Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Senior Portrait Session: but first a rant

Long time no post...sorry. I have let this blog slip away. Hopefully this can be the start of more regular postings.
I want to talk about senior photos, rant a bit, give some tips for photographers, and tips for those seeking senior photos:

  I just shot a senior session at a local garden. I arrived at 2:30 for a 3:00 session so that I could scout a bit. I had been there before but wanted to check the light and make sure that nothing had changed drastically from the last visit.
  From 2:30 until I finished my session at 5pm, six other "photographers" had come through with clients. I couldn't believe some of the stuff that they were doing. It was obvious that they had zero control over their camera. Two of them I got close enough to them so that I could see that they were shooting on auto mode (you  know, that wonderful green button on the dial [please don't miss my sarcasm there] that does everything for you). I didn't need to see the results to know that the photos were going to be snapshots. I define a snapshot as what anyone could do with a camera set to the auto mode. That is fine for anyone...except for someone taking money from a person and representing themself as a photographer. It drives me nuts. If I put a hose in my hand, am I magically a firefighter? If I get a hammer, am I a carpenter? Why is it that our society accepts this as a standard for photographers?

Rant done. Now some advice for those seeking photographers. Ask them a couple of pointed questions.
1. Do you shoot RAW or JPEG? Ask them why. The answer doesn't matter as much as that they know what you are asking and have a justification for their choice. Personally if they don't shoot RAW...I would move on but that is another story.
2. Do you shoot Aperture priority, Shutter priority, or Manual mode? Just check to see if they know those terms and are comfortable answering them. Again, the answer is less important than their ability to give a thoughtful answer.
3. What software do you use for post processing? If they don't use any, walk away. Dont fall for the "you don't need it if you shoot it right in camera" line. Ask any professional photographer (I mean a real professional photographer) and they all use software.

Just three questions will give you a good feel of how much the potential photographer truly knows about his tool.

Now onto my shoot that I did yesterday. It went from 3-5pm and she had two outfits. Her mother came along to be my assistant which was a huge help and I love it when someone is willing to be there to help. So in two hours, we had two outfits and as you will see we got several very different looks out of the same location by simply understanding how to use the camera to control the light. In fact, all but one of these images was purely natural light (and a cheap $20 reflector...this isn't about money). I did use a softbox for one shot.

Images: This was 100% natural light. The model is heavily backlit by the setting sun as you can see by the rimlight around her hair and her left arm. The color is coming from a bush that is filtering the sun. I basically had her crawl under the bush. I said "I know that this is going to sound odd but just trust me on this one". The light on her face is from her mother holding a reflector to bounce the sun back at her. I had her use the gold side of it to try to match the warm setting sun. Shot in Av priority

Next one:
Again totally natural light. Mom was aiming a bit of light back at her face with a reflector. The backlit sun highlights the right side of her body beautifully. This was a playful moment that came about as we were moving locations and she started dancing with the scarf. Having a client be comfortable is crucial. This model was amazing. On a side note: try taking this shot with a camera on the green auto mode and you would have a client basically in total shadow. I shot this in Av priority with a plus 1-2 stop and also in Manual mode.

Natural light from two sources. 1. the setting sun directly on her. The sun was low enough that it was a warm light and not harsh mid day sun. 2. the sun is reflecting off of the water in front of her and filling in the shadows beautifully. This was shot either Av or M mode

Next: This was a different look for sure but I liked it, showed it to Mom and the model and they did too so we went with it. This is sunlight directly from behind to outline her and a gold reflector feathered just to her face to create a real moody look. Once again, all natural light. Av or M mode

This is shot in a very shady spot and I couldn't get the reflector into position to fill so I used a sofbox for this shot. It is a medium softbox from Paul Buff, a vagabond portable battery from Buff, and a syc cord to trigger it. Nothing fancy but another look for the session. Shot in M mode

Position was crucial for this one. This was the first shot we did. Full body, playful, and a great way to loosen up for the rest. The light was still pretty harsh at 3pm so I placed her in the shadow of the tree. We used the reflector to get some light back on her and I also had to push this a bit in post to bring the exposure up on the model. This, as all of my work, was shot in RAW which allows me that freedom to make changes like that. JPEG is much less forgiving.

So there were more images and looks but this should give you a good idea of what you should expect a relatively competent photographer to accomplish at a photo session. I am just moving into senior work so I am filling out my portfolio now. This type of shoot would start in the $250 range and up. You should expect to pay for good photos. If someone is doing them for free or $50 or some other ridiculous fee, expect to get that type of a result. Best of luck! Send any questions you may have and also visit my website at My photo website or check out my mostly sports images at My Flickr site

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Canon EOS 5D Mark III part 2

Click to see larger image

I have now had some time to shoot with the 5DIII along side my 1D Mark IV for several different events. I am still acquainting myself with the AF cases, etc but I feel like I can make a decent assessment of the camera.Virtually all of my shooting has been fall sports. Soccer, Field Hockey, Ice Hockey, Football, etc. at both the High School and Collegiate levels.
I don't do scientific testing or prepared studio shots, etc. I simply get out and shoot the things that I normally shoot and then check the results..simple and tells me what I need to know as a photographer.

I will compare this camera to the 1D Mark IV where applicable.

I have been shooting 1D bodies for over five years..there is no comparison. The 5D III feels cheap in comparison. I don't think that it is but comparing to the mark IV, it is small, out of balance, and feels cheap.
I added the battery grip and it made a huge difference. It balances the camera on my big lenses, gives vertical controls, and makes the camera more comfortable to use. One thing that I don't like about the grip is that the controls are not exactly in the same place as the camera body. I think with bit more use, it will be a non-issue but I still fumble a bit to get my thumb on the focus instantly.

The 5DIII is nice to shoot but again lacks in responsiveness in comparison to the markIV. It is slower to wake up, has a bit more lag, the shutter isn't as snappy, etc. Coming from anything but a 1D body and I am sure people will be more than happy with it. The bright full frame viewfinder is fantastic.

My camera evolution has been: 20D, 40D, 1D mark III, ID mark IV, and the 5D III. I honestly think that the 5D III AF is the best yet. The cases are a bit confusing and the zones and points complex but once you figure it out...it is a great system. If I could get this AF into my mark IV I would be happy to do so.

Files and high ISO:
I think that there is maybe 1/2 stop or so of high ISO improvement over my mark IV. Sometimes I don't see much difference and then at other venues it seems to be closer to a stop of improvement.
As far as the files, the camera produces beautiful images that can handle cropping and post-processing (I shoot 100% RAW) with ease.

I got this camera for a great price with the thought that I could easily sell it without a loss if I didn't like it. Well, I am keeping it. My guess is that the 1Dx is the camera that I am looking for...a combo of the ruggedness and responsiveness of the 1D mark IV and the AF and new features of the 5D III. I could sell both my bodies to fund the 1Dx but in reality, I can do my job better when I have two cameras working. My combo has been the 1DIV with a 300 2.8 lens with a 1.4x converter and then the 5DIII with a 135 F2.0 to cover closer action. My next purchase (there always seems to be a next one) will likely be the 70-200 2.8 II.
I sold my 70-200 2.8 IS about a year ago. I was never thrilled with the AF, etc on it in comparison to prime lenses.

Click to see larger image.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New weapon in the arsenal coming...

I have been laboring over what if any piece of equipment would allow me to do better work or give my clients better images. On the short list is a 400mm 2.8 lens, the 70-200 2.8 IS II lens, and the forthcoming 24-70 2.8 II lens. Each of these are amazing lenses by all reports and would allow me to capture measurably better images than right now (I have the focal distances covered but with older lenses or teleconverters,etc.).
The thing is, I can still capture those images now so with those lenses ranging from $2300.00 to $11,000 (for a new 400 2.8) is it worth it?
As primarily a sports shooter, the one thing I cannot handle is when action comes at me so quickly that I don't have time to change lenses. I shoot with a 1D Mark IV...no second body.
With that little epiphany, I realize that a second body can in fact get me images that I cannot even capture now at all. I also am asking for trouble when shooting weddings (even though I always shoot with a partner).

That is a long-winded rationalization for what is coming in the mail tomorrow. A brand spanking new 5D Mark III from Adorama. This camera with its new AF will serve well as a second sports body. With its full frame 21mp sensor it can be my ideal portrait body. With its great high ISO performance it can be my ideal event body...Woot Woot.
Here is a link to a review below. I will post my impressions after a week or two of using it.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera Review

The digital picture is a great source for all things Canon and beyond. Great in depth reviews, news, etc. check it out. www.the-digital-picture.com

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Another Poster image

                       -Click the image to see it larger-

For the past year, I have been shooting images that Orono High School uses for posters that are displayed around the school. They get printed at about 24x36 (maybe a bit bigger). Each image has a theme attached to it and words are added to the image. Last year some of the words were; determination, drive, focus...you get the idea. The problem was, and is, is that I was bringing out my full lighting kit to shoot these images and the shoots were taking a long time. Since I also work for the school, I am not being paid my usual rates (I don't want to hear it).
This year, I am back at it but I am trying to go with minimalist gear and am trying to get the shots done quickly...but still get usable images.
So for this one I showed up at practice with my camera and one speedlight. It was 2pm so it was intense daylight and no cloud cover. The Athletic Director told me the shot he wanted: Jack out front pulling for Norton with both guys in frame but focus on Jack as he is the student chosen to be featured.
I tried several angles but ended up shooting from the ground and I had another player holding my speedlight and tracking Jack as they ran just past my right shoulder. The flash was bare, and he aimed it at his face with 1/8 power and I triggered it with skyports. It took about 20 minutes to shoot from getting out there to walking off the field.
The image isn't really natural looking with so much light hitting Jack's face so in post, I tweaked the settings in ACR to give it an HDR effect and actually enhanced the unnatural look of the photo. Sometimes it is easier to go with something rather than fight it.
Happy shooting,

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Field Hockey Season

Sunday afternoon field hockey game at the beautiful UMaine field. Unfortunately it was a noon game with blazing sun which challenges any sensors dynamic range. To deal with this, I do one of two things. I either use 1. exposure compensation in camera to expose for the players faces or 2. I will leave not worry about shadows on faces and pull up the shadows in post production. How do I decide which approach to use? A few things. If I am exposing for the faces in camera, I must accept that highlights will be blown out and unrecoverable so if the final usage is print, I need to decide if I can get away with that. On the other hand, if I am pulling up the shadows in post, I need to be ready for some unwanted noise in those areas. So... if I can get the ISO down to 100 while keeping the shutter speed I need AND I don't mind the post processing work, I have more latitude by using a regular exposure and protecting the highlights. If I am not shooting at ISO 100 or I don't want to mess around with post processing, I am better off exposing for the faces in camera and calling it good.
Here are some shots from today, All at ISO 100, shutter speed of 1/800 and an F stop of 3.2. The ISO of 100 is very forgiving when you start recovering shadows. The F stop of 3.2 isolates the subjects well and keeps my shutter speed up. The shutter of 1/800 is just enough to get sharp images. You can see the motion blur in the stick and ball of the second shot...which I like. So with those parameters, I went with letting the shadows get heavy on their faces (the team was a bit backlit) and I fixed it in post. Each image takes less than a minute to process when you have done it a lot but even that adds up if you do a lot of them.

      Click on the Images to see them Larger Please
This one had minimal tweaking in ACR. The new interface with PS CS6 is great. Highlight and Whites slider down about 25 each to save the highlights, then push the shadows in PS with a curves layer.

Lifted in post. A quick job using ACR and then curves

Another shot with shadows recovered in ACR and curves in Photoshop

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Freezing the ball

-Click on the image to see it larger-
 People really like this shot and I have had quite a few ask how to do it? Truth is that it is quite easy:
 1. Shoot from behind the fence and get a good position. This will depend on your access and the batters stance in the box. The more straight on the better.

 2. Set your aperture to wide open. This shot was at F3.2 so almost wide open. The goal is to throw everything but the ball out of focus.

 3. Make sure that your shutter speed is as fast as possible. I shot this at 1/3200..Ideally you want 1/4000 but you can get away with less if the pitch is slower.

4. shoot when the light is right. A low angled sun is great and it needs to hit the ball as it travels to the plate.

5. Manually focus about 2/3 of the way to the plate. You can also AF on the pitcher and then drag focus closer to you manually

 6. Wait for the pitch and try to time your shot. I captured this one on my first try with a three shot burst. I got lucky. It may take several tries. My camera shoots at 10fps so I get a an advantage but even at 10fps only one frame will be in focus.

 7. In post you can add some contrast and sharpening to the ball to make it pop more... That's all there is to it. Good Luck!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Another Poster Image

CLICK TO SEE A LARGER IMAGE . Above is the latest image I shot for a series of motivational posters being used at the local high school. This one was tough because the team practices at the University but I have been unable to secure track time to set up a shot. What I ended up doing was shooting in the gym of the high school and then getting rid of the background and adding some tweaks in post. The image was shot with a Paul Buff Einstein in a gridded softbox in front of the runner, aimed directly at him. I used another Einstein in a giant softbox behind him to create the cross lighting that you see. I didn't use any diffusers for the shot because I wanted the bare bulb look. Using the softboxes allowed me to control the light spill enough that I could eliminate the background quite easily in post. The strobes were triggered with Elinchrom Skyports and I used a Canon 1D Mark IV with a 50mm 1.4 lens. The runner started right in front of the rear softbox from a sprinter's start and had room for about two steps before he had to veer to avoid the front light. I had the front light about a stop higher than the rear one due to the distance difference from each to the subject. Post Processing: Two curve layers to darken the background and to lighten some areas of the runner. Another layer used in overlay to add some yellow to the floor. Last layer was used to add in some motion blur and then I selectively masked it out to taste. That's it!