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  • I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

    So you want to take better pictures than you do with your cell phone, but don’t know what to buy? IMO, there’s a few things you need to understand first.
    1) Images are more about the photographer, than the camera/lens. What do I mean by that? Photography is about presentation – how do you present what you see/imagine? Photography truly is an art and like most art, some people are naturally gifted and others are not (that’s me). But everyone can improve with practice and dedication (that has DEFINITELY been me). And like practicing a sport (or anything), you must identify what needs work to get better. You can’t just look at a picture and say “that sucks, delete”. You have to examine WHY it sucks and think about what you could do better.
    2) Light is SO important. It’s more important than the camera/lens as well, but not as important as the photographer.
    3) You need to understand what you currently have, and where/why it’s lacking.

    The photographer matters… Above, I talked about presentation. What’s more presentable? An animal sitting in a tub full of shredded wood with a turd in the water bowl or an animal curled up in the moss-covered above-ground roots of a tree? Rhetorical question, obviously. Your instant objection: It’s cold outside, or I’m never home in the daytime, or there’s nothing pretty around here like that, etc. THIS is where the photographer matters. You need to train yourself to think outside the box. Go to a hardware store, pick up the supplies to build a box with no top or front. Then go to a craft store and buy some supplies to line it with that look good. Heck, even visit a nursery and tell them what you’re trying to accomplish and see if they can help you with some moss or other types of greenery. Or go outside and find a nearby park or some woods and scout out a good place.

    Often times, I see people complaining about their images, but the quality and/or quantity of light just SUCKS. They’ll be indoors, with a single desk lamp turned on that’s sitting across the room and they’re taking a picture of an animal inside of a cage, curled up back in the shadow – and they can’t understand why their image doesn’t look like something that belongs in NatGeo. Their pictures are often accompanied by a disclaimer like “crappy, indoor, cell phone pic”. WELL STOP TAKING THEM!!!!

    One, it’s the presentation; see above. Two, there’s a SERIOUS lack of good, quality light in those images. With light, there’s quality, and there’s quantity. You can have either, but it’s best to have both. What’s bad quality light? An incandescent bulb. What’s bad quantity? One. What’s the best quality? Sunlight! What’s the best quality of sunlight? Something other than direct, high-noon light (it causes harsh shadows because the sun is directly overhead). What’s better? Angled, direct sunlight (like an hour or two before sunset or after sunrise). Also, filtered sunlight is great and by that I mean “open shade”. As an example; imagine a tree in the middle of a field, and the trees leaves create a shadow around it. Putting your animal along the tree trunk will guarantee that it’s well lit because of the immense amount of ambient sunlight, but the sun overhead isn’t lighting it directly as it’s in a shadow. Basically, open shade means you’re not out in a forest where it’s relatively dark, even in the middle of the day.

    What else can be good light? Professional lighting equipment! This can be relatively cheap, or it can cost literally thousands of dollars. You can put together a relatively cheap setup for $50 and it’ll work WONDERS for your indoor photography. Just buy something like this: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005FHZ2SI/ Those are continuous output lights (vs flash/strobes) which can be GREAT for indoor photography as the bright light will constrict the pupils of your animals so you can see the details of their iris. Using flash just gives big ol’ dilated pupils which sucks as reptiles have SUCH interesting irises. You can set this up with one on either side and one directly overhead. Or two on one side and one on the other for more dynamic lighting. Or whatever you think looks good! Just experiment! You’ll want these close to your subject and the umbrella not too far from the bulb (the closer the bulb is to the umbrella, the more concentrated the light will be on your subject – assuming you angle the umbrella correctly). Diffusing the light with the umbrellas will help to eliminate harsh shadows and ensure more even illumination of your subject. The setup I linked to above can be used with ANY camera, including a cell phone, because the lights just plug into the wall, not your camera, and there’s no “flash”.

    If you own a DSLR and have an external flash that you mount into the hotshoe, you can use this as well! I’d recommend bouncing it off the ceiling and/or a wall behind you. Or, pick up some inexpensive radio triggers (I have the Yongnuo YN622C - C is for Canon triggers and they’re basically in full-auto and they work GREAT), mount one to the hotshoe, another onto a cheap stand (like the ones in the above link) and then mount the flash to the trigger on the stand. Then put another umbrella in front of the flash and now you have up to 3 sources of continuous light via the bulbs as well as a stronger “flash” that’s being diffused as well. The triggers are $75 and you can buy another stand and umbrella for probably $20-25.


  • #2
    Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

    I spent a LOT of time on lighting because other than the photographer, it honestly is the most important aspect in photography. The word photography when broken down literally means “drawing with light”. So the photographer is drawing and they’re using light to do it. Number 1 and number 2 most important aspects of photography J

    Now, onto cameras. I said above that you need to know what you have and where/why it’s currently lacking. If you’re using a cell phone, you basically have a wide angle lens, and a small imaging sensor. Honestly, for what is often close-up product photography (which is essentially what reptile photography often boils down to); it’s actually a pretty poor choice. The angle of your lens is roughly 28-33mm in “Full Frame” equivalence. That just ends up with images that have too much other stuff in the frame and you have to crop (which is what pinching with your fingers on a cell phone is – camera phones don’t have TRUE zoom lenses – yet). And cropping reduces not only the number of pixels you have to work with, but also the surface area of the sensor – meaning you’re using a smaller than cell phone size sensor for your pictures. Sometimes DRAMATICALLY smaller.

    The sensor is, depending on the phone, probably between 4.5-6mm x 3-4mm in size. That’s just kind of a general range; 3mm x 4mm to 4.5mm x 6mm. In comparison, a “Full Frame” sensor is 24mm x 36mm. With all else being equal, larger sensors deliver better image quality. Always. It’s physics and it’s not up for debate. 32 cell phone camera sensors (at 4.5x6mm) or as many as 72 (3x4mm) would fit onto a Full Frame sensor. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a camera with the largest sensor you can find, and the requisite lenses. There are plenty of great cameras you can buy with a smaller sensor that will do a fantastic job, especially in great light. But, I would recommend buying a camera with a larger sensor than a cell phone. I would also recommend buying a camera with a “longer” lens than a 28-33mm equivalent for reptile photography. By the way, LOTS of GREAT reptile shots can be made with a 28-33mm lens, and they won’t even require cropping. But in general, these will include a LOT of the environment that the animal is in so would be best suited for elaborate cages (that you light extremely well) or outdoor photos where the animal is perhaps, in a tree or shrub.

    There are so many options and so many different individual needs that it’s difficult to label ONE camera as the very best for everyone. For one person, it might be a DSLR with a couple of lenses. For another, it might be a dedicated compact camera with the largest sensor plus a zoom lens that they can find – especially if it has close-focusing capabilities. For another, it may be a “super zoom” camera that actually doesn’t have a sensor that’s any larger than a cell phone – but the person REALLY wants a LONG zoom lens because of the other “things” they want to photograph.

    Ideally, a lens somewhere in the 60-100mm range (Full Frame equivalent) would be ideal and if you’re into close-ups, one with TRUE macro capabilities would be incredible! Back when I owned boas, my setup was a Canon DSLR (XSi, 60D, 70D) plus a 60mm (96mm Full Frame equivalent) macro lens for most of my shots. If I were looking to buy a system today, I’d probably buy something similar like a T6i or 80D. Obviously the Nikon equivalent would be just fine too (D3300, D5500, D7200 – or one of their predecessors) or if I wanted something smaller (a point and shoot) I’d probably buy the Canon G1X Mark II, and I’d probably buy it used to save $250. Other great candidates would be the “micro 4/3” systems which are interchangeable lens cameras, like DSLR, but the sensor is smaller and many of the lenses are smaller too, although they don’t capture as much light – which is of course, important.

    Honestly, if someone were looking for a P&S; G1X Mark II (zoom range of 24-120mm [which is great for everything except bringing subjects that are very far away up close], VERY close focusing, tilting touchscreen, and the biggest sensor available in a zooming compact body). If they want something even more capable I’d recommend a DSLR (the sensor is about 12-31x larger than a cell phone camera sensor). The G1X Mark II is SO close to a micro 4/3 sensor size that unless someone REALLY wanted one, it wouldn’t make much sense to me. It’s quite a bit cheaper too. So it’s either that, or a DSLR, probably with a 60mm macro lens.

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to ask any questions you have!

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    • #3
      Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

      Thanks for all that info jb, I actually have looked at buying that setup a couple of times already. My main problem is I have no room in my house for anything else. I'm dead serious too. We are putting up a commercial kitchen on our property to do our own bottling of our Bloody Mary Mix. Once that is set up, all the business stuff will be going into that building and out of my house and hopefully that will give me a little more wiggle room to have space to play with my photography.

      I'm keeping all this information you are putting out though, I'm seriously needing all the help I can get when it comes to taking quality photographs.
      http://berkeleyknebel.wix.com/mississippimorphs

      Photo credit:Eddie Ard .....Banner Credit:Big PaPa Ernest

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      • #4
        Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

        The beauty of a setup like that is that it's collapsible and can be stored. IF you have room to temporarily set it up and use it, and then room to store it. TOTALLY understand the space constraints! Been there myself!

        What kind of a camera are you using?

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        • #5
          Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

          Wonderful info! I got [MENTION=7862]natieb[/MENTION] a camera for Christmas a bit ago (a Nikon D5100) and he's got some pretty babies he wants to get good shots of. We definitely need a better lighting situation.
          Previously jjurczyk



          facebook.com/k1ssy

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          • #6
            Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

            Originally posted by Jessica View Post
            Wonderful info! I got @natieb a camera for Christmas a bit ago (a Nikon D5100) and he's got some pretty babies he wants to get good shots of. We definitely need a better lighting situation.
            A D5100 is absolutely a very capable camera! Depending on your particular scenario, outdoor, open-shade pictures will DEFINITELY improve your images if you're currently shooting indoors. If you need to stay indoors (pesky neighbors and all that good stuff :-) lol), then the lighting equipment I linked to will do great. You could also snag an external flash instead of, or in addition to the lighting I linked to. Nikon has multiple external flash options, but they tend to be a bit pricey. I've used a 3rd party flash made by Aperlite (they actually sent it to me free and asked me to review it) and it worked surprisingly well - just as good as my Canon flash. Here's a link to the Nikon version: http://www.amazon.com/Aperlite-Profe...dp/B00WS5IHX2/

            It's an EXTREMELY powerful flash and if you bounce the flash off the wall/ceiling behind you, it'll do a GREAT job of illuminating your subject with nice, soft light. So, that flash plus $50 for the "studio" setup and you should have a TON of light to work with indoors. FYI, you may need to dial down the power of the flash if it's overpowering the studio lights which is VERY easy to do (press the button in the middle of the circular dial, then press the left side of the circular dial a few times - take a shot, and evaluate if you need more or less "Flash Exposure Compensation"), done!

            The way I always saw camera equipment when I was keeping boas was that investing in photography (time and gear) was worth it because it allowed me to better represent my product which allowed me to sell my animals faster, and for what they were truly worth. Is it worth it to continually have to drop the prices on your animals by $25, $50, $100, $200 EACH just to move them because your pictures don't make potential buyers say "I HAVE TO HAVE THAT BOA!"? To me, it wasn't. FYI, the most I sold a Guyanese BCC for was $2500 (sold a couple for that, actually). Most people are happy if they sell a Guyanese for $300-400. Obviously, these were exceptional animals that I produced, but I've seen other exceptional Guyanese BCC sold for $200-400 (many of them, I purchased) simply because no one wanted them due to crappy pics.

            I think Mike Eckert is a perfect example. He's produced some of the most jaw dropping BCC I've ever seen, but it took him FOREVER to be able to command a decent price for them - because his pics are, honestly, terrible. I haven't spoken with him in a few years, but last I checked, he was still using a 2 or 4 megapixel camera from the literal turn of the century, and firing a direct flash onto the animal every single time. That's an AWFUL way to pick up the intricacies of a boas color, texture, and pattern. Only after others bought his animals, took some decent pictures, and also bred them and produced great offspring, was Mike able to start raising prices higher. He missed out, IMO, on a LOT of money in the meantime.

            So, IMO, invest in lighting. Even if you don't do it financially. Take the animals outdoors, to a great little spot. Plan to spend 10-30 minutes per animal, and don't be surprised if you need to take the same animal out several times on different days because sometimes, they're simply not cooperative.

            Also, learning how to do basic Post Processing and shooting in RAW can be HUGELY beneficial! For instance, just learning how to correct white balance can ensure that your potential customers see the most accurate colors your animal has to offer - and that's simply moving a slider left or right. Actually, most post processing appropriate for selling boas is simply using sliders.

            Hope this stuff helps :-)

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            • #7
              Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

              We are indoors right now due to weather. Ohio is nuts, hope to get some good outdoor shots now that it's (maybe?) warming up. I got him a flash similar to the one you linked as well, but we just moved and the flash has yet to be discovered in the boxes lol. We really need to learn how to actually use the dang camera. I'm sure it has a ton of settings that we have no idea how to tweak, so auto it is. I'm not even sure if he knows how to manually adjust the focus... I know I don't. It has a little grid system in the viewer and a red dot to show you where the focus will be, but I'm not positive how to make that dot go where I want it to LOL. It's a learning process, for sure!
              Previously jjurczyk



              facebook.com/k1ssy

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              • #8
                Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                It definitely has a ton of options! And full auto can be fine in some circumstances, but just know you're allowing the camera to make every decision for you.

                This might be helpful to get you guys started... http://www.redtailboas.com/f31/rando...67/#post730435
                I deleted the chart at the bottom and need to repost it. :-/

                Oh, and you can also look into training guides for the camera. There are free videos on YouTube and you can probably find good used books on Amazon for next to nothing. Just Google D5100 training guide

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                • #9
                  Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                  Great stuff, JB. I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about using my camera, which I know will just be a matter of learning the basics and lots of practice.

                  My lighting issue right now is actually that I have a lot of light, high quality light as far as I know, but it makes everything super harsh and shadowy. Think 100W-equivalent LEDs in a low ceiling. I need to either diffuse the lights at the source with some sort of covering, or try using a light box. Any thoughts on light boxes? Ebay has a lot of stuff like this that might be worth trying out.



                  I've had a lot of success outdoors, but like [MENTION=15369]Jessica[/MENTION] said, the temps are still a bit low around here for tropical reptiles. I also have a decent flash around here somewhere, if I could ever find it....
                  sigpic

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                  • #10
                    Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                    You could definitely use a light box, but you'll probably end up needing to buy lamps for it as I'm assuming the ceiling lights won't be intense enough after being filtered through the fabric of the light box. They may help to add ambient light to the light box, in addition to the lamps.

                    Also, your images with a light tent will look very "stock image" like unless you REALLY decorate the light tent and hide all of the white fabric. There's nothing wrong with stock images (plain white/black/whatever everything but the animal), just make sure that's what you want before going ahead with it. It can be a really good way to make the animal "pop" but IMO (and everyone has different tastes), they're a little boring. I much prefer naturalistic images (moss, branches, leaves, etc.). But then again, I've been called "a little weird" on occasion :-) lol

                    A possible alternative would be a light reflector IF you have an adequate AMOUNT of light. It sounds like you might, but it's just coming from the wrong angle (hence the harsh shadows), which a reflector could help solve. Here's the one I have: http://www.amazon.com/Neewer-43-inch.../dp/B002ZIMEMW

                    Two of those plus two reflector holders (here's the one I have: http://www.amazon.com/NEEWER%C2%AE-P.../dp/B00A9PB8WU - and you'll need a stand to go with it as well) may work really well actually.

                    Personally, I'd probably go for the continuous light setup I linked to originally. Better to spend $50 on that than $15 on a light box, another $20 on a reflector - another $20 on another - $20 for 2 reflector holders plus another $25 for a couple of stands, only to find out you still need the continuous setup anyway...

                    What are your thoughts? I can only provide a little insight into equipment, you're there in the space and that's an advantage I don't have.

                    jb

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                    • #11
                      Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                      I have a reflector like that, that I was planning to use with my AWOL flash, but I'm not sure exactly how I'd redirect the overhead lights. I'll definitely take to heart the setup you linked. I've debated the backdrop question a lot; what brings out the colors of the animals best, etc. A lot of people use black or white, but you're right, you might as well slap a SHUTTERSTOCK watermark over it. I've tried a few things, including buying a roll of burlap that I thought would be visually interesting and unique. I don't recall what lighting I used or anything, but this is a picture I liked from that shoot:




                      That was at my old place though, where I didn't have a dedicated snake room and light was nowhere to be found. Now I'm facing a new set of challenges, but also have the space and means to put together a more elaborate and functional setup. The following picture is a perfect illustration of the combination of issues I have to tackle. The subject matter, a hypo super jungle I produced last year, certainly warrants a lot more respect for the photographic process than it got here. The backdrop is a clean black hoodie which managed to get washed out and turn blue in the image. You can clearly notice two shadows, owing to the position of the subject. The color is completely washed out, the light areas are too light, and the dark areas have no contrast. As Jess noted, the camera was set to auto, so the depth of field is narrow enough that the front and back of the image are out of focus and not in an interesting way. The way I look at it, having better lighting would have made up for my ignorance of the camera much more than the inverse. But I also understand that's it's necessary to have a good grasp on both, and photography is something I would love to be good at.


                      sigpic

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                      • #12
                        Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                        Yeah, it can definitely be tough to capture accurate colors. Seems ironic, right? Capturing things as they exist in real life should be about the easiest thing for a camera to do, given it's primary purpose! lol

                        You may find that either setting the white balance in-camera, or afterward in post-processing (via shooting RAW instead of JPG), results in the proper color for your images. There are quite a few methods to achieve it, none are wrong, it's simply a matter of preference. You can use a white sheet of paper, take a picture of it, go through the menu and set the white balance that way. You can buy a "neutral gray card", take a picture of it, set the white balance in-camera or afterward in post, or just import your images and use the slider to set the white balance manually. Those are the most common ways, but there are others too. I USUALLY prefer to simply adjust the slider in post, but I also have a neutral gray card I'll use at times, ESPECIALLY in mixed lighting (incandescent plus fluorescent plus ambient sunlight plus whatever else).

                        Here's an image I took the other day with one external flash, shot through a white umbrella and a reflector. I had never attempted this before and was just practicing before I sell that camera. I wasn't even using my main DSLR because it was at Canon for a sensor clean and general check up - I was using my wife's cheapie Canon Rebel SL1 and a REALLY good lens.



                        The setup is hard to describe in words but I'll try...

                        I'm about 2-3 feet from the camera I was taking a picture of. I had my radio trigger (which I talked about in the very first post in this thread - Yongnuo YN622C - C is for Canon - the Nikon model is YN622N) mounted to the hotshoe of the SL1 and another mounted on the stand. The flash was mounted to the radio trigger which was on the stand. The flash head was angled straight into the inside of the umbrella and the umbrella was pointed at the camera from about the same angle as the lens is pointing in the picture (hope that makes sense - it was to my left) but it was also elevated above it, pointing down a little. On the right side of the camera, I had the reflector (the white one) leaning against the wall waiting for me to do something with it (I would normally have used the reflector stand, but I was against a wall with no room for it - and it was just practice anyway). When the time came to take the picture, I stood the reflector straight up, and then angled it down just a little bit. The light from the umbrella was concentrated on the camera, but there was still plenty that was going elsewhere and that light struck the reflector and I bounced it back down onto the other side of the camera.

                        As you can see, this kind of simple setup mostly eliminated shadows in this picture, the light is strong and of a good quality, and just as important, the images I took were consistently lit from one to the next. Here's the other side...



                        In total, the cost for the entire lighting setup (flash not included) is about $115 - and that's just from memory, could have been a little less or more. Adding another stand and the reflector holder would tack on probably another $20-25. So in total, $140.

                        Now, the downside to this kind of a setup for animals is if you don't have sufficient ambient light to constrict their pupils, all you're going to see is BLACK in their eyes and you'll lose all the fun detail in their irises.

                        So, what do you think of something like this?

                        For you, based on the room you're telling me about (lots of light and light bulbs) it may work well because the ambient light levels may constrict your animals pupils and then you let the flash and reflector take care of the rest. Shoot in RAW, adjust the white balance if necessary, increase or decrease the contrast and or saturation as necessary to obtain an accurate color of the animal, crop if necessary, sharpen the image to taste (most people oversharpen reptile images, IMO - when working with RAW files), then export it as a resized JPG and you're good to go. If your lighting is consistent from shot to shot, you can just right click and copy whatever you've done in terms of image adjustments, and then paste it to all of your images and then bulk export them as resized JPG files.

                        Shooting in manual mode with a shutter speed of between 1/80 and 1/160 should be sufficient (1/80 if the animal is still, 1/160 or even faster like 1/250 if they're moving a little), stop the lens down to f/8 or f/11 if you want all or most of the animal in focus, and shoot at ISO 400 and you should be golden!
                        Attached Files

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                        • #13
                          Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                          Originally posted by Jonathan Brady View Post
                          What kind of a camera are you using?
                          It's a Pentax istD

                          I bought it because my friend Eddie gave me his old lenses that he wasn't using anymore. He said it was a good starter camera but I still haven't learned to use it to its potential. It is so hard to find the TIME. LOL
                          http://berkeleyknebel.wix.com/mississippimorphs

                          Photo credit:Eddie Ard .....Banner Credit:Big PaPa Ernest

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                          • #14
                            Re: I want a better camera than my cell phone, what do I buy?

                            Originally posted by Jonathan Brady View Post
                            Yeah, it can definitely be tough to capture accurate colors.
                            Id like to pick your brain sometime if i could! send me a message!

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