technique

an informal portrait with the 85mm lens – Sarah S.

Like pretty much every photo geek that I know of, I carry a camera with me wherever I go, for my personal photography. Now when the photography isn’t for an actual planned shoot or professional shoot, but just for fun walk-about – then the choice of gear somehow becomes more involved. What lens should I take – wide, normal or tele. Fixed or zoom. The bulk and weight become considerations – you don’t want to schlep around too much gear.

Creativity and motivation quickly dissipate when your back and feet start to hurt from a camera bag that is too heavy. Nowadays the Fuji X100s (vendor) is my walk-about take-everywhere camera. The 35mm equivalent lens is a good choice for more scenic views. For example, during my visit in 2014 to South Africa, it is the only camera that I took. Here are some of the results from it: hot-air balloon ride

I tend to oscillate in deciding between 2 lenses for my own photography when I am just out exploring.
– 35mm for more scenic views in mind,
– 85mm when I have tighter perspective and portraits in mind.

I have a specific love for the 85mm lens. I believe this is the best lens to change your portrait photography. That short telephoto gives you some compression to your perspective, and the wider aperture allows you to throw pretty much any background out of focus.

When a photographer friend, Sarah Smith, visited New York, I met up with her and we roamed the streets of Manhattan a bit, exploring. With me I had the D700 that I owned at the time, and the 85mm f/1.4 lens on it.

On 42nd Street, there is a McD’s with this brightly lit ceiling to its entrance. Very New York glitz, especially for a fast food place. I knew that shooting up towards it with a tight composition, would make a beautiful background for an impromptu portrait. I asked Sarah to stop, and then asked her to turn her gaze slightly outwards to the light coming from the street side of the Manhattan sidewalk. I carefully framed the image in my camera’s viewfinder, using shallow depth of field. An interesting background, beautiful light and a very photogenic subject with the right lens. Sometimes it’s this easy, and this quick.

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flash photography: how far can you bounce your flash?

The question regularly comes up: how far can you bounce your flash? The answer is quite straight-forward: It depends on the power of your flash, the bounce distance (and surfaces), ISO and aperture.

Power, distance, aperture and ISO – the four things that control flash exposure. Yup, we can’t really escape this.

So how far can you bounce your flash? It depends on how far (and reflective) the surfaces are that you are bouncing your flash off; as well as how high you’re willing to take your ISO and how wide you can take your aperture. And obviously, it depends on how powerful your flash is – which is why I would always recommend that you get the most powerful flash you can afford. There are advantages to this.

As an example, let’s analyze this image from a wedding, and see what went into creating it.

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full-frame vs crop-sensor comparison :  depth-of-field & perspective

When the differences between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras are discussed, there is an inevitable question about whether the crop sensor multiplies the focal length. Whether a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor acts like a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor) or 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor).

The answers given on the photography forums are confusing – yes, the focal length effectively increases. No, it doesn’t. Two polar opposite answers. The discussion (which tend to devolve into arguments) are convincingly made for both sides. The reason is because the topic is a complex one … and therefore the answer is (kinda) complex too.

One argument goes along the lines that the crop sensor is just that, a crop. An enlargement. That nothing changes – you just get less of the scene. And that there is no “equivalent focal length” when you go to a crop sensor camera. But what really happens is more complex than that.

With this article, I want to help analyze what happens when you change lenses between a full-frame camera and a crop-sensor camera. And we’ll analyze whether there is actually an equivalency between certain focal lengths, when using a crop-sensor camera. In other words, whether your 50mm lens becomes “equivalent to” a 75mm or 80mm lens when used on a crop-sensor camera.

Since this article ended up being a long meandering discussion, I thought it best that we start with the final summary. Just to save the impatient people some work.

Summary:

Yes, a 50mm lens does indeed behave like an equivalent focal length of a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor), or an 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor) … however, the depth-of-field increases by about a stop.

Yes, a 100mm lens on a crop-sensor camera will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens (on a full-frame camera), if you don’t change position … however, the DoF increases. (i.e., less shallow DoF)

But let’s discuss this with some images:

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using the Profoto B1 portable flash at a wedding

With wedding photography, there are nearly inevitably time-constraints. It is therefore imperative that you, as the wedding photographer, are able to keep everything running as smoothly as possible on your side. Which implies that it is important that you (and your equipment) are adaptable. And it is also hugely important that your gear is easy to set up, and very reliable.

Karissa and Rory’s wedding was the first where I pulled out the Profoto B1 battery powered flash (vendor). I’m even more impressed with it now, than I was when I first tested it for my review: Profoto B1 500 AirTTL battery powered flash.  (And if you’d like to buy my previous AcuteB 600R kit, let me know.)

When using additional lighting, you ideally need a few things from your lights:
power! 
– and yet, a delicateness to the light when necessary.
speed of use is essential.

At 500Ws, the Profoto B1 dumps sunlight-levels of light, but you can pull it down 8 stops, to where the light can be used in subtle ways.

With off-camera flash, I’m mostly working with a specific distance, and then manual flash makes sense. The  Profoto B1 (vendor) offers TTL as well, and this might seem superfluous to some. But it really makes it easier and faster to get to correct exposure. You can do an initial exposure via the TTL mode, and then switch to Manual if your exposure is correct. This gives you the speed of TTL flash, and the consistency of Manual flash.

Here are more images from this wedding, with examples shot with the Profoto B1, as well as other images using various types of light ….

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various scenarios: balancing flash with ambient light

Adding flash to ambient light – its’s a topic that can appear to be confusing. With advice that ranges from under-exposing the ambient light by a stop or two … or dialing FEC down for fill-flash, or advice that you should be metering for the background … it all appears confusing and contradictory.

What we do, and the thought-process we step through, depends on the (lighting) situation we find ourselves in. There isn’t one blanket do-all method. No single piece of instruction that will fit every occasion.

So let’s try to work through various general scenarios, to see how we’d approach each one:

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finding interesting available light & white balance options

It’s always a feel-good moment to discover interesting available light while out on a photo shoot. Something unusual to add a new flavor to a different sequence of images.

While photographing a model with Tilo Gockel and Mike Silberreis (both from Germany on a visit to NYC), we started off with off-camera flash to help with the strong sunlight. (You might remember Tilo from a recent guest article on product photography on a budget.)

Then, while positioning Olena, I saw part of her dress had a patch of bright light on it. Turning around to see where this came from – I expected sun flare from nearby building window – I saw that it was actually the sun reflecting off a traffic sign right next to us. The light that was reflecting off this traffic sign was pretty hard, but had an interesting specularity, yet appeared flattering. So we shot an entire long sequence here, ditching the off-camera flash.

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using tele-converters: extra lens compression for tighter portraits

One of the techniques to have your subject really stand out from the background, is to use the longest focal length on your 70-200mm telephoto zoom. One of the first things I do, is to zoom to maximum focal length, and then step backwards to find the composition … and then only zoom wider if necessary.  Doing it this way, forces you to use the longest focal length. This compression focuses attention on your subject by creating separation from the background.

To extend the range of my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, I always keep a 1.4x teleconverter in my bag. This extra 1.4x boost in focal length gives me reach, or as in this case, that extra compression to help with my photograph’s composition:

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Light Blaster: image projection effects for creative backgrounds in the studio

Working with an idea in mind – a moody B&W portrait with a stylized cityscape as background. Using the Light-Blaster again in the studio, this final image was a progression of that idea. I knew I wanted to use the cityscape background of one of the metal gobos that came with the Light-Blaster kit.

Because I wanted the final photo to be black and white, I set my camera to Monochrome so that I’d have a good idea during the shoot what the final image would look like. Since I shoot in RAW, the image would pull up in color the moment I start my post-processing. Then I reverted it to B&W again, and edited it for contrast and for the vignette you see in the final image at the top.

The first step of the shoot was to set up the Light Blaster, then get the exposure, and then figure out the lighting on our model, Priscilla.

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flash freezing the action at slow shutter speeds  (model: Oktavia)

Does flash freeze action when shooting with slow shutter speeds (in low light)?
The answer is … maybe. Perhaps. It depends.

It is difficult giving a definitive answer because it depends on the scenario. In short – if your subject isn’t lit by much available light (with ambient light 4 stops or less than your flash exposure), then flash will freeze the action … if there is no bright background. Probably. But it depends on the type of movement, and how critical you are about image sharpness.

See? We just can’t quite get away from those qualifiers – perhaps / depends / probably. But let’s jump into this and see when flash will freeze the action, and when you’re likely to be succeed.

The photo above, of Oktavia dancing, was shot at  1/10 @ f/2.8 @ 1600 ISO
At 1/10th of a second, the flash did freeze her movement.

You can see the background lights streak as I moved my hand-held camera to try and keep up with her movements. I was trying to hide the flash behind her, but I liked the effect here. You can also see the city lights streak through her arm as she moved.

Let’s quickly look at the pull-back shot to see how the flashes were set up, and then we continue the discussion on whether flash freezes action …

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Using your lens’ bokeh as a design element

In previous articles we could see how a fast 85mm can be used for shallow depth-of-field to shoot nearly anywhere by melting away the background. There’s another aspect to this – the bokeh of the lens. The bokeh is a reference to how the quality of the background blur is rendered by a lens. It can be smooth, or have “jittery” patterns to the edges of objects, and the highlights.

Do note though that bokeh and shallow depth-of-field are not quite the same thing. While the DoF / choice of aperture does affect the appearance of the bokeh of a lens, the shallow depth-of-field look isn’t “bokeh”. Similarly, you can’t do something like “add more bokeh”. Bokeh is the quality of that background blur. It’s mostly an aspect of the lens design.

Now, very often, when a fast prime lens is used wide open, there’s a kind of swirly feel to the background blur – and if you’re aware of this, and find an appropriate background, it can really accentuate the portrait.

The image at the top of Jen & Corby, was shot at f/1.4 and you can see how the background behind them has a distinctive circular swirl to the out of focus high-lights.

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