Posts Tagged ‘camera’

Still Life at home using small flashguns

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Another challenge from my photo group. This time it was something beginning with ‘I’. I couldn’t easily lay my hands on an igloo so I settled for a bottle of ink. But then there is the question that must come with all contemplation of a still life subject – ‘How do I make this interesting?’

You make it interesting with two things.

  1. The props that you use.
  2. The way you light it.

I really wanted an old fashioned ink well and a quill pen, but I failed miserably in locating suitable objects so, as we so often do, I settled for what I already had – a bottle of ink and a fountain pen.

Glass is tricky to light well. It is also reflective and so you have to watch out for camera, reflectors, and photographer showing up otherwise you only notice after you’ve packed everything away and started to post-process the image.

I have a black, shiny, table and a black background paper roll, and I like the look of objects against a dark ground, so that part was easily decided – though I could have managed with coloured mount board, which is readily available on Amazon, or even Foam Core Board which is a little more substantial and essential stuff to have lying around the studio.

The arrangement of objects is the key to the success of a still life. I like to set up the camera on a tripod and then arrange whatever I’m photographing. Live view makes it easier to see how the finished arrangement will look, but the viewfinder serves just as well. It is much easier to nudge objects than to keep moving the camera.

For this session I used my Canon 100mm Macro, though this is a few years old now and has recently been superseded by the Canon 100mm L Macro, which, judging from reviews, is slightly better but not worth upgrading if you already own the original. I also use a cable release to make sure I don’t accidentally jiggle the camera when I press the shutter button. Focus is done manually with the live view screen magnified to maximum (in this case x10). Switching to manual focus is a really good idea for still life because your camera is locked in position on the tripod and you aren’t dependent on one of the focus points being in the right place. Only you know what needs to be sharpest. The camera can only guess and at these close distances, with a non-average scene, the camera will almost certainly guess wrong.

The first step is to decide on the aperture, I used f11 to give me a reasonable depth of field, though you have to remember that at such close distances even tiny apertures don’t you give you much depth. Set shutter speed to anything under the flash sync speed, I used 1/100th sec. If you don’t know your camera’s flash sync speed then it’s easy to tell if you exceed it – you will get a black bar across one edge of your image. If this happens just choose a slower speed and try again.

Because I’m only using artificial light to create this image, and I’m not working in a blacked out room (just drawn curtains) I need to make sure that none of the daylight will register on the image. So without connecting any flash units I take a test shot. If it looks dark then everything is good. If I can see image details then I need a smaller aperture or a faster shutter speed.

Taking a still life isn’t about setting it all up, taking one shot and heading off to the computer to post process. It’s about working towards the final image – one step at a time.

The first step is to introduce the main light, take a shot and see how the light is hitting the subject. Is it falling where you want it to fall? My main light was spilling on to the background and making it show up so I introduced a flag (a flag is an object you use to block light in a studio), in this case a large piece of black mountboard, between my studio flash and the background. It was arranged so that it didn’t block the light from the table but it prevented any spill.

The ink was dark so to lift the bottle away from the background I used two additional lights – one to each side firing across the camera position (this is where the big lens hood that comes with the 100mm comes in handy). I arranged them one at a time, without the main light switched on, so that I could see where the light was falling. The light on the right creates that bright spot and reflection on the right hand side of the base of the bottle and puts that line of light down the label. The light on the left puts the bright edge to the lower half of the bottle on the other side. This pair of lights are responsible for being able to see the detail in the screw top of the glass and the actual colour of the ink there as well. The ink on the pen nib was added with an eye dropper to give a little touch of colour.

When I’d finished with the lights I found the bottle top was disappearing into the table top so I added a low reflector in front of the camera to push a little bit of light back there and give a little lift.

If you are paying attention you will notice that I set up the shutter speed and aperture (ISO always set to 100 for still life work on a tripod for maximum detail) before introducing any light. I adjust the power output and position of the lights to give me the exposure I want. I don’t play around with the aperture setting. This is why it’s important to choose flash guns that allow you to select the power output. Mine have an 8 stop range from maximum to minimum in one-third stops. Correct exposure is established using the camera screen along with the histogram. Also, when working at home, it’s easy to slip the card out of the camera and into the computer to have a quick look in Lightroom to make sure everything is ok.

Post processing was mostly removing specks of dust from the table top. When you get close, dust starts to become a serious problem. After the usual little tweaks with with contrast and saturation the image is complete. If you’ve done a good job with the lighting, very little work will be needed on the image as you can easily control contrast and brightness by using the power adjustment settings on the flashes.



You need a surface at a comfortable height to work on. I have a folding black topped table that I find perfect for still life. Mount boards can be placed on it to change the colour. I’ve mentioned the background already. I used two Yongnuo manual flashguns for the back lights. These are powerful flashguns, and really good value for money. The only downside is that they have no ETTL, but I actually find that better because I just decide how much power to dial in and that’s it. They have built in slaves so they’re easy to fire from another flash. I also used a Bowens Studio flash (strobe), with a 2’ square soft box fitted, for the main light. When this fired it triggered the other two flashes to fire. An on camera flash pointing at the ceiling, or away from the subject, is an easy way to fire slave units if you don’t want to use the light from the camera position and, I have to say, you should almost never need to use light from the camera position.

Here’s a diagram to give you an idea of the lighting set up.


Yes it needs a little investment, but manual flashguns are relatively cheap (the ones I use were less than £50 each – compared to over £500 for the equivalent powered Canon Flash – and they will run from rechargeable batteries. You don’t need a studio flash, I just use them because I have them. Another portable flash with a modifier to soften the light output would have produced similar results. Any dSLR will do, though I would recommend getting yourself a radio trigger. The one I use I’ve had for over 10 years and it cost me around £15. There are more expensive ones around and I’ll probably get one when this one packs up, but it’s an inexpensive way to get into off camera flash without needing long cables from hot shoe to flash.

White mount boards make great reflectors and backgrounds. Coloured ones make great backgrounds and they, again, are relatively inexpensive, so compared to the cost of a camera and a decent lens, a couple of cheap flashguns with variable power output, a wireless trigger, and a stack of boards is not a big expense and will set you up for lighting a variety of still lifes.

Popularity: 19% [?]

Nikon L22 Compact Digital Camera Review

Monday, 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:
USB cable

The competition:

Popularity: 32% [?]

Event Photography – Big Family Book Day

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Had a pleasant day out at Tatton Park yesterday photographing an event run by the local libraries. Big Family Book Day was aimed at promoting reading activities within families, and visitors were able to make badges, draw, colour, lie on the floor, sneak behind the curtains to look at the all the stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls, or even explore the history of paper-making and writing.

The History of Writing - well a little bit of it at least.

The History of Writing - well a little bit of it at least.

Not only that but there were three excellent speakers to entertain visitors.


First there was That Poetry Bloke (Craig Bradley), a wonderful entertainer with an interesting take on language and words geared towards a younger audience but certainly of interest to me.


Then came the turn of Matt Buckingham, illustrator of the Gruesome Truths series of childrens historical books. He entertained us by sharing the process of being a given a book to illustrate and showing the page layouts and instructions he receives on what kind of an illustration is required to fit the space.


He even did a few drawings for us.


Finally came Jim Eldridge writer of over 250 TV and radio scripts and with over 1 million book sales to his credit. Jim encouraged the audience to participate in a team story development process to show how scripts are written. And he also mentioned how he was thrown off the writing team at East Enders for suggesting that the story lines were a little dark and could perhaps do with a little humour injected into them.

Still I wasn’t there to listen, I was there to take pictures and that wasn’t as easy as I anticipated, huge spaces, low light levels, and not very many people at any one time. Photography made a little more difficult by having to obtain signatures from parents who sometimes objected to having (very good) photographs of their children used to promote the free event they were attending and consequently help to attract further funding for events like it in the future. I then had to remember all of their children and ensure I didn’t accidentally include them in any shots after that – and they were all over the place.

Still I’d got all I needed by around 2:30 and went off for a wander round the park and see if I could catch any rutting deer…


…or autumn colours…


Equipment used: Canon 40D, 17-85mm IS EF-S, 70-200 EF L, Metz AF58.

Michael Hadfield

Popularity: 59% [?]

Jessops, the Home of Good Photographic Advice – Maybe Not

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I was in Jessop’s yesterday and there was a saleslady in there who was very keen. When I arrived she was talking to a family, the daughter of which appeared to want to buy a dSLR. I only noticed them because they were parked right in front of the Canon display window that I wanted to have a look at. Anyway she said something that caught my attention. An SLR is an SLR and whichever one you buy you’ll get brilliant pictures.

Mmm! I thought is it really as simple as that.

Then before I had a chance to position myself in front of the Canon Gear (of which there was a disappointing quantity I might add) a gentleman started looking at the same stuff and there she was again. The guy said he was looking for a full frame dSLR, she hesitated and I was about to offer my knowledge when she said, the 7D is full frame and the 5D. There was no mention of the two EOS 1d’s – neither of which they had on display, and interestingly no mention of any full-frame Nikons in the very next case.

Canon Digital SLR Camera EOS 5D Mark II + EF24-105 Kitcanon5d

Now here was a guy who was looking for a full-frame dSLR and this young lady was happy to sell him a 7D with an APS-C sensor which is a lot smaller than full-frame. I got the feeling she didn’t know much about photography, though I guess Jessops had trained her well enough to be able to demonstrate how a camera’s controls work.

Canon EOS 7Dcanon-eos-7d-2

Me, if I’d been selling, I’d have asked him what was the reason he wanted a full-frame sensor. My gut told me he was moving from film to digital (his apparent age was one of the factors that suggested this might be the case) and that a full-frame sensor was a belief that they maintained 35mm film quality.

Anyway, having now established that this young lady did not know as much as she was pretending to know, my thoughts returned to her opening comment. An SLR is an SLR.

Now I own two dSLRs a Canon 400D and a Canon 40D, and I’d upgrade to a 5D, 7D, or either of the 1D mkIII’s at the drop of a hat. Do both my cameras produce identical quality images? That is a much harder question to answer, but I’m sure if I rooted out some old photo magazine reviews I’d find that there was an improvement with image quality in the 40D over the 400D, or would I? It would certainly be an interesting comparison to make. I tend to use one or the other body, with the same set of lenses. I take the 400D with me when I want to have a camera, but can’t be bothered with the weight and bag full of lenses that I always take with the 40D. So I have no comparison images. This is something I need to correct.

The 40D is undoubtedly a much nicer camera to use with a better control layout and features that suit my photography. Now, as to whether Canon is better than Nikon or what I believe to be another contender for the crown – Sony. That is an interesting point to consider.

I wasn’t convinced by the young lady’s comment in the slightest. Every review I read finds some good things and some bad things, and picture quality is one of those things that varies from camera to camera. And if you ignore sensor-size/pixel count, which tends to be comparable in similar priced cameras from the big dSLR manufacturers, then the lens makes a big difference. The kit lens that comes with the 400D is pretty much fit for the bin. I only realised this after I bought the 40D and immediately noticed superior image quality from its kit lens. The 400D kit lens, when the camera was available, cost around £60. The 40D kit lens around £300. Then I bought my first L lens, and that shifted everything again.

The lens is the single most important factor for picture quality, yet the advice that was being given was, shortlist 3 cameras and then come and handle them and pick the one that feels best in your hand. Excellent selling technique. Puts responsibility for actual choice in the hands of the customer – no comeback in the form of ‘you advised me to buy this junk’; yet acknowledges that buying is an emotional rather than a logical act. The one that feels right. You’ll know it as soon as you hold it, she said.

I handled neither of my cameras before purchase; I bought them, mail-order, based purely on reviews and my (this is my emotional bit) 30 year experience of Canon SLRs. They both did exactly what I expected them to and I am very impressed with the performance of both.

To me there is only one reason to own an SLR and that’s to make use of the fact that the lenses detach and can be changed to suit the subject matter. Without this it’s just a big clunky camera bought to impress, rather than a tool to actually use. This aspect of SLR ownership was, interestingly, ignored.

So, to get back to the original comment – an SLR is an SLR, clearly suggesting that it makes no difference what you choose as long as you like it. Clearly ignoring lens quality as a factor. Clearly ignoring the size of the manufacturer’s lens range as a factor. I don’t believe the statement to be true.

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Popularity: 66% [?]

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

2009 sees the release of an upgrade for Panasonic’s excellent DMC-FZ28. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38(DMC-FZ35outside Europe) is a 12 Megapixel camera with a massive 18x optical zoom and an impressive specification. Among other things it offers HD movie mode; quick start-up (just over a second); face recognition plus; ultra high speed autofocus; and full manual operation. Optical image stabilisation is an improved version of the already excellent FZ28′s. While the ultra high speed autofocus, doubling the speed of the DMC-FZ28, now works in the dark as well.

Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a lightweight camera it feels nicely solid and comfortable in the hand, and like all good cameras, it has a viewfinder, albeit an electronic one. On top of the body is a pop-up flash, but, alas, no accessory shoe. The stereo microphones, clearly needing to go somewhere, have been located on top of the flash housing.

The lens is a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit producing images with a fine level of detail, good colour depth and dynamic range. The focal length, in 35mm terms, ranges from a respectably wide 27mm (f2.8), to a substantial telephoto 486mm (f4.4). Noise in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is well controlled for a camera of this type with almost noise-free images at ISO400, though even at the maximum ISO of 1600 the results are good enough for small prints, though fine detail suffers. AT ISO 80 images are sharp and clean with good edge definition.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has an improved image stabilisation system POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabiliser) and offers twice the stabilisation of the DMC-FZ28 . This means that longer zoom settings can be used hand held. Also indoor photography, where flash would destroy the ambience, (church interiors for instance) becomes more accessible. Makes me wonder how long it will be before tripods become obsolete.

The mode wheel on the top plate, alongside the flash housing, has 14 shooting options (mode wheels are definitely going to have to get bigger) to cover every photographic possibility, so whatever your skill level, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has a setting to suit. For the absolute beginner there is even Intelligent Auto Mode – just set the Mode dial to IA. This is the ‘Photography for Dummies’ option that lets you concentrate on the picture you want to create and let the camera worry about all those complicated aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. I am totally in favour of anything that makes it easy for novices to take great pictures. While on the subject of Intelligence (Panasonic seems to like that word): Intelligent Auto Exposure sorts out high contrast problems; and with the Intelligent ISO of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 ‘The camera automatically sets the optimum ISO sensitivity and shutter speed to suit the movement of the subject and brightness of the scene to minimise the jitter of the subject.’ That’s straight from the manual. Great stuff. It won’t be long before the camera takes itself for a day out and comes back with the pictures you would like to have taken.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

Movie mode, something of which I’m not a fan in still cameras, is a one button feature. One button starts the movie, press it again and it stops recording. Doesn’t matter what the other settings are. So in that sense it is truly useful and can capture easily those spontaneous moments. With the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 Movies can be recorded in HD (1280 x 720) and at smaller sizes too. HD is great if you want to watch it on your tv at home. The jpeg options are better for emailing and web use.

The monitor is 2.7″, clear and bright and the camera has a useful rechargeable Li-on battery and SD card housed under the same door in the bottom of the camera. Finally there is a tripod screw socket too for when your long exposures outfox the image stabilisation system.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a camera you won’t be ashamed to be seen holding, and if you don’t want the hassle and expense of interchangeable lenses and a very heavy equipment bag to carry them all then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 should definitely be on your short list. Probably not worth upgrading if you already own the DMC-FZ28 but otherwise highly recommended. You really need to be considering DSLRs if you want to significantly improve on this camera. If you want a good quality camera for holidays, family moments, and the occasional Youtube video then this is worthy of serious consideration. For more serious photographers wanting to produce larger sized prints then I recommend that you look at entry level DSLRs.

  • Build quality 9/10
  • Features 9/10
  • Image Quality 9/10
  • Handling 7/10
  • Value for Money 8/10
  • Overall 8/10

Its Rivals.

Author: Michael Hadfield
email: Author

Popularity: 73% [?]

Camera or Photographer

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Amateur Photographer Magazine’s question of the week ‘Does your current camera help you take better pictures than the one you had five years ago?’. Interesting question.

My answer would be difficult because five years ago I possessed 5 cameras, since then I’ve added three more. Five years ago I had a Sony 3MP digital compact camera and the rest were film. The camera I most use today is a Canon 40D. The 40D undoubtedly helps me take better pictures than the Sony, but I’m not convinced it helps me take better pictures than my old, trusty and loved, Canon T90. It certainly helps me take loads more pictures at much lower cost than the T90, but I use Av & Tv and occasionally M today just like I used to do with the T90. Digital has the huge advantage in that I can change sensitivity (ISO) from shot to shot rather than having to wait until I’ve finished the roll of film. My EF 70-200 f2.8L is undoubtedly a far superior optic to the FD 70-210 I used, but I think my trusty old Tamron 90mm macro, is superior to my current Canon EF 100mm macro.

Photographers make pictures.

Photographers see something in their mind’s eye and set about creating an image that matches that. The camera is a tool – a very sophisticated tool – but a tool nonetheless.

I see people with very expensive kit producing very mediocre photographs. I see people with much less, extracting every ounce of performance from what they have.

It’s not the camera.

It’s how you make use of it.

Popularity: 13% [?]