general photography

photographers: why use a high-resolution camera?

The Nikon D810 (affiliate) is a camera that surprised me for how much I liked using it. The high resolution of this camera was a drawback for me initially. But it had very responsive AF. Also, super-crisp images because of the improved sensor and due to the lack of the anti-aliasing filter. Ergonomics. (I have big hands.) But I didn’t anticipate that I would love the D810 as much as I do. For a long while though I kicked against the idea of using a camera with a very high resolution. But then the Nikon D810 convinced me. There’s a story here. A story of progression, including my own.

A short history of digital cameras:

The pivotal time when digital photography with really good cameras became accessible, was when the 6 megapixel cameras ruled, e.g.: Canon 10D and Nikon D100 and the Fuji S2. These were the crop-sensor cameras. It was just a matter of time then before full-frame DSLRs became available.

There was a certain progression after the first full-frame DSLR, the Contax N Digital was released in 2002. While the Contax was a 6 megapixel camera, the next full-frame DSLRs was the 11-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds (also 2002). This appeared to be the landmark camera that helped sway the medium-format film shooters to dump their Hasselblad bodies in favor of digital cameras. (The Kodak DCS Pro 14n, released in 2003 never quite took off due to various production problems.) In 2004, the 16-megapixel Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II was released, and a year later (2005) the much more affordable Canon EOS 5D, brought higher-resolution (and a clean 1600 ISO) to the general photographer. The Canon 5D had 12.8 megapixels, and turned out to be another landmark camera in the quick ascent of digital photography. And in 2007, Nikon finally released the 12 megapixel full-frame Nikon D3. With only 12 megapixels and a sweet sensor, the D3 had the best high-ISO noise at the time.

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engagement photo sessions: posing, lighting & context

I love this photo! I also like how it came together. This was within minutes of meeting DaWeon and Toban for their engagement photo session in Philadelphia. We had only chatted on Skype before. Embarrassingly enough, I arrived late to the meeting place for their engagement session through my misunderstanding about the address. No excuses there. But it did mean I had to work fast – the setting sun was lighting up the Philadelphia skyline, and I had to nail a series of photos very quickly.

DaWeon and Toban had said they wanted the city to feature in their engagement photo session. And of course, I am always under a self-imposed instruction that the photos have to look great and have to please and even surprise my clients.

More than pre-visualizing a shot, you have to be able to immediately recognize what needs to be done to get the photograph that you know is possible.

Everyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, would know that my approach is one where I work with a structure – an algorithm that will make sure the shot works technically. But I also want to be open to surprises. Chance.

That idea of allowing serendipity and change to influence a photo session, has been a regular topic lately:

With clients though, I am more inclined to favor my chances of success by working with structure to my photography technique. The images need to work! There needs to be a solid yet fluid baseline from which I can be creative and look for opportunities and play off the couple’s playfulness.

A few things had to come together to make this photo (and the entire series of photos) successful:
– lighting,
– composition
– context,
– posing.

And these are things I have to control. No time to wait for luck to favor me with some random goodness.

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flash photography tutorial: balancing flash and ambient exposure

This topic – balancing flash and ambient exposure – seems to one that many newer photographers struggle with. The big hurdle seems to be the basic starting point – how do you decide on the exposure for each?

I’d like to explore this topic a bit with this post. The trigger for this was a question that someone emailed me regarding an image in one of my books on flash photography. Instead of answering the question directly, I thought that a wider answer might be more illuminating. We’re still on that perpetual quest for more aha! moments. So let’s see where we head with this. (I’ll come back to the specific question and answer at the end of this.)

Why do we even want to add flash to our subject? The answer is that with flash we can control the direction and quality of light, and create a more dynamic image.

We don’t necessarily just use flash to avoid camera shake and / or poor exposure in low light. We use flash to create better light on our subject. We can ‘clean up’ the light that falls on our subject. Or to create more dynamic and interesting light. It’s about control. We decide. So where do we start?

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informal / candid portraits on the street – applying what you know

New York City abounds with characters – interesting and colorful people. This is one of those constants if you’re out on the streets in NYC, especially when taking photos or busy with a photo session … or as in this case, during one of the individual photography workshops in NYC. This man approached us to sell his artwork … and we ended up taking a few photos of him. With a few quick, automatic steps, the informal portrait is improved.

I’m one of those people, who, if tourists in Times Square give me their cameras, I will also pose them and correct a few things. Adjust an awkward pose. Hide shopping bags. Any quick fixes that will immediately improve even a camera phone snapshot.

Similarly here, I immediately asked him to go to this doorway a few yards away – the gold trim and black of the facade would perfectly match the dark suit and warm tones of this flower and his skin. Working in this doorway also meant we had shade – no struggle with hard sunlight. The pose is all his! He immediately went to this pose.

If you look at the 4 images in the entire sequence, you will notice the first image he had his left hand out in the sun. I asked him to drop his hand a bit so that he was entirely in the shade. Then another 3 quick photos, as I adjust my composition slightly to pull in more of the blue sky reflection. I knew the blue tones would balance the warmer tones to the bottom of the frame.

All of these micro-decisions to adjust an informal portrait, are done in a few seconds. Decisively, but gently. This is all done with the idea of elevating a random snapshot into an informal portrait that could hopefully stand on its own as an interesting photo of an interesting character we met out on the street.

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portrait photography – show us a favorite or break-through photograph

This photograph remains one of my favorites. It was taken circa early 90’s during a studio shoot-out arranged by a camera club (CCJ) I belonged to in Jo’burg. In this photo, the models are waiting for their turn to be photographed in a studio setup, using studio lighting, as well as available light in the large studio. It was a candid moment, as I knelt in front of this model, Megan.

For me, this was a transitionary photograph – I was at a point where I knew basic photography techniques. I read voraciously, and devoured magazines and books. But my own images at the time – landscapes and cityscapes and such – were mostly “found” images. For me, there was still a gap between what I was photographing, and the images I was drawn to – portrait and fashion images which were more controlled. Even then, the portraits and fashion photography that appealed to me, had a fresh and “loose” feel – and I felt I wasn’t quite  capable of that yet. It wasn’t just insecurity, but also shyness in working with people, and posing them. I lacked the courage to involve the people in my photography.

Yet, here I had a photo that had that spontaneity and elegance that appealed to me. Even though the moment was presented to me, and I had nothing to do with how it was arranged, I still felt really proud of it … but more so, the realization dawned on me that I could do this. I could have set this up and shot it. It was within my reach.

I was aware of the problems with this photograph – the fingertips cropped off, and the tilt. The pillow she held to herself is incongruous. The background is cluttered. A more controlled photograph would’ve been more successful. Still, this was one of those photographs which sparked a change for me.

This photograph then, was pivotal in my progress as a photographer. For the first time I took a photo that looked (nearly) as good as I saw in photography magazines. I could do this!

 

I would like to hear your story, and see your favorite or breakthrough portrait.
It need not be perfect. It just needs to be important to you.
There are two book prizes to be won:

 


The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography

The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography, by Glenn Rand & Tim Meyer, is a good introduction to portrait photography. Over the course of 200 pages, the authors explain the essentials of Portrait Photography.

You can order this book from Amazon, or directly from Rocky Nook.

If you order an eBook directly from RockyNook, then the coupon code Portrait40 offers 40% off the ebook version of The Portrait.

You can also buy it at a discount as an e-book bundle, along with Tilo Gockel’s book, Creative Flash Photography. (review)

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tutorial: focusing modes for your camera

I want to expand the exposure metering tutorials with other basic tutorials on camera settings and photography techniques. It’s been in the works a while now, and here is the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera. Similar to many of the other tutorial articles on Tangents, I wanted to distill the essential elements, and make it as uncomplicated a topic as I could.

The more I delved into the various AF options and how they work, it became more difficult to generalize it in an accessible but still truthful way. I’d love to hear your feedback.

About the photo above, it was a playful idea based on Milla Jovovich’s character, Leeloo, in Fifth Element. In the one scene she beckons the evil aliens closer with a jiggle of her fingertips. It’s an image that stayed with me – a pivotal scene in this very enjoyable Sci-Fi movie. This is the moment everything tips over into an avalanche of crazy action.

So I posed Anelisa like this during a recent photography workshop, with the express idea of using it in an article on the auto-focus modes. The key idea here is that we don’t allow the camera to decide what we focus on. We have to be deliberate about where the camera should focus.

So check out the tutorial on the focusing modes of your camera.
I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.

Now, the techie details of the photo at the top:

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personal photography projects & goals for 2015

With photography technology and trends changing more and more rapidly, something like a 5-yr business plan would be tough to draw up. Be successful and be awesome! That’s about as far as you can aim ahead of you as a photographer. Still, as we enter a new year, it’s as good a time as any to consider a forward-going path for personal photography and projects.

Still, looking back at a similar post I made two years ago, amusingly perhaps, most of the intended projects didn’t quite happen. Not yet anyway. This isn’t so much plans going awry, but rather things changing. I had planned to create video tutorials – but then Craftsy approached me to create video tutorials. The artistic video clip of Anelisa is still on a back-burner. The intended promotional video for a boudoir photographer was postponed, and then had to be paused until some future time.

All of these in favor of other developments that I hadn’t anticipated in Dec 2013 – such as finally getting my own studio space! This opened up many other avenues for me. It didn’t so much help me change direction, but really broaden what I can do as a photographer. So yes, plans change. As they should when other opportunities come up.

Still, I strongly believe that personal projects help keep creativity alive. There’s that forward aim with your personal photography, instead of just drifting along, directionless. I still have this intention to figure out a plan – a schedule where I work on several projects during the course of the year.

 

what plans do you have for your photography in 2015?

I’d like to hear from you what you are contemplating with your personal photography projects for 2015? What has caught your interest and what has intrigued you enough that you’d like to get into? What themes or ideas or techniques do you want to explore?

So let’s make it fun, and inspire each other.

Post your ideas and plans in the comments section. To make it interesting, there is this book to be won as a prize. I will pick one winning entry at random on Sunday, Jan 4th.   [edited to add: Erin with entry #13 wins the book prize. The entry was chosen via a random number generator.]

Photographing the Child

Photographing the Child – Natural Light Techniques for Beautiful, Profitable Portraits.

The author, Jennifer George, wrote this book with the intention of teaching photographers how to deliver images that sound out and will dominate their markets and create life-long clients.

No matter what your skill level, her techniques and advice will elevate the quality of your images, and set you apart from your competition, and enhance your reputation as a photographer.

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your best & worst photography purchases of 2014

Looking back every year, I’m sure you too are happy with some of your purchases you made in photography, whether gear or software or website related. Purchases that you love and made a difference to you as a photographer. But similarly there are also those purchases you regret. What was I thinking? I should’ve done my homework?

In the past I’ve bought some spur-of-the-moment bad decisions. It is especially easy to get swept away at photography trade shows. But I’ve gotten better at it, especially unnecessary software purchases. So I am actually happy with most of my purchases this year. Here’s my list of best & worst purchases, with even a few “meh” purchases listed.

Better yet, add yours to the list of Best / Worst Photo related purchases, by posting in the comments section. To make it interesting, there was this book to be won as a prize. Entries closed on Sunday 21st Dec.  [edited to add: Roy Barnes with entry #34 wins the book prize. The entry was chosen via a random number generator.]

How to Photograph Weddings

Behind the scenes with 25 leading pros to learn lighting posing and more. Names such as Jerry Ghionis, Jim Garner, Dave & Quin Cheung, Brett Florens, Huy Nguyen, Ken Sklute, and myself included.

Inspired by Fashion. Stories, not Pictures. Connection is the Key. Two grooms. Big Groups. A Sense of Humor.

These are some of the themes which are explored in the 58 chapter entries, covering a diverse range of topics which go beyond the technical, to also cover style and approach.

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on-location headshots and promotional portraits – Jonathan Arons

One of the things I like the most about photography, aside from the cool toys, is that you get to meet interesting people. Characters. People with spark. The challenge is then to capture that and show it in the photographs. A headshots photo session needs to be more than just a mere glimpse of your subject’s personality.

Jonathan Arons, also known as “the trombone dancer”, is a multi-talented actor, singer, dancer and musician, based in New York. Jonathan needed some professonial headshots and some portraits for promotional use. We shot these on location in New York. As you can see, there is a dynamic persona here with a lot of energy! With portraits, the intent is always to show the personality and charm. Even some of the playful spiritedness. All of this added up to make the photo session real fun. That glitter suit though!

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non-photography goodies in my camera bag / roller case

Work as a wedding photographer isn’t just about taking photographs of key moments, or about the photo gear. Often enough it is up to you as the wedding photographer to help guide the day’s time-line and flow, and also just to help.  For me, wedding photography isn’t just a passively observed event where I take photographs. And if you shoot with a photo-journalistic style in mind, it doesn’t mean you have to remain uninvolved.  I’m there to record the day’s events, but also to help, if necessary, making it a spectacular day.

In the photo above, I took over from the maid of honor when her fingers weren’t strong enough for that final button and clasp at the back of the bride’s dress. My fingers were stronger, so I finished the last button. So as a photographer I’m often called on to do more than just take photographs.

With that in mind, here’s a look into my camera bag, and the non-photography related goodies I keep handy:

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