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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reverse engineering an image: photo session with a couple in bright sunlight

When I posted this sequence of photos on Facebook of Jessica and Tony’s engagement photo session in New York, there were a flurry of questions. Which lens? 50mm? 85mm? What type of lighting? What were my camera settings?

Well, this stuff has been covered before with numerous articles on photography technique, and lighting with photo sessions. So by now, anyone who regularly follows the Tangents blog, and have done some reading, will be able to figure this out.

So here’s your challenge – look at the photos, look at the location, and reverse engineer the camera settings and lighting. Figure out the possible camera settings, lens choice, focal length, and details about the lighting. I’ve added 1200 px images if you click through, to make the thought-process easier.

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book review: Shoot to Thrill, by Michael Mowbray

- Speedlight flash techniques for photographers

I have a distinct bias when it comes to good books on photography – they are highly under-valued. Here again you have a book which sells for only $21 on Amazon, with 150 pages of info to dip into and learn from, whenever you want. Books are a bargain!  But then, as As an author of several photography books myself, I have a very strong opinion about the value of photography books.

The focus in this book is on using speedlights on a variety of shoots – on location and in the studio. Since the focus is on the use of speedlights, the material in this book is accessible to everyone. We should all own a speedlight or two as a matter of course. But then, I am biased there too.

The format of the book is straightforward and ideal for dipping into - there are 60 examples as quick lessons, each as a double-page spread showing you a main image, and explaining how the author-photographer achieved it.


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video clip: Direction & Quality of Light – your key to better portrait photography

The video clip of the presentation I did at B&H to promote my book – Direction of Light – has by now been viewed more than 137,000 times since it was posted in January 2013 !!

But as the saying inevitably goes, the book is always better than the movie. So in case you haven’t seen the video clip yet, it is a good introduction to the book, while also taking a few detours along the way. If you liked the video clip, the book contains even more, and for less than $20, you can own and hold and touch and smell the book. All yours!

You can order it from Amazon via this link,
or even directly order an autographed copy from me via the same link.

And for those of you who have already bought the book, a big thank you! The support is always appreciated. And if I could ask a small favor – a nice review on Amazon always helps.

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I’ll be visiting South Africa in August 2014 – the airplane ticket is booked and confirmed! 

I’m attending a friend’s wedding (as a guest) in Cape Town over the weekend of Aug 20th, 2014. With that, I’m making it a two-week trip to South Africa. It’s been 9 years since I’ve been there! Way overdue.

I’ll be in Jo’burg and Pretoria for a week from Aug 19th (Tue) until Aug 26th (Tue). Then I will fly down to Cape Town. I’ll be in Cape Town for a week, from Aug 26th (Tue) until Sept 2, (Tue). Then I fly back home to the USA. So that’s two weekends then that I will be in South Africa, visiting friends and family - the first week in Jo’burg / Pretoria, and the other week in Cape Town.

I will be traveling with the minimum amount of gear and personal belongings – a toothbrush, Fuji X100s and a MacBook Air. You know, stripped down. So while I don’t intend to present any workshops there, I am quite open to the idea of doing a seminar presentation in any of those three cities – Jo’burg, Pretoria and Cape Town. (Similar to how I did it in Melbourne during my trip to Australia recently.) So I would like to coordinate this with someone who has access to a venue with a projector and a screen – low cost is great, free is even better. Drop me an email if you have something that would be suitable.

To keep up to date on news about this, sign up for the email newsletter, or regularly check back here. (While I am going to post news about this on Facebook, FB is not searchable and is a pain to use.)


posing tips: pose the hands – asymmetry

Similar to the recent post with Jessica J as the model, where I placed her feet in an asymmetrical position for a more dynamic pose, I did the same when posing Anita DeBauch’s hands during a photo session.

In the companion photograph, you will notice that her hands are symmetrical around her face. While the pose does look cute, an asymmetrical positioning of her hands and fingers improved the pose.

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interview: NvN on photography

And just when you think you’ve had enough of my face already, here I am in a video interview.

I met up with Ed Verosky in his studio to chat about photography and the direction I’m taking. Here’s a summary of the conversation. I already am aware that I use my hands to talk. In fact, it would be tough for me to explain something without moving my hands around in semaphore. But apparently I also use my eyebrows to express what I am trying to get across.


I am probably the only person who will ever give you the following comments, but then again, I am probably one of the only photographers capable of looking at your work and who knows how little you know.

You have no idea about posing whatsoever. Not to worry, most photographers don’t know anything either so you are safe.

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boudoir photography: dealing with mixed light – daylight & incandescent

Boudoir photo sessions can be nerve-wracking – not just for your subject or client who undoutably feels vulnerable, but also for you as the photographer. You have to juggle speed in shooting, with meticulous posing and (hopefully) impeccable lighting …. and still keep the flow of the shoot going, and also keep your subject’s confidence up. With this boudoir photo session in a NYC studio, I photographed my friend, Jessica Joy.

I wanted to use this window of  course, and incorporate the boxes. It all just begged to have my friend Jessica J sit on the window sill. The mixed lighting – daylight from outside, and incandescent from inside – seemed like it might be a challenge. One way would be to embrace the different color balance between daylight and incandescent light, or try to even it all out somehow.

I tried a stripbox with speedlights, but the light was too flat. Not bad, but all the nuanced available light was lost, and I wanted to retain the mood of the venue. I put away the flashes and softbox, and grabbed my Litepanels Croma LED video light (vendor). The Croma has adjustable WB, which was a big help here in finding a color balance that best suited the transition from window-light to Incandescent. I did allow the image to go much warmer for the interior and for Jessica, and not let the background go blue.

Here’s the setup, and let’s also look a bit at the pose …

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how to update the thumbnail when posting a link on Facebook

If ever you’ve tried to post a link on Facebook from your site or blog, and the thumbnail appears incorrect, then there is an easy (albeit obscure fix). Using the Debugger tool in Facebook, post that link, and run the debugger tool. The cache will be cleared and the thumbnail will be updated now when you repost the link.

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