New Directions–Gear to Fit

Let’s face it – most of us in this space a gear junkies to a certain degree.  I probably have way more cameras than I could possibly use let alone things like studio gear, flashes and accessories.  BUT, in saying that, in order to shift with direction changes or addressing some new markets to ply my “trade”, one needs to ramp up too.  I’ll explain a bit.

In my “real life”, I’m an unemployed Sr. Business Analyst in IT.   For a while now, I’ve been looking at photography as an alternate area.  Yeah yeah – I know – this could be a tough haul.  I know that, but at the same time…..  Indicators are there with the research I’m doing.  There are opportunities out there.

From the camera and lens side of things, I’m at a point where I “think” I’m in good shape to tackle everything upcoming.  Lighting or getting more of it is where I’ve been targeting my efforts recently.

When I’m doing close up work (flowers, plants mostly), I use flash where necessary.  Everything from fill flash to High Speed Sync to multiple units including continuous lighting.  For portraits, I use strobes.  Event work is mostly with flash and my LIghtSphere.  My primary flash is the Nikon SB700, with a Yongnuo as my backup.  For the most part, this works fine.  For a lot of my work in stills, I do use either a remote release whether it be Nikon’s infrared one or their cable release.  I also will use a radio trigger release depending on mobility requirements.  And then… I recently some stuff where the SB700 simply didn’t have the “oomph” I needed to light things up the way I wanted.  Sooo…. the hunt began.  My first thought was the Nikon SB900.  This would allow me to stay inside Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.  That was the first thought Smile  BUT… when I started to look at it closer, I thought there might be other options.  That option ended up being a StrobePro X360 Bare Bulb Unit tied in with a set of radio triggers capable of High Speed Sync. This was a bit of a tough call in it’s own right.

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Ok – this unit puts out at 300 Watt Seconds for starters. That’s strobe territory!!!  It does have a battery pack.  It’s got a lot of pieces, though keeping it partially assembled gets around that.  This is also quite a big unit.  Think SB910 but with a battery pack attacked.  The battery pack will allow me to go over 900 shots on a charge).  Now in thinking about that, I won’t be using it anywhere close to that in real life, but what I was after was power AND mobility.  What this now allows me to do, is increase WHAT I can do.  The tough call part…….

For  a little bit more, I could have got the new StrobePro LED strobe that just came out – it’s a battery powered LED strobe/600 WS  and in reality, easier to set up.  The deal breaker for me was two fold.  I didn’t want another strobe at this point and more important – I would literally have to haul more gear with me.  It’s not that I won’t get it – I can see needing one at some point.  Just not now.  Also for what I wanted to do, I would still need to add the HSS radio triggers anyway.  The X360 plus triggers actually cost less than the base strobe. More important – portability.  I can attach this to my D7200 (though I do have a bracket as well) if I need to.  If I used a strobe, that mobility would be lost.  THAT was real deal breaker.  At this point anyway, I wanted the most flexibility for the price.  Horsepower, mobility and High Speed Synch.  Set up time was a compromise I would have to sacrifice.

Now about bare bulb units.  These aren’t for everyone.  Not cheap by any stretch but if one needs sheer horsepower in a smaller unit – these are definitely a consideration.  Sure there were others out there that were smaller and single unit, but nothing close performance wise.  The X360 comes with a reflector and diffuser.  My initial tests were done with the diffuser and to me, it’s amazing!!!  Even with the diffuser on it, this thing puts out!!!  My most powerful studio strobe is 250 W/S and for most things I do with portraits, I’ve got these dialled down.   From the mobility part  – a battery powered strobe would ALWAYS require a stand.  The flash wouldn’t – I could attach it to my camera or even a bracket if needed that way.  Ideally, I wanted to be able to use this on a stand.  Did I need more accessories around this?  Yes.  A couple of things.

As I mentioned before, I added some radio triggers.  Go figure – I already have radio triggers for my strobes, but they don’t support High Speed Synch.  That’s OK – my strobes aren’t set up for that anyway Smile  When I started to experiment with High Speed Synch, I was working inside Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS).  In reality, this is a REALLY neat thing if you can incorporate into your photography.  I do Smile  When I was looking to get the bare bulb unit, HSS was definitely a consideration.  With the extra power that the bare bulb unit has, it’ll increase my capability to do other things in this space.  I have ideas……. Smile  This was also a consideration when it came down to choosing a higher powered flash – an SB910 or the StrobePro X360. 

Before I continue on…. a comment about power in lighting units.  It’s interesting how your perspective changes over time.  For instance, with my strobes and existing flash units, what I had currently is more than adequate for everything I was doing at the time.  THEN, I started to work in a few new spaces – product displays and still life work. It was then I decided to start changing things up a bit.  The thinking went along these lines….

When you are taking photos for yourself or even for competition, things like setup time takes a back seat.  By that, I mean, we are striving for “that shot”, and so we’ll go literally go to extremes to get the setup correct.   As we become more and more advanced, lighting becomes a little more complex depending on the session involved.  I like to work on the principle of keeping things as simple as possible.  That doesn’t mean I won’t go to a more complex configuration, I will, but then again, I’m constantly striving for a certain look to my photos – part of my “brand” if you want to call it that.  Part of the close up work I do (a lot with plants), involved experimenting with different lighting configurations.  My most sophisticated one for close ups was on a plant, an Amaryllis, where I used window light, a couple of LED lights and electronic flash to create the shot I wanted.  Over the last few months, I had been incorporating more and more continuous lighting into my close up photos.  Again, this was in specific instances.  At the same time, I was also watching what was happening in LED technology.  It was advancing and I started to work with more and more with LED studio lighting.   I had acquired a StrobePro L308 and a Neewer one for “testing” purposes and then, I had to do a larger type of shoot.  I was able to get by with strobes, but I had to take more than a few shots to get the lighting how I wanted it.  I decided that I wanted to get a little more efficient in doing this sort of things, seeing as this was an area I would be spending more time in.  That prompted a hunt that resulted in a StrobePro L1500, a 1500 watt LED studio light.    I went to StrobePro to check it out and play with it and then decided to buy it.  This is actually my first “pro level” light and WOW is all I can say.  That totally changed how I look at product work!!! 

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In the big picture, my existing camera bodies and lenses are more than adequate for what I’m planning to do.  The big puzzle now is the future adventures as I book more gigs.   Onward.

Fit for Purpose…”Stuff” for “Stuff”

Sooo… what the heck do I mean by that?  Smile  From previous posts, I guess you do know that I’m a gear junkie. Actually, I’m like that beyond photo gear too……  If you didn’t know, I’m also a person that is a firm believer in the correct tool for the job.  When I started my “passion revival” in digital photography from 35mm film days, as I advanced in the gear I was obtaining, there was this realization that set in.  These smaller cameras actually did a pretty job.  Once I hit DSLR’s though, I really didn’t stop using them.  AND, I have more than few Smile

I guess there are a few trains of thought around this and to a certain degree, there’s merit to both.  Here’s sort of my take on this.

I’m a fan of high quality images just as much as the next serious amateur.  Perhaps the biggest difference for me, is that I’m very conscious of what the end image needs to look like in high quality for a specific purpose.  Here’s a take for you.  I have revenue properties.  I need to take reference photos constantly for inspections, potential investments, repairs, etc.  I do need a good quality image, but I sure the heck don’t need RAW.  A pointy shooty of sorts more than fits that bill.  Does that mean I DON”T use my DSLR’s?  Not really, if I am putting up a property for rent, THAT will be shot on my DLSR’s.  Maybe…. Smile  It’s going to be web sized photo.  Content is more important – image quality should be good.  Look at it this way.  Why would I spend time doing image processing on something that may or may not even get looked at more than once? 

Family events, or social events with friends.  You know – for the most part, if it’s convenient, I’ll take my DSLR’s, but one of my more advanced pointy shooties like a travel camera is more than adequate.

The DSLR perspective.  I guess one of the key differentiators of when I do use my DSLR’s tend to be this “end purpose” thing.  Anything that says “formal” or even resembles formal – it’ll be DSLR’s first and Micro Four Thirds. IF image quality is paramount – it’ll be the “big stuff”.  Event shoots, landscapes that I may show, my close up work all will be done with my DSLR’s.  RAW, of course Smile  BUT… there are those “compromise” moments too.

Have I gotten great photos with stuff other than my DSLR’s?  Absolutely.  It all breaks down to being able to squeeze out the best in each unit I have.  My travel cameras and hybrids have big zooms.  My Fuji X10 gets me into low light where my DLSR’s don’t always do that great.  Well, they do, but sometimes….. I shoot with Nikons with APS-C sensors.  Not fully “pro” but more than adequate for what I do.  Yes, I do paid gigs Smile  There’s also budget Smile  Staying here, allows me to get experience with gear I wouldn’t be able to afford. 

One area that I’m exploring is available light, or lower lighting conditions don’t always merit a flash.  I attend networking sessions where I’m simply too far away to use flash and even with the travel cameras there’s a limit to how high I can kick up ISO and still get a decent image.  Not a high quality image, per se, but a good working image.  AND, at these events, I rarely bring my DSLR’s anyway – simply too bulky.  They are my reference photos for other things.  What I was looking for, was something that didn’t break the bank, had a fast lens AND a pretty big zoom.  That solution turned out to be the new Panasonic LUMIX FZ200.  24x zoom and f2.8 thru the zoom range!  I recently acquired this and did my first “tests” at a recent networking event.  I was able to shoot at ISO 1600 quite easily and got some pretty usable shots for what I needed.  I’ll show some of my results once I do more testing and get a little more familiar with the camera.  I’ve only had it a week or so, but I’m pretty pleased so far.   More a little later.

For me, I like to have a camera with me all the time.  My normal “truck around” type camera will be something like the Nikon S9400 or S9900 – both are quite small and easy to chuck into my “man purse” or brief case.  I will also take my Fuji XF1 – quite a bit smaller than my X10 – as well.  That gives the versatility of both big zoom and low light.  BTW – that S9400 or S9900 has gotten me some pretty great shots Smile  IF I have a bit more time in tasks, I will take my DSLR’s. 

Does it sound like I have a lot of cameras?  I do Smile  As I progress over the last few years, I’ve acquired cameras to suit my changing needs. Compared to many, I didn’t sell any of them – in fact, I do use them a LOT.  There are a few that I don’t use a lot of – my Panasonic GX1 – it’s a Micro Four Thirds unit.  AND I really should use it more as I have several lenses for it and it does give me a great image.  BUT with the advent of me acquiring more DSLR gear, especially bodies, it’s getting lonely, I think Smile  It used to be my backup unit as was my Fuji X10 for a while, but with each progression, they get used less and less.   And then there’s planning for the future.

Up until recently, my “top end” DSLR was the D7100.  Before that, I had a D3200 and D5100.  I got the D3200 to get me “into the space” and as a learning tool.  Then I got the D5100 for it’s articulating LCD viewer to allow me to do close ups and portraits easier.  High speed synch was the motivator for getting the D7100 as the other two couldn’t manage that.  One of the key things here though, is that there’s a bit of a difference in controls and under certain conditions, the other two, don’t quite have the functionality of the D7100.  I decided to get the D7200 to offset that and stay consistent. 

When it comes to lenses – there are tons of articles that talk about all those lenses that one SHOULD have.  Again, this is something that should be taken a little tongue and cheek.  So here’s the thing.  IF you get a DSLR, that kit lens isn’t such a dumb thing.  Images are more than adequate and it’s a pretty good starting point to boot.  The Nikon one is an 18-55mm and it covers short wide angle to medium telephoto.  Where most photos are generally  taken.  The other thing and I guess it depends on where you are coming from, but there will be a bit of a learning curve in figuring out those controls.  The metering is different to those smaller ones.  DSLR’s, I think, are a but reverse in that you do need to understand controls to achieve the “art” or at least the vision.  Or to put a little different – you can now get closer to the vision Smile  Everyone “sees” a photo different and as you advance in the art, getting the camera to reflect the “vision” is the trick.  Software can get you even close if the camera can’t though getting it right in camera is where it’s at to me.  I’ve had instances where things like polarizers and ND filters still don’t quite reflect what I see so LightRoom it is.  Getting the exposure to the point where you can do that however – new issue Smile  To me, it’s very critical to know the limits of the camera.

Back a bit to lenses.  I’ll give you a but of insight into my “working lenses”  The brunt f my work is based around mobility and efficiency.  What that means, is that I want to work with as few lenses as possible while being able to be mobile and not lug tons of gear.  For me, I like landscapes so rather than restrict myself to prime lenses, I have a Tamron 10-24mm super wide to wide angle zoom.  My other lens is a Sigma 18-250mm which give me a bit of overlap on the wide side and a fairly significant zoom on the other.  This lens also has macro, so it covers some of my close up work capability.  Now – to stay even more flexible – I have two bodies.  That way – no swaps.  Does that mean I don’t have primes?  NO – I do have primes around the things I do.  I do have a Nikkor 50mm f1.8, Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 and a Tamron 60mm f2.8.  The 40mm and 60mm cover off my close up work.  The 60mm sits right in my “portrait” focal length and the 50mm is my general purpose lens.  And then there’s the accessories Smile

A tripod is a given – I have two, actually.  One heavy duty one for portraits and close ups.  The other for portable.  For my close up work, I use flash a lot so have an extension cord for remote flash work, focusing rails, extensions tubes and close up lenses.  For my portrait work, I use strobes, electronic flash so have those, plus backdrop stands, umbrellas, reflectors, radio triggers, etc. to accommodate how I do “stuff”.

I’m going to chat about workflows vs equipment acquisition for a bit as I feel it’s relevant. 

I’m sure most have read about the pros and cons of acquiring gear.  There’s a lot of merit to this.  One of the pitfalls of just going out and buying gear for the sake of buying gear isn’t always a good thing and it definitely doesn’t make you a better photographer.  I’m just as impulsive as the next person for getting stuff, but despite all that, I do plan a lot before acquiring gear.  It’s also a matter of balancing usage vs budget.  I can’t emphasize enough about researching before you buy.  Researching includes the internet, of course.  BUT that also means heading “out there” and taking those photos – chatting with other photographers (photo meetups are a great way of learning, BTW), and even assisting a pro if opportunity shows up.  Even with the amount of experience I have, I’m constantly learning new stuff.   And the heart of things – taking photos……

I go about it like this.  I do take a lot of photos – I do a lot of experimenting in the areas I’m interested in.  I’m also VERY cognizant of what my cameras are capable of and so if I need to use software after, I also take that into account if I can’t get my cameras to do what I “see”.  I’m also game for trying out new areas that I normally don’t consider if the opportunity arises.  For instance – I may be out with the express intent of landscapes (I recently did this, actually….), but along the way, I found some flowers, I had an opportunity for some street photography and candid work – we were in a curio shop or two and I got some pics of some furniture for a future woodworking project – reference photos.  Bottom line here – LOOK AROUND!!! 

I guess a lot has to do with your interest level.  I’m quite passionate about several hobbies – photo being one.  I’m not so fussy about others.  I’ve run into so many folks who have quite sophisticated gear but simply don’t “see” stuff.  They will take the odd photo, maybe some vacation pics or family events and that’s that.  They are not interested in capturing the “moment”, I guess.  PLUS, they don’t use their cameras all that often, as you can imagine.  I use my cameras at every opportunity – I like to have a camera with me all the time as well.  Do I have moments where I don’t take photos?  ABSOLUTELY!!  Do I have moments where I can’t find a thing to take a photo of?  Yes.  Do I force myself to take photos?  NO!  What I will do though, is read or do something else.  I am very busy, so for me, when I do get the chance to take photos, I’m usually ready Smile 

I also find that researching stuff around photography gives me inspiration to try other things.  I see a pic and think “How did they do that?” – research, experiment to see if I can duplicate that, and then if I can’t, try to decide if it’s something I want to do on a more regular basis.  For instance.  I was at a job fair and saw a pro taking photos.  He had a rather unique reflector on his flash.  I inquired about it.  It turned to by a Gary Fong LightSphere.  Our discussion prompted me to investigate further.  That conversation resulted in me totally changing certain techniques for events and certain types of outdoor things.  It also launched me into a whole new level of photography.  There was a ripple effect – one thing that one of  the videos showed, was using the LightSphere in conjunction with High Speed Synch to achieve an effect I was trying to do Smile  The issue – the cameras I had at the time didn’t support it.  At the time, I had a D3200 and D5100, which were more than adequate for what I was doing at the time.  I got the LightSphere and started to experiment like crazy to figure out the nuances.  I was also contemplating getting another body – the choices being a D7100 or D7200 both of which would support high speed synch.  I happened to hit a sale and got the D7100 for a very good price.  I looked at it also as an opportunity to find out what the next level was for gear.

From what I thought to what I found out, were totally different – believe me.  Even knowing the extra capabilities didn’t prepare me for the learning curve!  Operational was easy – taking advantage of extra controls was a whole new issue!  The big thing was, was where it’s taken me.  When I was deciding to get the D7100, there were a couple of things that were going to make my life easier.  More battery power, dual card slots for starters.  Learning all the external controls away from menus and a larger buffer were some of the benefits.  Battery power was a key thing for me – certain events I had done still required me to swap batteries.  The D7100 did away with that with it’s extra capability.  Despite all that – I was ecstatic about getting it.  It ultimately prompted me to acquire a D7200 body as well.  It’s also driven me to take even more photos and try even more things!  Bottom line here, for me, is that it’s starting to define certain areas of photography a little more clearly for the long term.  Very important for me as I’m considering it as a sideline, not a hobby.

The bottom line here, is that I do research and experiment a lot before making an equipment acquisition.  I also will try to DIY first to see if something can be done that way.  In the case of the LightSphere, before, I was using several different flash attachments – the LightSphere did away with that.  The other reflectors weren’t that expensive compared to the LightSphere but the efficiency of the LightSphere more than offset the cost.  I actually have two with a complete accessory kit, so if needed, I have a super portable indoor/outdoor studio.  For what I do, this was a worthwhile investment.  For me, I will look for a DIY  solution first, and then decide if the commercial solution will be easier and more convenient.  To me, speed and efficiency in setup in certain environments is critical.  For close-ups, another example.  I could have done some DIY things to achieve a lot my results but it was simply more efficient to get extension tubes or a focusing rail.  For my studio – I’ve researched a ton here to see how to get the best results with the least amount of equipment.  Yes, I’m still learning, but I’ve hit a point where I can get some pretty great results without getting sophisticated. 

A bit on the researching piece.  When researching, of course, on of the things is reading reviews.  Now – to me, it’s one thing to read a review about a piece of gear one is considering.  It’s also critical to look at the BIG picture around YOUR style and YOUR gear requirements.  Sometimes, one piece of gear may offset another and end up saving you big bucks.  Here’s an example of an offset that I encountered.  I was toying with the idea of getting Nikon’s new 18-80 f2.8.  I was looking at this lens for low light work.  A very versatile lens that could potentially be helpful in the long term.  The more I thought about it, the more I hesitated.  It’s not that I could use the lens – I could but  I had this gut feeling there might be a better solution.  That ended up with me acquiring another body – the D7200 – they were about the same price.  The reason the body made sense was that I could now use both the D7100 and D7200 together on a shoot and not have to worry about consistency in menus.  The D7200 had a better sensor and processor and so could address the buggering on sequential shots that I encountered in certain shooting sessions.  The new sensor could handle low light better than the D7100 sensor and so I could shoot at least a stop faster with little image degradation.  I had more battery power.  In the end, though, it did cost me more Smile  That came in the form of the Panasonic FZ200 with it’s 24x zoom and having F2.8 thru the whole range.   So why the hybrid?

There are times when size becomes an issue.  I attend a lot of networking events and there are times when I simply don’t have the focal length I need.  My Fuji X10 or XF1 stop at 4x.  If I shoot with any of the travel cams, I get more quality loss than I like.  At the extreme telephoto end, the f stop isn’t good enough so I do have to boost ISO “up there”.  The FZ200 does away with that.  Not as bulky, so easier to take.  I can’t just stuff it in my briefcase, but I have a case that makes it easier than taking my DSLR’s.  Image quality based on current testing so far is showing that it’s more than adequate for what I need it for.  Web publishing and general viewing.  No – I’m not shooting RAW with this unit – JPEGS are fine at this stage of the game. 

And then there’s that constant battle between JPEG’s and RAW.  To me, if I am using my DSLR’s, it’s hit a point where I shoot both RAW’s and JPEG’s on my D7100 and D7200.  On my D3200 and D5100, it’s also RAW’s.  Everything else – typically JPEG’s, despite the fact that more than a few can or should be RAW’s.  The reasoning?  For the most part, I’m doing the type of shot that really doesn’t need RAW’s.  JPEG’s are fine for the end use.  In other words – I ensure that the exposure, etc. is correct when I take the shot, so I minimize post processing.  I’ve hit that point in gear that I can basically split off what I want to do with gear.  Is there overlap?  Yes – definitely.  Certain types of close ups I do, are not really achievable with something other than a DSLR.  Despite that, I don’t miss all that many shots – so far anyway.  Knock on wood Smile  Again – knowing what your camera can and can’t do. 

Equipment – I do own a lot of cameras.  Sure, there are a few that just sit for a while, but generally speaking, they do get used.  Some, I simply have spare batteries and for those, it’s the ones that I use a lot.  My Fuji X10 was my first advanced camera and that’s the one that got me really going, and that’s still one of “ go to” units when I need a small unit for some advanced work.  My Micro Four Thirds unit, the Panasonic GX1 is another one that I use when I need a unit for event “snaps” or simply need a high quality shot for some occasion that I’m at.  My travel cameras are a constant companion and I’m constantly using one or the other on my “day to day” travels.  My first hybrid was the Nikon P520, a super zoom at 42x and articulating mirror.  My Panasonic FZ200 is a hybrid with low light capability – a nice alternative to DSLR’s for some of my networking events. 

When it comes to accessories, I focus on “stuff” for my DSLR’s and more important, for the areas that I really do a lot in.  Close ups and portraits are my primary focus areas, and landscapes are also in there.  I have a lot for close up work ranging from extension tubes to focusing rails.  My flash units serve double duty.  I also have radio triggers.  One set specifically for Nikons and another for other units that drive my flash units.  Oh yeah – I have several flash units as well so I can be super mobile if needed.  Polarizers, ND filters for my lenses as well. 

Bottom line – I feel that in order to get better, it makes sense to add accessories to simply be more efficient.  The other thing – budget.  There are times when a DIY option is necessary when you simply can’t afford to buy a commercial unit.  Totally understand that.  There are certain reflectors, for instance, that I’ve made simply because I couldn’t find something OR quite simply – easy to make and cost next to nothing.  A piece of white foam board can be got for a couple of bucks at the Dollar Store – why would I want a commercial one?  I do have a commercial white reflector, but it also folds up into a pretty tiny unit.  For around the home – either works.  I go to fabric stores to find backdrop material.  At $5 per meter on sale, it sure beats dropping $100.  Granted the more expensive ones are 10 ft ones instead of 6 ft wide, but then again, it’s what you need.  For head and shoulder shots – 6 ft is plenty.  Yes, I do have a couple of big ones for my big stand.  Again, fit for purpose.

Onward…..

DIY vs Commercial? Equipping Yourself and Thoughts

I was recently involved in some discussions  in the area of Do It Yourself (DIY)vs Commercial gear and the in’s and out’s of when each should be used.  When it comes to photography, there are some very interesting articles I’ve read about and more than a few things I’ve tried out myself.  I also developed a few opinions around this.

When to DIY

By DIY, I mean when exactly that Do It Yourself– are there things that one can build vs something that is available commercially?  For me, I have some mixed opinions on this.  My usual first instinct is to see if something is available commercially and at what cost.  That cost factor tends to be a very critical piece.  If I really really need it for a project and it is exactly what I want, I may buy it.  More important – if it’s something I can use a lot, the cost may go out the window.  Let’s talk about a few of these “instances”. 

It’s About “Looking Professional”

I’m going to start here to set the stage for what I’m going to chat about later.  This also applies to life in general, I would think.  In talking with more than a few professionals about this,  two pools of thoughts have emerged.  It basically breaks down to this.  You want to “look the part” as often as possible.  If you do need to DIY, it should be in areas where commercial stuff simply isn’t available.  Let’s expand on that.

We’ve all heard that thing about having a DSLR strapped to your neck makes you “look like a pro” Smile  I guess that’s correct to a certain degree.  Most pros do use DSLR’s for their work Smile  I look at it this way.  If you are at that stage where you are getting paid for the gigs or even if you are a backup photographer or a volunteer photographer or someone who aspires to “get there”, you need to get noticed in one way shape or another.  Soooo.. how does one do that? 

Basics

Of course, in order to attract more business, a big concern when starting out is  getting your name out there?  Do you have  a business card?  Let’s start there.  Putting you name and number on a napkin is not a good way, believe me.  It’s probably going to get tossed before the nite is out.  A business card, though will get kept.  Remember – you are going into business or hoping to.  Portraying that impression is important.  Business cards are a cheap investment – one should spend a bit more to get one that stands out.

The next piece is obvious but not so obvious.  Dress for the occasion.  If its a formal occasion a suit and tie may be in order, though a tie may not be so essential.  If you are in a more casual atmosphere, I would dress slightly “upscale” for the event just so I can differentiate myself.  The bottom line here – align your clothing to match the event but at the same time, you do need to stay comfortable and loose.  A real world example.  Last year, I was requested to take Linkedin photos at a job fair.  A couple of things about this one.  Typical to job fairs, there were a pile of recruiters at the booths.  This one was also targeted to mature job seekers.  Most photographers who were asked to do this wanted to get paid for this.  To me, they missed the whole point or the big picture.  This was one of those rare instances where doing a pro bono shoot could get your name out big time.  This was an association.  I volunteered.   More important, this wasn’t a tough shoot, if you knew what you were doing.  All the administration was set up so all one had to do was take the shots (about 3 if you were set up), catalogue them, and just a bit of post (crop for Linkedin), and email them off to the client.  There was about 35 sets,  about 8 hours of post and my name got out to over 300 “others”.  How do I know that?  I had my business cards at the administration desk AND at the photo desk.  On my side, this was a bit of a test market to see if there was a long term photo opportunity in that market space.  I dressed in suit and tie for this occasion and took my suit off when I was shooting.  It went back on if there was a quiet moment.  Also – this gave me an additional opportunity to chat with recruiters first hand as well.  At the time, I was also looking for work.  I’m an IT Sr. Business Analyst.

Sooo… did I get some spin off?  Yes.  More important and this was very interesting.  NO ONE asked me to do a shoot for free!!!  Did I get asked about my gear?  Absolutely.  I was using my Nikon D7100 as a primary and tethered it to my notebook so the client could see their photos.  I used a 3 light set up with strobes and radio triggers with a portable backdrop.  In this case, there was nothing DIY about this.  I was also taking some candids.  I used my D5100 with my SB700 and Gary Fong Light Sphere.  Again – nothing DIY here.

We have this thing in July called the Calgary Stampede.  Blue jeans/cowboy boots – western wear.  I’ve done a few events, and have dressed accordingly.  This is one where its really hard to distinguish yourself from a dress standpoint, but you camera will make you distinctive.  Everyone is partying and photos are the last thing they think of Smile 

I do several fashion show events per year.  Again – suite and tie, usually.  Do I do more casual events?  Yes and again, I try to dress for the occasion. 

Most important – am I a pro?  NO.  I am, however, a very serious amateur and do get paid for a few gigs along the way.  I feel that I have a ways to go, but having free-lanced before,  these are things I’ve picked up along the way.

My perspective on this, is that if I am public facing, I want to look as professional as possible.  This also means as little DIY stuff as possible or anything that could detract from that.  If I show up at an event, I’m not going to be carrying say, my power cords or power bars or any accessories in plastic grocery bags Smile  I have equipment cases.  For my studio gear, I have everything in several cases or carrying bags that are made for toting this stuff.  If I am doing flash work, which is actually quite often, I don’t DIY anything there.  My primary flash accessory is the Gary Fong LightSphere.  I do have other reflectors and softboxes for more specialized stuff.

If I am doing more specialized stuff, I will DIY a bit.  Again, this is a “depends” thing.  Sometimes, it’s easier to take the time to DIY something than try to find it commercially.  More important, some of these things can be made very easily.  Even things like backdrops.  I go to a fabric store Smile  Because I do mostly head and shoulders work or full body  work, the 2 meters wide for most things from a fabric store is more than adequate.  AND, the cost is minimal compared to commercial backdrops.  In saying that, I recently acquired a full sized backdrop and it looks like I’ll have to bite the bullet on some 10ft ones…..

Doing It for Free

Man – is this a hot topic Smile  To me, this is a bit of a two edged sword.  If you are just starting out and feel confident enough to start charging, there is is “moment” where one looks at this as a full time career.  I look at things this way.  One does need to get their name out there.  How you do this is up to you.  For me, if I am going to do a pro bono shoot, it will be of MY choosing.  I am not going do a shoot where the client tells me that doing the shoot for them for free will enhance my career.in photography.  That also tells me that the client might try to chisel the price even if I do the shoot.  In fact, for me, I will walk away from that type of scenario.  Because this is still a hobby, I still take a professional attitude.  If I am asked for price, I will give one.  NO…it won’t be cheap.  I have my rates set and they hit the middle ground.  I do put out top quality work – there’s a price for that.  Do I negotiate the price?  No.  I’m not making a living doing this, but that doesn’t mean I should discount because I’m a serious amateur.  I did get paid back in the 35mm days – why should that change.

Now – the pro bono side.  There are certain types of events that I will shoot for free.  These are the types of events that can get me huge exposure.  My wife and I volunteer for certain events.  I get “volunteered” for others Smile  Most of these types of events gets me vital connections for potential future business if I go this way.  I’ve done a bunch of these over the last few years to the point where if my wife is there, I’ll be there.  My photos do get published with credits.  What do I gain from this?  Those contacts!!!  When I get called, they fully expect to pay.  They already know the quality of work  from past performance.  Do I get business from all events?  No – in many cases, the photos are used for their newsletter. 

Do I do other things for free for other folks.  Yes, I do.  BUT, and this is a big BUT.  I choose.  If I get invited say, to a wedding.  I’m NOT the primary photographer or the pro for that matter.  I will take my shots and give them to the bride and groom.  Yes, they will be at the “pro” level for a wedding and they will be post processed.  Mine will simply be their “wedding present”.  They will have the pro’s work too.  NO – I don’t do weddings Smile  It’s not that I’m not good at doing them, I simply prefer not to do them.  Other events – certain ones, yes.  If I am invited to something like a recruiter event – Stampede Week lunch, XMAS event, I’ll take a camera and donate photos. 

Depending on the event, will also determine what gear I take.  A wedding – my DSLR’s but not everything.  Social events – maybe DSLR’s but not likely.  I’ll grab something smaller – they are going mostly be candids anyway.  If I am heading to an event where I feel I can get connections – DSLR’s all the way.  Judgement calls.    

Studio Gear

When I was looking in the world of portraits and studio work,  I looked at various lighting setups.  At the time, I already had a light box (more on this later) and some continuous lights for that and that was my first thought – use these.  BUT, the more I thought about that, the more I steered clear of that.  My lights were those clamp ones and they were fine for the light box I created, but using them for studio work?  Well, maybe not.  ’

I do have a lot of experience in the world of 35mm film and re-engaging in digital and seeing how the technology had evolved, allowed me to think a little differently.  I decided to use strobes and electronic flash.   There were a couple of reasons or more for this.  With electronic flash, I could be very mobile which is paramount for me.  Strobes were a bit of mixed bag, but in the end, I used them because I could sync them with radio triggers and in the end, fewer cords.  The trade-off?  Correct exposure.  There is bit more learning curve there and if you are doing anything a little complex, there is a bit more experimentation involved.  Not a bit deal.  For most of my work to day, it’s very straightforward and I use a pretty standard lighting technique and get what I want with little or no change to exposure.  Usually, it’s a couple of test shots and I’m ready. 

Did I do a lot of experimenting? Absolutely!!!  AND I write everything down once I get my set ups how I want them.  Critical when I go to site.  For me, each time I get an accessory, I try to experiment with it  and make sure I have it nailed down tight.  I had an instance where I got my Nikon D7100 and had a volunteer event that my wife got me into and rather than risk missing a shot, I used my D3200 and D5100 instead.  I actually didn’t use the D7100 for a formal event for a bit.  The controls were very different and I didn’t want to risk missing a shot fiddling with settings.

Do I have DIY stuff for studio?  Yes.  For product work, I built my own light box.  I had space constraints so I had to fashion something to accommodate the space available.  This was an easy build for me as I do renovation stuff as well Smile  I occasionally have to build reflectors and backdrop stands for other things.  I also do renovation work, so building some of this is pretty well a no-brainer for me.   For portrait work – very little in the DIY space – I’ll buy whatever I can and DIY as a last resort.  I’ve had to build certain types of reflectors and build certain backdrops for some work.

Bags

  Ahhhh… bags.  This is the never ending quest I think Smile  Every photographer I know seems to have the same dilemma of finding the “perfect bag”.  You see, we “think” we have the perfect bag – we get something else and that theory goes down the tubes and the quest begins again.    I have lots Smile  For me, I’m perhaps a little different in that I don’t use DSLR’s exclusively.  I will use anything from a pointy shooty to a DSLR depending on what I’m doing at the time.  It’s not that I don’t use a DSLR at every opportunity, I do, but there are times when it’s simply not convenient to lug one around.  To me, I look at it as “fit for purpose”.  Sure the DSLR will give me the best result but at the same time, those other units do a darn good job as well.  Especially when all I need is snapshot that I need for reference purposes.  I need a good exposure and little or no post required.  Don’t need RAW.  Fill the frame – done.  Some instances.  Renovation work for my properties.  I like to take progress photos of  work progress or when I do inspections.  One of my travel cameras or pointy shooties will do fine for this.  If I am looking to buy a property or help someone buy or look at real estate – again, nothing cute and fancy needed here.  Family things – snapshots.  Here, though, I do have my DSLR’s with me in case we want a formal family photo.  I COULD use another camera, but I don’t.  When I’m doing my weekend tasks.  I like to have a camera with me at all times.  This can be little mixed depending on what and where I go.  Sometimes, it’s  with my DSLR’s and sometimes not.

Back to bags.  If I am doing one of those really simple out and abouts, I have A Fossil bag.  A man purse actually Smile  I can drop in my iPad, a small camera and  away I go.  There are other times though, when I am wanting to take more – like my DSLR’s.  AND sometimes, I want to take 3 bodies and 6 lenses.  AND I want to have them easily accessible.  That one, I have yet to solve.  My usual for this has been a Think Tank Messenger plus a LowerPro messenger.  Recently, I got a Nikon Daypack and it’s pretty versatile, but only two bodies.  More in a bit.

The bottom line – as one gets more and more advanced, I think it can become more complex depending on what you are doing.

Lenses

There’s always discussions here Smile  The usual is zooms vs primes.  My take on this.  For me, my goal is to be able to be able to get my camera out and get a shot quickly.  This is where I find myself in most instances.  On my way somewhere, see a shot, get out of the car or stop walking and take the shot, continue on.  Not take the time to swap lenses.  Sure there are other times when I do go out with the express purpose of getting a landscape or something, There, I will take the time.  Ultimately, my preferences is to use primes.  I do own some, but you know, I’ve found that zooms do well for the things I do.  I have a Tamron 10-24mm on one body and a Sigma 18-250mm on another body.  In reality, that covers about 80% percent of the things I normally do.  There are times when I use the Nikon zooms, but since I got the other ones, not so much.  With Nikon, I have the kit lens 18-55mm and a 55-200mm.  For primes, I have a Nikon 40mm f2.8 macro, a Nikon 50mm f1.8  and a Tamron 60mm f2.0 macro.  Aside from landscapes, I do close ups and portrait work – these fit for that.  These also give me a lot more depth of field control for what I want to do.  I am considering getting a high speed intermediate level zoom for event work, but that’s just on my bucket list until I decide if I want go there.  I’ve done a few of these band events but he players were my friends, so it was more to “test market” myself there.  They got some great free pics and I got some great experience.

Tripods

When I was in 35mm, I did have a tripod, but back then, I didn’t use one all that much.  This time around, though, with close ups, certain landscapes,and portraits, the need for one or more became pretty well an essential.  Because I was focused on being mobile, my first pass at one was a carbon fibre Pro Master2 .  I ended up with a Manfrotto RC series ball head after a couple of others.  The kicker was being able to support the D7100 with the Sigma 18-250.  I needed a beefier ball head.   BTW – a ball head makes sense to me for portability.  Nothing sticks out.  Talk about sticker shock!!!  In the days of 35mm, you could get  a pretty substantial tripod for under $100.  In today’s world, it’s a lot more.  I paid about $400 in total for my portable one.  I opted a 5 section one to keep it light and small.  The problem with this one, was that it was find for being on the road but for more formal work like portraits, it simply didn’t cut it.  I had to look for another one.

As luck would have it, I stumbled on to a sale where I could pick up a Manfrotto 290 series with a Movie Pan head for about $300.  That’s the one I got.  Because they used the same base plates, I got some extras.  This is not a light tripod by any means.  Not quite at a pro level, but could easily work there.  It does get a lot of use and so far, is a workhorse.

Knowing What You “Need”

You know, we see all these articles on something called “equipment lust”.  Getting the latest and greatest for whatever reason.  I am a firm believer in getting the correct tool for the job, though.  Yes, there are times when I have gone really stupid overboard.  Like my travel cameras – I have about 6!!  Do I use them?  Interestingly enough – yes.  My wife uses two of them.  I do have my favourites but I also got a couple that were purchased for very specific reasons.  My Fuji F800,for instance.  It’s my backup to my X10 (a more advanced camera).   It’s also more advanced than others in this class.  More controls.  My Sony HX30V – better flash and again more controls, but it has a faster zoom.  Latest kid on the block – Nikon S9900 – 30x zoom in a tiny package!! 

Once I got to travel cameras, I started to take a very serious look at those super zooms  or “hybrids”.  This was before the Nikon S9900, actually, but if you’ve never played here, this is a whole new space and tons of fun.  I got the Nikon P520 on a clearout.  It has a 42x optical zoom.  Reasonable sensor size for what I do.  For what I paid, well worth it.   There is no way I could even get to close to this zoom level with my DSLR’s, let alone afford something.   At $300, it was a no brainer.  Yeah it’s a little slow on some things, but all things considered, it cranks a pretty high quality image.  Heck, the fun of just using it pays for itself Smile 

The Gear Factor

This is the million dollar question at the amateur level.  Hardly a factor for the pros.  They know exactly what they need to get their job done.  For the rest of the world, not so easySmile  There’s always been this quote about getting a better camera will yield better photos.  What they don’t tell you, is that, in most instances, it’s not the camera Smile  The camera is simply the tool that captures your “mind’s eye”, so to speak.  What one does, is get a better camera to better interpret what you are seeing to a digital or film image.  What the heck does that mean?  Like anything else, one has to learn and experiment in order to get better at something.  Like most things there are some “rules” and some knowledge needed to understand the how’s and why’s of what comprises a good photo.  You look a a landscape and go “How did they do that?”.   If you understand the theories or rules,  it’s not that hard.  To me, I look at the perspective that the photo was shot at for instance.  Composition tends to be fairly standard, but in many cases, the difference between a great shot and a stunning shot, is a combination of composition, perspective, time of day and exposure.   Knowing how to control that is where the gear comes in.  More advanced gear allows you get the shot easier, but it comes at a price.  Learning curve.  AND experience.

In reality, what I sometimes think that novices think, is that the pros can get that shot without taking that many shots.  Well, it’s not exactly like that.  Because the pros are exactly that, I would say they can get a particular shot in fewer shots Smile  If one comes from the world of 35mm like I did, one tends to have this obsession about getting the shot right in the camera.  My preference is to do as little post processing as possible.  What surprises me, is that with digital, it’s easier than ever to get it right in camera – there’s literally no cost to taking multiple shots at different settings, so why are we sitting at a computer changing it after?  Granted – certain types of work do need post work, but really, if you can get it right the first time, why not? 

Where I take the most shots is when I am outdoors or doing something outdoors.  Depending on time of day, light changes and with that comes exposure compensation.  Certain exposure changes can make the difference between great and stunning.  Knowing what your camera is capable of is critical.  Part and parcel to this – if you are getting new gear and “moving up”, it can take some time.  For me, my biggest surprise came when I moved from my Nikon D3200 and D5100 to the D7100.  The D3200 is an entry level camera and the D5100 is a mid-range unit.  The D7100 is very much so a serious amateur to semi-pro level camera.  When I first got it, getting it set up to where I could use it was pretty easy.  Taking advantage of the extra functionality was a whole new story!!  After several months and thousands of photos, I’m still discovering stuff. I’ve had the D7100 for about 6 to 8 months now.  Onward.  When I can control the lighting, like studio work, I take fewer shots.  Studio, is a different breed of cat.  Portrait type work or product photography require some pretty strict lighting controls.  In reality, if you get the lighting correct, exposure is pretty much a no brainer.  In this type of work, to me, the set up is where the time is spent.    Do I still take a lot of shots?  Yes and no.  When I’m working with the lights, I’m going to take a lot of shots to ensure my exposure is correct.  The final shots will only be for getting the pose I want.  I will get as many as I need to obtain the correct shot. 

For instance – models or someone who has been in front of a camera a lot will take instructions well.  In saying that, you also need to give instructions too Smile  When I am doing fashion photography, I get a lot of great shots, but I also get a lot of stunning shots.  With others, it takes moreSmile  To me, timing is everything.  My preference is using strobes – less heat, but needs a lot more setup compared to continuous light.  When I started acquire my gear for studio/portraits, there was a ton of experimenting and I acquired very slowly.  I got stuff because I wanted to create a very special “effect” and kept trying until I knew I needed certain pieces of gear.  My studio accessories are such that I can get what I want for most things.  For my strobes, I have several soft boxes, barn doors, umbrellas, reflectors, etc. to get my shots.  In reality, way more gear than I originally intended, but in saying that, I can do a lot of things between my strobes and flash units. 

File Formats

When I moved to DSLR’s, I was still shooting in JPEG format for everything.  In fact, I still do to a certain degree.  I really resisted moving to RAW as at the time, I didn’t see the need to go there.  I wasn’t in that space where I needed to do that much post processing.  Then, I had no choice for certain things.  I couldn’t get the exposure control I needed and had to move to RAW to get that.  That also meant new software.  With my D3200 and D5100, I can only shoot one format at a time.  I went to the D7100 because it has two card slots and I can shoot RAW on one and JPEG on the other.  Depending on the scenario, I will shoot in this mode.  For others, I will shoot RAW exclusively.  Again, this goes back to understanding your gear.  My smaller cameras can’t shoot RAW, but at the same time, I normally don’t need to shoot RAW with those if I get the exposure I want, which I can usually do.  Also, because I know what the limits of each of my cameras are, I don’t have any qualms about using one of my smaller cameras if the need arises.  For the record – depending on the event or whatever I am doing, if it’s an important event or something that counts, I’ll shoot with my DSLR’s and use RAW first. 

In the End

For me, it took about 3 years to “get back in”.   I started with the concept of being mobile and worked my way into DSLR’s.  I’m perhaps a little different in that I came from the world of 35mm and with that experience I had a very good idea of what I needed for what.  What I wasn’t expecting, was to get to DSLR’s.  I initially had no intent to go there, but here I am.  I’m now sitting at a point where I’m pondering kicking it up a notch again.  I still need to take more photos in a few areas to see how I do Smile  For me, my time is such that it’s easier to buy than build.

Onward.

As Spring Rolls In…. Thoughts

Wow!!  Does time ever fly!!!  Over the last few months, I’ve been taking a bit more time for photography than I normally have been.  I’m a consulting  IT Business Analyst  and have been sitting in between contracts for a bit now with the Oil and Gas industry pretty well grinding to a halt Sad smile   It’s been both good and bad, in one sense.  The good part, is that I am able to get caught up on “stuff” that normally doesn’t get done as well as focus on photography a bit more.  The bad part, is that I’m not working.  Am I worried?  Well, sort of, but at the same time, I’m happy for the extra time.

As an IT type of person, I’m in a “busy” career path if you are familiar with this career path or know of people in this business sector.  I’m very technical for a Business Analyst type – pretty “geeky”, and getting on in my years.  HOWEVER, in saying that, I leverage my past experience for everything it’s worth in today’s world.  When I got back into digital photography about  three years ago, I came back in with roughly 15 years of 35mm film experience with a background in retail/distribution, purchasing, free lancing, darkroom work.  We should also get something straight right off the bat.  I never really was without a camera.  I was in that mode of “casual” photography.  Mostly of the kids, family events, “simple” vacation photos – you know – the simpler side of things from the photo perspective.

I’ve mentioned this before – when I came back into the “craft”, it was from a very different “angle”, if you want to call it that.  It came from both wanting to be able to take more photos again, but at the same time, being mobile.  My life has changed quite radically from the 35mm days and in today’s world, “busy” has taken on a whole new meaning Smile  I’ve been in the computer space for the most part since the beginning of  the PC and even though there were a few bumps in there, it’s been good to me.   Going into the consulting side of things over the last 8 years or so has allowed me the comfort of being able to afford to move quickly to try things.  And I did when it came to photography – I acquired gear like crazy trying to figure out the digital side of things.

Back to the spring thing.  Over the last month or so, I started to work in RAW with the cameras I own that can shoot RAW.  This was prompted by a few of my pro friends pushing me there plus some research plus an upcoming course where I will have to know about RAW.  To explain a bit more….  notice I mentioned cameras.  I own roughly 15 cameras that range from pointy shooties to DSLR’s.  Part of the the 3 year journey.  My DSLR’s are Nikon and my preference is to utilize 2 bodies with two zooms.  I have more lenses, but this is my base gear.  Despite all the stuff I read about pros using primes all the time, the pros I know, tend to use zooms.  Discussions have revealed, that it’s more than sharp enough for most things.  I use APS-C sensor cameras in the D3200 and D5100, which is also adequate should I venture closer to the pro side from what I have been told.

From my experience and learning from the 35mm days,  I am a firm believer in “getting the shot right the first time” and still am.  As a result of that, I’ve shot JPEG’s along the way.  The other thing that I have found is that the digital space is very different from the world of 35mm.  Some discoveries:

1.  The “Art” itself hasn’t changed that much in one sense.  The basic “rules” still hold – a good photo is still a good photo.  Digital has allowed very different things that can be done with the art.

2.  Technology has made it easier to take photo’s.  The sheer number of photos that are being taken is mind boggling.  Good that more people are taking photos, but what are they doing with them.  The quality is also there for the most part.  Surprisingly good.

3.  Social media and the internet make the world accessible.  If you have thoughts of going pro, it’s a very different market  now.  A photographer today, has to not only understand their gear, there’s software and the internet to deal with.  More complicated in one sense.

4.  Once you hit the serious amateur side of things, there seems to be this tendency to “pixel peep”, or become a little more concerned about sharpness and noise.  Almost to a fault.  The camera manufacturers keep putting out more and more advanced “stuff” to cash in that obsession.  When I was shooting in 35mm and in low light with high speed Black and White, getting the shot was the important piece, grain was second.  Today, we call the grain “noise” if I got my understanding right Smile  Back then we used that grain to enhance the “mood” of the shot. 

5.  There is a lot of time that can be sucked up doing post work.  In learning more about RAW and the software associated with it, I am REALLY glad that I have a bit of time to learn about this.  I’ve also found that RAW  isn’t necessarily RAW.  Each manufacturer has it’s own version and “It ain’t the camera”, and I really agree with that.  A little more later on that.

So – back to spring.  It’s here!!!  Stuff here in Calgary hasn’t started turning green yet, but it’s getting close.  I am so looking forward to getting out and about more.  For the first time since I got into this, I feel I’m at the stage where I was back in 35mm with my DSLR’s.  It’ not that I’m ignoring the rest of the gear, is more being able to do certain things with the DSLR’s that I can’t do with the rest of my gear.  One of them is the super wide angle stuff – landscapes and scenics.  As nice as it would be to have something for my Panasonic GX1, it really didn’t exist, so I went to a Tamron 10-24 mm zoom.  In 35mm terms, that give me the equivalent of 15mm to 36mm.  Back in the day, the majority of my landscape stuff was done with the 17 and 20mm lenses.  Interior work was done with a 24mm and other stuff could be managed with the 28 or 35mm lens.  I have that with this zoom.  This was actually the one lens that actually held me back in some respects. 

Am I going to add more gear coming into this season?  You know – I really don’t think so.  A few accessories, maybe, but from the “big stuff” standpoint, probably not.  If I do, it’ll be to add a third body – a D7100 with an 18 – 140 to get the extra horsepower and functions.  The one thing I’ve found in shooting in RAW, is that under certain conditions, especially when I do sequence shots, the camera (D3200)  becomes unusable for about 10 seconds while the buffer writes out.  The D5100 is better, but file sizes are smaller too. Faster SD cards hasn’t helped – it’s simply a processing issue – the processor isn’t fast enough to handle this.  To make matters worse, I’m also set up at the moment, anyway, in RAW + JPEG Fine, so that doesn’t help either.

Now – about RAW.  From my understanding of this format, it’s all the data that the camera sensor captures. JPEG’s are what you get with the camera settings in place and what the processor “thinks” is a good photo.  Soooo… in reality, if you set the camera up correctly, there shouldn’t  be any difference between the JPEG and the RAW.  What the RAW does give you though, is all the data not just what the processor settings were, so the file is much larger.  Because you have so much information, you have more flexibility in post processing.  Whew!! That was a mouthful eh?  (Had to toss that in – Canadian Smile)  What I have been doing, is shooting with both formats to compare and ensure I’m doing stuff at my end right.  The good news – I am Smile  BUT, in saying that – RAW still has advantages.

This is where the post piece starts to come into play.  Yes, I can do more with RAW, but the cost is time.  TONS of time.  Granted, I’m still in the learning side of things, but the time factor is significant.  What it does emphasize though, is how important it is to learn how to do it right the first time Smile  Before I forget, I am set up with computer equipment that can handle those larger files Smile 

Soooo…. coming into this spring – the attack plan.  I will likely continue to use my DSLR’s set at both RAW +JPEG Fine.  My other two units, the Fuji X10 and Panasonic GX1, I’ll likely leave them at JPEG Fine.  I do some free lancing and when doing those, I will likely shoot exclusively RAW, but we’ll see when I get there.  I also want to expand WHAT I take pics of.  I’m only 45 minutes away from the Rockies and some of the most beautiful mountain ranges around and don’t get there that often.  That’s gotta change.  I’ve designed some new stuff to test for my outdoor plant stuff – can hardly wait to try it outdoors.  I do want to get some studio “stuff” – backdrop and lights, but it’s not a priority yet.  Likely for this fall.  More consistency in my blogs – I have a lot started but nothing finished  – that’s gotta change.

Onward…..

The Quest for Light … When There Isn’t….

I don’t about anyone else, but here in Calgary, especially in the winter months, we get these pockets of sunlight and these overcast days.  I’m constantly looking for various ways to light various things.  Especially when one is caught indoors.  From a “standard” lighting setup, we tend to have a couple of solutions of course Smile  We always have flash and depending on the subject matter, I have my light box.  One of my more passionate subject pieces tends towards plant life.  My wife works in a garden centre and it only stands to reason that our home has a lot of plant both inside and outsideSmile  In reality, one of the tougher things, tends to be able to get better control of light.  The ultimate goal of course, is to get that perfect shot as you visualize it.  In most cases, if you have a bright sunlit day, you can always fiddle with angles, reflectors and fill flash.  Granted, depending on the time of day as well, you time may also be constrained. 

As one gets more serious, have you ever noticed the sheer amount of gear we tend to accumulate in order to get those shots?  Smile  For me, I TRY to keep the accessory side as a minimum.  I try to get that shot the first time.  I do have quite a background stemming back to the 35mm days and back then, we didn’t have a lot of options, so the shots had to be set up correctly.  There wasn’t software back then, and doing your own processing was an expensive proposition.  Getting it right the first time was always the goal.  So what are some of the things that can be done at the offset?

From the Camera Side

The camera and controls are the key to getting your exposure under control.  Your lens controls the composition.  Depending on your camera, the camera may have a zoom lens built in or it may be of the interchangeable lens type.  In the end, the final photo is the end result stems from the gear.  The content comes from you Smile  

The general tendency, depending on where or how far you want to take it, will be to upgrade your gear accordingly.  OR perhaps take a slightly different approach Smile  I got the gear to fit the scenario I wanted to shoot. Yes, I do have a lot of gear but it’s in the sheer number of cameras not so much accessories.  When I jumped back in – everything hinged around mobility and getting a good quality image without tons of gear.  For most of the things I do, I don’t like having a lot of gear with me.  I do, however, want a lot of functionality too Smile  Despite the fact that I do own a DSLR or two plus a bunch of lenses, I also am not married to them either.  The one thing that I have learned in my “journey” from pointy shooties to DSLR’s, is that todays technology can deliver a pretty high quality photo. 

My favourites for most things I do, are travel cameras and the more advanced cameras.  My advanced cameras are the Fuji X10 and XF1 and Panasonic LX7.  The reason for these, is that have fast lenses for low light.  They are small and more than get the job done.  My travel cameras get me in the area past 4x zoom while still delivering a high level of functionality.    Generally, I will have the XF1 plus either a Panasonic ZS25 or Nikon S9400.  If I anticipate something that requires a bit more control, I have either a Fuji F800 or Sony HX30V that can manage that.  My Fuji X10 used to be my primary camera and it does still get used that way for certain things, but for more advanced work, I have my DSLR’s and Compact System Cameras.  My DLSR’s are a Nikon D3200 and 5100 with several lenses.  My Compact System Camera is a Panasonic GX1 with two zooms and a macro primary lens – 60mm f2.8.  These tend to be used when I free lance or require I require absolute top notch photos.  It’s not that the other can’t deliver that, they can but aside from additional functionality, DLSR’s have battery and flash power that the rest simply don’t have. Back to light or lack therein…..

Exposure and Light

When it comes to exposure, we have several ways to control it.  We have things like Polarizing filters, Neutral Density filters, not to mention the camera functions that can assist as well.  In certain situations though, there simply isn’t enough light.  From the camera side we can kick up the ISO OR we can use flash.  Then there are reflectors to “bounce” or reflect light to enhance the photo.  There are also studio lights. And then there is of course, sunlight Smile  Depending on the time o f day, there can be lots of it and not enough.  There are advantages to either situation.  And then there are those overcast days – I’m sure you’ve had them.  The light is literally deal flat – no shadows and here you are dying to take some pics…. Sad smile  Sometimes, you can use your flash to get that extra contrast but sometimes you need some additional lighting to enhance your shot.  In the case of plants being indoors, sometimes getting that shot with limited light coming through the window, can present its own set of challenges.  For me, I take that as a challenge and have a blast with it.

I had one project a while ago that involved shooting a small stained glass piece.  This one piece was quite small and I was able to use my light box, but it got me thinking about finding something that would backlight a piece to bring out the colors of the stained glass.  I couldn’t find an easy way to get that shot backlit, so ended up shooting it on the window sill.  Not as good as it should have been, but it worked out. Also, there are certain shots that I want try using a backlight. 

Soooo… there are actually two issues that cropped up – first – coming up with a way to backlight,and second – a light of some sort that would work easily.   The other thing, was that I wanted something relatively portable AND quite bright AND adjustable if possible.  I tried one of those work LED lights but it wasn’t quite bright enough.  The other thing I’m still fighting with, is a way to back light easily  I kept looking and one day, I was in a camera store and spotted an Optex Movie Light!!  It worked well enough but then it wasn’t near portable enough.  Small enough to carry in a bag, but if I had to use it in a confined space it wasn’t quite small enough.  It had he output, but still not quite as bright as I would have liked.  Light  was small enough, now just some of jury rig….

The other side of this, was that I wanted something small enough to carry in my sling and at the same time, be brighter.  Sound like wanting my  cake and eating it too?  Absolutely !!!  So now, it got a little more complicated – some sort of rig for backlighting for “studio” type work and something else for “mobile”.  I was actually looking for something smaller than the Optex.  What I stumbled on at the camera store was actually not for photo as much as movie was the quodos knog.  This was actually designed as an accessory for the GoPro or equivalent.  It was a light designed for underwater use, so not only was it small, it was bright.  And expensive. 

knog_handknog ruler

 

This sucker set me back about $150!!  Sooo.. why so expensive?  Well, I personally didn’t want to spend THAT kind of money, but anytime you get small and powerful, it does get expensive.  I have a smattering of flashlights that have incredible amounts of power (430 lumens and it fits in your hand), and those things aren’t cheap either Smile  Soooo.. its in a waterproof housing for starters.  Output is at 200 lumens on its strongest setting and you have mode switches that control the amount of light.  Under full power, and all 3 Cree LED’s, it’s rated at 2.5 hours continuous.  It uses a micro USB to charge and the battery has to be pulled out of the housing to charge.  It’s well built and comes with additional accessories in a really nice metal container.

I got the following shot using it :

XMAS_cactus3

It was around 2 o’clock so the sun was streaming in the window.  At this time of the year (late Nov.), the light can change quickly.  So here’s the natural light shot:

XMAS_cactus_Natural

BTW – this a plant called the XMAS Cactus and they start to bloom around XMAS, as the name implies.  Even this shot is not so shabby Smile  My wife has this plant in this white color as well as orange and red. 

Here’s the setup I used for the shot above:

Setup2

I mounted the light on a DSLR GorillaPod and wrapped it on the leg of my ProMaster 525T Carbon Fibre tripod with a Milano B-3 Ball Head.  The camera is a Nikon D5100 (I got it for the articulating viewfinder) with a Sigma 18-250 F3.5-5.6 Zoom with Macro.  Just thought I’d toss in techy stuff for inquisitive mindsSmile I was initially going to use my 40mm Micro Nikkor for this shot, but I wanted to use the tripod for stability, so zoom it was Smile  The other setup I tried, was wrapping the Gorillapod on the bannister and also just setting the knog in another pot and pointing it up.  All of them worked fine with each creating a slightly different photo.  A key thing to remember here, is that at 200 lumens, you could be a fair distance away and still get a ton of light.  This light appears to solve the light, small and powerful piece.  Next….

For the next part of the project was to build a small stand so I could shine the light up. The primary purpose was for doing stained glass.  If you have ever worked with backlighting and smaller objects, this has it’s own set of challenges.  Jewellry, etc. lends itself well if you can set a light underneath.  For portraits, it’s easy as you can move a light behind.  One can shoot stained glass, especially smaller pieces in a light box easiest enough but if you want to light it up from behind, well.. different alright.

Here’s a piece that my wife had commissioned:

Staine glass piece 

These is a pretty quickie shot from my light box.  It renders the colors fine but I thought there was no “dimension, to it.  I have others that have props which are much better, but when it comes to stained glass, there’s nothing like backlighting it.  Back to the solution.  Off to the woodshop I went and came up with this :

Backlight_jig

That piece on the back moves BTW to adjust the light.  Sooo.. the first test shot I took was to take a glass piece that my wife had:

Crystal Man

This shot, I feel is the best (another one to follow).  Successive tests using both the Opex and knog, showed the knog was still superior.  The one that I did find out about this unit though, is that it runs hot!!!  Very hot.  After about 10 minutes, you almost can’t hold it.  The more I thought about the jig to move the light around, the more I didn’t like it.  I couldn’t adjust the angle enough and I didn’t really have the time to fiddle with it too much.  Sooo….I got thinking about something like a small GorillaPod or something equivalent that I could set up the lights with more flexibility.  A quick snoop on the ‘net sent me off the camera store to snoop. I ended up with a small GorillaPod and this Manfrotto Mini.  The mini is probably the neatest Smile

Manfrotto MiniGPod and Manfrotto Mini

Back to my jig and I got the following as my tests.

Crystal Man_backlitStianed glass_backlitClock

The box stand too roughly a couple of hours t o build so not that big of a deal for me.  It is, however a little too large for my light box – depth.  I have a very shallow light box.  Sooooo…. I was just thinking on this, if I have a bit of loose time being between contracts, I probably wouldn’t have come close to getting this much done.  The other side of this, was that I would have missed those cactus shots Smile  They are fascinating photo subjects and will probably show more of them as they bloom. 

Onward……

Nikon P520 – A Few Weeks In..Other Stuff

I’ve had the Nikon P520 for a few weeks now.  In reality, the last thing I really needed was yet another camera :-)  BUT I didn’t have one in this class AND it was on a clear out (last year’s model), so I figured “What the heck” and got it. 

So.. the Nikon P520 fits in this funny little category called a Bridge Camera.  It sits sort of in between the Travel Cameras and DSLR’s along with Compact System Cameras.  They look like DSLR’s but smaller and lenses don’t change.  I say  funny because they aren’t near as compact as a travel camera or pointy shooty, but at the same time they aren’t the most portable and they sort of have manual and automatic controls.  The big thing with these, is that they sport BIG zooms.  The P520 has a 42x zoom.  Newer ones are at 60x!!  If you’ve never played in the big zoom space, believe me – fun takes on a whole new meaning :-) 

If you are a fairly advanced photographer you may poo poo these cameras.  They have quite restrictive aperture ranges, the sensor is a bit on the small side and the P520 is a bit on the slow slide in a couple of areas.  BUT they seem to have a place too.  I’m seeing a few out there now with f2.8! 

P520_left side P520 Right P520_Top

Above photos were taken with my Panasonic GX1 in my light box 🙂

So why the P520 instead of the P530?  Well, for me, the there were two main reasons.  First – price.  At $300’ish it represented a huge value for the money, despite certain flaws.  Second – the articulating mirror.  The P530 didn’t have that.  What really surprised me on this one was the image quality I got for what I paid.  The sensor is no screaming hell at 1/2.3 inches but overall, it produced a surprisingly high quality image.  Now I’m saying this very tongue and cheek and staying objective about this :-)  It’s not near has high quality as my GX1 or DSLR’s but for the price point – amazing. 

Kribbit Cute Lexar SD Card Reader

It does a pretty decent job in it’s Scene Mode.  Here’s some from a recent snow storm that were taken in Snow Mode:

Nose Hill walkway Front Lawn

These were shot in Programmed Auto with no exposure compensation.  If it were a sunny day out, I would have underexposed by another –1.0 to –1.5 EV to bring out the greens more.  Just a trick 🙂

Soooo…. according to the reviews, this camera is designed for the person who really does want the big zoom and not too overly concerned about size but less hassle than say a DSLR.  As a general purpose camera, it’s actually kind of a neat unit, though I feel that for that price point a travel camera would be a better choice, but that’s me :-)  Again, personal preference.  HOWEVER – Big zoom is a pretty neat space if you’ve never played there – I thought 20x was fun!!  42x opens a whole new world again 🙂

P520_wide P520_42x

Not bad for hand held though a tripod is recommended.  This was shot in bright sunlight so you can see the sky blow out a bit, but I needed a high shutter speed too :-)  I take the shots though :-)   This is one of those rare instances for me, where I will agree that a little post processing to bring out the blues would be advantageous 🙂 I’ll add more big zoom stuff in a different post.  BUT things like wildlife suddenly become a possibility.  For a moment, I was thinking of moving to another unit in thus class, but I really think my next jump will something in DSLR’s. 

Battery power was rated a little low on this one at roughly 200 shots per charge and so far, that seems to be fairly accurate.  A quick purchase from Amazon got me a couple of batteries and an external charger for way less than Nikon one.  I knew I would be using this one a lot , actually, so I didn’t hesitate to get spares.  I normally only get batteries on my high use gear.  I don’t normally have spares for any of my travel cams, for instance.  The reason?  I usually have a couple and on my most intensive vacation days, I’ve shot around 500 shots per day, so two cameras is plenty.  Mind you, in low light, I’ll use my Fuji X10 and I have several batteries for that one as it’s one of my workhorse cameras.

In carrying this one around for the last couple of weeks, I used a Caden Sling instead of trying to put it in my daypack along with my other cameras. 

Caden_front Caden_P520

I bought this bag on spec for it’s shape.  It was very different and one of the very few out there that allows for quick retrieval.  More important, is that I can actually stick a DSLR in there pretty easy (tried it – works better than I thought) and this is a potential future consideration in lugging a  DSLR around with less hassle than usual.  What I’m heading toward/thinking about is something like a D7100 with an 18-140 – for day to day – that could be a winner.

I actually had been thinking about a unit here for a few weeks – I really didn’t need another camera as I already have 12 or more.  I was actually thinking of getting one of the newer Panasonic travel cameras at 30X zoom, but you know, I simply didn’t need another one in this area.  Time to change it up a bit.  Am I glad I got the P520 – absolutely!  This is actually a fun unit.  A new project so to speak.  Some background here.

Over the last couple of years, my interest in photography has been growing at light speed, so say the least.  I do have a background in 35mm and started to play with digital in a more serious way.  The kicker was time and so I started with the concept of mobility first knowing full well that this was going to lead me ultimately to DSLR’s.  I had limited time due to other things (life gets in the way…. :-)), and I commuted, so noon hours was the only window.  That meant, small and light while trying to grab high quality stuff.  In being a consultant, I also had a bit of time “in between”, so the long term plan was to be able to acquire less portable stuff to “chase the dream”.  That’s where the Panasonic GX1 and Nikon DSLR’s came into play.  The DSLR’s came into play for another reason – I got sucked into moving back into free lancing a bit, and my existing gear just didn’t cut it.  I didn’t go into full frame stuff – APS-C – Nikon D3200 and D5100 with 3 zooms and a couple of primes and a couple of flashes.  Enough to get by at this stage of the game. 

With the knowledge I had gained from my 35mm days, I was prepared to dive in deep and that’s what I did:-)  The bug picture was to find out what digital photography  was about compared to 35mm and what I found was pretty neat.  And FUN!!  Sooo.. a couple of conclusions I’ve come to in exploiting this stuff.

1.  Most of these cameras can deliver a pretty high quality image.  Yes, DSLR’s win in the end, but when you look at the big picture (no pun intended), You gotta admit most of these units work pretty good.  AND in full auto.  With caveats of course, but still…..  Not too shabby.  I do like good quality images, but I’m not going to obsess about the pixels.  It’s all about content – the moment.  The bottom line here – no camera – no image – no moment.  There are times when all you have is something like a Smartphone – got the moment – good enough.  I think that as we get more advanced in our craft, we tend to get too technical about things and forget the content :-)  In reality – isn’t it about content?  :-)  That’s why I have so many cameras and always have one or two with me – it’s about content and having something there when the opportunity arises.

2.  Depending on what you do or where you want to take this – one camera may not be enough :-)  But that’s me too :-)  From my side of things – I’m sort of a “pixel peeper”.  I do like high quality photos but I’m not prepared to lug tons of equipment around either unless the situation dictates.  If I’m stepping out to go shopping for something equivalent, I’ll slip a couple of cameras into my  Fossil Sling Bag along with a tablet and away I go.

Fossil

 

3.  Keep things in perspective.  What the heck do I mean by that?  One of the biggest things I see, is actually a couple of things.  First is trying to fit what you want to do, to the equipment you need.  The other, is following the advice of others without understanding what you want to do.  Sort of go hand in hand.  I see so many folks who get DSLR’s because they were told it was the best, and as true as that might be, if it sits in a closet, what good is it?  You need the knowledge to take advantage of what that class of camera has to offer.  To me, in order to get better, you need to not only take photos but learn from your shots.  Studying others and how they do their work.  I’ve also had some who listen and learn from me.  They do take the photos and they try different things.  Awesome.

We all have visions of grandeur and want to look like a pro.  That’s fine, but I would recommend learning about the gear you are toting around before you look like a pro :-)  I see an amazing amount of this, actually. And you can tell :-)  They don’t hold the camera correctly – using a flash when they really didn’t need to (if they understood a bit about exposure)  and on and on.  I learn from the pros by watching them and talking to them.  Mind you, having background there helps too.  I’ve been to many events where I’m the backup photographer and I always go out of my to introduce myself and make sure I don’t get in their way.  Sometimes I get paid, sometimes I don’t at these events.  As much as I hear about charging for my work, there are times when you need to do a bit of free stuff to get the “in”.  You would be surprised how many times when I get asked to do a shoot via networking that when I mention charging for the work, it’s expected :-)  Usually, it’s “How much for an event like this?” and then “Our event is on ……. – are you available?”  Why does it go this way?  I’ve spent a lot of time at some of these events and my work is known.  It’s taken several years.  Full time?  At this time – not a chance :-)   

4.  Look before you leap.  What do I mean by that?  If you are going to move forward in this space, technology makes it easy to show off your work.  When you look at what social media has to offer today, it’s easy to post stuff “up there”.  Think about this before you do.  For me, I really don’t know just  how far I’m going to go with this, so I post very sparingly.  AND only the best stuff or stuff that I WANT others to see.  I’m treading very carefully here.  I am posting a bit more than I used to, but still pretty low key.  I do a fair amount for my blogs ( I have two) and there, I do post a fair amount.  Mostly to inform with a few pics, but it’s a good way to “test the waters” too.  I am starting to get a few followers, but nothing spectacular either.  I’m starting to post more and more as time goes on, but not at light speed either.  I know of many who post just about everything they shoot and I feel that more than a few shouldn’t be up there :-)  I feel one should stop and think something thru.  Once it hits the ‘net….. tough to retract.

One thing that I also do before posting anything, is I resize down to 640 x 480 before posting.  I’m still working on the watermark thing, so that’s also been a deterrent on posting too much.

5.  Think your shots through.  One of the BIG things that digital has brought to light, are the memory cards.  It’s hit a point where the cost is literally nil to take photos.  One thing I see a TON of, is the tendency to “machine gun” shots.  The technology has made it pretty easy to do.  Compared to many  folks I know, I take a lot of photos to start with, but I take very few duplicates.  Unless I’m really not sure of a shot, I won’t even bracket  the exposure :-)  Why not you say?  Well… in the days of 35mm, film was expensive so getting everything right the first time was important.  That’s carried over for me :-)  Safeties?  It depends.  On a formal shoot, absolutely.  Other stuff not so much.  Again – it’s a situation thing.  Also, where I do take more shots than normal is in the beginning – to figure out what the camera is going to do.  Each camera has it’s quirks and knowing what they are goes a long way to getting those great shots.

How many shots does one take for any given situation?  This is a highly subjective topic.  My answer – it depends :-)  From my perspective – whatever it takes to preserve that moment or event.  AND it depends on whether it’s a personal shoot or a formal shoot.  A simple social gathering – maybe 20 or 30. Bigger events – maybe more.  If I’m doing light box stuff – one or two per item depending on whether I got the lighting right.  On many of the volunteer events I’ve been “volunteered on”, I’ve shot anywhere from 300 to 500 shots.  Sound like a lot?  You bet!  AND there has been a fair amount of post processing too, depending on the event.  End result?  I’m getting my name out, and I’m starting to “move”.  Not fast, but I don’t want fast yet.  Scenics – again – it depends.  Sometimes, especially sunrises or sunsets, you can get some wonderful perspectives by sitting in one spot and working with exposure and in-camera cropping.  I try to get the “tourist” shots as well as the not so common shots as well.  Again – what you “see”.

How often have you had that “nothing to shoot” syndrome?  Especially during that growth time where you are trying to learn more and more in order to get better.  Well… I get into that mode a lot.  Sometimes, I have other things on my mind and quite simply photos just “aren’t in the equation”.  I don’t fret that and just go do something else.  And then there are those times when you DO want to take photos and simply want to shoot.  How do you get those creative juices flowing?  I look for a quasi interesting photo and then start to look at the potential shot from different perspectives. I look down, go from bottom up, do close ups, go at  different angles and see what comes out :-)  In many instances, I find something that I never noticed about the pic :-)  It might be something like a texture pattern.

Getting back to the P520 – Put it on a tripod indoors and start with a shot at the end of the room.  From there, start zooming in on various things in that first shot.  I did that initially with one of my travel cams and got some pics of my wife’s plants that were pretty neat.  It actually got me looking closer a macro shots of plants and that led me into getting a macro lens for my DSLR’s.  OR concentrate on just close-ups.  The average home has a myriad of things to photograph.  OR how about taking pics of what you have for the sake of inventory for insurance purposes.  Lesson in architecture hiding in there :-)  I have revenue properties and interior photos are vital for me. 

6. What to keep and what to delete and when to delete.  This is highly subjective :-)  For me, unless the shot is wrong – blurry, etc. I’ll delete those in-camera.  If I’m on a formalized shoot, I’ll keep everything I can until I off load to my PC and go from there.  For the most part, for me, I backup my SD card to my PC depending on what I’m doing.  I then copy what I need to a different directory before doing any post processing.  That way I’ll always have an original kicking around.  Now, a point here – I keep the photos on my SD card until I finish post work as a precaution :-)  Soo… two backups.  That’s just me.  Once I’m done, I’ll re-format the card.

What I like to do, is keep all my cards blank so I can re-format in-camera just before I do any shooting.  The reason being is that I don’t always know which camera I’ll be using.  Now… bear in mind that this is for formalized shoots.  For the more casual stuff, like test shots, or “out and about” type shots I may not off load that card for a while.  Again – it’s a “depends” thing.  If I am doing testing on certain things, I’ll off load right away.  If it’s something that is not so urgent, I’ll wait until I get a chance.  For me, I sometimes don’t have a chance to get at stuff too.  Life gets in the way :-) 

Storage – I have tried so many different types of SD card holders and in the end, the one I settle on was one from Pelican.

Pelican Case SD cards

This puppy wasn’t cheap but there is little or no risk of a card falling out.  The other thing i like about this holder, is that IF I swap cards, I can just flip the card over as a reminder that I have photos on that card.  You’ll notice that I have various sizes there as well.  I do prefer the 8 GB cards for most work.  I also prefer to use the fastest cards (Class 10) whenever possible.  There are times when one needs to do sequential work or even a movie clip and I want to make sure I can write to the card and not have to wait.  I also will try to use brand name cards whenever possible.  I’ve had the odd one fail, but never a brand name one.  Anecdotal, but so far…. :-)  I don’t do a lot in area of movies, but I do have higher capacity cards just in case.

Soooo… before I go into brain lock, this is just some stuff running through my head 🙂

Onward…..

Close Ups’’ – An Interesting Area for Some

Close ups, or “macro” work, has always been an fascinating area for me.  When I jumped back into the digital space from 35mm, my interest there piqued even more.  With today’s technology, literally any camera has this close up capability and with it comes a rather neat area of photography, if you’ve never tried it.  Simple things around the house suddenly become their own little world.

When I got to the DSLR space, this was one area that I started to work in right away.  Actually, quite a bit before that.  I got the hair brained idea one day to try to build my own version of a light box to take photographs of my pockets knives and as I move up thru the ranks of gear, my interest simply got bigger here.  Not too long ago, I acquired a Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 lens for my Nikon D3200 and D5100 (the D5100 is a very recent acquisition – more on that later…) and that expanded my world again.  I then got thinking even more about being a little more versatile and decided to acquire the Polaroid Close Up Filter kit. 

So why a filter kit and not another lens?  Well – it broke down to expense vs use.  I was looking at something like the 85mm or 105 mm lenses or even a macro zoom, but at this stage of game, simply too prohibitive from the cost side – I’m looking at somewhere in the $600+ range.  $20 from Amazon was worth a try 🙂

What I was looking for actually, was the ability to some close up work from a little farther away and wanting to use my existing lenses.  The close up lenses were an option.  The other one was tubes.  For me, the lenses were the best option.  I may look at tubes later in the game, but for now, well… we’ll wait.  I’m gong to show a few pics in this one (FINALLY –  few photos from me :-)) and there may be quite a few actually, but we’ll see as we move along here.

I hadn’t really thought about the close up lenses in reality.  I bumped into them reading an article on close work.  At the time, my mind was sitting around how I was going to set up a new bag, the Caden K1 Triangle Sling, to accommodate my gear.  As easy as it sounds, it’s tougher than it sounds, ‘cause I don’t know what I want to pack in it :-)  My initial thought was to see if it would be large enough to handle 2 DSLR’s but then I would lose space for other stuff but then if I took one plus extra lenses…. you know the drill…..  Of course, the other side of this, is that for this guy, one camera will likely be the case plus travel cams or something like that. 

Back to close up stuff or the general direction.  One of the things I hear a lot about, and this does surprise me to a certain degree, is “there’s nothing to take pictures of” and part and parcel to that is the fact people don’t want to go out of their way to go somewhere where pictures can be taken :-)  To me, these people are the ones that do take their cameras to social things, and their world simply stops there.  No urge to learn, whatever. Fine – they don’t want to learn, so be it.  For me, I simply don’t get out near as much as I should, and so I go “hunting”.  Maybe they don’t play with the settings to see what happens, I don’t know….  For me, I try to use as many settings as possible under as many conditions as possible just to figure out what I can and can’t do with a given camera and with the bigger stuff, the lenses. 

Anyway – in just doing a few test shots, here’s what I’ve found out so far.  From a sharp perspective – they aren’t all that bad. For what I’m going to be doing with them – very usable.  Will they replace my 40mm macro or a fixed macro lens?  No.  One of the things I tried was to stick something like the +4 one on my 55-200.  It was neat enough, and a I got some good working distance, but it became very quickly apparent that I needed a tripod :-)  OR more coffee – it was early morning – golden hour :-)  On the 18-55mm it was a lot better, but I didn’t gain the distance I thought I would.  I tried the lenses using both the D3200 and D5100 – both of them had trouble with autofocus at times.  It was actually easier to move the camera to frame up, then press the shutter half way and then the autofocus kicked in and worked.  Here are a few I took using the various lenses.

This was using the +10

Plus 10

Here’s one with +2

Plus 2

Nothing too structured here for a formal test.  I’ll do that later.  These were done with my 55-200 on my Nikon D5100.

And then, there’s depth of field!  It’s VERY narrow if you don’t have your aperture set.  Here’s how little DOF you have on one test shot I took.

DOF

From the testing standpoint – lots of testing to see how they work the best.

Here are a couple more:-)

hailed_lily Luke

From what I’ve seen so with these close up lenses, they are pretty neat.  Will I use them a lot for close up work? You know, that’s actually a good question.  I wasn’t overly fussy about the +10 one – I was hoping it would be sharper as it dropped off on the edges a bit more than I liked but then again, it wasn’t that bad either.  I’ll probably drop the bucks on the Nikon 2 element one even though it’s a bit of money.  I think the higher resolution capability will be a “nice to have”, as I am in this space a lot.  One thing I also tried was using the 55-200mm and depending on the zoom length, it actually worked pretty good.  Of course, hand holding at the 200mm end was a bit dicey, but it actually didn’t work that bad.  The main thing here, is that I have options depending on the situation.  My feeling is that the 40mm f2.8 is still better for flowers, but it involves a lens swap too.  As I rove out more and more, the plan is to have two cameras with 2 zooms on them.  Mind you, the macro modes on the travel cams aren’t shabby either.

Onward