Road Train !!!!!!!!!!

by Russell McMahon

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Read some of the old questions. I figure that due to my wants you may be able to help me. Let me be clear about what I am doing, what I want to do, and see where we can go from there.

I help run Clivia USA, a small start up that sells a specific type of plant called a clivia. http://www.cliviausa.com if you want to see the kind of work I usually do. I use a Panasonic Lumix for most of our photography. Some of the Flower shots are mine, a bunch are the original breeders, but the header is a good representation of shots with the Lumix. when I am completely unable to get a permanent shot beg my photophile brother to come over with his D5 and his remote flashes, his Lenses etc etc. Mostly I got him to help me with setting up the Lumix for the conditions I am in more than using his equiptment.

We take a lot of pictures that are unique to a single plant that will only be used for a short time. Like this for instance: clivia seedling photo Apparently I cant post the photo but there it is as a link.

The problem is that as you can see my focusing area is really small. Just either the tag if I cant get the leaves or the leaf. Sometimes I am shooting just one leaf. I have considered bringing the backdrop closer, and that is actually part of a lightbox I was to lazy to put totally together as it doesnt seem to help the overall issue of photo clarity. I have some LED lights I diffuse through a sheet when its all put together. The Lumix can go all the way up to an ISO of 1600. All shots are photo stills on a tripod. Usually I have the ISO locked down at max 400, and am going to try some shots with it at max 1600 to see if the issue is user error or "I R need better camera". Because it was on a tripod and I usually set it to 2 second delay so it can take all the time in the world to get exposed without me shaking it. I figured 400 ISO max was good but maybe that was an error. Thanks to your stack for that advice. Cant really manual focus with the Lumix.

I get awesome shots outside, but the inside shots are very hit and miss, sometimes better than this sometimes much worse. I am thinking that if I were to invest in a better camera, even an older model where I could work with offset flashes and other things I could get better pictures. The Panasonic actually has a really decent lens on it but its still a compact DSLR.

I dont have a lot to spend. I was thinking of trying to spend 300-500.00 on a camera body and then build up my accessories from there.

I consider this question valid for the site because I am looking for discarded toys or advice on how to get more out of my current toy, not the newest greatest toy. I was thinking something like a Canon D40 or D50 might be good for my purposes. Am I looking at the right types of camera or am I way off base? Size matters not.

Edit:

Oops yes its the TZ10 sorry about that.

My brother played with it and set the original settings for me vis a vis aperture ISO etc and gave me a crash course on what the terms mean and what each thing does.

Peng thanks for the idea with the flash. I have played with offset flashes before but did not think it possible to do that with the TZ10. Its one of the big reasons I was considering upgrading.

Jim: yes that's exactly it. I can increase the size of that background all the way out to about 7 feet wide so that's not a problem. I can already set up some diffuse lighting too as that was my first try at solving this for myself by increasing the lighting and getting it spotted on the plant w/o glare. Can definitely play with the aperture. The camera definitely allows that.

Thanks folks will see if I can tweak more out of the Lumix. With these plants small details such as veining can be important to the customer so the more I can show even on a product photo like the above that will be utilized for a week and discarded the better.

Also I don't want anyone thinking I was bashing the camera I use because its really good for what it is. Just wasnt sure what it is was what I should be using :)

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I think this question is fine, although you may want to edit the title to be less vague (because that could apply to just about anyone, whereas you actually have a real-world answerable problem). –  mattdm Jan 30 '13 at 20:34
    
And also, an important clarification... Panasonic uses the name "Lumix" on all of their cameras, and it matters a lot. You describe it as a "compact DSLR" -- is that actually the case? What lens are you using with it? –  mattdm Jan 30 '13 at 20:37
    
All Panasonic cameras are Lumix... so we have no idea what you have. –  Itai Jan 30 '13 at 20:40
2  
For the record, it's a ZS7/TZ10 (from the EXIF on the linked photo), a reasonably capable compact superzoom. –  user2719 Jan 30 '13 at 21:19
    
Actually if indoor lighting is a problem, @Jon you might want to take a look at getting a cheap flash that can be triggered optically in manual mode, preferably one where you can control manually. You would just use the built in flash on the Lumix to trigger it off. See Caleb's link to DRTV on David Hobby in Hong Kong. That's what he basically does. –  Peng Tuck Kwok Jan 31 '13 at 1:42

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I don't know much about the Panasonic Lumix, but from what I can see, it is a mirrorless DSLR with several exposure control options, including Aperture Priority and Flash Sync capability.

I don't think getting a new camera is necessary.

First, using aperture priority, you can set the depth of field to put your entire subject (the plant) in focus by increasing the f-stop. But when you do that you also need more light.

If you have been shooting while using the auto-exposure setting, your f-stop is probably smaller indoors, to let more light in so as to give you a proper exposure. But at the same time, the depth-of-field is less, meaning you may not have sharp focus at all of the distances you need.

When you shoot outside, you probably see that the subject is in better focus (better depth-of-field) because the f-stop is higher. This lets in less light, but since the outdoor light is probably bright to begin with, it's just compensating to get the right exposure. But a higher f-stop is also giving you more dept-of-field.

Another problem with your photos that I think you are referring to is that your backgrounds are distracting. Even a simple backdrop like you are using should be fine if you can do two things: get it outside the depth-of-field so it is not so distracting, and try to give it less exposure (less lighting). You do this by putting it farther away (not closer).

Another advantage to putting it farther away is that you can force it to be underexposed -- then you can put your light close to your subject and not your background. Of course this works best if you can control your lighting. (Remember, you don't want the backdrop lit well, or it will become a distraction.)

A disadvantage to moving your background further back is that it will have to be bigger, because you still have a field of view angle to deal with. You can figure this out yourself just by experimenting.

The easiest way to control you lighting it to shoot indoors and use artificial lights. You may have to turn off normal room lighting if you are just using continuous lighting.

Everything I have said up until this point should be doable with the camera that you have. The following lighting techniques will require some additional equipment and some experience. While they are not necessary to achieve your objectives, they do provide some results that you may want at some point in time.

If you want to shoot flash, you are entering a world with a little more complexity than you might be comfortable with. But I'll tell you this much: With a synchronized flash, you can provide bright lighting for just your subject, even when there are other continuous lights (including daylight) around. This may involve multiple flash units to prevent unwanted shadows (without flash, you can overcome shadows with multiple continuous lights), and I don't know how your camera would work with multiple flash units. It also takes some practice and understanding, not to mention an investment in some flash equipment and maybe some other lighting accessories.

Practice some of the techniques without the flash, and vary your lighting and your aperture until you have a better feel for how these affect your results. You will probably find that your camera works fine for what you want to do.

share|improve this answer
    
You know, I finally got a chance to play with the camera and it only goes from 3.3 to 6.3 on aperture so the lens doesnt open overly wide. I picked up a Wein HSD Hot Shoe and am going to hook my old Promatic 4500af flash to it and give that a go along with setting the F Stop to 3.3 and probably after checking out other photos I have taken run the ISO locked down to 200 or below, this camera as it turns out has a LOT of noise at higher ISOs. Im shooting from a tripod so jutter isnt an issue. –  Jon Feb 5 '13 at 22:51
    
Try an experiment to see what your depth of field is at each available f-stop. Shoot anything the has the same front-to-back depth as your flowers. Shoot them at the distance you normally would. Take notes on what works and use that setting all the time. Then work on your lighting, which can be done entirely indpendent from the depth of field.By the way, what is the model number of your camera? –  Jim Feb 5 '13 at 23:03
    
Assuming they can deal with the background, I would actually suggest getting as close as possible. A big variable to depth of field that seems to be ignored is focal length/distance. Since they are having problems with narrow depth of field, I suggest getting closer and zoom out. –  daalbert Feb 5 '13 at 23:26
    
Jim its a Panasonix DMC-ZS7 Compact. Im going to set it to Aperture Priority today and play around with it as I need to do another 50 or so product shots anyhow. Will try different distances from background as well. –  Jon Feb 6 '13 at 15:40
    
You know, after spending some time playing with the aperture, moving the plant backwards, forwards, sideways. Running a constant on backlight, a light at 45 degrees, etc. I think maybe the background itself is part of the problem. Im thinking of buying just a paper roll in black. This is a cow hide patern vinyl that is easily washable which with the plants was a definite plus but I think its definitely detracting from the sensor and distracting from the plant itself. –  Jon Feb 6 '13 at 18:27

Learn first, upgrade second. Hand your camera to a skilled photographer, and it's a good bet that they'll take better shots than you do. If you buy a fancier camera first, there's no guarantee that your photos will be any better. Once you've learned enough to know how far you can take the camera you've got, and what specific features (or lack of) are creating a problem for you, you'll have a much better idea of what to buy when the time comes. You'll also be on a better footing to take advantage of your new camera.

None of this is to say that better equipment won't help, maybe even a lot. If your current camera is a point and shoot, moving up to a DSLR will give you a lot more control. Maybe even make it easier to learn. Many point and shoot cameras don't give you a lot of control over things like aperture and shutter speed, so you may need to find ways to trick the camera into doing what you want. Direct control will make life easier. Still, learning is free (or at least cheap), equipment is pricier.

Here's an interesting Strobist post, in which David Hobby is forced to shoot with a Buzz Lightyear digital camera. It gives you an idea of how much you can do with limited equipment.

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As a general statement, I basically agree with @Caleb (+1), but with a couple of thoughts...

  1. If your camera is very old, then a more modern one could make a difference. In your case, your camera isn't really all that old, so I don't see a lot to gain in moving to a different camera in the same class. I note that for other vistors with a similar issue.

  2. Switching between classes of camera can make a difference. A point and shoot is not in the same quality league as a dSLR, even if you choose to use the dSLR in its point and shoot mode. Bigger sensor generally means better image quality, but that comes at a price. Having said that, you can go with an entry level dSLR or micro four-thirds option and improve the image quality.

The thing is, and I suspect your brother would tell you this as well, your images are still only going to be as good as you. Anybody can take a snapshot, but photos require a bit of an effort so don't buy gear for the sake of it.

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