Back from Alaska. Thoughts and Questions on First DSLR.

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Dick Whitman, Aug 3, 2014.

  1. Dick Whitman, Aug 3, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014

    Dick Whitman macrumors 6502

    Dick Whitman

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    #1
    So a little background: After weeks of researching, analyzing, and then over-analyzing which camera to purchase as a first DSLR, I finally went with the Nikon D5300. Some of you may remember my earlier thread (http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1748236). Now that I’m back from my trip and have spent some time with the camera, here are some of my initial thoughts and concerns.

    While I attribute this first point to a lack of skill and technique, overall I am largely disappointed and underwhelmed by the images I am seeing straight from the camera. This had caused me to briefly question my decision, but after re-watching several reviews on YouTube, I think I just need to learn how to better use my camera. I made the mistake of relying too much on Auto mode, and, as a result, highlights are blown out in almost every picture I took with ice and snow, landscapes with large cloud cover are poorly balanced, colors sometimes seem oversaturated, and so on. Rainy, foggy, cloudy conditions make everything more difficult. No surprise. This was especially true when I visited Iceland, and Alaska was no different. My iPhone 5s performed poorly as well. When conditions are well lit, the current iSight camera shines. Capturing great images is easy. Again, probably no surprise. But trying to successfully capture the very unique lighting, or lack thereof, of glacial mountaintops, while dealing with inclement weather, or even overcast conditions, sort of rendered the iPhone useless (at least in my current capacity of understanding how best to use this camera). I tried experimenting with post-processing in Lightroom, but am new to that as well, and have thus far achieved minor results. For reference, I will try to post some images later. Does anyone know if there are any setting configurations that are optimal for Nikon cameras? I thought I had read somewhere over on the dpreview forums that exposure for one should be lowered.

    To make matters worse, I also dropped my camera while dog-sledding. I should have left it behind that time, and although I had thought of doing that, I did not. In the very first few seconds of moving forward on the sled, I lost my balance, standing on a piece of the sled that is connected from behind by a rope, and completed wiped out. I fell and tumbled onto the ground and my camera was completed covered in snow and ice, with the memory card cover opened and slightly cracked. I immediately took my camera to one of the tents in the base camp and tried my best to dry it as best I could. While I was very unnerved about the incident, especially after only owning the camera for a few weeks, everything seemed to worked fine afterwards. I had my Sigma 10-20mm attached at the time, luckily, and not the more expensive 18-140mm kit lens. I still think it would be wise for me to take my camera to a local camera shop and have it professionally looked at. I plan on purchasing a replacement SD cover as well just to give me greater peace of mind. It frequently rained in some form or another (e.g. drizzle, mist, light snow) to which my camera, along with those of others, was exposed to. I tried my best to shield and minimize rain exposure, but my camera definitely got wet at times.

    So I underestimated the elements, the weather, my competency, but also the gear I brought along. Yes, 140mm was no where near enough range for trying to photograph wildlife. After awhile, I kind of gave up on the effort altogether. Subjects were just too far away. I managed to snap some shots, but always at the 140mm mark, and even then, the animals were still just objects in the distance. Being as I'm more interested in landscape over wildlife photography, I wasn't tremendously disheartened though.

    At the moment, I am considering picking up the 35mm f/1.8g as it is relatively inexpensive, compact, light, and supposedly provides excellent clarity and low light performance. Something I really want to focus on now that I'm back home is product photography, or photographing technology and my workspace. Unfortunately, my workplace isn't very lit well by natural light so taking decent pictures is somewhat challenging. One thing that particularly concerns me is that I'm beginning to invest quite a bit in the Nikon DX series. Not saying that's a bad thing, just that I'm really getting rooted in one particular camera system so it may be hard to switch over to something else in the future if I would ever want to do so. But since I am considering picking up a prime lens, would it make any sense to opt for a full frame version in the rare event that I would one day want to go with a full frame body?

    Before and after some crude Lightroom processing

    [​IMG]

    ISO 200, 18 mm, f/10, 1/400 sec

    [​IMG]

    Straight off the camera

    [​IMG]

    ISO 400, 20 mm, f/11, 1/500 sec

    Straight off the camera

    [​IMG]

    ISO 200, 20 mm, f/11, 1/640 sec

    Straight off the camera

    [​IMG]

    ISO 200, 15 mm, f/10, 1/400 sec
     
  2. Meister Suspended

    Meister

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2013
    #2
    What lenses did you use?

    Nikons preserve more details in the shadows. I would always recommend to slightly underexpose.
     
  3. needfx macrumors 68040

    needfx

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    #3
    I have no hands on experience with any nikon or its glass, but I'll reserve commentary on the camera, auto mode, and your skill until I see the photos

    if it is you, don't worry, you'll get better. just keep snapping
     
  4. Dick Whitman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dick Whitman

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    Oct 16, 2012
    #4
    Nikon 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G

    Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
     
  5. Apple fanboy macrumors Core

    Apple fanboy

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Behind the Lens, UK
    #5
    Personally I doubt it was the gear that let you down. When I look at my early stuff shot in auto it is rubbish. Also I wasn't in snow covered mountains which are not that easy to get right if you don't know what you are doing.

    My advice to you in the earlier thread was practise, practise, practise.

    Don't be disheartened, just do more shooting, read more, and get out of auto to start getting more control. Aperture Priority would be a good place to start.

    Also as needfx stats, post some examples (include the settings as well).

    Nobody on here started out shooting well. We are all continually improving with experience.
    Some of the guys on here might have been shooting 20 years.
     
  6. Meister Suspended

    Meister

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2013
    #6
    Like others have mentioned its very likely not the cameras fault.
    I guess its just practice. Would be interesting to see some of your shots.

    For the extra reach have you considered the 70-300 from nikon?
    That would give you 450mm on dx. Good for wildlife.

    As a prime I'd recommend the 50mm 1.8g. Its a normal for fx and portrait for dx.
     
  7. shinji macrumors 65816

    shinji

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2007
    #7
    You learned the limitations of auto mode, even on a good camera. Everyone goes through that.

    Try seeing if you like Nikon's interface when you're not on full auto. If you do, then by all means buy more Nikon gear. If you don't, then it's important to switch, because no matter how good the camera is...if it doesn't help you take better pictures, then it's not the right camera for you.
     
  8. Dick Whitman, Aug 3, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014

    Dick Whitman thread starter macrumors 6502

    Dick Whitman

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    #8
    OP updated with some of the shots from my D5300. Working on listing the image properties as well.

    One of the things I really like about this camera is the built-in WiFi and being able to quickly transfer images to a smart phone, apply some quick editing (I use VSCO) and then upload them to Instagram. See below.

    http://instagram.com/lsnrngr
     
  9. Meister Suspended

    Meister

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    Oct 10, 2013
    #9
    It's not the camera ;)
    I looked at your instagram page and I think there were some good shots on it
     
  10. glenthompson macrumors 68000

    glenthompson

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    Apr 27, 2011
    Location:
    Virginia
    #10
    Ice and snow makes for challenging exposures. I usually switch to manual mode in such cases.
     
  11. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2008
    Location:
    Alaska
    #11
    That should not be a problem. I haven't looked at the photos, but even with the camera set of full auto the subject should be OK as long as he is not shooting against the light. In this case the subject will be in the dark.

    What the OP should do is to learn how to use his camera, and I imagine that there should be a book for it written by David D. Bush.
     
  12. BJMRamage macrumors 68020

    BJMRamage

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    #12
    Grander expectations...sad reality.

    Been there before. Understand.
    And snow/ice/etc can be difficult to shoot. Bleak skies don’t help either.

    I looked on your instagram page...I like the July 26th (was second photo from the end) photo. The mountains being cut by clouds and the diagonal going through the bottom third.

    As for the images posted above. In general they aren’t interesting to me. Partly due to crop of the image. I don’t think they wide angle was best on the top two (or three posted). For me the first image lacks some focus, is it the mountains in the back, the snow in the middle, the semi-grassy gravel stuff up front? In the past (and probably still) I have seen something, shot it, and then later looked and the photo didn’t capture what I saw. I went to Skyline Drive /Blue Ridge Mountains recently and I’d see the impressive views and sometimes take a few photos and then times I’d stop, appreciate the view and not take a photo. Looking through the photos I took, not many are that interesting. In most the sky was overcast and drab and what I saw on screen wasn’t great. Others where I actually zoomed/cropped, to focus the view helped out. Plus, using RAW format I could adjust the photo to better get “what I remembered”.

    In the beginning I’d use my DSLR like a Point and Shoot. Even after coming from a Film SLR where each shot was more important. With digital it is easy to shoot away and not be as selective. You are still learning and seeing some other shots on instagram, it shows you have an eye for composition.

    Glad overall you like the camera. It takes some time to adjust and understand all you can do and sometimes trying new things or adjustments.


    Hope that doesn't sound harsh.

    Also, with JPEG shooting the image is baked in, the presets for saturation, contrast, sharpness are set when you take the photo. with RAW the image is basically SOOC and you "command" the processing of the image. (other than importing into a post-processor that will start the image development based on camera import.)
     
  13. Cheese&Apple macrumors 68000

    Cheese&Apple

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2012
    Location:
    Toronto
    #13
    Well said as I'm sure this applies to many of us here. Especially with vacation shots.

    I find it difficult to do too many things at one time. I don't like to multitask when it comes to photography and when on vacation, there can be a lot going on.

    OP, I'm guessing you were on a cruise/land tour. This can make it difficult as well. When travelling on a fixed schedule, you don't always have the time and opportunity to stop, plan, absorb and clearly think about all the things that go into a great shot. This is why people come back from a trip and think "these look like snap shots". In many they are and that's ok. I hope you've captured some wonderful memories.

    The other point to consider is that a lot of people think landscape photography is easy but it really isn't. You need so much more than a nice view. Weather, time of day, a great vantage point and perfect lighting conditions are all necessary. A good landscape photographer will spend a significant amount of time researching, planning and preparing for a single capture. Even then, it doesn't always work out as hoped.

    Keep shooting, have fun and I hope you enjoyed your trip to Alaska.

    ~ Peter
     
  14. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #14
    What did you USE most? Which end of the zoom range. The ones you showed were all wide angle shots taken from some distance, nothing very close. Are all you shots like this?
     
  15. Apple fanboy macrumors Core

    Apple fanboy

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    Location:
    Behind the Lens, UK
    #15
    Had a quick look at your photos (not being on Instagram, its not the easiest to navigate in a browser). Mostly what I'd say is the weather wasn't quite right to take a stunning photo. Even if your exposure had been spot on, if you haven't got the right weather and lighting, you photos will be lacking. However don't give up. You just need to keep on mastering your craft and get a Flickr account so you don't have a reduced square photo (not ideal for landscape IMO).
     
  16. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #16
    I suggested in the first thread that you try and shoot as many self-asignments as possible BEFORE going on the trip. Each assignment is to shoot 100 frames then keep the best 5 to 10, evaluate the results then do it again. The best practice for an upcoming trip is to pretend you are traveling from some far-off location to your own hoe town and shoot your town as if your were a tourist. You generally will get MUCH better shots then a typical tourist would because you know your town better than he does. Every 100 frame cycle pick a different travel genre. People, architecture, landscapes or city scales, birds,...

    I would still do the above. The best way to learn is to have a well focused goal.

    About exposure with the D5300. First if the lighting is at all challenging shot RAW (Nikon saves these images as NEF files, not JPG) You have greater amity to fix an NEF then a JPG.

    Next AWAYS check the RGB histogram display if you shoot in tricky lighting "tricky" means snow and bright sunlight. this is a very high contrast lighting. Always do a test shoot and then check.

    Also if you remember film. Digital is just like shooting slide film. Digital is NOT at all like shooting negative film. With both slides and digital you expose as much as you can burn NOT enough to blow out highlights except in sours of light. The ONLY blown out highlights should be if lit light bulbs or the sun are in the frame. Most of the time you might have to use the exposure compensation control to dial down the exposure by .7 or even 1.5 stops. The histogram display will tell you.

    Even if you under expose in order to never blow out a highlight if you shot raw then most of the tie you can recover the under exposure. But no way on earth can you recover an over exposure on either digital or slide film

    The only problem with under exposure on digital is that yo get increased noise. For lowest noise you want to be just the "skin of your teeth" below the point where highlights are blown. That is really hard, be be conservative. Again study the RGB histogram display.

    With land scales like you took why did you not take several different exposures? In other words why not "bracket"? That is 100% sure fire way to get one frame that is correct. Always do that on those static shots where nothing is moving.

    If nothing else then later you use the brackets for HDR.

    Of the shots you posted you don't seem to ever get close to a subject.


    Back to product photography. That 35mm f/1.8 lens would be nice to have for people shots bt is not needed at all for most products. For products you will be stopping the lens down to f/8 or smaller. Maybe even f/22 doe times. What n=matters mist with produce is LIGHTING. I would buy a low cost CFL bases soft box set and push those lights a close as possible to the product to soften the light. Place the camera on a good trios and shoot at ISO=100 or 200 and if the exposure goes on for 5 seconds, so what? check the histogram to make sure you are not blowing highlights and re-shoot if the histogram is not perfect. The product can wait all day. DOn't bother with flash. it is way-hard and to expensive. CFL based soft boxes work better and are cheaper.


    There is a saying about learning to ski that applies to photographers "after you have called down 1,000 times you are an intermediate level skier." So to pass the beginner stage you need to shoot 1,000 frames you don't like, and know why you don't lie them. You will NEVER have that much time while on a vacation. Shoot them near home.

    ----------

    This is why I said that peole living in an area always get the best photos of that area. They can wait, they can re-shoot, they can predict when the good lighting will happen.

    I suggest that vacationers shoot subjects that are very close, not more then 10 feet away. Details and people that fill the frame. Those wide landscape shots are just at the mercy of the weather and luck of what time of day you happen to be at the spot.
     
  17. Apple fanboy macrumors Core

    Apple fanboy

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    Feb 21, 2012
    Location:
    Behind the Lens, UK
    #17
    For an example of perfect Landscapes, check out this site.

    http://www.erinbabnik.com/

    Erin is one of the posters on here (sadly not as often as I'd like), but her pictures are some of the best I've seen. But what I like about her site is the story behind each photo. In other words she doesn't just turn up on a given day and click away. Behind each stunning photo there is research, early mornings and lots of trips to the same location to get things just right.
     
  18. TheDrift- macrumors 6502a

    TheDrift-

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2010
    #18
    Its your first attempt. Many people here have been taking pictures for years..it will take some time, maybe invest in a few lessons or a course before buying any more equipment ;):)
     
  19. ocabj macrumors 6502a

    ocabj

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2009
    #19
    As long as you shot RAW, you can process those photos in LR or PS far better than the in-camera JPEG can.

    And as RAW engines develop in the future, you can go back and process those same RAWs again to get even better results.
     
  20. JDDavis, Aug 5, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2014

    JDDavis macrumors 65816

    JDDavis

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    #20
    I've found this to be true for Nikon as well. Especially with a DX camera and a prime lens. Don't know why, that's just my experience. I almost always under expose with my prime lenses. They tend to blow out faster on my D90.

    ----------

    I can attest that 300mm on a DX camera is still not enough for wildlife in big open places like Alaska or Wyoming. My 18-300 was fine when I was close enough. And that was close enough to be in the wildlife's "space".

    I'd agree with the 50mm. I'd get it and learn to shoot it on the 5300 before I got the 35mm DX.

    Like others have said shooting with snow and ice is difficult regardless. If you search you can find articles and advice on how to expose and using graduated nuetral density filters. Sometimes in snowy mountain environments the dynamic range is simply too much for the camera to handle in one exposure. You have to decide what you are going to expose for. Bracketing and HDR can help sometimes. What I have found is that sometimes it's just not the right time to take that shot and there's not much you can do about. The angle of the sun (time of day) and atmospheric conditions have a lot to do with being able to expose a snowy mountain scene correctly (or to your taste). Harsh light and flat light are rarely ever good. Sunrise and sunset usually work depending on the aspect of the mountain slope and after about 3 weeks of trying I figured out that the sun at about 10am (in June, in Wyoming...lattitude) produce the bluest skies and the best images for converting to B&W.

    I think the best advice many gave is to just keep shooting (in manual and RAW). One thing I like about mountain photography is you'll always have a reason to go back because you'll hardly ever be satisfied with the image from the camera and an image taken from the same spot at different times will always be different.
     
  21. Meister Suspended

    Meister

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    #21
    you have a point, but where are you going to get a good long lens without selling your organs?
     
  22. needfx macrumors 68040

    needfx

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    #22
    if only my appendix was of any value :D
     
  23. Meister Suspended

    Meister

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    #23
  24. needfx macrumors 68040

    needfx

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    #24
  25. Meister Suspended

    Meister

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    #25
    if you are not willing to take that kind of risk for getting some good shots of birds and **** you are just not dedicated enough ;)
     

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