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Ray Davis

A Beginners Guide to Photography Accessories

If you’re new to photography or you mostly just point, shoot, and hope for the best then there’s probably a whole bunch of photo equipment whose names you recognize but whose function you’re not really sure of. Well, here at Photodoto we live to help you out so here’s a few of those gadgets explained.

Lens Hoods: I mentioned printable lens hoods recently, which are free, but a sturdy plastic version will set you back anywhere from $10 to $500 depending on the lens you want it to fit. What do they do? Put simply, they eliminate glare and lens flare caused stray light.  Sometimes lens flare can be desirable in a photo but more often than not you want to eliminate it. Lens hoods usually have a completely non-reflective inner surface (for example felt) which absorb that unwanted light and prevents the flares on your photo. They come in petal and round styles with petal styles usually being more effective. Another effect of lens hoods is a deeper saturation and therefore richer colours in photos. Who needs one? Anyone who’s photographing outside, especially in sunny conditions will find a lens hood useful but they are especially useful on telephoto lenses because the smaller field of vision means the hood can be longer without obscuring the viewing angle. When should I use one? In bright, sunny conditions or to offer some protection in rain but a lot of people simply leave the lens hood on all the time. Any disadvantages? On wider lenses using a hood can cause vignetting, especially if you use a round shaped hood.

Lens Filters: There are a selection of different filters available including polarizers, UV, diffusion, colour correction, warming, and neutral density filters. They vary in price from $5 to $300 (although most cost less than $150). What do they do? Clear filters are simply glass or plastic discs in a ring frame that fit on the end of a lens and protect the lens from scratches, dirt, and other damage. All other filters are similar in construction but have a specific filtering effect, for example UV filters filter UV light and help reduce haziness. Polarizing filters increase colour saturation and enhance contrast between clouds and sky by darkening particularly light skies. They are therefore particularly useful for photographing reflections. Other filters, including diffusion, sepia, and star diffracter filters create specific effects in a photo. Who needs one? If you use a D-SLR/SLR then many people feel it’s worth protecting the lens with either a clear or a UV filter. The idea is that damaging a $15 filter is preferable to damaging a $500 lens! Other filters are fun to play with but only really actually necessary for professional photographers who require specific filtering effects. When should I use one? All the time if you’re using a clear or UV for protecting the lens (you can leave it on without any problems), other filters are for specific conditions for example polarizers are most useful for reflections or landscape shots with a lot of sky. Any disadvantages? Not really but make sure you keep the filter clean as you would the lens otherwise you’ll get smudges and spots on your photos. Also be careful not to screw them on too tightly or it can be very tricky to remove the filter when you want to!

Remote Controls: These come either as wireless or cable and range from $2 to $100. What do they do? They allow you to take a shot without touching the camera, cable remotes attach to the camera via a cable and require you to stand only as far away as the cable permits, wireless remotes vary in how far away you can be from the camera, some allowing 2 metres others over 100 metres. Some even work through walls! Who needs one? These are a useful and fairly cheap gadget so it’s worth having one but they are only really required for people who do a lot of self-portraits, macro or long exposure photography. When should I use one? For self portraits or to avoid camera shake, for example when shooting at night. Any disadvantages? Nope! These are small, relatively inexpensive, and a handy addition to a camera bag.

Diopters: These can be full diopters of split diopters and range from $10 to $400. What do they do? Like filters they are a discs in a ring that fit on the end of a lens. Split diopters have the same ring but only a semi-circle of glass so that only half the camera’s lens is covered. Diopters allow objects very close to the lens to brought into focus and therefore are very useful for macro photography. They come in different ratings from +1 to +4. Split diopters allow half the lens to focus on close objects while the other half focuses on the background allowing a greater depth of field. Who needs one? Anyone wanting to have a go at macro photography. When should I use one? Only when you want to do macro photography so you can’t leave this attached to the lens all the time. Any disadvantages? Split diopters require a bit of practice with composition to use effectively.

If you want to try out filters or remote controls before buying one Lens Rentals.com have them available to rent for 7-30 days. Let us know what other photography equipment terms leave you furrowing your brow in confusion in the comments!

Travel Photographer of the Year 2009 Competition

tpoty-multi-image If you’re into travel photography or you’ve got some holiday snaps you think are just fantastic then you might want to enter this year’s Travel Photographer of the Year competition. In it’s 7th year this year the TPOTY competition is open to everyone, amateur or professional, any age, from anywhere in the world.

This year they’ve got a category called First Shot which invites people new to photography to submit a photo they think they could send to a friend as a postcard. There’s also the New Talent Award on the theme Traveller’s Tale which is the category for semi-pros, students & amatuers looking to turn professional, and a Young Travel Photographer of the Year Category open to under 17s.

The prizes include trips to China, Costa Rica, & Morocco, photography courses, Photoshop software, money to spend on equipment, and an Apple Macbook (+ a trip to Slovenia and various other goodies) for the overall winner. Plus,  of course, getting your photography displayed in the TPOTY exhibition and book which include the winning photographs and some selected non-winning best images.

Worth the £10 entry fee and with the deadline set at 22nd September you’ve got all summer to get the perfect travel shot to enter. Click here to visit the competition’s website.

iPhone/iPod Photo Apps

So during my hours of train journeys last week I checked out a couple of photography apps on my iPod. I’ve given them a brief review below but I should also point out a couple of things. Firstly I randomly chose a few from the top rated free photography apps in the iTunes store. I also reviewed two from BigCanvas who gave me free copies of those two paid apps. Secondly most of these apps were really designed for the iPhone rather than the iPod so even though I don’t have an iPhone I kept that in mind while testing them. The main features that the iPod lack are a camera (you can still use all these apps but need to import photos from your computer) and an internet connection (which the iPod is capable of but only if Wifi is available) although not all these apps need internet access.

iSynth This is just fun to play with, if you like photosynth then this is the app for you. I passed the better part of an hour on a train viewing Obama’s inauguration and other exciting events from a huge variety of angles. Using the touch screen actually makes this a little bit more intuitive to use than the original photosynth. iSynth is free and you can download it here.

PhotoArtist This is one of the ones BigCanvas provided a promo code for. Basically it allows you to add some of the filters you find in programs like Photoshop to your photos. The filters available are illustration, cartoon, watercolor, mono, pen, & halftone. This is a fun way to very quickly add some neat effects to your photos and the quality of the filters is pretty good. For the price I think they could include a few more filters but if you’re looking for an incredibly easy to use method of adding filters to your photos this’ll definitley do the job. If you want to print your artwork though you’ll be limited to 6 x 4 size at the best as the resolution of saved images isn’t particularly high.  PhotoArtist costs $1.99 and you can download it here.



A couple of images created with PhotoArtist.

ColorCanvas Plus This is the other one BigCanvas gave me a promo code for. It’s the paid version of the free ColorCanvas that I reviewed last week. It’s a cool app that provides a very easy method of getting an effect a lot of people seem to like. The advantages of the paid version are faster response to your finger movements, three different mono-colour filters (so three different ways of making your photo black and white – normal, enhanced, & hi-contrast), & three different brushes (colour, mono, & tint). Out of those the most useful feature is the mono brush which allows you to convert bits of the photo back to black and white if you’ve gone over the edges while converting areas to colour. ColorCanvas Plus costs $0.99 and can be downloaded here.


A very quick product of ColorCanvas Plus – it literally took a minute to do this.

Photo Collage To be honest I failed to see the point of this app. Apparantly the idea is to “participate in the world’s largest expression of photographic creativity” but I got bored of it in less than 5 minutes. The uploaded photos aren’t of particularly high artistic quality – a lot of them are just blurry shots of someone’s friend in a room that could be anywhere. There’s no content filter so there are a few less savoury pics to be seen to0. There’s no way to comment on photos either (although you can vote on them) so even if you do find one you like you can’t give the photographer any feedback. I think this app maybe aimed at a younger MySpace style audience but I just didn’t get the point. Photo Collage is free and you can download it here.

Comic Touch Lite This one allows you to add speech bubbles to photos. Which is fun for a few minutes but the novelty does wear off. There’s also one filter you can add called “bulge” which does a really over-exaggerated fish-eye effect. Comic Touch’s aim is to provide “the best looking comic balloons on the iPhone” so really it does what it says on the tin but it’s probably not an app you’ll be using regularly. Comic Touch Lite is  free and can be downloaded here.


The Comic Touch watermark is saved on all the photos you make but you can get rid of it by buying the paid app.

Do you have a favourite photography app? Let us know in the comments.

A Very Basic Guide to Textures

First off what do textures do? Well, things like this…



Some are more subtle than others, obviously! So how do you add them to your photos? The easiest way is to use textures that other people have created. Some are free and some you need to pay for but either way this is what you need to do with them once you’ve downloaded them:

1. Open both the texture and the photo you want to edit in Photoshop. Click on the photo and check it’s dimensions.

2. Change the dimensions of the texture so that it’s as close to the same size as you can get it ( you can uncheck the constrain proportions box if you need to).

3. Still with the texture selected (rather than the photo) press Ctrl+A or Cmd+A (or go to file, select all) and little running lines should appear around the texture.

4. Press Ctrl+C or Cmd+C (or go edit, copy).

5. Select the photo and press Ctrl+V or Cmd+V (or go to edit, paste). The texture will be pasted over the photo so all you’ll see is the texture and not the photo underneath. Don’t worry you’ll bring the photo back in a moment!

6. With the texture layer still highlighted select the opacity in the bottom right corner of the layers tool box. Move the opacity from 100 down towards 0 until the texture looks the way you want it.

And that’s it! It’s pretty straight forward. Play around with a variety of images, textures and opacities to see what you like best. You can put more than one texture on one photo and you can still do other bits of editing such as converting to black and white, playing with the levels, or adding the built in Photoshop filters.

Here are a few sites to for some free textures to get started with:

Essence of a Dream (on Flickr)

CG Textures

Texture Warehouse

Gallerie 1 – this one’s in German but simply click on the blue links at the top of the page to browse the textures.

There are literally hundreds of other sites too, try searching Google or Flickr for “free textures” and you’ll find no end of choice. Remember to check the terms of use, some are royalty free others are under creative commons licenses of various kinds. So have fun, mess around, and let us know in the comments if you find a favourite texture!

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