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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all,

I've been into photography for a few years now. Always been told I have the eye for it, and I would agree. I know what I want, but getting it exactly as I picture can be tough. I'm very trial and error when it comes to taking pictures, but there are those times when I just cannot figure out what's going wrong. For starters, I don't truly know what all the controls do, but I play around with them and try to get an image right. Works for watches, but not for other things that are time sensitive, like sunsets.

I've read up on some tips, and I quite well know that lighting is the biggest factor. However, I don't know what or how to stack/level or whatever you call it. I'm OK with F stops and learning that using longer exposures have created better images. For starters, I have a Nikon D3300 with the standard 18-55mm VR lens and that's all. I have a Ravelli tripod that goes up to 6 feet tall or so...and that's it. I've been able to achieve good results so far, but want to take my pictures to another level. I am aware that I'll need another lens or two - I want a 300mm zoom and a standard 35 or 50mm lens, but those will have to wait. What I cannot seem to find is any specific advice on what settings and controls will produce the results I want. For example, using a 3" exposure and F11 for waves crashing, with 100 EXP and WB set to Cloudy to capture misting (That may not be exactly right, but just the type of info I'm looking for).

I've recently learned how to take better lume shots, but any time the light is low - think 7am CST, I still get a lot of noise. But other times I don't. I edit either on my computer with standard Windows, or Snapseed, Instagram on my phone. Easy enough, and just installed the Nikon ViewNX or whatever and have no idea how to use it. Looking at Lightroom in the future.

Does anyone have specific advice for the following:

Crisp, clear, product photo type shots. I need to build a lightbox, but the actual shooting and settings have been troublesome, especially getting my reflection when straight on. Any tips for how to get a completely black background as opposed to the white lightbox?

Eliminating noise when shooting in lower light. I love using the natural light, and seems like sometimes I'll get a noiseless shot and others I'll have a bunch of "scratchiness" in it. I don't know why this is happening.

How exactly should you use the light reflectors. I'm very amateur so I've got a solid piece of white card paper, but I don't know what it means to reflect the light onto the subject. Like from what angle? Should the natural light come in and hit it and bounce back onto the face?

How to use the flash straight on? I've found that some people love using the flash, however, I tried it a bunch last night in various light levels and could not get a good picture. They all looked like I used the flash, aka, they looked worse than ever. It creates a lot of inky blacks in the stainless steel and a large flash as well.

How to use your laptop as a lightbox? This I thought would be simple, however, I used it with the lights on, with them off, and could not get anything that looked like a product photo as I've seen others do. I need specifics on the set up - room lighting, camera setting, angle, etc.


I wanted to be a bit more specific here so I don't just get a million tips like I've read on the Sticky and the rest of the internet. There's SO much info, but it's hard to apply it to specific settings. My default is just to use the natural light, make sure the reflection is gone from the lens and shoot at that angle. I use my ironing board inside the window and typically use interesting background that are almost always clothing or shoes. The textures create good pictures and settings that go well. Otherwise I'll just place the watch somewhere in nature. The results are great, but I'm getting bored with that and looking to get something more professional. I can see the shots in my mind, set them up how I see it and then just can't get the camera to shoot it like I see it.

Here are examples of things I got right:
asdfasdfsa.jpg acdasdsfs.jpg earfeaf.jpg erafasfsa.jpg acacer.jpg IMG_2593.JPG IMG_2278.JPG

And here are examples of ones I wish I could get much clearer:
ok.jpg IMG_3513.JPG acscdsa.jpg asadfas.jpg IMG_1873 - Copy.JPG IMG_2274.JPG sdfgsdf.jpg gjkgh.jpg


Thanks for any suggestions!
 

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For less noise use low ISO's such as 100 or 200. That will slow shutter speeds so you'll need the tripod in low light. You can get some "macro" pics with the 18-55(I think that lens has 52mm filter threads)by buying a Nikon 4t close up lens(only available used)to screw on to the filter threads of the lens and set the lens to 55mm. There are other close up lenses you can get new but I'm not sure which ones will equal the 4t in quality-maybe the Canon 250d-I think it's available in 52mm thread size.
 

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If you want to up your game and work on the settings for various light conditions. Spend a few bucks and buy a light meter.

A light box and a lens that will allow you to back away from the subject and your light source would be key in reducing the chance of seeing yourself. Of course being slightly off center (90 degrees to your subject) will help as well.

Remember that when you get very close to the subject your DOF is measured in MM's so moving from 90 degrees to lessen reflections can result in a bigger chance of having some of your subject out of focus.

A great lens for the Nikon APS-C is a Nikon 105MM F2.8D Micro Nikor (157MM full frame equivalent) Just like on my D5100 it will be manual focus on your D3300, But will auto focus on my D7100.

It may sound silly, But buy a book. I found an old book dating from the 1990's that was geared to an amateur looking to gain better skills. It was written by John Hedgecoe, He has more up to date books but the setup techniques are the same whether film or sensor.
 
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As above, esp the point by bigdog on the impact slight movements make to DOF. In you 'not quite right' photos a lot of the issue is this, your focus point is off slightly. In some cases you need to go in closer because you just have too much going on in the scene.

As as for your other settings request, it would be better to post up those pics and what setting you used. You'll get much better feedback that way because what you're after is micro adjustments, it's diffcult to tell you 'use X' without seeing what the scene is.

More specifically, non watch (or more exactly non macro) photography would be better
 

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OP, how are you currently using your flash unit? Never aim a flash head-on directly into your subject (unless that's the 'look' you want). Use a diffusor on your flash unit, and "bounce" it. Both will soften the harshness of the flash and illuminate your scene much better. Bounce flash really just means angling your light up and away, so you will at least need a flash unit that can be angled. Gels also work. If you are serious about playing with flash, experiment with off-camera flash units (triggered remotely). Off-camera flash + Umbrellas.

There is a whole wealth of information online for these types of flash techniques!
 

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Also, I do want to say this. Reading your example about wanting the specific settings for "wave crashing".. etc. Photography isn't about adapting sets of universal settings that can be applied at any time for any situation. You really need to re-think your approach:

- Learn the principles of exposure, meaning, learn the relationships between: Aperture, Shutter-Speed, ISO, and Exposure compensation. These are like the controls of a car: steering, gas, brake, gears... etc.
- Learn how to control these functions on your camera, MASTER your tool.
- Most importantly: EXPERIMENT. Experiment, experiment, experiment. There are general principles that can be applied to scenarios, but there is no universal setting for shooting waves crashing, weddings, birds, etc, because every scene is different and requires different settings. You need to learn, through experience and experimentation, how to adjust your tool for each scenario.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I thought that's what they meant by "new shoes" for your watch!

With that Alpinist I'm seeing a lot of ISO noise. I don't see a problem with the OVM on boots in the snow, though. Except that that's a weird place for a watch ;-)
Thanks for the help. I guess what I need probably is to read up a bit more. I did some basic stuff and I do experiment, a lot, but there are times when I just can't figure out how to get a good picture, other times I just get lucky. This weekend, for watch photos, I must have taken 200. Just playing with settings and speeds and ISO to get the cleanest shot. Had an abundance of natural light though so it was fine. Then I went out and caught some great high speed pics of my dog. But when I thought I had a grip on it, I tried to get the sundown across the pond and couldn't diffuse enough light (or whatever the term). Had my F stop as high as it could go, ISO low, long shutter, short shutter and it just looked too white - too much light. I've taken good sunset/sunrise pics before too. Not sure what was going on.

As for flash, I really at this point only have my camera and a tripod. No other flash and I'm unaware of being able to angle the flash or redirect it. I've looked up videos on how to make a light box, so I think that and some all white/all black cardboard is in order. Things are getting better, but thought maybe some of you might have some tips for either what went wrong in those pics above or just some general indoor shooting tips in different lights.

I actually figured out how to do the light/f stops in Aruba for my sister's wedding. It was about 2 weeks after buying the camera, so I was very pleased with most of the pics...still a little bewildered at noise in the others. I do need to figure out ISO/shutter/F stop and how they all work together because most of the time I'm winging it or trying to duplicate the standard settings from the wheel.
seashells.jpg dock sunset.jpg dock landscape.jpg wedding.jpg But these guys knew what they were doing haha
 

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ABud21.
I assume that you shoot in RAW format. Could you tell us what processing software you use?

A lot of issues with noise and lighting can be worked on in processing. I use a few programs depending on what sort of picture I took. I.E. When doing bracketed HDR I use Photomaix pro 5. For others I use either LR6 or DxO optics pro (great noise reduction). As I'm not a professional and just use my photos in my home and share with friends. I can't be bothered with making monthly payments for the rest of my life to Adobe. Therefore I do not & will not use Photoshop.

Joining a local photo club is a great way to learn as well. I'm VP of our local club. Of course one must be willing to listen to some critical comments on ones photos.
 
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Hi Abud21, further to my comments earlier, I think your latest photos show that you have an eye for it. Good composition, and nice position to how to capture some dramatic light.

Just a couple more things:
  • When you are shooting a scene with distant (or just visible) horizons, use the grid or digital level in your view finder to ensure that your horizon is level. This can also be fixed in post-processing. Always fix/level your horizon, unless you are intending on some dramatic funky angle on purpose ;-)
  • Regarding noise and ISOs: If you have your camera set for Auto or Intelligent ISO modes, it seems like most cameras will always prefer to boost exposure in dark, poorly lit scenes by pushing ISO first. At ISOs 1600, 3200, and beyond, you WILL see noise. As others have mentioned, noise can be reduced in post-processing, though the trade-off is image details and sharpness. Depending on your software (I just use good ol'boring Photoshop ;-)), you can restore some of that sharpness/details to compensate for noise-reduction.
  • The difference in noise-levels that you are seeing (if you are using Auto ISO) is most likely just a result of different scenes having different levels of available light (and your camera adjusting the ISO accordingly). If you are shooting a low sun-set, and then turning around to shoot a well-lit wedding party on the beach, that will affect the ISO chosen by the camera for each of those scenes, resulting in different noise levels and clarity.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I don't shoot in RAW. I actually still am a little unclear of what it is, other than data that needs to be converted. I'm more of a point and shoot and make small edits. I accidentally shot RAW first and had to look it up. I don't have any photo editing software per se, but typically transfer my photos to my phone and use Google Snapseed or Instagram or Kit Cam. Just worry about making the photo clearer or making the lighting more "realistic" from when it changes or I didn't have the settings perfect. I have Nikon software, but upon installation it didn't seem very user friendly and still didn't give me a ton of options. The Windows 10 Photos software that's included with Windows is actually pretty decent, but there's no sharpening or Ambiance/Lux.

I need to do more research on Bracketing. I don't know what it is, but I thought it was taking the exact same photo in different settings. I think I'd have to use my tripod and have a non-living subject for that or else I'm way off on what it is. But then I thought you stacked those pics on top of each other? Or is that something else. All way above my knowledge level at this point.

SCSMoss - Thanks. I have a friend who helped me figure out what the settings were. She does it on the side, but actually makes money as well. I have another friend who has a photography business and she's amazing. I should get together with her for some shoots sometime when we're close I think. Honestly, most of those shots I got because I did look up specific settings to start at - f11, cloudy WB, 1/50 shutter, full metering and 3D focus. After that, I just guessed and made adjustments as allowed. It's time critical with the sunsetting and rising though so it can get a little frustrating when things don't work.


ABud21.
I assume that you shoot in RAW format. Could you tell us what processing software you use?

A lot of issues with noise and lighting can be worked on in processing. I use a few programs depending on what sort of picture I took. I.E. When doing bracketed HDR I use Photomaix pro 5. For others I use either LR6 or DxO optics pro (great noise reduction). As I'm not a professional and just use my photos in my home and share with friends. I can't be bothered with making monthly payments for the rest of my life to Adobe. Therefore I do not & will not use Photoshop.

Joining a local photo club is a great way to learn as well. I'm VP of our local club. Of course one must be willing to listen to some critical comments on ones photos.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Well thank you. I've been told that before as well, but I'm not confident enough yet to take it anywhere. Its given me a lot of pleasure to take good photos and then frame them or make them into calendars and cards and stuff. Oh, and I think these were uploaded to my work computer right when I got home. I ended up adjusting the horizon afterwards and correcting before I saved/printed. For some reason, I'm always a little off level when I'm taking photos!


Hi Abud21, further to my comments earlier, I think your latest photos show that you have an eye for it. Good composition, and nice position to how to capture some dramatic light.

Just a couple more things:
  • When you are shooting a scene with distant (or just visible) horizons, use the grid or digital level in your view finder to ensure that your horizon is level. This can also be fixed in post-processing. Always fix/level your horizon, unless you are intending on some dramatic funky angle on purpose ;-)
  • Regarding noise and ISOs: If you have your camera set for Auto or Intelligent ISO modes, it seems like most cameras will always prefer to boost exposure in dark, poorly lit scenes by pushing ISO first. At ISOs 1600, 3200, and beyond, you WILL see noise. As others have mentioned, noise can be reduced in post-processing, though the trade-off is image details and sharpness. Depending on your software (I just use good ol'boring Photoshop ;-)), you can restore some of that sharpness/details to compensate for noise-reduction.
  • The difference in noise-levels that you are seeing (if you are using Auto ISO) is most likely just a result of different scenes having different levels of available light (and your camera adjusting the ISO accordingly). If you are shooting a low sun-set, and then turning around to shoot a well-lit wedding party on the beach, that will affect the ISO chosen by the camera for each of those scenes, resulting in different noise levels and clarity.
 

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I don't shoot in RAW. I actually still am a little unclear of what it is, other than data that needs to be converted. I'm more of a point and shoot and make small edits. I accidentally shot RAW first and had to look it up. I don't have any photo editing software per se,
That my friend is a big part of the issue you are having. You NEED to shoot in raw. Do you own an HDTV but don't receive an HD signal? or use a bluray player? Then that is essentially what you are doing by using your HD camera on the low def setting of JPG & auto exposure. Put it in RAW and avoid the auto setting like the plague. Yes, using editing software can be time consuming. But if you want your pictures to look their best then you are just going to have to deal with it taking a bit more time. A JPG is so compressed that it is very nearly impossible to do any editing that really matters like adjusting the white balance, Chromatic aberration, Denoising & many other things that just can't be done fully & properly in a JPG file.
Nearly every piece of photo editing software out there will convert a RAW file (NEF for Nikons) (CRW for Cannons) into what ever format you wish after being edited. I nearly always save mine as a tif file. It's a big file but very large external HDD's are cheap. A large high quality photo file can be converted to a JPG, But a JPG cannot be uncompressed back into a high quality photo file.

If you really want to improve your pictures you absolutely need to pick up a book then buy some software, But it will take some effort on your part. This may sound harsh but it is the truth. If you want to point & shoot, Buy a point & shoot camera. You bought a sports car camera, Now start using it like it was meant to be used. So start it up and take it out of park and learn how to drive. Start learning by reading and go find a web page for learning the basics of photography. This forum is not the proper venue to teach you everything.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Do you have any suggestions on the best software to use to convert? I'm not sure the View NX software will do it, but it looked like it might. However, the whole program is not useful. I think I was set on Lightroom, but would Photoshop Elements be alright also? Photoshop, I believe, is like $2,000 and that's no where near budget for me.

Any suggestions on books? I have found different websites, but I'm currently studying for a new career while working in the job I'm leaving - there's not a ton of time to read and research at the moment, and no funds for bigger purchases until I get my feet on the ground. Typically, I'll go by Amazon reviews and overall score to make purchases.


That my friend is a big part of the issue you are having. You NEED to shoot in raw. Do you own an HDTV but don't receive an HD signal? or use a bluray player? Then that is essentially what you are doing by using your HD camera on the low def setting of JPG & auto exposure. Put it in RAW and avoid the auto setting like the plague. Yes, using editing software can be time consuming. But if you want your pictures to look their best then you are just going to have to deal with it taking a bit more time. A JPG is so compressed that it is very nearly impossible to do any editing that really matters like adjusting the white balance, Chromatic aberration, Denoising & many other things that just can't be done fully & properly in a JPG file.
Nearly every piece of photo editing software out there will convert a RAW file (NEF for Nikons) (CRW for Cannons) into what ever format you wish after being edited. I nearly always save mine as a tif file. It's a big file but very large external HDD's are cheap. A large high quality photo file can be converted to a JPG, But a JPG cannot be uncompressed back into a high quality photo file.

If you really want to improve your pictures you absolutely need to pick up a book then buy some software, But it will take some effort on your part. This may sound harsh but it is the truth. If you want to point & shoot, Buy a point & shoot camera. You bought a sports car camera, Now start using it like it was meant to be used. So start it up and take it out of park and learn how to drive. Start learning by reading and go find a web page for learning the basics of photography. This forum is not the proper venue to teach you everything.
 

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You can't even buy Photoshop anymore. You must rent it on a monthly basis via the "creative Cloud". LR6 is good & is $140USD. GIMP is a free photoshop style program but I know nothing about it, but most reviews are positive and of course there is zero risk as the software is free.

Your View nx is of course a Nikon product and will therefore work fine and you can save to most any format you want. I have viewNx but use the other programs I mentioned.

Just learn as time permits. Remember this your hobby, Not a job. So you can do as little or as much as you wish and at your own pace.

While it's nice to have a book as a reference (and you should). You can learn a whole bunch over the interweb. I have a few exposure apps that I have on my phone, iPad & iPod to help out setting up my exposure when using a Neutral density filter.

First camera crash course: simple solutions to master your new DSLR

The Ultimate Guide to Learning how to use Your first DSLR - Digital Photography School

There are some good videos on You Tube as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dXfDMO-ago

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap7qnQHIuXI
 
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I agree with everything Mr. bigdog said about shooting in RAW. Pretty much the only time that I *don't* shoot in RAW is if I'm just doing silly shots at a party where people don't even care about photo quality; all other times I shoot in RAW only.

I like to think of RAW files as almost a frozen slice of reality - it captures so much raw data of the moment, meaning that there is so much more that can be tweaked and manipulated in post-processing, and with much more subtlety. This is particularly true when you are dealing with exposure-related issues, such as lifting shadows to bring out details, etc. RAW captures all of that data for manipulation.

To add to what bigdog said about shooting in JPEG (gasp) - just remember that, when you shoot in JPEG, you are essentially asking your camera and its on-board software to strip all of that fine data from the RAW file and compress it to the best of its ability. Depending on the make and model of your camera, the on-board software may do a crappy job of it, or it may do a satisfactory job. But it's basically out-sourcing and relinquishing control of your picture quality.

Personally, I learned RAW processing just through practicing at home - just editing literally thousands of photos through Adobe Camera Raw until I feel like I've got a good handle on it and what it can do. It only took one second to take that shot, but man, some photos can, and sometimes still does, take me up to two to three hours to edit to the way I want it.
 

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Yeah, RAW is not just a format that needs to be converted, it is storing way more information than a JPG. This means you can do more with the RAW picture (bring up shadows, boost exposure, play with colors) prior to JPG conversion. Think of JPGs as a copy of a copy, and RAW is the original.
 

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So do I take it procrastinatingPhysicist that time isn't relative?
 

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If you don't shoot in RAW what resolution do you shoot in? I typically shoot in the highest one before RAW. That's only because when I use my camera it's only holidays - nature - when weight, space and water-proofing are at a premium. Yes, I don't want to carry additional memory cards because of this.
 
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