Q) I have a Fuji FinePix S20 Pro, which I read a few months ago is supposedly capable of making infrared digitals. Any idea how I would do that?
Via the Internet
A) Digital cameras are extremely sensitive to infrared (IR) light, but in order to get better color results, the manufacturers place an IR cutoff filter in front of the sensor. The filter keeps most of the infrared light from reaching the sensor. You can still take IR photographs with an unmodified camera by placing a special IR filter over the lens. But because so little of the IR light reaches the sensor, your exposures will be exceptionally long. Much of the digital IR photography being done today uses a permanently modified camera. The cutoff filter is removed and replaced with a filter that allows only infrared light through to the sensor.
An IR digital camera offers many advantages over the old IR films. IR film was difficult to handle and it fogged easily—neither is a problem with digital. The digital IR camera is more sensitive, plus gives better resolution and sharpness than film. Overall, IR digital is a lot more fun while yielding better results. For more information on converting cameras and purchasing IR filters, go to www.LifePixel.com, www.IRDigital.net, www.maxmax.com and www.singh-ray.com.
This panorama image of Goblin Valley in Utah was taken with a Canon EOS-1Ds converted to IR. Note for scale the man and dog in the far right of the image.
Flying With Photo Gear
Q) I'm flying soon from Italy to the Canadian Rockies via London Heathrow. The more stringent restrictions on carry-on luggage have me worried. How can I best protect my cameras and lenses?
Sandro Porreca de Cecco
A) This is a difficult question to answer as the rules about carry-on luggage and excess weight charges for checked baggage seem to change daily; in addition, they're also different, depending on the class you're flying. Steerage is the most restrictive—usually limited to one carry-on bag and a second, smaller item such as a purse or computer case. For me, this means that my carry-on is a Lowepro AW Photo Backpack containing my essential cameras and lenses. The smaller carry-on is a computer with its accessories. Choose your traveling companion wisely! It helps when your partner will carry on another piece of your equipment, such as a long lens in a separate bag.
In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration allows photographic equipment to be carried on in addition to the other two allowed items. I don't push this much because most TSA personnel don't seem to know the rule. But if you need to do it, go to www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1248.shtm and print the policy. Carry it with you. It may help you get through U.S. security checkpoints. Check with the airline ahead of time to be sure they won't object to the extra bag when you board.
In addition to carry-on bags, I usually check a large Pelican case containing chargers, flash accessories and any other needed pieces of photographic equipment, which if lost, wouldn't keep me from completing my assignment at my destination. I put approved TSA locks on this bag, but I have to say the agency personnel is careless about replacing them after they're opened.
I've gone so far as to buy a seat for my gear. Some very small planes have weight restrictions that don't accommodate my bags. It's expensive, but not as expensive as the cameras and lenses, and I do what I have to do to get myself and my stuff where I need to be.
What if they say you have to check your camera gear? I've never done that. If forced to do it, I probably would abort the trip because most camera bags aren't designed to withstand the baggage hold. If I knew in advance that I couldn't take the gear on board, I might consider packing it properly and shipping it ahead via a secure, insurable carrier.
Q) How do you deal with the problem of seeing the histogram and the image on the LCD when you're outside in the sun?
A) It's important to be able to use the information on the display, of course; you want to check your results while you're still on location. In the past, I've looked for shade or used a hat to darken the viewing area. Sometimes, I throw a black cloth over my head and the camera, which seems a bit ironic when I think of my colleagues who use large-format cameras, which have always required that technique. Recently, I came across the best solution so far. An accessory from Hoodman allows me to put what looks like a loupe over the LCD. The HoodLoupe is a good optic with an adjustable diopter and just the right magnification for viewing the digital image on the LCD. It works on standard and the new, larger LCDs. Order from Hoodman at www.hoodmanusa.com.
Q) Are the Adobe programs Photoshop Elements and Photoshop CS2 compatible? If I were to submit to an editor a CD containing a selection of images and metadata put together with Elements, would the editor be able to open the CD with CS2?
A) The choice of image-editing program has no effect on image use. The determining factor isn't the software you use or even whether you use Mac or Windows. What matters is the format in which you save your finished image. The standard formats used to send images to a publication are JPEG and TIFF. I often use JPEGs when I'm sending smaller-sized image files over the Internet. Even though they're compressed, many magazines can use them if the dimensions of the published image are moderate-sized. The files of the images you see in my column in this magazine are almost always JPEGs. When a large file size is required due to a large printed photo size and/or specific demands of the intended publication, I send TIFF formats on a CD or DVD. The editor can open either kind of file in whatever imaging program he or she is using because TIFFs and JPEGs are ubiquitous standards.
Q) There are several ways to adjust light in Photoshop, and I use them all. Part of my work includes a tiny adjustment with Brightness/Contrast. I like it because of the spark it adds and how easy it is to work with density and color at the same time. I've heard that this feature permanently changes the pixels in an image. Is this true?
A) First, a clarification—all adjustments in Photoshop that are done directly to the image pixels permanently change the pixels. No adjustments will damage your pixels if they're done with an adjustment layer, including Brightness/Contrast. I seldom use the Brightness/Contrast function because it affects the image globally—that is, it brightens or darkens everything equally—and thus can't be fine-tuned. I much prefer the Levels and Curves functions, which offer adjustments to separately affect shadows, mid-tones and highlights.
Full-Frame Vs. APS-C Sensors & Wide-Angles
Q) I'm switching to digital and have a full range of compatible lenses, but I need to add a wide-angle lens, and I'd like to control my cost. In this context, I'm wondering if I should choose a camera with a full-frame sensor or a less expensive camera with an APS-C sensor?
Porto Alegre, Brazil
A) If you want to use your existing lenses, your camera-buying decision will be dictated to a large extent by the system you've been using. Currently, the only full-frame digital cameras are from Canon. These offer potentially superior image quality due to both the number and size of the pixels on the sensor. Many pixels packed together on a small sensor can generate increased noise and give a less satisfactory image at higher ISO settings.
There are excellent wide-angle lenses available for both sizes of sensors, however. A wide-angle lens that worked satisfactorily on film will continue to give the same angle of view with a full-frame sensor. New wide-angle lenses have been developed for the smaller sensors from all of the camera manufacturers and independent lens manufacturers. These wide-angles are formulated to cover only the smaller sensor and can't be used on full-frame cameras. It would seem that all of the manufacturers of digital cameras have a considerable investment in the smaller sensors and will most likely continue to sell such cameras.