Lens Cleaning Tips

August 26, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment, Filming, Photography 

When shooting video or taking photos a clean lenses and filters are a must. Rather you shoot digital or on film, or have consumer or pro camera, you are not immune to the dirty forces of nature. I can tell you, little is more disheartening than coming home from a shoot and finding your images are corrupted by a dirty lens. There is no remedy for this foolish, yet easily avoidable mistake. You can not rely on the view finder or LCD screen, the resolution is just not good enough to show most small smudges.

What is worse than a dirty lens you might ask? Well it is improper or obsessive over cleaning of the lens. Most of the lenses we deal with have a special coating on them which helps reduce flares, or light reflected by the surface of the lens. In addition the coating allows in more light than an uncoated lens. Typically on a glass to air surface 4% of light is naturally reflected away. A coating can bring this level down to about 1%. Lens coatings can usually be noticed by their red-purple or green appearance. Lens coatings can be rubbed away from over cleaning and applying too much pressure on the lens as you clean.


The number one way to have a clean lens is using  preventative measures.

  • Always use lens caps when not shooting.
  • Keep your fingers off the lens.
  • Use caution when changing lenses.

Use extra vigilance when shooting outdoors. Dust can come from a plethora of sources. Be especially aware around pollinating trees, salt water, and sandy areas with a lot of wind. For example during our recent vacation in Tunisia, we stopped to take photos at some sand dunes. I step out of the vehicle with my camera in hand ready to take a shot and was immediately blasted by a whirlwind of sand.

Removing Dust

Bulb Type Air BlowerSimple dust particles: A little dust on the lens doesn’t really hurt a lot, as the end of the lens will be out of the focal depth of field. Problems could arise though when shooting against a strong light source, where reflections off the dust can intrude. Dust particles can be easily removed with a light brush or air. Avoid using any kind of compressed air cleaners, which could leave a residue on the lens surface. The essential and primary tool for the job is a bulb type air blower. It is simple and easy to use, just avoid contact with the tip of the blower and the lens as to not scratch the lens surface.

For more aggravating dust use a fine brush to gently knock off particles. A great tool that should be in everyone’s equipment bag is a brush style lens pen. They offer a quick and easy method for dust removal as well as other deposits on the lens. One end of the pen will have a retractable brush, the other will have a non liquid based cleaning pad. These gizmos have become extremely popular and are in wide use around the world.

Lens Pens From B&H

First use the brush tool to remove all abrasive deposits then use the cleaning pad lightly in a circular motion. These pens are usually marketed to clean both lenses and LCDs. I recommend having a different pin for each use. Also these pens can not be cleaned and will have to be replaced from time to time, which is no problem considering how cheap they are. Similar type pens are also used for sensor cleaning, which I will cover in a future post.

Liquid Based Cleaning

Liquid based cleaning methods have long been the standard method and are necessary for stains like grease from your fingers. Apart from the liquid a cloth is also required. Avoid cheap dime store wipes that may be too abrasive. Use a good microfiber cloth specially made for lens cleaning. Before attempting to clean your lens with a liquid and cloth, use a brush to knock off any dust particles. One of the best liquids you can use is your own breath. It contains no chemicals that may eat away at the coating on the the lens. Breath hard on the lens surface leaving a fog of moisture on it. Then using a the microfiber cloth, gently wipe in a circular motion from the center of the lens to the outside(without rubbing). In other words, leave off the elbow grease. If a problem area still exist a stronger cleaning solution will be needed.

Many products exist for lens cleaning. It is important to chose one that will leave no residue on the lens surface, such as those commonly sold for eyeglasses cleaning. One possible solution is pre-moistened cleaning pads especially designed for camera lenses. Use these pads one time and dispose off, they should not be recycled. Your other option is to use a cleaning liquid in conjunction with a dry cloth. The procedure here is the same, just be aware that it only takes a little bit of liquid. A small amount will go a long way and decrease the possibility of leaving any kind of residue on the lens surface.

A full line of top quality cleaning products can be found at the B&H photo and video store. Keeping your lens clean and dust free is one of the most essential parts of coming home from a shoot with usable material. Make a habit of checking your lenses before shooting and periodically throughout. With a little care and proper handling, your lenses can give you years of beneficial service.

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Aquatic Photography

August 17, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment, Photography 

After just coming back from vacation in Tunisia, it is now time to sort out and process all of our pictures. Our primary camera is the Canon EOS 350D (known as the Canon Digital Rebel XT in the United States). Our trip was to a seaside resort. Knowing we would be spending a lot of time doing water based activities, we thought it would be nice to be able to take some photos in the water or from the boats or in a pool, and you can get the best equipment for your pool, here is a great summary for this. Since we only wanted something to experiment and play with, we chose to find  a compact camera suitable for the job.

A search on Amazon landed us with the Easypix Aqua W311. At an affordable price we got a pretty nice compact camera for our needs. It seems this particular model is sold only in European markets, the American equivalent is the SVP Acqua DC-1231. Both are pictured below.

Easypix W311 Technical Specifications

aquaw311-SVPAcqua DC1231

The camera performed above our expectations. It can be used with or without the water housing. There is no problem loosing it with the included wrist strap, not to mention it floats nicely. Here are some photos we took at the Club Med Djerba la Fidèle (Thanks to Samantha’s siblings for being great models). The photo links have been scaled down from (2048 x 1536 landscape) to be more appropriate for this website.

Club Med Djerba la Fidele BeachClub Med Djerba la Fidele SailingClub Med Djerba la Fidèle SimonClub Med Djerba la Fidèle DebClub Med Djerba la Fidele Swimming


Some amazing examples of aquatic photography can be found on the WaterHousing Surf Photography Group on flickr.

Digital water photography has finally went mainstream and affordable to the average consumer. There is a wide variety of compact as well as professional rigs available. B&H Photo Video carries a complete line of gear to make your existing cameras waterproof, as well as  waterproof cameras. There you can also find complete instructional and buying guides. The following are some nice examples of what you can find on today’s market.

Liquid Image Digital Underwater Camera Mask

Liquid Image Digital Underwater Camera Mask

Pentax Optio W80 Digital Camera

Pentax Optio W80 Digital Camera

Snap Sights SS02 35mm Underwater Camera

Snap Sights SS02 35mm Underwater Camera

SVP Acqua DC-1231 Digital Camera

SVP Acqua DC-1231 Digital Camera

GoPro Digital HERO 3 Sports Wrist Camera

GoPro Digital HERO 3 Sports Wrist Camera

Nimar NI303D Underwater Housing (Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D)

Nimar NI303D Underwater Housing (Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D)

Tataouine – Tatooine

August 16, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 2 Comments
Filed under: Cinephile, Photography 

Star Wars In AfricaStar Wars fans know well the planet of Tatooine, the boyhood home of Anakin and Luke  Skywalker. Recently we had an opportunity to visit Tunisia, and to my surprise we found the city of Tataouine. Many of the Tatooine scenes from Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode I: The Phantom Menace were shot on location in this region. One day we took an excursion in the areas surrounding Tatouine to what seemed to be a different planet in itself. Situated on the rim of the Sahara Dessert, it is a hot, dry, and barren place. For what it lacks in comfort, it makes up for in beauty and mystery. The terrain varies from sand dunes to picturesque landscapes typical of a John Ford western. If I had realized the potential of seeing Star Wars sites, perhaps I would have planned the trip a bit different. For information on how you could plan your own trip, check out Tunisia.com. Mark Weller, a filming location enthusiast, has put together a nice page on Star Wars in Tunisia.


The only actual location my tour included was the Ksar Hadada. It was once a fortified grainary used by the Berbers. George Lucas used it for some of the slave quarters scenes at Mos Espa in The Phantom Menace. Our tour guide was actually an extra during the shoots here.

Ksar Hadada

Mos Espa

Mos Espa Scene from The Phantom Menace

Photos taken August 2009

Ksar Hadada

Ksar Hadada

Aside from the Star Wars attractions the area is rich in scenery and history. The following are some more photos taken during the trip.

Amazing One Piece Dinning Room, Benches, Table carved out inside a mountain.

All Photos took with our Canon EOS series Camera

Batch resize your photos with Apple Script

August 14, 2009 by Samantha Halfon · 2 Comments
Filed under: Computing, Photography 

We usually take a lot of photos when traveling. After we return, the photos go through the following work fow:

  1. Copy the photos from the Compact Flash or SD cards to the computer.
  2. Sort/Edit them manually to keep only the greatest ones
  3. Archives the raw material (all the photos before editing) and the selected ones in a folder (which is later on backed up)
  4. Resize the selected photos for Internet sharing (with family and friends only on a private website)
  5. Select and tag some of the above photos for upload to Flickr.

We are probably not the only ones wanting to share photos with our non geeks mothers via a photo gallery online and the resizing step is usually necessary to make their browsing experience more comfortable. We use Simple PHP Gallery Manager for Internet sharing. I use an Apple Script to automatically resize the photos for the Internet Gallery (thanks to MacOsX Hints for sharing the code)

Simple PHP Gallery Manager

Simple PHP Gallery Manager

Batch resize photos Apple Script

The script is located in my Library/Scripts folder. To resize photos, I only have to select them in the Finder and drag them on the script file. The script will then generate an image called export_<Name_of_the_original>.jpg for each selected photo. Of course, Apple Script is Mac only. I have a similar script for Windows/Linux laying around (based on nconvert). If interested, please leave us a comment and I’ll post a follow up to this article.

The interest of Apple Script resides in its ability to pilot other applications (like the Finder in the following example) to automate tasks (in the same way as Photoshop tasks). And the power of the Apple Script Editor is the ability to record what we are doing and turn that into a script (using Automator for example).

The code

on open some_items
repeat with this_item in some_items
end try
end repeat
end open
to rescale_and_save(this_item)
tell application “Image Events”
set the target_height to 600
– open the image file
set this_image to open this_item
set typ to this_image’s file type
copy dimensions of this_image to {current_width, current_height}
if current_height is greater than current_width then
scale this_image to size target_height
– figure out new height
– y2 = (y1 * x2) / x1
set the new_width to (current_width * target_height) / current_height
scale this_image to size new_width
end if
tell application “Finder” to set new_item to ¬
(container of this_item as string) & “ex” & (name of this_item)
save this_image in new_item as typ
end tell
end rescale_and_save

Use the script

  1. Open Script Editor (in Application or using Spotlight)
  2. Copy/Paste the code in the editor
  3. Edit the target_height variable to whatever you need (in pixels)
  4. Save the script to your Library/Scripts folder


The script is available for download.


Some Internet gallery (inclusing SPGM) also need a thumbnail file. It is of course possible to modify this script to generate two pictures (one for display, one as thumbnail) for each selected photo.

Apple Script

Apple scripting allows you to automate most recurring tasks and customize your Mac OS X experience. I’ve recently spanned through an Apple Script Book I got at our local library called “The Missing Guide“, it seems very powerful. For more information on Apple Script, check out there resources:

Tripod Leveling Made Easy

December 16, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment, Filming, Photography 

Many times in photography and filmmaking we require the use of a tripod. They are beneficial for panning, low light photography, repetitive shots, etc. The beauty of a tripod is that they can be set up level on virtually any terrain or studio position. Personally I like to always work with a level tripod. For the same reason I try not to hold the camera tilted to one side or the other when I take shots freehand. There are auto leveling gadgets for tripods on the market to assist in this aspect, although I have yet to try any. I am very comfortable leveling with a simple bubble level. I worked for a professional land surveyor for eight years, where use and efficiency with a tripod was a must. One of the first things we ever had to teach a new recruit was tripod leveling. Maybe you find it easy, but believe me most people have problems with it. Actually all that is needed is practice and a few tips. In the end everyone develops their own preferences. After a bit of practice and under perfect conditions, I could set up the survey instrument level and have the field computer on in a minutes time. There is no reason setting up a tripod level for a camera should take any longer, especially since the level of precision needed isn’t even in the same ballpark.

Most tripods come with some method of leveling, either in the form of a circular bubble level or in the shape of a bar. If your tripod isn’t equipped with a level, one can be purchased cheaply at most any hardware store. The main problem with photographic tripods is the weight. They tend to be very light and have a compact design for easy transport. This might sound like an all around good thing, but the drawback is the loss of stability. Even the slightest bump can knock a tripod out of level. To help avoid this problem you can position heavy objects at the base of the tripod legs to help keep them from moving. If your tripod has a rotating head, loosen the motion locks before turning, thus allowing it to move freely to the next desired position. Also be aware that if you are set up for an extended period of time, regularly check your level. Changes in temperature can cause the tripod legs to contract, in result bringing your camera back out of level. The best tripods in surveying are made of wood and fiberglass, they are heavy enough to stay in position and are less effected by weather. The problem there is nobody wants to lug them around all day. When using the circular bubble level, it is also helpful to consider that the sun can draw your bubble away from it’s intended position. It is always best to set up your tripod with the bubble opposite of the sun’s position.

Setting a tripod level is as easy as 1-2-3. When setting up the tripod, first do not extend the legs fully, allow yourself a little room for adjustment. Take for example the following image. We have planted the legs (Represented By A, B, and C) and are ready to level.
tripod1Now adjust the tripod legs one at a time so that the bubble rotates in the direction of any one of the legs like so. In this example I moved it to Leg A.


Now Leg A simply needs to be lowered until level is reached. If during this process you find the bubble is not moving towards the center, adjust Leg B or Leg C to put the bubble back in line with Leg A.


So now the tripod is in level. Not precise enough to survey a boundary to layout a new shopping center, but good enough for most photography needs. If your tripod has a rotating head, you may want to install a small bar level if you don’t already have one. Optionally you may use a small inexpensive level like used for hanging pictures or carpentry. Simply place it on top of the head, and rotate the horizontal motion accordingly.


plumbbobIf you have the desire to reproduce shots like Harvey Keitel in the film Smoke by Wayne Wang, you might find the following information beneficial. The first thing I recommend is to have a means of attaching a small plumb-bob to the bottom of the center post of your tripod. You may have to be a little inventive in this process. Use an attachment such as a hook or even a swivel (used on a fishing line) to fix the plumb-bob string from. As long as the string hangs from the center position you are OK. Either before or immediately after you set up the tripod, you need to establish vertical control. On turf you can place a nail or tack in the ground. Be sure to attach some ribbon to the nail, or some other means of easily locating it. They can be easily lost in the shortest of grass. On hard surfaces you can use a marker, paint, sticker, or even carve out an “x”. With the plumb-bob attached and hovering barely over your vertical control marker, you will have no problem reproducing your position. Having your tripod level is also a must. I highly recommend that you always carry a notebook and pencil for taking notes. Using a regular tape measure note the distance from your vertical control point to a fixed point on the camera, such as the center of the lens or even a button, as long as you have it in your notes you won’t forget. To remember the horizontal angle you used in your shots, try rotating the camera until you find a suitable place for another control point. For example, if you are taking a panorama of a lake, turn the camera to a nearby tree. Put a mark on the tree directly at the center point of your camera’s view finder. You can then use this horizontal control as a reference in future shots.


Harvey Keitel in Smoke (1995)

Aerial Photography

November 29, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Photography 

I first flew, from Nice to Corsica, when I was something like 6 years old. I suppose, at that age, you can go either way: be scared or enjoy the ride. I loved it. And, years later, I still enjoy take-offs and landings. I just regret that a lot of times the flight is a lot longer than the 30 minutes that separates Nice from Corsica.

This year, Derrick and I planned a three weeks long holiday back in his state, North Carolina. We had decided to spend one of these weeks on the coast to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. We went to Atlantic Beach on the Outer Banks (OBX). If you don’t know about the Outer Banks, it’s a chain of small islands that runs along the NC coast separated from the mainland by a rather narrow inter coastal waterway. Looking up all the local activities before going, we realized that we could afford a flight over the area in a small plane, just the two of us, with a pilot. The service was provided by Seagrave Aviation based in Beaufort. I was very excited about the idea of flying in a small plane, get to see the controls and everything but our main goal was to bring back some photos that not every visitor of the OBX has a chance to take.

The day of the flight came around and even though Hanna, the hurricane, was to strike the coast in the following 48 hours, the sky was perfectly clear. The pilot placed Derrick in the back seat while I was riding in front of the small Cessna. We flew over the area twice. On the first run, I was taking pictures from the front seat, with the left wing most of the time in my frame. On the second run, Derrick was taking the photos from the back seat – a far better spot in that plane for photos as he could move around more and shoot from both sides of the plane. He didn’t have the wing in his way and was able to take pictures looking down which was uneasy from the front seat. On the other hand, from the front seat, I could get photos of the plane controls and through the windshield which turned out pretty cool. Still, as a rule, the back seat of the plane is best for photography and actually, a helicopter is even better but eh, I like planes.

Hard to find a better place to have your first flight experience, it’s just beautiful.

Handing over the camera to the backseat now, the views are very different. Then again, Derrick has done aerial photography for surveying reconnaissance and forestry ; he went for different shots. Actually, while Derrick was taking pictures, I asked the pilot about flying and somehow, he then let me fly. I flew us around for 30 minutes ; it was magical.

If you ever get the opportunity to fly in such a plane and decide to take photos, here are a few advice we can share from our experience in North Carolina:

  • To shoot the inside of the plane, bring your widest angle. To take photos of the world below, limit yourself to a 135mm  lens or so.
  • If you have any motion stabilizer on the camera, it could prove useful
  • As for settings, prefer a Tv (manual shutter speed) mode and use rather high speeds as, there should be light up there, and you move, comparatively to the ground, rather fast.
  • Since you have to shoot through the windshield and windows, be careful with reflections on the glass and, if you can, make sure the glass is clean before taking off. We didn’t use filters here but maybe it could have helped on these issues.
  • Even if you badly want a shot of the school of Dolphins below (we did), make sure you’re not going to make any crazy move that could disturb the pilot. I’d rather miss the shot than take the big drink myself.
  • One more thing, the pilot has probably been out with photographers before, if you tell him what shot you’re after, he will probably tilt the plane the way you need it to get the propeller out of the way or make your shot easier. That’s why they give you the earphones, so you can talk to him.

For my birthday, I was offered a card allowing me to pick an activity to go to and I went this morning for a “Baptême de l’Air” with Aeropilot based in Cergy-Pontoise. The sky this time was much more parisien like and you could barely see the other planes of the fleet outside but it was pretty enjoyable. The plane this time was even smaller and could only fit two people. I managed to get a little souvenir shot though and got the permission to make the last curve before bringing the plane back in line with the runaway. If I ever get the money saved up to get my pilot’s “brevet de base” I might go with them. They have a nice collection of planes.

For more information about aerial photography, you can be on the lookout for Compétence Photo n. 7 which has a short dossier about that specific subject.