"Firespeed photography"

Tonight I tried something new. Light painting with fire mixed with high speed photography. Basically I used a 4 second exposure, after blocking off all the light from the window and underneath the door of our garage. I put a tarpaulin on the floor to catch [most of] the glass and set up my 'studio' in the middle of the garage. Ignore the shoes please - they were comfortable. In this scene I am clapping my hands to make the sound activated flash trigger fire.

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The basic principle is that if your background is dark enough then you can add as many exposures as you want as long as they don't interfere with each other. This can become quite challenging as you add new variables. The biggest variable here is the strength of the flame because it changes as it burns out. You think you have everything right, then you find out that after adding fluid to get your flame going again it is now too strong and exposes the garage door in the background.

 

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Then when you have your aperture and shutter speed right you give the board a spin and realise that the subject wobbles a bit and gives movement when this happens - which leads to the decision to shoot the bulb and trigger the sound activated flash trigger at the beginning of the exposure, before moving the flames.

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After you figure that out and get ready for a proper shot with the air pistol you're so excited that you spin the board too much and the flames go in front of the subject and "burn" the image out.

 

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Now you think "Well I'm glad I worked that out and didn't use the only clear bulb I saved for this shoot, I'll have it all perfected for this shot". That's when you realise the microphone is too close and the flashes fire before the pellet even hits the bulb - and it's too late, the bulb is destroyed.

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By this time the flames have burned down to a good intensity that doesn't light up the garage door and you get the spinning of the flames at just the right speed only to realise that in the time it took to remove the broken bulb and set this one up the flash has gone to sleep and you forgot to wake it up before firing the next shot. This was the test shot of the flames before I shot the bulb.

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By now the ground made crunching noises when I walked, there was broken glass everywhere. I got a few reasonable results and learned that 'next time' I need more space behind the subject so as not to light the garage door - or I need to make a shield around the flames to direct the light only at my lens, not behind the subject. I got a few 'keepers' but there is a lot of room for improvement.

 

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Here's a short video showing how it was done.

Nikon Mirrorless Z6 and Z7 .

When dpreview released the news about the new Nikon mirrorless people all over the world were complaining about slow load times on the website there was so much interest. Of course when the first comments are made on a new release from anyone it always seems to be a race to see who can say the most negative things about it.  They look like really nice cameras and may be perfect for some depending on what they intend to do with them, and of course they will always be tweaking and adding new changes in future - perhaps the Z6S and Z7s will have twin card slots - they have to give people an incentive to upgrade in future. Some may use them for the video features and not care about any of the complaints about the stills side of it. Others may be perfectly happy with the stills frame rate and not care about video.

But: The biggest issue I can see is only one card slot. Even though the xqd cards are supposedly more reliable than SD cards, and faster, no card is perfect. You wouldn't want a card to fail during a really important shoot with no backup. I would rather have my D7200 with twin card slots than one of these bodies at a wedding. Also the rated 330 shots per battery charge is dismal. My old D5200 has a rating of 500 shots per charge and mine always seems to run out much too soon. There are always many variables involved and most likely if you spend a lot of time going through menus and watching the screen when you don't need to you could get less than 330 shots, but if you are shooting at a fast frame rate and not doing a lot of chimping I imagine you could get 2000 shots on a battery charge.

At the moment I will do what I normally do, sit back and watch the scramble for the 'latest and greatest' and maybe in 5 or 6 years time buy one for $800 when they are considered "not up to scratch" any more, which is what happens with digital gear. I imagine by then though a dx version will come out - unless it has twin card slots like my D7200 I won't be getting one. I'm hoping that they take the D7500 sensor and produce a dx mirrorless that does 20 fps stills and some high frame rate video. The J1 could do 1200 fps, I think they can do better than that with a lower res sensor than the Z7 [the Z6 does faster frame rates because of the lower megapixel count].

Either way it will be interesting to see where this goes, it's good to see competition between the companies, us consumers are the ones who benefit from it.

Safe, effective smoke effects - the insect fogger!

I have always enjoyed playing around with smoke effects. And once I tell you this you won't be able to help noticing it but there is added smoke or haze in just about every movie you watch. When the heroes go into a cavern and turn on their torches you can see the beams of light because they have added haze - for that purpose - to add "atmosphere"- even though it's a damp cave where there should be no dust it's simply there to "look cool". There is a company that sells "Atmosphere Aerosol" which is quite interesting to use but needs to be back lit because it is more of a haze than smoke.

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In the next outdoor movie you view watch the smoke in the forest scenes, in movies showing old buildings and libraries watch the haze in the air as they make the actors stand with a window behind them. Smoke effects are as much in use as lighting effects - we just don't notice it most of the time because we think it's natural smoke and haze.

I like thicker smoke because it is more versatile, it can be used as smoke or "fog" from the front or simply left to dissipate and be used as "atmospheric haze" when it is no longer visible when front lit.

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I have made plenty of potassium nitrate smoke bombs and they create nice billowing smoke for a while or, if packaged correctly, a 3-5 minute constant output of smoke. These methods can be a bit of a fire hazard and even dangerous if not done properly. I had a 5kg pot of molten wax and potassium nitrate and sugar smoke bomb mix turn into a rocket engine in my garage - totally my fault of course [I impatently turned up the gas cooker to melt the wax faster] but also an indication of why it is necessary to find an alternative - my car's resale value is also lower due to the burn marks on the paint. Smoke grenades are commercially available at quite a cost - and I personally don't like the different colours because they are obviously fake and only good for novelty shoots - though occasionally that is fun - but use them wisely as you get about a minute for your $20. I prefer natural looking smoke that can double as mist or fog and produce atmospheric haze as a useful by-product - it makes sense in almost any photo - coloured smoke doesn't [but as mentioned, is still fun now and then]. I also wanted something that doesn't need too much attention to get it working properly. Something you can 'set and forget' and leave on the side while you take pictures or video. Devices like that are expensive and I think I have finally found a cheap compromise.

Introducing the insect fogger - don't put diesel and poison in it, you're not trying to kill insects - rather add a 50/50 mix of water and vegetable glycerine, it has hardly any smell to it. Here is a demo video of what I hope to use in future for some photoshoots.

An insect fogger is reasonably easy to use and work with. I paid NZ$225 for mine  [US$152]. Also, compared to smoke bombs there is no smell from it. The added advantage is that it is much safer to breathe, basically as safe as being in a disco for the night. Smoke bombs that burn can get an awful smell depending what you put in them to slow the burning down but last night when I used the fogger in the street it looked like a foggy evening, there was no smell to suggest something was burning, which prevents the neighbours calling the fire brigade.

 

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Shooting your first wedding

"With great power comes great responsibility" [Uncle Ben; Spiderman] This applies especially to editing RAW, using shallow depth of field with fast primes and using flash.

Should you be photographing someone's wedding if you need to ask questions about wedding photography? No! A wedding is a very important day for a couple and if things go wrong it could result in serious financial and emotional implications for the couple, and yourself. But on saying that not everyone can afford a wedding photographer and no matter how hard you try to get the purists to believe that they will still be convinced that the couple should sell a kidney or promise their firstborn so they can afford to pay a professional to do the job. Don't waste physical or emotional energy trying to convince them otherwise, just move on and start working towards doing the best job you can on the day. Some people need to learn to tolerate diversity.

Choosing gear: There's a quote that goes something like this "Amateurs worry about sharpness, professionals worry about money, artists worry about light" and I'll add mine "Purists worry about zooming in to 100% to argue their point". In previous discussions about shooting a first wedding I've read comments like "I would force myself to shoot with my sharpest prime lens and discipline myself to take all the pictures with it!". Seriously? They were talking about a 50mm f1.8D on a Nikon D90 [crop sensor] which would result in a 75mm equivalent focal length - because they were so obsessed about the sharpest image they could get, perhaps only 10% more than their kit lens, they were prepared to forego the option of getting everyone into group shots. The statement "I would zoom with my feet" doesn't work for every situation - you can't always move fast enough or far back enough to get everything in. Sometimes you're in a confined area or have too many people behind you to be able to 'zoom' back with you feet and fit everything in. Here's a fact At f8 in good outdoor light NOBODY will be able to see the difference between images taken by your kit lens and a prime lens. This is the part where the purists will say "but zoom in to 100%" and get a smug grin on their face. WHY? Nobody does that, the customers certainly won't. It's like pressing your face up against a billboard, you will see imperfections but you won't see the whole picture - customers view the whole picture. Besides the fact that unless the two images are taken of the exact same subject and processed exactly the same you will only pick up microscopic differences if you zoom in at 100% and very few people will notice, or care about those differences. 

Of course better equipment does provide advantages over 'lesser' gear mainly in low light. Outdoors in good light it doesn't make so much difference but when the light levels drop the situation becomes more 'desperate' shall we say. A full frame sensor is 2 1/2 X bigger than a crop sensor and gathers that much more light - there's more than one stop better image quality than a crop sensor [DX]. Then we have an f1.8 prime lens [of course f1.4 is 2/3 of a stop better but lately f1.8 lenses seem to be sharper than their f1.4 counterparts]

What the customer wants: What is you prime purpose in shooting a wedding? It should be recording memories for the couple. After all that is what 99.9% of customers are expecting you to do. Secondary to that should be impressing other photographers and winning competitions. After all, what photographers like in an image isn't necessarily what your customers will like and I will now present a prime example of this: I have seen this comment in various forms over the years, this was from a recent discussion I saw about people not happy with wedding photographers.

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Now of course it is totally your decision whether you are going to aim to totally please the customers or also establish your 'right as an artist' to sacrifice a few images being creative with the goal of ending up with one or two potential competition winners. Pictures with a shallow depth of field do look more professional and are generally recognised as having been taken with a more expensive camera and lens but keep in mind the saying "just because you have the gear doesn't mean you have to use it". If you have a lens that can open up to f1.4 and blur the background that doesn't mean you have to take as many pictures as possible at f1.4 - it will certainly impress your photography mates who don't care about the people in the background because they don't know them but will your customers like it when they recognise a beloved family member standing behind the couple but "they're all fuzzy". Don't you think they would like to see that person clearly? What would you like if it were your wedding? As I say I have read many comments along the lines of "Most of the photographer's pictures were all blurry in the background, my cellphone could do a better job!". Blurred backgrounds have their place but try not to overdo it. When the background doesn't matter then blur it as much as you want, get those killer shots that impress the customers and your photographer mates. When there are family members in the background shoot at a smaller aperture and have them clearly discernible - just don't show those shots to your photographer friends, most of them won't understand why you didn't "make the picture look more professional".

Backups of backups:

You only get one shot at a wedding, you need backups of everything. Ideally your camera [both of your cameras, you should have two at least] should have dual memory card slots so you can save the same images to both cards so if one fails you have the other one as insurance. It happens, memory cards fail - it probably won't happen to you but then again if it does things can turn really nasty - many photographers have had to refund their customers due to missed parts of the wedding photos - pictures the customer knew they took but weren't available to deliver. Backup lenses - one of your lenses could fail, what will you use if it does? Even having your kit lens handy could save the day if your 24mm f1.8 prime lens fails and you need to get some group shots that can't fit into the picture if you only have the 70-200mm lens left. Flashes, two of them, batteries - plenty of spares, memory cards . You have to ask yourself what you would use if the camera you were holding fell into a swimming pool - you must have a plan-B, even a Plan-C. If one camera dies it would be really handy to know you have another spare body besides your second camera, and you can continue shooting with two bodies. Even spare clothes - trust me when I say it is not a good feeling to have split pants when the bride is 20 minutes away from arriving and all that's available is the gardeners green rain paints to borrow.

A second-shooter is a very good idea and something I consider essential. They will get many of the shots you get plus some extras for the couple and provide another form of insurance if something were to go wrong with your pictures. If you're a guy then it's handy to have a female second-shooter who can go into the room when the bride is getting dressed and get some of those getting-ready shots that she wouldn't fell comfortable with if a guy was in the room. Now a professional charging $4000 to photograph a wedding would possibly pay a second-shooter $500-1000 to take some pictures for them as well, and generally demand all the images be handed over at the end of the day. If you're shooting a budget wedding or possibly even doing it free for a friend because they can't afford a photographer then there are many ways of getting a second-shooter. I run a group on facebook for that purpose - there are always new photographers wanting to get into the industry but they have no experience and no portfolio to present and most of them will almost beg you to allow them to shoot for free while providing you with the photos they take - so they can use them on their profile. I even know of a professional photographer who charges $400 for a newbie to take pictures at a wedding he is shooting - to, understandably, make up for the risk of what could go wrong with a newbie at the wedding. Post an ad on facebook and you will be inundated with requests for people wanting to help.  

Gear: Possibly the most important piece of non-photographic gear you could have on a long wedding day is comfortable shoes. And try to get something comfortable and discreet, you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb amongst the guests with bright green stripes on the side of your running shoes, this applies to any clothing you wear. Get something that could pass for formal shoes at a glance but need a second look to see that they are hiking shoes or similar. Talking about shoes this is actually a good time to mention something very important when photographing a wedding - Don't try anything new at a wedding! Like wearing brand new leather hiking boots on your first really long hike - it will result in serious blisters. Leather boots need to be worn in until they are comfortable, and you need to be sure they are the right size for you. I heard a horror story about a nervous photographer who 'heard that manual focus would give better results ' then the autofocus he was accustomed to using. Apparently he got at least a dozen in focus over the colourful 5 day Indian wedding. Even brand new camera gear could be faulty, or not work with the component you bought it for. People have been caught out buying a new 64 gig memory card for their older camera only to find out on the day that their camera can only support cards up to 32 gig - not a comfortable situation to find yourself in halfway through the ceremony when you plug that card into your camera and see the error code on the lcd display, and it's the only empty card you have available. Or after fitting the new 50mm f1.4 lens that arrived yesterday you find that you never really had a full understanding of how narrow the depth of field is at f1.4 so besides the fact that you end up with a bunch of photos where only one person is in focus during critical group shots, you also realise it's not the person you were focused on, the lens needs to be fine tuned to your camera before you use it. Make sure you know the gear you are using on the day. This reminds me of another comment I read on a discussion forum: "If I were to photograph a wedding I'd hire two professional camera bodies and lenses for the day" ........ would you know how to use them though? There are a lot of settings on a professional camera body that are very different to amateur bodies. You are seriously better off shooting with the amateur gear you know than messing up with professional gear on the day - if you do hire 'the good stuff' make 100% sure you know how to use it on the day.

Camera strap: Perhaps as important as comfortable shoes because you will be carrying your gear for 6-8 long hours. Simply having camera straps around your neck is guaranteed to give you a nasty headache which doesn't inspire much creativity during any photoshoot. There are many options for holding two camera bodies, some are expensive - you need to decide how much you are prepared to spend to hold your valuable gear, after all you don't want to go cheap and risk damage if it doesn't hold properly. On saying that, there are a lot of reasonably priced options out there. I've found that a really effective and reasonably priced option does exist. If you shop on Aliexpress a dual camera strap can be bought for anywhere from $10 while the plastic holsters in the picture on the right start from $3 each. Screw the straps into the camera tripod mount and you have what is a common method of securing your camera without tiring your neck muscles. But they do swing around a bit and if for example you are washing your hands, both cameras bounce around against the basin. With two of those cheap plastic holsters you simply screw the fitting into the base of the dual harness mount and the cameras are also secured at your hips. If you adjust the straps so that when your shoulders are 'hanging' it shifts all the weight to the belt, but when you shrug your shoulders all the weight is taken off your hips, it forms a well balanced method of carrying your cameras without burdening your shoulders or having too much weight on your belt. Another tip is that instead of putting the holsters on your 'main' belt simply wear a second belt on top of your other belt, that way the ridges of the holster don't wear on your hips all day.

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Lenses: There are a lot of options for lenses. I will quote numbers for full frame [FF] and crop [DX]. Full frame cameras have 35mm sensors while dx or crop sensors are smaller so the numbers need to be multiplied by 1.5 to give an equivalent focal length. A 35mm lens on DX will be similar to a 50mm lens on FF. These are things you should know if you're going to shoot a wedding.

Fisheye and ultra-wides: 8-16mm DX, 12-24mm FF. can add to the pictures for the album but should be used wisely. A nice shot of the couple at the base of some redwoods perhaps, or a rainbow in the background can justify creating a little distortion in a wedding photo. But use with great discretion - 2 or 3 images could sneak into the album but if you have too many pictures with a lot of distortion they can start getting 'sickening' having the viewer desiring 'normality' again. The following image was taken with a fisheye lens to give an idea of how much can be included in an image but also showing what it does to straight lines.

Picture courtesy Mata Taputu Photography.

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Mid range zoom: 17-50mm f2.8 DX, 24-70mm f2.8 FF. [The best lens to have]

The Sigma 18-35mm [27-52mm] f1.8 lens is almost in this range and perhaps comes as close as you can get to a "prime-zoom". Of course 'prime' means only one focal length but th 18-35mm f1.8 is like 3 primes in one lens, fast and sharp and a worthwhile consideration for DX shooters.

The mid range zoom is the most useful lens for weddings. At one stage when the best Nikon body you could get was the DX Nikon D200 the bulky Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 was a top choice for wedding photographers. Some went as far as having two D200 bodies and a 17-55mm on BOTH bodies [as backup]. Not what I would advise but an indication of how useful that range is. Fact: You can crop in on an image to "zoom in" but you can't "crop out" and fit more in - Duh! Pretty obvious but also an epiphany you don't want to have on the wedding day. Some DX photographers might choose a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 giving an equivalent of 42-112mm, only to find that in a small room with the bride getting ready when asked to get a group shot they can't fit everyone in. This dispels the over-used term "zoom with your feet" because in a small room there is a limit to how far you can back up - sometimes you simply need the wider angle. At the last wedding I shot [Some Filipino friends of mine] the guests loved dragging more people into photos and asking for a group shot. At one stage I was backed up to 18mm [DX] and managed to step on a chair to fit everyone into a group shot - it would have been nice to have the option of 16mm [24mm FF]. The Nikon 16-80mm f2.8-4.0 is looking like a very good general purpose option for DX bodies. In short, if you only have one lens make it a mid-range zoom - add a 50mm f1.8 [DX] or 85mm f1.8 [FF] and you have a general purpose lens plus an option for some shallow depth of field portrait shots. Of course it is good to have a longer lens as well which brings us to the next option:

Tele Zoom: Sigma 50-150mm f2.8, 50-100mm f1.8 DX, 70-200mm f2.8 FF.

Many wedding photographers work with a FF 24-70mm and a 70-200mm f2.8. This is the safest option because you cover the 24-200mm range, from the 'safest wide angle' to a reasonable long lens with good 'compression'. In good light the Nikon 18-140mm lens covers this range and a 50mm f1.8 on the second body could serve as a portrait lens. This was taken with a D7200 and the 70-300mm VR lens at 240mm which is like 360mm on a full frame lens. My second shooter was posing the couple and I stood off to the side - they were actually live-streaming their day to family back in the Phillipines and stopped to chat with them for a while. A long lens allows one ot capture moments like this without them even knowing you are photographing them. 

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Another option is the 'slower' [f4-5,6] 70-300mm lens. On a DX body it gives the equivalent of 105-450mm which may sound extreme but still comes in useful at an outdoor wedding

Macro: Many pros have a dedicated macro lens. generally a 105mm f2.8 is better than a 40mm f2.8 because you can work from further away and not block any of the light on the subject. This also gives you the ability to light it with a softbox or similar if you have a decent distance from the subject. These days a macro lens isn't essential for wedding photography, though nice to have, because many of today's lenses can already focus pretty close and you can still crop in and get a decent shot of the rings. After all how many macro shots are you going to include and how big are they going to print them?

Primes:

This is the part where I advise people to think carefully about their choice. Just because some pros are happy to shoot a whole day with a 35mm f1.4 doesn't mean it's a good choice for you - your style may be different. Every few months at least one person puts up a poll on my wedding photographers group "What are your favourite wedding lenses?" Usually "24-70mm f2.8 plus 70-200mm f2.8" gets the most votes. Then there is the occasional "24-70mm f2.8 plus 85mm f1.8 'because the 70-200mm is a heavy beast to carry around all day'" [Many Nikon photographers are finding that the f1.8 G lenses are sharper than the f1.4G lenses and totally adequate in low light, besides being lighter]. Amongst the prime shooters we have people choosing "35mm and 50mm", "35mm and 85mm" [most popular combination] with the occasional comments "But I want to get a 24mm because I'm feeling restricted by 35mm" and sometimes "I'm going back to zooms because I miss too many shots changing lenses with primes". Those who "only shoot primes" will often say "When the light gets low I can simply use a wider aperture!". That sounds ok until you realise that this is the part where you lose the control over depth of field you had by being able to choose the aperture you shoot at - now you are being forced to go to the shallowest depth of field to get your shot. Fair enough if a shallow depth of field works for the situation, but it won't always be enough to get all the important elements in the image. That's where I advise learning to use flash as well - that way you can still use a smaller aperture, for example, when doing group photos. 

Obvious fact: Though primes can get impressive results we don't see the pictures people miss by not having a wide enough lens to catch all the action when it happens. Other photographers will be impressed by the results they see - the customers will be the ones who know what was missed - who do you want to impress? As mentioned primes have their place but don't overdo them simply to impress other photographers - think about what the customer would like. As per the quote at the beginning "With great power comes great responsibility" - being able to really blur the background also allows for the possibility of blurring out something or someone important in the background if you're not 100% sure of what you are doing. 

Also, if you aren't accustomed to the shallow depth of field of f1.4 primes then the "limited" aperture of an f2.8 or even an f4 lens serves as a 'protection' against you having too much of your image out of focus. There is a good chance you will have to delete a few out off focus images if you shoot with an 85mm f1.4 prime. At the last wedding I shot I may not have got any competition winning images but with my 18-140mm and 70-300VR lenses I never had one out of focus image out of 2500. Not one.

Do yourself a favour and run a check to see your most used focal length in Lightroom If you're one of those people like me who doesn't use Lightroom then download a free program like Exposureplot and let it analyse a batch of wedding or social photos you have taken and see which focal length you favour before choosing which prime to get. Keep in mind that whether you shoot with primes or zooms can also be dependent on which part of the wedding you are shooting. Getting ready shots and the ceremony along with the congratulations after the ceremony may require the ability to zoom. But the formals where you take the bridal party for some posed shots and fun stuff may allow you to choose a prime for a planned shot while perhaps having a 24-70 handy on the other body for 'just in case'. If the ceremony is in a dark candle-lit church on an overcast day you may have little choice but to go with your fast primes and take what you can get. It's like choosing what settings to use on the day - it's not something you can do in the morning when you start and then forget about it, as much as we would all love to be able to do that - you have to be adaptable and adjust depending on the conditions. They may have an outdoor wedding planned and after scoping out the venue you choose the gear that will suit you perfectly - then on the day the clouds roll in and it gets really dark and rainy and everyone rushes indoors to the plan-B location which may not quite suit the gear you have chosen. Since we're on the subject let's move on to what settings to use.

How sharp does your lens need to be? These days all digital cameras have more than enough megapixels and the majority of lenses are more than sharp enough to capture the detail you need on the day. The Nikon 60mm f2.8 has actually been described as "too sharp for portraits" because it shows all the flaws in a person's skin. How sharp is it? DXOMARK is a very useful site to check up lens sharpness. What they do is compare a lens on various camera bodies and show the actual sharpness in megapixels that a lens is capable of on a particular body. For example the 60mm f2.8D Nikon registers 13 megapixels of actual sharpness on a 24 megapixel Nikon D7100. I have been given permission to copy and paste these screenshots by: www.dxomark.com

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This site can be quite an eye opener when you start checking up camera and lens combinations. Many people will tell you to rather shoot with the 35mm f1.8 prime on a D7200 than the 18-140mm "kit lens". How do they compare in  real world sharpness?

 

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Ooh wow, about 8% difference. Aside from the fact that the f1.8 would be very useful in low light situations and would put the 18-140mm f3.5-5.6 to shame in that situation do you think anyone would tell the difference outdoors in good light? That is where the 18-140mm would put the 35mm to shame in regard to versatility. Don't be restricted by the "but primes are much sharper than zooms" mentality when the light is good - nobody will know the difference at f8. Also did you notice we had 11 megapixels of sharpness while the 60mm 2.8D is described as "too sharp for portraits" at 13 meg? Obviously the 18-140mm is more than sharp enough to capture a wedding with. Now let's take the highly regarded Nikon D700 full frame with the 50mm f1.8G lens - a combination that many pros have made a living with. 

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9 megapixels of actual sharpness!  This is not a comparison between full frame and crop sensors because there are plenty of 24 and 36 megapixel full frame sensors out there that can make the numbers look very different in favour of full frame and primes - it's just to show that 9 megapixels of sharpness can wow the crowds and earn someone their living, so don't let anyone tell you the 11 megapixel combination of a D7200 and 18-140mm "kit lens" isn't good enough to shoot a wedding. There will always be more megapixels and sharper lenses that will have the purists dumping their gear to "upgrade" but at the biggest sizes anyone will print wedding photos any of today's cameras and lenses can do the job quite sufficiently.

What about filters? I collected some information from various discussions on the forums - cheap filters and bokeh This is a highly debated topic which means it's a matter of personal choice. Keep in mind that as per my other blog on cheap filters you can get focus issues, lose 1/3 of a stop of light or have 'nervous bokeh' due to a bad filter. The filter can also protect the front element from dirt. However, on one discussion on the subject a photographer who also works for an insurance company stated that they get more claims for "filter scratched front element when lens was dropped" than they do for "damaged front element due to no filter". The front element of a lens is pretty tough [there will be variations amongst manufacturers] but I did several tests including shooting a lens with an air pistol. It survived without a mark!

I also dropped a faulty lens that wasn't good for anything else, connected to an old film body, just to see how the lens would handle it. My conclusion was that if you were to drop it from high enough to damage the front element then the internals would fly apart anyway. If something were to hit the front element hard enough to damage it a filter won't help anyway, it will just help to scratch it. I used to get a filter for every lens I bought but no longer bother with them. It does add resale value though if people know it "has had a filter on from day one".

Camera bodies: if you're going to do this full time then go for a full frame camera with two memory card slots [Two of them of course]. Having said that "back in the day" professional photographers were shooting with the 8 megapixel Canon 20D and then the 10 megapixel Nikon D200 which they thought was amazing. There were even pros shooting with the 5 megapixel Olympus E1. So there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to do it with any of today's DSLR's, apart from the fact that twin card slots is highly advisable in case one card fails - [it does happen!]. In normal daylight the results will all look pretty similar between the camera bodies but in low light situations each stop of light helps. A full frame sensor is 2 1/2 X bigger than a crop sensor meaning just over a stop of high iso advantage [cleaner images at higher iso's]. An f1.8 prime will give another two stops over the f3.5 of the wide end of a kit lens. A prime lens with less elements [lenses] will have a better "T-stop"  meaning that both lenses may be at f4 but the prime may transmit exactly f4 of light while the inferior kit lens has so many extra [inferior] elements that at f4 it blocks some light and maybe only lets through the equivalent of f5 meaning you will need a higher iso or slower shutter speed to get the same exposure as the prime. A filter could lose you 1/3 of a stop as well. At the end of the day in a candlelit church this could be the difference between shooting at 1/100th sec f1.8 and iso 800 on the pro setup vs 1/100th sec f3.5 and iso 5000 [not 3200 because of the lower T-stop and a filter on the lens perhaps] at the wide end of the kit lens. Keeping in mind too that the pro full frame body will have a cleaner iso 800 than the iso 1600 of the crop sensor body. But there is no reason why you couldn't get almost the same results from a crop sensor D7200 with a decent prime lens in low light situations, and again, outdoors nobody will be able to tell which image was taken with a full frame or crop sensor Watch this enlightening video comparison. 

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Camera Bag: My advice is to get a 'top loader', not something that needs to be zipped up every time you want to move it somewhere, like those backpacks that have to be fully zipped up to prevent distracting 'crashing' noises from cameras and lenses when you're walking along a concrete path - besides being distracting those noises could test the strength of your heart as well. I have found that a large top loader bag is very convenient when you want to quickly reach into it and pull out a lens or flash without having to zip and unzip each time you move. "Piggy" also approves of it. Actually I think he was waiting to bite it, he doesn't like anything put on the floor.

Camera settings:  Again, if you need to ask then you shouldn't be charging to shoot weddings yet and hopefully you're simply doing it because the couple has no other options. This is also personal, even though shooting fully manual is the purists idea of how all photography should be done some of us don't have enough "RAM" in our heads to do this through the whole day. If you can adjust your settings without thinking in the same way you drive your car then by all means do it - but for people like me who get caught up in the action forgetting your camera on the wrong setting when you follow the bride around the corner into much brighter/dimmer light can be disastrous. I'd rather let my camera do the thinking in these situations and only have to make small adjustments later rather than trying to rescue a disaster of an image. If you're going to be in the same lighting for a while then manual is a good idea, you will get greater consistency. If you're worried you will panic on the day then have a look at my camera settings for beginners , better to shoot in "P for panic" than try to take manual control but totally make a mess of the day.

"A" 'Aperture' priority mode is what many photographers choose through the day so they can determine how much of the photo is in focus - it is a way of 'taking control' of an aspect of the pictures while letting the camera still make sure your exposure is 'in the ballpark'.

"S" [Tv for Canon] 'Shutter' priority mode is what some will use during the reception or perhaps if you have the couple doing some dance moves among the trees and want some "artistic blur" then you may want to dial shutter speed down to 1/15th sec and make things look dreamy. Just don't forget it at the wrong settings. Other possibilities are when you are using a longer lens which will show more movement in the images, you dial up the shutter speed while the camera opens the aperture up as much as it can before increasing iso to compensate.

"P" 'Program' mode. Tell the customer it's "P for Professional" while you actually know it's "P for Panic". There are pros that revert to this mode when the action speeds up and they don't have time to choose the perfect settings - there is no shame in using this mode - your main objective is to present memories of the day to the customer, they don't care how you got them. And the thing is, as long as you know why you are choosing a certain mode and get the results you want it doesn't really matter. For example I know that Program mode will choose a high enough shutter speed while making sure it opens the aperture to its widest before raising the iso - which is pretty close to what I would do anyway. And since I set my auto-iso to kick in at 1/125th sec I will have a fast enough shutter speed to prevent blur and catch most wedding action you will have on the day. If the settings reach their maximum [I have auto iso set to go no further than iso 6400] and there isn't enough light the camera will then decrease shutter speed below my 1/125th limit to get the correct exposure - as I would do. It's all about knowing what the modes do so you can choose one that would get as close to the settings you would choose if you were in manual mode and had the time to make adjustments. This also means setting auto-iso accordingly.

Flash: This falls under "gear" but I thought it pertinent to leave it until after "settings" because the first thing you need to learn about flash is getting the settings for your ambient right - but that's a topic for another discussion. This is also one of those topics highly debated by amateurs who, for some reason, seem to think they actually have to pick a side between "flash" and "available light". Meanwhile professionals are more mature and simply use whatever tools do the job for a situation. You will hear people saying "I love natural light" when they see a picture that has been taken in really nice diffused light - not realising that harsh sunlight is also 'natural' light. People just seem to name it 'natural light' when it looks good. The fact is that natural light doesn't always look good and sometimes needs 'help'. It also depends on what kind of look you are trying to achieve - or perhaps you want to give them a view of their location but the light is less than ideal in all directions. Here's a situation when I wanted the nice cloud formations in the background. The light looked really good in the other direction but why not add some variety to the day? If you expose for the couple  the background is totally blown out, if you expose for the clouds the couple can hardly be seen, and as much as dynamic range has improved on sensors these days they still have their limitations.

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This is the part where you add some flash from the front. [D7200, 18-140mmVR plus SB800 on-camera flash.]

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Remember it's not a competition between which is better, flash or natural light. It's a way of being a more versatile photographer and presenting more options to your customers. This is what the scene looked like with frontal light from that huge white diffuser in the sky. A totally different look to the image, could just as well be two different locations [taken with the D7200 and 70-300mm VR lens] which actually emphasises how useful it can be when you have a flash at your disposal to add to the lighting. 

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Batteries: Eneloop rechargeables are very good for flash, I've done tests with them and they are the best. AS mentioned in the section about backups, you should have at least two camera batteries for each body, preferably 3, even if you know your camera can do 1000 photos on half a charge. Besides that, halfway through the day change your camera batteries and flash batteries whether they are showing as being low or not, don't wait for a warning on your display at an awkward moment.

What about iso limits? How far are you prepared to go, how much quality are you prepared to lose and how long are the couple going to look at the image before they flip over to the next image [in other words, how important will the image be in their album, if they even print it]. Some images are just for fun. In this case the couple wanted some pictures in the cellar of this old homestead. I knew I would be using flash but decided to see how the D7200 would do at iso 25600 with no help from the flash. Many pros would never dream of handing over such a 'washed out mush' but I gave this image to my friends - I charged absolute minimum for the day and they were happy with this image, they're my friends and that's all I care about.

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Back to the discussion about flash. Many beginners buy their first flash, put it on the camera and fire it directly in someone's face, the camera automatically sets the background to turn out black [because the photographer chose the wrong settings] and the picture looks awful. From then one whenever they read a post about someone asking about flash they respond with "Whatever you do don't use flash, it will ruin your pictures!". Meanwhile there are many pros making a living using flash in their photos - maybe someone should warn them too? Bounce flash is the most underrated technique possible. People will tell you that good lighting is about having the largest diffused light source possible and will go to great lengths to shoot with the biggest softbox they can assemble. Meanwhile bouncing the flash off a suitable white surface provides a light source 5 or 10 times bigger than their softbox. In the setting above I aimed the SB800 over my right shoulder, in the direction of the light that produced the shadows in the previous image. It is often better to work with the existing light source than to work against it, in this case the settings for ambient totally overpowered the existing light - [D7200 18-140mm SB800]. Again, it's not about whether the one looks better than the other, it's about the fact that you have the ability to use either as needed.

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Posing couples: Don't overthink this one. You may see a pose you really like and try to copy it but never get the same results - this is often because the moment was spontaneous and the photographer probably told the couple "Just be yourselves" and stepped back and photographed the occasion - you can't pose spontaneity. Not every couple will be so forthcoming with their poses, some will have researched poses and will be a dream to work with as they try them out. Others may stand there like statues and say "What should we do?". The best you can do is built up a good rapport with the couple before the day and work on it through the day. One way of getting them to 'loosen up' is to move a distance from them, get out a long lens and tell them to 'stay' for a while as you back away. They will start talking to each other and feel more comfortable with the lessened pressure. Once you are far enough away get them to start walking toward you slowly then tell them to just talk with each other, maybe ask them if they can dance, tell him to 'twirl her around' - think of ways to get them into more interesting poses than a pair of statues. Reverse psychology can work wonders - tell them to stand still, stare straight at you, look serious "and whatever you do don't smile or laugh!" - see how long they keep looking serious.

Working together: Occasionally you may end up working with a videographer. There are two general approaches to this 'situation'.

1.) You both say "You do your job and I'll do mine - just stay out of my way!"

2.) Or "Let's work together and do our best to make it a happy day for the bride and groom!".

I personally prefer the second option. If both parties work together it is perfectly feasible to get good pictures and video for the couple - which is what they would want. Starting the day thinking  about having a competition with each other is a distraction you don't need, and neither does the couple, they're paying for professionals, act like one [both of you]. Being professional means more than charging for your services, it's the way you behave as well. Talk to each other, agree on who will stand where during various parts of the ceremony. If the videographer wants to get a clip with the bride walking toward the groom for the ceremony discuss where they will be standing and work out where you can stand so as not to mess it up. Hopefully the videographer will do the same for some shots you would like to get. Be prepared to sacrifice one or two shots to make it easier for them to get a stunning video for the couple. Having a videographer can also relieve some of the pressure from you especially during the formals after the ceremony. Find out what 'scenes' they would like to set up with the couple and stand back and get some nice 'candid's from a distance. Then while you are setting up your shots they can do the same with video. Once again, ask yourself "What would the couple want?" or "What would I want if it were my wedding?".

Workflow: This is something that may take a while to work out. Depending what software you use [I find Nikon NX-D perfectly capable and useful software for editing] there could be several approaches to this topic. First you need to have the time on your cameras set the same. It's not nice trying to "arrange by time taken" when one body was set to daylight savings and the other wasn't and they're an hour different and the pictures overlap in time, like an hour's worth of 'getting ready' photos overlapping the ceremony photos. In Lightroom you can change the time in the exif - best to simply get the time set right from the beginning. After the shoot download all the pictures to your computer - don't delete them from the memory cards yet, anything could go wrong with the computer after downloading the pictures. Once they are on the computer back them up to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Now you may need to rename them since the numbers the camera gives them could be duplicated on both bodies. After you have "cameraA" and "cameraB" files renamed and you won't be asked "these files numbers already exist, what do you want to do...." you can perhaps make 4 folder "preparation" "ceremony" "formals" "reception" and copy the images to their relevant folders. Nikon NX-D these folders can be opened one at a time and global adjustments made. If white balance is set to 'auto' there will be slight variations between images in the same lighting - select all the images taken in the same lighting and 'fix' the white balance to the same setting for all of them. After making all other adjustments you need in whatever program you use [I export as jpegs and give each image one final tweak in PSE13] then decide how you want to present them. I still present them in 4 separate folders as jpegs. How many you present is up to you. People used to say that 300 is more than enough, now it seems to be around 500 - but also think what you would like if it were you and someone said "We got 2000 pictures on the day, how many do you want?". I'd take all of them though some say "How long will it take to look through all of them!?" the answer to that is that they have the rest of their married lives and don't have to print or save them all. Most photographers though will only want to present their best work and not let any "sub standard" images be seen by potential customers. Personally the dozen weddings I have shot the customers have really been happy about receiving all the images.

Other topics: Canon vs Nikon [Sony is starting to creep into this argument], Mac vs pc: Use whatever does the job for you, there are good options in both camps and you are buying into a system, not just the camera body - what lenses do they have to offer, how much do they cost? Nikon always seems to be slightly more expensive but their kit lenses are generally better quality. 3rd party lenses come out for Canon first because there are more of them out there and cost less than 3rd party lenses for Nikon for this reason. Mac's are more stable but cost a lot. PC's are cheaper to buy to get the same power as a Mac but they slow down over time as programs are added. My 8 year old Macbook pro is as fast as it was on the day I bought it. I recently bought a decent pc build which is really fast and 1/3 of the price an iMac would have cost - but the second month's updates wouldn't install properly and kept downloading and trying again each time I started it up. The response from other Windows users? "Just forget it, next month's updates will fix it, they always do!". PC users get used to working around problems with the system - not that Apple products are perfect, they definitely are not but I've never had to work around problems while waiting for them to fix it on an iMac. Either way at 1/3 of the price I went with a PC but if I was making a good living from photography it would have been another iMac. Of course there are full time pros who use a PC for their editing [you will also find they are used to working around their problems, like having to be a mechanic to drive a certain car :) ] 

Choosing a lens for wedding photography.

There's a motor vehicle workshop in town that has this sign on the wall. Basically if you want your car fixed you can only choose one of these options. You can't have a cheap, fast and quality repair - one choice excludes the others. It's similar with lenses.

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In the case of lenses however a fast lens is generally a quality lens so we need to change the wording a little. In other words it is impossible to get a cheap 28-300mm equivalent f1.4 lens to cover every situation at a wedding.

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Now comes the part where you decide what your priority is: Versatility or creamy bokeh, price is secondary and may simply determine whether you choose between used or new, manufacturers lenses or 3rd party. Weight is also a factor but with mid range zooms anyone should be able to handle one all day at a wedding - the 70-200mm f2.8 is a different topic. Fortunately you don't have to pick an absolute corner, you can choose anywhere along the sides of the triangle or somewhere in the middle. For example. [From now on I will refer to lenses for the dx/crop sensor bodies as I use a Nikon D7200]

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As you can see [in my opinion] the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 hits the sweet spot in price, versatility and light transmission. [I don't mention the Sigma which is better built because its zoom action is in the reverse direction of Nikon lenses, it's still a good choice if you can get used to that. The Sigma 18-35mm is an amazing option for those who can live with its limited range - someone used to shooting primes only will find that this is a dream lens, like 3 - 4 primes in one lens - if you like the 35mm [50mm equivalent] prime then with the Sigma 18-35mm you have the option of going wide if needed and I think it is a very sensible choice. Last weekend I shot a friends wedding, they are from the Phillipines and those people love their group shots. If I wasn't shooting my 18-140mm lens I would have been in trouble with the various requests "Take a picture of us" and it starts off with me moving the lens to 35mm, more people get added in, 24mm, more people get dragged into the shot and then I'm at 18mm and dragging out a chair to stand on from the other side of a table to get everyone in. My point is: The ultimate quality prime lens can still become useless in some situations. Are you going to tell the couple "I only shoot primes and I didn't have time to change lenses, but the 4 of you in the middle will be really sharp!", or "The 50mm 1.4 is so much sharper than the 24mm so I didn't bother getting a 24mm, actually the 35mm is also very sharp so I can fit 8 of you into the picture!."

But what about lens sharpness, distortion, colour, contrast - all those terms you read about in the reviews? Besides the fact that all of these things can be adjusted when you process your images, and modern cameras automatically correct for a lot of these imperfections anyway, can you honestly tell the difference in an image you see that isn't a side-by side comparison at 100%? I know that if you squint your eyes, tilt your head to the left and twist your tongue against the roof of your mouth you can actually see a difference but will your customers see this difference?Are you afraid to let other [armchair] photographers know that you are not shooting with a prime lens? Is the following image sharp enough for your needs? When I took it I owned an 18-105mm kit lens, a 70-200mm f2.8VR, a 50mm f1.8D and an 85mm f1.8D. What lens do you think I used?

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It was taken with the 18-105mm kit lens on a 12 megapixel Nikon D90 and is a 6 megapixel crop from half of the image [resized to 2500 wide for this blog]. What makes it sharper than the average photo is that the flash was set at 1/128th power which fires in 1/41600th sec so there is almost no movement in the image - technique is so much more important than lens sharpness. On dxomark the 18-105mm yields 7 actual megapixels of sharpness on a 12meg dx sensor so with a 50% crop you're looking at about 3 megapixels of sharpness. It would look good on a billboard viewed from the correct distance - and please don't tell me "now zoom in to 100%" - what would the point be of pushing your nose up against a billboard to prove there are imperfections to people driving past who will never see those imperfections?

As we go through these various points please think carefully about your choices and ask yourself the question: "If it were my wedding how would I like it to be done?"

Now for some facts:

1.) You can take an f1.4 lens to f4 but you can't take an f4 lens to f1.4 But: you can blur the background later in an image taken at f4 but you can't recover detail from the background in an image taken at f1.4. My point? If you're shooting with an f1.4 prime use the aperture wisely "just because you have the tools doesn't mean you have to use them" you don't use your new flash when the natural light is perfect and you don't shoot everything at f1.4 to blur the background beyond recognition just because other photographers say "Ooooh what creamy bokeh, it looks so professional!" - until your customer says "Why is the background so blurry? My cellphone takes better pictures!" because Uncle Bob is smiling for the first time in years but his face is out of focus behind the couple so they wonder what is wrong with your camera [this is the wedding where uncle Bob's only camera is in for repairs so he didn't shoot the wedding for them]. Blurred backgrounds can look very professional but your main focus should be capturing memories for the customer, that is why most of them think they are employing your services, not to impress your photographer friends. What's important to your customers will differ greatly to what other photographers appreciate in an image and if there is something or someone important in the background it is safer to shoot at a smaller aperture to get it in focus. Just don't show your photographer friends the images or they will tell you that you need to 'separate the subject from the background' more [the background that your customer wants to see that is].

Nikon 18-200mm - I was shooting at 200mm but zoomed back to show the scene and ended up preferring this image.

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2.) You can crop more with a sharp prime than with a zoom but you can't zoom with a prime. Sounds obvious but you will come up against these arguments. So how much difference does this make? Well the Nikon 24mm f1.8G is one of the sharpest primes out there and on dxomark it yields 15 megapixels of actual sharpness on a 24 meg dx sensor. And the 18-140mm 'kit' lens? 11 megapixels  of actual resolution which is nearly 4X that of the sample image I posted of the bulb being smashed! So with the 24mm prime I can crop 1.36X [32.7mm]to get to the same resolution of the 'kit' lens at that focal length. But the 'kit' lens can go all the way back to 18mm and out to 140mm. However when you crop you are also magnifying any movement in an image - as when you zoom of course - but the 'kit' lens has VR [vibration reduction] while no 1.4 or 1.8 prime has it. At 140mm and 11 megapixels resolution the kit lens will have far superior image quality to the 24mm cropped in to that size at 2.5 megapixels. Of course anyone shooting weddings must have at least two camera bodies with perhaps a 24mm on one [35mm equivalent] and maybe a 50 or 85mm on the other and there is no reason why you couldn't get really good images from that combination - just be prepared for the fact that your widest lens is your critical limit - a 2.5 meg crop will still look fine with a quality lens, you can crop in but you can't 'crop out' wider.

Nikon 18-200mm, wireless sound trigger for the flash plus a pellet from an air rifle.

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Here's another blatantly obvious fact:

3.) You don't see the images a photographer missed. At the end of the day when people are going "Ooooh" and "Aaaah" at the amazing portraits produced with creamy bokeh you are seeing the best images they were "able to" capture, obviously not the ones they weren't able to capture. I once read a comment from an amateur regarding what they would do if they were to shoot a wedding, "I would take my sharpest lens, currently a 50mm f1.8D and discipline myself to take all the pictures with that lens!". Seriously? a 75mm equivalent for every wedding photo? Just because that lens would give 13 meg actual resolution over the 11 of the 'kit' lens. That would mean getting 4 people in the middle of a 12 person group shot at the reception in the case of the last wedding I shot, unless of course you were planning on doing a pano and stitching later which I think some people are 'dedicated' enough to attempt in their quest for 'ultimate quality' to impress their photography mates. Good thing he didn't get to shoot a wedding when he owned the 200mm f2 lens, it would have been his sharpest lens and it would take a lot of discipline to shoot an entire wedding at 300mm equivalent simply to get ultimate sharpness.

Nikon 18-140mm at f5.6

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So now we come to the "mid range zoom". 24-70mm f2.8 on full frame, 17-50mm f2.8 on a crop sensor and perhaps we could include the 16-80mm f2.8-4 Nikon and the 18-35mm f1.8 Sigma lens. Some people use a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 on a crop body but I find the 28mm wide end a little limiting. For those who insist "Primes are still sharper than f2.8 zooms" give it a break, nobody will see the difference. Have a look at Zhuoya photography, one of the best in New Zealand. Most of the images in his gallery are taken with the Nikon 24-70mm [full frame] please contact him and let him know where he is lacking if his images don't meet with the quality standards for wedding photography.

Food for thought. As mentioned on my previous blog I have a few groups for wedding photography on facebook. Often the topic of "which lenses do you use" come up with a poll and the most common are [full frame cameras]:

Often: 24-70mm f2.8 plus 70-200mm f2.8,

Often: 35mm plus 85mm primes,

Occasionally 24-70mm f2.8 plus 85mm "because the 70-200mm is a heavy beast to carry all day"

Sometimes followed by "I've been shooting primes but am going back to a 24-70mm f2.8 because I'm missing too many shots changing lenses" [As I said, we don't see the shots a photographer missed]. Also occasionally "The 35mm is sometimes a little limiting so I'm thinking of going to a wider prime"

 

Nikon 18-200mm. I had this shot in mind but didn't know what focal length I would need - the 18-200mm allowed me to choose at the time. 

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Perhaps we can all learn from the experience of others. If you shoot only primes and know exactly why and are happy doing so then by all means continue doing so. If you're reading this to decide what to use then please consider a mid range zoom to start with - for crop sensors perhaps the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 VC [13 meg actual sharpness] and because you should have more than one body for something as important as a wedding then maybe an 85mm 1.8G on the other body. Another good option would be the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 plus a 50mm 1.8G on the other body. The 50mm f1.8G gives 14 meg of actual sharpness on dxomark and could yield a decent 4X cropped image [75mm equivalent X 4 = 300mm equivalent]

Another option is the very good 18-140mm 'kit' lens to cover all situations plus maybe the 50mm 1.8G for some 'bokeh' portrait shots during the day and the 18-35mm 1.8 Sigma in the bag for when the light levels start dropping. If it was your wedding being photographed what would you want, primes with ultimate quality or zooms that get everything in? The Sigma 35mm f1.4 yields an amazing 16 meg resolution on a 24meg crop sensor while the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 is two stops slower and 'only' yields 12 meg resolution. All those numbers to get your head spinning and sway you towards "ultimate image quality" rather than "ultimate versatility". Which would you rather have and more importantly which would your customer rather have? With a 35mm or 50mm top quality f1.4 prime you can get resolution and background blur not possible with the 24-70mm. But then you can't zoom back and get in the 12 people lined up asking for a group shot in the reception hall, this part isn't my opinion, it's fact. Let's look at the 2X crop from my 12 meg D90 and the 18-105mm kit lens giving around 3 megapixels of actual resolution. Is the resolution critical to your decision when this is what a kit lens can accomplish? If not then all that's left is background blur vs versatility for you to decide. I’ve added a very interesting video below.

 

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Wedding shoot with Nikon D7200 and 18-140mm lens

This is the first wedding I've photographed in two years. When you don't do them regularly [about 1 a year apart for me] you go through the same drama each time: "What new gear do I need? Will my lenses do the job? Let me go online and read what the pros use......". I'm sure those who photograph them regularly don't spend so much time thinking of these things because they are just busy 'shooting weddings' with what they have chosen over the years as their favourite gear based on experience.

I run several groups on facebook including "wedding photographers and second shooters" and "Professional wedding photographers and videographers". Every now and then the discussion pops up again "So what lenses do you use?" followed by a poll that people modify as they vote. There is always a high percentage of "24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8" votes - very good [and heavy] lenses, and a nice range for all situations. Amongst the prime shooters "35mm f1.4 with 85mm f1.4" seems to be the 'final evolution' for those who only shoot primes. However I have sometimes read "But I occasionally feel limited by 35mm and want to get something wider as well". I have also often read "I'm going back to a 24-70mm zoom because I'm missing too many shots changing lenses with primes. 24-70mm f2.8 with 85mm f1.8 occasionally crops up as well followed by "Because the 70-200mm f2.8 is a heavy beast to carry around all day".

 

What do these figures tell you? Professional photographers have two camera bodies at least [usually with twin card slots] with a different lens on each and usually shoot full frame. Also: There is always some sort of compromise with the gear you choose: Weight - versatility - quality - cost. With primes and fast zooms comes better low light results also resulting in more blurred backgrounds - something you don't have a choice about if forced to shoot wide. Most primes don't have image stabilisation meaning you also have to shoot at higher speeds in some situations than with a stabilised lens. One thing about the "beautiful bokeh" and "creamy backgrounds" that photographers love to see and make photos "look so professional".....  I have more than once heard comments from non-photographers "The background in lots of my photos was very blurry - my cellphone does a better job!", and "We took a lot of time [and expense] choosing our location but the photographer didn't get the background in focus so we couldn't really see it properly". Of course this isn't always the case in every situation and a skilled photographer knows when to be artistic and when to concentrate on "capturing memories" of the occasion - but many beginners seem to think that every shot must be at the widest aperture possible "to look professional". Don't fall into that trap. Remember that most people think they are paying someone who knows what they are doing and will capture their memories accordingly. When the action is fast remember "f8 and be there" . It's more important to get as much detail as possible than it is to blur the background beyond recognition - when you don't have the time to be creative. No point having a creamy background with someone important to the couple with a look on their face worth capturing but: "it's all blurry!?" is what they say when they see the picture.

So most pros shoot full frame then - times change, technology advances. Some crop sensor cameras are at least as good as the first full frame cameras.

Nikon D7200 iso100 f13 1/250th sec 18-140mm lens at 18mm. Plus SB800 flash in TTL-BL mode.

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Those who insist on analysing all the latest gear and lenses every year and 'upgrade' because of the latest test charts and numbers will never be satisfied - and the gear they have now they will likely berate in their comments in a few years and tell beginners that it is 'no longer suitable'.

So the question now becomes "What is acceptable quality, for photographers and more importantly for customers?". After all you should be more concerned about making your customers happy than other photographers right? In my experience the majority of photographers are more concerned about what other photographers think of their work and if a customer has complained that the background is 'all out of focus' in their pictures [I read this discussion once as well] then they reply "Artistic license lol"[sic]. Personally I concentrate on making non-photographers happy, but that's everyone's individual choice.

Amongst the many variables involved in picking a lens we have: Distortion; Nikon cameras can correct for that as you take the picture when set to do so - the Nikon 18-140mm is designed to be very sharp resulting in more distortion but the camera corrects that as you take the picture - resulting in similar results to a prime at the same apertures. I invite readers to look at one quick comparison Nikon 18-140mm lens on D7100 - dxo which shows a final resolution of 11 megapixels of detail - more than enough for a billboard sized image. Then we look at the amazing 35mm f1.8G on the D7100  which gives ....... 12 megapixels actual resolution. Ooooh wow, a whole 9% more resolution. Besides the wider aperture and lighter weight hardly a convincing reason to shoot primes only. Of course results vary - a Nikon 24mm f1.8 will give about 15 effective megapixels on the D7100 - very nice, but still not enough to convince me to lose the versatility of a 27-140mm equivalent lens, and who really needs more than 6 megapixels that is good enough for a double page in a magazine or a billboard print? [If it looks good on your screen it's going to look just as good viewed at the correct distance printed any size.]

An f1.4 prime lets in more light which helps the autofocus system - but my 18-140mm never missed the focus on one of 1500 images last weekend. Another 'advantage' of the 18-140mm lens is that the f3.5-5.6 aperture helps prevent blurring too much important details in images which means less chance of the subject being out of focus if they were to move slightly in the paper-thin depth of field that f1.4 would give on a full frame camera. At f3.5 the 18mm end is only half a stop slower than an f2.8 lens. f5.6 is a bit slow in low light but VR helps with that and the option of adding flash - which is a useful skill to master.

Nikon 18-140mm at 140mm f6.3 1/125th, indoors with window light behind plus bounce flash with the SB800.

 

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I'm not claiming that these are award winning images but to the average person there is nothing that stands out as being wrong with them and could anyone say they weren't taken with a prime [besides the description and the fact that they obviously weren't taken at f1.4]? I also had the amazing Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 on another D7200 [14 meg dxo resolution]. I soon got frustrated with the lack of ability to zoom with it. My wife is not a photographer - when I gave her the D7200 with the 18-35mm f1.8 she was back within minutes complaining that "it can't zoom enough". 

What is really nice is to be able to go from 18mm to 140mm within seconds. I took along a can of Atmosphere Aerosol to try it out, when the sun popped through the window I took out the spray and added some 'atmosphere' to the scene.

Nikon D7200 and 18-140mm at 24mm f5 and 1/125th sec.

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And as she walked toward the window and turned sideways, a shot at 140mm. No time to change lenses, things move fast at a wedding - the 18-140mm is nice and light and versatile giving a 27-200mm equivalent of what you would get with full frame.

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Then out to the ceremony, taken seconds apart.

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After the preparation images I took off the 18-35mm that was doing nothing on the other body and put on the 70-300mm VR lens. Not a 70-200mm F2.8 but in decent light the versatility of 105-450mm equivalent on a crop sensor.

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It's good to be able to step away from the couple and let them be more natural for a while and just capture the emotions from a distance.

Nikon D7200 and 70-300mm VR lens.

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Of course when the light gets really low you need faster glass or flash. When the videographer is busy doing his thing at the reception you don't want to be blowing off the flash in the middle of his video so I did a test to see how far this combination could go. This is with the 70-300mm VR at 1/20th sec, iso 25600 and f5 in only candle light, nothing else. Not very pretty and perhaps a good time to put on the 85mm f1.4 - that is if you decide you need to take pictures in these conditions while everyone is watching a slideshow - but better to be prepared for it than not.

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And with the lights back on? This is iso 14400 f5.3 1/125th. Taken at 220mm which is 330mm equivalent in full frame terms. The image obviously has noise but how big will it be printed if at all? A good memory for them to flip through if nothing else and why not?

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My conclusion? Don't dismiss the 18-140mm as 'not good enough for weddings', for those of us who value versatility more than "ultimate quality" it's a great lens for weddings - but not the only one you should have. Have a look at the video at the bottom regarding Bokeh being overrated - very much my thoughts as well.

 

The "photo location ladder"

In New Zealand many weddings are outdoors, often in locations 5 minutes walk from a car park or further. Besides weddings there are many other photo opportunities that require walking and moving from place to place - along with carrying all your gear! 

My goal was to make a versatile kit which would actually include more gear but less carrying. I had tried a small hand-trolley but the hard rubber wheels made an awful sound on gravel that turned a lot of heads when I tried it the first time. It was very useful and the small wheels were really handy in preventing the handle having to rest on the ground in the muddy areas when we were shooting, but the hardness of the [small] wheels turned the metal box into a 'reverberating rumbling machine' when I wheeled it down the stone covered path and I think some people at the park thought they should head for cover due to the 'thunder' in the distance - until they saw where it was coming from. In some places I gave up and carried it on my back until we were past those trying to enjoy the serenity of the arboretum.

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One of the problems with the box I had already bought for the hand trolley was that once a few camera bags were packed in it there wasn't much space for things like tripods and light stands. I didn't really want to go getting something much bigger than that. My solution was to modify a folding ladder which could serve as a trolley and a fast-set-up light  stand at the same time. I chose an old ladder that had prevented my large toolbox from hitting the back of my head when my work van went into the side of a bus several years ago, but that's another story - here it is with the $20 set of pneumatic wheels with built in bearings for quieter [less thunderous] movement - I had to buy some longer threaded bar [$10] for the wheels because the bar that came with the kit was a little short for my project. Standing next to it is the el-cheapo ladder I originally bought but decided it didn't suit the task - but it is the exact length that can fit in the back of our Honda Stream which made it a useful measuring tool if nothing else.

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I had set the ladder up then added the wheels so they were touching the ground to add stability to the ladder, because I would definitely be climbing it in future for better better vantage points for photos - it's always good to increase your options for creativity during photoshoots. Once it is folded the wheels are still at a perfectly useful distance to keep the ladder off the ground.

It all looked tidy enough but once folded up there was nowhere really comfortable to hold it while moving from one location to another - especially when walking for a few minutes. These things are always worth testing before doing an important shoot [I have a wedding coming up in two weeks involving a 5 minute walk to the location of the ceremony, then 5 minutes back to the reception venue]. It's like going for a hike in the mountains and slipping into your backpack the day before thinking 'everything's perfect' only to find that after walking for 15 minutes something is really starting to dig into your hips or back - or the clips on the cheap backpack you smugly showed off to 'someone who paid a lot for theirs' are coming undone when you move too suddenly. Always test everything for a reasonable amount of time before using it 'in practice'! 

I found a spare attachment for our weights machine that was a duplicate and would never be needed - it had a nice "handle" on it so I cut it to suit. 

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A bit of drilling to make it fit and a few bolts in the right place and we now have a comfortable handle that gives more leverage to carry the weight.

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For those who care to know these photos were taken with a D5200 and the Tamron 17-50mm lens.

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The "pull down" bar that was modified has a rubber grip and is obviously designed for a reasonable amount of comfort while moving heavy weights making it a logical choice, even though it was realistically my only choice at the time. Nevertheless I think it turned out pretty well. 

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Ignore the fire extinguishers in the background, I sometimes photograph explosions in our microwave [before I blew it up with an airbag] so people generally either give me fire extinguishers for obvious reasons or microwave ovens to encourage me. Concentrate rather on the other attachments on the ladder that haven't been mentioned yet. As I said in the beginning I wanted it to be as functional as possible, so besides being a ladder that can get me elevated views of my subjects it is also sturdy enough to serve as an outdoor light stand - and only takes seconds to set up. The handle is the right size for a flash/umbrella clamp. Looking closely you will see that I also cut the end off the rubber handle so a light stand can also be inserted in it for more height.

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And of course since there are two sturdy sides to the ladder it makes perfect sense to make use of both. I had a cheap light stand (that is not very sturdy) as a spare, pulled off its legs and duct taped it to the other side - now it adds to the usefulness of the photo-location-ladder and a flash can be mounted one side with an umbrella on the other side for perfectly central flash positioning.

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I had initially dismissed the folding ladder as an option because the sides weren't flush - it has those "knee caps" sticking out in the middle which I thought would make mounting a box a nuisance. It turns out they are almost the perfect width to hold the box and prevent it slipping sideways! I will use stronger straps, maybe even put shelves in the box so it can be a 'cupboard' when the ladder is set up, but this is how it will look for now....

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"Patent pending"! :D

That was all done on Saturday. Monday is a public holiday and it's pouring with rain so I decided to have a look at the box I will be using. Keeping in mind that it made quite a noise on the small hand-trolley when I used it last I wanted to make it is as pleasant to work with as possible, for myself and others around me. I wheeled that contraption up the driveway and when I went over a bump there was quite a hollow metallic sound from the box - granted it is empty now but a lot of the noise came from the lid bouncing around. Then I remembered the name on its side.

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A very fitting name though I don't think it is supposed to refer to the sound it makes when being moved on a bumpy surface. Most of the problem is the lid twisting and bouncing about along with the latch jumping up and down, it clatters quite a bit.

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I decided that the easiest way to stop the bouncing was to add double-sided tape to the inside of the lid and the ridge of the box - it has a bit of a 'spring tension' and I ended up putting two layers on the inside of the lid closest to the latch.

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That solved half of the problem. The other half is the fact that the box was resting metal-on-metal against the ladder and with movement and bouncing around it is bound to slide a bit and occasionally lift and hit back against the metal rungs of the ladder. I first looked around for something to wrap around the rungs, then tried tying rope around them keeping in mind that this needs to look presentable at a wedding as well - of course it is for 'field work' and can be hidden behind a tree most of the time but the better it looks the less pressure there is to hide it.

Then I looked across at my weights equipment and saw this padded platform that I took off a declined sit-up bench I bought for $20 a while ago. It looks pretty snazzy on there. This is the part where you start thinking "How heavy is this all going to be and how much of this is 'necessary'?". I weighed the board and it is 2.5 kg. With the leverage of the ladder and the weight the wheels are taking that probably amounts to another 1kg in my hand. That's less than the weight of a 70-200mm f2.8 lens and I don't own one - shooting dx means all my lenses are lighter then a full frame kit so I'll allow myself this extra 'luxury' for now. It made a huge difference on the noise levels and it keeps the box straight, while before it was twisting with the shape of the [slightly distorted] ladder making the lid a bit harder to close. 

Another plus? In New Zealand there are a lot of park benches [plus rain] and many of them are often too wet or overgrown with fungus [sometimes bird poo] to ask a bride to comfortably sit there in her wedding dress - which means a few lost photo opportunities. This padded board, plus perhaps the little 6X4 tarp I keep in the box for emergencies, will make it possible to have the bride sitting anywhere from overgrown benches to slightly muddy fields.

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After testing out various positions to have it without sliding out I decided to add a little right angle at the base of the ladder. Initially I was wary about having the box too close to the wheels - there will be more bouncing movement at the wheels and less nearer the handle. The padded board is now providing some suspension, along with the fact that my gear will also be in padded bags in the box, which allows me to feel ok about having the box and board as close to the wheels as possible.

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I went out and bought some brand new bungy cords after taking this picture - so it will look prettier than this :) I will also have 4 bungy cords in the box in case they are needed for an emergency shelter with the tarpaulin - you never know in New Zealand when the weather might change suddenly and it is always comforting to have a back-up plan if things get nasty.

So now you will probably believe me when I say my backpack often ends up weighing 25 kg when I go hiking in the bush - but I'm prepared for anything and the extra stuff has come in useful on several occasions. As long as it all fits in the box and I can move around comfortably I'm happy. Speaking of hiking gear and backpacks the extra backpack cover I have also fits perfectly over the box which will aid in camouflage and give some peace of mind if the weather starts to look 'iffy'.

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Of course very few of the projects I start stay as they are, there's always room for improvement and fine tuning especially after their first real field test but I think I've come pretty close this time to a functional product that may only need a little tweaking.

Hmmmm, after posting this link to facebook this appeared on my feed.....

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Exposure

Exposure

When I got my first decent digital camera I would take a picture, look at the resulting image on the screen and think to myself ‘Oh, so that’s how it is supposed to look then?!’ fully believing that such an expensive camera must obviously know exactly what it is doing and would therefore give me a perfect exposure. How wrong I was, even in its most advanced modes the cameras’ metering system is only the result of a computer program, written by an imperfect human being trying to work out what the camera will be pointed at and what the main subject will be, based on many variables that are impossible to predict in absolutely every situation. Is the subject the bright mountains in the distance or the person standing in the shade of the tree? Which is more important in the final exposure? Is the person under the tree important to the photographer or just another tourist getting in the way? For that matter the photographer may have the camera on a tripod and want an image exposed perfectly for the background first and then for the subject under the tree to combine them later in editing software. Obviously some of these variables cannot be calculated by the limited electronics of a camera, or even for that matter by another human standing next to the photographer, unless he can read minds. This is one of the reasons why the hardest part of photography for most beginners is getting the correct exposure – or even understanding what is ‘correct’ exposure. 

Here is an image and its associated histogram just to show a few basics.

 

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This is what the histogram looks like. A spike on the left representing black with no detail, a spike on the right representing white with no detail, and then everything else goes in between them with darks on the left, lights on the right and mid tones in the centre. 

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Here are some more images, along with some more histogram basics, that should help to explain why it is so difficult for manufacturers to write a program to give correct exposure in all situations. Have a look at this image and the resulting histogram. On the left of the histogram we have the dark part of the image and on the right we have the light part of the image, shown as two separate ‘hills’. So what is this picture of? 

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It’s actually a sheet of white paper so everything is white to a person looking at it. But half of the paper is in sunlight and the other half is in shade. This shows that there are many situations where the camera has to make compromises while trying to achieve correct exposure. Don’t think that the histogram gets the tones the right way around according to how the picture looks on the screen, it always shows darks on the left and lights on the right

So what if we only take a picture of the area of the paper that is in the sunlight, or just in the shade? What will the exposure and histogram look like? Like this, for BOTH!

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This could be either the sunlight or the shade image, they both came out the same.

When it’s a neutral color the camera’s meter aims for ‘average gray’, somewhere near the middle. The camera does not know the difference between gray in normal light, white in shade or black in sunlight! How could it? Something to think about when trying to work out why your camera does what it does. 

So how do we get ‘correct’ exposure in an image when we have such a variety of lighting to deal with? In a later chapter ‘exposure compensation’ will be discussed which deals with correcting the exposure when the camera gets it wrong, which is actually quite often! 

What happens when we introduce a third variable to the scene, besides the shadow and sunlit areas of the paper? Let’s introduce a black lens cap in the shaded area. Compare the histogram of this image with that of the first image. Do you notice how the left peak has dropped a little, but we now have an extra spike to the very left of that? Why has this happened? Well the lens cap is now using up some of the space in the shadow area, so that original left peak has less of that particular tone to represent, but since the lens cap is even darker than the shaded paper it creates another hill on the very left, which represents black with very little detail.

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Next we add something lighter than the shadow area but not as light as the sunlit part of the paper. Can you predict where the histogram will show this? Somewhere between the left and right peak perhaps? Definitely! It now shows as a rather spread out mound between the two, because it is a more average tone. 

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Try to predict what the histogram will look like if we introduce our black lens cap to the shadow area again. Where will we see it represented on the above histogram? Obviously if it is darker than the white paper in shade it must fall to the left of the left hand peak once again. And here we have a more complete histogram! On the very left we have the spike of the black object in shade, after that we have a nice sharp hill representing the white paper in shade, then we have a shallow hill with a little peak on it representing the various tones of the leaf, and finally we have the steep hill on the right representing the white area in sunlight. Be aware that there will be some overlapping of tones between the different subjects on almost any histogram so they are not always this clear-cut to interpret. 

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A large hurdle to overcome is understanding ‘how the brain sees’ compared to how the camera sees, because often a lot of confusion is created by taking a picture and seeing that it looks nothing like how you expected it to look. Take the picture of the white paper in sunlight and shade for an example, both sides looked white to me when I looked at it on the table. It’s all about something called ‘dynamic range’. This is basically the limit of what you can see from the darkest part to the lightest part of an image.

A camera’s dynamic range is very limited compared to how our brain ‘sees’. The example that best illustrates this is when you look at a bright window and see something like this and stare at it for a while 

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It all looks pretty ‘normal’ to you until you look away and blink and you see this pattern when your eyes are closed……… 

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Why does this happen? Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is that your brain/eye combination ‘fixes’ the situation by darkening the bright areas so that the exposure looks right for the inside and outside at the same time (realistically it is caused by a chemical (rhodopsin) in the retina of your eye being depleted by the bright light), and when you turn away and blink it takes a while for it to ‘reset’ the pattern it created in the process which is why you see that shape. It involves a lot of hard work for your brain because the scene has a high dynamic range, from very dark all the way to very bright. Let’s have a look at how the camera sees this scene. When I take a photo of it I get this …..

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The camera’s sensor doesn’t have enough dynamic range to capture the dark interior of the house and the bright exterior all in one image. The window has become totally white with no detail and is therefore beyond the limits of the sensor’s dynamic range. Your brain-eye combination has a very high dynamic range, it can see the bright exterior and dark interior all in one scene. 

Now here is another image of the same scene with the exposure set correctly for the outside light.

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Now the outside detail can be seen but the inside has become totally black with no detail. Once again capturing detail inside and outside at the same time is beyond the dynamic range of the sensor – you have to choose what you want to have correctly exposed because what you can capture, all in one exposure, is limited by the dynamic range of the sensor. 

Try this: Set your camera to spot metering and find a scene like this – bright window and dark room. Turn off auto ISO, use ‘A’ mode or ‘Aperture priority’ and take a photo with the window in the centre of the frame – spot metering is only seeing the light outside. Now take another picture with the window to the side and the centre focus point of your camera on the wall inside. You will see a vast difference in the exposure – in one image the light outside the window will look right while the wall inside is close to being black, and in the other image the wall will look right while the window is white.

Now when we compare these images how much difference is there between the shutter speeds chosen by the camera? Well compare 1/5th sec to 1/250th sec. 250 divided by 5 = 50. The light outside is 50 times brighter than inside! Of course depending on conditions where you are there will be variations in this experiment so don’t think there is something wrong if you don’t see a difference of 50 X .

The initial image in this chapter is the result of combining the two images in Photoshop – it’s not nice to have to resort to editing images to get what you want but sometimes it is unavoidable. This combining of the two images results in a rather crude ‘High Dynamic Range’ or ‘HDR’ image. 

Another solution would be to use flash to light up the inside of the house while exposing correctly for the outside light. 

So what about an image where the light is even enough not to have to do this and what does the camera’s metering system aim to achieve to obtain ‘correct’ exposure?

 

Try this: put your camera in ‘P’ mode. Use centre weighted or matrix/pattern metering mode and take a picture of something in an even lighting arrangement – perhaps a dull color or simply a patch of grass or blue sky with nothing else in the image. Now check your histogram.

Side note: If anyone asks why you are using Program mode tell them ‘P’ stands for ‘Professional’ but if you reach the stage where you don’t need to use it then you tell them ‘P’ stands for ‘Panic’ because it tries to do everything for you besides turn on the flash. (That’s why it’s best to stay away from the fully automatic modes because you never know when it will pop the flash up when you don’t want it to.) 

With an even patch of dark blue sky the histogram should look something like this: Very low contrast, because there is very little difference in the tones of the scene. 

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The camera’s metering system is designed to try and produce an average gray in each scene whenever possible. When reading a histogram always bear in mind the context of the image. On the very left is ‘black with no detail’ and on the very right is ‘white with no detail’. ‘Average Gray’ does not necessarily mean the color gray but rather an average tone in any color. 

Using the same settings I took a picture of the (dry) grass in front of me. Now there’s a difference! It may not look like it but there’s a lot going on in this image all the way from black with no detail to white with no detail (The two spikes at either end) and everything in between. That’s why you have to look at the context of the image and resulting histogram. The meter may aim for an average reading and this has a hump in the middle in the same place as the image of the sky and both exposures are correct, but this one has a lot more contrast, there is information at both ends of the histogram, that’s what contrast is all about! 

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Now we move lower in the sky where there is some haze on the horizon and a greater contrast in colors, not as much as with the grass but still a lot more than previously. I used the same exposure settings as the previous images. We have some of the neutral tone blue sky near the top of the image, white clouds at the bottom which account for the high spike on the right of the histogram, and the tip of a tree and some darker looking cloud which accounts for the flat line at the very left of the histogram. 

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Now we add some more variables to the scene by once again using the same exposure so we know the different parts of that histogram will stay in the same place. Because I have gone to wide angle the original white spike is lower because the white clouds are a smaller part of the final image. Look at the picture for a while and try to work out what that spike is at the very right of the histogram. 

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Remember ‘white with no detail’? Look at the lower left of the image and the bright reflections off the white paint of the closest house. This is the tricky part of reading histograms, what do you ignore? In this case the histogram is really good for the rest of the image and the bright part of that house is not all that important to the image so the exposure is good enough for that scene. If you were to back off the exposure to show some detail in that white area the rest of the image would be under-exposed. If you print it out as it is there won’t be any detail in the white part of that house but if it’s for your own personal use and the white part of that house isn’t important to you then don’t worry about it, the rest of the image is well exposed. Either way, it would be rejected by an image library, due to that spike, but there isn’t much other option besides going back when the lighting is better or taking two different exposures and blending them later in Photoshop. Our original example shows this concept quite well.

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Look at the spike on the right, that’s the blown out highlights of the bright window or ‘white with no detail’. The hump in the middle is formed mainly from the lighter part of the brown wood of the walls and the white appliances plus the white ceiling. The left part of the histogram is the darker part of the walls and other shadows.


What about the picture where the window is correctly exposed? Let’s have a look.

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As we can see there is a large spike of ‘black with no detail’ on the left, a very small amount of ‘correct’ exposure across the middle of the frame, a small hump of ‘white with detail’ of the clouds and a small spike of ‘white with no detail’ on the right.

So which image is correctly exposed? It depends what you wanted to show and what is important in the image. If you only wanted to show what it looks like inside then the first image is ok. If you wanted to show someone how nice the weather was outside then the second image is fine. If you are taking pictures for a real estate agent to show how nice the house is inside and outside then you had better either combine the images or add flash inside with the outside correctly exposed.


And when the images are combined we have a more even histogram – not perfect by any means due to the spikes at either end but sufficient to illustrate what we are aiming for and give an idea of what the various areas of the histogram mean

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This also helps to explain why some scenes are more relaxing to look at than others. It depends how much work your brain/eye combination has to do to make a scene look right, and when the lighting is nice and even it doesn’t have to work very hard so the scene is more relaxing to look at. Like this shot of the Taranaki coast in New Zealand when the setting sun just dipped under the clouds on the horizon. The lighting is so even that contrast had to be added later, but basically the lighting of the scene was well within the limits of the sensor’s dynamic range to capture detail in everything quite easily. This makes the resulting scene easy to look at in person and in the photos, because it involves very little adjustments of your brain/eye combination to be seen easily.  

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An example of a potentially good looking scene that never had the right light and is harder to look at is this shot of a mountain at the beginning of New Zealand’s best one day walk, the Tongariro crossing. It takes a bit of work for your brain to even out the lighting in this image and even more so when you are there in real life trying to adjust your eyes for the bright sky and dark shadows. 

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Once you come to grips with the fact that the camera doesn’t capture exactly what you see due to its limitations, and learn to work around those limitations, you will be closer to capturing the images you have envisioned in your mind before pressing the shutter release. 

Preface to my ebook.

01 Preface to "Photography Masterclass"

Preface

I once read a book on how to develop a perfect memory, but I forgot what it said? For that main reason when I learn something I need to understand it fully so it sticks in my mind or I soon forget what I read. There are many other books on photography out there, some good, some not so good. Many of them skim over the basics and move on to showing off images the author has taken along with brief descriptions of how they were achieved and sometimes also deep discussions on how they would look if different settings were used. When the reader ventures out and tries to create similar images they are often disappointed and wonder what they did wrong since their images are not coming out as described in the book they just read and in their frustration they resort to buying more books and magazines and spend many hours asking questions on the photography forums, of which there are many, but still don’t   make meaningful progress. 

My thoughts are that a book on taking pictures can obviously be better explained and understood using an assortment of descriptive pictures, in steps, that lead the reader’s thoughts in the required direction so as to make the information stick in their minds. That may sound like a really basic concept but you’d be surprised how long it takes some people teaching the subject to grasp it, if ever – use pictures to explain how to take pictures. I will add that the forums are a good place to learn if you ask the right questions. This takes years for many and sometimes some never really get a full understanding of what they are trying to learn if they miss out on a really good discussion somewhere and the thread eventually gets lost in cyber-space. This book is an attempt at sharing what I have learned over the years, much of it on the forums, as well as what I have discovered through my own tests and experiments. 

First the basics will be covered, what is correct exposure? How does what the camera captures differ from ‘how our brain sees’?  How do you read histograms and use exposure compensation to correct them? What is ‘exposing to the right’ and how does it affect ‘noise’ in an image? What is the ‘Sunny 16’ rule and what practical application does it have for us today? How does flash add to the image and what tests can be done to understand this? 

Besides these basics we will also learn some ‘photography wisdom’ – tips for beginners, how to deal with ‘Photographing weddings for friends’ and perhaps what many beginners hope to have as a goal ‘Making money from photography’. I won’t mention the part about photographing explosive events because that might freak some people out. 

 

My sincere hope is that many beginners will save themselves countless hours of aimlessly shooting hundreds of images without knowing what they are supposed to be trying to achieve, or how to achieve it if they do, by giving them a deeper understanding of the basics, along with some tests they can do for themselves to further understand the subject. Hopefully this will make the whole experience much more productive and fulfilling, and more like a hobby than a frustrating battle with understanding technology. 

Nikon TTL-BL

Several yours ago I posted a blog on the subject of Nikon's "new" TTL-BL flash. I had tried to convince someone who posted a blog of how it works [based on the fact that he helped design the chip before he retired] because it didn't seem to behave like the description in the manual. He didn't want to hear what I was saying - human nature, resistance to change etc. so I did a series of tests that proved it no longer only works for back-lit situations, but rather is superior to TTL flash. After all, since it has access to lens distance info and the meter reading it should be. The fact was that during the introduction of the D200 Nikon had decided to use the technology more and programmed the camera system to lie to TTL-BL when the background was totally underexposed, telling it that the background was perfectly exposed, so it would also try to perfectly expose the subject. Previously the program had simply tried to make a subject as well lit as the background on a bright day. This meant that if the background was underexposed then the program would make the subject look the same - underexposed.

A few years later I did the same tests again to prove something to someone and found that the results differed slightly - but in exactly the same way that matrix metering behaviour had changed over the year - this lead to the conclusion that TTL-BL flash is linked to the matrix metering program of your camera.

Basically TTL-BL takes ambient exposure into account as per this graph.

 

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Here are the images from the TTL-BL vs matrix metering tests. TTL-BL in my D90, D40 and D5100 all behaved sightly differently with changes to the outer focus point, in exactly the same way that matrix metering changed between the cameras.

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I recently ready a very true comment on a blog discussing equipment something along the lines of "Try to buy a camera body and flash from the same time period, they will work better together."

Atmosphere Aerosol

I bought some atmosphere aerosol a while ago and did some video tests with it.

 

The thing with this spray is that it is nothing like a smoke bomb which creates billowing smoke that is obvious from the front. It works best when back-lit. I did a shoot for a bodybuilder on the weekend and here's a 'normal' picture with bounce flash.

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And here is another shot with the flash behind the subject and some atmosphere aerosol spray in the air. Very different results.

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So if you're looking for a smoke-bomb effect you will be disappointed but if you use it the way it is meant to be used it can make for some very interesting photos.

Tolerate Diversity

I run a group for wedding photographers and second shooters on Facebook. The members come from a wide range of backgrounds including customers who are wealthy and those of little means. I've made this post a 'sticky' a the top of the page so that hopefully people are more respectful of others from different backgrounds.

Tolerate Diversity: There are people living on less than a dollar a day and people who earn what most of us earn in a year every day. There are people who can't afford a wedding let alone a photographer and people who spend what some of us earn in a lifetime on their wedding. Then there are "photographers" who just bought " a camera that takes really nice pictures" and would be a liability as a second shooter, and photographers who charge $15 000 just to shoot a wedding [prints are extra] who most of us couldn't afford to pay to second shoot for us.
Then there is everyone in between.
So don't knock someone who wants a wedding shot for $500 or an unpaid second shooter. If it's not for you then move along, we can't all afford the best and people will get what they pay for [Actually sometimes they will get more than what some people would charge them to do because there are a lot of cowboys in this business who think they are good enough to charge but don't have a clue what they are doing].
We all have to start somewhere and when I shoot a wedding I allow a new second shooter to have their first go at wedding photography [I don't even charge them for the risk I am taking] and they get profile pictures and I usually get a few pictures to add to what I supply to the couple. I've had a few bad experiences, someone who had very shallow depth of field in most of the group photos with the bride blurred because they "didn't want to lose image quality by going over iso 200 on a Canon 7D". I had another second shooter who "had lost interest in photography" in the 3 months since asking to second shoot a wedding with me, I had to ask her to take her camera out and start shooting.
So the next time someone advertises an opportunity for a second shooter to work for free [cheaper than making them pay to learn a valuable trade] don't get all excited about the fact that you are a professional photographer who charges $4000 per wedding and would never 'work for exposure' - use your brains, the post isn't aimed at you - get off your high horse and move along.

"Shot" glass

Today I decided to try shooting some little plastic "shot" glasses. I added some food colouring to enhance the splashes.

Breaking glass balls.

I wanted to see if the cheap "glass" balls from aliexpress would give a decent 'shatter' when hit with a hammer. I set up the sound activated flash trigger in the 'batcave' under the house

In the first image I saw too much spread in the burst because the mic was about 1m away from the noise.

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I moved the mic much closer and got this.

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Then I tried to get a bounce when it smashed. In some of my breaking-light-bulb photos I found that a short sharp smack with the hammer allowing it to bounce back, got the bulb to lift when it smashed. In this case it simply didn't break.

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One more try breaking it then I've had enough - they don't break nicely - obviously cheap junk :)

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Burning vacuum cleaner

Today was a public holiday. In the morning I took out some methylated spirits and set some flowers on fire.

And in the afternoon I took an old vacuum cleaner that was getting noisy and put a potassium nitrate and sugar mix into it and set it alight. I never thought it would explode, just expected it to burn out.

And the photos - the last one looks like it has its tongue hanging out :)

A special wedding shoot.

I saw a request on a local site called Neighbourly which is like Facebook but only amongst people in your immediate neighbourhood. Linda made this post.

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I couldn't resist offering to photograph this special occasion for free, just for the privilege of being there. The celebrant Gareth Duncan was initially volunteered by his wife but was glad that she was so quick to respond and was happy to do it at no charge. A reporter turned up as well and asked for some images as soon as possible for their story on stuff.co.nz  and I sent a few small size samples but when they made their choices I forgot to edit those as well before sending them off - besides the reduced quality of the website images the lighting was not the best. Because the weather has been so hot I discussed options with the celebrant, Gareth, and we chose to move the whole party under a large tree which was actually quite dark, especially compared to the bright sunlight at the time.

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I had been pleased with the overcast weather of the morning thinking the shoot was going to be easy, only for the sun to come out in full force during the ceremony and then, once it was all over, it clouded over again with nice diffused light. That's how it goes with wedding photography, you can't choose your lighting during an outdoor ceremony which is probably why I normally prefer high speed photography. The ceremony was held at Hamilton lake in New Zealand. Originally Linda wanted to have it on the other side of the lake near a nice half-moon shaped brick bench/structure but because it was a narrow area close to the road there wasn't much space for any extra people who may turn up, so the celebrant suggested we move to the other side where there was a nice open area that could take a lot more people. 

 

We were right under this tree....

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Flash had to be kept to a minimum along with close-ups. We had been asked to be very discreet as "Micky can get upset quite quickly" so we had the 18-200mm on Lisa's D7000 and though I had the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 on my D7200 it was mostly too wide for the situation so I resorted to the 18-140mm lens on my other D7200. No point having ultimate sharpness and quality with a wide prime in that situation while upsetting the couple. Though I know everyone says "primes give better quality" etc. but at this particular wedding where we were asked to keep our distance the zoom lenses allowed us to be discreet while also allowing the occasional wide shot without having to change lenses. I was quite happy with the results from the 18-140mm lens.

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What really impressed Linda was the fact that although Michael has a really bad memory the morning after asking her to marry him he asked if they were still going to go ahead with it, and on the morning of the wedding when we met at the car she told me that when they woke up that morning Michael said [add Scottish accent] "Today's the day!".

Normally I wouldn't dream of photographing a wedding without meeting with the couple first but Linda was concerned about making Michael feel too pressured so in line with being especially 'discreet' for a particularly sensitive situation that was all 'last minute' I had to settle for simply meeting on the day as they walked to the spot. Everything went just perfect!

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The party consisted of close family and friends but there was as much joy there, if not more so, than any other wedding I have been to.

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The ceremony went very well and there was a lot of added emotion to the occasion. From where I was standing I could see Linda mouthing the words "I love you" to Michael, several times as she stared intently into his eyes. The celebrant read Michaels vows to help him out, but to think that even in that state of not being able to speak the vows himself, he had remembered it was their [second] wedding day when he woke up that morning.

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A close friend helped Michael put the ring on Linda's finger. The tissue had helped remove some of the "liquid emotion" that was starting to trickle down Linda's face as she went through with the ceremony purely to make her husband happy.

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Just like newly-weds. [More pictures on my gallery]

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Having lively subjects always makes you want to keep taking pictures. Linda's face lit up with one emotion/expression after another, a dream to photograph. Normally when a couple are standing in the same place for a while you get 4 or 5 images then think "Not much point repeating these images" but in this case every few seconds called for a 'new' photo.

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When some of Michaels favourite Scottish music started played he was thrilled and lit up - also encouraging the guests to join in! I had left my little Nikon J1 on a tripod to record the event as a bonus but didn't have much time to monitor it so not the best quality but better than nothing I suppose.

I had taken a few pictures of their feet as a reminder - because once that music was playing quietly in the background Mick's feet wouldn't keep still - he wanted to dance! His one foot kept lifting off the ground in time with the music.

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At one stage Linda and Mick turned around and she whispered to him "That's our photographer" and he gave me the thumbs up. I actually felt like that was more than enough payment for my time and efforts, it felt so good to be appreciated by this man. And to think, it didn't cost me anything to enjoy this event!

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For video all I did was leave my little Nikon J1 on a tripod - not the most professional results but if anyone wants to see the whole 43 minutes it's here. 

There was this one moment just before we left where I was the only one standing out in the open and Linda was engaged in a discussion and Michael caught me out of the corner of his eye, as his expression changed and he slowly turned to face me directly I realised it was time to slip my camera behind my back and walk in the opposite direction. This was his day - I wanted nothing to spoil it. I must say I did find it rather amusing afterward and it reinforced in me why Linda had specifically requested that we remain discreet with the cameras during the occasion. Well that kind of rounds off my story for the day - I imagine everyone will soon be reading about Linda's side of it all the women's magazines that will be sharing her story soon :)

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All the best Linda and Michael - thanks for letting me be a part of your very special day!

 

6 Months caring for an injured praying mantis - The Mantis story!

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Softbox comparison

A cheap softbox showing the difference between no flash, the softbox behind the subject and the softbox above the subject.

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