What’s the difference between median and mean while stacking?

Say you stack five images of the exact same scene: a tan pedestrian plaza with a woman in a red dress walking through. In four of your shots the woman is out of the frame, but in the 5th shot she’s right in the middle of the photo. The Median stack mode looks for the pixels which are most common to all of the photos and uses those in the final image. So in this case the final stacked image wouldn’t show the image at all, because the most common pixels are the tan of the plaza when she’s not in the frame. The Mean stack mode does an average of all the pixels of all the photos, so in the final stacked image you would see a ghostly image of the woman in red, because the pixels would be 1/5 red and 4/5 tan. The best way to see this is to create some sample images for yourself and play with the different modes.

Do you set white and black points on your image?

I rarely do this directly using Levels or the Blacks/Whites slider Lightroom. Typically in the field I aim to get a histogram that spans the full dynamic range of the sensor, so my black and white points are often established well from the get go. Then during processing I’m always keeping an eye on my histogram to make sure I don’t clip any shadows or highlights. Of course it all depends on the individual images….some that may have been very low contrast in the field will necessitate moving the black and white points in order to draw out all the tones and texture in the photo.

What is the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop?

Both are programs you can use to edit your photos, and both allow you to edit raw files and jpegs. Lightroom has fantastic cataloging abilities to help you organize your entire photo library by keyword, labels, rating, and more. It also has more streamlined processing so you can quickly jump back and forth between editing and organizing photos, editing different photos, applying changes to lots of photos at once, and many other cool features. It’s also more intuitive. Photoshop is a much more powerful, but also more complicated, program. Its strengths lie in allowing much more targeting and fine-tuned editing, combining multiple exposures, and giving you control over the most minute aspects of the post processing process.

Which ND filters should I get?

I highly recommend Lee and ProGrey filters, the rectangular ones, 100mm wide. My personal kit includes tons of different filters, but if I could only pick three I’d go with a 10-stop solid, a 6-stop solid, and a 3-stop soft GND.

How much should I pay for a good ND filter?

Most good ND filters start at around $100 and go up from there. Resin filters, like Lee’s Grad ND filters are generally cheaper than glass filters, like Singh-Ray, or 10-stop solid ND filters. However, once you cross the $100 barrier, you should be looking for performance (is the ND filter truly color neutral, does it cause serious vignetting, is it accurate to the advertised density?) rather than price as an indicator of quality.

What brand is your tripod?

My primary tripod is an Induro CT203 with an AcraTech GP Ballhead, total cost of around $700 USD. This may seem like a lot until you truly appreciate everything a good tripod does for your photography. Getting rigidity and rock solid stability in a relatively lightweight package means using carbon fiber and highly machined parts….hence the cost. But lower end tripods will ultimately lead to frustration. Here’s the course most photographers (including myself) go through: buy cheap plastic tripod for $40. Realize it doesn’t work in any real world situations and toss it. Buy $100 aluminum tripod.

This tripod works great at first, but it’s heavy as a mother, and the metal parts start corroding over time, especially near the ocean. Eventually replace this tripod with a set of carbon fiber legs ($200) and a separate, cheap ballhead ($100). This tripod works great at first but the ballhead is clunky to use and not smooth in its operation. If any dirt, dust, water, or sand get inside the various mechanisms, the tripod legs and ballhead bite the dust. Finally spend $300-$400 on a set of carbon fiber tripod legs with twist locks, and $400+ on a high quality ballhead that is easy to clean and service with a company that offers excellent customer service. Use this tripod for the rest of your life.

Which means that the typical serious photographer will spend twice as much on tripods over his or her life than if he/she had simply purchased a good tripod from the get go. However, I realize that not everyone can afford a high-end ‘pod, and in those cases you can check out Slik, Dolica, and Induro (aluminum models). Each produces inexpensive tripods that are feature-rich enough to serve you well until you can afford a better tripod.

What lens should I buy?

Depends on what you like to shoot! I hesitate to give specific lens recommendations because there are so many different models and kinds out there. But generally speaking you’ll be better off buying specific lenses for specific purposes rather than one lens that purports to do everything. The lines are blurring more every day, and there’s no rule that says you have to use a certain lens for a certain purpose, but very generally speaking here are the kinds of lenses you should be looking at if you’re interested in:

  • Landscape photography – most landscape shooters prefer wide to ultra-wide lenses for their immersive views and ability to provide extreme depth of field. Usually, these lenses are in the 14-35 mm range. Middle range telephoto lenses in the 70-200mm range are also excellent for shooting intimate landscapes, abstracts, and picking out patterns.
  • Portrait photography – mid range lenses often work well for portraits because they accurately depict facial features without exaggerating or compressing them. Anywhere from 35 mm to 200 mm.
  • Wildlife / Sports – lenses for this category are big and expensive because they let you shoot your subjects cleanly from far away. 200 mm to 600 mm or more.

What camera should I buy?

You simply cannot buy a bad camera these days. The technology is amazing and even the simplest consumer grade cameras produce image quality better than that of the pro cameras from 10 years ago. The main features you need in a camera are the ability to control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. And the ability to change lenses. Past that everything is bells and whistles. I recommend buying the best camera you can possibly afford so that as your skills develop your camera will keep pace with you.

Why are my photos white when I do a long-exposure?

The problem is that you have too much light entering your camera so your photo is becoming over-exposed. To solve this you need to let less light in, and there are five ways you can do this:

  1. Stop down your aperture (if possible)
  2. Reduce your shutter speed
  3. Lower your ISO (if possible)
  4. Put a filter over your lens (ND or CPL)
  5. Wait for the ambient light levels to drop, like during dusk or dawn