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Photography using Nikon Wireless Tethering to an iPad

It has been a busy month for me which has, unfortunately, cut into my blogging time.  The benefits of this, however, will soon be realized as I have a bunch of new stuff to write about here.

The Nikon WU-1b Wireless Adapter

First and foremost:  I have upgraded my camera to a shiny new Nikon D600.  With the new full frame resolution and low light capabilities of this unit, photography is entering a whole new dimension around here.  One additional toy I picked up when I bought the camera was the WU-1b wireless transmitter.  This little Wi-Fi transmitter plugs into the D600 or the Nikon 1 V2 camera body and allows you to transmit the images to a tablet, smart phone.  A previously released version (WU-1a) connects to the D3200.

Nikon WU-1b wireless adapter

Until I opened the package I never realized how small it is.  In fact, by the time you take the case and connectors into account, it makes me wonder why it was not built into the camera body like Canon does.

The unit plugs into the USB port on the side of the D600 and once attached, is hardly of notice during shooting.  Of course, with it sticking out of the side of the camera, some care needs to be taken to not bend anything, but I had no issues with it getting in the way during a recent pin-up shoot, and it was not loose and stayed nicely in place all morning.

WU-1b installed on my D600.

Once installed, the next step is to get it to transmit to something.  My original intent for this adapter was to use it to transmit images to my iPad during photo shoots.  This is a better medium to show people the photos being taken of them than by having them squint at a small jpeg on the back of the camera.  As a side note, once this is connected to your camera, you will not be able to review images on the camera as that becomes disabled.

Connecting Wirelessly

Getting the WU-1b talking to my iPad is very easy.  Once installed and the camera turned on, you only need to go to the iPad’s settings for Wi-Fi, locate the Nikon WU-1b and select it as the Wi-Fi network for the iPad to connect to.

The WU-1b effortlessly shows up as a Wi-Fi network for the iPad or computer to connect with.

Once connected, however, you will need an application to view the images the camera transmits.  So far I have located two apps for the iPhone/iPad.

Apps for viewing the images you send

The first one is the app that Nikon has developed called the WMAU (Wireless mobile adapter utility) app.  It is originally designed for an iPhone (and I believe there is an Android app) and the latest version of the app will only run on IOS 6.  I got the IOS 5 version installed on my iPad and it is functional.  What can I say except that Nikon should stick to making cameras as the iPad version of this app sucks.  The screen resolution is designed for the iPhone and does not take advantage of the iPad’s screen real estate effectively.  Within the app you have the option of  controlling the camera remotely and using the iPhone or iPad as a Live-View screen (kind of cool), or viewing images stored on the camera and sharing them via email etc.

The second, and more functional app that I located for the iPad is called ShutterSnitch.  It costs about $15, but it is well designed for the iPad and they are constantly updating and upgrading the app for new cameras and transmitters.  In fact they had recently updated the software for the D600/WU-1b pairing at the time I purchased it.  The app will download EVERYTHING, so if you shoot RAW or RAW+jpeg (as I have started to do for portrait sessions) it will take forever.  You can tell the app to only download jpeg images and if you make the jpegs small that the camera produces in the RAW+Jpeg setting, download times to the app are only a matter of a few seconds.  My initial “production” trial of the setup at a Pin-up shoot last weekend worked pretty well.  I lost connection at one point well into the shoot, but I think I may have filled the available ram of the iPad.  Further testing is in order, but it is a great way to allow people to view the photos in a photo session.  One thing I am going to try is to connect the iPad to an HDMI TV via an adapter I have and allow people to view the images on a big screen during a shoot.  The app will also allow you to select and email images or share them on sites like Facebook or Flickr.

There is not yet any app for directly connecting the WU-1b output to a computer.  The computer will see the wireless adaptor as a Wi-Fi signal, but once connected there is no way to retrieve images from the camera.  One promising app that is Soforbild.  The present version does not support the D600, but they have recently added D800(E) support, so hopefully the D600 will be coming around soon.  I have reviewed a previous release of Soforbild connecting my D300 via cable and it can be read here.

I am excited by the possibilities offered by wireless transmitter technology in photography.  As new apps are developed and old ones improved, it will become so much easier to tether to more than a bulky lap top.



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Softbox vs Umbrella photography: What is the difference?

If you have been experimenting with off camera flash at all, at some point you have contemplated using a light modifier such as an umbrella or a soft box. These flash modifiers can add a tremendous amount to helping you control the quality of light on your subject. But often, the biggest decision you will face is how to choose between them? What is the difference between the quality of light each one offers?

Hard light

Hard lighting means that the shadows are distinct, even sharp.   Generally, more contrast is apparent in a scene lit by a hard light.  A bare speedlight will produce a small light source compared to the subject, even if it is placed only a few feet away.  The transition between lit and shaded sides will be a strong, distinct and sharp shadow.

A smaller light source creates more contrast, sharper shadows.

This first image was lit with a single, unmodified speed light placed about 5 feet away to the left of the subject.  (You can see the reflection of the small light source on the balls).  Note how much texture is brought out of the felt on the pool table.  This is due to the relatively small, high contrast light source and the angle it is lighting the scene by.  The shadows on the billiard balls is very distinct and the edge of the shadow is hard.  Additionally, a very distinct shadow of the balls on the table surface can be seen.  If you want a dramatically lit scene with lots of contrast, this is one way to get there.

Soft light

Put that same speedlight into a light modifier like an umbrella or softbox and it becomes a much larger light source.  The shadow edges become less distinct and can make all the difference in the quality and feel of the photograph.

A larger light source produces much softer, less distinct shadows

This second photograph was made with the speed light placed inside of 76cm x 76cm (30″ x 30′) soft box and placed 1 foot away from the subject, making the light source very large compared to the subject.  The biggest difference between this image and the previous one is the less distinct shadow edges, both on the balls and on the table behind them.  The texture of the table felt is also softer, due to the less distinct shadow and lower relative contrasting nature of the larger light source.  This type of lighting de-emphasizes small skin flaws in portraits and generally softens the skin texture.  More detail can be seen in the shaded side of the subject as the bigger light tends to wrap around the subject more.

Neither type of lighting is necessarily better than the other, but learning how to control the quality of the lighting can give the photographer a greater range of tools to control the mood of the photo being taken.

Lighting Modifiers

Two of the most popular off camera lighting modifiers are the umbrella and the soft box.  While they both accomplish the same basic function of making a small light source larger, how they go about it is different and the construction of the modifier makes for subtle differences in how and where you will use each one.


An umbrella is basically what it sounds like.  It is a collapsable umbrella constructed exactly like your rain umbrella with an important difference:  The inside surface of the umbrella is a highly reflective white fabric and the exterior is covered in a black, opaque fabric.  The umbrella is mounted onto a special bracket on a light stand and opened up.  A light source (speed light or studio strobe) is mounted onto the bracket facing into the open umbrella.  When fired, the light from the flash unit reflects off of the inside of the umbrella.  The advantages of an umbrella is that it is inexpensive, comes in various sizes, and is a relatively directional light source (meaning that you can control where the light goes to a certain degree).

The classic reflection lighting umbrella.

The biggest limitation of the umbrella as a light source is how close you can place it to your subject.  The closest you can get the actual light source (the reflective interior of the umbrella) is usually 3 or 4 feet (about 1.0 to 1.5 metres).  This limits how “big” or soft you can make the light source.  The second disadvantage to a reflective umbrella is that it is normally difficult to diffuse the light to soften it further (although there are some creative work arounds).

Shoot through umbrellas

There is a second type of umbrella that can be used.  Sometimes the entire fabric of the umbrella is a translucent white fabric, so that rather than being reflected off of the interior of the umbrella, the light passes through the open umbrella.  In this manner, rather than being a reflected light source, the shoot through umbrella is a diffuse, transmitted light source, similar to a soft box.  Because the light stand and the bracket no longer get between the subject and the light source, the shoot through umbrella can be placed very close to your subject, allowing the diffused light to become the largest is possibly can, relative to the subject, making for the softest light possible that almost wraps around the subject, leaving very pleasant, light, gradational shadows.

translucent shoot through umbrella light modifier

Unfortunately, because of the curved surface of the umbrella and its open back end, it is not a very directionally controllable light source.  When you use a shoot through umbrella, light spills out everywhere, which can be a challenge for technically precise lighting situations.  When you use this as a light source, you will light up everything in the room.

Some umbrellas are sold as a convertible reflective/shoot through umbrella.  The outer black cover can be removed to allow the umbrella to be used as a shoot through type.  Some reflective efficiency is lost with this type of umbrella, but that is more than made up for by versatility.

Soft boxes

A soft box attempts to harness the advantages of the umbrella and do away with the disadvantages.  It is literally a reflectively lined box covered on the large open end with a diffuse fabric.  The light source is placed inside the other end of the box and mounted on a light stand using a special bracket .  The soft box gives a controlled, extremely soft, diffused lighting that can be very precisely directed without any major light spillage.  The soft box can be placed extremely close to the subject or pointed to “feather” the light just across the edge of the subject.

Soft box light modifier gives a directionally controllable, soft light.

It is a versatile light source that is very popular among professional photographers for all of the advantages it brings.  Its disadvantage is mostly that is costs quite a bit more than the simple umbrella and that a special bracket must be used that is designed to fit your particular type of light source.  There are a limited number of models that can be used with speed lights.

Which is a better choice?

Which light modifier is the better choice?  That largely depends on you, your style of shooting and your budget.  As a beginner, the least expensive option might be to pick up a simple umbrella or convertible umbrella kit, which should include the flash bracket and light stand.  When funds allow and your experience is greater, add an appropriate soft box to your kit. Many excellent photographers take amazing photographs using a single reflective umbrella.

In the end, it is up to the photographer to use the equipment available.  Having a large light modifier is an important step to take your flash photography to another level by giving you more choices in how to light a scene.

Just a warning, however:  accumulating lighting modifiers can become an expensive addiction once you get started.  Try to learn how to use each one to maximum effect before you buy your next one.  Your bank account (and perhaps your spouse) will appreciate it.

Tell us your experiences with light modifiers

What is your favourite type of lighting modifier?  Do you use lighting modifiers?  Why or why not?  Point us to some of your images on flickr or Facebook.


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Top 10 Stupid Photographer Mistakes

They happen to everyone (I hope).  Stupid photographer tricks.  Silly little mistakes in operating that fancy, expensive camera that make you look and feel like a complete novice when they happen.  They can ruin the occasional shot or an entire day’s shoot and they are all due to operator error.  Here is my top 10 list.

Wrong ISO

Not checking what ISO your camera was last set to is a frustrating error I make from time to time.  It usually happens that I have, for some reason, in a previous session pushed my ISO up to something like 1600 or more an then forgot to change it back.  The next time I picked up the camera and started blasting off a bunch of images only to discover (often after the event is over) that they were really noisy images and that a much lower ISO would have been much better.  The key tip off that I inevitably fail to notice is that my shutter speed is too high or my aperture number is too large.  Fortunately, I have only done this a few times.

Focus?  What focus?

This one is a bit more common, though usually only a problem when I am shooting with a wide open aperture like f2.8 or f5.6 where my depth of field is at near its narrowest.  Not being careful on what part of the subject I am focussing on under these conditions can give such a headache later when you realize that your camera locked its focus onto some other part of the image.  Much of this problem has been eliminated in my photography by switching to a single focus point that I regularly reposition in the viewfinder in conjunction with using the AF-ON button to set focus instead of the usual shutter being half pressed down.

Full Memory Card

I use reasonably large memory cards (4 to 8 GB in size) and regularly check the remaining number of images.  I always try to swap cards when the counter gets down to the last 20 images or so on the card.  In the occasional case where I have forgotten to bring a second memory card, I have needed to start deleting unwanted images on the fly or switch from RAW format (which I usually use) to jpeg format, which suddenly makes the memory card have a lot more space, depending on the size of the jpeg file chosen.  Best solution is to always carry a backup memory card (or more than you think you need when travelling).

No Memory Card

This one is a real blush generator.  One afternoon I decided to go visit my daughter and grand-daughter on the other side of the city.  I had been downloading images and the most recently used memory card was on the computer, not in the camera.  Being in a hurry, I grabbed the camera and ran out the door.  When at my daughter’s place I rattled off what I thought were the cutest images of my grand-daughter.  Imagine my chagrin when I went to show the images to my daughter only to discover that I had been merely testing out the camera shutter since I had forgotten to put a fresh card in the camera.  Duh.

Wrong Image Format

This one was a bit of a shock when it happened.  I had been travelling to an industrial site with some other people and the trip involved a lot of time spent in trucks driving to various places on the site.  During the trips I had my camera in my lap while spending my time looking out the window for interesting images to capture, visiting with the other people in the vehicle and, in a very absent minded manner, fiddling with my camera knobs.  The one I was playing with the most, it turns out, was the image quality, or image format dial on the top of the camera.  I had randomly turned it from the RAW format to TIFF and ended up shooting the majority of the trip in TIFF format (I never shoot in TIFF format.  Why is it even on the darned camera anyway?).  It turned out that one of the best images I took that day had a lot of contrast due to the bright sunlight, but not being in RAW, I was limited in the amount of exposure leeway I had in the final TIFF image.  Sigh.

This thing uses batteries?

When I bought my camera I shortly afterward went back to the dealer and purchased a second battery for the obvious reasons.  Guess why.

Timer delay accidentally set

This one is a frustrating one to figure out when you do it.  My camera has a setting that allows for a short time delay between the push of the shutter button and the actual activation of the shutter (about 2 seconds).  It is not the self timer, which is easy to find on the top dial.  This is an obscure setting found deep within the menu system of the camera.  I have a real problem trying to figure out what good this setting is even for.  I have no idea how it came to be set to ON, but somehow it was.  It took me ages to figure out why my shutter was delayed by 2 seconds, and I eventually tripped onto what it was by reviewing my camera guide.  I take some consolation in learning that an acquaintance of mine has also done the same thing.  At least I could tell her what it might have been.

Accidental Photo Bracketing

Sometimes I like to bracket exposures for HDR purposes or just to ensure a good exposure in complexly lit scenes.  Sometimes I forget to turn off the bracketing.  It is not a problem if I were to alway take 5 or 7 images of the same subject.  I don’t, hence the problem.

Accidental Exposure Compensation

This one kind of falls into the previous category, though it is not quite as frustrating.  I usually figure it out when my exposures are too higher or lower than I expected.  It is a good thing I shoot in RAW format as it allows most of these kinds of boo-boos to be rescued.

Leaving the camera at home

I am pretty sure I am not the only person to ever do this one….

How about you?

Don’t be shy.  Why not share with us some of your most embarrassing photography mistakes in the comments below?  I promise we will be sympathetic and likely tell you that you are not alone.