Category Archives: Education

Things I Wish I Would Have Known- Part 4

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When I purchased my first digital camera from Costco, a Nikon D5000, it came with a bag, a couple of lenses and DVD’s. It was a great place to begin my journey in digital photography. The lenses were good for a relative beginner in the digital world. They were “kit lenses.”

What does that mean? Basically it means they are not top of the line, they are good and produce a nice picture, but they are not the best or sharpest lenses. I soon learned that they also have a variable aperture, meaning if I was at 18mm with a 3.5 aperture, as I zoomed to 120mm the lens would move to 5.6 or more on its own. It all makes sense now but then I wasn’t sure why the aperture kept changing. Had I inadvertently moved something? No, because it is a kit lens it usually doesn’t have a constant aperture, meaning it doesn’t have the ability to maintain say 2.8 all they way through the zoom from 18-120mm.

This is valuable to know because if you are shooting in low light you want a zoom lens that maintains a constant aperture. This makes sense but is expensive. Prime lenses that have low light ability can be had for a decent price. I had a Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens that only cost me a few hundred dollars. When I wanted to move to a zoom lens, say a Nikon 70-200mm 2.8, the price skyrocketed close to $2500. Of course that particular Nikon lens is one of their best and pro quality. Suffice it to say that on any level a constant aperture zoom lens will cost you more. It will be better built and probably a little heavier but it will be worth it.

Since I am now shooting Fuji cameras I have purchased a “few” of their lenses. Many of them are primes because prime lenses are smaller and lighter and are available in larger apertures like 1.2 and 1.4. Fujinon lenses are top quality therefore some of the lenses, like the 56mm 1.2 I just purchased, will run you $1000. After shooting it for a few days I can say it is worth every penny. I like to shoot in low light and being able to open the lens up to 1.2 or 1.4 makes a difference. I can shoot at a lower ISO and get the shutter speed I want so the result is a sharp picture.

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That being said I have two zoom lenses from Fuji. The first is the 18-55mm lens that came with my Fuji X-E2. It may be called a kit lens but it really isn’t. It’s build is superior and the pics are sharp as a tack. It does not have a constant aperture so I have to remember it is 2.8 at 18mm and 4.0 at 55mm. This is still quite good for this type of lens. I know Fuji is working on a 16-55mm 2.8 lens but it will be bigger, heavier and cost more.

My second Fujinon zoom lens is the 55-200mm. I use it for wildlife and am really surprised by its build quality and “the sharp as a tack” pics it produces. I was able to buy it during Fuji’s lens sale so I saved some money too. It too is a variable aperture lens so at 55mm the minimum aperture is 3.5 but when I zoom to 200mm the minimum is 4.8. Not bad but I would love it if it was 2.8 throughout the range. There is a 50-140mm 2.8 lens on the horizon for Fuji but I don’t have any details now. I am sure it will cost more and have a great build with a little more weight.

I hope this has helped explain some about lenses and apertures. Maybe it will help you in your choice of lenses. I know as I have grown this knowledge has definitely helped me. I may end up spending a little more money but in the end I am much happier.

Until next time, enjoy your camera and keep shooting!

© Vic Schmeltz



As I progressed as a photographer, and spent more time observing other photographers as they were taking pictures, I noticed a strange phenomenon. They would point their lens at their subject, press the shutter down half way and then move their lens again before taking the picture. At first I wasn’t sure what they were doing as it seemed strange. It was as if they were focusing twice.

As time progressed I found out that they were locking focus the first time and then recomposing their shot while they kept their finger pressed half way down on the shutter button. Why would they want to do this?

Many times, when taking pictures, a photographer wants to use the “rule of thirds.” Instead of having the subject right in the middle of the frame, portrait style, they want their subject slightly to the left or right. This is employing the “rule of thirds.”

When I look at many of my first photos, they are pretty good but everything is smack dab in the middle of the frame. There is something about moving the subject to the left or right that appeals more to the human eye. I can’t really explain it fully but there you have it.

Does that mean that I never have a picture with the subject right in the middle of the frame? Of course not! This is acceptable, especially in portrait photography, but not something that should be done all the time.

Many cameras let you have a grid visible in the viewfinder or on the LCD on the back of the camera. I highly recommend this. If you choose the 9 point grid it looks like a “tic, tac, toe” board is overlaid on your screen.  This makes it easier to use the “rule of thirds.” Simply put you subject in one of the places where the lines intersect. You can do this by recomposing or you can do this later in post-production by cropping/moving your subject. Personally, I prefer to get it right in the camera if possible.


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I wish I would have known this when I purchased my first digital camera four years ago. Then again, one of the best things about photography is that I will never know it all. There is always something new to learn.

I have posted some examples below showing the difference between a portrait view and a view using the “rule of thirds.” I hope this helps.

Portrait mode- Pic in middle


Rule of thirds- Correct

_DSF3023-2Rule of thirds- Incorrect

_DSF3023-3I labeled the last one “incorrect”, and this is my personal feeling, because I tend to give more space in front of the direction the subject is facing. The second pic gives more room to her left.  The last one does not and puts her too close to the left edge of the frame.

© Vic Schmeltz

Things I wish I would have known- Part 2

In part one of this series I wrote about the “Exposure Triangle.” For this post I would like to discuss the “Composition Triangle.” This triangle has three parts also: Light, subject, and background.

First, let’s talk about light. Photography is about capturing light. There is a subject and some type of background but ultimately the light is of paramount importance. Will the light be exposed correctly or will it be underexposed or overexposed? Is there a correct exposure at all? These are all things that we need to think about. As you grow as a photographer you should be looking for the correct light. When I began shooting it was about the subject. The subject is important but it really it is about the light. Light will make or break a picture. I know you have seen multiple examples of this on Facebook. How many times have you seen a pic taken at the beach where there is a sunset but you can’t make out who the people are in the pic? Apparently the person taking the pic didn’t know what fill flash is so all they got in the picture was a silhouette. Don’t be that photographer. Look at the light and how it falls on the subject and expose accordingly. Currently, I am teaching my youngest grandson about photography and this was our last topic when we were out shooting. I showed him the same subject exposed normally and then I showed him that subject backlit. As we were hiking, the rest of the time he “focused” on finding backlit subjects be it a leaf, vine or cattail. We had a blast and he learned something new. The next time you shoot look primarily for great light- something that grabs you photographically. Then pick your subject with the light falling on it just the way you want.

Second, is the subject. The subject can literally be anything or anyone. When I hike I am not necessarily looking for large subjects. Many times I am looking for texture, maybe in the bark of a tree. I may be looking for something that will look good in black and white. I was out a couple of months ago and I focused on twisted things- be it a vine or branch. I shot exclusively in black and white and had a blast doing it. I have included some of those pictures at the end of this post. As an aside, today I tend to do this more. I may decide to shoot the entire time in macro mode, or at f/2 or with just one lens. It is a great challenge and a different way of looking at your subject, whatever or whomever it may be.

Third is the background. Many good pictures has been ruined by a tree in the background growing out of someones head. I have trained myself to slow down, take a moment to consider all three aspects of the composition triangle and then take the pic. I don’t “run and gun” anymore. I have tried in the last year to concentrate more on quality instead of quantity. If you are framing a pic notice what is in the background and move accordingly. Usually, that is all it takes. A step or two to the right or left can improve your background immensely.

I realize these are basics but I sure wish I would have known them four years ago. Maybe, by reading this post, you will save yourself some time and grief by considering the “Composition Triangle.”






© Vic Schmeltz

Things I wish I would have known- Part 1

It has been roughly eight years since I purchased my first digital camera. Lately, I have thought about what I have learned the last eight years and what I wish I would have known in the beginning. Obviously, it is impossible to know everything all at once but there are some things that would have been helpful to know and may have actually saved me some money in the long run. As I begin this series there will be no particular order to the posts and I have no idea how many there will be. First up- The Exposure Triangle.

One of the most important bits of information that is important to know is the exposure triangle. Unfortunately, this is something that many people learn later in their photographic journey as they spend way too much time shooting in auto mode. The attitude is, “All I want is good pics. Let the camera do all the work.” The problem with that thinking is a lot less creativity involved in the long run. When I purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D5000, I shot on auto too- for the first week or so. My goal was to learn the basics of the camera and then to progress to being able to shoot with all manual settings. Yes, all manual! Personally, I believe every photographer should know how to do this. Most of the time I do use AP, aperture priority, but I do enjoy the challenge of setting the camera to manual and experimenting with different settings. You should definitely try this. It is digital after all and the worst thing that can happen is you have to delete some files that don’t come out the way you want. Now to the “triangle.”

The first part of the exposure triangle is ISO. In the film days this referred to how sensitive my film was to light. Nowadays, it refers to how sensitive you make your sensor to light. I always manually set this as I am not a big fan of auto ISO. I usually look at my conditions, be it sunny or cloudy, and set it accordingly. ISO 200 is less sensitive to light and ISO 4000 is more sensitive. On a sunny day I usually begin at ISO 200. If it is cloudy I may choose ISO 800. After four years I have a pretty good idea where my baseline will be. After a few frames I can adjust it up or down as the need arises. This setting is so important that I have it assigned to a function button on all of my Fuji cameras.

The second part of the exposure triangle is aperture. There are a few factors involved in setting the aperture but for me it is always Depth of Field (DOF). What kind of look do I want in the pictures I am taking? Do I want the background out of focus or do I want everything in focus? Aperture controls this and directly affects the rest of the triangle. If I choose to shoot wide open, say f/2, I may have to set my ISO to a lower setting if my camera does not have a maximum shutter speed that will allow a good exposure. This is why it is so important to pay attention to your viewfinder or LCD screen to double-check your settings. I recommend always having ISO, aperture and shutter speed displayed in your viewfinder or LCD.

The third and last part of the exposure triangle is shutter speed. If I shoot in aperture priority then the camera will choose this setting. Many times this works out great but it may be that I decide to set the shutter speed. I like doing this when I shoot in manual mode as many times I like to underexpose or overexpose certain scenes. For me, I tend to underexpose more. This is one of the main advantages of an Electronic View Finder (EVF) as you can see how your settings are effecting your shot. I was recently taking some night pics in Washington, D.C. I had my Fuji X-E2 on a tripod and was taking pictures of some trees with lights in them. I could look at the LCD and watch the scene change as I adjusted my shutter speed. I also ended up doing this in a hallway. I really liked the lights in the hallway as I liked their leading lines. They led to the end of the hallway which had a pink/purple hue to it. I have posted a couple of pics at the end of this post for you to see.

I have listed the three aspects of the exposure triangle in the order I actually use when shooting. Obviously you don’t have to do this but it works well for me.

As a side note, and a very important one, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to know your camera. Setting the exposure triangle should be something that is second nature for you, not something you have to think about. You know where on the camera to set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed and you can do so very quickly.

Let’s make that our first challenge. Find the quickest way to get to these settings and work on setting them quickly. I was out shooting my Fuji X100s today and was working on rotating the aperture dial without even looking at it. I knew how many clicks it was from f/2 to f/5.6 and did it while walking down a trail. Again, get to know your camera. You won’t regret it.

ISO 200; f/22; 1/4 sec


ISO 200; f/20; 1 sec



© Vic Schmeltz

My Adventure with Film

The following is a seven part series on film that I have condensed together into one post.

I am sitting here waiting for my first film camera in decades. I have the film, Premium Arista ISO 400, and I have the battery for the camera but the camera itself is arriving a day or two late.

Going back in time 50 years I still remember my first film camera- a Kodak Brownie Starflash. My Dad bought it for me at a gift shop in the Grand Canyon in April 1963. My love for photography began that day.

Fast forward to the mid-seventies when I purchased a Canon Rebel shortly after getting married. That was a fun camera that I used primarily for nature photos at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.

Three and a half years ago I purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D5000.  I have been taking pictures ever since. I have bought and sold cameras and equipment and am currently using mostly Leica cameras and a Nikon D700.

All of this to say along the way I kept hearing about people still shooting film and that it was the ultimate challenge. I wondered how they were getting their pics on the web so I investigated and found that film can be scanned and converted to digital. Why do that when a person can just shoot digital? That is the big question. Is there a different or better look to film that is scanned to a digital file?  Well, hopefully in the next few weeks I will find out.

Today, my Yashica Electro 35 GSN has arrived in the mail.  With shipping it cost me $50, on Ebay, which I think is a bargain. I wanted to begin with an inexpensive camera first to see how the process goes and to see if I like it.

I took the camera to downtown Leesburg, VA and worked my way through the 36 exposures.  My main goal for this first roll is to get it scanned so I can download the files into LR5.  I want to see what kind of latitude I have with them when processing and I want to see how they look compared to files out of my digital Leicas.

I ended up mailing the roll of film to The Darkroom in California because Costco doesn’t process this particular type of film.  More about that later.  To get it processed by The Darkroom it will cost $15 for processing, a CD and shipping.  I think that is reasonable.

While I was waiting for my film to be processed I continued researching Leica film cameras.  I went to my local camera store, Ace Photo in Ashburn, and spent 1.5 hours talking to the staff and one of their customers who has been shooting Leicas for years about what my options were for purchasing a Leica film camera.  Bottom line was- Which one would work best and be affordable?  The general consensus, after trying out 4-5 cameras with my Leica Summarit 35 2.5 lens, was that the M6 would fill my needs best.  It is an all manual camera but does have a meter built-in.  They did not have any available without an auto winder so I continued my search on Ebay while I waited for my pics.

I had no idea The Darkroom would receive, process and post my pics on the web by Friday.  It was only two days after I sent them!  To say I was excited would be an understatement.  I viewed them and downloaded a couple.  I liked the results.  In fact I liked them so much I bought a mint, black M6 that night.  It is in Hong Kong so I will receive it in about a week or so.

I have done some side by side comparisons with a digital pic and film pic of the same scene and I really like them both.  The film has a special look.

Needless to say I am learning more day by day in this adventure called photography with Leica.  Yesterday I learned  a lot more about the Leica brand as we looked at everything from an M2 to an M7.

The black Leica M6 is on the way and I have ordered new batteries for its meter.  I bought strap eyelets today for it so I am ready to go.  Now I wait, which is always difficult.

In the meantime I have learned something about the film that is available today – specifically B&W.  The first four rolls I bought were Premium Arista ISO 400.  As I said earlier, I shot the 36 exposures and went to Costco last week as they said they could process them quickly and cheaply.  Unfortunately I ran into a problem.  They, as well as many others, only process C41 B&W film.  I have been away from film for decades so I had to do some research on the internet to find out the difference.  C41 film is easier to process as it is processed the same way and with the same chemicals as color film  This makes it easier for the processing facility and cuts down on the different chemicals they have to use.  Costco is set up this way.

So, in light of this, I bought one roll of Ilford XP2 Super 400 B&W film today.  It is developed using the C41 process. I will shoot it tomorrow and drop it by Costco afterwards. I should have the pics tomorrow or Tuesday.  I will be using my Yashica camera and be shooting some of the same scenes that I shot with the first roll of Premium Arista 400.  My main reason for doing this is to compare the difference between the two types of film. Will they have the same “look” or will one have less grain or contrast than the other?  From what I have read on the internet the XP2 is top-notch with a finer grain.  I will have more answers in the next couple of days.

The lesson here is that if you want your local drug store to process your film buy one that can be developed using the C41 process.  If you shoot a traditional film you can send it to The Darkroom and have access to your pics online in a few days.

Once I figure out which film I like best I will be buying quite a few rolls to store in my frig.  By the way, the C41 is more expensive than the Arista.  I bought the Arista online for $2.89.  The best I can find the XP2 for is around $5.  The processing for it is cheaper though.  At Costco they will process the negatives and put them on a CD for about $5.

I only want the negatives on the CD as I will download them into my computer to Lightroom 5.  I can further process them there by adjusting exposure and contrast etc.

I can’t wait to get the M6 and begin shooting.  I have three more rolls of the Arista. After that, who knows what I will try?

As promised I have taken some time today during my lunch hour to shoot a roll of the Ilford XP2 B&W film.  I have had it processed at Costco and put on a CD and am looking at the results on my computer.

I also have the digital file I took with my Leica M8 which is a B&W jpeg out of camera and I have the pic I took earlier with the Arista Premium that I had to send to The Darkroom in California.

None of these pics have had any processing done to them in LR5.  You can click on each one for a slightly larger pic. Now for the results:

First is the Leica M8 digital file.

M8- Digital

Second is the Arista Premium.

Arista Premium,

Third is the Ilford XP2.

Ilford C41

Take some time and really look at these three pictures.  Look at the detail in the bricks in front of the store.  Look at the entrance to the store and the dark trim.  I think you will see a notable difference.

While I was comparing the pics on my computer my youngest daughter, who is 30 years old, came by the house.  I asked her to look at all three, noticing the shadows and details etc.  Then I asked which one she liked best.

She picked the middle one hands down.  Of course it is the more expensive of the two film types to process but the film is much cheaper.  I buy it at Freestyle Photographic Supplies.

I have to say I feel the same way.  The Arista 400 wins hands down.  Take some time to look at the walls, bricks and sidewalk and you will probably agree.  It is richer and more detailed and I haven’t done any processing to it!  It also had a little more grain which I really like.

Finally, the Leica M6 has arrived.  It is in like new condition and will be ready to shoot once I get the batteries for the meter tomorrow.

This has been quite an adventure and a great learning process.  I wanted to give you all some specific figures in case you would like to try your hand at shooting film.

Here is what it initially cost me to begin this process:

Yashica Electro 35 Camera- $51.99 (Ebay includes shipping)

(2) Camera batteries- $23.08 (Walgreens)

DVD/CD player- $82.95 (Bought this from Apple as my Macbook Pro doesn’t have one.  Needed it to download the CD’s)

(4) rolls of Arista Premium ISO 400- $18.55 (includes shipping)

Processing for the 4 rolls- $60 (includes shipping)

Total- $236.57.

There is a good chance your computer already has a player for the CD’s so that would drop the expense quite a bit to $153.62.

So to try four rolls of film, including processing the negatives and putting them on CD, you would be at $153.62.  I think this is reasonable to try out something new.  My goal was to see if I liked the process and results. I definitely do.

If you want to try the Ilford you can even buy a little disposable camera loaded with it.  There are many ways to try film if you want to.

Next up will be shooting a roll with the M6 and a Leica 35 2.5 Summarit lens.  It will probably take a while as I will be more choosy about what I am taking pics of.  I have a project I am working on so some of the pics will be saved for that.  More about that to come in the future.

I hope this has been informative for you all.  For me personally, I am trying to expand my horizons this year.

I was fortunate enough to receive my negatives and CD back from The Darkroom today.  This roll I shot with my new Leica M6 and  Leica Summarit 35 2.5 lens.  Since then I have also purchased a Leica Summarit 50 2.5 lens.  The 50 will live on the M6.  The 35 will stay on the M8.

After looking at the pics, and comparing to my other film pics taken with the Yashica camera, I can tell you that I love the look of film!  It is completely different and I can’t duplicate it in Lightroom 5.

I do shoot ISO 400 film so I have learned, after three rolls, that I will need to underexpose slightly when I shoot.  The only adjustment I need to make in Lightroom currently is to cut the highlights slightly so some areas are not blown out.  If I underexpose I shouldn’t need to make any adjustments with the next roll of film.  I use a higher ISO so I can use a higher shutter speed.  In street photography people are moving and I want to be able to freeze the action.

The upside to shooting with film is the look. The downside is the time and expense of shooting film.  I have already posted about some of the expenses so I won’t go into that again.  If I do not process the film myself it does take time to see the results as I have to send it to The Darkroom in California to be processed.  I have looked into processing the negatives myself.  It is not difficult but there is some expense involved in buying a processing tank and chemicals etc.  If there is not a room that is completely dark a changing bag or tent will have to be purchased too.  This is something I may do in the future.  The real expense is buying a scanner.  That can run $300-400.

For now I will continue to use The Darkroom to process my film.  I shoot digital most of the time so it is more cost-effective to send it out.

I hope you have enjoyed my journey.  Maybe it has inspired you to give film a chance.

Day 2 of the Leica Street Photography Weekend

In summary today included beautiful weather, a great group of photographers, two fantastic instructors (Tom and Matt) and a variety of locations.

We began the morning at the Eastern Market.  Then we travelled to the White House to take pics of the demonstration against involvement in Syria. A long walk followed to a cafe for lunch.  Following was a taxi ride to one of the doggie swims.  Then off we went to Dupont Circle and then a Metro ride back to the Leica store. Oh, and a break for food and beverage.  Included is one on one instruction along the way.

I went through two batteries for the X Vario, lots of fluid and had a blast!  Now comes the processing and editing of hundreds of images.  Fifty or so will be reviewed by Tom and Matt tomorrow.  Each photographer will have 6-10 images for the end of day slide show. Can’t wait.

I know some of you are wondering how the X Vario performed.  It worked really well. The files are better than I expected.  I will be posting some of them in the future.

More tomorrow after what I hope is a good night’s sleep.