Q. How can I improve indoor photos, the flash is never very flattering?
A. There are a few problems associated with a cameras’ built in flash. Firstly, the light comes from the wrong direction to give pleasing results. It has the tendency to fill all the shadows on a face whereas we are accustomed to seeing soft shadows under the eyes, nose, lips etc. as natural light always comes from above. This gives our faces their character. Filling all these shadows with light from the cameras direction is very artificial and seldom looks right. Then there is the problem with ‘red eye’. This is also a result of the flash being close to the lens axis. The light hits the blood vessels at the back of the eye and bounces straight back down our lens to give these evil red eyes. Also the quality of light from a small flash is very harsh & contrasty.
Great indoor photos can be taken by turning your flash OFF. All the above problems will disappear (in a flash!). However, as your shutter may need to be open for a longer period it is imperative that you support the camera on a tripod, table etc. Try to get your subject to be as still as possible to avoid movement in the photo (although this too can be very effective and arty).

Next time you have a family get together, try a few shots just by turning off the flash and you will be amazed at the mood in your shots. Colours may not be accurate especially if you are using room lights but this will just add to the effect.

Try shooting with just candlelight for a truly moody portrait.
Q. How reliable are memory cards and are some better than others?
A. One of the big worries with digital cameras is that when a problem does occur with a memory card, instead of losing a roll of 24 shots as is the case of film, you could lose several hundred images (possibly an entire wedding, holiday etc.). There are a few ‘best practices’ when it comes to card management.
  • 1. Never put fingers on exposed gold contacts on the card.
  • 2.  Never fill the card to capacity; this can cause errors when the camera is accessing the card.
  • 3.  When not in the camera keep the card in its’ protective case, not loose in your pocket.
  • 4.  Get the images safely burnt to CD as soon as possible (and a back up CD copy for those really important photos).
  • 5.  NEVER EVER remove the card from a camera before turning off the camera. This is a great way to not only lose your images but to literally destroy the card.
  • 6.  If you do get an error and lose photos, do absolutely nothing before taking the unit to a camera store. We have advanced image recovery software that can recover files, often even after formatting has taken place.
Like everything else in the world, with memory cards you get what you pay for. We have seen a much greater failure rate with unbranded cards purchased off the internet than with reliable names. We sell & use Sandisk cards with a minimum 5 years warranty.
Q. Can you still buy Panorama cameras?
A. True panorama cameras are still available but have always been very expensive and it is difficult to find someone able to print from the long format negatives. Today with the help of computers we can create beautiful wide panoramas with any camera, film or digital. This is done by taking a series of photos of a scene, then using a panorama stitching program to merge the images. The original photos can be shot with a digital camera and transferred directly to the computer or with a film camera and then scan either the prints or negatives. You then need a stitching program to merge the shots.
There are a number of these available with differing degrees of sophistication and price (you usually get what you pay for). Some digital cameras come with a panorama mode for shooting these wide format pictures, and these cameras also come with basic image stitching software to complete the job. This is often all you need to produce impressive panoramas but here are a couple of tips to make it easier and enable you to produce panoramas with a definite ‘wow’ factor.
  • 1. Use a tripod to get your camera as level as possible.
  • 2. Allow at least 30% overlap of the images to give the computer plenty of information to work with.
  • 3. Do not use the extreme wide angle setting of your zoom as this creates too much distortion. Try zooming to about half your zoom range.
  • 4. If using a camera without a Panorama mode, use manual exposure if possible and take an average reading of the entire scene. Some images may be a little dark or light but the computer will be able to match them better than having one image with a different colour sky due to changing camera settings.
  • 5. Shoot with your camera in the vertical orientation. You will need more shots to cover the required area but you will end up with a deeper print.
Recommended Panorama programs:-

Adobe Photoshop Elements has a built-in stitching routine. (available through computer retailers) or Panorama Factory available from the internet at  www.thepanoramafactory.com.
Q. How can I get rid of red eyes in my photos?
A. A guaranteed method is shown in the above photo but I admit it has limited applications!
To combat red eye we first need to understand what causes it. The optic nerve at the back of the eye is a collection of all the blood vessels and nerves to the eye. This gives us a blind spot and when flash bounces off the area it can appear as bright red pupils giving our subject a rather possessed look. The problem is made worse by two factors, firstly, in a dark room the pupils will dilate to allow for better vision but will make the red area appear huge. Secondly, on most modern cameras the flash is very close to the axis of the lens so that when the flash fires it bounces from the red blind spot directly back to our lens (and thus photo).
So how can we counteract the problem? The first part of the problem is to get the pupils to contract, making the red area smaller and thus less noticeable. This is what the camera is trying to achieve when you turn on red eye reduction. Most cameras will fire a pre flash with the aim of dazzling the subject and so making the pupils smaller. The problem here is that you need to warn your model(s) to hold the pose until the main flash fires. Also note that this feature is called ‘red eye REDUCTION’ meaning it will reduce the effect but not necessarily remove it. Turning on all the room lights is another way to achieve this, make the area as bright as possible.
Another solution would be to move the flash away from the lens. This is why professional photographers use external speed lights (flash). By moving the light away from the axis of the lens the area of red eye reflection bounces away from the lens and so is not visible in the photo. The extra power of theses flash units also allows the photographer to direct the flash up to the ceiling. By bouncing the flash like this red eye will never be a problem and it also has the effect of softening the light and changing its’ direction making for a much more flattering portrait. Unfortunately many compact cameras do not have the facility to add these external flash units.
Trivia: have you ever noticed some animals have green eye? That’s because they have a reflective coating at the back of the eye which allows them to see better in the dark than humans.
Photographic hints & tips presented by Steve Norris from Katoomba Camera House.
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