Just a post

Traditional, Not So Much…

Let me first apologize for being late with this post. Blame it on the dentist and the root canal. I am. Now that I am feeling a bit better and can actually eat food to keep up enough strength to type, I thought we could continue our discussion on light, long exposures and what you can do with it.

Below is an image of one of the most photographed sites in Philadelphia PA, USA. Located on the east bank of the Schuylkill (pronounced “SKOO-kull”) River, it has been a popular spot since at least the 1850s (most people who live here still can’t pronounce it though). According to Google, there are at least 72,000 images on the web of this beautiful location.


So how do you capture a location that is so popular and make it unique? Click on the link to see how I used a long exposure to show Boathouse Row in a new lig

When using long exposures to capture an images you can open a boat load (ouch) of opportunities. In the first shot I used my trusty Bogen tripod with Manfrotto 804RC2 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head (a great, inexpensive tripod head), camera set to ISO 200 with -1/3 EV, white balance is set to Cloudy (5500K) to give a good warm feel. The exposure was set to 5 seconds at f/5.6, and I used the 18-125mm Sigma lens set to 90mm. The image is nice, warm, inviting and, well, traditional. I however am not a traditionalist (most of the time).

In the second shot I used an old trick that makes the shot a bit less… average. First I swapped out the 18-125mm lens for the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8. I set exposure to 10 seconds at F/8 and still set to a WB of Cloudy, I zoomed into 200mm and framed the shot nice and tight and opened up the shutter. I immediately started to zoom out slow and steady for about 7-8 seconds and then let it sit for the last 2-3 seconds. This is the result.


It’s still the same location; color and tones are basically the same, yet it definitely is not the traditional shot of Boathouse Row!

When you have good solid equipment of any kind, a little creativity and a little wiliness you can get great in camera effects. You just have to have that willingness part. Willingness to experiment will teach you more than a good instructor. By letting things go and letting out the inner shooter in you amazing things begin to happen. This shot is a very minor example. And its all done in camera! Neither of these shots is manipulated in Photoshop at all.

So while its warm out and the humidity is still low in the evening, get out there and play! Let’s see what you can do.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Single, Small Light Source (sort of)

How many times have you heard a photographer or photography supplier say, “Oh, to get a good portrait you need strobes/flash/hot lights.”? Or maybe you have just read a few books about portraits and you see all the diagrams with snoots and gobos and umbrellas and big light sources. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to have a bunch of expensive equipment to get great shots.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there is no need for all kinds of different equipment. But do you have to have it to get the shot? Nope. Joe McNally said in both his books that to get something you have to give something and that’s very true.

Keep reading to see how I got this shot with just a 40watt light bulb in a 20 year old bedside lamp.
In the shot above I had my model, Lynn, lit only by an old bedside lamp with a 40watt bulb in it. All the windows in the room were blacked out and a black backdrop over that. I had the camera set to ISO 200, ¼ of second at f4.5 at 57mm and of course I was using a tripod. By doing the fairly long exposure I was able to capture the subtle shadows across Lynn’s face and still light her eyes. See the diagram below.



What I had to do was have Lynn hold very still and look right into the lens. Now I could have pulled this off with a speedlight or two and cranked up the exposure time to say 100th. Then you have to balance the light, take time to set everything, test shoot and retest and reshoot… But if you are patient and take the time, you need very little light. Just remember, little light equals long exposure.

In Lynn’s image above I was able to get a good key light reflection in her eyes because she was almost facing the light. Not the case with Amy’s shot below.

I wanted to cast more shadow across Amy’s face and I wanted more of a hair light look (not in this frame). That meant moving the light behind her. But that presented a problem, how to get the catch light in her eyes. I had to go out and get a light. Now being the cheap bastard I am I wasn’t going to buy a speedlight/hot light or strobe, after all I am working with a 40watt bulb here! SO what is the next best thing that will give that warm glow to the face? A $0.99 Bic Lighter. Yes I cheated; I used 2 light sources. The lighter is camera right, just in front of her face and at that speed provides a nice glow to her face. See the diagram below.


Now with the setup for Amy obviously I was using a tripod. The camera was set to ISO 200, 125mm, for 1 second at f5.6. Yes it took a full second but like I said above, the light is there, you just have to wait for it. [Note: these were shot in the same studio, with identical setups but on different dates]

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Go with the Feeling

Sometimes you get everything to work just right. I have spent many a shoot trying to get the lighting to work in a way that shows my subject in the way I envisioned when planning the shoot. Other times I go with just a hint of an idea. It’s usually the latter that works out best. At least for me.

I have spent days planning a shoot, getting all the equipment ready, making sure that everything works properly . It’s those times that I load up damn near the entire studio and pack it in the car. Still I’ll be missing the one reflector or lens or whatever I need and the shoot goes well, but not as well as I want it too. Other times I just go with a basic idea or feeling and BANG! I get the shot I wanted and more.

Jim, the man in this shot was one of those ‘go with the feeling’ times. We spent an entire day at 3 different locations. This shot was from the first location.

Click the link for more
The sun was mid morning coming over the wall behind Jim and putting him a dark shadow. If you look closely you can see the glare reflecting off his head a bit. I used 2 SB 800s to light Jim and the wall. The first SB 800(A) is bungeed to a light pole about 6’ in the air, set to wide, set to ½ power and aimed at the back wall. The second SB 800 (B) is sitting on top of a post at about waist level (3’ or so) and is snooted for light directly onto Jim’s beard and set on full. The camera is set to ISO 400, 1/60th at F18,focal length of about 70mm and handheld. A diagram of the setup is below. Notice the camera is in the street. The street is a one way coming from behind me. This setup of the speedlights left an interesting fall off as the light traveled up his face.



This left the eyes dark and cold with no key light to speak of. The resulting image was a strong look but it was only about 80% of the way there. Photoshop would get me to where I wanted to be. I took the image into Camera Raw and used a technique I learned via Scott Kelby and the NAPP website. The technique is Scott’s down and dirty Grunge Look. It can be done in Camera Raw or in Lightroom 2. If you are already a member of NAPP just give a search for Grunge. So with just that little Photoshop tweak I got this result. I wanted the beard to seem scratchy and course as the man wearing it. I think I got that in this image. What do you think?

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Photo Albums or YouTube.com

Once you have chosen a camera and you start shooting, over time you are going to build a body of work. Now that most images are digital we don’t tend to pull out old albums or boxes of pictures like we used to. When I was a kid my sister or I would see an album under the side tables by the sofa and one of us would pull out the album. Our parents would sit next to us and point out how cute we were when we were still in a diaper or worse, when we had been photographed naked as a baby. No bear skin rugs at my house…

Now that everything is digital, the box or album of pictures isn’t under the table or in the drawer anymore. Now they are on our computers (and hopefully backed up somewhere). So what do we do to encourage ourselves to pull those images out and look at them?

Click on the link below to see what I do with them

Read more

What Camera should I get? Part IV (and final)

A couple of weeks ago I started composing my first ever blog post. After I sat down and looked at what I had written I saw a long boring, uninteresting article that lacked any quality at all. At that point I was asking myself what I was getting into. I had just started a blog and dang it, I needed content.

The reason was that I glazed over important topics. When I started re-writing with my girlfriend/editor looking at each article, I took her suggestions and the article got longer; a lot longer. Those edits became the previous posts. This is where I wanted to be: DSLRs.

With DSLRs there are many manufacturers. We can discuss the greatness of each, but why? All that will do is create more ‘camera wars’ (for those that are not familiar, camera wars are much like computer wars. PC or Mac? Nikon or Canon or Sony or Pentax or…? Same fight, same result; none.

For the most part I am going to mention Nikon or Canon because that is what I know the most about. The fact remains that when you get to this level of equipment you are spending a large amount of money. Will they take better pictures for you? Not for you no. But if you take the time to learn how to use the equipment and what it can do, you will have the opportunity to take better pictures.

When you get a DSLR system you are getting just that, an entire system. That brings us back to that question again; “What are you going to photograph?” Also another question comes to mind: Do you have some old Nikon or Canon lenses lying around? Will they work with a new camera body? If those lenses are less than 25-30 years old there is a good chance they may. There is also a good chance that even though they will work, they will do so only in manual mode or at least not give you access to all the features of your new digital SLR.

The true question comes down to not what camera body you buy, it comes down to what lenses. After all you will change camera bodies over and over again throughout your lifetime. And usually when you buy into a system you tend to stick with it. You could change over to another system frequently if your last name is Gates and your father is in the software business.

Camera bodies are the brains of a system; well, the one other than yours. Like yours and my brain they get smarter. But unlike us, cameras don’t just look at a scene and say “hey, I shot this last time at F11 and you know I probably should have used F32”. Well they don’t do that yet anyway. That is your input. The camera only knows how to calculate the scene before it in a certain way unless you tell it not to. What also makes the camera see a scene differently is the lens. Each lens sees every scene in its own way. That is why there are so many different lenses, so you the photographer can interpret the scene the way you want the viewer to see it, not how the camera wants to see it.

Although lenses are dumb, they cost a lot of money! They see a scene in one way. The only change is by the setting you make on that lens, but F22 or F11 or F2.8 is always going to require a certain amount of light at ISO X and an exposure of Y. That never changes. Lenses are dumb. But good lenses see that scene exactly the same way every time the same way and at the same settings. Always. It is what you can count on. It’s what they do and they may not do anything else, but they do that and they do it well.

Remember, the manufacturer is going to come out with the new and improved camera next year that is just so much smarter and can do so much for you that you just have to have the newest, best, most current camera out there! After all it’s the new and improved version, right? That is why the lenses are the most important investment you will make, because you only want to make it once.

To get you started on your journey, take a look at these two sites; http://dpreview.com/ and http://www.steves-digicams.com. These two sites have more information than I can swallow in one sitting. They both are independent and have great information about almost all cameras out there. You can do a Google search on ‘camera reviews’ and you will get 73,200,000 hits. These two are the first three for a reason.

That wraps up “What Camera should I get?”

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

What Camera should I get? Part III

Ah yes, the wonderful mystery of the megapixel. Cameras come in all sizes, and all amounts of megapixels. So how much do you need? Is ‘more’ better? Size does count, but not the way you think. If you are printing just the standard 4×6 inch (10×15 cm), almost all cameras will be fine; the standard is fast becoming about 5mp (megapixels). You can get up to 34mp for about $35,000 if you want it, but do you need it? Probably not. You can print up to an 8×10 inch photo with little or no pixel distortion (depending on the subject of the shot, maybe a little larger).

The question actually comes down to the size of the sensor, not how many megapixels. If you want to print larger than 8×10 you want to consider more pixels, but if you want to print sharper at any size you want to go with a bigger sensor.

Image Sensors

In this image you see two representations of sensors. One is for Point & Shoot cameras and the larger is to represent DSLRs.Now they even make what is called a full frame sensor. The full frame sensor is the same size as the old 35mm film negative. The point is that if you project an image on both of the sensors shown, you can imagine that it is going to be reproduced in better detail with a larger sensor simply because it captures more color information. The more information your camera has to work with the sharper the image. So it’s true! Bigger is better!

This is a very simple explanation and overview, but it gives you the idea, no matter what she tells you that size does matter!

In part IV of the series I will get deeper into DSLRs and what to consider when buying a ‘system’.

Until then, Happy Shooting!
“Magick” Michael

What Camera should I get? Part II

In my last post I wrote about the first three questions you needed to ask yourself when thinking about what camera to buy.

Cost or what can I afford.
Types of images or what am I going to photograph.
Convenience or how do I want the camera to work.

When looking at cost you have to first estimate how long you think you will have your camera. Back when I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 104, everyone assumed the technology was so advanced that you could keep using it for 10 or more years. With today’s technology it seems like something new comes out every 6 months! Are you going to want the next greatest thing? Perhaps you are willing to buy “old” technology, you know something that came out last Holiday Season? (Even if you’re reading this in January)

If you are willing to get a camera that came out just 6 months ago, you can probably find a heck of a deal! With websites like www.amazon.com, www.ebay.com or even Fred’s local camera shop there are great deals everywhere.

Let’s think about what types of images you want to capture. If you are going to be taking pictures of your new puppy, do you want to have to change lenses? Chances are that you may not have time to switch lenses when the puppy is doing something that is just so cute (like peeing on your mother in-law’s new fur coat). However if you are going to be trying to photograph your nephew’s football game from the second level of the stadium you may need to have that reach of a strong telephoto lens. Also consider the differences between landscapes and portraits, or snapshots of the family reunion and street photography.

This leads us to convenience. If you want the puppy peeing, it may be best to have a camera that you can carry in your pocket, the standard point and shoot type camera. In many cases it is in one way, inconvenient to have to switch lenses. Then again, it’s more than inconvenient to miss that great play when your nephew wins the game for his team. With a little planning, switching lenses can be worth that little extra effort.

If after asking yourself these questions you have decided to go with the point and shoot type camera, it’s now just a matter of what features you want or need. If so, keep in mind the utmost important thing when it comes to all cameras: zoom.

In the point and shoot category manufacturers make cameras that have optical zoom and digital zoom. Digital zoom is the biggest marketing ploy there ever was, well other than the cube flashes for that Instamatic I mentioned earlier. Digital zoom is just the act of cropping an image. Cutting it down so that what you see is just the part of the image you wanted to ‘zoom’ in to. You can do the same thing in Photoshop or some other photo editing software. Always opt for optical zoom.

In the next part of our series: a brief overview of the all mighty megapixels and what you need to know about them.

Until then, Happy Shooting!

“Magick” Michael

What Camera should I get? Part I

As a professional photographer I am often approached by someone asking me, “What camera should I get?” or “I saw this camera on sale. Is it a good deal?” Well that depends on a lot of things. Certainly you aren’t going to buy a DSLR for an 8 year old! But then does the average 30 year old even want a DSLR or even a prosumer (one step below pro but above consumer) camera? To decide what camera is best for you, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

The very first question you want to ask is, “How much do I want to spend can I spend without my partner freaking out?” The amount you spend isn’t as important as it used to be. Cameras are coming down in price and yet adding features that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

The next question is what types of images do you want to capture? It’s doubtful you are going to shoot a professional sporting event for the evening paper with a point and shoot. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it is much more likely the editor is going to want either more or better shots than you can get with a pocket camera.

The last of the big three questions is a matter of convenience. Well, actually, the question itself is convenience! Do you want to carry a bulkier, but more flexible, SLR and multiple lenses around with you or do you want something that fits in your pocket or purse? (If you say fits in my fanny pack, leave. Close this browser window and go watch the fashion channel. When you learn why that is a horrible thought, come back and finish reading.)

In future posts I will address each of these questions in greater depth. By the end of the series you will have a better understanding of what to look for in a camera and possibly even know what camera you want! While you’re waiting for the next post, check out my images on http://www.magickmichael.com. See if you can figure out which camera I used for each.

“Magick” Michael