• Michael Hadfield Photography

Create a Mini-Studio Wherever You Are

July 2nd, 2014

Grumpy’s was the sign over the door, but the door was padlocked. Then a friendly face appeared and guided me round to the other door signed Canal View and I went in. Two different names, two doors, same business – same building. No wonder I was a little confused.

But it can get a bit like that when you’re engaged to take some pictures in a place you not only don’t know, but you’ve also never heard of before. The barman showed me my space. It was at one end of the bar, about six foot by eight with a cushioned bench along one wall and a big Grumpy’s sign filling the wall at the back. I was rather hoping I could get away with using a wall as my backdrop. My lighting stands were useless since they would have to be out in the walking space where the inebriated would inevitably trip over them.

Looked like a night of on-camera flash and the resultant awful lighting that would produce.

The barman seemed to think this space was fine because the guy with the computer doing keyrings the other night was happy with it.

Mary, who had asked me to photograph her and  Jo’s joint 50th birthday party, and I had a word with the boss. It turned out I could use the entrance space where I’d come in – the Canal View hallway – sort of. She locked the door, took the padlock off the Grumpy’s door and I suddenly had a 15’ x 15’ studio to work in. The wall wasn’t suitable so I gaffer taped a piece of black velvet to the wall. That would take care of any hard flash shadows. Set my lights up, attached brollies, asked Mary to pose for a shot or two while I got the exposure sorted and I was good to go.

I was using two Yongnuo YN-560 II manual flashguns. These are great little low-cost manual flashguns with plenty of power. You can pick one up for less than £40 now. They don’t do any of that fancy E-TTL stuff so you have to understand exposure to benefit from using them. One the things I most love about them is that they have built-in optical slaves. I set them both up as slaves and used an on-camera Metz 58 AF-1 pointing up to the ceiling to fire the Yongnuo’s. I had a wireless trigger in my bag but having the Metz on-camera, rather than the flash trigger, gave me the option of easily adding a bit more light to the subject should I need it.

The Yongnuo’s were on lighting stands with Lastolite Tiltheads. These are great little devices that allow you to fasten a hot-shoe flash to a lighting stand, or tripod, attach a brolly and adjust the angle of the flash. The camera was a Canon 6D with 24-105mm L lens attached. Everythign set up, test exposures completed and I was good to go.

My hosts had provided a dressing up box filled with silly hats, feather boas, giant sunglasses, and the like as well as a selection of empty picture frames. Now I’m not really a dressing up person but the guests loved them and had great fun.

I came home with almost 200 images and started work the following day.

Most of the images were vibrant and fun, but a few were suitable for a little special treatment.

This one cried out for some Black & White treatment. The black background made it easy to incorporate a subtle dark vignette to focus all attention on the faces.

 

 

For this one I thought it might be fun to remove the colour from outside the frames, so I played around with a Layer Mask in Photoshop to achieve this.

 

 

For this one I wanted to create a vintage look. I tried a load of Lightroom pre-sets, and tried some toning in Photoshop but none of it fitted the image. In the end I de-saturated the image and found that gave me just the look I wanted.

 

 

This is the set up.

It looks most uninspiring and very lo-tech – which it is – but it just goes to show that you can create pleasing images without needing to spend a fortune on lighting equipment.

Popularity: 43% [?]

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Product Photography – How do you Make an Object Desirable?

June 24th, 2014

What makes an object desirable?

Sexiness? Shape? Colour? Texture? Features? Suitability for Purpose?

Have a think about the last thing you bought that you didn’t need and what drew you to it.

Ignore all the reasonable stuff that your mind throws up, that’s just you trying to convince you that you made a wise choice and weren’t swayed by anything other than functionality. I mean, who needs the latest iPhone if they already have the previous model, or the one before that, or the one before that? Yet thousands of people will queue up to buy Apple’s latest offering even though they bought the last version just 5 months ago.

That’s the sexiness of having the latest version making the sale. It’s the desire to be seen as someone as special as your jewellery. And by jewellery I mean whatever shiny new toy you happen to possess – whether that be a nice car, the latest iPad, or a fancy new camera.

Then, once you have that fancy new camera hanging around your neck, notice how you suddenly start to notice what kind of camera everyone else has hanging around their neck and where that fits in the hierarchy of camera-ness compared to yours.

The manufacturers of these toys generally go to a lot of trouble to have them photographed well so they create a good impression. They pay skilled copywriters to tell you, in simple, emotive, terms how this thing will change your life for the better and help you to live out your dreams. They make mini-movies (TV Ads) to convince you that your life will be so much richer once you have that shiny cardboard box in your hands.

As photographers, it’s important that we understand – that we have an idea about what it is we are trying to communicate – when we photograph an object. And many of us are finding that we photograph objects frequently so that we can encourage people to give us money for them on sites like eBay. Photographing for auction sites is doubly difficult because you have to represent the object honestly – warts and all. Still that doesn’t prevent you from using your photographic skills to create the best possible image and the best possible image has much more to do with lighting and context than it has to do with the equipment you use to create the image.

The two images below were both taken in the same space and using the same lights, yet they create a totally different emotional response. The first is the type of image you might find in a catalogue, taken against a white background so it can be placed with other products on the same page. It shows the product clearly and the fine detail is easy to see.

 

The second image is, to me certainly, much more appealing. I took it against a dark background and on a reflective surface. That reflection, coupled with the bright red colour of the camera, lifts this image and makes me want to own that camera. Notice the arrangement of the wrist strap. Nothing is accidental here. The intention was to create an appealing, sexy, image. The design of the camera itself helps: the colour; those gentle curves creating a symmetrical body with those areas of red focusing attention on the lens; that big sticker extolling its features; and even those rugged looking clips. Those rugged looking clips, by the way, are just mouldings on the camera body and don’t actually seem to do anything – they are there to sell you this camera and the reason you would want to buy this camera is that it is tough and will withstand a little ill-treatment. You don’t need to read the blurb, you can tell just by looking at it.

But this isn’t a catalogue image. The contrast levels are too high – brights a little too bright and darks a little too dark, but it creates a moody seriousness. You look at this and you know the camera means business.

So next time you want to sell something on eBay, think about what the object means and then create some attractive photographs that really sell it. Include the images in the body of your listing (that way you can have as many as you want at no extra cost). Use large images for the good stuff and smaller images where you need to show wear or damage.

But most importantly think about your lighting.

For these images I used two studio strobes, one with a small softbox and the other with a shoot-through umbrella diffuser. I also use black and white boards to control this light. Obviously the backgrounds were also different. Yes, Lightroom and Photoshop were used to enhance the images, but not until I’d created the best image I could in camera.

Popularity: 31% [?]

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Simple Lighting Set-Up for Flower Photography

June 20th, 2014

I spent quite a few years photographing flowers wherever they happened to be. I mostly used Velvia slide film because I liked the way it handled greens and there is a lot of green in flower photography. At the time I was writing for a gardening magazine so there wasn’t much call for arty images, just attractive pictures of plants and flowers growing wherever I happened to find them. There is a world of difference in my approach to photographing flowers when that photograph is being used to illustrate a point in an article, from when that image is destined to be printed onto a 40” canvas and hung on the wall.

For me wall art is at its best when distracting elements are reduced to a minimum. For me that means simple backgrounds, attractive lighting, and a pleasing subject. If you want to get a feel for this subject, and what is popular, have a look round a store that sells mass-produced low-cost art. This is a great source of ideas for how to style your images.

But I digress; I really wanted to show you how simple it is to set up a shot using a flower, or several flowers, as a subject using a minimum of equipment.

Here’s the shot I produced.

I used one Metz 58 AF–I, one Yongnuo YN560-II, a wireless trigger, my Canon 6D, a Giottos tripod for the camera, my old Benbo MKI tripod for one light, and a low-cost lighting stand for the other light. I used two Lastolite bendy flash holders (not their official name) so I could easily change the angle of the lights and attach them securely to the stands, a small Ikea table, some black mounting board left over from when I framed a panorama print, and two bits of hardboard that were drawer bases from some furniture that was no longer needed. The draw bases were painted white on one side and make excellent reflectors.

The Metz was attached to the wireless trigger, and the Yongnuo was set to slave mode.

This was the arrangement. The orchid that I used for my subject was one I already had on the living room windowsill.

I started off by pulling the curtains and setting the camera to manual mode so I could independently adjust shutter speed and aperture. Aperture was set to f16 because I was shooting so close to the subject and wanted the depth of field this aperture setting would give. Shutter was set to 1/160. An exposure was made to ensure everything was dark and no daylight was affecting the exposure. Then the power and position of the back light was adjusted to give me that highlight you can see along the edge of the flower stems and the buds. I adjusted the power output of the flash to get the effect I wanted – not the aperture. Adjusting the aperture would have allowed me the same control over exposure but would have changed the depth of field.

When I was happy with the back light, I adjusted the front light to give me the desired effect. That was when I noticed that those two sprays of buds going off to the left were a little dark so I added the second reflector on the left to bounce back some of the light from the other flashes. Although I had another Yonguo, and I could have used this to add more light, I wanted to keep it simple. This reflector lifted the brightness sufficiently and I was happy with the result.

Two flashguns, a method of triggering them and some card or even white paper is about all you need to produce images like this.

Popularity: 32% [?]

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New Flower & Garden Photography Book

October 2nd, 2013

My first photography book is out there in the world and available for download on Kindle. It was published yesterday and has already sold a copy. Even stranger is that, as I write, my book is now ranking at a lofty #3 in the Kindle category Photography > Nature & Wildlife, #13 in Beginners > How to, and #38 in Digital Photography. All of which is a complete surprise to me. Such a rapid elevation in the rankings was not anticipated.

As usual with my books, it took three times as long to write as I expected, and ended up twice as long as I planned. I had a bit of a glitch part way through where I was worried that my enthusiasm for the subject was failing to show through. A chat with a friend about the problem, a few edits and I was happy. The problem was not as big as I feared.

My desire was to write an introduction to digital photography but with a specific focus. I selected Flowers & Gardens since that is possibly my favourite out of all the things that I like to photograph.

I really wanted to just get straight into the fun part and write about flowers and light and stuff, but then I remembered beginners don’t necessarily know all about those exposure things like f-stops and shutter speeds and ISOs. The really unfortunate part is that unless you know about f-stops and shutter speeds and ISOs your photography will struggle to improve since knowledge of these things is essential to exert control over the appearance of the image. Yes I know you can put it on Program mode and machine gun away and you’ll probably end up with a useable shot or two – but there’s no skill in that.

So I just had to write about exposure.

And it isn’t very exciting.

And it has to come first.

My concern was how do I communicate this information in the early part of the book without putting people off who just want to know how to take better pictures of flowers & gardens. So I started with a story. Readers like stories, so I wrote a bit about me and my photographic journey from a 10 year old with a Box Brownie waiting outside Buckingham Palace to standing in W.H.Smith (newsagent) and looking at the latest issue of a magazine with my image gracing the cover. Even threw in a few nostalgic links to the equipment I’d used.

After the exposure stuff was over, it was down to the serious business of the flowers. And that was much harder to write than I expected. It’s not that flower & garden photography is some mystical intuitive process – it just feels like it. I had to think very hard about the processes that seem so natural to me when I have my camera in hand and a beautiful garden to explore. But they aren’t natural, they are simply the result of many hundreds of hours looking, clicking, observing results, and then going back and doing it all again – only better.

I hope I have managed to distil the essence of what that process is and communicate, in simple terms, how to emulate it. If I have, then my readers will be enjoying a dramatic improvement in their photographic skills.

Check it out now.

Flower & Garden Photography – Amazon.co.uk

Flower & Garden Photography – Amazon.com

 

Michael

Popularity: 20% [?]

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Shooting Cath

May 23rd, 2013

I met Cath when I joined a local meditation group called Lightworkers of Liverpool. Being a photographer, I felt drawn to a group with a name like that. Anyway, Cath wanted a wall-sized photograph to gift to her daughter, so that she would have something special as a memento of her Mum. So we arranged a date and Cath came to visit.

I use half-size background rolls because my studio is quite small, but it’s fine for waist up or head shots. Cath was uncomfortable sitting in front of the camera and worried about what she would look like. The first images reflected this and it was quite a while before Cath began to relax and the images started to move towards something that would not only look good on the wall but give pleasure to Cath and her daughter.

My usual strategy is to keep shooting and tweaking the lighting, eventually everyone begins to settle down and feel more comfortable. Few people feel comfortable being the focus of so much attention and that, along with the strange environment with coloured backgrounds and bright lights on stands, makes it difficult to look comfortable.

But that is only initially. Once people begin to feel comfortable, then is the time to start the real work of capturing an image that is a reflection of who they believe themselves to be.

Out of the first set this is the one that Cath liked the most.

Hadfields Photography: Cath

 

Cath also wanted an image she could use in promotional material for her work and had brought her crystal ball with her to use as a prop. This was the image that was chosen.

Hadfields Photography: Cath

 

 

Now one of the things that Cath actually wanted was a smoky atmosphere to create a more mysterious mood. She had promisd she was going to bring incense sticks to create this atmosphere – but forgot. So we had no smoke source (must remember to put smoke bombs on my shopping list). I also wasn’t happy with the appearance of the crystal ball – I felt it should have something in it. So I spent a little time in Photoshop and added a swirl of smoke and a misty castle turret. I also put the suggestion of smoke into the background. Real smoke might have looked better, but Cath loved this version of her image.

Hadfields Photography: Cath

 

Gear:

Canon 40D

Canon 17-85mm EF-S f4 – f5.6

Two studio flash units with wireless trigger

Portable flash on the floor to lighten the background

Popularity: 19% [?]

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Red on Black – How Original is It?

January 29th, 2012

Most serious photographers are concerned about copyright issues, and this isn’t just about protecting income. It’s also about having control about where your photographs appear and also this attitude in society that if it’s posted on facebook, or any other image sharing sites, then it’s available for anyone to make use of without even asking if it’s ok.

Personally I’m always pleased if someone likes one of my images enough to want to share them and I don’t mind people doing that as long as they ask my permission; it is for purely personal use; and they pop a credit to me or my website along with the image. Use for advertising or product promotion is something entirely different and I need paying for that.

So it was with interest I read with fascination this story about the

Copyright Threat reported in Amateur Photographer.

First thing that struck me was that this wasn’t the first time I’d seen a black and white photograph with one object coloured red.

red umbrella small

…and yes it is one that I took and digitally manipulated, but it is a red object against a black and white background, with an interesting building behind it and a featureless sky, and a river. Am I too violating their copyright? Unfortunately their image (which I’d never seen before reading the article) pre-dates mine. But if I’d visited Shrewsbury in 2004 and gone through the same process four years earlier would I have a case against them? And I’ve seen this done on tv loads of times with a coloured object or actor against a b&w world.

But the truth is that there is an iconic red on black and white image in public consciousness and that arose from the film Schindler’s List. It looks great, and when things look great image makers first want to reproduce it and then improve on it and add their own personality to it. I remember reading something about font design several years ago and it was a statement to the effect that everything is built upon what has gone before. Rarely are ideas totally fresh – simply because our brains just register everything, most of the time without us even realising it. The wheel didn’t just appear fully formed with an axle – perhaps someone first spotted a fallen log rolling down a hill and then pondered upon that for a while.

If we go down the road of thinking that everything we think of is ours and was given to us in total isolation to anyone else’s input then creativity is dead. Just imagine if no one can any longer put a single coloured object against a b&w background – because that’s where this is leading. It’s a powerful visual concept and makes images stand out.

I thought photographic copyright was designed to protect photographers from unregulated use of their images. But this has shifted the playing field into the area of patents. It has the potential to set a dangerous precedent.

And yes I know that in this particular case there is another factor: that of Temple Island Collections actually offering this image to the people who then went out and copied it to apparently avoid paying Temple Island Collections their rightful dues. This, in my opinion, is an unworthy action. But unfortunately people steal ideas all the time. Most of us just shrug and get on with our lives – a little older and a little wiser.

By the way, for obvious reasons I haven’t downloaded the image of the red bus against the b&w Houses of Parliament even though I would have given credit for it. I hope AP got permission to reproduce it. So be sure to click on the link at the top of the article to see what all the fuss is about.

Michael

Popularity: 39% [?]

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Macro Photography

May 4th, 2011

Strictly speaking macro photography is close-up photography where the image size is life size or greater. So that means if you are photographing something 1cm across then the image that forms on the film or digital sensor must be at least 1cm across. Of course since we always enlarge the image from the film/sensor the viewed image ends up many times larger than real life.

macro

Having established the rule that macro is 1:1 or greater, macro is nowadays anything that is done with the little flower symbol set on the camera – and this is invariably a far cry from life-size reproduction. So I am now going to ignore the rule and for the rest of this article treat macro as another word for close-up photography.

My first ‘proper’ macro lens was the superb Tamron SP90 which, in it’s pre-digital incarnation, allowed half life-size reproduction on 35mm film. True macro (1:1) required the use of a matching extension tube, which I rarely used. I’m currently using Canon’s 100mm EF macro, a lens which creates images up to life-size and focuses as close as 31cm (about 12″).

Macro lenses are available from the big two in a variety of focal lengths. When I used the Tamron on a 35mm camera its 90mm focal length made it incredibly useful for two reasons: it functioned as an excellent portrait lens; and its moderately telephoto focal length meant I didn’t have to get quite as close to flighty insects in order to fill the frame. The 100mm Canon I now use, because of the 1.6x crop factor is effectively a 160mm telephoto. This is excellent for insects still, but just a little long for portraits. There are other advantages, however. The lens hood (ET-67 available to purchase separately), is very deep, so that extra distance you get from the 160mm means there’s generally enough room in the studio to get some light into the small space between end of hood and the subject.

And just in case you think you need to fork out hundreds of pounds on a dSLR and macro lens, here are a couple of images I took with a 5 megapixel bridge camera (Minolta Dimage A1) several years ago.

PICT0016

damselfly

The chocolate curls image is my most popular image on microstock sites and I’ve sold many copies of it. It was taken in the garden with the camera on a tripod. I used the self-timer to trip the shutter – thus avoiding jerking the camera when the shutter release was pressed. The damselfly was captured while I was wandering around the Dorothy Clive Gardens.

Subjects for macro photography are everywhere. I frequently go for a wander around my garden to see what I can find. It’s largely a matter of starting to take pictures and then as you become more familiar with the process you ‘get your eye in’ and start to see potential subjects everywhere. Here is one I took just a couple of days ago.

Pulsatilla

Macro shooting, like most other photography, can be done indoors and outdoors. Indoor macro photography has some very distinct benefits over shooting outdoors so I will look at these two aspects separately.

Indoors
Almost anything you have in your home is a potential subject for macro photography – from a close-up of your partner’s eye to a pile of coloured pencils.

Lego Truck

You will need a tripod for this. The Joby Gorillapod is a particularly useful lightweight tabletop tripod useful for low-level shots outdoors too. The tripod gives you two huge advantages over handholding. The obvious one is eliminating any softening of the image as a result of camera-shake. The other is that it frees you up to concentrate on the composition. With the camera locked in place you can continue to make minute adjustments to your subject, check it in the viewfinder/screen… tweak it again… and again… until everything is the way you saw the image in your mind. This really is a very pleasant way to work and allows you not only to exert fine control over the way the subject is presented but also over the light and shadow too.

Rose

Whether you are using window light, portable, or studio, flash remember that the use of white paper/card is invaluable for lifting shadows and reducing contrast. With a tripod too, shutter speeds can be relatively slow, though sometimes a touch of flash is need to add a little sparkle – but using flash doesn’t mean it has to provide all of the light for the exposure, be aware that you can balance it with window light to create quite pleasing effects.

Peppers

When shooting indoors with subjects that you’ve had on display. Watch out for dust particles. They really stand out once you get close to life-size reproduction. So keep an anti-static cloth handy.

Outdoors
Again a tripod is useful and back in my film days when I was selling a lot of flower and garden images the camera was almost permanently tripod mounted and the Tamron SP90 rarely off the camera. However, for insects – like butterflies and dragonflies – a tripod is a bit of a hindrance as they rarely co-operate by remaining in one place for long. They can also be quite difficult to approach closely – this is where the longer focal length macro lenses like the Canon 180mm or the Nikon 200mm come into their own. One place that I found the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro really useful was in the butterfly house at Chester Zoo.

Butterfly Houses

Butterfly houses are a great place to practise macro photography – the butterflies are generally much larger than out in the real world (at least in the UK) and so much easier to get frame-filling images. Lots of nectar sources often mean that feeding butterflies will remain stationary long enough for you to grab a few shots.

_MG_3620

If you look carefully among the foliage you can also find colourful and exotic caterpillars feeding and since caterpillars are really slow movers you can take your time, watch the background, and capture some stunning images.

_MG_3602

Butterfly houses are hot, humid greenhouses because they re-create tropical forests. On a cold day, this means that the minute you take the lens cap off, the cold lens is covered in condensation. On a warm day the lens is just covered in less condensation. Wiping it off is a waste of time until the glass has warmed up. One really hot day I was surprised to find the glass stayed clear but that’s the only time I haven’t had to hang around waiting for the camera to warm up. For the same reason, if using a dSLR, change the lens before you go in, if you open your camera up inside then you increase the chance of condensation forming in the interior of the camera and on the sensor – and that’s one place you can’t wipe it off.

_MG_3574

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is the portion of the image (measured as a distance from front to back) that is in sharp focus. This area of sharp focus changes as the aperture changes. Smaller apertures (larger f numbers e.g. f11, f16) mean greater depth of field, Larger apertures (e.g. f2.8, f4) mean very shallow depth of field. But there is another factor that affects this area of sharp focus. The nearer the subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field for a given aperture. At macro distances the depth of field, even with small apertures, can be measured in millimetres.

f2.8

f2.8

f5.6

f5.6

f16

f16

You can see this as a severe limitation, or you can choose to see it as a beautiful way to focus attention on the part of the image that is really important. Using a tripod means that you have total freedom to choose the aperture, large or small, that is most appropriate from a pictorial point of view, since you don’t have to worry about camera shake when using slow shutter speeds.

Backgrounds
Watch your backgrounds. It is so easy to become wrapped up in the subject that the background is largely ignored – only to realise when you view the images on your computer that there are unsightly blobs, lines and other distracting elements that you didn’t notice at the time. You can also use the aperture to throw a background out of focus as in the shot of a tulip below.

f16

f16

f8

f8

f2.8

f2.8

If you are photographing flowers then dead stems show up as highlight lines that immediately pull the eye away from the subject. Nowadays it is possible to remove these things in a photo editor like Photoshop, but life is much easier if minimal post-processing is necessary. Usually a slight change of position is all that is needed to remove unsightly objects from view. I also tuck pieces of offending foliage, or dead flower heads out of the way – be careful not to damage plants in any way if you are shooting in someone else’s garden.

Manual focus
When you are working really close and the depth of field is quite shallow, it is a bit of a lottery to allow the camera to choose the point of focus and the best pictures are made when the photographer is in charge – not the camera. So switch to manual focus so that you can accurately direct the viewer’s attention to the correct part of the image. When I’m working in my studio I use the live-view screen on my Canon dSLR, switched to maximum magnification. This is just a little easier than using the viewfinder when the camera is at around waist height on a tripod.

Conclusion

Macro photography, in some form, is possible with most cameras. But you will only achieve consistently good images if you learn the limitations of your equipment. When using a compact you need to know if that blurred image is because the subject was closer than the camera can focus or because of a slow shutter speed and camera-shake? Bridge cameras and dSLRs have their limitations too. The benefit of the dSLR is that spending money can remove the limitation. Let me know if you find this information useful and let me see some of your images. Contact details on the website www.hadfieldsphotography.co.uk

Macro Photography Kit for Beginners
Canon 1100D
50mm f2.5 Macro
Tripod + head
cable release

Macro Photography Kit for the More Advanced User
Canon 60D
100mm 2.8L Macro
Manfrotto tripod
Manfrotto head
Cable release

I recommend Canon equipment because I’ve been using it since 1977. I have no doubt that Nikon equipment is just as good – I am just not as familiar with it as I am with Canon.

Michael Hadfield

NB All images in this post are copyright Hadfield’s Photography. If you want to use any of them, then rather than steal them, just drop me an email with details of what you want them for. If it’s non-profit, and I get a link back, I’ll probably let you use them for free, and certainly give you a better quality copy than you’ll get by grabbing the image from this page.


Popularity: 75% [?]

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Painting With Light

April 13th, 2011

I was out the other evening with some friends doing a little paranormal investigation. While they were messing about looking for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) with digital recorders and electromagnetic disturbances with a KII meter I was busy with my camera doing some fun photography.

We were at a place called Lydiate Abbey, unsurprisingly located in a village called Lydiate, around 10 miles or so north of the much better known place called Liverpool – that’s the original Liverpool in the UK. The Abbey, however, was not an abbey at all but a ruined chapel dedicated to St. Catherine and this was what I intended to photograph – in the dark. I wanted to create an emotive, slightly spooky looking image and the technique I was going to use was something I’d read about many years ago but had never actually attempted. The technique, as you’ve probably realised from the title is called ‘Painting with Light’. But in the days when I read about this technique, film was King and the results could be very hit and miss simply because you had to wait for development and printing in order to assess the results.

The kind of situation where Painting with Light is a useful technique is when you have a large area to light and you haven’t got loads of studio strobes or the strobes would have to be in the picture. Places like building interiors, especially if the building is poorly lit.

What the technique involves is setting up your camera on a tripod, locking the shutter open on the bulb setting, and then walking round with a hand held flashgun firing off sufficient flashes to illuminate a section of the subject, then moving on and repeating until the whole area has been lit. Being mindful, of course, that you don’t illuminate yourself with the flash, or point the flash directly towards the camera.

The equipment you need to do this successfully is as follows:
A sturdy tripod.
A camera with a ‘bulb’ setting that will accept a remote cable release.
A locking cable release.
A portable flashgun.

My gear consisted of a Canon 40D with 17-85mm EF-S, Canon remote release, my trusty old Benbo Mk I tripod which is very heavy, very solid, and must be getting on for 30 years old. And finally, the most important bit of kit for this exercise my Metz 58 AF-1. The higher the guide number of the flash the easier the job will be because the flashgun will produce more light per burst.
A head torch is a particularly good bit of kit for night time photography. I do a lot of photography in the dark when on these sort of investigations and since the camera needs light to autofocus, shining a light on the subject is essential but very difficult to do with a hand-held torch. Fastened on my head, it’s out of the way of the camera and points directly at whatever the camera is pointing at.

I found myself a suitable location where I could get the angle of the church just the way I wanted it, set the camera up, decided to focus manually using the distance scale on the lens (estimating the distance from camera to subject). This was easier than attempting to obtain and maintain a focus lock for each exposure. It meant I could forget about looking through the viewfinder once the camera was lined up. Then I set the shutter speed to bulb – bulb is a hangover from the days when flashguns actually used bulbs and the bulbs were single use. You opened the shutter, fired the bulb (the light from the bulb making the exposure) and then closed the shutter. On modern cameras the bulb setting is just the same, the shutter remains open as long as you keep your finger pressed down on the shutter release. As soon as you release the shutter button, the shutter closes. This is why you need a locking remote cable release. You have to keep your ‘finger’ on the shutter at the same time you are wandering around with your flashgun. With the remote release I use you can lock the shutter open by pressing the button down and forward.

Right, so shutter open and sensor recording whatever light happens to find its way onto it, I headed for the building, and with the flash set to manual full power fired off one flash between each set of buttresses and the base of the tower and the top of the tower. Headed back to the camera, closed the shutter and checked the results. Disappointing – barely anything registered.

The interesting thing about film and digital sensors is that they are essentially photon counters. Within some limits (this gets us into the territory of Reciprocity Law failure, which is not something we need to get into here) as long as light is hitting the sensor the light is recorded. So it doesn’t matter if all the light needed to make an image arrives in a fraction of a second or arrives over a longer period of time – the effect is cumulative.

So I opened the lens up 2 stops from f16 to f8 and repeated the exercise. Much better. But still a little faint. The building was now visible, but one of my friends had wandered into shot taking photographs while the shutter was open and so I had a series of ‘starbursts’ decorating one area of the image.

The Second Exposure

The Second Exposure

I waited until everyone had gone inside the building and increased exposure by another stop by using four flashes at each location instead of two. Much, much better and with the interior of the building nicely illuminated by the photography taking place inside. If I’d been on my own I could have achieved this effect by going inside and firing off a few flashes myself.

Third Exposure

Third Exposure

Looking at the two images, the ‘spoiled’ one has nicer atmosphere but is just too dark, overall. There was sodium street lighting about 100yds away and this is causing the orange tint and the tree shadows. The final image has the building much better illuminated but the patches of light on the grass are a little too bright. So I used Photoshop to cut out the street light created tree shadows from the first image and pasted them over the bright grass, removed some torches from the left-hand side, toned down the brightest light in the church interior just a touch, and the result is quite acceptable.

You’ll notice that the shutter was open long enough for the stars to register their movement across the heavens and for the moon (hidden just beneath the roof line next to the tower) to considerably lift the sky from the black that it appeared to the eye.

Lydiate Abbey final

One word of warning, working on uneven ground in the dark is potentially dangerous so watch your step – and remember, black tripod legs in the dark are almost invisible.

Michael Hadfield


Popularity: 50% [?]

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Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

March 31st, 2011

Fujifilm FinePix X100 Digital Camera Review

fuji x100 front

This modern classic is a retro-styled gem. The Fuji Finepix X100 has the appearance of a ‘real’ camera. With its brown leather ER case open at the front it looks just like a high quality film camera from about half a century ago. The top and bottom plates are constructed of magnesium alloy, while the knobs on the top are beautifully knurled metal wheels that rotate comfortably, and click cleanly into their stops – and, joy of joys, the exposure can be set without even turning the camera on. It even has a little threaded hole in the centre of the shutter release to take one of those nice braided flexible shutter release cables with the metal plunger. Still got a couple of those lying around somewhere.

fuji x100 back

Hybrid Viewfinder
There is a little lever on the front of the Fuji Finepix X100 that looks very like the old clockwork self-timer switch found on film SLRs, but it isn’t. It’s actually an easily accessible switch that innovatively turns the optical viewfinder into an electronic one (EVF).

X100 viewfinder_1

But even with the optical viewfinder you still get shooting data like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and histogram overlaid on the image along with a bright outline showing what is going to appear on the final image – the brightness of this overlay varies depending on ambient light levels so it doesn’t disappear in bright sunshine. And the best thing of all about an optical viewfinder – the brighter the sunshine, the better it gets, the exact opposite of the typical compact camera LCD screen. But this optical viewfinder shows the area outside of the image too so you can see who’s about to walk into your picture and when.

The EVF is ok, it’s just that after looking through the optical viewfinder you won’t want to use it – unless you have to (see Not So Good below).

Lens

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/250 sec, ISO200


The lens you get with the Fuji Finepix X100 is 23mm (35mm in 35mm-speak) – a moderate wide-angle. Maximum aperture is f2 so plenty of scope here for available light photography. This lens has a built in Neutral Density (ND) filter that allows for a 3-stop exposure increase. The ND filter can be switched into the light path as desired. This is great for bright conditions when you really want to use a wide aperture to throw the background well out of focus, but there’s just too much light around. It focuses down to 10cm so it’s useful for close-up work too.

Some may see the lack of a zoom lens, or even interchangeable lenses as a real problem – especially since zooms are now ‘normal’ on compact cameras. But what Fuji have done with this fixed focal length lens is to squeeze the very best image quality from the sensor and at the same time force you to take better pictures. You will take excellent images with the Fuji Finepix X100 if you get up close and intimate. This is especially so if you use this camera for what it is best suited for, and that’s candid street photography. Getting close really lifts images away from the snapshot and towards great photography. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy taking landscapes and family portraits, but the street is where the Fuji Finepix X100 will feel most at home and where many of its design features come into their own.

Sensor
Unusually for a compact camera the Fuji Finepix X100 has an APS-C sized sensor. This is the same size sensor used by the majority of digital SLRs and along with its 12.3 megapixels means that picture quality is first class. The sensor is connected to Fuji’s brand new EXR image processor which features improved resolution, high sensitivity, low noise and increased dynamic range. Fuji states that this is the highest quality processor in any Finepix camera to date. If Cartier-Bresson were alive today, he may well have enjoyed using this camera.

Innovation
One of the really nifty aspects of the design of the f2 lens for the Fuji Finepix X100 is that the rear lens element sits just 5.6mm away from the sensor. Fuji’s incorporation of the large rear lens element into the body of the camera means that the lens itself protrudes only slightly from the body creating that beautifully slim profile. In order to achieve this slimness of lens Fuji had to redesign their sensor microlens to allow a greater angle of incidence. Clever stuff that just means the Fuji Finepix X100 looks really cool and still takes great pictures.

Usability

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

X100 f4, 1/15 sec, ISO200

In use what I love about the Fuji Finepix X100 is the ability to set the aperture between f2 and f16 with a ring on the lens, and set the shutter speed with one of the knurled rings on the top plate.

Incidentally this aperture ring was added quite late in the design process only because Fuji listened to a group of Professional Photographers who finally managed to convince Fuji’s designers of its value. Be great if more camera manufacturers did this too. But it isn’t a mechanical ring like on older film cameras. Each aperture setting is just a switch that tells the camera what aperture to set when the shutter is pressed.

Exposure compensation can be dialled in with a knob to the right of the shutter speed dial. There’s also a great little electronic spirit level to keep those horizons straight. I’m always losing important bits off the edges of the frame because my horizons are never horizontal and I have to keep straightening them in Lightroom so this is a really useful feature. Best accessory I ever bought was a little hot-shoe spirit level I used to keep permanently attached to my Mamiya RZ67.

The lens incorporates an almost silent leaf shutter (unlike the focal plane shutters of SLRs, digital or otherwise) and with no noisy mirror to flip out of the way this camera is almost silent in operation – as long as you remember to switch off the confirmatory beeps. So silent in fact it’s a little difficult to know when you’ve taken the picture. But great if you don’t want people to know that you’re actually taking pictures.

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200

X100 f2.8, 1/340 sec, ISO200


The Digital Stuff

A useful range of bracketing features are available with the Fuji Finepix X100.

Exposure at up to 1 stop in 1/3 stop intervals.
I love this one – Film Simulation Bracketing so you can pretend you really are back in the old days with some good old Fuji films: Provia, Velvia, and Astia
Dynamic Range Bracketing at 100%, 200%, & 400%
And finally ISO Sensitivity Bracketing same range as Exposure.

Not so good
A lens hood is available as an optional extra. I think, for the price, this should definitely be included in the box.
Tripod bush positioned in such a way that the camera needs to be removed from the tripod in order to change batteries or memory card.
Plastic battery compartment door.
No image stabilisation, but that, and the viewfinder, may well help you to discover the art of holding a camera steady.
Want to autofocus closer than 80cm, then you need to switch to macro mode, which means you have to use the EVF and then switch back. Of course you could just switch to manual focusing…
SLR users will find auto-focusing slow. If speed is important then manual pre-focusing is the order of the day.
Because the manual focus is electronic rather than mechanical it is not as rapid to use as on a dSLR.
Write speeds are a little slow, but this is only a problem if you want to take a burst of images.

Plus points
Shutter lag almost non-existent.
Handling is a breeze, with ease of changing exposure settings while the camera is held up to your eye.
Motion panoramas – like Sony’s Cybershot.
Image quality is excellent and better than some dSLRs
Noise barely noticeable right through the ISO range from 100 – 12,800

In the box
· Fujifilm Finepix X100
· Li-ion battery NP-95
· Battery charger BC-65N
· Shoulder strap
· USB cable
· Lens cap
· Metal strap clip
· Protective cover
· Clip attaching tool
· CD-ROM (Viewer software, Raw File converter*)
· Owner’s manual
· Viewer software: Windows7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X 10.9 – 10.6, Raw file converter: Windows7/Vista/XP


Conclusion

This camera is new, innovative and a complete change in direction from more of the same – not just tweaking megapixel counts, and re-arranging button layouts to make you think that the upgrade is something much more than it is. This is a lovely camera – not perfect by any means, but something that you will feel proud to own and be seen with. Surprisingly this camera does actually live up to all the pre-launch hype. There is going to be a huge demand for this camera so place your order now.

If you hold it in your hand, you’ll want one.

Its Rivals

Read my review

Read my review


Popularity: 81% [?]

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Nikon L22 Compact Digital Camera Review

March 28th, 2011

Nikon L22
The Nikon L22 is a 12 megapixel compact digital camera available (depending on where you buy it) in red, black, silver, or blue. It has a 3.6x optical zoom (35mm equiv 37 – 134mm) which is a barely wide-angle to useful telephoto. For the price, this camera has a quality feel to it with a limited number of controls making it easy to master. The view screen is recessed slightly to protect it when you lay the camera down.

The Nikon L22 is a basic compact camera so there is very little to it. It has a decent resolution, 16 scene modes, ‘advanced anti-blur technology’ to help remove or reduce the effects of camera-shake (caused by hand holding at slow shutter speeds when light levels are low).

The Nikon L22 also possesses Easy-Auto Mode where the camera calculates range, light levels and subject type in order to assess which Scene Mode will give you the best results. This camera not only detects faces it also waits until the subject smiles before making the exposure (I’m waiting for them to invent the camera that goes out on its own and brings back great pictures all by itself – the photographer seems to be being phased out). It claims to detect and focus on up to 12 faces at a time and then automatically remove any red-eye that the camera’s flash created. This is a great idea in theory, but it does slow down operation and you have to wait for the camera to decide so in this mode it’s a little more difficult to capture images spontaneously. But still great if you just want to point and shoot.

Like most digital cameras these days, the Nikon L22 has a movie mode so you can capture movie clips to embarrass your friends on facebook or YouTube.

On the downside you can’t set the ISO yourself., the wide-angle could do with being a touch wider and the image stabilisation is electronic (which means the blurry image is doctored electronically).

On the plus side the Nikon L22 takes great pictures and is a simple no nonsense compact camera that gives good value for the price.

Power source is a couple of cheap and easily available AA batteries that last a reasonable period of time.

Conclusion: The Nikon L22 is an easy to use, basic camera that has the ability to produce clear sharp images usable for prints or sharing on-line. Definitely one for the short list if your budget is under £100.

Useful things in the box:
Camera
Strap
USB cable
CD

The competition:




Popularity: 31% [?]

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