Sunday, March 12, 2017

Good Glass is More Important

One of the things that new photographers battle with is gear purchasing. Many photographers on a budget, especially while in school have a hard time deciding on how to buy the gear they need.

One of the primary things new photographers needs to remember is although it’s nice to have the latest, greatest camera bodies, it’s not as much of a necessity as high quality glass. Whether you are a Canon or Nikon shooter, each company has different varieties of glass with different levels of quality, but this is where you should be spending your money as a new photographer. This first image I shot on Sunday March 5, 2017 at the Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I did NO post processing, this image is straight out of my camera using the older Canon EF 100-400mm F/3.5 - F/5.6 L USM lens.

Camera bodies get updates almost every year, but lenses change less frequently and when it comes to camera bodies, unless the new model has some new technology that you absolutely need for your photography, you are better off spending your hard earned money on high quality glass. The reason for this is although Canon’s L lenses are really expensive, you can keep using the glass for a long time to come as it doesn’t become majorly outdated in just a couple years.

Even though Canon released a newer 24-70mm F/2.8 Mk II L IS or a new 85mm F/1.2 L USM, many pros are still shooting with the original models as they still take fantastic photos. I know when you look at say the 70-200mm F/2.8 L USM Mk II can sell for $2,000, you can often find the original one used in great condition for $900 and it will still work and make great images for years to come so you are going to get more out of that lens than you will $900-$2,000+ for a new camera body. This second image of Dale Jr's car being pushed from the garage to the pit area for the start of the race I captured with my 50mm F/1.2 L USM lens and again, NO post processing other than the lens profile correction in Lightroom.

There are many sites where you can buy good or even great condition previous model L lenses from reputable companies like KEH, Adorama, or B&H. If you are up on your lens knowledge you can also get good deals on Craigslist or eBay as well. If you want to try out a lens before you buy or be able to use one before you can afford to buy you can go ti sites like Kitsplit or Lumoid.

So, remember, before you spend that tax refund on a new camera body, look at buying newer, high quality glass for your current camera body and you will be amazed at how much better your images can be with high quality glass.


Monday, January 30, 2017

New iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode

Back in the fall of 2016 when Apple announced the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus they also talked about a new camera mode for the iPhone 7 Plus only, called Depth of Field Portrait Mode.

Using this new mode on the 7 Plus’ camera, you can shoot a portrait and have the great “bokeh” effect for the background while the subject is in sharp focus. At the time it was mentioned that the new mode would only work when the iPhone’s camera recognized a face, so it would only be useful for human portraits. I am happy to say that now that Apple has actually released this feature via software update that it actually works quite well even on objects.

Tiki character shot with Depth of Field Effect on iPhone 7 Plus

This past weekend I went out shooting with my photography club and I decided to try out this new Depth of Field Effect mode on my iPhone 7 Plus. During our photowalk we went to Constitution Lakes Park in Dekalb County, Ga. A man that did volunteer work at this park found a pit full of trash and decided to start using the trash to make art.

One of his pieces is a Tiki character attached to a fallen tree and when I spotted it, I thought it would be an interesting subject to test the new portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus camera system. As you can see in my attached photo, the new mode does work quite well even though my subject is not an actual person.

Fire Hydrant shot with the Depth of Field Effect in Sparta, Ga
 On Sunday I was out shooting for my Forgotten Pieces of Georgia series and stopped in Sparta, Ga to shoot some video of this small town which is turning into a ghost town. Before filming, I spotted a rusty old fire hydrant and decided to test the iPhone 7 Plus camera again and again it worked quite well with the bokeh effect.

Last weekend I was also visiting the family of my girlfriend Janice and while there, I used my iPhone 7 Plus to snap a photo of their hummingbird feeder using the new portrait mode.

Hummingbird feeder shot on iPhone 7 Plus
 If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, I encourage you to give it a try and see what kind of images you can create. It cannot replace your DSLR, but you can make some interesting images with this new tool in your bag.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Use Lightroom to Enhance the Sky

This week I wanted to write about a Lightroom technique to enhance the sky in your photos. Sometime when you are out shooting landscapes you might get a fantastic shot, but when you get home to post process, you find the sky is kind of blown out, looking more white than blue with clouds. How can you fix this and not end up scrapping the image all together, or having the shot look ho hum, enter the Gradient Tool in Lightroom.

Blah sky with some clouds
 The Lightroom Gradient tool in the Develop Module can really help improve your sky, especially if you capture a shot at a lake or river and you can see the blue of the sky and white of the clouds in the reflection on the water. Select the Gradient Tool, which looks like a rectangle and then take the little + crosshair and hold it at the top of your image, now hold down the shift key, which will make your pull down go straight and drag to the bottom of the sky portion.

Some blue added in with Gradient Tool
Next go to the Adjustments for the Gradient Tool and use the Highlight slider or Exposure slider and pull out more of the details in the sky. Generally the Highlight slider will get the job done and I tend to always shoot my landscapes especially with my Light meter in the camera about two ticks before the mid center tick mark. Then, when I edit, I use the Highlight slider and the Shadows slider to pull in more details in those areas, but sometime, you need just a bit more to get that nice looking sky, and thats when the Gradient tool comes in handy.

Finished image
You can even take your adjustments when you are done and save them as a custom adjustment, name it, and then use it over and over again. Lightroom is without a doubt one of, if not THE best post processing software on the market for photography, which is why so many Pros use Lightroom worldwide. Now one thing to remember is shoot in RAW, so you can actually get those details to pull out in Post Processing. You can use Lightroom to work JPG files, but those file types don't allow nearly as much improvement without the file going to crap in the process.

I know what you are thinking, "But RAW files are so BIG"! They are, but memory cards are fairly cheap these days and if you are shooting landscapes, you don't need a large FPS like you would for sports. So, next time you get a nice landscape, but the sky is blown out, don't despair, just grab that Gradient Tool and work some "magic".


Monday, January 2, 2017

Peak Design Does It Again!

This week I wanted to write about a new camera carry system from the good folks at PeakDesign. I have been buying PeakDesign’s items for a couple years now, they came out with a nice camera carry system called the Capture Pro Clip. This unique system allow photographers to attach their cameras to their own belt or backpack straps and have a quick disconnect via a tripod style plate so you could remove the camera, shoot and snap it back into place when done!

Capture Pro Clip System
I bought two of the Capture Pro Clips systems and I have not regretted it once! They are high quality systems, made of metal and hold your DSLR securely, I have worn mine while riding my motorcycle and had no issues with it coming loose and losing a camera.

PeakDesign has also come out with their own camera bags, which are weather-proof and comes with a unique Origami-Inspired compartment separators. They also have their own camera cover and straps for carrying your camera.

Capture Pro in action

Today, I am writing about one of their new items, their Anchor Links system. This system allows a photographer to use their favorite camera strap and have high strength, quick disconnects, which make it easier to have multiple cameras and one strap out in the field! The Anchor Links systems works with ANY camera strap that has ends that are 1cm wide or less, which is pretty much the industry standard since the strap has to attach to the two metal slots on the camera itself.

The Anchor Links system gives you a strong, quick disconnect system for your camera strap so if you are like myself and have several cameras, you can quickly move the strap from camera to camera. When I go out on a shoot, I usually carry at least two cameras so I don’t have to change lenses in the field and risk getting dirt on my sensor. By using the Capture Pro clip system in conjunction with these Anchor Links, I can use the same strap with both cameras!
Anchor Links System

Peak Design’s patented system allow you to attach Anchors to your camera’s strap tabs and leave them on all the time. They are small and non-intrusive so they don’t add any extra weight to your camera, but when you want to attach your favorite strap, just slide the Anchors into the Link on your strap and “snap” they lock into place! When you want to switch cameras, just push in on the Anchor and pull down and the Anchors release and the strap can then be added to another camera!

Another nice thing is, the small bungee cord-style Anchor straps that attach to your camera will change color over time as they weaken from use to let you know it’s time to replace them. I have had my system for a while now and no issues at all and I carry some heavy gear like my Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD lens for wildlife and this lens weighs a whopping 4.42 pounds!

Anchor Links System in use on a DSLR
I had been toying with trying to make my own quick-disconnect system for my favorite camera strap, which happens to be my gel-padded Canon CPS strap, but Peak Designs beat me to the punch. Best of all, the Anchor Links system only costs $19.99 and extra Anchors are $9.99 for a set of four, enough to attach to two different cameras!

So if you want a way to quickly and securely use your favorite strap on two different cameras or just remove your strap when shooting in your studio, I highly recommend the Peak Design Anchor Links system!

*All images belong to Peak Design.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Focus Stacking

 This week I wanted to write about a photography technique that I recently started playing with that I learned during my recent View Camera Theory class.

Every seen a photo in a magazine ad for a new watch or other small item and wondered “How do they get the entire item in such sharp focus?” They use a technique called Focus Stacking so that every part of that Rolex is in razor sharp focus, from the numbers and hands on the watch to the band attached to it.

Focus Stacking is where you set your camera up on a tripod so you are nice and stable, then you shoot the product or item, changing your focus point but not moving the camera or changing the focal length.

This is 5 captures of the same scene but with different focus points.
 By shooting multiple captures on the product with a different part in focus each time and them combining them in Photoshop, you end up with a finished image that had every part of the watch in sharp focus with high detail.

Once you have captured your images, import them into Lightroom and then go to the Develop module and activate your Len Profile Correction. Once you have that done then select all of the images in the group that you shot and select the Photo menu item, then go down and select “Open as Layers in Photoshop.”

Once they are opened in Photoshop, select all of the Layers at once, then click the Edit Menu and choose Auto-Align Layers. Then when that has completed, click the Edit menu again and choose Auto-Blend Layers. When the process has completed, you will have a single new image where everything is in sharp focus and with high details.

All 5 shots from above combined into this Stacked image

Now all you have to do is save the new image and you are done. Focus Stacking is a lot of fun and can give you fantastic result so grab your trip, cable release and tripod and give Focus Stacking a try!


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Get More Out of Your Wide-Angle Lens

Many photographers feel that portrait lenses are only 50mm, 85mm and 135mm, which is also why the 70-200mm F/2.8 is the best selling lens in the world whether they are made by Canon, Nikon, Sigma or Tamron.

I know you will think I am crazy but you can actually get more use out of your wide-angle lens than just shooting landscapes. One of the really creative uses for your wide-angle lens is Wide-Angle Portraits!

Wide-Angle Portrait by standing above and shooting down

Now before you start flaming me saying I have gone off the deep end, hear me out. Yes a wide-angle lens will make your subjects face all exaggerate because their nose might look huge and their eyes and ears small, but by shooting creatively you can make that wide-angle to create some really awesome shots.

Instead of shooting your subject head on like you would with a regular portrait lens, try shooting them from above, pointing the wide-angle lens down at them, or if you are shooting a full body portrait, shoot from their feet. Why would you shoot at their foot level??? Well because you will make them seem taller. Every wonder how Hollywood can make an actor 5 foot 6 look 6 feet tall, well they shoot them from down low with a wide-angle lens and *BAM* Tom Cruise looks like he’s 6 foot tall instead of 5 foot 7.

Getting down low with your Wide-Angle creates a new perspective
 Another great use for your wide-angle lens as far as portraits go is the Environment Portrait as you can capture your subject and more of their surroundings. Now one thing to keep in mind when shooting with your wide-angle, get closer or you end up with them looking like an action figure instead of an action hero.

Hercules - this image borrowed from Digital Photography

Even when using your wide-angle for landscapes, make them more interesting by shooting at ground level. If you are afraid to lay down on the ground, crouch and set the camera on the ground and shoot. It might be a little tricky to get your focus lock, but if you use Back Button Focus, it’s much easier.

Additionally, you can shoot multiple people and placing them at different distances you can make some really cool looking photos!

Environmental Portrait from Digital Photography
 Now that I got your creative juices flowing, grab that wide-angle lens and make some awesome images!


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Enough with the Pixels

So this week I got my copy of the new B&H catalog and on the rear cover is an ad for Canon’s new Cinema camera that is capable of 4.5K video. Every time I see this kind of stuff I think to myself, enough with the fake perceived new pixel resolution. The thing that irritates me the most is consumers being suckered into buying these products.

Why am I so annoyed, well because unless you read the articles about it over the last couple of years, most neuroscientists agree that these resolutions are undetectable by the human eye.

"There's going to be some density beyond which you can't do any better because of the limits of your eye," said Don Hood, a professor of ophthalmology at Columbia University, in a phone interview with NBC News.

A person's field of vision covers about 200 degrees, a little more than a semicircle. At arm's length their index finger's fingernail will appear to be about the width of one of those degrees. Imagine that fingernail covered in 120 alternating black and white stripes — being able to discern those stripes at that distance is just about the theoretical limit of the human eye.

In reality, though, hardly anyone has such superb vision. In fact, most people would be unable to discern pixels or lines twice that size. And whether a phone or tablet display meets that standard depends on how far it it is from the viewer. In a living room, a viewer's 40- to 60-inch TV is positioned at a fixed distance, probably seven to nine feet away. Unless pixel-hungry TV fans buy far larger set, or push their couches much closer, any increases in resolution simply won't be perceived.

Most experts agree that 3D was a more meaningful invention than 4K because at least 3D can be seen by the human eye.

So if piling on more pixels isn't the next big thing — despite what TV makers and retailers will try to tell shoppers over and over again — what is? Experts said there are plenty of ways displays could improve.

Neuroscientist point to newly developed "quantum dot" technology for displays that is already leading to far better color representation on some devices. Advancements in dynamic range, leading to displays capable of showing light and shadow in movies and games the way we see them in real life.

When you're in a scene where there's indoor stuff, outdoor stuff, glossy materials reflecting other lights ... that dynamic range is huge,. Consumer-grade displays don't get that stuff right.

Some of the great masters, the painters, they knew things about light and shadow. They kind of knew instinctively how the retina works. In other words, perhaps the secret to a better TV is hidden in the smile of the Mona Lisa.

So, keep all of this in mind, not only when you buy TVs and other displays, but also when buying newer cameras. If you think your customers will prefer the new 4.5K or 5K video, you are wasting your time, better to stick with what actually works, rather than having clients upset because you shot their wedding in 5K and they cannot see a quality difference.