Greetings folks! We are in the throes of summer here and thoroughly enjoying the nice warm days. It is great fun getting out to photograph in the early morning and late evening, chasing that elusive perfect light.

Our new Nikon wireless flash eBook is selling very well and it is fun to hear your stories of how you are using the book to improve your flash photography. Here�s the link to the book:

By popular demand, I have created a new D70 setup guide. It is a 4� x 6� card printed on front and back with information such as color mode, auto focus, optimize image settings, etc. Feel free to download it for free and print it out on your home printer. Or, if you want, you can buy a laminated copy for $4.50 (includes shipping to USA and Canada) and we�ll mail it to you right away. Here�s the link for download and/or purchase:

We are receiving a lot of emails about our future workshop schedule. Primarily, people are asking for more D200 workshops and more Nikon flash workshops! We are in the process of planning our 2007 dates and should have that schedule out sometime within the next two months.

Photo Techniques: Outdoor Photography with Fill Flash – Use Exposure Compensation for Ambient Light

A few weeks ago we went sailing with a bunch of family in Washington State�s beautiful Puget Sound. We sailed out of Gig Harbor and spent a few hours enjoying the afternoon sun. I wanted to take some new sailing photographs for my files, so I brought along my Nikon D2X and my 80-200 f2.8 in order to be able to photograph other boats on the water.

I was busy photographing other boats when I noticed the kids were poking their head out of a little hatch door on the bow of the boat. I thought it would be a great photograph, so I ran (actually stumbled) over to my camera bag and quickly switched my lens to my 12-24mm. Additionally, I placed my SB-800 flash with the diffusion dome on my camera�s hot-shoe.

In order to get a decent photo of the kids, I knew that I needed some fill flash since the sun was out. If I didn�t use fill flash, I would get some pretty nasty dark shadows on the kids� faces and eye sockets. Since kids never sit still for very long, I snapped my first photograph before I made any adjustments to the camera�s exposure system. The camera was set for matrix metering and 0.0 exposure compensation. This means that the camera will expose the ambient light in the scene for medium brightness. Since the photo was of a white sailboat and white clouds, I should have anticipated that the scene would be dramatically under exposed, and it was! You can see the results of this picture on the left.

The ambient light was obviously exposed too dark, but what about the flash? I did use fill-flash and it was set for -1.0 EV. This value was programmed into the flash by pressing the �minus� button on the back of my flash until it read -1.0 EV. Setting the flash compensation for -1.0 EV effectively decreases the amount of light from the flash so that it is one stop lower than the ambient light. My standard outdoor fill flash technique is to dial down the power on the flash to somewhere between -0.7 and -1.7. If I had exposed my ambient light properly, then the fill flash would have also been just about perfect.

The reason why this first image is so dark is that even the best camera metering systems in the world get faked out by bright subjects; I should have used my camera�s Exposure Compensation to brighten up the ambient light. After seeing the disappointing result of my first photo (and rolling my eyes), I made a change to my camera�s exposure compensation for the second photograph.

This next photo shows how much of a difference it makes when you use exposure compensation to increase the ambient light exposure a little bit. Since the photograph has quite a bit of white in it, I added exposure (add light to a bright subject). In this case I added +0.7 stops because the scene included some dark water and some white sailboat/clouds. If the image was 100% white, like a snowy field or a white sandy beach, then I would have added about +1.7 stops of exposure compensation.

At the same time, I still don�t want my flash to appear as though it is the predominant light in the scene. So, I kept the SB-800 flash compensation dialed down to -1.0 so the fill flash effect is subtle. The fill flash provided just enough light to brighten the eye sockets and shadows.

So, the basic approach for fill flash in the outdoors is to use your camera�s exposure compensation for the ambient light (background) and your flash�s output compensation for the subjects in the foreground. You can see how important it is to think of your flash photography in terms of two exposures. One exposure for the ambient light (background) and a second exposure from the flash (foreground). If you do this well, you can get great outdoor photos with your flash.

Finally, I want to show you what it looks like when you use a little too much exposure compensation for a photo. The third image was taken with the camera set at +1.0 exposure compensation and the SB-800 flash set at -1.0 output compensation. You can see that the boat deck and the sail are obviously too bright because there isn�t any texture or detail. They have both been blown out (clipped). Since the image consists of white boat and dark water, a better exposure compensation would have been +0.7. That extra 1/3 of a stop makes a huge difference!

The last three images in the series are some of the other photos I took that day. These were the images I had originally set out to get. The tall ship is called the Amazing Grace ( and operates out of Gig Harbor. The orange cargo ship is holding the new bridge decks for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The yacht is moored in Gig Harbor.

Digital Tidbits: Why Do My Digital Images Look Blurry and Soft?

Over the last month I�ve received numerous questions from folks about why their digital images don�t look sharp and crisp. In a few situations, people have wondered if their cameras are broken or if their lens is a factory reject. As people start scrutinizing their images more closely on their computer monitors, they are seeing that their shots look soft when viewed at 100% zoom.

There are two predominant reasons why your digital images look soft. The first is from something called an �anti-aliasing filter� and the second is from your technique. Let�s start with the anti-aliasing filter.

The cold, hard truth about digital photos is that they are always a bit soft because of the way the camera�s sensor is designed. You see, a CCD or CMOS sensor is prone to a problem called moir�. This is a weird wavy pattern that happens when taking a photograph of something that exceeds the resolution of the camera�s sensor. For example, if you take a picture of a typical screen door (like you�d find on your house) from a far distance, you might get a funny wavy pattern in the image. This wavy pattern occurs because the screen pattern is smaller than the CCD pixels when projected onto the CCD. You can see this moir� pattern in the image at the left. It is a crop from an image of a screen door and the patterns are vertical wavy lines.

To try to prevent moir�, most camera manufacturers have added something called an anti-aliasing filter in front of the CCD to reduce the effect. Unfortunately, this filter also makes the image look soft. Really, an anti-aliasing filter just softens the edges of your subject by averaging out the pixels at the edge. You can think of the anti-aliasing filter as a smoothing filter.

Ok, enough mumbo jumbo. What does this mean in real life? It means that we have to add sharpening after we capture the image using software. Even the sharpest, most expensive lens in the world will render your subject a little bit soft on a digital camera. There are lots of ways to sharpen your images after you�ve captured them. My most common method is to use Photoshop, but there are many other options such as Nikon Capture NX, Nik Sharpener Pro 2.0 or even just using your camera�s own sharpening settings in the custom settings menus. I work hard to try and get my images perfect in the camera, but I have resigned myself to the fact that all my photos will have to be sharpened later in Photoshop.

The airplane photograph here demonstrates how an image will look soft initially, but then cleans right up when sharpened in Photoshop. This image was taken at McChord AFB in Washington State. A little bit of sharpening goes a long ways towards making the image usable.

The second reason why your shots look soft has to do with your camera technique. For many people, the higher the resolution their camera is, the softer the image appears to be. For example, if you photograph with a 6 MP (megapixel) camera like a Nikon D70 or Canon Digital Rebel, you may have been happy with the perceived sharpness. However, many people who upgrade to a 10MP or 12MP camera are suddenly noticing that their shots look much softer.

The higher resolution cameras demand much more out of a photographer when it comes to getting sharp images. Since they have many more pixels in the same sensor area, they have a tighter pixel pitch. That just means that the spacing from pixel to pixel is much tighter. For example, a D70 has a pixel spacing of 7.9�m (microns), a D200 has a spacing of 6.1 �m, and a D2X has a pixel spacing of 5.5�m.

Since the pixels are packed so much tighter on a higher resolution camera, there is less forgiveness if you jostle the camera during the shot. What I mean is, a blurry photo is caused when detail on the subject moves between pixels on the CCD. For example, the edge of a tree will look blurry if it moves from pixel to pixel while the shutter is open. Conversely, the tree will look sharp if the edge doesn�t move from pixel to pixel while the shutter is open. If you have big pixel spacing like on the D70 or a Digital Rebel, then the edge of the tree is less likely to move to a different pixel than on a camera that has tighter pixel spacing like a D2X.

Since this is a fact of digital life, the D200 and the D2X require much better technique than a D70. The same thing holds true for any camera (Canon, Pentax, Sony) that has a higher resolution CCD.

How do you combat this �problem?� It all comes down to your camera technique. If you are a sports photographer, then you�ll need to be using faster shutter speeds and higher ISOs. Also, you�ll need to use very solid hand-holding technique. Of course, the very best way to improve sharpness is to plunk your camera down on a nice sturdy tripod to prevent camera shake (I like the Gitzo Carbon Fiber tripods the best). If you like to photograph close-ups and macro shots, then I�d recommend using your camera�s mirror lock-up function to even further prevent camera shake. The goal is to keep that camera still!

Ok, now you know two of the most common reasons for �soft� digital images. The first reason, the anti-alias filter is something you can�t change and therefore we must sharpen our shots later in post-processing. The second reason has 100% to do with you, the photographer. Your technique is critical when it comes to getting tack-sharp images, especially when using higher resolution cameras.

Workshop Updates:

Digital Workflow
Our next Digital Workflow workshop is scheduled for September 14th in Seattle, WA. These workshops cover topics that every digital photographer struggles with. Questions such as how to manage those thousands of digital photos, how to profile and calibrate your system and how to automate your workflow so you don’t spend so much time at your computer. This workshop provides great “nuts and bolts” tutorials in a hands-on environment to make sure you learn the topics. We�ve just entered into an agreement with iView Media to provide their new digital asset management software at a reduced price. I guarantee you’ll enjoy this day of learning. Go here for more details:

Portrait Photography Workshops
If you are interested in learning how to take great portraits, this two-day workshop is for you. We�ll spend a lot of time covering lighting arrangements, gear choices, posing methods and portrait technique. Our Portrait workshops this year are scheduled for 9/15 – 9/16 in Seattle, 11/10 – 11/11 in Portland, 11/17 – 11/18 in Seattle. Go here for more details:

Photoshop Workshops
Our next Photoshop workshops will be in Seattle during September 7th – 9th. These workshops are a great way to learn Photoshop while using practical, real world examples that photographers face each day. We have three levels of Photoshop instruction � Photoshop I, II, and III. Take them one at a time or take them as a group of two or more and get a 10% discount. Go here for more information: (Note: If you can�t make the Seattle/Portland workshops, then you might check out our Nikonians Photoshop workshops around the country at

Nikon D70 Workshops
The Nikon D70 and D70s cameras continue to be big sellers and so we continue to run these very popular workshops through 2006. We offer two days of training on the D70: a D70 Level I workshop and an Advanced D70 workshop. Updated schedules and course outlines are posted here:

The Art of Travel Workshops
Want to learn how to take great travel photos? Attend the Art of Travel Workshop this September. Our premier Art of Travel workshop will be located in Mazama, Washington in the North Cascades from September 21st – 24th, 2006. Our focus will be on creating stunning travel photos in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We’ll be staying at the beautiful Mazama Country Inn ( and will divide our time between classroom study and outdoor photography field sessions. We�ll cover digital workflow, field photography techniques, printing methods, and much, much more. Go here for more details:

Nikonians Workshops
Our 2006 Nikonians workshops are more popular than ever. We just finished up the Seattle and Vancouver, BC workshops and are looking forward to the Autumn workshops in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago. Sign up now while there is still space available because many have already sold out. We’ll be offering four different workshops in major cities throughout the USA. To sign up for a workshop, follow this link: Our workshop offerings will be:
– Photoshop for Photographers
– Nikon Capture NX
– Nikon D70
– iTTL Flash system.

The dates and cities will be:

Oct 5-8 New York
Oct 12-15 Philadelphia
Oct 19-22 Washington DC (at Penn Camera)
Nov 2-5 Chicago area

Nikon D200 Workshops
Our first D200 workshop on June 3rd went very well. Our next workshops are scheduled for August 19th in Seattle and August 26th in Portland. We�ll also have many more scheduled for 2007. This new digital camera from Nikon is a fantastic professional system. Its image quality is superb and it has an unparalleled feature set for the price. Nikon has truly hit a home run with the D200. Come to our workshop to learn all the important features so you can optimize its performance to your shooting style. Follow this link for more information:

Nikon iTTL Flash Workshops
If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to get your flash photography to look natural, then you need to attend this workshop. We spend all day learning the ins and outs of the Nikon’s SB600 and SB800 flashes. You’ll never again have to struggle with these flashes. More info at:

Nikon D2X/D2Hs
Nikon’s flagship cameras are marvels of engineering and capable of amazing results. We have created these two-day workshops to cater to those of you looking for professional level instruction on these incredible cameras. Learn how to use the outstanding white balance capabilities, multiple exposures, in-camera photo overlays and its lightning fast autofocus system during this feature packed two-day event. More info is posted here:

Private Tutoring
Each month, more and more of you are signing up for private workshops. These are becoming very popular and are an affordable way for you to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are Studio Lighting, Nature Photography, Wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, etc. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (360) 750-1103 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.

Thank you for taking the time to read this month�s newsletter. As always, feel free to write if you have questions or need more information about a topic you�ve read about here.

I encourage you to get out, take some photographs and keep learning!

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
[email protected]

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