A Bit of a Review: Some Photos from the Last Few Months

Hey there! I hope you get some value from this. I’m not great at sharing often, so I’m going to engage in more experimentation from now on. This post is a collection of photographs from my last few months. Just the ones I thought worth mentioning. If you want more details about how they were taken, please ask! I’ll try to detail more about the photographs in their own article.

This is my aunt’s pooch Chupie, or Chup-Chup. His name is some word in Polish for “messy hair” or something or other, I couldn’t find the word. We call him Chup. He’s a little guy, but he loves the deep snow. And barking at his own pictures on the television.

The first photograph was taken inside from across the room. The Sigma APO DG 70-300 is a fun lens, but it is very slow. At a price point around $300, it is great to learn on, but it is not an indoor, low light lens. It is already very slow, with a maximum aperture of f/4 (that it is rarely, if ever, capable of using, so let’s call it a 5.6) but I believe they added a polarizing lens for internal glass, further reducing its ability in low light. It has taught me a lot about using telephoto lenses over the two or more years I’ve owned it, but I’m ready for an upgrade.
My conversations with concert photographers always lead to the “embrace the grain” comment, but I’d rather not use 6400 ISO. Ever.

My preference.

I should mention that all photographs are taken with crop-sensor cameras. Most likely the Canon SL1, but possibly the Canon XT. The focal length information is not accounting for the multiplication of the crop factor.

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f/5.6, 1/250 sec, ISO6400, Sigma 70-300 APO DG at 250mm, processed for contrast and noise

The second photograph is less of a challenge. Outdoors in high sun, the Sigma is in its best conditions. Lots of light to work with, though a bit hazy, so I had to stick it out at 400 ISO. I photographed Chup last year gallivanting through the snow, so I knew I needed to add some depth of field. f/11 may have been overkill, I could have probably made due with f/8 (to my knowledge, often the sharpest apertures for any given lens model) but with the added effect of the telephoto, and the challenge of the cold, I didn’t want to risk it. Even this photo needed some sharpening.

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f/11, 1/500 sec, ISO400, Sigma 70-300 APO DG at 300mm, cropped, processed for contrast and sharpness

On a separate occasion, Football got Christmas photos. She is my most available and most agreeable subject (so long as she thinks she’s getting fed after) so she appears in test photographs often. This was a set I put together for some kid photos.

There are two strobes with softboxes, I believe on either side of the subject at roughly 45°. The intent was to get a fairly shadowless subject. The shutter speed is so long so that the lights on the tree stand out and provide some illumination of their own.

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f/5.6, 1/4 sec, ISO100, Canon EF-S 18-55mm at 50mm, processed for… plenty.

This is just a fun snapshot. She likes to pose like an ornament by the door. Only sometimes trying to sneak out. Mostly because there is nothing else there, and therefore it must be for a cat. It’s also above a heating vent.

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Moving on to January, Football helped me test out a new backdrop system. I’m moving more towards professional headshots, and I wanted something very compact, simple and quick to set up. My previous backdrop system involved two 8′ folding stands and a crossbar, and (ideally) a 20lb sandbag for each stand. Then the backdrop, which was either cloth and held up by clamps, or seamless paper. The cloth is wrinkly and impossible to manage while transporting, and the paper is bulky and annoying. My new collapsible system only has one stand, a clip, and the backdrop. It’s smart to add the sandbag.

Being as this is a studio-style photograph with speedlights, I have greater control of image quality. One light hits the backdrop and makes it seamless white (except for the vignetting towards the bottom, as I was using a superfluous lighting modifier) and my fancy-new, fandangled ETTL speedlight shoots through a white umbrella and hits the subject. With an aperture of f/8 I have plenty of sharpness from the front to the back of the stool. I probably could have done with f/5.6, allowing for less power from the flashes and therefore more shots, had I needed them.

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f/8, 1/200sec, ISO100, Canon EF-S 18-55mm at 30mm, cropped and processed for contrast and sharpness

Did I mention I got a fancy-new, fandangled flash? I’ve been using a Yongnuo YN-560 II for a few years now, and it’s been great, but it has no automatic features. This means that I miss a lot of shots, especially with finicky subjects (like birds.) Sometimes, they see a flash and they fly off, leaving you no option to calibrate until they land in the same spot again. If they land in the same spot again. I recently upgraded to the YN-685, which has a very reliable and fast ETTL system, and I am so happy. I do a lot less thinking and a lot more shooting now.

I still can’t get close to these little black birds, though I haven’t been filling the feeder since the summer. I got a bit annoyed with the squirrels, but I’ve moved the feeder to the front of the house near the porch where they can’t get to it. The birds perch in this tree and stare me down as they decide whether the seed is worth the risk. One of the houses in the back has nice, warm coloured bricks, so new the location isn’t horrible.

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f/8, 1/200sec, 400ISO, Sigma APO DG 70-300mm at 300mm, Yongnuo YN685 External flash on ETTL, cropped and processed

The next is the sharpest image I was able to capture. It’s actually pretty impressive, as I was able to crop in considerably. In this and the next I set my camera to record the ambient light one stop darker than it normally would using exposure compensation. To do this easily in changing light conditions as I focused on different locations, I needed an automatic mode. I used aperture priority, set my aperture to f/8 to maintain reasonable depth of field with a telephoto, the camera decided on the correct shutter speed for a one stop under-exposure, and I used auto-ISO to give it more play.

This is an interesting concept, because it helps cement the difference between exposure compensation and flash exposure compensation. Either one you can adjust on the camera, if you have a flash that handles advanced functions. My decision was to let the background be darker than my subject, so I adjusted the exposure compensation. I need not touch the flash exposure compensation, because the flash is still evaluating the scene separately and deciding, based on the camera settings, how best to light the subject for a “correct” exposure. Essentially, my background was exposed at -1 stop, and my subject at 0 stop for this, and the next image.

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f/8, 1/125sec, 400ISO, Exposure Compensation to -1, Sigma APO DG 70-300mm at 300mm, Yongnuo YN685 External flash on ETTL, cropped and processed

He was moving too fast for the shutter speed used, but the flash helped me catch enough detail that I am still happy with the photograph. I need to experiment more with the flash’s high-speed synchronization feature. So far I haven’t been able to get a satisfying result, but it would help with the birds.

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f/8, 1/125sec, 400ISO, Exposure Compensation to -1, Sigma APO DG 70-300mm at 300mm, Yongnuo YN685 External flash on ETTL, cropped and processed

I’m sleepy, so that’s the end for now. I hope you enjoyed the photographs!

 

I should let you know: the links to products in my articles are affiliate links. You are not charged extra for using them, and I would really appreciate it if you bought products through them, as I’ll get a little kick-back for it. Thank you!

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Destination: Dundas, Ont. Day-Trip Hiking

“The search for something to do.”

More photos coming eventually! I’ll let you know from my Facebook page when I add more!

The above panorama is from the highest view over Dundas, Hamilton, Ont. taken on December 27, 2015 at a sight called Dundas Peak. It’s a short walk through a forest path off of Harvest Road, Passing Websters and Tews Falls along the way. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to pass easily between Websters and Tews falls as a fence has been built between them.

Take Short off of Harvest all the way through to the dead end parking lot, and Websters falls is footsteps away. To access Tews, park in the lot off of Harvest. The lots are monitored via by-law officers, and parking is roughly $10 a day, payable by cash or credit. According to conservationhamilton.ca, a shuttle is available from alternate parking at the Christie Lake Conservation Area on holiday weekends.

Tews is an Amazon-looking falls along Spencer Creek. It’s about ten metres shorter than Niagara Falls and spills into a heavily forested gorge. The flat rock face doesn’t stretch much past the falls itself, but the escarpment ridge allows hikers to walk along either side for fantastic views.

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Canon Rebel SL1 | Canon EFS 18mm – 55mm | f/22 | 1.3sec | ISO 100 | December 27, 2015
Continue up the stairs past Tews falls and hike along the wooded path to find the cliff that overlooks Dundas. The path is somewhat maintained, but roots and debris from trees are often obstacles. For those with pains, balance or age holding them back, a set of hiking poles will make the trip safer, easier and more enjoyable. It is not an even path, there are many inclines.

The park is especially scenic in autumn, when transitions in leaf colour cascade through the gorge below.

Standing atop the rock face I often stop for a hot drink from a thermos and stare out at the city in the distance, or down at the skinny creek trickling away from the falls a few kilometers in the distance. Families stop in quickly, couples sit on the rocks and embrace in the seclusion, adolescents crush beers and get loud (hopefully they clean up after themselves,) but for the most part this is a quiet, and if you are lucky, private spot to reflect.

Speedlight Review (Yongnuo YN-560 II)

The search for a powerful, trustworthy speedlight that doesn’t cost $400 could leave someone penniless and frustrated. This flash is a good’n.

Edit:  January 7th, 2018. — The flash still works!  I have just upgraded to the YN-685,  a more recent model with ETTL and other advanced functions. The 560 II is still in my bag, but I use it as a background light for business headshots.  Considering the flash cost me around $100 and it lasted around 3 years (so far) to justify the purchase it only has to make me $33 a year.

———–

I bought this flash about a year before posting this article to replace an ancient Vivitar. I used the Vivitar in combination with the Yongnuo, but only that way.

Portable flash has come a long way since I had previously used it as a youngster with my mother’s Minolta Maxxum to photograph graffiti under bridges. When I got into the market for the devices, I was astounded at the prices. Canon marks flashes with real on-camera capabilities above $300. As a student, that was way out of my price range, and I was unwilling to gamble on 3rd party companies.

My mind was changed about a year before this article’s original posting in a photography for journalism course when my instructor told me that Yongnuo was a trustworthy brand. I was surprised to hear him advocate El-Cheapo when he was using $3000+ cameras, Canon speedlights and Pocket Wizards. He didn’t seem the type to pinch pennies on gear…

The YN-560 II is (almost) everything someone could want in a camera flash.

Almost, as it only has a centre pin contact and, therefore, cannot make use of the advanced flash settings. There is also no way to expand its function to include ETTL, high speed sync or rear curtain sync.

It’s fairly powerful, with a guide number of 190′ at ISO 100 at 105mm zoom (it can light a subject almost 200 feet away when the camera is set to ISO 100 and the flash at maximum zoom).

Without knowing it, I tested this once. Photographing a subject across a pond that was roughly 100 feet wide, my idea was half-baked, but the flash did it’s job!

It also has all the movement to compete with name-brand flashes. It rotates and tilts so the photographer can use it on-camera and bounce the flash to avoid that direct lit, dimensionless, flat look. Also, red-eye is mostly eliminated because of the flash head’s distance from the film plane.

The YN-560 II has a recycle rate on its most powerful setting around 2.5 – 4 seconds, meaning it takes under four seconds for it to recharge and flash again. In continual flash mode, or the camera in drive mode, it fires at 1/4 power a maximum 3 times, and 1/8th a maximum of 7.

1/8th power with this flash can be plenty for 3/4 or taller portrait photography flashed through an umbrella at ISO 100 and apertures ranging up to f/8.

The build seems frail, though this flash has been dropped from a 6′ light stand up to… several… times… It still functions perfectly. As far as weather resistance, the battery compartment is most likely to be vulnerable, or perhaps where the swivel connects the flash head to the body. It’s not likely that it would last long in adverse conditions, but this one has survived a small share of condensation from temperature differences and misty/snowy days.

I’m probably really lucky about the tumbles it took…

Used with Energizer 1.2v 2300 mAh NiMh batteries, the flash charges quickly. In power modes under 1/1 it functions for a long period before the strain on the batteries is noticeable, 50+ shots at 1/4.

No longer carried by companies like B and H due to updates in the product line, the flash is still available from sites like Amazon. An updated model may be adviseable since they’re in the same price range.

Yongnuo Speedlights on Amazon

Price Range:

  • $89 – $110

Features:

  • 90° degree tilt
  • 270° degree rotation
  • 24 – 105 zoom light focusing (24, 28, 35, 50, 70, 80, 105)
  • 1/1 – 1/128 power settings with 1/3 incremental stops between divisions
  • Notification sound for full charge/ ready to fire
  • Two slave modes for proper pairing with other flash and camera shutter
  • multi flash mode
  • Remote trigger cable and DC in covered by rubber flap
  • 109′ GN at 105mm, ISO 100

Power

  • Four AA batteries
  • Specified DC adapter

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You don’t pay anything extra. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, and have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Understanding the Handheld Limitations, A Course in Photography, Section 2, Chapter… Undecided

Certain settings are impossible to use with certain lenses. It’s best to understand a few basic principles before setting out without a tripod.

There are many times when a tripod or extra gear is simply not practical. Without the extras, a photographer needs to know what their camera can produce in its bare-bones state.

Combine the photographic triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), controlled by the camera, and a lens of given focal length and the limitations are easy to see.

Most beginning photographers will have a “stock lens,” whatever the camera was sold with. This lens is often considered “slow.” The definition of a slow or fast lens refers to its aperture setting. Minimum apertures are often listed on the lens on the plastic surrounding the glass. Stock lenses are often in the range of f/3.5 – f/5.6.

A “slow” lens is not a bad lens, many stock lenses have impressive capabilities. You can also spend many hundreds of dollars on a slow lens.

The “f/#” is an equation for how “wide-open” the lens is. “f” being the diameter of the lens and the number being a division created by the iris blades. ISO is how fast a camera can record an image. Shutter Speed is how long the camera has to record the image.

More on aperture, ISO and shutter speed later, if you are having trouble adjusting these settings you may need to switch to a Manual Mode

Aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together to determine how an image will look. Limitations to handheld photography will be seen when the shutter speed drops below a certain point, and will be further affected by the lens’ focal length. If your shutter speed is too slow, your body or your subject(s) will move too much to take sharp pictures. Longer focal lengths (bigger zooms) magnify any motion blur that is present.

A rough rule that proves to be very effective is to match or exceed the focal length with the shutter speed. This rule is meant to take sharp images from a hand-held camera, it does not account for subject movement. Great for fruit stands, landscapes, passed-out roommates — just about any still subject. However, any photographer will have difficulty taking sharp pictures with a shutter speed of more than 1/30th of a second, no matter the focal length, unless the camera or lens has stabilization technology.

In practice, a lens with a focal length of 50mm has a minimum hand-held shutter speed of 1/50th of a second (1/50sec). A 300mm lens has a minimum 1/300sec shutter speed.

Having a “faster” lens (able to open up wider, has a small f-stop division number) will allow faster shutter speeds at lower ISO (high ISO is considered low quality due to grain). Further, depending on subject matter, the minimum hand-held shutter speed for a lens may not be fast enough. Careful, as well, as the closer a subject is the more pronounced the limited depth of field will be from a wide aperture.

My benchmark shutter speeds for portrait photography using ambient light (no flash) are 1/60sec and 1/125sec. I find these do a good job of eliminating blur from subject movement, and most of the time allow reasonable apertures with low ISO.

A good investment for any photographer is a 1.8 lens around 50mm. These can be found from name brands to match cameras from around $100 – $150. Gambling on 3rd party is out of the question for these as prices are very similar.

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All those extra stops open up a lot of light conditions to hand-held photography.

I use a Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. It’s my sharpest lens, runner up is the 18-55 EFS that the SL1 came with.

The only downfall of a prime lens (fixed focal length) is to adjust composition a lot of foot work needs to be done. No pampered zoom capabilities, but the trade-off is a very high quality lens for a low price.

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

To 3rd Party, or Not?

The YN-560 is a huge upgrade from an old Vivitar. The price is right, it has a wide range of functions and seems durable (may have taken a few tumbles off of a light stand) but it does lack some features like TTL and rear curtain sync.

In the market for cameras and gear, there is a huge price gap between Functional and Extensive.

The Yongnuo brand seems to be a promising competitor in the Functional category. Their flashes have more power and often more ability than minimum functionality products from first market competitors.

For comparison, take the Canon 90EX: lower power output, no swivel, no zoom control. About $129. What it does have on the Yongnuo speedlights, though, is the ability to control other Canon flashes (where a transmitter and receiver system is necessary otherwise), and the benefit of custom functions from Canon cameras like rear curtain sync (which is useful for night-time photography).

The  Yongnuo YN-560 II is a more valuable on-camera flash. The Canon 90EX, not having swivel, zoom, tilt or height above the lens, pales in comparison. Someone with really deep pockets who could afford to buy Canon and nothing but Canon would benefit from the high-tech capabilities of the flashes, but on a budget the 3rd party products make sense.

The YN-560 II, at about $100, has the same physical functionality as the Canon 430EX III-RT, at about $400. YN also has two slave modes for syncing with other flashes (one flash can act as a “master” to trigger slaves) which closely mimics the Canon flash’s ability to control each other.

1 flash with many software capabilities, or 2 flashes with light stands and umbrellas?

This argument depends on your needs, but I value the versatility of many lights and simply can’t afford Canon models. Trustworthy 3rd party producers have allowed me to do things with photography that I would not have been able otherwise. Not without a much larger investment.

I would love to own Canon flashes. There are many times when the extra functionality would have made for great creative shots to add to my portfolio. Instead, I chose a route to quickest monetize my equipment and skill. It seems I made the right decision…

Yongnuo isn’t left in the dust for software capability, however. They keep releasing new models with better specs that remain in a similar price margin. Their new wireless system appears to be very promising, and even boasts TTL and Rear Curtain Sync. For about $400, when combined with two speedlights and light stands, this system allows a purchaser to gain greater capabilities for about the same price as a flagship Canon flash.

The Canon flashes, being all inclusive for functionality within themselves, are a tighter package. However, with slave mode on the Yongnuo flash, only two wireless transceivers are required to activate many lights. They don’t take up a lot of room in a camera bag.

Cautions with 3rd party products:

  1. Don’t drop them. Same goes for all camera gear, but these may not be made with the same durability.
  2. Keep away from water/dust. Again, this should be standard with all gear. A light mist is probably OK, but prolonged exposure should be avoided.

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!