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The DigiCam Chronicles: Assignment Macworld

by Derrick Story coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, and author of the Digital Photography Pocket Guide
01/14/2003

Author's note: This is the first in an ongoing series of photo essays demonstrating how to get the most out of your digital camera. Each installment of the DigiCam Chronicles will feature a new location or assignment. Today's subject is San Francisco focusing on images from the Macworld conference at Moscone Center, held the week of Jan. 6-10, 2003.

During my photo demos at Macworld, I usually mention that I'm a big fan of compact digital cameras. (Actually, I'm a fan of all digital cameras, but that's a different column.) Don't get me wrong, I'm crazy bout my Canon PowerShot G2, and I use it often for assignments that require big, 4 megapixel images. Certainly I'll be extolling its virtues in future DigiCam Chronicles.

But the G2 isn't what I consider a portable camera. So I also have a Canon Digital Elph, the PowerShot S200, which is compact enough to fit in my jeans pocket, yet offers enough photographic horsepower to capture satisfying images in a variety of settings. Its 2 megapixel CCD sensor is ample for QuickTime and Web work.

My standard quip for compact cameras usually starts with a question: "When do you encounter photo opportunities of a lifetime?" Answer: "When you don't have your camera with you." It doesn't do any good to have the best digicam in the world if it's sitting on your desk at home. On the other hand, compact cameras such as the Digital Elph S230, Nikon Coolpix 3500, and the Olympus C-50 Zoom make great travel companions, even if it's only for a trip to the grocery store.

Related Reading

Digital Photography Pocket Guide
By Derrick Story

I kept my S200 with me every moment at Macworld, along with a Pedco UltraPod II that fits nicely in my back pocket. All the images in this first installment of the DigiCam Chronicles were captured with the Canon S200. As I'll do in future articles in this series, I'm providing camera data and explanation of shooting techniques to help you incorporate these types of pictures into your own photo essays.

Assignment: Macworld

Macworld provides both challenges and opportunities for digital photographers. Inside the conference you have to grapple with interior lighting and crowds of people. Outside you're presented with interesting architecture and people. The goal is to combine these elements into interesting essays.

Equipment for this assignment included:

  • Canon S200 Digital Elph
  • SanDisk 128MB memory card
  • Spare Li-ion battery
  • Pedco UltraPod II
  • Apple PowerBook G4
  • iPhoto 1.1.1 digital shoebox
  • Photoshop 7 image editor
  • QuickTime Pro 6.1

One of the visual themes I wanted to convey through these pictures was motion. Macworld is an exciting event that never sits still. To capture that feeling, I used a slow shutter speed and let people walk through the frame. This blurring effect in contrast to stationary items, such as the Macworld sign itself, expressed a feeling of activity. At least for me it did. How it works for you is purely a matter of judgment. I'll let you decide for yourself as you review these images.

The Photo Gallery

Moscone South at Twilight

Moscone South at Twilight.

This view of Moscone South is from the catwalk that connects the two convention halls. The South building is still considered the primary area, and it's where Apple sets up its camp.

The image was captured at 5:34 pm, a great time for "night shots" in the winter. You can add more color to your images if you shoot your night shots before the sky goes completely dark. The exposure was 1/2 second at f-2.8, set automatically by the camera in program mode. I used the UltraPod II on a ledge to steady the camera, and the self-timer set for a two-second delay to trip the shutter. The flash was turned off. ISO was set to 50.


Entering Macworld

Entering Macworld.

This is the view I encountered as I descended down the escalator in Moscone North. I've taken this shot before, but the "frozen people" didn't express the energy I felt as I approached the Expo floor.

I decided to attach the camera to the handrail of the stairs and make a long exposure so the passersby would blur. The exposure was 1/2 second at f-3.5, set automatically by the camera in program mode. I used the UltraPod II to steady the camera and the self-timer set for a two-second delay to trip the shutter. The flash was turned off. ISO was set to 50. White balance was set to Auto.


Steve Shows Off New PowerBook

Steve Shows Off New PowerBook.

If you're not the official photographer and right up front, these keynote shots are tough. You have to deal with dim lighting, movement, and high contrast. Yet, these images are an important part of conference essays, so you have to buck up and do the best you can.

First thing, turn off the flash. It won't do you any good beyond 10 feet. Next bump up the ISO setting a couple notches. I don't like to use 400 unless I have to because it creates too much "noise." Here I used ISO 200 to give me a little more light sensitivity.

The shutter speed was 1/13 of a second. That's a bit long for a handheld shot with your arms extended over your head. So I used the "unsharp mask" filter in Photoshop to sharpen things up a bit.


I Want One

I Want One!

People went nuts over the new 12-inch PowerBook displayed in the Apple booth. This gentleman examined the new laptop from every angle, then "just became one with it."

The on-camera flash would have killed this shot, so I turned it off. Instead, I just let the glow from the display light the scene, allowing me to shoot at 1/125 of a second at f-3.5. The white balance was set to Auto, and the ISO was at 50.

You can't be shy with these shots. Get right in there, up close and personal, if you want to capture the mood.


Touch Me

Touch Me ...

Again, turn off that idiot flash if a better light source is available. I'd rather sacrifice a little motion blur to gain an expressive mood.

Because of the darker background, the shutter speed was a longish 1/20th of a second, at f-4. White balance was set to auto, and ISO at 50.

You have to hold the camera steady for these, but the result is usually worth the extra effort. Don't worry about lots of loss. One good picture will make you forget about ten bad ones in a hurry.


David Pogue in the O'Reilly Booth

David Pogue in the O'Reilly Booth.

Sometimes you just can't avoid using the flash. I tried everything in this darkish corner of the Expo Hall, and the images continued to look muddy and out of focus. I finally relented and turned on the flash.

But because of the wide area I was trying to illuminate, even the flash shots were underexposed. So I increased the ISO setting to 200 to extend my flash range, and finally got a shot worth keeping.

The exposure was 1/60th of a second at f-2.8, automatically set by the camera in programmed exposure mode. I changed the White Balance to "cloudy" to warm up the tones a bit. The camera was held up high over my head to provide the right perspective for this shot.


Playing with the Toys

Playing with the Toys.

Even though I like to shoot tight, sometimes it's good to step back and record the big picture. In this shot I let the signage determine the exposure so it would be readable, but wanted the booth visitors to be silhouetted. I like the effect.

The flash was off for this shot and programmed exposure was set to 1/25 of a second at f-2.8. White balance was Auto and ISO set to 50.


Looking Toward Third Street

Looking Toward 3rd Street.

This view of the Museum of Modern Art is from my hotel room on the 27th floor. Fortunately, the windows in the Marriott open just enough to perch my camera on the ledge to snap this picture.

I used the UltraPod II to steady the camera for the long exposure of 1 second at f-2.8. The self-timer allowed me to trip the shutter without jarring the camera. The white balance was set to "cloudy" to enhance the warm glow even more. ISO was 50.


Traffic Speeding By

Traffic Speeding By.

By shooting this image at dusk (5:39 pm) instead of waiting until complete darkness, I was able to retain some nice color in the sky. The 1/2 second shutter speed created the light streaks of traffic speeding by, but because the camera was steadied on the UltraPod, the buildings are nice and sharp.


MOMA from Yerba Buena Gardens

MOMA from Yerba Buena Gardens.

I found a solid ledge to steady the camera as the lights came on and the sun began to set. I reviewed a number of images on the Canon's LCD viewfinder before I found a composition that I liked. This is a great advantage of digital cameras: to be able to fine tune shots right on location.

The long shutter speed of 1/2 second enabled me to record the richness created by the artificial lighting. I like the slight blurring of the two people walking, but some folks might not appreciate the effect.

QuickTime Movie

If you have some bandwidth, check out the QuickTime movie that features 22 images from this assignment and includes a nice soundtrack. This is one of my favorite ways to display still images, and having great tools like iPhoto and QuickTime Pro make these shows so easy to produce. The file size for this movie is 2 MBs, and you can save it to your hard drive once you've downloaded it.

I usually play bigger versions of these shows for people via my laptop (640 x 480 or 800 x 600), or I burn them on to CD or DVD and distribute them that way. That's a nice way to go because I don't have to deal with the limitations of bandwidth. But the Web version is pretty good too, and if you download it, I think you'll enjoy watching it.

Final Thoughts

That's it for the Macworld assignment. I hope you picked up a few tricks that you can incorporate into your shooting. My next report will probably be from Portland, OR. where I'll be teaching my next Mastering Digital Photography Workshop on March 3, 2003.

Until then, keep your batteries charged and your camera ready.


Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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