Note: This excerpt from our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time has been edited to include information on both Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
Live View Overview
Most newer Nikon and Canon DSLR cameras have a Live View mode that you use for capturing video and still photography. Live View in early Nikon & Canon cameras was a bit cumbersome to use. These early bugs have been worked out in newer cameras and now Live View is a breeze to use. Even though focusing in Live View mode is slower, it is definitely the most accurate way to focus for non-moving subjects.
There are many reasons to use Live View:
– Composing product and still images for magazines and advertising
– Obtaining critical focus for macro shots
– Composing images when the camera is low to the ground to avoid lying down to look through the viewfinder
– Composing images when you hold the camera overhead, like when you take a photo over a crowd of people
– Shooting video
Activating Live View
Most newer Nikon and Canon DSLRs use either a Live View button or a Live View switch. For models like the Nikon D810 or Canon EOS 5D Mk III that capture both video and still photographs, you’ll need to make sure you select the correct capture mode. Autofocus generally works the same way in photo Live View mode or video Live View mode, but be sure to set the camera for still photos if that’s what you will be shooting.
The Difference Between Focusing Systems
Live View uses a different AF technology than regular AF on Nikon and Canon cameras. Live View uses contrast detection from the camera’s imaging sensor, as opposed to the phase shift sensors used by the camera’s AF sensor system. Live View AF doesn’t use predefined focus positions so that means the focus point can be located anywhere in the screen, or field of view.
Focusing with Live View is more accurate because you are able to focus the lens with the actual plane of the imaging sensor. If the imaging sensor (CCD or CMOS) looks sharp, the resulting photo will be sharp. In traditional focusing with the camera’s autofocus module, you must trust that the AF sensor is calibrated. When the AF sensor thinks the subject is sharp, that is how the image will be captured on the imaging sensor after the mirror flips up and the shutter curtain moves out of the way. Focusing on the imaging sensor with Live View removes the AF sensors and the mirror from the equation.
The camera’s traditional AF system is very fast and allows you to track moving subjects. Of course, you have to look through the viewfinder to keep the sensors on the subject. Live View focus, on the other hand, is very slow in comparison and doesn’t work well with moving subjects. It works best when you focus on static scenes and the camera is on a tripod or very stable.
Here are some best practices for using Live View photography and video modes:
1. For still photography in Live View mode, I recommend setting the Live View AF system to AF-S (single servo) mode and normal focus area. These two settings result in the most accurate focus and is easiest to use.
2. To initiate focus in Live View, press the shutter-release button halfway or press the AF-ON button (back focus button). Look for the focus box to turn from red to green. When the box is green, the camera has achieved focus for the subject inside the box. When the box is red, the camera thinks the subject is out of focus.
3. To obtain critical focus on the subject, press the zoom button on the back of the camera. It allows you zoom in to the subject on the LCD monitor to really dial in the focus. At this high magnification, you can manually or automatically focus to make sure the shot will be crisp.
4. For shooting videos, I recommend turning off the AF system. The Live View AF modes that allow subject tracking are not reliable and often result in focus hunting, which makes it nearly unbearable to watch the resulting video.
5. Live View automatically actives the VR/IS (vibration reduction/image stabilization) system in your lens. Any time the Live View screen is on, your lens is actively reducing vibration. If you are using a tripod to shoot video, I recommend turning off VR. If you are handholding your camera in Live View mode, keep VR turned on to either the normal or active setting.
Nikon Autofocus Book
Interested in learning more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.
In celebration of our new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, I have another photography tip for sports and wildlife photographers.
If you have ever photographed your children playing sports, then you’ve no doubt come across the scenario where another player on the field gets in the way of your shot. Typically, what happens is that you are tracking focus on your daughter when another player crosses between you and your daughter. This of course causes the camera’s autofocus to jump to the other kid, resulting in a missed shot.
Nikon and Canon have a solution for this in the menu systems on most of their higher-end cameras. The Nikon menu item is called Focus Tracking with Lock-on and can be found in custom settings menu a3 or a4. The Canon menu item is called AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity and can be found in menu AF 1 on cameras like the EOS-1D X and 5D Mark III/5Dr.
The purpose of these menus is to help the camera better track focus on subjects that are moving through busy or cluttered environments. These menus let you adjust the amount of time the camera waits to refocus on a new object that passes between the main subject and your camera.
Let’s say you’re photographing a team sport, and your intention is to photograph a specific player such as your daughter. The first step is to set your focus servo to AF-C (Nikon) or AI servo (Canon) so you can track movement.
Now, suppose your daughter is running on the field and you’re doing your best to track her as she moves. At some point during the game, another player is bound to run between your camera and your daughter. This presents a dilemma for your camera’s AF system. Should it immediately jump to the new player, or should it let that player pass while maintaining focus on your daughter?
In this example since you’re trying to photograph your daughter, you want the camera to let the other player pass by while maintaining your intended focus distance on your daughter. To accomplish this, set the menu item to a long delay, which allows temporary objects to pass by, thereby keeping focus on the original subject.
With the long setting, the autofocus system waits approximately 1.5 seconds. In other words, if the interfering player stands between you and your daughter for less than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will keep the focus distance on your daughter’s position. If the interfering player stands between your daughter and the camera for more than 1.5 seconds, the autofocus system will refocus on the new player.
Most higher end Nikon cameras have up to six settings for this menu item while the Canon cameras have 5 settings. In my experience, photographers either need to set menu item for a long delay (1.5 seconds) or they wanted to set for no delay. The available settings are as follows:
5 (long): About a 1.5-second delay
3 (normal): About a 1-second delay
1 (short): About a 0.5 second delay
Off: No delay; the camera refocuses instantly if another subject comes between you and the main subject
Another example of when to use this setting is when you photograph a lion on the Serengeti Plane of Tanzania. Suppose you are tracking a lion as it walks through tall grass. You’re doing your best to keep the autofocus point on the Lions eye when it saunters behind a tuft of grass. In this situation, you don’t want the autofocus system to jump to the tuft of grass; you want it to stay focused on the lion. Again, set the menu to long delay to tell the camera to ignore the grass as it passes by the autofocus system while you track the lion.
I encourage you to try these settings on your own to see what works for you.
Want to learn more about autofocus on Nikon cameras? Check out our brand new book titled The Nikon Autofocus System, Mastering Focus for Sharp Images Every Time.
One of my favorite things to do is lead private workshops for individuals who want to take their photography to the next level. I’ve been teaching photography and running photo workshops since 1998 and find that sometimes the best way for a person to learn a specific topic is via one-on-one mentorship.
I like to think of of private workshop sessions as a great way to turbocharge someone’s photographic skillset. Some individuals thrive while learning in a group setting while others learn best in a one-on-one environment.
The advantage of a private workshop is you get to learn exactly what is most important to you. Over the years, I’ve taught photographers just about every photographic topic imaginable.
Individuals have wanted to spend an entire day learning off-camera flash, so we set up a studio and did exactly that until they fully learn the process. Others have wanted to learn best practices for landscape photography, so we traveled to a beautiful location and practiced exactly that skill. Many individuals have just purchased a new camera before taking a vacation to Europe. Together, we spent a day setting up the camera’s menus and buttons while also learning the overall operation.
There are a variety of ways I teach private workshops. Each is customizable to your own learning style or photographic interest. Whether it is for an hour, half a day, full day or multiple days in a different country; you name it, I’ve done it. Some of the venues where we meet for private workshops are:
1. At my office in Gig Harbor, Washington
2. At the client’s house
3. At the client’s business location
4. Over the Internet via Skype or Google+ video hangout
5. At a predetermined outdoor location like a park or waterfront
6. Over a weekend in the city
7. Over the course of a week in a scenic area or a foreign country
For each person’s private workshop, I put together a learning plan that covers all of the topics the client wants to learn. We talk about the learning objectives in advance of our meeting and then agree to a final plan for our time together. Here’s an example of a learning plan for a 4-hour workshop I ran last week:
As I mentioned above, people have asked me to teach on just about every photo subject. Here are a few stories of people I’ve recently worked with:
Michael V. flew in from California for three days of private instruction. His goals were to learn the Nikon D810, learn Lightroom CC, and learn autofocus techniques in the field. Each day was planned out in great detail to help him learn digital photography from the ground up. He used to shoot extensively with his collection of Nikon F film cameras, but stepped away from photography for a few decades to focus on his career. Now that he’s retired, he wants to get back to the joy of photography. After three days, he was all set to move forward in his photography after feeling comfortable with the operation of the Nikon D810 and comfortable working with Lightroom CC. This three-day private session was just what he needed to get over the steep digital learning curve.
Kids and Travel
Scott J. and Matt J. are a father and adult son who both own Nikon DSLR cameras. They travel quite a bit and each has family that they love to photograph. They spent a day with me to learn their cameras, better understand exposure control, and set up their autofocus menus properly for children’s sports and international travel. Matt’s young daughter has started playing youth soccer, so one of his goals for the private session was to improve his camera skills in order to get great photographs of his daughter in action. Scott travels with his wife all around the world. They are planning on taking a three-week-long European river cruise and wanted to make sure everything was set up with his camera system before leaving on the trip. He also wanted to practice autofocus techniques as they pertain to travel photography. We set up scenarios to mimic sports photography and travel photography so each could practice their craft under real-world situations.
Camera Operation and Exposure Theory
Hannah D. and Angela C. live in northern Washington State, about two hours from my office. We met at a lakefront park mid-way between our towns to go through exposure control, metering usage, autofocus techniques, menu setups, and video usage. Both wanted to become better with landscape and portrait photography. Both Hannah and Becky are hands-on learners, so we spent the entire private workshop outdoors, going through real-world scenarios.
Dr. B. is a cosmetic dentist who wanted to set up a photo studio in his office to photograph before/after shots of his surgical clients. We spent a few hours setting up the studio including lighting equipment, backdrop, gels, camera, etc. Then, we allocated the rest of the day to working on photographic technique and digital asset management.
Monthly Mentorship Over the Internet
David S. is a photographer in southern California. We schedule one-hour Internet sessions approximately once a month to go through camera technique, image reviews, Lightroom methods, and lots of other photo-related topics. We use Google+ hangouts to host our meetings since it allows us to share video, share screens, while communicating in a very natural way.
Photoshop and Computer Setup
Ray V. is a retiree in Florida who is a very active photographer. He hired me to come to Florida for a three-day private session where we spent the majority of time learning Photoshop techniques, improving his digital asset management system, and setting up his computer for optimal performance.
Sam B. from Chicago, Illinois wanted to learn how to be a better street photographer. He travels quite a bit for business and loves to photograph the cities he visits along the way. He was feeling a bit insecure about photographing people on the street, so he flew to Seattle, Washington so we could spend a day together. We walked the city streets while photographing people and street performers, while working on his people interaction and photography skills.
New Camera Operation
Tom G. flew in from San Diego for four hours of private instruction on his Nikon D750. We met at a waterfront location in Gig Harbor and spent the morning going through camera operation and autofocus technique. We also worked on setting up portable lighting equipment for location portraiture. He flew back to San Diego that evening learning exactly what he wanted to know.
Backcountry Hiking and Photography
Ron L. is a businessman from the southern USA. He loves hiking and has always wanted to photograph the wild areas of Washington State. I set up a photo itinerary for Ron that included scenic vistas, beautiful seascapes, and towering mountains. Together, we’ll spend four days hiking and photographing the best of Washington State.
Sarah M. is a high school sports photographer who was having trouble consistently getting sharp photographs at football games. We set up a private workshop where we spent a few hours going through technique and camera setup, then the remainder of our time together we spent at an actual Friday night football game on the sidelines. We photographed the game together, going through technique and method while reviewing shots in real time.
If you are interested in a private workshop, feel free to email or call and we’ll set up a date. For more details on private workshops, check out our workshop page here: http://visadventures.com/services/private-photography-lessons/
Gura Gear makes great camera bags for adventure travel. They don’t run deals very often on their products, so if you are looking for a deal on the Kiboko 22L or the Chobe 19-24L, then now’s the time. They are offering $50 off each bag. Here’s the direct link to their website for the $50 discount.
Both Nikon and Canon had some big announcements this week for new cameras and lenses.
For Nikon shooters, the most interesting items are the brand new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens that weighs two pounds less and focuses one foot closer than the old 400mm f/2.8. Also, Nikon has finally released their brand new TC 1.4E III teleconverter. This new optic is sure to be extremely sharp and is designed to be the perfect match for Nikon’s f/2.8 telephoto lenses. Here’s a link to all the new Nikon gear.
For Canon shooters, the most interesting item is the new 16-35mm f/4 IS lens. As many of you know, Canon already produces the 16-35mm f/2.8 which is a stellar optic. The new f/4 version weighs less and includes image stabilization for hand holding and street photography.
Here’s a link to the new Canon gear.
Lots of people write me asking for recommendations on new cameras. The questions generally fall into one of these two categories:
1. I’m going on a big trip to Africa next week and I need to get a new camera. I’m willing to spend up to $500 for a nice camera. Which one should I buy?
2. I’m looking for a good backup camera and want something pocketable that will produce great results. I want it to respond quickly and take awesome pictures. I’m willing to spend $300. What should I buy?
The truth is that it is hard to find a high performance camera for under $500, but it is possible. Buying cameras is a lot like buying a new road bicycle. You start looking at the lower end models and prices first. Just about anyone can find a usable road bike for $300 to $500. However, once you start looking more into it, you realize that you can easily spend $2,000 to $10,000 on a bike that really fits your needs. Nice components, great fit, etc. The same goes for cameras. It is hard to get a great camera for $500, but you can get close.
For more expensive SLR cameras, I’m partial to Nikon since they do such a good job with ergonomics and image quality. For smaller camera systems though, the field is wide open. Manufacturers such as Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic have really done a good job in this area.
A good bridge camera between a small point and shoot and a larger SLR is the Nikon P7000 or the Canon G12. Both are excellent. A lot of professionals use these cameras because they offer manual override, but are relatively small. You can “almost” put them in your pocket. Cost will be about $450 – $500. Here are some direct links:
Another option is to get a new type of camera called a Four Thirds (4/3) system. They have changeable lenses and are very high quality. Cameras I like in this range are the Panasonic Lumix G2 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2. Here are some direct links:
Finally, if you want to go with a traditional camera (SLR) and spend just a bit more than $500, then I recommend either the Nikon D3100 or D5100. You can buy these two cameras from Costco, Best Buy or just about anywhere else. Nothing really compares to the speed and quality you get from a larger camera. The downside is they are larger! Here are some direct links:
Finally, finally. If you want a camera that you can truly put in your pocket, but you also want professional features, then I recommend the Canon S95. It truly is a great camera and will only set you back about $400. Link: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/729876-REG/Canon_4343B001_PowerShot_S95_Digital_Camera.html
Photoflex contacted me about a free DVD they are offering for Lighting and HD Video. The DVD shows both Nikon and Canon camera techniques. Here’s the link:
I just returned from a great Art of Travel Photography workshop in Hood River, Oregon. We had lots of happy people and everyone came away with some truly amazing photographs.
We spent four days exploring the Columbia River Gorge and photographed locations from Vista House to the Tom McCall Nature Reserve to Mt. Hood. Folks came in from Chicago, Seattle, British Columbia and Oregon. We thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company and tired ourselves out with more photography than you can shake a stick at! It was truly a great trip and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.
The wildflower bloom was a little bit behind this year, but we still found amazing fields full of balsam root flowers. Lupine was just starting to bloom, but Indian paintbrush was out in full force. The secret fields of Camas lilies needed just about one more week before they were in full bloom.
Because of the high snow pack in the Cascade Mountains this year, all the Gorge waterfalls were flowing at full capacity. Each of us were constantly wiping off our lenses from all the waterfall spray!
Here are some shots I took during the workshop.
I spend a lot of time teaching, discussing and writing about dSLR cameras, but there are many times where a simple point and shoot will get the job done well. My favorite point and shoot camera right now is the Canon G9. I’ve had this for about a year and have really grown to like it because of all the manual controls available. Canon has since come out with the G10, and it also is a fantastic camera.
Take these two photographs for example. The first one of the palm tree was taken about 6am in Arizona a couple months ago. The colors are saturated, the tree is sharp and the image is fantastic. More than enough information here for publication in a book, magazine or a nice large wall print.
The second image is taken out of the window of a jet liner as I flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Again, great colors, great contrast and a nice overall shot.
When I need to travel light, I’ll bring along my point and shoot rather than my dSLR. I pretty much always travel with a camera wherever I go and find that I don’t miss very many photo opportunities as long as I have a point and shoot in my pocket. When taking photos is your passion, using a high quality point and shoot can help produce great photographs just about anywhere.