Category Archives: Gear

Shooting Time-lapse? Get More Power.

Depending on the duration of your record time, you may run out of power with the standard in-camera batteries.  Easy right… just swap ’em.  Oh wait, taking the camera of the tripod would screw up the consistency of the shot. Even if the batteries are accessible, you still want to avoid touching the camera. A subtle change in framing from a bumped camera will quickly destroy the illusion.

Try this instead:

  • Get a Grip. You can extend the life of your camera’s power capacity by using a battery grip. These can  attach to the bottom of your camera and allow you to use an additional battery (or even a higher capacity battery).
  • Go Direct. The other option is to switch to AC power. You may need to pick up the adapter as most camera’s don’t include one. Just make sure you have a backup plan like a generator or extension cords.

Buy At Least One Prime Lens

When you bought your DSLR, it probably came with a zoom lens that easily lets you get a wide range of coverage with just a quick twist of the wrist. So, why on earth would you go back in time and pick up a prime lens that only offers a single focal length?

It’s all about aperture.

Most prime lenses offer apertures that open as far f/1.2 to f/2. These wide openings let in a lot more light, which is truly useful when shooting in existing light or low-light environments.

The AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens from Nikon is an affordable prime lens

Prime lenses are universally faster than zoom lenses and typically are much cheaper as well. This is due to the way the lenses are manufactured. Prime lenses have fewer moving parts and elements than zoom lenses.

Having a prime lens or two in your kit will really come in handy in the following situations:

  • When you need to shoot in very low-light conditions.
  • When you want to shoot with a shallow depth of field to blur your background or give the video a more filmic look.

Produce Time-lapse Animation on Your iPad

I wanted to share a recent find with you. At Macworld Expo I had the chance to speak with Boinx Software. They make several great apps for Mac and iOS devices.

They had just released their iStopMotion app for iPad… and it has a bunch of time-lapse features. The app ended up winning Macworld Best of Show award, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. The app is currently 50% off and selling for $4.99.

Let’s start with a sample of what can be done:

The Features

  • Time Lapse – Record automatically or at an interval.
  • Manual Controls – Control camera exposure and focus.
  • Instant Playback – Tap a button to see it playback instantly.
  • Remote Camera – Use the free iStopMotion Remote Camera app with an iPhone 4/4S, iPod touch (4th gen) or a second iPad 2.  Connect via WiFi to each other.
  • Share – Publish via email or on YouTube. You can also export your movies to a Mac or PC for further editing or archiving.


  • iPad 2 or later (any model)
  • iOS 5.0 or later
  • iStopMotion Back Camera: 1280×720
  • iStopMotion Remote Camera: 1280×720
  • Format PNG uncompressed 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Frame Rate: 1 – 30 fps in 1 frame steps (default 12 fps)
  • Export Video Format Video: H.264.
  • Resolutions: Small (426×240), Medium (640×360), Large (854×480), HD/Full Size (1280×720)

A Test

I’m taking this app with me on the road and will post some test shots this week.  I highly encourage you to check it out though.  It’s a fun app.

White Balancing Your Camera (Part 2)

This is part two of an article on white balancing (see part 1 here)

Manually Setting White Balance

Sometimes, you’ll want to manually set the white balance on your camera. For example, you might want to compensate for when multiple lighting sources are mixed together.  You may also want to make a change to make a shot warmer or cooler for artistic purposes.

The typical color temperature for different kinds of light. These temperatures can be used to adjust white balance in the camera.

Temperature Source
1,700 K Match flame
1,850 K Candle flame
2,700-3,300 K Incandescent lightbulb
3,400 K Studio lamps
4,100 K Moonlight
5,000 K Horizon daylight
5,500–6,000 K Typical daylight
6,500 K Daylight, overcast

Using a Reference Image to Set White Balance

If memorizing a bunch of temperatures is too difficult and you aren’t happy with a built-in preset, it’s time to make your own preset. This is typically useful when shooting in a location that has mixed lighting (such as sunlight through a window combined with bulbs from inside).

The exact process will vary from camera to camera, but typically the process involves doing the following.

  1. Shoot a reference photo with something white in it.  The white should fill most of the frame.  The subject can be a sheet of paper or a more accurate calibration target.
  2. Choose the custom white balance option in your camera’s menu.
  3. Select the reference image so the camera can calibrate itself.
  4. Visually inspect the preset’s result and ensure that skin tones and key details in the shot look natural.

Using a reference image lets you accurately set the white balance. In this case, a piece of white paper is used to help the camera properly measure color.

This article is excerpted from a new book – Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots

White Balancing Your Camera (Part 1)

One of the most important settings on your camera that you need to choose is a white balance. This control allows you to set the overall color (or tone) for the scene. White is used as a reference point because it is the perfect blend of all the color channels.  When a camera is properly set up, a white object will appear neutral with no color cast. Ideally, you should set your white balance correctly before shooting in any new location.

The Dangers of Auto White Balance

By default, your camera is probably set to use an automatic white balance (sometimes called AWB).  The way that auto works is that the camera will analyze the frame and create an automatic setting that attempts to neutralize any color shift.  This setting works pretty well for indoor shooting where lighting is consistent.

With that said, I am not a big fan of auto white balance.  When shooting using this setting, your camera can be sensitive to other factors, such as a passing cloud or someone walking through the frame.  This is especially problematic for video and time-lapse shooting. Instead, it is a better idea to switch to a preset or even create your own.

Using a White Balance Preset

The presets on your camera will vary depending on the model and manufacturer.  However, they are usually easy to understand when you think about them .  Typically, the presets are named for the type of lighting they work best with:

White balance presets are named for the lighting conditions they’re designed for. © Richard Harrington

  • Daylight or Direct Sunlight. This option works best for general shooting under daylight conditions where the sun is readily visible.
  • Shade. This option is used when shooting in sunlight and your subjects are in the shade.  It tends to make the image more orange to compensate for the bluish tones of the shaded areas.
  • Cloudy. This setting is similar to daylight but compensates for the sky having some cloud cover (which cools down the color temperature). Many prefer this setting because it is a little warmer.
  • Tungsten or Incandescent. This white balance setting is designed for shooting indoors with standard lightbulb illumination.
  • Fluorescent. This setting works best when shooting under standard fluorescent tube lights.  However, some lights are daylight balanced, which would require you to switch to the daylight setting.
  • Flash. You won’t use this option when shooting video because you can’t use a flash.

The same scene shot with different settings produces very different results. ©Richard Harrington

This article is excerpted from a new book – Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots