Syncing Multiple Cameras using your Computer

This is part one of a three part series. In part one I will show you how to sync your cameras to your PC or Mac system clock. Part two will show you how to adjust the capture time of images shot in another timezone. In part three, I will show you how to how to sync the GPS metadata with your cellphone photos.

When complete, you will have georeferenced photos. Ready for Lightroom’s Map feature.

Why sync your camera’s time?

For one, its easer to identify photos when they have the correct time. If you have multiple cameras, then it will be convent to see all the photos you took in one location all grouped together.

Why should I sync my camera using my computer? Its easier, and if you are using a time-server then the time on your cell-home will also be the same.

How ofter should I sync my cameras? Well most camera don’t automaticlaly adjust for daylight savings time. So at a minimum at least twice a year—during daylight adjustments. Most camera’s clocks are not all that accurate and will tend to drift. I would recommend once a month. Well at least just before a big event, or photo-shoot. 

Well lets get started!

Software.

First off you will need to download and install the software to sync your camera. This is available on your camera’s web site.

For Nikon users you will need to download Nikon Transfer; it’s free from Nikon.

For Canon users you will need to download EOS Utility; it’s also free from Cannon.

Ensure your computer clock is using a time server.

This will ensure that your system time is correct. For PC double click your system clock, then click the Internet Time tab. From there you will be able to set your NTP (Network Time Protocol) server and timezone.

For PC double click your system clock, then click the Internet Time tab. From there you will be able to set your NTP (Network Time Protocol) server and timezone.

For Mac double click your system clock, then select “Open Date & Time Preferences.” Click the padlock at the bottom to unlock the settings. Then click the “Date & Time” tab. Ensure that the “Set date and time automatically” is checked 9qnmlmk. Then select a time server.  Click the padlock to lock again.

Connect your camera using a USB cable to your computer and sync.

Using the software you previously downloaded.

For Nikon users, launch “Nikon Transfer.”  Select the Preferences tab. Ensure that the “Synchronize camera datea adn time to comuter when camera is connected (supported cameras only)” is checked. Then click the Synchronize button.

For Cannon users, launch the “EOS Utility.” Then select “Camera Settings/Remote Shooting.” Your specific camera dialog will popup. Select the setup icon; third from the left, below shooting details. A “Date/Time/Zone Settings” dialog will pop. From there click the “From PC” button.

Now all your camera should be synced to the current time.

Padlock Focus Technique

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While I was in Valley of the Gods Utah, the forecast was for clear sky overnight, so I thought I would give night photography a try. So thinking I would need to have an idea as to where infinity was, I took my camera out during the day focused on a distant cliff and with a skinny sliver of electrical tape I marked where the infinity loop crossed on my lens. I was now ready for night photography.

That night I set up my camera, pointed towards the Milky Way and, with my 14-24mm set to manual focus and the infinity centered on my mark, I set my aperture to f/2.8, ISO to 6400 and a shutter speed of about 20 seconds, and took a shot.  To my surprise when I looked at my image in live-view, it was blurry.

Back at home, I did some research, and found that there were three established ways to focus a camera for night star photography. 1. Set up your camera during daylight and focus then, and leave the camera set-up until you are ready to shoot. 2. Make a mark on the lens over the infinity mark and align to that before shooting. 3. Use live-view and focus on the stars.

Number one—focusing during daylight—seemed unrealistic as it required you to hang around several hours waiting for the night sky, and since the camera is mounted on a tripod and pre-focused, you can’t even use the camera.

Number two—making a mark over infinity—I had already tried without too much success. I suspect it has something to do with parallax (the position of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions) there was definite space between my mark and the focus scale under the glass window. I suppose I could make this work as long as the focus alignment was done from the same position every-time, before composing for the shot.

Number three—using live view—looked promising, as I do this all the time during daylight landscape photography. In this scenario, you zoom in on a star and focus until the star appears as a point. 

On my next trip to Zion, I decided to give night star photography another try. I set up my camera and zoomed into to find a star. But my camera was too dark, so I decided to decrease the shutter speed  until I started to see stars and then try to zoom into one of them. The problem is that as I decreased the shutter speed, I increased the noise. As I started to see the stars, the noise made it difficult to determine what was noise and what was a star. I decided that stars where white and the noise has some color. This would actually work, but time-consuming trying to distinguish between sensor noise and star. 

I think I found a better way to focus but first we need to understand how an Nikkor AF-S lens works.

If you have ever played with a Nikkor AF-S lens, you may have noticed that the focus ring does not stop when you hit either end of the focusing range. What happens is the gear between the focus ring and the lens decouples and focusing stops as you continue turning the focus ring in the same direction. Stop, and reverse the direction of the focus ring, and the gears immediately engage and focus resumes until you hit the other end of the focus range. The moment you change direction of rotation (no meter where you are) focus will resume. What we need to do is establish a common stopping point to change directions to arrive at the infinity focus point.

Knowing this I was able to develop what I am calling the “Padlock Focus Technique” like a padlock which you have to rotate your combination dial several time before stoping at the first number (the stop-mark) then reverse direction to arrive at the next number in the combination (the focus-mark). Albeit this is only a two digit combination, so you can forgo the “pass the first number” bit.2016-03-31-22.34.16-Stack

Things you will need:

  • Camera with Live View
  • AF-S Lens
  • Tripod
  • Colored Electrical Tape
  • Exacto Knife
  • Straight Edge
  • Cutting Surface
  • Clear Skies
  • Moon During Daylight Hours

You will be placing three marks (color electrical tape) on your lens one inside the groove of the focus-ring, and two short marks (the stop-mark and the focus-mark) along the out-slide edge of the focus-ring which you will be aligning the focus-ring to. The focus-mark and the stop-mark will be very close together—within a quarter of an inch of each other.

Step 1: Determine a good spot on the lens to place the padlock focus stop-mark. Although the first stop spot is arbitrary, it is a good idea to choose a place where you can see the mark, and align with it, in both the horizontal and vertical camera orientations.

Step 2: Cut 3 skinny slivers of the electrical tape. The thickness should be just small enough to sit inside the focus ring grooves. Two short ones (focus-mark and the stop-mark) that will be placed just out-side the focus ring, and a longer one one that will be recessed into one of the grooves on the focus ring.

Step 3: Place the long strip inside one of the groves on the focus-ring, it does not matter which one any-one will do. Trim to tape to the height of the focus ring, making it easy to identify, and easy to align with the outer marks.

Step 4: Place the stop-mark, where you decided in step one along the out-slide of the focus ring and in a position where it will be easy to align to the one on the focus ring.

Step 5: Place camera on a tripod, and point to moon. If using a zoom set it to the smallest focal-length, set f-stop to widest setting (the smallest number 1.4, 2.8).

Step 6: If your camera is configured to focus when you press the shutter button (not using back-button focus) turn camera to manual focus.

Step 7: Turn on live-view and zoom into the moon as much as posable.

Step 8: Turn focus ring one complete revolution clock-wise and then on the second revolution align with the with the stop-mark.

Step 9: Slowly turn the focus ring in a counter-clockwise direction to focus on the moon. You can  fine-tune the focus by moving in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions as long as you don’t cross the stop-mark.

Step 10: Once focused, place the focus-mark on the lens, aligning with the focus ring mark.

Step 11: Defocus, and follow the “Using the Padlock Focus Method” below to test, and familiarize yourself with the method.

You’re done!

Using the Padlock Focus method, with your newly marked lens:2016-03-31-22.34.16-Stack

  • Set up you camera and align to the night sky and foreground you intend to photograph.
  • Set your aperture to its smallest focal length and widest aperture.
  • If your not using back-button focus, set your focus to manual.
  • Rotate the focus ring in a clock-wise direction one complete revolution,
  • On your second pass align to the stop-mark (passing the focus-mark).
  • Slowly rotate counter-clockwise to align with the focus-mark.

You are now set to infinity.

Panoramic from an Epson 3880

The Epson 3880 is a great printer, but it does not take roll paper, and even if you could rig up a contraption to feed the printer from a roll, when the print is finished, the printer driver would  eject all of the paper remaining on the roll.

This means that you’re limited to cut paper. Epson’s specifications state, that the maximum print size for the 3880 is 17×22″.

Lets say you wanted to print your standard DSLR image the biggest possible, then your print would be 15×22”.  When maximizing your print height to 17”, your image is 17×25”. That’s ” too long.

I discovered a way to print up to 17×37” on the 3880, and here is how.

STEP 1 Acquire Paper

There are high quality paper manufactures that sell cut 17×25” paper, but if you’re in love with Epson paper, or want to print panoramas, the you’re going to have to cut your own.

Simply rolling out your paper on a clean surface is not a good idea. The print side of the paper is on the outside, so no matter how clean your surface is, the weight of the paper while rolling causes scratches. Also the paper will pick up any dust which the printer would print over. When the dust falls off, you’re left with prints with small white dots or what looks like small white scratches.   

To minimize this, I made this simple paper feeder from a plank of wood 24×11″. The key is it has to be at least 4” bigger then the width of the paper. You will also need a 3/4” dowel, two 6” eye bolts, 4 bolts that fit the eye bolt, and 4 washers.

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Roll out your paper and cut it slightly larger then you need. You will need to cut the end that feeds into the printer first again to ensure it is square. This is probably the most critical step in the whole process. If the paper is not square, then as the paper is pulled through the printer it will bunch up on the left or right side (depending on the angle of the cut) and jam.

I used a Dahle 18” rolling paper cutter: http://www.amazon.com/Dahle-Personal-Rolling-Trimmers-length/dp/B000KNBL9Q/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1431912462&sr=8-3&keywords=paper+cutter

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I also recommend you cut at least 4” more paper then you need, as the curled ends tend to grab any residue ink as it enters and exits the printer. This is especially critical if you want a white margin around your print for your signature. Remember your printer will not print any larger than 17×37.5”, but you can cut your paper slightly bigger.

In my print, I wanted a 1” margin all around the image. So I rolled out 40” of paper.

I set a 1-1/2” on the top (the extra half inch was so I could cut off any ink that might be caught on the leading end). My print went to the very end of the printing area, with no margin. However since I had an extra 3” of paper cut, I got my 1” margin and an extra two inches to catch any ink on the bottom (exit end).

STEP 2: Configuring Custom Paper

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1 From Lightroom, in the “Print” module, select “Page Setup”

2 From “Paper Size” select “Manage Custom Sizes…”

3 Click the “+” bottom left (“Untitled” will appear in the list of paper sizes), Give it a name, I used “Cut 17 x 25 in”. Under Non-Printable Area: Select your printer, and I used “.12 in” for margins top, left, right, and bottom. Note, if you select a height larger then 37.4, then when you select your Epson 3880, the margin will be adjusted to 37.4”

4 Select OK

STEP 3: Lightroom Settings

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In Lightroom, I set the a 1” left & Right margins, with a top margin of 1.5, and I didn’t bother setting the bottom margin. I also set Lightroom—-as normal—-for the standard printing properties, profile, and paper handling.

STEP 4: Loading Paper

Now this is the hard part, loading the paper so that it feeds correctly. Since I am using normal loading, I have my printer against a wall, to help support the paper. then after I hit “Print” I put the paper into the top of the printer, and while holding, making sure that the paper was making positive contact with the printer feeder, and then waited for the printer to pull the paper into position. I then continued to hold the paper until the paper was 1/3 the way through the printing then the bottom of the print was at the top of the fully extended print guide.

 

Handheld Multi-Row Photo Stitching

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Dallas County Courthouse (Texas)

The old “Dallas County Courthouse” was also know as the “Old Red Courthouse,” is currently the home for the “Old Red Museum”

Sometimes I find myself wishing I had brought additional equipment for an unexpected subject. On this occasion, I wasn’t planning on any serious photography — just snapshots. I brought only my D3s and an all-purpose AF-S Nikkor 28-300 f/3.5-5.6. When I came upon this building I did not have a lens wide enough, nor did I have a tripod. I decided I had to try to capture the building anyway.

There were a couple of problems in capturing this picture

  1. I didn’t have a lens wide enough to capture the entire building in one shot
  2. I didn’t have a tripod, much less a  multi-row panoramic Head
  3. The traffic made it hard to shoot this from the street

I decided to try, a technique I am calling “Handheld Multi-Row Photo Stitching” The trick is to move the camera; not your body when composing for each section of the building. This is similar to what a “multi-row panoramic Head” would do pivoting around the lens nodal point—somewhere in the center of the lens where the aperture leaves in the lens would be.

HandStacking-ImagesI waited for the next red light, and then took series of 8 shots in a zigzagging pattern in one continuous motion

  • top tow left – top tow right,
  • row 2 right – row 2 left
  • tow 3 left –  row 3 right
  • bottom row right – bottom row left

The idea is to minimize the movement of the camera while overlapping each photo by at-least 30%.

 

The processing was 4 basic steps:

1 – Combine photos using Microsoft’s ICE

HandStacking-ICE

2 – Fix perspective using Adobe’s Photoshop

HandStacking-Combined

3 – Enhance Image using Adobe’s Lightroom

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4 – Make Final enhancements and remove foreground Lamp Pole using Adobe’s Photoshop

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Time: February 17, 2014 @ 2:22 pm
Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens:  Nikkor 28-300mm @ 55mm
Exposure: 8 exposures – ISO 200; f/8 @ 1/500 sec.

Texas State Capitol

REC-20140524-123309-HDR-Edit-2It seams that the only time I am at the Texas State Capitol is in mid afternoon on a cloudless day. A bright sun just behind the dome washes out the building. Another issue I had with photographing the capitol is that it is so wide, that I would need to stitch at least two photos together in order to capture the entire length of the building.

Once again, I found myself at the capitol at the wrong time of day, but this time I had two things going for me. First, I had my new Nikon 14-28mm f/2.8 lens, which was wide enough to capture the entire building. Second, it was cloudy out, so the sun was not a big white blob just above the dome washing out the entire photo.

I thought that an HDR shot would be perfect as it is always good for bringing out details in the clouds and building and creates a dramatic image.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm
Exposure: ISO 100; 1/30 sec @ f22 (initial exposure)
Bracketed exposure: 9 shots; 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, +1, +2, +3, +4 stops
Shooting Mode: Continuous High Speed on a tripod.
Focus Point: Beginning of basement glass sun roof (in the foreground).

Glass Photography

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© Richard Cox

You can turn your everyday glassware into vibrant colorful pictures using this simple photo box. It is made from everyday materials. The whole project should only take a couple of hours, and cost less then $20. [Read more…]

Top 10 Photo Tips

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© Richard Cox

Ever want to get excellent pictures. Well here are ten essential tips you need to make it all happen. This is the top ten tips suggested by most of the professional photographers. With these tips you too can be a better photographer. Get out there! Here are some quick tips to get you started:

1. Change your position

Many casual photographers simply take the picture from where they stand. This is not always the best angle for the picture. Try to move about the subject in order to get a different perspective. Imagine that you are an electron spinning around the nucleus of an atom — change not only your angle, but your distance from the subject. You cannot be sure that you’ve got the best possible shot until you’ve considered all the options!

2.Get in close

All too often, the photographer stands too far from the subject when they shoot, and the resulting picture makes the viewer feel detached from the subject. Close in on the action, including just enough relevant subject mater to communicate the event. For example if the subject is blowing out candles on a birthday cake, frame the picture to include only the subject and the cake. It is best to capture human or animal subjects when they are look at the camera.

3. Have your subject take up the whole picture frame

Before making the exposure, make sure the subject fills the frame, without being cut off in ways that are unintentional.

4. Compose some of your photos vertically

Camera designs and TV and movie screens predispose us to product horizontal images. Many photographic subjects are better captured in a portrait (vertical) orientation. Remember to take pictures of your subject in both orientations, the one that you prefer may surprise you.

5. Use a flash

What many people don’t know is that a flash on a sunny day can be very effective. Harsh shadows create uncomplimentary photos and a flash fills in the shadows, creating a pleasant photo. Remember, your flash will carry no more than about 30 feet, so do not expect it to help you with subjects that are too far away.

6. Use a tripod

Read our detailed tripod article on this subject.

7. Take plenty of pictures

The more time and effort it takes to prepare and get to a photo location, the less you should worry about “wasting” film (okay, this article was re-posted form back in the film days). When conditions are perfect, be prepared to derive full benefit from your good fortune.

8. Carry camera with you wherever you go

You never know when an opportunity will reveal itself to you. Have a camera with you and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. You may have very little time to setup the shot.

9. Plan

Try to determine beforehand what you will be photographing, and try to plan how you will be photographing this subject or event. Do research on what you would like to photograph and where you need to be positioned to capture it. Consider event agendas and think about scenes that you’d like to capture. See our article on Planning a Picture for information about finding the best natural light conditions.

10 Enjoy

That’s what it’s all about!

Planning a Photograph

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© Richard Cox

Great light is essential to capturing a shot that is outstanding among other well composed and executed photographs. Once in a while you may get lucky, but learning to plan your photography will really improve your results.

For example, I was lookin for “a portrait of a tree”, when he stumbled upon this tree in a park on the bank of Lake Massabesic in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a cloudy day, so he took a quick shot to document the place and to plan how to best capture this tree on film. The composition is good, but the photograph is dull and uninteresting.

Further inspection of the area revealed that this park is well traveled, and grass was patchy. Since the shot was was facing east, this eliminated a sunset shot where the tree would be illuminated by the setting sun.

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© Richard Cox

I determined that a sunrise shot would be best where the tree was silhouetted against an array of pre-dawn colors. He watched for a weather report for a clear morning sunrise and returned for the shot.

I has recently developed a more “scientific” technique for planning a shot. This technique considers the precise angle of the sun at sunrise or sunset in order to predict the best time to return to capture the subject lit the way you want.

These instructions tell you how to determine when the sun will be low in the sky and the direction of light with respect to your subject. Ideally, you would take your photo during the magic hour — either a half hour before and after sunrise or sunset, but which? The answer depends on the direction in which your subject is facing and the angle of light that you seek. Further, The angle of the sun at a given location will change throughout the year.

Here are the steps to determine which days of the year will best meet your lighting specifications:

Use a compass to determine your subject’s direction

  • Align the colored end of the needle with “N”
  • Find the direction on the dial that points to your subject and note its location in degrees (usually written around the outside edge of the dial)
  • Make a note of the location.
  • For our tree example, we will assume that the compass shows its direction as 75 degrees.
  • Note that unless you have a compass that automatically adjusts for “True North”, this location is expressed in terms of “Magnetic North”.

Compass

If necessary, adjust your location for “True North”

  • This requires that you obtain the “declination” value for the area in which your subject resides
  • Click here to calculate declination. Enter a zipcode and then press “Compute!”. The declination is the first value in the table, marked with a “D”
  • Declination varies by date, which is why printed maps may show different values than you obtain with the online calculator.
  • A negative declination indicates that magnetic north is west of true north, positive values are east
  • To align your compass, you need to add the opposite of the declination value to your compass reading. Using our example in Manchester, NH, we get a declination of -15, so we add 15 to 75 and are now using 90 degrees (East) as our location.

Select the angle for the sun.

Do you want back lighting (like our tree at sunrise), direct lighting, or some angle in between?

  • Find the location where you would like the sun
  • For backlighting, its compass position will be the same as your subject (75 degrees in our example)
  • For direct lighting, add 180 degrees to the adjusted position of your subject (if the result is not between 0 and 360, then subtract 180 degrees). In the tree example, the result is 270 degrees (90 + 180)

Check sunrise/sunset forecasts

  • Be sure that the data includes the angle of rise and set with respect to “True North” (Azimuth)
  • Click here for data for the New England area. (Please send us links to data you find for other areas)
  • Check the sunrise and sunset Azimuth data for each month until you find the values that are near 90 degrees (for backlight) and 270 degrees (for direct light). Using the Manchester data, we learn that sunrise or sunset on September 24, 2003, will be “perfect” for our subject. For backlight, we would plan to arrive for sunrise (6:35 AM), or we would choose sunset (6:40 PM) for direct light.

Avoid getting too controlled by the science

  • Days immediately before and after the target will also work well
  • Check weather reports (The boating forecasts are useful for photographers) and other factors (like your personal schedule!) to refine your plan.
  • Consider tide information if your subject is at the seashore

The perfect light is very fleeting

Be sure to arrive well in advance of the “magic time” in order to be set up and ready to shoot.

 

 

How to Take HDR Photos with an iPhone

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© Richard Cox

Learn how and when to use your iPhone camera’s built in HDR mode.  You don’t need to be an expert on High Dynamic Range photography to leverage this powerful feature to capture better photos. Your iPhone camera has a built-in HDR mode that will automatically produce HDR images.

Camera Settings

  • Select the “Settings” icon
  • Scroll to “Photos & Camera” on the Settings page
  • Enable the “HDR (HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE) option
  • Enable or disable the “Keep Normal Photo” option. If enabled, this will save both an HDR and a normal version of each photo. It is recommended that you enable this feature because HDR will not always produce a better photo.
  • Take photos. You will get HDR photos as long as you keep these settings.
  • Turn HDR on and off for individual photos by tapping “HDR On” or “HDR Off” on the top bar of the Camera app.

Try HDR in the following situations

  1. Closeups
  2. Outdoor shots. HDR will be particularly useful for portraits and scenes with strong lighting differences
  3. Scenes without moving subjects. HDR works by blending multiple images (normal, under-exposed, and over-exposed) so if the subject moves between these shots, the final HDR image will be blurry.
  4. Dimly lit scenes when you are not using flash. HDR is not available when using flash, so you will have to choose one or the other. HDR is the better choice when photographing a scene beyond the reach of your flash. You may also prefer result in cases where either approach would work. Try them both!

Related links

  • How to Create a High Dynamic Range Photograph

How to Photograph a Baby

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© Richard Cox

Be Ready

  1. Have your camera ready at all times so that the child is comfortable with being photographed and you can capture spontaneous moments.
  2. React quickly to what the child is doing. It is unrealistic to expect very young children to sit still and pose.
  3. Identify times when the baby is at his or her happiest. These are the best times to capture a smile.

Capture the Image

  1. Get down to the baby’s level.
  2. Make the photo session fun for the baby to get the best expressions and most cooperation.
  3. Make sure that the eyes are in sharp focus.
  4. Keep the shot simple. Too many props or distracting clothing draw attention away from the baby.
  5. Try shooting the sleeping baby. These peaceful shots can be easier to take and capture the essence of the baby’s life as a newborn.
  6. Try macro shots of tiny body parts. Closeups of little hands and feet capture an important part of the baby’s story.
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© Richard Cox

 

Process the Image

  1. Use PhotoShop or other editing software to take out distracting blotches or specs of food that don’t enhance the image.
  2. Try converting the image to black and white. This can soften the image and minimize blotches and other distractions.