in focus or not, or a combination of the two can be set. The shutter button can also be programed not to fire if someone walks between you and the targeted subject.
Using a dedicated button on the back of the camera instead of the shutter button half press making it a two button process is also possible. This may seem strange at first but can be useful to stop accidental exposure when wearing gloves for instance. Other buttons can be programed to do this if you prefer instead, because you have a damaged finger, making the button provided difficult to use. Aslo useful when using a rain cover.
A single focus spot can also be used to track an object within the frame even if you keep the frame stationary, maybe for aesthetic reasons, or to avoid unwanted objects or persons but need to track a moving subject within the frame. Useful for blurred subject matter but sharp backgrounds. Gives the subject another way to show motion with a slower shutter speed and infill flash. This means you will see the subject being tracked by the focus spot across the screen as the subject moves.


Once you have selected which focus method you want,


 Part Five.

 How do You Want to Control How the Focus Spot Holds on to the Focus?

Once you have decided which way you chose or use a focus spot you have to decide which is the best method to keep the focus locked onto your intended subject. This is done by choosing a lens focus mode.

 Why do you need to do this?

 Well strictly speaking you don't but some modes in some circumstances will lead to frustration if the choice is not made and opportunities may be missed.

8: Lens Focus Modes.

 Depending on your camera these will either have a dedicated switch on the stage left side of the body (facing away from you) next to the lens barrel (more common on DSLRs and Bridge cameras) or you will find it in the shooting menu. (More common on compact cameras.)


8a: Manual Focus:

 D.I.Y auto focus and slower and quite often not as accurate as the automated ones.

Good for when all else fails or you think you are better than your camera.

(Actually if the camera has difficulty then you probably won't fair much better but it does have it's uses; more of which later).

8:b Single Focus: (and focus lock).

 Very useful for cameras that only have one focus spot and to reduce battery consumption.

Good for recomposing a focus point to get focus where there is no subject matter. IE between two individuals standing together. By focusing on one person and locking the focus by pressing the shutter button half way, then holding the focus while placing the focus spot between the two people to balance the shot and still have the focal range sorted. (explained in most camera manuals with pictures)

8c: Constant Focus:

 Constantly updates and adjusts for movement of subject matter.

Good for anything moving, particularly sports or any fast moving subject matter.

When used the half press should not lock the focus but continue tracking the focus reducing the time to lock when panning or tracking an object.

Downside is it can be quite hard on the battery life span shortening shooting times.

Within the menu there should be a section that allows you to select how long these options remain active after the shutter button is half depressed.

The shorter the time the more battery power is conserved but depending on how fast your camera will either switch back on or be ready once the shutter button is pressed can also be a factor in selection.

On some bridge cameras you may have to turn your camera off then back on to get the camera to respond at all.

This is in case you wander around with your screen active while you have no intention of shooting. That would would be the largest battery consumption of all. It can also be very frustrating to bring a camera up to your eye to find either the battery has gone or you miss a shot by having to switch off and back on and then wait for the camera to re-initialize.

DSLRs do not have similar problems and will almost instantly switch on at the press of the shutter button.




Before we begin to get to Correct Common Focus Problems there is One Extra Step to Consider if you have and use a Viewfinder.

9: The Diopter.

 What is it and do I need to worry about it?

It's a way to keep all information displayed in the view finder in focus to your eye.
Because the eye is close to the information screen the problem of being able to keep the information displayed in it in focus needs to be addressed.
There should be a small thumb wheel to the right of the viewfinder. This is a rotary control that pulls focus for the viewfinder itself so information is clearly displayed. It is adjusted by rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise and is normally in the neutral central position when it comes from the manufacturer.
People have a strong and a weak eye. Set the diopter for which ever eye you normally use. If you wear glasses the decision to set it up to work if you wear your glasses or not needs to be made if you have the choice. I set my diopters up to work without my glasses. This is so I can get my eye closer to the viewfinder to combat bright sunny days and rain. My glasses are normally strapped around my neck for checking the view-screen if this is necessary.

If you still can't see clearly through the view finder extras can be added like a magnifying eyepiece, and a rubber eye cup to keep out stray light.



 Extra info.

One way to suspect if the camera has been used for demonstration before or when you got it is to check the position of the diopter control on unpacking which should be set to neutral. It's not an infallible method but that and checking the picture count can help. Most shops would forget to reset these things before shipping. The more expensive top end DSLRs count their shutter releases and can be read and displayed easily by uploading an unaltered jpg to flickr where the exif data will be displayed in full. an example is here.
Look down the left column for Shutter Count and the  number of shutter releases is found on the right. In the case of the example above it's  45995

These shutter count releases can not be reset by a user unlike the picture count which can and often is.
Most cameras do not show this though and most bridge cameras have no mechanical shutter to wear out.



10: A Small Forward About Section Two.

A lot of the pictures from now on will be taken with my DSLR for a specific reason.  I can with the aid of my dedicated software for this camera show exactly where the focus spot is and how it has had an impact on focus (or not).
A lot of shots are heavily cropped to get to the detail.
This in some instances will make the shot look like I have used a focus point other than the central focus point.
This is not necessarily the case and would in most cases not make a difference.
Where it is the case and would make a difference the text will tell you.



 Common Focus Problems and Solutions.

 Part A.

11:  Not getting contrast within the Focus spot [  ].

 This can be caused either by the object being too far away and not supplying enough contrast, or too close giving just one shade of colour within the focus point or too fast and missing the correct target to get a good lock on to the subject causing the focus spot to lock onto something else.

Contrast example 1

Missing altogether and locking onto the wrong distance


Notice the red square. That is where the Focus was when the shutter button was depressed. You can see I missed the bird next to the girl by a small margin while trying to keep track while panning.

I didn't keep up with the bird's flight at the time of the shutter press or more likely I slowed down too much in anticipation of the bird landing on her arm. The camera was able to quickly lock on to where the contrast was greatest though and released the shutter at that moment. The result was really nice focus in totally the wrong place.

If I didn't have this software I would never have guessed as I didn't use the center focus spot for this shot. Really though if you use the center focus spot on your camera you can work this out for yourself by either making a mask you can save and show as an overlay within an editing package or you can call up a grid in an editing package and work out where the center is.

That is OK for analysis after the act but how do you stop it from happening in the first place?

There are several things you can do to help yourself.

12: The first is a good  panning technique.

Tracking your subject matter with your camera is an art form in itself.
For me the best way I have found is to hold the camera close using the view finder. If you have a screen you can do similar but you will have to practice holding the camera slightly away from your face.
 The main things are.
 Support your camera as best you can. This means both elbows into your body Left hand on shutter and holding the body. Right hand under the lens.
Keep your arms and camera in the same positions while you pan. The movement for the pan comes from the hips. Feet planted apart either in a 'T' or at forty five degrees from each other. Stand sideways to the the direction you expect to pan into. If it's a long pan make sure the center of the pan happens with you facing directly forward so the pan does not get you off balance making you move your feet.
Inhale just before the pan and exhale slowly throughout the pan. Do not stop the movement until after you have taken the shot. Slowing down or stopping before the shot is taken and the shutter released again is no good or you will end up with a picture like the one above.
You may have other things to do as well at the same time. One would be to try to keep your subject large in the view finder or screen without making it too big and cutting off bits of the main subject matter. So your left hand is in charge of the zoom ring if its a manual zoom. Manual zooms are much more responsive in most  situations with practice. If you are really clever you will take  notice of distractions in the frame as well which you may avoid by waiting that split second to take the shot.
Once you have got all that working you are ready for


Keep Both Eyes Open While You Shoot.

Shooting with both eyes allows you to see an oportunity coming into frame that you may otherwise miss.

The Red Arrows cropped

Notice how I've slowed down involentarily as the other aircraft came into view. I was lucky this was a fast reaction shot as the focus didn't have time to drift away too much and the dof of f7.1 is quite deep at this distance. But now some of you are saying 'You told me I could take my glasses off to use the view finder. How am I going to  see with both eyes open?
Well if you are very keen there are companies out there that make glasses frames that have independent lenses that swing upward removing the glass in front of the eye you wish to use, complete with template for your optometrist to fit your lens to.

One such company also makes camera lens hoods

and viewfinder rubber eye cups.    


Really, I'm not joking.
With a DSLR use your right eye on the view finder and the left to see whats going on around outside the frame.  With a large camera if you use your left eye you get to oly see the back of your camera with your right eye.
With smaller cameras any eye will do.
It has one big advantage.
You see outside of the frame.
This gives you better anticipation of when not to press and foresee problems.
It allows you to see if something else is more interesting that you could switch to. I have more than a few 'better' pictures than I would have otherwise had since trying this out.
Best done when you are relaxed. Not so good when you are worried about what you are shooting. It requires a relaxed but focused state of mind.
Don't attempt it when you must get a shot at first or until you have nailed the rest of the techniques first.

When you can do all that you should end up with pictures more like this.

Notice where the focus spot is and how much sharp contrast there is within the focus spot.


Basic camera settings for anything on the move would normally be to have the lens set to constant focus. As wide an aperture as your lens will allow helps the focus speed and the shutter speed. Ideally apertures of between f2.8 to f8. The wider the aperture the faster shutter speed you can use. For larger slower birds shutter speeds of over 1/640s are needed unless you want some wing blur in your shots. For smaller faster birds I try to keep between f2.8 and f5.6 and shutter speeds of over 1/1600s.

 This picture is at 1/640s and the Eagle's wings have some motion in them at the tips. The Aperture is f5.6 at 200mm using a medium priced Nikkor 18-200mm lens. Click on the picture for full size. If you know how to use flickr you will be able to get to the whole exif data for this shot.

 Which focus spot or zone you chose depends on which camera you have and how comfortable you are with those settings. When thinking of trying out new techniques and settings it is often a good idea to get some practice in before hand. In this instance I try tracking pigeons across my back garden. First because they are quite large and plentiful in my area and because they are slower than some of the smaller birds. If you are shooting something like peregrine Falcons then try capturing swifts in practice if they are low enough Smile

The smiley is because Peregrines are so fast that I've only captured them when I use the best kit I have .

That's because if they are near you as they turn in mid flight you may just get a clean shot at 1/8000s as they slow for the turn. Other times can be at take off or landing. To achieve 1/8000s I had to use an f2.8 lens. This one is at f2.8 @ 200mm. ISO 200 and 1/8000s. I still couldn't keep it entirely in frame as I tracked it but this is my best shot of this type of bird to date.


 There are other ways of obtaining higher shutter speeds such as choosing a higher ISO but bare in mind the increase in image noise.

A phase detection auto-focus is another obvious benefit for faster shutter speeds and tracking. The parrots should be feasible with bridge cameras as should large eagles or kites.

If you don't know why the lens behaviour was chosen or the difference between phase detection or contrast measurement and are interested, please look back to section one, parts three and five.







The real Problems Associated with Panning for all Types of Cameras

When you pan and the subject turns and moves it's easy to loose where your focus spot rests as you press the shutter button for several reasons.

14a: BRIDGE CAMERAS & COMPACTS. ( Anything with an electronic viewfinder ).

 On a bridge camera the refresh rate of the screen means you are always behind what is going on by either ( at current standards ) 1/30 of a second or 1/60s of a second as the information captured by the sensor is relayed video like to the viewfinder or screen. The up side is you don't loose the picture between shots.

Even in a continuous burst the view, as juddery as the view is it is always there to assist your panning movement. The down side is on a fast moving subject the focus spot may not be where you are seeing in the view finder. Practice can help participate and counter act the problem though.

14b: DSLR CAMERAS & the FOUR THIRD FORMAT. ( A camera that has a real time view via a prism or mirror giving a direct optical pathway to the viewfinder ).

 These cameras have no time lag of information in the viewfinder.

 A prism system splits the view to the viewfinder and the sensor.

The down side to that is light is robbed from the sensor and view finder permanently. Up to a full stop of light can go missing from the sensor and as light falls away the view finder is less efficient than the mirror system.

The up sides are when you press the shutter button you do not lose the view in the view finder giving you an uninterrupted view at all times and there are no mechanical components to wear out unless it still uses a mechanical shutter. If however it uses an electronic version of a shutter the downside is the charge cycle times can be slower giving a slower frame rate. These are improving though as time goes bye.

A mirror system re-directs all the light away from the sensor to the viewfinder until the shutter is released. At the point the shutter is pressed full down the mirror flips out of the way of the sensor just before the shutter opens and comes back just after the shutter closes.

The down side is you are effectively blind as the picture is taken. If your camera has a fast constant frame rate, the longer you take continuous shots the longer you are blind. This can cause you to loose precise tracking of the subject.

The up sides are you loose no light from your view finder or your sensor. All those pounds you spend on your expensive lenses goes exactly where it's needed when it's needed.


 Of course nothing is 100% that simple and some of the light from both systems is diverted to the focusing system as well but as that seems to be the case for both optical systems things seem to be even there. ( As far as I know ).

At present Bridge and compact cameras keep you permanently behind the action by between 1/30s to 1/60s. DSLRs cameras keep you blind for however long the mirror is raised or give lower lens light performance for a given f stop if prisms are used.

The problems those systems can cause are shown when panning is shown in the following examples using a mirror system though similar problems can be caused by an electronic view finder but for time lag reasons. The only group that this won't effect is the prism system though similar problems arise just through the process of tracking while panning, or zooming, or both.




15:  Lack of contrast within the focus spot. Most common when subject is too close and has little contrast within itself or a part of itself.


 Not realising you have just come off of your subject. during normal panning




Focus spot has fallen back during a continuous burst due to lack of view between shots.



  Lack of contrast within the focus spot caused by changing shadow as the subject changed direction.

  Colour contrast problem. Focus on the tree green colouring and shadow being greater than the contrast between the wing edge and shadow. (May not apply to all cameras just those that use colour as part of their focusing systems)

 Notice in the above picture the tree is more in focus than Helga.

( The American bald Eagle at Groombridge Place in Kent  UK)

 Using sky for more contrast as a bird comes in more head on. Would have worked better with a wider aperture as the head is not completely in focus.

 As stated earlier there has to be contrast within the focus spot for the focus to lock on to. When you pan though, especially with birds that don't move in straight lines it's very hard to get the speed of the pan and the focus spot to stay at a point of sharp contrast that's somewhere near the birds eyes where it's most pleasing to a lot of people to have sharp focus. Luckily most eyes have good contrast to lock onto if the bird fills most of the frame. The eye on all but the largest of birds fits the focus point nicely. On larger birds the eye can shrink in the focus spot to fit the bird into the frame. On these birds if they are coming towards you the leading edge of a wing may give sufficient contrast to work. If you have the option to move your focus spot on these occasions it can be useful.

After a while you can get used to judging where to place the focus spot in anticipation or move the spot during tracking the bird /animal / machine.

If your camera allows selecting a close group of focus spots such as a group of nine within a group of fifty one can be even better. The down side is the more focus spots you use the more it slows down the focuses ability to get focus. Nine points on a fifty one point focus system is good but twenty one is overdoing it for fast flying birds.


 General note.

If your shutter speed is faster than your focal length you are using then turning off the anti blurr / optical vibration reduction system on your camera wil speed up the autofucus system and produce a sharper picture.

16:  Possible Solutions for this Section Condensed.

Best Camera settings.

Shutter Priority for smaller faster birds and Aperture priority for larger slower birds. Feel free to swap around and experiment as you may not agree.
You may find your camera copes using just one or the other. Avoid too slow shutter speeds . 

Constant Focus for the lens.

Center Focus spot if your camera does not have a Phase Detection System

Any of the main cross type focus points if you have phase detection. ( see your camera manual for details ).

Block focal points if your camera supports it and the centre one should be one of the cross type sensor spots.

You Should.

Learn to pan well.

Keep the subject at reasonable levels of magnification within the frame without cropping bits off. (Easier to say than do)

Keep your finger on the button with a half press to keep the focus system tracking.

Look for the best place on the subject to track to. Make sure it has sufficient contrast and is near the eyes if it's an animal or bird.

If coming head on a leading edge against a contrasting sky will do.

If there is no contrast between sky and subject use the subject only.

If the subject has no contrast wait for it to get bellow the tree line or horizon where you will stand a better chance if you go back to using the contrast difference between the subject matter and the background.

With a Bridge or Compact camera

Select the higher frame rate for your view finder if it has one.

Practice using the view finder as often as you can as the jittery view will get less noticeable with time.

With a DSLR

Avoid constant frame bursts to aid your tracking of the subject. Several separate manual finger presses will do better or select a slow frame rate if you feel you must.

With all cameras the wider the aperture you can get the better the isolation will become between the subject and the background.





  Part B

17: Focusing Through Various Fence Types ( bars, mesh, ) including

Associated Difficulties Due to Depth of Field ( DoF) and Lighting Halo Problems

Have you ever been to a zoo or wildlife park and seen a wonderful animal and taken a picture for it to come out like this.

Mesh showing

Would you prefer them to look like this?


 Both were taken through almost identical fencing and both where taken around the same time of day in slightly different weather conditions.

Can you spot the main difference between the two pictures?

The main difference is the distance of the animal from the fencing. Difficult to see as the second picture has very little fencing visible although roughly the same amount of fencing you see in the top picture is still within the feild of view of the second picture.

So how did the fencing disappear?

The use of a shallow aperture allows you to have an animal in focus while the distance of the animal from the fencing allows the fencing to be so far out of focus at the front of the field of view that it renders it almost invisible. I say almost and not invisible as the fence does leave subtle contrast changes in the colouring of the animal and background it obscures. How much or how little depends a great deal on the quality of the lens in use. The sharper the lens can project the image onto the sensor within a given aperture the less noticeable the discolouring or shadowing effect becomes.

This is only true if the rest of the picture is correctly taken. So how far away from a fence does an animal have to be to 'loose the fence'.

Again this depends on more than one aspect of the ability of a camera and up to a point the thickness and diameter of the mesh used for the enclosure.

If the enclosure has fine thin mesh it becomes easier to focus out in front of the subject. Thicker more open mesh means that on average wide apertures are needed and the subject has to be further from the fence to be more successful.

That means the main part of the camera that is important for a clear picture in these circumstances is the lens. Extra mega pixels won't be of great benefit here.

The wider an aperture you have over a given distance the better the result should be and to within a little the closer the animal can be.

The further the distance away from the mesh or bars the slightly greater the depth of feild can become within limits so if your camera hasn't got a really wide aperture but has a zoom where the widest aperture is not more than f5.6 at the longest end you need to keep the subject quite large in the frame you are in with a fighting chance. That means that my Fuji S100fs with a maximum aperture of f5.3 at 400mm is just OK in good light right up to the end of it's zoom range. At least on paper and to prove it here is picture I took at Monkey World in Dorset with camera through the type of fencing shown at the top of this section.

That was taken in the early days of my ownership of the S100fs and on a dull day so not too bad.

Athena pictured here was a good hundred feet into the enclosure and I was about fifteen feet from the fence.

Athena was also in a part of the paddock that was just under half way across the width of enclosure that just allowed for the fencing in the distance to become blurred as well.

More luck than judgment in this case.


To get the picture to look like the examples you need two things from your camera.

A reasonable zoom length.

A reasonable amount of wide aperture ability from the camera within the zoom length needed.

The use of a higher ISO here is not really of benefit beyond trying to get a good shutter speed for a duller day.

The aperture is determined solely by the lens and how it is constructed. It is a major part in the price of the camera or lens.



 So what types of lens are there and what is the difference in performance? Does it matter?

 In ascending quality order of lens types and differences there are.

 Variable aperture zoom lenses.

 Constant aperture zoom lenses

Prime lenses.

All of the above lens types are found for both DSLR cameras and Four Third detachable lens style cameras.

Bridge and Compact cameras are normally limited to Variable aperture lens zooms unless stated otherwise or they do not use a zoom lens.

18a: Variable Aperture Zoom Lenses.

 This type of lens as with the others does what it says on the tin. As the lens zooms the minimum and maximum aperture changes.

Is that a problem?

Depends what you mean as a problem.

As you zoom closer the aperture changes and gets smaller the closer you focus.

This has two effects.

It increases the depth of feild meaning it makes more of the foreground and background come into focus ( Something we are trying not to do here).

 It decreases the amount of light hitting the sensor the more you zoom.

Decreasing the amount of light means a picture will come out darker if you either don't reduce the shutter speed or increase the ISO setting or more commonly both to limit both noise and unwanted movement blur.

This is not a problem if your camera's minimum aperture does not go above f5.6 at it's longest zoom length. That in itself will ensure a reasonably good result in ideal lighting conditions. For that reason alone most of the top camera manufacturers will try to keep the longest part of their zoom bellow that magic number of f5.6. If you have a long zoom such as that found on the HS10 that goes from 24-720mm with a minimum aperture at both lengths of f2.8 to f5.6 then at say 150mm it should have a wider aperture than the S100fs where the zoom length is only 28-400mm as in theory I would think the aperture would close down more quickly due to the shorter overall range of the lens.


 Any lens being talked about here will have maximum apertures that in this instance change with focal length and minimum apertures that on some lenses don't change, such as those on a lot of bridge cameras, and those that do change that are available for DSLR use.


Lighter on average. Less stress when holding up into a shooting position. Less stress on the camera body.

 Can be made to look quite small when not extended.

Cheaper to produce due to less internal components that are generally small diameters than their counterpart lenses.

Because they are cheaper they can be made to larger, longer zoom lengths within reason for a lot less than other types of lenses.

They cover a good range of focal lengths for a camera that has no way of changing lenses and on a camera that could change lenses doesn't have to happen if the range of the lens is adequate.


They get longer when zoomed. This can cast shadows over an object when using an on board flash. ( Not a problem for this section.)

 They reduce light and increase depth of field as they zoom making them less ideal in low light situations that can't take advantage of flash or long exposure techniques. It also makes it harder to focus out fencing in this instant than a constant aperture lens would.

Because they extend externally as they zoom they increase the chance of sucking in dust that could end up on the cameras sensor causing dust spots.

It's always best not to go silly with the speeds you zoom in or out of with this type of lens to reduce the risk of this happening.

Use of of teleconverters can make them very slow to focus and not be usable at all with them attached in low light.

18b: Constant Aperture Zoom Lenses.

 This type of lens has the same minimum and maximum apertures available to it throughout it's selected focal range.

That means that within the focal range of say a 70-200mm zoom you can zoom back and forth having the same relative depth of feild and the same amount of light hitting your sensor. In turn that means there is no need to have to alter any other setting on your camera when you are zooming back and forth to compensate for varying light levels because there are none caused by the lens. It makes setting up the camera easier and in turn quicker.


 No need to change camera settings for zooming differences. Better performance in low light at the longer focal lengths.

Can keep your depth of feild more constant for the length selected but it still gets wider the further you zoom.

Does not suck in dust due to the lens barrel not extending in some product lenses. Those lenses that don't extend are more weather resistant and can be used in the rain for longer.


 Expensive. More internal elements that are physically larger means more cost and more weight. More weight means more stress on arms and the camera body. Large lenses put a lot of strain on camera lens mounts and bodies.

 Constant aperture lenses are not so easily to make cover such a wide Focal length. There is no 24-720mm equivalent or even near in the constant aperture world. They are broken down to affordable * , carry-able ** , manageable lengths of more common focal lengths.

The Nikon Holy Trinity *** is broken down to the following lengths 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm. There are obviously others but those are matched in performance across the range for quality.

 Having to change lenses to cover the focal lengths a bridge or compact camera would cover.

 * Middle of the range in cost as one lens can go across the length of buying several prime lenses though the quality may not be as good.

** Actually amongst the heaviest lenses to carry around for equivalent focal length.

*** Nikon's f2.8 range that is the basis of a lot of photojournalists kit.

18c: Prime lenses

 Prime Lenses are fixed focal lengths and as such won't normally be covered in this tutorial but I will include them here to complete the set of lens types.

Because the lens will be a 50mm or a 85mm or whatever the length is it is almost useless for this type of shooting but could probably be used for aviaries on the shorter focal lengths and large paddocks in the longer focal lengths.

A Prime lenses main attribute is it is easier to produce a sharper lens at a wider aperture. short focal length lenses can start at around f2 for the widest of lenses and the longest length lenses at around f6.

The lenses with the widest apertures can normally be found between the 28-50mm range where they can be found at f1.4 or wider. Very wide aperture lenses are not found at either far end of the focal length scale due to difficulties in production of getting quality and reducing distortion. Also weight would be a factor.


 Are amongst the sharpest lenses to use.

Are amongst the best low light performers and can not be beaten in this respect by any other type of lens in some focal lengths.

Are lighter than their constant aperture zoom companions.

Are more robust than their constant zoom aperture companions due to less moving parts and lighter weight.

Are the most weather resistant.


 Are the most expensive group of lenses overall.

You need a lot of them to cover the focal ranges needed to do good all round photography.

You can not zoom but have to wait for a subject to be a suitable distance to the lens or you have to move.

A larger aperture doesn't equate to a faster reacting focus system an f1.4 lens is typically slower at focusing than an f2.8 lens.

This is due to the over shallow nature of an f1.4 lens. Wider in this case is not better.

Though it is true that an f2.8 lens is quicker than an f4 lens on average there are as always exceptions.

 Additional General Note

 If the drawback to using constant aperture zooms and primes is that there is a lot of lens changing involved when out in the field then you may think that the answer would be to have more than one body.
Well it is one answer but think about what that entails. As you walk around with extra weight slung over your shoulders you have to make sure both cameras are set up for the conditions. Even with constant aperture zooms being used if the light changes then the settings have to change. Keeping up with the demands of one body is enough but two or more may be a lot of pressure and a lot to remember. Yes it reduces dust but you have two bodies to clean.
For consistency it's better to have two identical bodies. It really isn't cost effective for anyone not doing it as a job.
Don't ever get sucked into the upgrade cycle. Do what you can with what you have. If you find yourself repeatedly trying to do the impossible with the kit you have and know why it isn't coping that's the time to research new gear and if needed purchased.


19:  Auto Focus Options.

 So with that in mind you will have to except the limitations of aperture verses focal length for camera during this section of how to cope with focusing through fencing. For the most part f5.6 may suffice but wider is always better for this.

For this section your lens needs to be set to continuous focus. The centre focus spot should give the best results but don't be put off experimenting with others if you wish. Do not use focus modes that allow for multiple focus spots to be chosen or use blocks of focus points if your camera allows. Those modes could prevent you from being successful with this problem

So the first thing to see is the width of the gaps in the mesh or fence and the width of the material it consists of. The thinner it is and the wider the gaps the closer the animal / bird etc can be. The wider your lens aperture will go the closer the subject can be. The less your camera lens changes aperture as is zooms in the closer the subject can be but the limits are not certain. When you have taken a picture review it 100 % of your view screen and if it doesn't work you will have to either widen the aperture of your lens if you can or wait for the subject to move further away from the fencing.

A Sun Bear too close too the bars to focus out of the picture.

You can also try to move closer to the fencing within reason of what is safe and try moving slightly further away. This may not be as effective though as the distance between the fence and the subject. Obviously the thicker the bars and closer they are the harder it becomes. The good thing about having a lens that allows you to have around an f4 aperture at the length you need it is that it will allow for a good depth of feild around the subject itself keeping the subject completely in focus. This probably explains the popularity of f4 lenses amongst Canon users in the longer end zoom range. F4 also helps keep the cost of the lens down.

The next problem with cameras with powered zooms is some of them lock onto fencing and focus only on the fencing. You can't get past it whatever you do.

 There are two ways around this.

 The harder way is to turn the lens onto manual focus and focus past the fencing yourself which can be hard to do.

The other method is to pre-focus.

This is not always effective for animals on the move as it requires you to change the focusing method switch on the lens to be changed to single.

 This is only available on some bridge cameras and DSLRs.


20: It won't work on Compacts to my knowledge.

With the lens on single focus find something outside the enclosure, perhaps to the side that is the same approximate length as the subject within the enclosure. Half press the shutter button to lock the camera's focus. Then return to your subject and see if the focus symbol still lights up. If it's not quite there and if you have a focus ring you can get the last little bit by using the focus ring. You could also try to release the focus lock and try the half button press again. If you are lucky and are close to focusing on the subject matter it may well lock onto the subject at that point rather than the fence.

If and when you can try to remember about where the focus point is resting on the subject as well. The eyes are always a good place to have in total focus.

Try where possible not to have any eyes obscured by wire or bars as that will help if you are not totally successful at making the fencing disappear.

There is a gorilla house at Howletts Zoo in Kent I find impossible most of the time despite my kit and best efforts except at certain times of day when the light is just right which brings me to my second point about taking pictures through fencing.

 Port Lympne Zoo in Kent

          My early attempts above where less than successful as you can see.



     Later attempts below are getting better but the bars and light are a real challenge


 Reflections from tiny water droplets after rain on a bright day may not be visible when you take the shot but will cause light halos to appear in the final image. Always look out for water on the fencing after a shower on a bright day. It's not easy to see and produces shots like this.

Galvanised wire mesh that is shiny can have the same effect such as here.

REflection halos

In these instances you need to change the angle between you and the sun which should normally be behind you but in these instances should be well to one side. Maybe consider walking to another side of the cage or if that's not possible wait for cloud cover. If that's not possible you you may get lucky but you probably won't.

Changing the position of your shot to avoid reflections


Times when you can't win no matter what you do.

 Some zoos and parks may keep you some way from the fencing. If that distance is greater than the depth of the enclosure you are probably wasting your time trying. Don't let that put you off. Prove me wrong!

22: Technical Note about Focus and Lenses.

There is one question the novice or anyone that has not shot photography with a DSLR seldom asks themselves and that is because the general consumer assumes that the manufacturer will make something that works properly.

 That question is. 'Does my lens actually focus properly?'

 By that I mean does the lens give a focused image at the point at which the image hits the sensor? Surprisingly the answer is not as often as I would like.

If manufacturers where that good at it why does every top of the range DSLR have the facility to correct the problem in the camera body and store the data for that lens so that when you connect that lens your camera can recognise it and apply the corrections you have stored in it's memory.

The result of an incorrectly calibrated lens is not as you would think a blurry or soft image but one much more aggravating.

That is what is known as front or back focusing.

What's that?

It's when you put your focus spot on one part of the object you want to take and the focus ends up either before or after that point in the shot.

Earlier in the year I deliberately set one of my lenses up to miss-focus to see how bad this could get. I will show you what I mean.

For this section please scroll down slowly so as not to show the second picture until you have observed the first one and answered the question about the picture.

Where do you think the focus spot is in this picture?


Please feel free to enlarge the picture to view closer if you are not sure.

Use your browser's 'back' button to return to this page. This page may take a time to re-load so please be patient.











So as you can see it could push up your reject rate of macros at least.

Probably not where you thought. With cameras with small sensors and when you aren't using small apertures the results are not so bad or prominent but if you are doing say portraiture with shallow dof and focusing on the eyes the results may be very bad.

There are lots of free focus checking charts on the web to try out if you are that way inclined but just look out for the behaviour on your own lenses.

The worst culprits in the groups of lenses are the zoom lenses. This is because as you zoom the elements inside the barrel are moving back and forth inside away and toward each other to try to correct this problem with varying degree of success throughout the zoom range. There will be points along its travel where it will be in sharp where it is supposed to be and other places where it's not. If it's very bad at one spot it's better to avoid that spot than trying to correct it assuming you can.

Not all is lost though as most people get on with their shooting and never know about it. Others will just throw shots away if they aren't what's wanted and put it down to a general reject rate. However if you want your reject rate to stay low as you have put good money into very good adjustable kit you may want to do something about it.

Both constant and variable aperture zooms suffer this to a larger or lesser degree. It's impossible throughout the length of a zoom lenses focal length to be 100% accurate all of the time. Only be alarmed if it is out by more than + or - 4mm on the focus charts.

Prime lenses don't zoom so if they are out you can dial them in and once done should be OK.

It is interesting to note that top end zooms when sold are sold with a note from the manufacturer to ask that you send them in every two years for a service and to be re-tuned. If you are a pro using one lens a lot not in a studio environment I have been told by those that do that they send their lenses in every six months.

This is a major reason that sports photographers prefer long focal length primes over zooms. It has nothing to do with quality which they agree is not an amount you can distinguish but simply that primes have less moving parts and can last years between servicing.


23: Cheating in Photo Shop.


With compacts and bridges cameras and some DSLR combinations of lenses the fact remains that you may get close to eliminating wire fencing but the camera doesn't has an aperture quite wide enough to do any of this. The main subject may look good but the fencing causes a noticeable pattern across the out of focus background such as here.

By masking around the outside of the subject using the magic lasso tool and selecting the background you can add a degree of gaussian blur to reduced the fence problem.
 Click the picture above to see the effect.


24: Possible Solutions for this Section Condensed.


Best Camera Settings.

Use Aperture Priority on the command dial or menu if it has it.

Constant or single Focus for the lens depending whether your target is at rest or not.

Center Focus spot if your camera does not have a Phase Detection System.

If you camera has a focus interrupt settingset it to a couple of seconds especialy if  your lens is not super wide aperture wise (f4 and below). This will stop the camera refocusing toward the fence when panning if something wider in the fence comes into view like a fence post.

You should

 If you do not have the last feature above try to avoid panning past fencing posts as this could make the camera refocus to the fence. ( It may not ).
Keep the subject at reasonable levels of magnification within the frame without cropping bits off.

( Easier to say than do)

Keep your finger on the button with a half press to keep the focus system tracking.

Look for the best place on the subject to track to. Make sure it has sufficient contrast and is near the eyes if it's an animal or bird.

Look out for the sun position if the fencing is shiny or wet. Avoid reflections as they probably won't show until you get home.

Don't shoot when the subject is too close to the fencing.
Shoot with both eyes open in case something else is going on that's more interesting.

With a Bridge or Compact camera

Select the higher frame rate for your view finder if it has one.
Use the center focus spot for better accuracy.
Keep the aperture as wide as you can. Maybe stick with Aperture priority.
Avoid shooting into shadows as you are already pushing the camera to keep a wide aperture for the fencing so trying to pick out details and a focus point in the shadows may be too much to ask, but you can always try.

With a DSLR or Four Thirds camera.

 If you have a constant aperture zoom stick to Aperture priority as there is little benefit to shutter priority with that type of lens for this.
Use any of the main cross type focus points if you have phase detection to help you center the frame better and focus mainly on the targets nearest eye or teeth if more impressive.
( see your camera manual for details ).
Avoid block focal points or any wide focus setting. Stick to center or single focus points.


Cheating in Photo Shop.

Not really cheating as post production of even the best of shots normally reaps some benefits. Using the magic lasso tool to select the desired focused object within the frame and inverting the selection enables you to work on the background. Adding gaussian blur just enough to get rid of any patterning effects caused by the wire fencing can work for both foreground fencing or distracting background fencing. Can make otherwise possibly binned photographs into keepers.


With Variable Aperture lenses. 

If on trying a wide aperture and trying to focus on a scene within a fenced area you still get this happening as a result. This image was taken using an aperture of f3.4.

Then sometimes zooming in and loosing some of your aperture can still give better results as the percentage of wire in view within the frame drops and the slightly larger aperture of f5.6 still obscures the wire fence.

Pack of Dhole






Part C


               Taken with the Fuji S100fs Bridge camera

Just for those that think their Bridge cameras can't keep up with a DSLR's quality.

First off there are not so many bad problems to do with shooting through glass / Plexiglas / water and they mainly have to do with reflections more that focus issues.
Where focus problems do exist it is mainly to do with the light reflecting too badly with a couple of  exceptions which we will come to but first.

Shooting from Home.
A lot of housing in the UK now has double  glazing so that's two sets of glass that are spaced apart to focus through.
Though not always visible is can make at best for a soft image and at worst a ruined one.

Try to take a shot of the moon through a double glazed window to see what I mean.
In addition to advice given before in this section the best thing I can say is try your best to shoot directly ahead to reduce the effect. If  you are house bound and rely on shooting what you can see of wild life out of your window there are a couple of things you can try.
One is to get a largish sheet ( A4 or larger ) of mat black paper and cut a hole just slightly smaller than the diameter of your lens and tape it to the window where you want to shoot. This will reduce the light being bounced between the two pains of glass from outside.

Another thing you could think about is a large  Collapsible Rubber Lens Hood such as made by several general photographic companies so you can get contact all the way around lens against the glazing. Make sure the inside is always free from marks. Then you can probably get some angle into your shots as well.
Even when not faced with double glazing there are still slight problems depending on whether you are facing towards light or shooting with it behind you.



26a: Shooting into the light.

 Always be on the lookout for light differences. Some zoos don't let you get right up to the glass so there will be reflected light. Try as with the fencing problems to change your shooting angle or position or find another window. Wear dark clothing with a hood if needed. Look out for people standing next to you in light clothing. You wouldn't believe the mount of shots I've had ruined through not noticing this. Worst case scenarios when the camera refuses to focus beyond the glass because of this. Aperture is not so important when shooting into the light. Whatever the effect you want should work.

Taken inside with brightly lit corridors. Lens against the glass almost direct ahead.

I wear a black coat so when I get up close I don't show up in my own photo.




      Outside away from the glass can still get stunning results

26b: Shooting into the dark

Has the same problems but sometimes you may miss grime or smears that will reduce or make patchy any picture you take through it.
If you can get right up to the glass this is much less of a problem as you can focus though thin filmed grime without too much degradation to the picture.
So much so I worry less about muck on my front element than I used to. If you can keep the element shaded from direct light sources you won't notice it 99% of the time.


Shooting into darker areas can make focusing difficult though and the wider the aperture the better. You may have to do a recompose method of shooting or revert to a manual focus for the worst cases. If that's the case then you may be limited to static subjects but hopefully you can still get good poses.That may seem extreme but to a greater or lesser degree it happens.

Shooting into the dark is quite difficult. Here the focus has rested on the hoses making up the cradle. On the viewfinder it looked great.

Better lighting on the subject helps as does a wider aperture or if not available a higher ISO setting.

A couple of advantages over shooting through fencing.




26c: The subject doesn't have to be far away from the glass if you can avoid reflections.

If you want a reflection to be a part of the composition try to get the reflection as clean as possible without further reflections from other right angled windows causing blur to your reflection. This is very hard to spot at the time of shooting but comes out quite strong in the final photograph.

Beware if you are close to the glass and your subject is close to the glass as you may be too close to get a good focus. Especially with longer focal length lenses that typically have a closest focus range of three and a half feet or more. Waiting for them to move away is better than moving away yourself in this instance. Try to look for specs of grime you will not be able to focus out on the glass.



26d: If the window is grimy ( which in most primate enclosures it is ) letting the little fellas get away from the glass allows you to use some of your fence shooting techniques to focus beyond the grime.

26e: Shooting into the light.

Light coming through the glass towards you will show you up more and anything on your side of the glass that's illuminated by it.
If the glass you stand in front of has some form of weather covering overhead and to the sides find the end that's in shadow.
 Wearing darker colours helps to be seen less but may be a step too far for the more fashion conscious of you that visit zoos.
A deep wide lens hood helps as does keeping close to the glass.
Watch for anything that casts a shadow across the glass from the enclosure side such as tree branches as although you may not notice it on what you are taking a photo of the shadow area across that section of glass may cause a colour temperature change across  parts of the sensor making any colour correction a bit of a nightmare.



       26f:       If all is lost then don't be afraid to convert to monochrome.





28: Dealing with glass and water.

Aquaria and outside pools.

28a: Indoor Aquariums.
Assuming you have got the hang of the methods above this one for me is the most difficult.
The water behind the glass effectively loses light the further away you see and the more aperture the lens needs to cope.

The fish have quite reflective surfaces making it harder for the camera to lock on.

 The use of flash is forbidden in aquariums and will get you frowned on at best and thrown out at worst.
No matter how bright it looks inside it isn't, and will push what is possible with your camera.
This is one area that if you are having difficulties, it is better to stand back away from the glass rather than on top of it.
If you are standing next to someone with £6000 worth of gear don't use their position.
It quite probably won't work for you unless you have the same quality of equipment.
Try the standing away method before you try bumping up the ISO settings in your camera, even with zoom and a smaller aperture is worth trying first.

  Because of this it is difficult to get sufficient dof to get the front and the back of the frame in focus together.

Either way, the curvature of the glass and liquid beyond can be difficult to deal with requiring some experimentation to find the sweet spot or finding a convenient point that allows close access to the glass with your lens. Really keep an eye on where you are in these places as it's easy to lose your balance while adjusting your shooting position and fall undignified into the deep bowled section.

While the local and deep sea fish are interesting, it's the coral reef fish everybody wants to capture. These almost neon coloured fish can cause real contrast and focus problems. Avoid setting your focus spot on large sections of one colour and if necessary set your camera to a more normal colour setting. It probably doesn't need to be on vivid or your camera's equivilent. If you do, you are in danger of blowing out detail on different colour channels.

28b: Outdoor Pools with Below Ground Viewing Windows

These could be for beaver, penguin, otter, seal and a myriad of other species that swim in murkier water than found in large aquarium centers.

When dealing with creatures that pools are open to the elements and may consist at times of mud bottomed areas the quality of water visibility is going to greatly decrease. Here where more reflection of where you are standing is going to show up in the glass. Which creates dilemmas. Do you stand back and get reflections or get up close and not be able to focus as only that which gets close to the glass will be visible?     I don't know.

Every time I have tried something like this the conditions of weather has changed. The water has changed clarity. The creature never got near the viewing window.

All I can say is do your best keeping in mind everything I've discussed so far.

If possible stand away from the glass as you will spot things coming towards you sooner.

Look for cleaner bits of panel if possible.

Find the shadier end to shoot in.

Shoot with both eyes open.

Stay off of using the zoom if practical.

If it's really difficult and all else fails and your camera has it try shooting mono,

and if your camera has them try different internal coloured filters to improve contrast.

When all else fails try going topside for a cute shot instead.

Native Seal

29: Surface water reflections

Some cameras seem to suffer more than others and mainly from exposure problems more than focusing.

Focusing on fish from above for example can be tricky at best and is probably best done manually. Though I'm not talking about contrast / exposure problems in this tutorial I'm going to touch on it here as it's one time it can help with focus too. Lots of moving light directly behind or in front can cause difficulties.

Although I tracked the dog all the way, this shot lost focus I think because of the amount of quickly moving light at different distances.

Keeping your zoom in and  focus spot tight to a good constrast area is difficult around constant moving water.

Having extremely bright light reflecting off of water can throw your focus off even if it's by a small amount and can be enough to ruin a picture unlike filming across land it's not worth trying to the change direction of the shot unless the water is very calm. Waves or ripples will reflect light in every direction and it's impossible to get rid of completely. It helps if you have a target to focus on but white swans have little contrast away from the face and if you zoom too far out you will loose detail.

It's unusual for anyone to want to shoot a vast expanse of water with nothing else visible within the frame so most of the time the lack of possible contrast never arises and is not a problem. When photographing sunsets the focus is on the sky and the setting sun which is as close to infinity on focusing as to not even be worth worrying about. Most sunset pictures suffer more from exposure problems than focus problems. Smaller amounts of water are OK to photograph too but if you want to photograph a reflection in a puddle how much depth and subsequent detail is personal choice rather than a technical one. Slightly larger amounts of surface water is where most problems arise. Lake, swimming pools and places of activity is where you are most likely to encounter problems.



A good time to use the movable focus spot.

Another thing to do is use smaller apertures to keep more of the depth of feild larger making more within the frame in focus.

If you need to zoom in though this is one time that if you have a circular polarizing filter it can help with focus issues by reducing glare so if you have one use it for these types of shots.

Focusing at something below the water can also benefit with it's use.

Personally I'm not a big user of filters but I do own UV and circular polarizer filters for odd shots and this is one time I will put the Circular polarizer on. They help but depending on shooting conditions may not work well. Quality of the filters help here as well so buy the best you can or be disappointed at the results. The larger they get the more expensive they get and seem to be disproportionately so. 82mm filters come in at more than £120 for a good one. Make sure you get a circular polarizer For a DSLR if you want one and not a normal polarizer or it won't work and won't work as it stops the autofucus working. When using on older lenses for DSLR cameras check the barrel doesn't rotate as it extends or the setting of the polarizer will change as it extends. One time you won't be able to do this is with a fish-eye lens as the curvature of the front element is so great the filter can't be fitted and if by some miracle you can fit one the results from two pieces of glass with varying angles of convergence from both surfaces can cause some ghosting or reflective issues of their own.

30: Why and How Circular Polarizers Work

In this instance the circular polarizer's job is to cut down the the extreme contrast differences between the reflective sun in the water and to allow more of what is going on under the water by cutting through the reflection on the surface. Because light travels in waves it is possible to filter a percentage out that 'wiggle' on a given plane. A polarising filter is like looking through a venetian blind in miniature. What you see on the other side is between the slats with the slats blocking whats beyond. Make the slats thin enough and space then very close together and you get to a point where the slats are invisible but rather give a dark appearance which cuts the amount of light you see rather than hinder what you see. That's how polaroid sunglasses work. Now make two sets and place one set on top of the other. The first plate with slats cuts the light from the direction it needs to be cut from to reduce brightness as it were but from a given direction of 'wiggle 'in the light. The second plates job is the addition of a quarter wave plate sandwiched behind the front linear polarizing foil to allow the meter/focus/finder display to work properly under all lighting conditions. Digital cameras  that use a phase detection autofocus system don't on the whole like polarised light as it interferes with the focusing system which was what we where trying to overcome in the first place. This is because if you remember from earlier that the focus system on a DSLR is a phase detect system which relies on the polarization of light.

A more technical description of Circular Polarizers can be found here for those wishing more detail.

The one time most DSLRs don't use phase detect is when they are in live view mode. In that mode they use the contrast measurement system, the same as bridge cameras. I have o idea so please don't ask as I can't find an explanation anywhere.. In theory it would not matter whether your camera had a circular polarizer or a standard one though it could still play havoc with the white balance. I don't know so any feedback on this would be appreciated. if true you would still need a circular polarizer for a bridge camera for the same reason.

One place I should have had my circular polarizer on was for these shots.

Unfortunately I didn't and panicked as the beaver got closer so I raised the on board flash. Not normally a problem but this was on a repeat flash setting from an earlier shoot and forced the shutter open for longer causing motion picture blur. This is what happens when you don't reset your basics before you go out.

If you look at the larger version at the flash reflection in the eye you can see the pattern of the motion blur. You might notice that the wet fur doesn't look right and if anyone knows a way around that problem I would be very grateful to know how to fix it.

You may feel that this is no good for you if you are using a compact camera or a bridge camera with no filter attachment thread because of an extending lens barrel. Well when I only had a small point and shoot I used to take off my polaroid sunglasses and turn them around using an arm of the glasses to hold and twist the glasses to the desired angle. This worked better than you might think. Possibly because compacts and bridge cameras use contrast measurement rather than phase detection for focus which makes me wonder whether a circular polarizer is really needed for those cameras.

Although not taken for the water the shot shows the tonal definition change to the clouds and while not ideal could be a quick fix...




30:  Possible Solutions for this Section Condensed.
Dealing with Glass.

When shooting into the lighter side of a glass window watch for the sun and shadows on the glass as these can cause colour cast problems as well as giving the picture a misty feel to it with washed out colour and tonal depth.

Watch for people next to you in light coloured clothing that will cast an image back onto the glass within your field of view as these are easy to miss and mostly impossible to edit out.
When shooting into the darker side of the window. look to see how much of what is behind you is being reflected back at you in the glass ahead. Get as close as possible to the glass and if you wear dark clothing use it as a shield from which you can point at the glass without picking up stray light from behind.

Remember if it's really dark on the other side the camera may have difficulty in focusing and you may have to focus manually. Flash not only upsets animals, birds and fish, but just bounces back off of the glass.
When dealing with more than one sheet of glass such as double glazing coming away from the glass is not an option for any angle of shot except shooting at ninety degrees to the glass. Best results are easiest to get with a flexible rubber hood pressed against the glass.
Things that are close to glass can be still focused on but you may have to stand back if your lens can't focus that closely. Look out for smears and dirt. It's possible to focus through such things if they are not that dense but the subject must be further away to use the same trick as on the fences to focus out the dirt.
If your shot includes a second pane of glass at an angle watch for a secondary reflection that can cause undesired results. The same is true of shooting into mirrors as the light is refracted in and then back off of the reflective surface.
Worst case scenarios with colour cast or shadow problems convert the image to mono.

Dealing with Glass and Water.

 Indoor glass fish tanks

 High ISOs and wide apertures where possible.

No use of flash is allowed in most public aquariums.

Standing away from the glass if you can avoid getting up close is better if your camera is struggling with depth of feild issues.

Equipment is king here. The better the easier. If your camera isn't coping just enjoy the exhibition.

Take time trying to get your focus point on curved bowled magnifying view ports. There should  be only one point where that's possible and it will be shallow.
Come out of any vivid setting for coral reef fish to help prevent blowing out colour channels on your camera. tempting as it is, even in raw.

Outside pools with viewing windows are hard.

Follow the general advice in the dealing with glass section as well as the glass and water section.
Summer time is not as good as winter as there is less weed bloom/algae to contend with.

Look for the cleanest glass and stand back to your shortest focal length.

Shoot with both eyes open to catch the fleeting shapes coming out of the gloom.
Try shooting black and white if all else fails.

Surface water reflections.

Zoom into the action as much as possible.
The use a polarizer may help if you have focus problems due to excessive amounts of moving, splashing water. It can also be used to get below the reflective surface to photograph something beneath the surface.
Use predictive focus for action shots if you have it. Center focus if you haven't. Lens must be on continuous for tracking moving subject matter.
Do not focus on the bodies of large sea birds as there is little contrast there. Faces are much better.
Keep apertures small for the the times your camera won't focus in bright light to keep more of the scene in focus.
If you use a circular polarizer get a good one.

If your camera can't use a cicular polarizer try using your sun glasses.



 32: Macro Photography and Depth of Field Use ThereIn.



32: Forward.


I am going to use this section to talk about Depth of field in particular as it becomes the main problem associated with macro photography.

Why is this?


Because for most of us when we start out with our first digital cameras it can be frustrating side of photography that seems to be so promising and yet so difficult to get the pictures we see on photographic sites.

In fact for most it is easier to get a good result with a bridge camera that a DSLR at first. Certainly the equipment is a lot cheaper for good results and and I can honestly say that so far my efforts with my bridge cameras have been as rewarding as those with my DSLR.

So where to start.
First there is no other side of photography that shows to me how important the three basic settings on your camera of Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO fit together. The term Macro means large. In this instance it is referring to the image being reproduced to at least a one to one ratio.

As the camera focus distances are much closer for macro photography that means small objects are very near to the lens. Centimeters away. This causes a few problems and gives a few nice surprises. Because everything is so close and so small everything you need to do is also magnified.

The amount of light needed is more as the camera can cast a shadow in front of it. Have the sun behind the subject and the lack of light in front is worse and throws everything into deep shadow. The amount of shake you produce seems increased as the slightest movement and seems like an earthquake because you are so close the distance between you and the subject means the relative distance between being in or out of focus is measured in fractions of a millimeter. So lets deal with the last thing first 

Section 1: The technical stuff.

 Why is the depth of what you see so small?

Dof or depth of field is relative to the distance of the subject.

 What I am about to say next is not technically correct as I don't know enough math but bare with me. Think of depth of feild as a percentage of the total of the view from the nearest thing to you to the furthest thing away from you, and for now we will say for arguments sake (and this is where it is wrong technically) that we will only use arbitrary aperture numbers between 1 to 10 to cover the whole spectrum of depth. That f1 is 10% of the depth of the view and f10 is 100% of the view from front to back of the picture.

With me so far?


This would be considered f 10

Taken with the Fuji HS10 bridge and a Raynox 250 macro add on lens.
Most of the subject is within the focus feild but is not that close.
Not a macro in the true sense but pleasing to get. 

This would be considered to be f 1.             Taken with the Fuji S100fs bridge camera.

I saw this wasp take down the moth mid flight and start to take it to peices and keep coming back for more. Anyway,
as this shot was taken much closer, the focus is very narrow concentrating on the area of the eye.

 Lets say that we have a subject in front of the camera and we have the camera set up for f10.
At first everything looks fine. We get up close and everything is in focus but because everything is so big we notice that trying to keep the camera still  is almost impossible, so we lean on something to steady the camera, but there is still a lot of movement when we handle the camera, even with the optical stabilization switched on.
So you would think, 'OK I'll set the tripod up'.
The camera is steady at last so you take a picture and it comes out dark. Easy you have a tripod so you slow the shutter down and take another picture. This time the picture is exposed OK but it's still blurry due to the movement of you pushing the shutter button.
No problem then, you get a cable release out for the shutter. Now you have a perfect picture. In focus, lots of depth and a nice exposure.
Well that was easy wasn't it?
Well yes relatively it was. But how many times do we get the time to set up what has effectively become a studio shot without lighting?

Not often if at all when you are out and about. Not all cameras have a cable release even if you have a tripod.
So what do you do when you are out and see an interesting insect or flower?
The first problem is what to do with not having enough light.

You should know that one way around that problem is to increase the ISO or amplified light but that introduces noise and in turn there is a practical limit as too how high you will go for clarity. In macro shots that tends to be not very high so to get more light you slow the shutter but because of the magnification and closeness it introduces motion blur.
So to combat that you are left with the Aperture.

Now we were using the( f10 ) that let everything be in focus but now we need to narrow the view from deep to shallower to try to get enough light to speed up our shutter. What happens is that you notice the closer we get to ( f 1 ) the higher the shutter speed can be but we can't focus on all of our subject. This is so close not even the nearest eye across it's entirety is in focus at the nearest point and by the time you reach the other eye it's already out of focus.

We have the same problem If we get the leading edge or face in focus, the back is out of focus.

If the middle is in focus, the nearest and the furthest parts are out of focus.

It is much harder to get the whole insect to be in focus without some form of additional lighting but the best chance you have of achieving that is to shoot along the insect's length where the front to back focusing is thinnest.

That's what tends to happen in real life shooting out in the field with practice. A lot will depend on your your choice of lens, of which focal length, strength (magnification over distance), type ( dedicated macro lens ), and effectiveness of the optical stabilisation of  the lens. At this point I'm keeping to lens choices and not introducing additional lighting.

The amount of light needed, even on a bright sunny day is enormous, forcing ever smaller depth of view to reduce motion blur and help exposure. Sure something is always in focus with a bit of care but not enough.

So you become selective about where the focus rests. It's a compromise, as all photography is but nothing brings it home more that trying to do macro photography.

Now to get into the specific problems with selecting which alterations to make and see if there is a way to get a greater depth of field to bring the complete subject into focus.

Let there be light.

You need loads of it.

32a1: ISO Settings.
Having a camera and possibly you as well casting a shadow over the area you are about to take a photo of is the first problem.
This causes most of the problems and can be reduced in many ways, all of which can be switched, traded or part ignored depending on circumstances.
The first thing to consider is ISO ( amplification of the light signal within the camera ) which for the sake of quality consistency you should consider putting a fairly low limit on depending on camera. I tend to stick to around ISO 200 or slightly lower as I can lower the ISO by an equivilent of a third of an ISO at a time.

This is not possible on my bridge camera.

It's up to you what ISO you choose. My reasoning is in the tech note below. If that is of no interest to you skip to  Shutter Speed.

Technical note on ISO.

 The lowest ISO your camera can produce in a modern digital camera is not normally the camera's base ISO. That will be higher than the lowest ISO you have listed.  Unless stated as otherwise I would work along that assumption for any digital camera. Film was different. An ASA film was designed for a given shutter speed and light mix. You can not apply internal noise reduction to a film. Which is what happens to the lower ISOs below base ISO, so once again electronics  is used to overcome the photo sensor's natural output voltage by the electromagnetic charge that is produced when light hits it.
This voltage that is produced in turn is dependant on the materials used to build the sensor for resistive purposes along it's circuit and the ability of it to turn light into voltage. This in conjunction with it's physical size as the larger it is the more photons can strike the active surface. The whole process is slightly more complicated than that but this is enough to demonstrate my reasoning to use base ISO over lower selections.

Why is that important?
Noise creeping into these types of pictures seems less acceptable than with other types of photography to my eye but you may feel differently.

Any amplification in a signal path leads to signal noise in the picture pathway that at some point has to be rectified. At high ISO settings you can switch the camera's internal noise processing off on DSLRs but there is another processing that you can't and that's the long exposure processing. That is then a part of the RAW  data from scratch and as such is information missing that cannot be altered.

To my knowledge that information has never been released as to whether the low ISO processing is the same. So for that reason I don't personally use it. If you find you can't tell the difference or find the lower ISO setting on your camera better, then by all means use it.
With bridge cameras all is not so clear as there is no mention of any bridge camera's base ISO that I know of and it's possible that all levels of ISO on a bridge camera has some form of additional amplification added beyond what is needed to produce a signal to the camera's processor. I simply don't know.

One last important thing about ISO
One average and this is only a rough guide every doubling up of the ISO value allows you to either double your shutter speed or open up your aperture by one stop ( F number ) or a combination of both. That alone is enough variation from camera to camera to experiment with to find the optimum settings for your camera. As usual there is no one fix suits all so you will have to learn and re-learn if you swap cameras at a later date.As with most subjects within photography you will find your own ISO working range so I'll leave it at that.

32a2: Shutter Speed.

Photographing a flower indoors or a coin will allow for much slower shutter speeds than for insects that tend to move around, so you have more time to set up and take your shot. You will also have narrower apertures and greater depth of field at your disposal. The less time you have to keep your camera still or the further away you are from the subject you are the more difficult you will find it to keep the subject still within the viewfinder or even within the viewfinder, so the more you will be forced to speed up your shutter speed.


 Already partially discussed, can be a way of increasing your shutter speed by allowing in more light as the aperture opens.
This in turn can have the detrimental effect of narrowing your dof. What is acceptable depends on the size of the subject, movement if any (from you or the subject matter), the  distance between you and the subject, and the light available.

32a4: Flash units and additional lighting.

 Some to all problems regarding focal depth and shutter speed can be cured with the use of appropriate lighting.
The problem here is one of portability and effectiveness of various systems.

How much light is needed and from what directions.

Not bleaching out detail or casting too harsh a shadow.

32a5: Tripods.

Sometimes the easiest solution where time is of less importance.
The selection of the type of tripod is sometimes overlooked and for this quite small but sturdy and flexible tripods can be easier to set up and quicker to use .
Generally mono-pods are pretty useless here and if you don't have a tripod with you alternative means of support may be needed. That could be as simple as resting the camera on the ground or a nearby wall to more ingenious ways of providing stability.


Cameras with articulating view screens allow the user to get to angles and places impossible to achieve by having to use a view finder or view screen that doesn't articulate.

32: So how much depth of field can we reasonably be be expected to get?


Hopefully as deep as is needed to get you subject covered. This becomes equipment dependant but don't despair as a lot of Bridge cameras and all DSLRs have some goodies about to help you out if needed. Unfortunately small compacts and similar cameras with no way to attach external lenses or filters will be left to what the camera can do on it's own unless a tripod helps or in some cases an external flash can be used and is useful. It's possible to play around with a magnifying glass as well. For the extremest we will also discuss an alternative approach.

Experimentation is the key but probably less successful for serious work unless you have the time and patience.

Equipment list for macro work listed in possible usefulness in groups.

Bridge camera.
DSLR camera.
Four thirds camera.
Compacts with macro support.
Any matching to body DSLR / four thirds  lenses, and some non-matching lenses***.
Specialist Macro lenses
Macro lenses such as the Raynox 150 and 250
Macro filters such as the Canon D500 macro filter
Extension tubes for DSLRs and four third photography.
Lens  reversing rings.***.
Flash units.
Focusing  rails.
cable release.

*** these two items used together with a third appropriate lens.

32a: Bridge cameras.

Are surprisingly good at macro. It's one area that with care it would be hard to say ' That picture was taken with a bridge camera ' because they can be so good at it.
When I first got my S100fs the first two things that impressed me where the moon shots I took and the macro capability.
When I heard about dedicated add on macro lenses and I bought one for the S100fs I couldn't believe the results I was getting. The only downside was Vignetting of the image at full zoom due to the macro lens being a smaller diameter than the main lens. This is easily cropped for a final result though. 





32b: DSLR Digital Single Lens Reflex.

D300 with 70-300mm lens and Raynox 250

Because of the upgradable nature of these cameras, virtually anything can be used that fits. Only limited by the cash you are willing to spare and your imagination.

32c: Four Third Format.


Similar to DSLR but still a bit limited as to what you can get for them due to being a relatively new format. If you can find the extras you need then very similar results DSLRs can be had.

32e: Lenses.


Most lenses with the aid of a Raynox or Canon macro lens / filter can be made to do macro with varying degrees of success. Some telephoto lenses can perform some macro work on there own depending on the size of the subject. Dragonflies for instance are quite big and can be caught quite easily with a 300mm lens on it's own.

32f: Macro Lenses.

Can be used as normal lenses but have closer focusing distances that allow you to get right up to your subject.
Main disadvantages are that in general these lenses if telephoto tend to be quite a bit softer image wise for normal telephoto use, especially if the aperture is opened up. For this reason they have quite a low second hand value and in my opinion are best bought second hand as they represent better value for money.
Seriously I have never known a serious photographer to keep one for long, especialy third party lenses. If you don't believe me look for some second hand on the net. First thing you notice is they are plentiful and cheap. There is a reason for that.

32g: Raynox 150 and 250 macro lens attachments.

My preference to the above.
The Raynox 150 and 250 will fit any camera between 43 to 67mm wide if it has a filter screw thread in the barrel and if bought with it's adaptor. Any camera will benefit that can use it and is good value for money. The 250 is the strongest magnification but has the shallowest dof and is harder to control to get good results because of that. Using the lens cuts light to your sensor by around two thirds of a stop. Brings the focusing distance of a normal lens down to macro lens lengths.

32h: Canon D500 macro filter.


Similar to above but a lot thinner and has to be bought as a set diameter filter and  the 77mm is nearly five times the price of the Raynox. Brings the focusing distance of a normal lens down to macro lens lengths. Hardly any light transmission loss. Exceptional quality which is why I have included it. Not as adaptable as the Raynox but better clarity. Consists of two thin glass lenses and reflective coated for flare control.
Other companies do sets of them such as Tiffen but don't come close to the quality. If you can't get the canon filter then go for the Raynox.
My best buys at both ends of the scale of costs. Best value for money in my mind is the Raynox.
Better than dedicated macro lenses for two reasons.
They take up less room in your camera bag and weigh less.
Attached to a normal good quality lens they out-perform all but the best dedicated macro lenses.


32i: Extension Tubes.

 Two types. Passive and Active in mostly three lengths, normally bought in sets.
Placed between the body and lens of DSLR and Four third cameras their job is to bring the focusing distance of a normal lens closer to the front element allowing the lens to get closer to the subject material. The longer the extension tube the further the focus distance of the lens becomes in a macro mode.
To explain. Taking a lens away from the sensor by a precise small amount allows the picture of the lens to focus very close. By exchanging or adding tubes the focus length gets further from the front element.
 The trade off is the longer the tube the more stops of light you lose.


Passive Extension tubes.

 Relatively cheap, passive extension tubes have one major drawback. No communication between the lens and body. More useful on older lenses that A: have no electrical connection to modern day bodies anyway and B: have aperture rings. Modern lenses have their aperture opened by camera body controls electrically. When not in use a modern lens 'stops down' so little light can reach the sensor. Though that gives better dof the lack of light is a major drawback. Best used with older fully manual lenses making them harder and much slower to use.


Active extension tubes.

 Have the correct electrical pins to transfer the electronic information to pass from a modern lens to the body and back leaving the lens in full communication with the body. This makes more modern lenses better to use with this type of set up. Otherwise exactly the same as passive tubes. Much more expensive and make sure any third part tube has all the connections your camera needs. Not all do. Allows full function of the lens though speed of the auto-focus can be inhibited from slight totally. Both types are lens mount type specific and cannot be transferred between fittings.


32j: Lens Reversing Rings.

 Good for people that have old SLR lenses around of good quality. Can give them a new lease of life and if you have them already is the cheapest way into macro for DSLR and four third format cameras.
Used to connect two dslr lenses 'Face to face' with both front elements facing each other.
These rings are relatively cheap and screw into the filter thread of a DSLR lens. Because lenses tend to have different diameter front elements you have to decide which lenses you will use as each end of the ring will have to fit the lens it faces. This is somewhat limiting if you have a few lenses to choose from as each combination may need a different connecting ring. No electrical contact between lenses needed. For easiest results the lens connected to the body should be modern with full communication between body and lens. The facing lens should be older ad fully manual to open up to the widest aperture if needed.
Actual focusing is done on the body. The second backward facing lens acts as a quality Raynox macro lens and some of the best results can be obtained in macro with this combination. Success depends on the quality of the lenses being used. The major drawback is the older lens has to expose it's back element which would allow dust to enter. It is better for the front lens to have a larger front lens element than the one attached to the camera body to reduce vignetting.
An advantage is any manual lens can be used that has a filter thread from any manufacturer as there is no mechanical or electronic exchange of information so if you are considering changing make of camera it may well be worth hanging onto one or a few decent prime lens for this as they  may be more valuable to you for this purpose than the value you would get for them  second hand. One down side to this method is the additional reduction of light as you have to add the total of the aperture widths to your calculations and in turn lose more light. The other thing with this method is do buy a lens reversing ring and don't be tempted to use an ordinary filter step down ring as the gap is smaller and may well end up with the two front elements of the lenses being used being ground into each other or simply crashing together as the lenses are placed face to face.


32k: Flash guns.

 Flash comes in all sorts of guises. For macro, off camera flash, ring flash, and all combinations can be used to help with collecting enough light.
Care should be used in figuring out how much shadow is useful and where it should be. Allows dof to be increased to whatever the limit of your equipment will allow.  Can help freeze the motion of insects for sharper pictures if a fast enough shutter sync speed can be obtained. Flash use should really be talked about in a lighting tutorial so this is as far as I'm going on this within this tutorial.



All sizes and useful for all cameras.
Should be rigid in use, of suitable height for the job and as flexibly adjustable as possible. Used to overcome camera shake and movement brought about by the extreme zoom ranges ,magnification and slow shutter speeds that can be a part of some macro photography. Obviously they have more uses but for this section that is what is important.  


32m: Focusing Rails

Mainly best fitted to pro style sturdy  tripods.

Used clamped onto a tripod can give the extra fine focus sometimes needed for best results in macro. Can come in one or two axis versions to give both back to front precision movement as well as side to side.
Can be thwarted by the use of telephoto zoom lenses with little clearance from the tripod collar mount of some lenses causing the body to collide with the rail. Check for fit.
Essential for successful accurate frame stacking outdoors.


32n Bean bags.

Emergency support to help steady the camera. Can be quite small and easily put into a pocket.


32o: Shutter release cable.

 Is useful where slow shutter speeds are desirable or needed.
Not essential unless bracketing or frame stacking.


Choosing which equipment you will use is largely dependant on what you already have. Normally people dable at macro first so the cheapest option for you is probably the best way to go. If on the other hand quality is your major concern then in my opinion in order from best to least effective I would go for.

32A1: Joint first for DSLR.


More to come on this topic.

Top of the range dedicated macro lens if you have no older manual lenses with a modern lenses to play with. ( expensive and limited in focal lengths ).

Or if you have older manual lenses buy a couple of lens reversing rings to play with. A few because each lens you try tomatch yourmodern lens to will probably be a different diameter. If you already own step down rings you could use then in conjunction with one lensreversing ring instead providing they fit the modern lens end. ( can make the lenses very long and heavy and subsequently may need support to prevent lens mount damage ).

Second: Canon macro filter or Nikon version. ( Very expensive and can get damaged easily without care ).

Third: Raynox Macro lens. ( can vignette badly when put on larger diameter lenses ).

Fourth: Active Extention Tubes. ( Expensive and the longer the tube the more transmission loss of light ).

Fifth: Passive Extention Tubes.( Needs all manual adjustments including white balance and has the same light problems as the active version. ).

Sixth: Tripod . ( Only any good if you use one of the above with it ).

Seventh: Flash gun. ( Only any good if you use one of the above with it with the exception of the flash gun ).


32A2: For Bridge Cameras.

First: The on board Macro setting with a Raynox macro lens.

Second: Macro filters by a cheaper manufacturer than Canon or Nikkon with the on board Macro setting. I can not justify the cost of these against the cost of a bridge camera and some bridge cameras lenses are not good enough to take full advantage of the extra quality of the filter lens.

Third: The on board Macro setting on it's own.

Forth: Tripod. ( Only any good if you use one of the above with it ).

Fifth: If the camera supports off the camera flash put this one in fourth place.


Having selected the equipment it's time to talk TECHNIQUES & POSSIBILITIES..


Outdoor improvisation methods for unexpected opportunities.

In other words youare out and about for a normal shoot and not thinking about macro when an opportunity arises.

1: The quickest equipment to use is either a dedicated macro zoom which should do the job well enough

2: Then comes the Raynox macro lens as it has a clip on adapter and if you have a bridge camera the pushing th macro or super macro button is equal with this but if you add a macro lens to the end is slightly slower but the end results are much better.

3: Then screw on filters.

4: Then lens reversing ring.

5: Swopping lenses.

6: Filter tubes.

That's in order to change from normal shooting to macro but to set up after number 3: things are not as clear as setting up focus on one system may not be as fast as with another system. I would imagie that checking a double lens set up would take longer than to focus active and possibly passive extention tubes.

For this section I will be talking about using the Raynox with a DSLR lens either prime or telephoto as that is what I prefer.

I will also only be talking about shooting in bright sunshine as the light levels to do this type of photography on moving subjects demands that. Without dedicated flash units to help out it's impossible to do well any any less amount of light so I don't waste my time trying or talking about it.

Last but not least these basic tips could be used with a bit of thought to adapt to other peices of equipment listed above.

33: Section 2: Techneques.

Focusing Distances and the use of a Telephoto lens to extend Depth of Field.

I would normally combine that with my Nikkor 70-300mm FX lens as it's a good combination for this this type of shooting for me and I am used to the combination. Used as a telephoto lens the minimun focusing distance of this lens is around five feet and that's OK as you can zoom in quite close for most things including dragonflies but for smaller object i use the Raynox so I can get in closer. The other good thing about the lens is it stops down to f 32 which is really deep dof, if not allowing a lot of light in does have the possibility of tons of depth for macro work.The other plus with this lens is it's an FX lens so on my DX body it only uses the canter of the lens and not the outside meaning that although the Rayox is only 43mm wide it does not vignette at full zoom as the edges of that lens do not get focused onto the sensor. Now because that gives me 450mm of zoom and the ability to get up to within 10cm of the subject it means that I can get shots similar to that of the Dragonfly head you saw earlier above. It does mean though that to get that close I run the risk of getting my subject into shadow more so I have to be careful about where the sun is. That sorted depending on how bright the day is, depends on how much you can stop down your lens to a higher f number. That and what you have desided is your working shutter speeds and ISO.


Lets say for whatever the combination reason your dof is not good and the insect has little in focus within the depth of feild.

Is there another way around getting better depth? Well with a good telephoto lens there is. Simply get further back and zoom in more. There will be limits as to how far back you can go as the Raynox has brought your focusing distance closer but by stepping back a bit you increase the actual depth of your viewing field while trying to keep your aperture the same.

Why or how does this work?

So you see you effectively deepen your working depth of feild.

With a variable aperture lens like the 70-300mm that will have to be re-adjusted by you but if you are lucky enough to be able to have a constant aperture lens you just re-focus as the aperture remains the same.

Here I've pulled the zoom back of this fly on a curved stone. You can clearly see how shallow the focal plain is across the stone. Click the picture for a close up.

If the subject comes off of the plain of focus and your dof is shallow you have to select where to focus. Eyes tend to be best. Click the picture for a close up.

Some Actual Figures Quoted using an APC sized DSLR sensor using 150mm actual focal length ( 100mm Full Frame ). F2.8 = 0.07mm of dof. F11 = 2.8mm of dof and F32= 7.9mm of dof.

Last. You have to accept that if you are hand holding your camera outdoors and taking advantage of whats happening around you you are in general goingto be stuck with a shallow depth of feild. How shallow depends on the things discussed earlier.

34: Dealing with the problems of camera shake in outdoor macro situations.

Most of this is personal preference so if you find it useful or a starting point all well and good. Don't be afraid to find out what is best for you.

Camera shake is a big problem with macro photography in the feild. Because large magnifications are used any movement of the camera not matter how small are amplified to such an extent as to make an image unusable. Unlike normal sized objects the smaller we go the more a small amount of forward or backward movement throws the focus point forward or backward as well as up / down / left or right.In short we have a three dimensional problem rather than the normal two. Care must be taken to steady yourself in such a way as to eliminate sway and shake in every direction. How to do this on your own with little or no extra equipment to help can be a challenge. The following are positions I use for extra stability.

35: Hand Holding.

Mainly for when you don't have time or the equipment with you.


Unless you have arms like steel girders this is going to be difficult for most of us mere mortals so it's mainly about height from the floor and whether you have an articulating ( movable ) view screen.

Picture from that shot with the S100fs

 If you noticed the previous picture to this one of me taking this shot you will notice the lens barrel of the S100fs is retracted as when using an inboard flash extending the zoom can produce a shadow across the picture you are taking as the flash gets obscured by the lens and ruining the picture as in this shot.

All positions are the same for DSRL and Compact or any camera with a viewfinder.



Standing for DSLRs and Bridge cameras.

One of the most difficult. If possible lean against anything nearby, even if that's not possible,keep the elbows into the body and have a similar posture to the panning technique used in the photographing moving subjects section. Keep breathing slow and easy and like firearm shooting, try to press your shutter button on the exhale. One foot should be directly ahead of you while the other a couple of foot apart is placed at right angles behind you. Both legs slightly bent for better balance. Try to lean slightly forward but not far. Left hand supporting the barrel end for easy access to lens controls. Get to know where they are by touch.

For Compact cameras do the same but keep the screen as close as you can if you don't have a view finder. In fact follow all the instructions for hand holding.

The only difference will be that you will hold your camera either side of the screen taking care that your fingers will not obscure the lens or flash.

Hip Height.

 Don't squat. There's too much swaying involved, especially if it puts you on your toes as your heels leave the ground. It helps to sit on your back leg too.

Have your left leg in front and bent at the knee to a horizontal and your right leg behind you at right angles with your knee on the ground. So your legs form a triangle of touch points to the ground Then rest your left elbow on your left knee. With your elbow connected to your knee you get rid of nearly all of your vertical movement. If you need to you may consider making a knee pad for this. If not to keep your knee comfortable then to keep your clothing clean or dry.



If you have an articulated screen this is somewhat easier as it's the viewing that's difficult. No real preference as to how you get low here but what is important is the camera stability. I will quite often kneel on both legs and use my elbows making me into a 'table' against the ground for off the floor work. For really low ground work or outside table tops when using a longish telephoto I will quite often adopt a similar use of my left hand to using a snooker cue with most of my fingers on the ground and hand twisted so there is the possibility of supporting the body under the top of my arm as well.


This is a resulting image taken at maximum resolution with the Raynox attached. Not pretty but clear showing that even the shiniest of buttons show defects at this type of magnification but more importantly the lack of camera shake for a hand held macro at 1/250s

What I'm trying to do most here is prevent movement back and forth where it effects the position of the depth of the focus and worry less about lateral movement as everything within the focal plane should be in focus. Where it's really difficult to get e steady position I will change my left hand from a crab like structure to a fist which can be raised slightly or lowered depending on how much pressure you put into your clenched hand.

It is also relatively easy to adjust the lens position slowly by using your thumb to edge the lend forward or backward and a slight rocking of your hand against the ground. Hopeful your camera's on board image stabilization will help out with the smaller movements left. Heavier cameras that have more inertia and tend to rest on the hand more heavily are easier to keep stable as their mass is less prone to reacting to the smallest vibrations. This is how I do most of my fly shots.



Mostly when doing macro photography outdoors I use continuous focus and a single focus point though the focus point may be to one side.

Collapsable reflectors can be useful in macro photography to even out, or increase light to a subject and can double up as wind deflecters when needed. An old colapseble telescopic arial that can fit your camera bag with a cable release tidy ( one you can easily undo ) or similar can be stuck into the ground next to wild flowers to reduce swaying in a gentle breeze. Do be careful to not damage the plant or it's roots though. Always use a lens hood where possible. A small re-filable pump action scent spray in the bag can give a flower that misty morning look. Keep it in a zip-lock bag in case it leaks. Stand back a bit and spray hard to get a fine spray. Practice on a nearby plant first. Mix sugar to attract insects.

36: Tripods for low ground work.

Should you need a steadier platform for your shots a good tripod will allow you to turn the centre column upside down. More expensive ones can rotate the column or have separate adjustable side arms. with that it's easy to get your camera lens steady close to the ground.


If you have a tripod with you and a nearby wildlife pond or stream you can place a camera upside down on the column if it's removable to get it closer to the water but take your shoes off first and roll your trousers or skirt up. If you are wearing sandles keep them on as you have to be aware of the possibility of broken sharp objects below the mud. If the camera has to be upside down you can turn the picture round the right way back home. If your lens has a tripod collar turn the camera the right way up. Make sure the body is locked to tripod at all times. If it has a quick realease plate get the tripod level and set up first and attach the camera after. Make sure the tripod is not slowly sinking ! Apart from a wet camera you may not get your tripod back! Remember that cameras and water on the whole don't mix. Try this at your own risk. You can place the camera in a plastic bag and rubber band the end around the lens opening for added protection and still screw the camera through the plastic bag to the base plate. It may make the camera controls harder to get to and to view through but protects it from wet hands and splashes up to a point. A skylight filter on the lens may help with splashing too. This tripod technique can keep your camera dry next to wet ground too. If you have a cable release or remote trigger that's useful here as well.

37: Table Top Macro

Shooting inside you have a chance to control the environment from distance and lighting and subsequently the depth of feild as everything can be as steady as you can make it. Insects unfortunately would have to be dead to take advantage of this and mounted possibly on a pin or some such but the advantages are many.
For flowers and other delicate objects, the lack of wind and the ability to shoot from any angle more easily also makes life a lot easier. Remember that by placing whatever you want to take a picture of on something like a shiny card or plastic sheet you can carefully move the sheet towards or away from you for your focus sweet spot rather than move the tripod.

The use of a focus rail here is only a slight advantage unless you want to stack focus. That is take several shots at the same shallow focus and then combining the results by stacking the frames one on top of the other in a specialist stacking program that will help to blend the images together. The focus rail is then used to evenly gap the distance  in between each frame taken for an evenly focused / blended end image.

When using tripods using the shutter cable release will help prevent blur from camera / lens movement. If you don't have a cable release then the on board timer delay should be selected. Make sure the image stabilisation is switched off when tripod mounted. If left on, that in itself will produce motion blur as it hunts to tame movement that isn't there.
If you have a DSLR and decide to use live view for more accurate manual focus, remember to put the view finder blanking plate in to stop stray light from getting to the sensor from the view finder.
For even less vibration when taking a shot use the mirror up selection on your DSLR . ( Look in your camera's manual for information). (( NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MIRROR LOCK UP FOR SENSOR CLEANING )).



38: Problems and solutions for this Section Condensed.

Sort out what equipment you want form the choices set out for this section of the tutorial and stick to that way of doing it and get good at it.

Be sure to read through the alternatives and understand the pros and cons of each method before choosing.
If it's not working well the chances are it's you not the equipment. Go back and practice. Analyse your results and go again.

Start with table top macro where it's easier to get consistent results to compare your settings, allowing you to see what slight changes have which effects.

Remember that if you are in the correct focusing distance something should be in focus. If you find you can't get focus and you are using a zoom lens, shorten the focal length and then zoom in. This will make what you are are looking for easier to find.

The depth of feild is narrow at the best of times, similar to trying to isolate and focus only on a footballer's foot when he is half way down a football pitch.
It's hard. Have patience.

The problem of light verses depth of feild is inversely proportional. The more depth the less light.
The cures for this are more ISO or longer shutter times or a combination of both.
If you have the luxury a good long zoom lens will help as a third alternative by standing  further back and zooming in effectively deepening the depth of feild.

Flash or extra lighting is easier inside where time and equipment volume is not as much of a problem.

Remember long lens barrels stop effective use of in board flash.

Sun reflectors can help with lack of light problems  and are a good outdoor alternative to flash use.

Always find ways of steadying hand held shots. Do not extend parts of your body too far away from your torso.

Check you image stabilisation is on when hand held shots are taken.

Make inventive use of your tripod whenever you have it with you.

With Table Top macro it's generally a good idea to place the object you have on something you can slide around. Most of the time adjusting the subject matter is easier than moving a tripod by a small amount.

If you want to experiment with focus stacking then a focus rail for your tripod is a must for consistent, good results.


End Note for this Section.


Although I've primarily talked about macro in this section the parts about dealing with depth of feild are equally true when talking about other areas of photography especially when using lenses with really wide apertures.

For instance, shooting wide apertures at close up distances for portraits outdoors is a good way of isolating a person from their environment but can end up with unpleasant results if you are not careful, such as features within the face also being out of focus.

Let's say that on a really shallow dof of f1.8, an eye that is in sharp focus may mean the tip of the nose and the ear may be out of focus.

Always check for this when using apertures of below f4 or f5 on DSLR cameras or if you use macro or super macro for a portrait shot using a bridge or compact camera.



39: Focusing at night and extremely low light.




 Here unlike the macro section what helps is smaller apertures and flash units or long exposures and tripods and again small apertures.

Why ?

 Because a lot of night photography is landscape by nature. Even where it isn't, because of the difficulty in trying to focus on something you may not even be able to see in your view finder, a larger depth of feild helps to keep the majority of what you see ( or don't ) in focus.

Using your zoom in these situations is not going to help with all but the best equipment and even then when starting out try to keep to the shorter focal lengths of below 70mm before trying to use the zoom or longer focal lengths. 

There are ways of being very precise if you have the time but very good pictures can still be obtained even if you don't have so much time to set up and take pictures. So lets break down the main types of night photography into two main groups.
Hand Held and Tripod mounted.

Both up to a point can be interchanged depending on how good your equipment is and the quality of the image captured that you would be satisfied with.
Where I wouldn't personally try to often to hand hold is when doing landscapes. Although it is possible if you can hand hold a lens steady enough down to 1/15 of a second. ( Try that in daylight first as it's nigh on impossible for most equipment and focal lengths. )
Some of this section is very specialist and there will be links to separate tutorials that I have done to cover those  subjects.

40: Equipment List for Night Shooting

Must Haves. Camera:Torch.      Nice to have. Tripod: Flash Gun: Cable release: Square of black card.


41: Night Landscape.

VitBee Factory on the river Medway

Generally quite easy to do with both bridge and DSLR cameras and even advanced compacts. The main thing is to check that your camera will go down as slow as eight seconds ( you may get away with four seconds on some cameras ) but preferably as slow as thirty seconds and longer. ( Bulb settings ). Check your camera's manual for suitability.
The same type of settings used for tripod use with macro shots can be used here. The main exceptions are the possible use of longer exposures and the use of aperture priority for easier shooting.
The reason for using Aperture Priority is that using this mode you can set your small aperture and ISO and leave the camera to work out the the shutter duration which will vary dependant on the amount of light within the scene.
Again for best results use the camera's base ISO. If you don't know your camera's base ISO it's probably not the lowest ISO but one full stop above what it says it can do.
Focus on what is important within the shot. When using tripods at night people seem to prefer Live view or their back screens on bridge cameras for this.


If using a DSLR don't forget to put the blanking  plate across your view finder just in case there is any stray light behind you.

Lantaglos Country Hotel near camelFord Cornwall

For this shot I used the top of the fountain column of water to focus on.
For pictures with a longish distance the focus assist light is of little use so I tend to switch it off. The column of water gave me a reasonable contrast spot between light and dark.
There is a lot of scope for experimentation with this type of shot. If you find the resulting image too dark or light don't forget your friend the EV button for fine adjustments. If it is configurable set it up for 1/3rd increments.



42: Fireworks at a distance.

 Equipment needed.      
Tripod. camera. Torch. Check List.Pen or pencil. Useful to have. Cable release. Lens hood. If it's cold, a set of  spare batteries in your pocket to keep warm.

 Your main enemy here is time. Even large displays can be as short as twenty minutes due to the costs of such an event. Pre planning and giving yourself a head start before you get there by setting up your camera before you go you would think could help, but a lot of what you will need to do will have to be done at the time and place of shooting so the main thing you can do to help yourself is make a check list for when you get there. Take a torch with you so you can read it and see the controls of your camera and set your tripod up level.
By it's nature this photography is also tripod mounted. If you have image stabilisation of any kind turn it off.  Ideal shutter times are between one to three seconds so for this type of photography it's best to use Shutter Priority on Bridge cameras and DSLRs and use the dedicated Firework setting on compacts unless it has a shutter priority setting.


Great Lines Bonfire night display Medway 2010

 What people don't take into account when giving advice to another person about firework shooting is that the Aperture plays a very important part here. Because you are far away your depth of feild is still deep and the larger an aperture you have the more room you have for experimentation with your shutter speeds. As a general rule I now find personally that for each stop of light I lose I have to double my shutter time to compensate the exposure.

So my starting point is f2.8 at 1.5 to 1.6 seconds. For ISO 100. It would be safe for most people to shoot at ISO 200 and have an aperture of f5.6 to get similar results for shutter speeds so there is leeway for most cameras. From the previous picture is is easy to see the amount of 'bloom' I'm getting for this shutter speed. If you prefer more or less than this then adjust the shutter speed and aperture to compensate accordingly.

The previous picture was taken around one and a half miles from the display ground. At that distance I was using a 105mm equivilent lens and could really have done with a 70mm or less so you don't need that amount of zoom if you are that far away.
You should make your own settings based on your cameras specifications but with the information so far you can probably work it out. If you can't, set up as close to these settings as you can and adjust as you go along.


Expect to use the first five to ten minutes just getting the settings in the ball park.

 Most important is don't panic.

 Be methodical and think what isn't right and which bit do you want to adjust first to get the desired results.

 You are going to miss shots so get used to it.

 So, in order of what to do first and why.


My check list for this type of shooting.
Get out torch and turn on.
Get your check list out to read from and tick off.
Get the tripod in a good position with a clear view ahead and level and stable before attaching the camera. Use a level. A lot of tripods have these built in.  Set the tripod to a height that means you can see the top of your camera if it's a DSLR to read the top LCD panel.

Before mounting the camera to the tripod.

Get the camera set so that you don't clip the top of the firework display in the view finder and pull the zoom back a bit. The finale nearly always ends with a really big set of explosions. You can crop  the picture in after. Leave a quarter of the border free from your target space.

Either that or make a note of the time and look up the displays approximate running time before you go out. Set your phones timer to remind you as you can get carried away and lose track of time. That way you can get close ups if you wish but leave yourself three minutes grace for the end shots. This is still a risky strategy though so be warned.
Set your focus to manual ( The switch on the side of the body next to the lens. Picture is in Section One ' the technical side ', under Lens Focus Modes.  ) and leave it near infinity. At this distance it's as close to infinity as makes no odds but check the early results to make sure. If it's slightly out pull it back a slight amount.

Select Shutter Priority mode and make a note of the aperture setting for your focal length. Then set the shutter time according to what has been said above as a starting point. Add one second if you use the black card method mentioned below.

Select One of the following shutter modes.
Delayed timer two seconds or use a cable release / radio trigger.
If your camera has neither use the black piece of card to hold in front of your lens to block out the scene until you have pressed the shutter button and released your grip on the camera body, then quickly remove the card  to start your exposure. That takes a bit of practice and you should allow an additional second for your exposure.

If your DSLRs top LCD has an illuminated back panel that can be switched on all the time do it so you can see your settings at a glance in case any of the one's you don't want to change when fine tuning your settings don't.

Mount to tripod and turn any lens stabilisation off.

Start shooting and try to anticipate the delay if using the camera delay timer. If you have a cable release and are not on a delay you have an advantage depending on how your cable release / radio trigger works. If you have to keep your finger on the cable release to keep your shutter button open be even with your exposures. Again this takes practice. On the other hand if you can just use it to trigger the exposure sit back and  relax a bit more.

If the shots look good but the background is too light or too dark use your EV button to get it under control.

Adjust the Aperture / shutter time mix until you get your desired result.

The first time you do this you may only get a few good shots as it will take you time to get the set up right. After a few outings you should be able to get all of this sown to under seven minutes from scratch.
If you are sure you will shoot nothing else before hand and can do most of the alterations for your camera before you leave you can get good results from the off.



 Close Encounters of the Firework Kind


42: Fireworks close up and hand held.

Where this differs from tripod shooting is really that being close up you do need to worry about focus distance and shutter speed. Really the two methods are interchangeable but this can be easier up close and the other method easier for distance.
Hand Held

Hand held from a half mile across the river Medway at the Medway Fuse Dance festival 2010

Things you need.
A camera with a fairly wide angle lens. 35mm at a pinch, wider if possible. Zoom lens if you have the option.  Torch: Check List: Pen or pencil: Arms like  girders.
Again quality of output depends partially on the equipment but also a lot on technique.

The Check List.

Get out torch and turn on.
Get your check list out to read from and tick off as you go.
Set your lens focus to continuous. Fireworks close up are bright and your camera shouldn't have trouble keeping up with focus. Even with a relatively slow focusing lens.
If your DSLRs top LCD has an illuminated back panel that can be switched on all the time do it so you can see your settings at a glance in case any of the one's you don't want to change when fine tuning your settings don't.
Select Shutter Priority mode and make a note of the aperture setting for your focal length after surveying the scene through the viewfinder or screen..
Then set the shutter time according to the aperture reading as discussed for the tripod method.
Set the camera to single shot or if you prefer continuous burst though personally I don't use burst modes for this. With a bridge camera you may miss shots while the last batch get processed to the card. This can take twenty seconds or more and you may miss opportunities for better shots.
Keep the ISO low enough to enable the correct shutter speeds. If you trust your auto ISO to do a good job use that, if you don't set it as low as you dare. Keep the ISO below 400 is possible but don't be afraid to go as high as 1600 if not possible.
Select file type to  RAW if you have it as the contrast may be very high and need post correction. If you don't have RAW but have exposure bracketing use that and make the bracketing one full stop apart for three frames. One frame should come out quite well. That is optional especially if read / write times are worrying.
Make sure your Image stabilisation is turned ON.

Set your shutter speed to around 1/60s. If they come out fine try to lower the shutter speed until you get the desired amount of 'bloom' from your firework explosions. The slowest most people are able to  hand hold with good optical vibration reduction is around 1/15s unless using really wide angle lenses. If you are using a DSLR a cheaper zoom may do better than a quality prime that has a short focal length as those lenses don't tend to get stabilisation built in at lengths bellow 85mm. If the stabilisation is built into the body don't worry about this.

Be aware that close up if you want longer shutter times you will have to revert to using the tripod method or find some other way of stabilizing your camera or bracing yourself sufficiently.

You should be good to go.
It's possible to be within a hundred meters of an organised event and as such there is no real need to zoom in and I would suggest that you don't at your first events. This is because when  you zoom it changes the amount of light and mucks up all the work you put in to get it right.

If you are lucky to own a constant aperture lens then this won't apply to you so go and knock yourself out and do as you wish.
As with the tripod method fine control over exposure can be achieved with the EV button.

Shooting Technique.
The technique is almost identical to normal panning for sports or airshows but with just a couple of differences.
Don't zoom but keep what you are tracking around the center of your view finder then just before you press your shutter button slow smoothly down to a stop.
This is really hard to do for two reasons.

The first is simply because with most other types of cross panning the aim is to keep the pan going during the shutter release and this goes against all that practice.

The second reason is when you stop the firework doesn't and you have no reference point with a black background to show you that you are still. However with time, patience and practice you may find this possible. Just don't expect large trails or blooms similar to those that use the tripod method.


High ISO use.

Part One.


44: High ISO  for Night Use.

Sometimes when out and about for whatever reason there isn't enough light to lock onto using normal methods and the shutter speed can't be kept high enough to prevent camera blur and you can't use a tripod because of causing an obstruction or you left it behind.

So what can you do?

Flash may be one answer but if it's for sport you may cost someone points as they get blinded by your thoughtlessness ( remember that flash is banned at a lot of sporting events ) or it may ruin the composition you are trying to capture by over-illuminating the scene.
The only way to prevent camera shake is to keep shutter speeds up fast enough to capture movement in the scene and where there is no movement as in a cityscape, fast enough for your image stabilisation to counteract your body movement. The alternative is no picture.

The Hop Farm Kent.
Where there is little light to help your camera has a focus assist light to help your camera to focus. On most cameras this is only good for ten feet. With a really good system you are still pushing it at eighteen feet. Increasing the ISO which effectively amplifies the light electronically to your sensor will allow the focus to see better, more accurately, for more distance.
The main reason most people shy away from high ISO use is because of the grainy pictures it can produce coupled with a softening of the image.
There are ways to help you reduce this down to reasonable levels. At least reasonable enough to get an A4 print from.

The first thing is when in a dark place photographing, don't be afraid to try to get a lighter than normal exposure. By it's nature dark areas are going to push your histogram readings to the left and no matter what you do the majority of that reading will stay there.

By increasing the exposure level you may not see much difference bit a small not very high set of peaks will start to travel from the left to the right side of the histogram.

Bridge owners have an advantage here as by pressing your +/- button while composing you can show your histogram through the viewfinder / screen and adjust it while your shutter button is half depressed. DSLR shooters have to take a shot then review the histogram, then adjust and shoot again.Zonbie

With the above picture it was a local waxworks and it was DARK! 

Shot through glass flash would have bounced back so the only option was a high ISO setting. Even then you can see a slight blurring of the image as I struggle to keep the camera still for half a second.

Note I've tried to get the histogram away from the the far left to boost the shadows and reduce noise in them while trying to register some sort of light to the right. Don't forget you can click pictures for a larger view.

As cameras get more advanced their ability to increase ISO for night shooting improves with the best camera on the market now getting pictures in nigh on complete darkness. For most of us though at the moment ( 2011 ) ISO 1600 to 3200 is pretty much the upper limits and pushing the boundaries of what can be done.

Some cameras have a built in high ISO noise reduction feature that can be turned on others will apply noise reduction without asking. If your camera can and you are in doubt shoot RAW and do your own post processing if you don't like what the camera is doing.

The photograph above.
Because of the amount of light from this fairground stall I've used as many focus points as my camera could try to use and pushed the exposure up to over expose the fluorescent lighting strips in a bid to get enough light into the signs in front of the stall. Notice the histogram is way a way from the left and I've a healthy amount of light across the scene except where it blows out around the fluorescent strips. For this shot I thought the sacrifice of the lights was sufficient reason to get the detail of the stall. Most of the time my photography is about compromise and this was it for this picture. Also there was some movement from people as they meandered around the stall getting the shutter speed up to 1/160s was also a conscious decision.

So really for this section there is little in the way of techniques just an awareness of when and how to adjust the camera for fastest shutter times and to create an exposure that has less noise. Doing that in itself will also help the cameras auto-focus system to get a more accurate lock onto your subject matter.
Hopefully your night time shots will improve to better than mine with a bit of practice.


The picture above is focused on the white sign at the far side of the dodgems for to reasons. One reason is for a more accurate white balance for the scene and using the custom white balance of the camera to help with all the differing types of light showing within the scene.

The other reason was the white against black lettering helped the focus to lock. The aperture was set enough width to get the front of the dodgem stand to be in focus and the shutter speed was left a bit slow to show motion in the dodgem car itself.


High ISO Use Part 2

45: High ISO use for Indoor Sports.

As I said earlier, flash photography is mostly banned for indoor sports for obvious reasons of blinding competitors. In these environments where you are often in large halls with high ceilings and what looks like bright lighting is often anything but as bright as you would think.

As good as the lighting gets you come across another problem. That is sports tend to be fast paced which means even faster shutter speeds are required. Normally the faster the better.

The third problem is that at a public event you seldom have a chance to get close to the action and have the freedom to shoot from the periphery of the courts. That gives the average user a bit of a headache with the normal outcome being hideously grainy pictures full of blur and less than perfect looking images.

Fencing Womens foil

 Unlike shooting outdoors looking at light sources, the histograms produced when shooting sports look more like normal shooting. Care should be taken not to let the histogram reach hard either side of the light scale. It may also be a good idea to do a custom white balance for a better exposure. In these places I tend to add a bit of positive exposure compensation as well. This helps keep the shadows under control and tones the whites down a bit to help prevent blown highlights. This may sound odd as I am struggling for light and shutter speed but whites tend to seem to blow more easily at high ISOs on my camera.

The other couple of odd things are not as explainable but seem to be true. That is an F2.8 lens seems to produce less noise when stopped down to f4 than an f4 lens wide open. I've no idea why it just seems to be true. It's even more noticeable when you stop down an f1.4 lens to f4. Those of you with DSLRs and fast lenses will be at an advantage here.

For bridge camera users the story is not so good. If you can zoom into the action keep a eye on the aperture. Remember that f2.8 on a smaller sensor is going to be an equivalent of a much smaller aperture on a DSLR I'm not a mathematician but I would guess it's nearer f8 to f9 and that in turn is going to drop light away from your sensor. Compacts may well suffer the same fate. All you can do is try but expect better results the less you zoom and you may have to up your ISOs more than DSLR users. A good picture of a full basketball court can be quite good though so not all is lost. Just don't expect any good closeups.

Some benefits of high ISOs other than allowing faster shutter speeds are it allows you to see what you would normally wouldn't be able to see as in this picture of the face behind the fencer's mask. When you are actually there you would ever see that.

Because I am using largish apertures the problem of where to place the focus point also becomes a conscious decision. I prefer the person facing me but sometimes I'll switch if I think the person facing away from me will win. With fencing my focus is normally on one of the opponents foils. This is another time I will shoot with both eyes open to see what's going on outside the frame.

This last shot is without any noise reduction at all and not altered in any way. Straight from jpg this shot shows the reasonably well balanced histogram along with the shooting data on the left. I could just get away with a shutter speed of 1/800s for fencing and it's the slowest effective speed I could manage to keep blur to a minimum. Basket ball can be shot slightly slower but not much slower .1/640s seems to be OK. The shot below was taken with a shutter speed of 1/400s from around eighty feet.

It was just an opportunist shot taken on a tour of a facility I was asked to shoot at two weeks later for a charity event. I took this to check light levels.

One note to add.

From what I've said above you would think that the larger the aperture the better the result would be but it's not. On the last shot above you see only one competitor in sharp focus because it's shot at f2.8. F 4 would have brought them both into focus and that in turn would have meant me having to go up to ISO 2000 which is pushing it a bit for my camera. I will get another opportunity later this year to try again and I hope to improve on what I've already learnt, but after seeing what others managed with the top end gear I'm close to the same quality levels as them, so I'm not that disappointed. Although an f1.4 50mm lens would have worked here quite well from a noise level I would still have stopped down considerably for these shots. Also shooting at f1.4 actually slows down the focusing system as it struggles to get a relatively small depth of feild which is rapidly changing in distance. The fastest apertures are between f2.8 to f4 for a fast, accurate auto-focus.

It was just an opportunist shot taken on a tour of a facility I was asked to shoot at two weeks later for a charity event. I took this to check light levels.

There are other types of problems associated with other types of indoor photography such as concert shooting but I have already covered that as a more general topic in another Tutorial.

Photographing indoor (and some outdoor) concerts or theatre photography in general. 

Between that tutorial and what I've talked about here most of what you need to think about for indoor photography without flash use is covered.


46: Problems and solutions for this Section Condensed.

Nightscape Tripod Use.

Cameras with a bulb setting do best but work can be done with cameras that have a slowest shutter speed of 1/8s.

Use aperture priority so the camera can work out the exposure for you.

Use small apertures for best depth and sharpness. F7 to F22 are good depending on lens.

Try to find out the camera's base ISO and use that for best results.

DSLR users should use a viewfinder blanking plate when using Live View.

Try to find a good contrast point around your main focal area.

Fireworks at a distance.

Take a torch and make and use a check list.

Set focus close to infinity.

Turn off image stabilisation.

Don't zoom too tight, leave room for unexpectedly large explosions.

Give yourself ten minutes to set up.

Constantly check your first shots until you are happy.

Use the Exposure Compensation button to dial in any over or under exposure to the sky.

 Fireworks close up and hand held.

Use image stabilisation.

Use Shutter priority mode but keep an eye on the aperture settings.

Use your check list to make sure you have all your settings correct.

Use Higher ISOs if you really need to for the shorter shutter speeds.

Use the RAW file format if you have it.

Shutter speeds of 1/60s down to 1/15s if your hands are steady enough to do it.

Don't pan while the shutter is fully depressed.

 High ISO use.

Part One. High ISO for Night Use.

Remember the focus assist light is of little use at distances of more than 10 and at most 18 feet.

Make sure your histogram reading is not hard to the left and try to have some reading across to the right of the histogram.

Bridge owners can show the histogram through the viewfinder / screen and adjust it while the shutter button is half depressed.

ISO 1600 to 3200 is pretty much the upper limits and pushing the boundaries of what can be done.

Expect to do some noise post processing.

 High ISO Use Part 2 for Indoor Sports.

Faster shutter speeds are required.

Care should be taken not to let the histogram reach hard either side of the light scale.

Add a bit of positive exposure compensation.

F2.8 to f4 are ideal apertures.

Shoot using Shutter Priority.

For bridge camera users the story is not good. Compacts may well suffer the same fate. All you can do is try but  expect better results the less you zoom.

Be very conscious of where to place the focus point to get participants in focus.

Time your shot.

Camera in built high ISO noise reduction can really slow down the frame rate. You may have to wait some time between shots if it's active.

Avoid apertures below F2.8 for fastest lens responses.


47: Shutter Speeds and how they effect perceived sharpness.

Why is it in a tutorial about focusing problems?

I thought I would add this as quite often people ask questions about focusing when the problem is one of sharpness caused by blur.
I'm hoping that by adding this section people will realize which is which and when and how to use it or avoid it.
As well as it's use for getting an exposure correct, used in conjunction with aperture and ISO the shutter speed can be used to freeze action or make a picture have inner movement.

The problem is one of how do you keep a picture looking sharp and not a blur ? How can a frozen moment pass on a sense of movement and remain clear? There are several methods that allow this. None are that easy to achieve without lots of practice.

48: The Slow Shutter Speed Pan.

Best used on mechanical things that move.

48a: On Military Vehicles.

Essentially a method that is good for airshows ( prop aircraft )  and motor sports but also good for military vehicles, cyclists, and up to a point bird photography ( though the last is really difficult to get right ).
For some reason moving military vehicles are the hardest for me as the rough ground they move on makes them move up and down as well as making their acceleration uneven. Normally I keep my eye on one section of the vehicle ( Where is only important to exposure and focus lock on.) and try my hardest to keep it in exactly that spot as I press the shutter and for a second or two after the picture is taken.
The shutter speed here was only for 1/40s so the background blur is not that significant. I also wanted to capture the rain and all I really wanted was to show the wheels spinning and maybe get some muck flinging off of the back. It's much harder to get track movement on tanks. My point of concentration for this picture was between the two rear wheel arches which was easy to see.


 48b: On Propeller Driven Aircraft.

 Best done when at take off as the engine speed is higher requiring less open shutter time or when landing and the plane slows down making it easier to keep in the same portion of frame.

Much harder when the plane is in mid flight such as this one. Typical shutter speeds vary from 1/250s to 1/400s for good prop spin. Again where the focus point is placed not only helps with focus but the exposure as well. My favourite place is at the leading edge just under the front wing as it goes into shadow.

  48c: On Helicopters.

By far the worst as the rotor rotation is so slow by comparison. I have never achieved a full one third of a rotation of a blade to give the illusion of a complete circle without significant blur in the body of the craft.


Shutter speed for the chinook was 1/50s at f22 just to stop over exposure on a bright sunny day. Even then I had to dial in -4 EV compensation. My exposure contrast focus spot here would be the underside of the helicopter around half it's length as I don't want to have to look at each end to get the rotors in.

48d: On Organic Things.

People, horses, waterfalls, etc. So far I've had limited success as there needs to be a focal point or more of sharpness for this to work. To show you why I've got a long way to go on this I'll include what I think is the nearest to what I'm trying to achieve which is the main body being sharpish but movement of limbs and background is not sufficient to produce a good image. Kent Country Show Hop Farm Kent
Apart from the obvious of there not being much blur movement in the background due to a shutter speed of only 1/160s I have a two other problems. One is too much light. The other is if I stop the lens down for less light the background will be in sharper focus. Hopefully if I can get a longer shutter speed and maintain focus the extra depth of field will be cancelled by the motion blur.  I will try to experiment more this year to see if it's possible. For now there is a second method for getting motion into a moving being or animal and that is.

49: The Still Frame Long Shutter Technique.

Works OK for

Subjects Coming Towards You.
Subjects Moving at a Tangent to Your Position.
Stationary Subjects With Movement of Limbs.

For best results you need to use an infill flash to help freeze and make more clear the final position. Good for dull days and Early evenings / mornings are good shooting times. This is where I am currently experimenting with my outdoor shooting so bare with me as this is new territory to me too.


These where my first attempts using the camera's own flash. Using rear curtain, slow sync, to allow the shutter to open and the flash to go off just before the shutter closes. The flash has to be set to manual for this not, ITTL to allow for longer shutter speeds. It's hit ad miss as the wrong shutter speed catches the shutter closing. So far the slowest clean shots I've managed are only 1/15s at ISO 1600 @ F2.8 I used spot metering to try to darken the sky background plus I added -2EV ( exposure compensation ) with a focal length of 105 mm. I used an auto exposure but manual white balance. This produced the 'shadow'  of movement where the arm and mic moved . I would like slightly more movement but to keep the sharpness of the face. There is more experimentation for me to do here. With an on board flash you are limited to about eight to twelve feet and can only do certain shutter speeds due to the flash duration itself. An off camera flash should give me more leeway.

Freeze Frame Techniques.


Some types of shots don't lend themselves to slower shutter speed techniques and we as photographers tend to try to stick to 'safer' styled shots.
For most of us most of the time, that just requires getting a nicely sharp picture that only requires the image to represent a 'Frozen Moment in Time' type of shot. That's what the most of us do when we first start out.

So why is it that some images seem so much cleaner than others? Is there a way to relay the sense of movement or urgency that such a style of photograph may sometimes need to convey? How does this affect the act of focusing?

This section is purely about what I've only been able to achieve through the use of higher shutter speeds and why those speeds vary. Most are just examples of what I've been pleased with and why.

Settings will be given for each picture to give anyone doing something similar a starting base from which to experiment from. The pictures will start from the minimum shutter speeds I have found useful in a given situation along with the aperture used.

Please remember that I'm trying to give the pictures a sense of dynamics here and it's not just about getting a sharp focused shot but also a sense of movement or power.

If you can't match the aperture range then as a rough guide if you have to double the aperture halve your shutter speed to enable the same ISO value. If the shutter speed doesn't work,double your aperture and use the same shutter speed. Possibly going half and half on the ISO / Aperture changes would give the best compromised results.
So for example a shutter speed of 1/1000s at an aperture of F4 and an ISO of 200 would equate to a change of a shutter speed of 1/500s if you could only manage an aperture of F8 to keep the ISO at 200.
If that results in the picture being too blurry then you could up the shutter speed to 1/800s and increase the ISO to 320. Now I know that isn't exactly double but ISOs and shutter speeds tend not to be in multiples easily divided and that would be the nearest equivalent if your camera supports it.

Again one setting won't work on all cameras simply because not all cameras will allow the same settings. Any minor difference in exposure this causes can be tamed with the use of the EV (+/-) button.
So the first one will be Jets as they are not slow shutter speed candidates.

50: Jets.
 Can be taken fairly still in the frame from about about 1/600s to 1/800s onward depending on how far away and how fast they travel. To capture the power of these things though you need to either capture afterburners ( The light coloured flames that come out of the back in rings ) or manage the air displacement of hot air as it takes off.  You can only do the latter if you have a clear view of the end of the runway. HS10 Image

D 300   In the top picture I have both.

 To get the clarity of the afterburner I used a shutter speed of 1/1200s at F5.0 using the HS 10bridge camera. ISO 200 at 720mm.
The picture at the top was shot in RAW format using shutter priority and I used - 0.67 EV to stop the sky blowing out and to bring up more detail in the afterburner.
The Picture above, taken with a D300 a year earlier and cropped from a third of the frame because I only had use of 450mm was without thinking using almost identical settings of 1/ F5.6 with an ISO of 360 using spot metering. Shutter priority but 0 EV.       Result! I surprised myself.

The only other two ways to show them traveling is to capture smoke or vapour trails or if you're lucky capture the afterburner in flight. To keep up with the Jet movement I use a shutter speed of 1/1250s with -0.3 to -1.0 EV  @ F7.1 for sharpness of subject and cloud beyond. Because of that I change my metering to Matrix ( area ) to get more balance between contrast in aircraft and sky.
The same settings work for large explosions but I would shoot in a continuous burst to get the best frame. This explosion was around half a mile away and the fence you see is an eight foot perimeter fence behind.

50b: High Frame Rate Shooting

Talking of burst shooting, or continuous release, or high frame rate shooting, as much fun as this can be when I use my DSLR I use it sparingly.  Why ? Well first I'm not made of money so whatever I buy I would prefer to last. I think of the strain of the mirror going up and down eight times a second and the shutter opening and shutting at phenomenal speeds can't be the best work out for it.

DSLR shutters and mirrors have a finite life span. I will do what is needed to make sure mine lasts as long as possible. I have a few uses for continuous release shooting of which all follow a common theme.
When I can't see what I'm shooting.
I use burst mode when I know I can capture something I can't normally see at all because it happens faster than 1/24s which is the human eye refresh rate if you like.
The other thing I probably don't know is when it will happen precisely. So if I press too soon I miss, too late I miss. Burst rate with a DSLR gives you a chance over a one to two second period to capture the unseeable. The following two sets of shots are in sequence and show just how fast a shutter can be re-fired with the right gear.

So why does the top set miss the muzzle flash and the bottom set doesn't ? Well luck partially plays it's part and knowing why it didn't helps to lower the chances of missing.

There are several problems going on here to overcome and it helps if you have a continuous frame rate of six frames per second or higher.

Although the best specified cameras will probably get the shot you can still be in with a chance with a bridge camera. Actually a better chance with a high specified bridge than a lower specified DSLR as far as frame rates are concerned.

 Both sets of frames above are part of longer sequences. Approximately fourteen of which in the sequence of four frames of each line we are looking at a period of just under half a second.

If that's not bad enough each frame is only 1/1000s long so only 1/250s is the shutter open during the half second the camera is recording. So the camera shutter is only actually open for half of the time the camera is taking frames.

The flash is traveling out of the barrel at approximately twice the speed of sound for that gun. Plenty Of time to appear and be gone between frames.

So why not slow down the shutter?

Well you can depending on how far away you are. They don't normally let you within a hundred feet of these things so you are normally using a bit of zoom. Also keeping still when you know a gun is going off is harder than you think.

In theory if you could keep the shutter open to just under 1/8s it could stay open more or less but then you introduce camera shake and the real risk of over exposure as your aperture probably wouldn't close down sufficiently to cope with the light. So on average I tend to shoot at higher shutter speeds.

Imagine the problems of have a continuous frame rate of under four frames per second. This is one reason higher frame rate cameras command a higher price.

Even at this speed at ISO 200 ( my camera's base ISO )  and at F7.1 and 1/1000s, in this bright daylight I still had to dial in -0.7 EV to keep the exposure under control.

I use the same methods for any form of gunfire. From Victorian Soldier En-actors
To Second world War Machine gun fire.

War and Peace Show Kent.

The last problem is one of how many shots can you take before your camera slows down or stops recording to write to the memory card ?

It varies according to the specification of the camera but with a bridge camera you can instruct it to only record the last frames you have when you release the shutter button. On Fuji cameras this function is referred to as Top Three or Seven or however many the buffer memory can cope with. Then you just have to release the shutter when you hear the bang. With a bridge camera you may have to go full manual to get enough control of shutter speed, ISO and aperture to get the balance right.

Take the time it takes them to set up to practice your bursts. By that I mean check the frames for sharpness and exposure as bridge cameras will only shoot jpg in this mode . Most DSLRs slow down in RAW and need to stick to jpg as well. I'm lucky and can shoot at these speeds in jpg, RAW, and tiff.

The one time you can get shots more easily and with longer shutter times is at night like this shot done as an exercise with my local camera club.

Clicking on the picture above will take you to the tutorial that specifically deals with that shoot and look at the details of how to there.



50c: Single Freeze Frame .

The last problem from my point of view is how do you give a picture purporting action when it's been taken so fast for the sake of sharpness that all trace of motion or emotion has been taken away?
This is where I like to  see if I can get mistakes from others caught at the right time.

To try to make the person viewing see something within the picture that can place them in the subjects shoes for a moment. This for me is about waiting to shoot. Finding the shot others might miss. Hoping I get a good angle and an unobstructed view.

So these are really just a short collection of shots that I don't always know I've taken as they turn out but on viewing I prefer, because I get drawn into them. Don't get me wrong, I'm always on the lookout for these type of shots and I can normally see them coming but quite often they don't work. Sometimes though I get lucky. On the other hand I seem to have a lot of them. Here are a few.

This is a shot of Russian World Pentathlete Durguei Karyakin on the horse Two Dinners taking down the seventh fence on his equestrian round. I sort of new it was comming as he  had taken the third fence down too and most of the previous riders that had hit fence three had taken down at least one pole out of fence seven. This was the only frame I took at this fence of him.  I only had enough card space for four shots of each athlete in each round.  Though this picture has ever really been given any comments it's one of my favourites. These fences are so much higher than the local equestrian events I normally attend I really felt for the riders and horses alike. The riders only get twenty minutes to get aquainted to a horse they have never ridden before.

French athlete Amelie Caze, coming triumphantly first over the finish line. The pose and mouth say it all and the hidden eyes for me adds to the picture rather than subtracts. Banner across the body gives Place and date.         I couldn't have asked for more.

       The last athletic shot for this section.

 This shot taken the day before at the same sports meeting is of the women's final round at the finish line. British Athelete Katy burke had seemingly collapsed exhausted at the end of the combined run and shoot but was helped up by fellow team mate Mhaira Spence and their team coach. I like this picture because you can see one seemingly enjoying the moment and the other looking dejected and worn.

You would think the asthma pump was for the collapsed woman but it was in fact Mhaira Spence's. Mharia had come in before Katy who had got fifth position and was the second of the British team to come in. I think the difference was that Katy had stared with a good lead after the equestrian event and had slowly lost it at the pistol range, whereas Katy though coming in from behind had done a combined personal best and had third position. In fact she was probably the most consistently cheerful person at the event and was why my camera was trained on her when she crossed the line.



I always like impending disaster.

I had managed to hop between quite large boulders into the middle of the river Tay in Scotland After a couple of days of heavy rainfall so the river was higher and faster than usual for the summer and I knew people practiced kayak rapid shooting there. I'd just finished photographing two guys practicing and was about to pack up due to the failing light and get off the rock when I spotted this guy coming down in what look like a Canadian style canoe. He didn't look comfortable and kept looking behind him as if he'd lost his instructor, so I sat down and got the camera back out.

He made it over one set of rocks but then the canoe spun around sideways and in the attempt to get it straight, and hitting another semi-submerged rock he'd lost balance and put one side of his canoe under water.

He's sitting as he is trying to get it upright again, unable to reach the water with the paddle to steer and yes he is aimed slap bang into the center of that rock which is infamous so I'm told at breaking up such vessels.


Did he make it?

Now wouldn't that be telling.

The point is they were all taken at the fastest shutter speeds I could to try to ensure no subject motion was recorded. Even if you are steady as a rock the subject you are taking is moving, Even if it isn't hairs / fur / whiskers, get blown by wind, and providing you can keep the image noise down to a reasonable level you will always get a sharper action shot the faster your shutter speed is, provided your lens is sharp enough at the apertures you select. 

That is how I try to get fur and feathers looking sharp.

If I don't get my shutter speeds that fast, then for me these things suffer



51: Problems and Solutions For this Section Condensed


The Slow Shutter Speed Pan.

Suitable for any camera that allows some separate control of aperture,shutter speed and ISO. Could try using ND filters instead but I've no idea if it will work. The slower the shutter speed the more careful you have to be with your pan.One easy way to compensate exposure for low shutter speeds without altering ISO  is to close down the aperture. Aperture verses shutter speed is inversely proportional so is you have an aperture of f 8 and a shutter speed of 1/60s you should shut your aperture down to f 16 to get a shutter speed of 1/30s. ISO could replace shutter  speed if a lower one is available.Minimum shutter speeds to try out on moving subjects that you need to pan for. Jets : 1/600s . Land vehicles : 1/60s.  Prop driven aircraft : 1/250s . Helicopters : 1/50s .
Horse riders : 1/160s. Stationary subjects within a frame that have movement. People : 1/30s . Waterfalls : 1/20s. If those work easily for you by all means try lower shutter speeds.

Down sides.  Difficult to do well. Needs lots of practice.

  Up sides.     Can be done with all but the minimalist of cameras. Is fun. Can give a real feel of motion within the frame.

Freeze Frame Techniques.

 Most cameras capable of shutter speeds of 1/500s and above depending on subject matter.
Good for shooting Birds, Jets, large explosions, sports. animal wildlife. Anything not studio based that needs to be pin sharp and has movement within the frame. Needs reasonable dof for the subject matter. Speeds may have to go as high as 1/2000s or higher for  good effect. Again subject dependent.

Down sides.  Can lead to boring photos.

  Up Sides.     Most cameras can manage this. Easy to do. Takes little practice.

High Frame Rate Shooting

Camera dependant. Not all DSLRs or bridge cameras can do this. Doubtful that any compact has this facility. Any camera capable of five frames per second and above may manage. Ideally the faster the better. Anything above 6.5 frames per second is very well suited. Best used in situations when you don't know the exact moment something will happen or when you can't see what's happening due to the sheer speed of what you are trying to catch. examples would include start of a race, throw of a dart, tennis service etc.

Down sides. For DSLRs.    Makes for heavy use on the shutter and mirror components. Could shorten the predicted life span of the camera. Need a top end model for best results. Bad view when panning due to view being blocked by the mirror lifting during shots. Needs practice. 

     For Bridge cameras.    May have to wait a long time between bursts as the camera writes the frames to the card. Can not capture as many frames per burst as a DSLR. Bad view due to refresh rate of electronic screens not keeping up with fast panned shots. Needs practice.
                        For both.    Can be hard to calculate a good exposure and shutter speed which is not in itself dependant on the rate of the frame burst.
         Up sides for both.     Increases the chances of getting shots that otherwise you would be lucky to get. Ever. !!!

Still Slow Shutter Shooting.

Good for calming shots. Typically for softening water movement or getting night light movement ( Car headlights, fire eaters, etc )
Suitable for most bridge, advanced compact and DSLR cameras. Dependant on capabilities the use of ND filters or a tripod may be advisable.

Up sides for all.                 Good creative shots can be managed with a bit of forethought and care. Fairly easy to do.




52: Aperture and it's role in selective focus.

Referred to as Out Of Focus area or Bokeh from The Japanese word Boke (pronounced bo-keh) which means fuzziness or dizziness.

One of the things I read on the Myfinepix site over and over again is about the lack of a good out of focus usable range. I often think that people don't really understand what they are trying to achieve or why. I hear about 'creamy bokehs'  and the lack of blur in the background. That the effect they get is 'Lumpy' or noisy, or or they plain just can't get anywhere with it.On the other hand people who take landscapes quite often want to get everything in sharp detail from the foreground to the full background in the furthest distance. They are trying to eliminate the effects of the out of focus area all together and talk about the 'Circle of Confusion' which it certainly is to anyone who doesn't understand it. The circle of confusion or 'blur circle' is the thing landscape photographers are trying to calculate to get the most of what is in frame to be in focus and depending on the lens used and the scenes general depth they can use charts and use numbers on the sides of a lot of lenses to calculate the best distance away from them to set their focal length for the aperture selected.


Both the landscape photographer and the portrait photographer are using both ends of the effects of out of focus areas to get the cleanest results they can. For more generalist photography we are somewhere in the middle but we don't have to be. Learning how to get the depth you need over what distances can give your photography a dynamics that is more diverse and pleasing as a collection. That's not to say that every next photo taken should vary in this way. First it would send you nuts taking them and it would be unnerving to look at a collection of pictures that constantly did that. What I'm saying is look for the odd shot to vary how you shoot it.

For instance at a sports shoot I will shoot some sports with a small aperture and get background crowds in focus as well as athletes to show the mood of the event. Other times I may isolate an athlete to show pain or joy of a moment or the pure concentration in the face. I will focus on one part of a scene and let the rest slowly go out of focus. There are times you don't want that either and a whole session will concentrate on just one type of use of bokeh. 
While this would be true for say portraiture shoots in other circumstances it can be a nice effect on the occasional shot but a viewer would soon get fed up with shots that only consisted of the subject matter. Where they had no idea of what was going on around the event, One thing in focus surrounded by a coloured fog on every picture would soon be boring to look at. I find that along with panning techniques and shutter speed variations the idea of a selective focus to pick out detail in a shot helps to draw the eye to your intended subject within a frame.
It can be subtle or exaggerated. Central, or to one side. Forward or backward into a shot.  Backward into a shot ( where most of the foreground is out of focus)  I've heard of as not being quite aesthetically pleasing to some folk but I think it has it's place if even it's rare to find a good spot to do it.

How much is in focus can also be subtle as well with a hint of detail in the background or just enough to make your subject stand out from a similar coloured background can be more relevant to the whole picture that just getting rid of the detail completely. So all I'm going to do here like in the previous section, is to give you a selection of photographs I've taken and the reasoning behind each shot. These last sections are about choice and variation without sacrificing focal sharpness.

I'm hoping they may make you think about how you want someone else to see the event you where recording.
First one is the obvious one and that is to get rid of an ugly distracting background.

Taken in my really small suburban garden with very distracting houses at the background. It also servers the purpose that although I like my house I wish it was somewhere else that had a better view.

These are fairly obvious examples but you can get creative and use depth of field the other way around to make people wish they could see what you have hidden. This may make some people just frustrated and tell you they wish you could have got the whole thing in focus but I like doing this from time to time. 

Photography can be like radio and leave some of the detail to the imagination of the viewer. It's what I'd term a marmite photo. You will either like it or hate it and is as close as I put art into photography. In other words it provokes a reaction. No I didn't know I'd get this picture but they'd been changing position on the fence back and forth for a bit so I gave it a go and I'm glad I did.


This photo taken at the Crieff Highland games was at the edge of the maximum zoom I had. I knew it would have to be cropped and that with the subject matter that far away I wouldn't really be able to blur the background spectators enough but at the same time if I needed to isolate the hammer thrower enough to make sure nothing of him or the hammer would blend into the background of the shot. Click the images to get the enlarged versions.                                Similarly in the shot on the right I was deep at the back of a crowd trying to get as clear a shot of the pipe major's going through their paces. It was impossible, the only way was to zoom and find an area big enough to crop down later. I prefer this to hours in photoshop sorting out problems. I still wanted detail of the nearest people and a feel of how busy it was so I tried an aperture that would allow a reasonable shutter speed.

There are times to go between the two extremes to isolate a subject down to the amount you want the person viewing to take in a specific detail of feeling to get a point across. When you look at this next image please take around thirty seconds to take it in before reading whats underneath. I want you just take in what you feel and then read on. Please click the picture to see the enlarged version.

 I'm hoping the first thing you noticed was the leading tooth of the tiger and then thought about about how it's used and perhaps how you might taste to him.
If you didn't don't worry, this is not a mind reading exercise on my part but I did focus on the tooth. It was only when I got home I saw the taste buds on the tongue were in sharp focus too and had that bizarre thought run through my head. The real thing I wanted you to notice was the tooth though so if that's the main thing you looked at then I did ok. If you also noticed the taste buds and found that provoked a second thought then that's a bonus from my point of view.
The other thing is you don't always have to focus on the eye of an animal, bird or person to get the effect you where looking for if the general depth of feild is sufficient to keep the rest of the subject in focus good enough not to  realise that you have been drawn to a specific feature of that subject. I think for a while a I had been told by others that I should always focus on the eyes that I never thought anything else would produce a pleasing result.


53: Panorama Landscapes.


I've decided to include a panoramic landscape as opposed to a normal one as it accomplishes two things.
One is how to get a wide landscape if you dont have a wide enough lens and two it will deal with multiple focus spots.
First of all I find landscapes need small apertures to get a reasonable depth of feild to the picture and my largest aperture for these is normally around f 11 on an APC sized sensor. It could go to f16 but as I'm normally hand holding these I don't go smaller as I need fairly good shutter speeds.


An example that worked of Alexandria Palace.

and one that didn't.

Both were done With a 7 MP Kodak similar to an fd series Fuji bridge camera with limited settings. The only difference between them was the one that worked was taken from further away. The curved one was too close and the pan made of too many frames  for an object that was above me which ended with there being too much curvature to correct with three images to stitch. Walking a bit further back to where I could get the whole shot in in two frames worked much better. Longer pans pointing directly ahead work much better and up  to a point so do pans looking down at natural landscapes.

Hastings Derelict Victorian Pier.

The settings using the short end of a 70-200mm lens for this shot of Hastings pier were as follows. F11 ISO 200 spot metering  1/500s 70-300mm Nikkor @ 70mm 0EV converted 14 bit raw.

The picture above and the link to it's larger view show the four frames it consists of and how much I overlapped each individual take. You can see I got more than a bit overcautious with it. That shows how much my brain tries to overcompensate a shot I hadn't planned.

Sometimes it's better to try to lay these out in an editing program yourself rather that let the auto stitching do it's job to get a better line up. Most programs will allow you to adjust for skew or distortion in the frame too, and allow you to alter them to fit. Blending can also be altered if desired or automated if you don't feel up to it.

Normally I leave the focus to the camera and only try to get the overlaps and horizon at roughly the same level throughout the pan. Most of the time it works but I always do two or thee pans if it's a location I won't be likely to come back to. There's no point in getting home just to find it didn't work.

The main thing about a pan is it should have a start and end point thought about before you start your pan. If you want to get the most detail it's worth either turning the camera on it's side to portrait mode or doing one high pass across a scene and then a lower one. I use this technique to produce what I call my BIG pictures. These are done of anything I feel I want to portray a lot of detail in such as the one below. Be warned that when you click on this one it ma take more time to open as the picture will be huge. Don't say you weren't warned.

The BIG Picture

 Shooting Tips about use of Aperture for Depth of Field for this Section.


Suitable for cameras that have some degree of control over their aperture range. Best suited to DSLRs and some Bridge cameras and any camera that has little zoom but wide aperture capability.

Vary your aperture settings on a general walkabout or at an event. Get both close up to subject physically and via the use of zoom. Use widest apertures you can for the length of zoom to get good subject separation from background.

Don't expect DSLR amounts of bokeh from bridge cameras or compacts. For lots of technical reasons this is not possible. Even with DSLRs you must have more space between your subject and the background than the distance between you and the subject to get good isolation.

Try varying between foreground and background Out Of Focus shots. Don't always focus on the expected subject matter.





54: OK BOKEH !

 Some Technical Problems Explained.

 How is bokeh produced by a lens ?

  When you focus on an object the point at which you focus should make your lens produce an almost infinite amount of cones of light that eventually spread across the sensor to greater or lesser amounts of focus. This is because as the light reaches the spot that is in focus it produces a needle like shaft of light at the point of contact on the sensor. Anything that is in front or behind that point ends up as an expanding, dimming circle of light.
The properties of these cones of light matter as they spread across adjacent pixels of the sensor by the millions of pixels across the sensor. Each one contributing to how much blended light combines with other points overlapping each other. How these cones of light vary depending on how well the lens is made and whether what we want a photographers is the same thing as what the manufacturers want to  help them build a better camera.


Why should the two aims be different?


 Well if you have worked your way through this tutorial and remember any of it you may remember that little thing we started with was the auto-focus system.
I explained how the camera needed sharp contrast to get a quick effective lock on a subject.
Manufacturers need the out of focus cones of light to have a defined edge and is what is referred to as a technically perfect or neutral bokeh. This gives the camera a good balance between a blurring of an edge to it's circle and an even distribution of light that allows the camera to focus reasonably fast. The down side of this for us is that all those hardish edges of light help to create a lumpy type of bokeh as cones from shadows and light inter-mix with some cones being larger and smaller as well as they represent objects closer or further away from the focal plain that is the object in focus.  You see there are basically three different styles of bokeh which I'll call poor bokeh, technical bokeh, and ideal bokeh for the sake of this explanation.


54a: Poor Bokeh is like a doughnut with a sharpish outer edge that can still give a reasonable bokeh but tends to end up giving halos in images in the worst cases that look similar to this shot which hasn't been caused by poor bokeh but water sparkles.

Sorry but I don't have a real image that's mine. This is a good approximation though and will do for here. Mirror lenses are very good at making this type of bokeh.

54b: Ideal Bokeh

          This picture may not be every-one's idea of an ideal bokeh but it's the closest I've manged to date.


54c: Technical Bokeh is what the manufacturers need to help get fast reacting auto-focus systems working well and is not always all the lenses fault as aperture blades and other components also come into play such as sensor and pixel size and the amount of aperture blades and the curvature and number of said blades.

 The previous picture represents a technical bokeh that for camera manufacturers would be opting to make for a good all round coverage between focus speeds, sharpness of image and out of focus blending. Not always what the photographer would like but to get better you then step into the realms of wishful thinking which always tends to work out as expensive.

So what do the 'cones of light' look like magnified?

Light cones against a sensor

How big each cone is across the sensor and how bright it is depends on the amount of extra distance of the object from the central focus plane. How these blend with smaller cones also can have an effect on the overall blend in colour rendition as well as 'lumpiness' and is one reason for chromatic aberration around sharp objects. The center in focus example produces the smallest cone of light which is the focused spot. This spot of focus is the smallest spot of light the lens can make and is limited by the diffraction of light. This area is known as the Airy disk.


Side view of cones fron in focus to out of focus

  On the picture above notice the difference between the top cone produced when it's too close and the bottom cone of out of focus light which crosses over to form an upside down version of the one above. These upside down cones explain why foreground bokeh is  less attractive than the background bokeh which is recorded in the same orientation as the image projected onto the sensor, ie inverted.

There is a lot more to lens design other than this though and other considerations that effect focus and the representation it makes on the sensor.

Other differences between different types of cameras and how the construction for those types have an effect on bokeh and the circles of confusion. DSLRs can have, and do have lots of lens variations that can't be equaled by other types of camera. Mainly from the array of older lenses that if you don't mind the challenge of doing everything manually from aperture and focus, to knowing there are no electrical contacts or processors allowing auto white balance or talk to your camera body's CPU to tell you if you got your exposure right or not, or to work out the correct shutter speed in aperture priority mode. Even modern lenses from different third party manufacturers gives you the choice to chose how your camera sees the world.

With Bridge and compacts there is no such choice and you have what you have with little chance to change the basic behaviour of your camera beyond the use of filter and the odd add on lens for macro and telephoto and at a push infra red. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it can make the job of getting out of focus backgrounds much harder for the operator.

It's not impossible to do though as the camera manufacturers have tricks that can help. Anyone who has used a bridge camera for macro work knows they can get really nice bokeh in those pictures and given enough distance of background ,zoom, and closeness of the subject you are shooting, quite good normal bokeh can be achieved as well. If the lens goes down to f2 or I've seen one or two cameras that go down to f1.2 but with little reach on the zoom ( x 3 ) will give quite pleasing results closer up. In general though because of the smaller sensor size and lack of apertures on modern cameras to generally not to go below  f2.8, you should not expect the bokeh of a bridge or compact to compete with the DSLR. If it happens it's more to do with internal electronic filters or processing rather than any loss of optical quality of the lens. The smaller sensor lens combination is not capable of seeing the the object at the same scale as a larger sensor. Click the link above for a fuller explanation.

Getting the exposure right in camera seems to overcome some of these problems as more detail is recorded and in turn less data is thrown away as the jpg algorithm can't throw away as much redundantly large blocks of colour and contrast. That would be true of any type of camera though. Other differences are there to help protect the working lifespan of the camera. Such as there being no actual mechanical aperture which is once again adjusted by electronic filters rather than a a bladed moving set of blades. In most instances this is of positive benefit to the user as no lubrication is required. Oil from aperture blades occasionally gets on DSLR sensors and has to be cleaned. As the lenses are detachable this is not a problem but for a compact of bridge it would be.

      Free open sourced image from Wikimedia from user Catsquisher

For that reason though,  the problem for night shooting is you get stuck with the star patterns off of street lighting that tend to be six pronged because that's the way the electronic filter is set on most bridge and compacts. How many irises consist of three blades? Normal stars on dslr cameras are formed as a deformation of light where blades cross over each other on the iris. Even bladed irises create even numbered stars and odd number bladed irises still produce even numbered stars as the number of blades doubles the amount of light points. Therefore a star of eight points is produced from an older four bladed lens, probably meant for a 35mm film camera. Modern Nikkor lenses use nine blades and give eighteen points and a better bokeh than an older four bladed lens. They would give an eight pointed star but a poorer bokeh as the central 'circle' of it's opened iris aperture would be squarer in nature. It is not the difference between whether a lens is a telephoto zoom lens or prime but a blade phenomenon. As you stop down the angle of the blades to each other become more angled giving a more pronounced level of light within the star.



55: Manual Focusing.


 For a DSLR the reasons for  manually achieving a focus can be many, one of which could be the use of a non auto focusing lens from an earlier range of cameras.
Sometimes these will fit a more modern body but have no method of attaining an auto-focus. However, though the body may not be able to control the lens it may still have the ability to tell you when you have made focus, as the system works through the optical path of the lens and the information can still be seen in view finders. This can aid with getting a good focus through a small view finder. Live view can also be pressed into service for this.
On bridge cameras there is normally a 'Focusing bar' that will  tell you how well you are doing by how much contrast it can measure. This can sometimes be of limited use and while I show below the problems, some but not all of the problems can arise with the phase detect system of DSLs as well

Quite often I've seen threads on photographic sites saying these systems don't work. Well they do if you help them. It's mentioned in every manual I've every read so either people don't read ( surprise ! ) or the explanation in the books isn't clear enough. So with that in mind there will be a series of photographs to 'Janet and John' it for everyone. Better yet, when you've read this, try it for yourself.
These pictures where taken on my S100fs at a high ISO because I did them in artificial light. In daylight the same would also be true at lower ISOs. One trick you can use and sometimes works is to use a higher ISO to help the system and then change the ISO down once you think you have your focus set.

The first diagram shows low contrast

The focus bar gets around a third of the way across.


The second picture has a small tight pattern on a flat surface.

Not really a lot of difference, nor do either items focus well.

 The next is a difference of depth but the nearer object has a tight pattern but still a sharp contrast.

That does marginally better but still doesn't focus well.

The next up is a near plain object against a darker background.

The focus bar still hasn't got good focus but I can get a steady if low readout.  Next is a flat near object with defined contrasting sharp lines within the focus area. The reading is much stronger and we do in fact get a focus lock.



Last is a near object with a strong defined edge against the further background and the page itself. It gets the strongest response.

Notice the bar doesn't reach the end of it's travel. On mine it never has and I suspect it never will.
The thing is unless you get a proper focus the lenses inside will project an image that doesn't reach the sensor plane or focuses beyond the sensor plain depending on whether you have focused short or beyond the object in question.

Even auto-focus can get it wrong for exactly the same reasons or for different reasons, such as a lens on a DSLR that back or forward focuses and is out of alignment with the sensor. Teleconverters and extension tubes can have the same effect if not made well.

When everything works together properly though normally the end result will be a sharply focused image.

One of the ways around focal plain problems is to manufacture separate lenses for different focal lengths. This is the adopted system for dslrs and four third cameras.

By making the sensors and corresponding glass larger the problems of noise are easier to control and the extra light allows for faster focusing systems.

Lenses can be made more precise for given focal lengths and is easier to achieve by breaking the focal lengths down, making it easier to make a lens focus sharper over a given distance. Also there is a significant reduction in weight of components as an 28 to 720 mm lens would have to be huge for even an APS-C sized sensor.

One of the advantages of bridge cameras as they shrink down the body sizes in newer generation cameras is that longer, lighter, focal length lenses can be made, although sometimes at the expense of increasing noise from the reduced size of individual pixels in the corresponding sensors, making the amount of light striking each photo sensative diode reduced.

The picture in itself is not of use but it shows relative sensor sizes for the main formats.
That lack of light particularly at the far end of a zoom is is because a bridge camera has to keep the weight of it's barrel down and constant aperture lenses not only would push the price up considerably but make the lens possibly too heavy for a plastic body to keep in alignment with the sensor plain and it would increase the strain of where the lens meets the main camera body.



This section Condensed.


Don't be afraid to vary aperture during any shoot from close selective focus, to deep all inclusive detail of surroundings.

Be selective on focus points and don't always go for the obvious.

To get good out of focus backgrounds, always may sure you are one third closer than the background is away from your subject material.

The better that ratio, the better the effect.

Decide whether you want to include background characters / features or not, and if you can't do that then get them as crisp as you can, or indistinct as you can.

Don't be afraid to use software to improve separation but be subtle or it won't look natural.

With panoramas take particular notice of the the horizon line and the amount of overlap. don't pan to the next frame before you double check the position of where the frame will need to be.

    Use panorama techniques to make larger pictures of things closer to hand. Get that  48 or 96 mega-pixel image !  Be double careful of those frame placings.

If you can't get the hang of stacking vertically and horizontally, shoot your pan in portrait mode for extra height.

Remember that no matter the capability of your camera there will be 'sweet spots' on any zoom lens where it seems to behave seamlessly. Make a note of those places and apertures and put them to good effect.

Don't worry if your lens doesn't get down to extreme open apertures. Most bridge cameras will get down close to f 2.8 at the wide end. Get close in and use it.

There is nothing you can do short of software tweaks to get better or worse types of bokeh. It is an inherent part of a given lens structure.

Bridge cameras tend to have Technically Perfect Circles of Confusion. If you want a different bokeh then you either have to adjust in software or move to more expensive DSLR systems, and even then getting the 'perfect bokeh' is very expensive with a single lens / body combo that works well coming to over one and a half grand.

Even 'Technical' and 'Poor' bokeh can give a desired effect. Get used to shooting with what you have until you get tired of it or it doesn't suit purpose.

If you want different 'star points' to night lighting then either find a different lens with a different amount of blades or use star filters.

Manual focusing takes practice and remember the more bland the object you focus on, the harder it is to get spot on.

You really have to sometimes go with what you see rather than what the focus system tells you.

How much noise is produced in an image is directly related to lens design and size as well as sensor and shutter speed considerations. Generally bigger is better at any time of generational production change.

When composing, even in mid pan, take time to check the focus is OK with your shutter half press. Only press when you are sure of your feedback from the camera.









1: Section 1. Auto focus

2: How a camera sees focus

3: What confuses auto-focus

4: Types of auto-focus

5: Alternative Focus points

6: a, b, c.d, Defined types of Auto focus. ( Center, Selectable, Dynamic Area with Predictive Focus Tracking. Auto Area Focus ).

7a: How Auto Area Focus works on bridge cameras.

7b: How Auto Area works for Top DSLRs

7c: Selectable Focus Area for Bridge Cameras and Compacts and Some Four Third models.

7d: Selectable Focus Area for Advanced Compacts and Four Third Cameras

7e: The Rest of the DSLR Focus Choices for the D300, D3, D3X, and D3S.

7f: Shutter release methods for some DSLRs

8. Lens focus modes

8a: Manual Focus

8b: Single Focus

8c: Constant Focus

9 The Doipter

Section 2

10: Forward for next Section

11: Not getting contrast within the Focus spot [ ].

12: Part A good panning technique

13: Using both eyes with some shutter speed and aperture settings for bird in flight photography.

14a: Problems Associated with Panning BRIDGE CAMERAS & COMPACTS

14b: Problems Associated with Panning DSLR CAMERAS & the FOUR THIRD FORMAT

15: General Panning problems . ( all types of cameras )

16: Condensed Information about the above section.

17: Part B: Focusing Through Various Fence Types

18: Lens types,advatages and disadvantages of.

18a: Variable Aperture Zoom Lenses

18b: Constant Aperture Zoom Lenses

18:c Prime lenses

19: Autofocus options for fencing.

20: What doesn't work on focusing through fencing.

21: Unwanted reflections on fencing. What to look for. How to avoid.

22: Physical camera lens problems including front and back focusing.

23: Use of photoshop.( When all else fails )

24: Condensed explanation for the above section.

25: Part C: Focusing Through Glass

26a & e: Shooting into the light

26b: Shooting into the dark

26c: Reflections an minimum distances

26d: Grime and dirt on windows

27f: Monochrome ( last resort example )

28: Glass & water .

28a: Indoor Aquariums

28b: Outdoor Pools with View Windows.

29: Surface water reflections

30: Circular Polarizers

31: Solutions for the above Section Condensed

32. Macro Photography and Depth of Field Use ThereIn

32a: Foward.

32a1: Brief Expanation of ISO for this section

32a2: Brief Expanation of shutter speed for this section

32a2: Brief Expanation of Aperture for this section

32a3: Brief Expanation of flash for this section

32a4: Brief Expanation of tripod for this section

32: Expanation of dof ( Depth of feild ) for this section icluding camera extras.

32a: Bridge camera.
32b: DSLR camera.
32c: Four thirds camera.
32d: Compacts with macro support.
32e: Any matching to body DSLR / four thirds lenses, and some non-matching lenses***.
32f: Specialist Macro lenses
32g: Macro lenses such as the Raynox 150 and 250
32h: Macro filters such as the Canon D500 macro filter
32i: Extension tubes for DSLRs and four third photography.
32j: Lens reversing rings.***.
32k: Flash units.
32l: Tripod.
32m: Focusing rails.
32n: Beanbag.
32o: cable release.

32A1: choices of equipment for macro on DSLR cameras

32A2: choices of equipment for macro on Bridge Cameras.

Section 2: Techneques

33: Focusing Distances and the use of a Telephoto lens to extend Depth of Field

34: Dealing with the problems of camera shake in outdoor macro situations

35: Hand Holding Positions for low,mid and high shooting positions.

36: Tripods for low ground work

37: Table Top Macro

38: Problems and solutions for the above Section Condensed


 39: Focusing at night and extremely low light.

40: Equipment List for Night Shooting

41: Night Landscape

42: Fireworks at a distance

43: Fireworks close up and hand held

44: High ISO for Night Use

45: High ISO use for Indoor Sports

46: Problems and solutions for the above Section Condensed

47: Shutter Speeds and how they effect perceived sharpness

48: The Slow Shutter Speed Pan

48a: On Military Vehicles

48b: On Propeller Driven Aircraft

48c: On Helicopters

48d: On Organic Things

49: The Still Frame Long Shutter Technique

50: Freeze Frame Techniques

50a: Jets explosions etc.

50b: High Frame Rate Shooting

50c: Single Freeze Frame

51: Problems and Solutions For the above Section Condensed

 52: Aperture and it's role in selective focus.

53: Panorama Landscapes. How to compile and Use.

54: OK BOKEH ! Bokeh explained

54a: Poor Bokeh

54b: Ideal Bokeh

54c: Technical Bokeh

55: Manual Focusing for Bridge ad DSLR cameras, including aids for focusing, focusing on the sensor plain, and sensor sizes.



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28 people like this.

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Date Tue, 04/01/2011 - 22:59

It gets better Ray, the addition of the photos adds to it and the focus squares (added) brings both text and photos together.

Super stuff.

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Date Tue, 04/01/2011 - 23:52

Thanks steve but I don't add the focus squares. They are visible and detected by the CaptureNX software. I just print screen then copy them to jpg for uploading. You get to see the actual focus area shown within the frame where I would have seen it  as I took the shot. 

 In some cases obviously not where I thought it was Wink

The wider square comes from using Veiw NX as opposed to using CaptureNX.


My Tutorials


My Blogs. 


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Date Wed, 05/01/2011 - 12:02

Wow Ray!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to more!!

Do you know I've just looked at the focus choices on my bridge, I thought I understood most of it, but when I looked closer at the 'selected' I suddenly realised that by moving the arrowed ring aroung the menu button I could actually select where the camera focuses, so maybe you could touch on this in your article too, so I know the best area, in any given situation, where to set the square.

This is a great tutorial Ray so when you've finished I'm gonna print it off so I can refer to it anytime.

Thank you



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Date Wed, 05/01/2011 - 12:12

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Ray, I've found it so helpful.  It's made me look closely at the focusing options on my little bridge, though I thought I understood the choices I never really caught on to the 'selective' mode, now I realise I can move the square around the screen to select the best area to use for focusing, maybe you will cover that at some point, I presume it's use is mainly for group photos?

I was interested to read about the 'keep both eyes open' I thought I was wierd doing that!! I did it when I took my firework shots, for just the reason you stated, and I use the viewfinder more than the screen to compose a shot.

I'm really looking forward to reading more and when it's complete I'm gonna print it off so I can use it as a reference as and when.  So thanks again. (I hope this doesn't double post cos I lost the last comment)



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Date Wed, 05/01/2011 - 13:13

I knew that wos gonna happen, I pop back and wot do I see, a double post!!!  Ah well I'll leave both cos it deserves lots of positive feedback!


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Date Thu, 06/01/2011 - 18:01

Great stuff Ray!

Much easier to read than most manuals - the NX software may help be a good reason to choose my next camera!

Thanks for all your efforts - a course in small chunks!



Reply to comment

Date Sat, 08/01/2011 - 02:53

Ray...bravo!  You have done a great job with presenting this complex topic.  Since cameras and lenses and menus are so varied this is a really tough subject to explain but you have managed to break it down into enough facets to make it pretty clear and cover most cases very well.  Excellent work.

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Date Tue, 11/01/2011 - 14:54

This really looking very impressive Ray.  I see loads of new info added.  All the eggs in one basket is looking good and working.  It does take some time to read but one can scroll back and fourth.  Having now added this to my faves, I need to come back again.  I must consider getting a DSLR where I think the more focusing points the better.


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Date Fri, 14/01/2011 - 08:40

More stuff added again, each time I read it things get clearer.  One of my gripes with the HS10 was the small eyepiece,  I never thought of shooting without my glasses and just re-adjusting the diopter.

Great stuff

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Date Wed, 19/01/2011 - 23:10

Hi Ray

Loved the CPl filter section.  I did a little thingy on this section too.   Not as concise as this though!!

It is still loading quickly too just to keep you informed of that aspect.


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Date Sun, 23/01/2011 - 18:20

Hi Ray

This is very informative and well composed. Waiting for the forthcoming articles.

Thanks a for these lovely information.


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Date Tue, 25/01/2011 - 15:31

Hi Ray

Just an update for ya.  Still loading nice and fast.  IE8 XP.


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Date Tue, 15/02/2011 - 14:56


Brilliant article ! I've just read it right through and learnt a lot already but I'll be coming back to re-read and, hopefully, pick up on some of the bits that went over my head first time.


'Bokeh' Competition entry:-

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Date Tue, 15/02/2011 - 17:07

great effort Ray and a very good reference article,you should be chuffed with yourself Smile



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Date Tue, 15/02/2011 - 18:56

Hi Ray

For your info, it took 70 seconds to load,  not bad for such a lot of photos and information.

I will read through it again when I have a spare hour or so!!! Haha

Brilliant, like Ian has mentioned, a great reference to keep going back to.


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Date Wed, 16/02/2011 - 20:45

A magnum opus Ray!  I have just skimmed it but can see how much understanding and comprehension you have of all these processes.  Reading the part on focussing reminded me of the Fresnel (i think) manual focussing aid on my ancient Chinon SLR which was a great help - I wonder if that is still used in DSLRs or even bridge cameras.


Alan J 



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Date Mon, 21/02/2011 - 23:53

I have begun!

Jen xx

I wish I was a Glow Worm, a Glow Worm's never glum, 'cause how can you be grumpy, when the sun shines out your bum?

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Date Tue, 22/02/2011 - 08:57


A fine, well constructed article Ray. I have read it with great interest. It is however one of those things that must be referred to often, especially for a tired old brain like mine. It would make damn good booklet.

Thanks very much for taking so much time to share your great depth of knowledge.

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Date Wed, 23/02/2011 - 20:34

Phew!!!Me and himself just sat and read this. Very informative.We will come back to it from time to time. Too much to take in all at once but have picked up some good tips so far.Thanks for taking the time to do this. As newbies we have a lot to learn.

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Date Fri, 25/02/2011 - 19:43

" Brilliant " you have made this very easy for anyone to understand even me ! a great reference for all. Great work ray i applaud you. il be back again and again! all the very best to you nice one .



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Date Wed, 30/03/2011 - 05:58

Thanks so much for all this great information

Safari Holiday Guide

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Date Sat, 23/04/2011 - 11:53

Thank you for this, you have take a lot of time to do this



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Date Sun, 24/04/2011 - 17:10

 Thanks Ray.  Great article.

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Date Tue, 07/06/2011 - 13:05


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Date Wed, 07/09/2011 - 17:41

 Have just read through this Ray, and shall go back at a later time writing down notes that I want to try and understand more fully. I'd better buy a new writing pad.

Thank you for taking the time to write all this information for the benefit of others.

Best wishes  Christine

Christine :)    Bokeh  entry


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Date Tue, 27/09/2011 - 22:29

oh my gosh ...where is the paypal button for contributions? LOL darn this is great; i am going to save this and go back and refresh

Ever use the P mode in the hs20? Using super macro and then saw it asked for me to choose a ratio..what should i choose ? not sure..but do know need to get the best macro's possible so ordering the Raynox 250!!! i SOOoo hate the word compromise; so lets just say all photographers are FLEXIBlE hehe

thanks again!

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Date Sat, 29/10/2011 - 09:56

Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to post this great info. Sometimes I really strugggle with my focus and in particular with the bokeh. Good old Steve Ransome directed me to this article which I shall now print off and try to comprehend and put into practice. Thanks again. Chris

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Date Sat, 29/10/2011 - 15:00

Thanks everyone for the input.

I'm replying mainly due to the amount of comments I haven't answered but I do drop by and read them.

I'm glad it seems to be of such use to you all.

If I get time this winter I may try to do one on exposure and basic white balance if I feel I can explain it simply enough. That may include how the camera 'sees' a scene.

I also want to update this tutorial but I'm afraid of it disappearing into Fuji's ether as it's so long and difficult to load.

Thanks again and it's nice to see it still used so long after it's original posting.

Also thanks to those of you that point people to this tutorial. Again it's much appreciated.


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Date Sun, 05/02/2012 - 11:18

Ray, having just bought an HS20 I've been lurking in the myfinepix fora for a week or two looking for both tips on HS20 settings and general photography advice.

I've found your tutorial a great help in understanding both how my camera works and creative ways in which to use it.

Thanks for your hard work.


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Date Sat, 11/02/2012 - 12:08



gud article, post more articles


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Date Thu, 11/10/2012 - 10:13

Ray Just read this, but you are wrong in calling it an Article.  It's a BOOK and as such should be published.  Absolutely stunning article, pity I changed from the S100fs to the XS-1 Excellent and suxh dedication Bravo.


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Date Thu, 11/10/2012 - 10:31

Hi Ted.

Most of what is here can be applied to most cameras though measuring meters may look different or metering modes marked slightly differently,  the principles remain the same Smile


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Date Thu, 27/12/2012 - 23:05

Ray, what a text book article!!  Thank you very much for sharing your deep knowledge and exprience, and providing such a high quality lesson!! 

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Date Tue, 04/06/2013 - 06:01

Great job. Thanks fore sharing.  Time fore trying this in "live mode"  :-) 

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Date Tue, 25/06/2013 - 08:29

Hi Ray I will email you in person but I must say what a great tutorial with so much to take in but you have persented it brillianly many thanks for taking the time to put this wishes BoB.

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Date Tue, 25/06/2013 - 11:11

I'm glad it's still relevant after such a long time.



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Date Sat, 24/08/2013 - 02:20

Wow, what a read!  I feel like I've been on a journey where I knew some things and learned a few more.  Thanks for your time and effort to bring so much information into sharper focus, pun intended.

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Date Sat, 24/08/2013 - 14:48

I like puns Alex Smile

Especially current puns Smile

Thanks for commenting.


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Date Thu, 30/01/2014 - 21:57

Hi Ray - I decided to spend an afternoon/evening brushing up on myfinepix. Great to see all your various inputs but this article is the real McCoy. As already commented by a contributor, this treatise is more of a book so . . . should I save it as a pdf file (before it disappears into ether-space) or wait for you to inform everybody that the book is 'now available'?


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Date Fri, 31/01/2014 - 09:52

Hi Graham.

They are done as a mixture of word documents and Pdfs before uploading here as doing it bit by bit when this long seems to corrupt these blogs but thanks for your interest.

Maybe it's time to update some of this or do another one.


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Date Sat, 01/02/2014 - 18:05

LOL What other subject could vie for such dedication??!! Best

PS I tried posting a new topic but not sure it's entered the system so although I will be spending some time reading the above treatise, I have been wondering what is the focus point when shooting through glass; the glass itself or maybe an infinity(?) default? I have a Bridge HD2750.


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Date Sun, 02/02/2014 - 16:28

Hi Graham.

There is a section dedicated to shooting through glass in there somewhere Smile

What I didn't mention is if you leave your focus assist light on it may focus on the glass and if there is no alternative but to start the focusing by shooting through that glass, then it may be necessary to manually focus past the glass first until it can lock onto something beyond.

In such situations it's better to have the focus assist light switched off.

An infinity setting may work if the subjects are a long way off but a hyper focal length would be a better bet if you can shoot fairly wide and need closer focusing distances.

What is possible is down mainly to the aperture choices you have available to a specific camera. Look at the re-composition method in section 20 of this tutorial. Use it with single focus lock and not continuous focus.

As to what other subjects that can be daunting?

White balance choices coupled with which form of metering to select and applicable ISO values and trying to avoid noise and how it affects exposure dynamic range?

Easy post processing methods to remove blemishes and dust spots?

Whatever the choice it would have to be useful to a majority of users and something I know a bit about.

Studio work for me is a non existent disciplin. To date I've never tried it. I have a few flash units but need to know a lot more yet before trying to impart any wisdoms in that direction Smile

Most of what I do is either opportunistic or could be classified as candid so whatever I do I have to do on the spur of the moment.

It helps to have an idea of what you are doing before you start but planning can go out the window very quickly.


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Date Wed, 12/03/2014 - 06:36

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Date Mon, 24/03/2014 - 12:35

Whow, this is the info I wanted, all topix well explained.


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