updated review: Manfrotto 1004BAC lightstands

You’d think that light-stands are light-stands. They hold up studio lights or speedlights and any kind of light modifier. But what sets light-stands apart from each other, are the other features – such as portability and ease of use.

I mostly use the Manfrotto 1051BAC  / 1052BAC  and 1004BAC light-stands. My review of the Manfrotto light-stands explains this. What I like most about them, is that they are stackable. They clip together in quite a compact set of light-stands. Easier to carry with one hand. The clipping-together feature also means they don’t rattle as much as other pieces of metal gear banging against each other in the back of your car.

But there’s another feature of the tall Manfrotto 1004BAC  (B&H / Amazon USAUK), that I never quite was aware of. That there’s a certain poking-ability with them. You can extend it and poke stuff with it. Or in this case, lift the bride’s veil out of a tree.

At a wedding this weekend, as the bride and groom were posing outside on the steps of the church, a gust of wind grabbed the veil and wafted it away. It lodged in a tree. The limo drivers were onto it immediately, looking for something to dislodge the veil – and there was my light-stand. Look at the reach! And there was still one section to go. They hadn’t even gotten to the limit of that beast!

So there it is. These light-stands are awesome. They are fairly light-weight, they are very tall, and they stack together – and you can poke and dislodge stuff with it. Neat.

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podcast interview w/ Full Time Photographer podcast blog

John Rossi who maintains the Full Time Photographer website, interviewed me for the latest podcast on his site. As the name of his website would suggest, the theme of the interview was centered around business advice, and how I got started with my photography career.

When people ask me what kind of photography I do, I find it hard to describe these days exactly what it is that I do. My career as a photographer has moved away from purely shooting weddings and portraits. With the books and workshops as well as the Tangents blog, the photography work has expanded. A year ago I got my studio space, and now I offer it as a rental photo studio to other photographers. Commercial photography, Corporate photography and Headshots have been added to the mix of work that I do. I was even able to sell some of my Time-Lapse clips that I’ve shot. So it’s really a mixed bag at the moment. This diversity of course helps to keep it fresh and non-routine.

And this is part of what I discuss during this long rambling conversation – how I started, and where I am now. It’s been quite a journey. Along with the podcast with Steven Cotterell, this podcast interview takes it further than just a discussion of flash photography and lighting, into something else which is perhaps more informative in its own way.

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photography video tutorials by Craftsy

In conjunction with the team at Craftsy, I’ve presented four video tutorials – two on flash photography, and two on wedding photography. They’ve received very good feedback from those who enrolled so far.

These are ideal for photographers who want to learn more but whose time is restricted, and also can’t make it out to New York for a photography workshop. A video tutorial is a great way then to see the material. This is often easier to understand than just reading text. So while it isn’t quite in-person one-on-one tutoring, it is close to that with Craftsy’s interactive platform and well-structered video tutorials. It’s an online workshop on photography!

In addition to the four classes I presented on video, other photographers have also presented online video tutorials on various subjects. These are the other classes that are available at this time. Check them out!

 

Commercial Photography: Taking Product Photos That Sell
with Christopher Grey

Learn the business and techniques of product photography, guided by industry expert Chris Grey. Discover invaluable tips for successfully finding clients and collaborating with art directors, and create a dynamic portfolio with Chris’ step-by-step guidance through product shot setups. Master a range of strategic lighting designs, and showcase and accentuate the texture, form and detail of flagship products. Use subtle adjustments in modifiers and product position to take a shot from basic to blockbuster, and learn how to shoot reflective products for images that stand out from the pack. Plus, find out how to use post-processing techniques to improve your shots and create the polished, professional look clients want.

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bounce flash photography – adjusting the black foamie thing to be a snoot

During the day, as I photograph a wedding, I am continually mixing up the lighting, adapting and adjusting. It’s part of the process of giving my clients as much variety as possible, and also just being flexible in adapting to the demands of the various locations. It’s therefore a varied approach in using all kinds of light sources: off-camera flash, on-camera flash, video light and available light. It’s part of the fun, and part of the challenge of being a wedding photographer – thinking on your feet. Of course there’s extra pressure on you as photographer when you’re flown to Melbourne, Australia to photograph a wedding!

The morning after Peiwen and Eric’s wedding, they had the Tea Ceremony with the parents, and Peiwen was in traditional dress. I just had to get more portraits of the two of them, and with Peiwen in this striking red dress.

In the elevator lobby on their floor, there were these seats and mirrors and wood paneling that looked like it would make an elegant setting for some portraits of the couple. But the light there was uneven, and not very bright. I needed to add some light, but only had a video light with me, and on-camera flash. With that large mirror, someone holding up a video light would’ve involved a lot of Photoshop work. So the next option – bounce flash. But again, that large mirror there was a challenge.

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working with harder light sources in the studio – flash & continuous light  (model: Ulorin Vex)

With the recent photo session with Ulorin Vex in the studio, I played with variations of using harder light and using shadow as part of the image’s composition. The first setup was similar to a previous photo session in the studio with Anelisa:  smaller light = dramatic light. Ulorin Vex easily fell into poses well suited to this idea of using the shadow as part of the image’s design.

For this final image, I used a textured overlay to enhance the sun-drenched look. I also wanted to hide the texture of the wall a bit by cloaking it with the Photoshop texture. I used a warm colored texture, to echo the color of her hair, and which then also was a complement to the blue dress. The color also took away some of the starkness of the image.

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photographing a wedding in Melbourne, Australia

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wedding photography: dealing with the DJ’s lights

As wedding reception venues and DJs are becoming more sophisticated in their lighting, there’s now the added challenge of spotlights and lasers and other lighting effects that compete with the simplicity of just using flash.

So how do you deal with this? You just deal with this. One way or another.

You can either embrace the colors (as in the example above),
or you can use flash to neutralize some of the wild color casts.
Just how do you do that? Well, there’s a little bit of homework at the end of this.

Very often, I shoot towards the DJ’s booth, so that the wild colors become splashes of color, whether I add (on-camera bounce) flash, or not. This way I don’t have to directly compete with the lights, but they become an enhancement of the image.

With lasers skimming around – my advice is to shoot a lot to make sure you have enough images, in case some were spoiled by bright green dots. Also, learn to love photoshop and the Healing Brush.

With up-lighting that becomes quite prominent – well, there’s the little bit of homework to do at the end!

And if anyone advises you to use specific settings such as (for example):  1/60 @ f/4 @ 1600 ISO to cover every situation, they are fools who are misleading you. There are too many variables for generic camera settings. Scenarios and situations change. You need to adapt.

You’re not a passenger of your camera’s settings. You control them to allow more ambient light in, or less. And if you allow less ambient light in, you need to add additional light, whether flash or video light.

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window-light baby portrait photos – Liam

Any parent will know that the kiddo has a distinct personality from the moment it is born. For the photographer then, the ideal is to capture some of this personality.

My own take on photographing babies, is that I want to forego all the props and accoutrements associated with baby photography you often see – the hats and such. While the toys are often necessary to keep the child’s attention, I still like to photograph just the baby.

Liam’s parents were close by, getting his attention. I prefer that if anyone calls to him, that they do it right over my shoulder, nearly breathing down my neck. Snapping fingers and pointing where the child should look, never works. If anyone is going to call the baby, and I want the baby to look more or less towards the camera, then the other person needs to be right next to me, hovering right behind me.

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photographic style – inspiration, adjusting & adapting  (model: Ulorin Vex)

Photography has a never-ending learning curve. I think this is even more true as the technology expands and accelerates. Sometimes I feel that we’re running at full speed just to remain at a stand-still. That’s just the technology that we have to acquire what we need to know about to do our work and art the best. But even with the techniques and methods we have as photographers – we should always be investigating and analyzing the work of others, learn, and then rework and adapt it in our own style. Even if we acquire new skills in minute ways – it all adds up to where we are always on an upward curve, learning and becoming better.

When I first dived into photography, I spent countless hours reading books and photography magazines. I eventually discovered heaven – the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography, in Johannesburg. Shelves and shelves of books on photography! That was then – now we have complete overload with the work of other photographers and artists just a click away.  With that, I am constantly looking at the work of others, soaking in what others are doing.

A photographer that has really stood in the past year or so, is Craig Lamere. His style is clean and striking looking. There’s a dramatic simplicity to it, with beautiful lighting and impeccable post-processing. Check out his work.

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review: Sony Alpha a7R camera

February 21, 2014

review: Sony Alpha a7R camera

Sony is still on fire with their new camera releases. There is the delicious full-frame compact  Sony RX1 (B&H).  (Read my review of the Sony RX1).  For a relatively long while, the best compact camera on the market was the Sony RX100 (B&H) which was improved with the Sony RX100 II (B&H). The full-frame Sony A99 DSLR also received great reports.  So no doubt about it – Sony makes great cameras.

Another trend that has gained momentum in the last year or two – Mirrorless cameras. Without the bulk of the mirror and prism, the mirrorless cameras are more compact and weigh less. But instead of that direct optical view of the world around you, there’s an electronic viewfinder (EVF).  The EVFs tended to show lag – but great improvements have been made where they show nearly real-time what the scene unfolds in front of your camera. For some, it will be a huge adaptation working with these.

But I digress. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras have become more popular. Or at least, the photo industry has been pushing these really hard, creating a buzz about these cameras. The photo industry are obviously keen on new markets that are created.

Until now, mirrorless cameras have been crop-sensor cameras. Until now – Sony has released the 24 megapixel Sony Alpha a7 camera  (B&H) and the 36 megapixel Sony Alpha a7R camera  (B&H). The a7R is interesting in that it doesn’t have an optical low-pass filter. (Anti-aliasing filter.) This allows for greater image sharpness, at the expense of occasionally risking moiré  patterns.

I had my hands on a review copy of the Sony  a7R camera (B&H) and the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA lens (B&H) for a few weeks to give the camera a test run. My verdict? I kinda like it, but there are also a few surprises …

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