Light is Everything!

Archive for November, 2011

New Toy

Yipee! I got a new light mod! I’ve wanted a soft box for a long time now and I finally pulled the trigger and got the Photoflex Octodome NXT XS.  I got it as a kit from B&H that came with the soft box, speed ring, light stand and umbrella swivel head & all the coldshoe hardware for flashes. It’s the bomb! Plus, if I ever get/use studio lights, the speed ring is full-size to accommodate those lights too. It works just spiffy with speed lights though and it gives a super nice quality of light. I put it together when I first got it and did some quick test shots with the kids. It’s amazing light, soft wrapping and because it’s an octa, you get a round catchlight similar to a beauty dish. 8) Love it! I also used it on a recent family session shoot for a 3 month old baby and it worked wonderfully. I even used it for a small group shot and it was nice light, considering it’s only 15 inches or so in diameter! 😀 I’ll do a full review of the product soon.

 

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I before E . . . except in Germany!

Ever noticed one of the peculiarities of the English language is where the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ go in words? It confuses not only second graders but adults as well. ‘I’ before ‘E’, except after C. Unless the word is German: Rottweiler, Stein, Hammermeister! 8)

We had a fun photo shoot last night at the Hammermeister haus. It was nice to take advantage of the sliver of mild winter that is over us right now. Fingers crossed it stays without getting too icy! 🙂 But we do live in Saskatchewan and we know the weather will probably change (for the worse) any time now… But on the sunny side of life,  here’s a couple of highlights from the shoot! 😉


Gary Fong is Wrong

8) *This is a photo geek post.* Proceed with Caution 8)

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The Sniper

Real men like war-based action movies with lots of guns. Plain and simple. We also translate that into Photography. Go and watch The Battle of F/Stop Ridge to confirm my thesis.

So, when you’ve got a 500mm lens, you need to look and feel the part of a sniper. You can be back a loooooong way when you have 500mm to play with. It’s got über reach. The bokeh and compression with this bad boy are purely incredible. So, to put it to the test, we setup a blind in the backyard to see if Pa could nab any blue jay shots. For wildlife, the ultimate setup is the blind or “hide” as they are sometimes referred to. You setup and wait for the wildlife to come to you. In this case, we used the swing set and some hunting camouflage attached with zip ties. It’s quick and efficient and works really well. Dad also wore a full suit of camouflage to blend away into nothingness. The birds had no problems with the blind and came right in. The only issue was if he moved, then they took off. But other than that it worked really well and he got some awesome shots! All the bird images are copyright Bob Schultz of Sunwood Photography.


How to Buy Lenses

So you’re into photography. So is everyone else and their dog now that digital SLR cameras have dropped in price so much. You get sick of your point and shoot camera, you go out and a buy a Canon Rebel or Nikon D3100 starter camera and it comes with a kit lens, something typically from 18-55mm. For the most part, that lens is not too shabby. It’s inexpensive, but sharp. It does pretty much everything you want it to do for that first year or so. But, when the photo bugs start biting you and you want to learn more about photography and taking pictures, you often want to start buying more lenses to do different stuff. But what do you buy and why? If you show up at a camera store without a plan, you’re like sheep to the slaughter. You best have some idea of what you want prior to going in there or else the sweet talker salesman is gonna get your VISA card loaded up before you know it! 😯

Winning Lens Characteristics 

What makes a lens good or bad? Well, there are some generalities. We need to be clear that not every lens that Nikon or Canon or whoever makes is a “good lens” some of them are pretty darn crappy. So here’s a few things to look for:

Good lenses produce sharp and contrasty images. Out of focus parts of the picture should look like cream cheese, not chunks of cheddar. When the sun hits the lens it shouldn’t flare with drops of color. Straight lines, like in a brick wall, should stay straight. Good lenses also are designed well mechanically. The focus & zoom rings should be smooth, not clunky. Big zooms shouldn’t zoom and creep by themselves, they should stay where you leave them. It should be sealed from the weather/dust. Autofocus should be fast like a cheetah not slow like a turtle. It should have image stabilization (VR or IS). And finally, good lenses open up wide with big f/stops like 1.4 or 2.8 and are constant (if in a zoom lens). Lenses that go from f/3.5-5.6 generally aren’t that great. They should be able to focus close and focus internally, meaning the front of the lens doesn’t turn while focusing (which is a real pain when using filters).

Size Matters

One more consideration to be aware of before you go any further is to note the difference between Crop Sensor Cameras and Full Frame Cameras. Without going into a whole bunch of detail, some lenses are designed to work specifically with crop sensor camera bodies. In Canon this is called EF-S lenses and in Nikon this is called DX lenses. There will be badges on the lenses to tell you which is which. It’s good to consider this because when buying lenses, it’s good to be forward thinking – as in it’s good to buy full frame (Canon EF, Nikon FX) lenses even for use on crop sensor camera bodies in case one day you want to shoot a full frame camera. In my mind, it makes more sense to invest in good lenses once, rather than to buy cheaper lenses first, then have to sell them all and upgrade them later. However, if you intend to stay in the beginner/enthusiast realm, buying EF-S/DX lenses is just fine. It just pays to be aware of the future possibilities.


Picking Your Lenses

OK, with those considerations in mind you can start assembling your lens arsenal. Most pros in any field of photography have 2-4 lenses that they use for just about everything. You don’t want a metric tonne of lenses, because you have to carry them around. But you also want to be ready for as much as possible. There are 2 groups of lenses: Zooms and Primes. Zooms are more flexible and give more options, but Primes are sharper and often have super big apertures for low light photography and awesome portraits. The three lens categories for both zooms and primes are: Wide Angle (14-24mm) Mid-Range (24-70mm) and Telephoto (70-600mm). And there is also a fourth category of “special” lenses that have unique purposes such as fish-eye lenses, macro lenses, perspective control, etc. Here are some suggested setups:

Kicked up Beginner 

If you want something more than the 18-55 kit lens your camera came with, I’d suggest a big zoom that goes from wide to telephoto. 18-200mm or 28-300mm are very popular, so are the 24-105 and 16-85. All of your bases are covered in one lens. The downside is, these are usually variable aperture lenses that aren’t very fast and don’t give any possibilities for shallow depth of field shots (for those cool “lots of stuff in the photo is out of focus” shots). So I would pair the big zoom with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. They are always sharp, allow for low light shooting and they are inexpensive. Additionally, this kit is a perfect vacation or travel setup as it’s light weight and packs into a small convenient bag.

Photo Spectrum

What follows next here is what I call a photo-spectrum. One (or more) of these general categories will be where your interests fall. Recommendations are listed appropriate to each area along the spectrum.

Landscape: Big wide angles to take in the scenery reign supreme on the landscape. 16-35mm zoom is the land lover’s first choice, but also possibly some fast wide angles like the 20mm f/2.8 or 24 f/1.4. Keep in mind the need to use filters (neutral density and polarizers). Landscapers will also want a longer telephoto zoom for extracting mini landscapes from the larger scene. 70-300 or 70-200mm are good options.

Nature: Long reaching zooms get you closer to the critters 100-400, 200-400 or the 300, 400, 500, 600mm primes. And, add some wide angels for landscapes, particularly the 16-35 over the 14-24 because you will want to use filters.

Action: Sports! You want to be near the action, but you can’t be. So the name of the game is long zooms like the 70-200, 200-400 and long f/2.8 or f/4 primes from 200 to 300 t0 400 to 500mm!

Photojournalism: You’re in zoom country. 14-24mm/16-35mm, 24-70mm and the 70-200 will have all your bases covered and at all at f/2.8.

Weddings: You’re the hybrid of portraits & photojournalism. You need the versatility of wide angle zooms 14-24/16-35 & the 70-200 and a bunch of f/1.4 primes for killer portraits.

Portraits: The portrait junkie loves primes. 35 f/1.4, 50 f/1.4, 85 f/1.4 usually become the workhorse lenses. But also the cadillac 70-200 f/2.8 zoom for amazing subject isolation, bokeh and compression.

Macro: This is the domain of bugs and creepy crawlies, but also products and still life. Sharp macro lenses in the neighbourhood of 105, 150 or even 200 are the ticket for getting close and making images that are larger than life!

So there you go!

That basically covers it all. I’m not giving exact individual lens recommendations because lenses change. New stuff comes out and new advances are made in technology and performance. However, these general categories will remain forever. Before you buy anything, read lots of product reviews by professionals who have actually used the products (see the list below for some of the internet’s best). Also, watch YouTube for videos that enthusiasts may have put up regarding your lens of interest. Finally, goto the camera store with your lens plan known in advance so you can check out the products before you buy them. Take your camera body and do some sample shots to see how you like it. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be far better prepared to make good long-lasting lens choices that will follow you throughout your entire photography interest.

Cheers! 😀

Awesome Links of Lens Reviews:

Mansurov’s Lens Reviews

Photozone

The Digital-Picture

SLRGear

LensTip


Flash Birds

I love wildlife photography, but as of late I haven’t done as much as I would like. Mainly I’ve been busy but I also am more interested in doing lighting stuff. But why not add lighting to wildlife? Well, it’s not easy, which is why people don’t do it much. Animals are unpredictable as to where they are going to be at any given time. At least with birds you can feed them. We have a tremendous amount of birds of different species that fly through our yard. But, they all love black sunflower seed! So I put some out and waited. And, I used 3 speedlights to make sure that when they flew in, I’d get some light on them. I used TTL, which I don’t normally do, and it worked pretty good. Letting the camera drive every now and again isn’t so bad! 😉


Lest We Forget

How will you remember their sacrifice for your freedom?


Glam Girlz

The other night we did a super fun shoot on Moir in the glamour garage. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing after they found these way cool wigs. The girls grabbed their head bands from the Relay for Life too which drove home the point of the shoot: Cancer Sucks. Like anything in life, if you let stuff drag you down, it will. But, on the other hand, if you boldly face the trials with faith, hope and love in the big guy upstairs, you will conquer! Especially if you can laugh and have a good time! 8) So that’s what we did. The name of the game was fun, glamour-ish shots. Lots of lights, lots of attitude. However, the girls need to work on “sassy.” Bubbly & fun loving is down pat, but sassy? I need blue steel. I need magnum! I need le tigré!  Where’s that at?! 😉

 


HDR Tutorial

This is a brief tutorial on making HDR images. There’s zillions of other posts/pages on the information super highway already so you can look up more info there about it. But this is how I do it. Which makes it infinitely better. 8) Just kidding! 😉

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It’s been around forever conceptually, even since film days. But now, with digital it’s easy and fun. Get a camera and a tripod and find a scene that has loads of contrast: lots of lights and darks. The idea behind this kind of photography is to keep all the detail in the darks and in the light parts of the image. Because the camera currently cannot capture the same amount of dynamic range that the human eye can see, in one camera photo you don’t get as much range as you see with your eye. So, you take 3-7 photos of varied exposure and layer them together with software. I use Nik’s HDR eFex Pro. It’s super slick and comes with many final image presets you can apply to stylize the final image, making it look as surreal or as realistic as you want.

OK, here’s a sunset one I took the other night. And in all truth, it’s not how I typically do it. I was on top of my roof with my 70-300 lens and I did this handheld, which isn’t optimal. Get a tripod so there is no camera movement.

So, the first image: bang. Here it is.The camera meters the scene and determines that this is the best balance of light and dark. We get all that rich colour in the sky & the river. But the valley hills have gone dark and silhouetted the evergreen. This was at ISO 400 f/8 70mm and the shutter was 1/100.

 The next shot speeds the shutter up to 1/200, recording an even darker, more saturated image. This one gives the mad colour, but kills off almost all the detail in the hills.The third image washes out the sky but it lifts the details up out of the hills with a slower shutter speed of 1/50. All three images are 1 stop of light apart from each other.
Now, technically, it would be better to get a couple more images here to further lift the details out of the dark regions. But, as I mentioned, this was handheld. If you have a tripod it’s easy to do.

Then, after feeding the photos into the Nik software (I use it as a plug in with Aperture) you can arrive at the final HDR image. There’s loads of darks and lights, rich colours and highlight detail that otherwise would have been lost. HDR is having your cake and eating it too. 8) When you stylize the image, you can make it look wild with texture, like I did here to make the clouds go boom. But you can also finish them to look realistic too which I did for this photo of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Regina. The light pouring in from that window would have made getting a balanced exposure difficult.

So there you go, a quick tutorial on HDR. Always use your histogram to see if you’ve clipped any highlights or darks in the image. 8)


Good Shepherd

I was up in the Queen City of Regina doing a website photo package for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.  It’s always nice to have photos of your building and what you do on your website so people can check out what’s shaking. The name of the game this time round was architectural shots, staff portraits, stock photography and some action shots of a typical sunday service. The shoot was fast and furious and fairly extensive. But we got it done before Regan and I went off to see Fiddler on the Roof live at the Arts Centre (which was AMAZING! Highly recommend you check it out). I wish I could have taken some pictures but they have a “poison dart photo policy” which means they employ a rainforest aborigine with his blow dart gun to *ftoof* shoot you in the neck if he sees you with a camera. You wake up naked on a hill of fire ants somewhere near buffalo pound I’m told. 😯 Shudder!