technique

creating foreground bokeh effects in-camera

The closer you move to a foreground object, the more it’s shape and color and opacity will affect the image … in unpredictable ways. It’s a well-established technique then to create unusual color splashes and shapes in the image by creating flare highlights. It is often called “foreground bokeh effect”.

Ulorin Vex is an unusually photogenic model that I have photographed on a few occasions. When Ulorin visited the East Coast again recently, I jumped at the opportunity to meet up with her again and play in the studio. Her striking looks and colorful latex dresses would work perfectly with this technique – the random kaleidoscope patterns and colors wouldn’t be incongruous.

With a standard lighting setup in the studio, using a beauty dish, I also added an extra light to throw light directly towards the camera. I then held up various colored objects right in front of the lens – a colorful translucent plastic flower with colorful petals and leaves worked best. Shooting through an opening between the petals and leaves of the decorative plastic flower, all kinds of interesting random patterns appeared. It was unpredictable, and that is what made the effect interesting in part – you wouldn’t quite know what you’re going to get.

If this effect appeals to you, it would make sense to collect all kinds of objects to try out – glass elements and prisms work well too. Anything that will create a pleasant visual surprise.

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boudoir photography and the 50mm lens

With shooting space often times so tight for boudoir photo sessions, there is the temptation to use a 50mm lens for tighter headshots on a full-frame D-SLR. Instead of stepping back a bit and using an 85mm lens or longer, a bit of visual laziness comes into play, and we rely on the 50mm lens too much. It really is too short a focal length for a tight portrait. I think many photographers are even too in love with their 50mm lenses, and use it without thought of how this would distort someone’s face when used too close to their subjects.

I totally understand the need for compromise. Quite often the angle we need to shoot from, dictates a shorter-than-ideal focal length – whether because of the shape of the room, or the direction of the light. This still doesn’t make the 50mm a good lens to shoot tight portraits with. A longer focal length would still give you more flattering results.

The example photographs in this article are by Petra Hermann, Kansas City boudoir photographer.
(Also check out Petra’s workshops on boudoir photography.)

She used a 50mm lens for these images, but kept to half-length as the closest distance to photograph her subject. The 50mm really is more of an environmental portrait type lens, rather than a tight portrait lens.

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85mm – the first lens that could change your portrait photography

If that hat seems familiar, yes,  Elle was the model in the series of photographs for the Nikon Df review article. For some of the sequences of photos that we shot, I used the 85mm lens, wide open. This had the effect of just melting the background. You can pretty much shoot anywhere, and make the background look good and non-intrusive.

While a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can be even more effective in controlling the background, the shorter focal length, an 85mm lens can make this somewhat easier in some respects. Specifically, it’s a smaller lens and less intrusive when you photograph portraits. It’s less “threatening” to the person you’re photographing, and easier to carry around.

Just how well can you blur the background when shooting wide open with an 85mm prime lens? Compare the photo above with the pull-back shot, taken with an iPhone from the same spot …

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photography technique: wedding portraits on the beach

I had the great pleasure of photographing Sarah and Antonio’s wedding in Santa Monica, California. For the romantic portrait, we went down to the beach in the late afternoon. With the pier in the background, and with the sun (even at 5pm) still beating down, the photos were going to look vibrant, with that sun-drenched look. Beautiful.

When I posted the photos in an album on Facebook, a number of people asked me about this (and other photos), and how I photographed them. The technique is quite straight-forward, as described in numerous articles on the Tangents blog. With that, instead of just giving the hard numbers of the camera settings, and a few details … I thought it might be better as a challenge to followers of the Tangents blog, to reverse engineer this, and figure out the details. So yes, there’s a little bit of homework involved.

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Fuji X100s – best manual focus camera

As mentioned in my review of the Fuji X100s, they really did improve the AF compared to the X100. Paradoxically enough, just as the AF speed and accuracy of the Fuji X100s gets glowing mention everywhere – it’s just as exciting to discover that the changes they made to the manual focus mode, turns the Fuji X100s (B&H) into possibly the best manual focus camera there is.

Now some will say this camera’s AF is so good that you don’t need manual focus. I’m not convinced of that. The AF is pretty good, but there are times (such as with strong back-lighting), where even my Nikon D4 struggles. Then manual focus can be a huge help. And it makes sense to be familiar with the manual focus options on your camera.

Anyway, here is why I think the way that they implemented manual focus on the Fuji X100s, is so good …

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deconstructing a portrait photograph

My friend, Chuck Arlund, visited New York with his son Lachlan, for a few days. At the end of the trip, I had a short opportunity to photograph them. Since this is Chuck, whom I greatly admire, and his son (who is so used to a camera by now), I wanted to come up with something outside of the usual guaranteed way of working with a longer lens, and a simpler background. I wanted something a little out of the ordinary.

What I envisioned was some place in New York that was very busy, and then go to a slow shutter speed, and let everyone that is moving around them, turn into ghostly figures. The idea I had in mind, was with the two of them central in the image, and figures flowing around them on either side. I wanted that symmetry.

But as usually happens, real life limitations and opportunities kick in, and you end up with something slightly different than originally envisioned.

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New Jersey family photographer

photo session: adding off-camera flash to bright daylight

Someone emailed me to ask a few technical details about this family photo session. How did you expose for the family photos? Was a soft-box used? Or did you expose for the shadows and use fill flash? For those who regularly follow the Tangents blog, the thought-process here should be familiar. Let’s take a walk through the process.

As described in the article, controlling bright daylight w/ direct off-camera flash, when trying to over-power the sun with flash, the best algorithm is usually:

maximum flash sync speed,
- lowest ISO,
- find the aperture for your brightest area that you want to expose correctly for,
at that specific shutter speed and ISO.

Because the sun was hard, and high up already, the best start was to have their backs to the sun. This ensured no one would be squinting, and that I’d have a fighting chance with the single Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (B&H) inside the Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox (B&H) as the light-source I could directly control.

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bounce flash photography

bouncing your on-camera flash behind you

A comment posted to the article, directional light from your on-camera flash, asked a lot of questions about bounce flash photography. While most of these have been answered over time in various articles, it might be a good thing to pull it all together in directly answering those questions here.

An uncomplicated portrait of Anelisa that shows the specific elements that I work toward with bounce flash:
catchlights in the eyes
directional light which can be observed here as that gradient of light across her cheek
- no hard shadows from direct flash

I most often do this by bouncing my flash behind me, or towards the side.

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wedding photography – improving your shooting workflow

As a companion piece to the previous two articles - tips & advice for second shooters at weddings - and - tips on improving your photography technique - I want to offer some advice on shooting workflow. Not post-production workflow, but rather some things to look out for while shooting.

These articles with tips are just as relevant for any area of photography. The techniques here are applicable to any field or level of photography. I feel so strongly about the advice here, that I’d go as far to say that the further anyone strays from these, the greater the chances of mishaps or even catastrophic problems.

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When I posted the article with tips and advice for second-shooting weddings, it generated a lot of conversations in the comments. I’d like to follow it up with two related articles, of which this will be the first - tips on how to improve your technique as a second photographer / 2nd shooter. (Tips on improving your shooting workflow at a wedding, will follow.)

second shooters – tips on fine-tuning your technique

Camera technique can be distilled into a few elements:
- composition & framing, including lens choice
- timing of the photograph, ie that moment
- choice of aperture (for depth of field)
- choice of shutter speed (for subject movement)
- exposure metering, (which obviously  ties in with aperture & shutter speed)

That’s it!  There’s not much more we can do with our cameras at the time of exposure. Sure, we can get fancy and zoom during exposure and do double-exposures and so on. But essentially, that is it.

This is a list of a few simple elements, which can become very complex very quickly … especially when we’re on a photo shoot, or photographing an event. When the pressure is on, our fingers need to move over our camera’s controls without us having to really think about it. Instinct and finger-memory need to kick in when we’re under pressure. We have to know our cameras!

All of which brings us to this topic - tightening up your technique. Over the years I have used numerous assistants and 2nd photographers. When their work falls down, it is usually on a few technical points which are actually easily remedied.

It most often it boils down to shutter speed / aperture / ISO choices, and how they inter-relate.

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