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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How to Trial and Error Through a Three-Light Studio Setup — A Hippie Sitting On A Stool, Grinding Rocks. Why? Who Knows! He’s a Dog Toy.

I do a lot of trial and error when I set up my lights for a studio shoot. This article details a three light setup, and features a hilarious model.

Last night, I photographed a hippie sitting on a stool grinding rocks. They’re actually, most of them, classified “Semi-Precious Gems.” I gave up on a Halloween party that I got a last minute invite to because I have a shoot scheduled today for a cute kid, and I wanted to be awake for it.
The way the night went, I figured I should set up the lights then instead of when I woke up. I’m probably not awake yet. I’ve scheduled this post for 10 am and it was almost 2 am by the time I was finished writing it.
I’m bad at waking up.
After an hour I think I had the lighting structure, position and ratios set up.
All images are taken at f/5.6, 100 ISO, 1/200 sec. I like to include some depth of field when photographing closer up, and though you may not see the effects in the following images, it would be apparent if I were photographing the hippie and not the whole stool. Maybe I’ll show you at the end.
First shot is fill light alone, he’s my master light that tells the others what to do. All it does for the image is fill in some shadows so the image isn’t so contrasted. It’s directly over my head, pointing straight into the image. Softbox on a boom arm. I looked at my histogram on the back of the camera to decide if it was at a good power and even with a solid black backdrop there wasn’t any clipping.
Don’t worry, I’ll give you a side-by-side for the images at the end of the article so you can see the changes between each one easier.
Oh, all images are straight out of camera, too. I haven’t retouched them in any way, other than to convert them to jpg with Camera Raw. The banner image is touched up.
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Next image includes the key light, the closest and most (apparently) powerful light in the image. This one is about 45° up and right of the subject (facing the photographer.) It’s a little above my strobe’s minimum power (same with the fill.) I wish I had more space and could separate the subject from the background a bit more, limiting this light’s effect on the background. It’s also firing through a softbox.
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The third image includes the background light. A speedlight with a snoot (it focuses the light into a circle shape.) This one helps separate the subject from the background, and helps the eye find focus in the image. In the side-by-side at the end of the article, you can see my progress in deciding what power to have this at. Ultimately, I liked it at a reduced power, giving a subtle effect on the background. The last image is my favourite, and the settings used for the banner image on this post.
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Here’s the edited hippie from the banner image where you can see some depth of field. The rocks in front are not as sharp as he is, even though I added a great deal of sharpening in Camera Raw. This, like the splash of backlight, helps the eye find focus in the image. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

 

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Lunchtime Videos! Three Product Photography Tutorials and a Pro-On-The-Cheap

Nothing like a few photography videos to help the chicken nuggets go down.

I’m just passing the time by on my lunch, since I can’t do much while I’m stuffing my face. Not sure why I am spending so much time researching product photography, but they are interesting to watch.

First is Karl Taylor setting up a product photograph. I posted a video of his previously where he was photographing a wine bottle. In this video he has a slew of cosmetics…

This guy is an absolute master. Everything about his method is getting things right in camera with minimal editing later. I gush every time I see his studio and the gross amount of equipment and modifiers he has at his disposal. I haven’t heard him list how long it takes to get some of these product shots, but I expect that he works for hours on some of them.

He starts the video with an explanation and example of the completed shot and then moves to a time-lapse of the setup process. He loosely arranges the items and positions the main light and adjusts its power until he is comfortable with the results. Next, he starts adding in accent lights to provide contouring and interest reflections on the slick black cosmetics cases and tools.

The key to his intense detail is his step-by-step process, adding one light at a time, his attention to detail and his obvious level of experience. This is not dissimilar to what I do with portrait photography: one light at a time.

Watch this video and you will never have a full wallet again… Tens of thousands of dollars, he says, of equipment to make the shot.

Oh, here, this one will make your bank account feel better.

 

This next video is DIY and extremely budgeted product photography. Basically, he makes a photo tent or box out of an Ikea table. You can purchase tents like these for fairly cheap from Amazon, so I think his actions are a bit counter-intuitive, but this video does describe some useful techniques for lighting.

His “Product Shot Booth,” or a photo tent, is like a miniature studio for photographing small objects. They usually have either bounce or shoot-through-diffuser lighting for all around brightness and soft shadows as well as a curved material, his project paper, that creates a seamless backdrop. An Infinity Plane? I don’t remember the cool word for it.

 

The next video is from Fstoppers. This setup is a step up from the previous, but not Karl Taylor level.

They’re using a really interesting speedlight modifier that they invented, it looks incredibly effective. They’re also using the MagMod speedlight modifier, I’ve heard of this but I haven’t seen it in action yet. It seems really versatile.

Good advice on the step-by-step setup in this video, a look at some cool modifiers and different speedlight brands, and some advice about getting some quality condensation.

3 Reasons You Need to Care About Your Appearance on Social Media

Everyone says you need a great photograph these days, here are some reasons that may convince you.

There are many professions that seem obviously in need of a professional headshot, but not all of us are capitalizing directly on our faces or appearances. Why in the world might a tradesman in a factory or a high school teacher with a secure income need a fancy picture for a website? For these people, the typical uses of a headshot may be unimportant, unless they are unhappy with their positions and decide to go job searching. Instead, one needs to look deeper to the personal benefits of viewing a confident photograph of oneself.

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This portrait involved three lights: two to accomplish even lighting across his body and face, and one lighting the backdrop to get a consistent white with no detail. Mat volunteers with the Pioneer Park Elementary School Panthers Hockey program teaching the kids how to skate and goal-tend. He’s often dressed in a Marlies jersey while helping out.

1. Utility: A professionally produced image shows that you care about your appearance. If you are concerned with how the world views you and take every step to put your best foot forward, people are more likely to expect that of you in other aspects of your life and work.

As our society moves to online resources to make us more efficient and cost effective, so does the hiring process. Websites like LinkedIn are essentially job-hunting and networking platforms and public resumes. For certain professions, these websites and how you appear on them is very important. If you were a hiring manager with an application from someone who couldn’t be bothered with posting a profile picture or completing an online profile, how effective of a hire do you think they would be? Wouldn’t you instead remember the people who had more complete profiles?

If you were a real-estate salesperson, you would want your potential clients to see a confident, charming smile so that they can start to like and trust you immediately. Few people buy from those they don’t like or trust.

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Three lights here: one behind me to bump up the shadows, one at subject right to light his face and one on the backdrop. Michael is working his way towards his CPA and I’m sure he’ll finish well. You should have seen him tear one of my spreadsheets apart. I mean, hours of work for me was a few minutes for him. Barely any research, he just popped real-world numbers like rote knowledge. Michael has a lot of confidence in his ability, and we both feel this photograph helps him show it.

2. Having someone take the time to capture you with your best, most comfortable, relaxed and confident expression is a small investment with a huge return.

People will see your picture and make a judgement. It’s like a micro-first-impression. Like before, people will not only notice the quality of the image, but the quality of your expression and the care in your eyes. If you are looking to do business with people, or sell yourself as a good match to a new organization or potential spouse or death metal band or flying circus, then you need to be present in the photograph. As a professional, it is my goal to make you relaxed, present, and to recognize and capture that fleeting moment of perfection.

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Same Lighting as for Michael, except for a fourth light hitting his hair. Matt is a college friend of mine, he needed a professional look for Journalism work. He loves music and the positivity it can bring to people’s lives. Matt worked on Rogers’ Music Tonight and he’s involved with a band, Mr. Chris and the Gassy Bubbles, creating music for kids.

 

3. Personal Motivation: All that other stuff has been written time and time again about personal portraits, but I want you to concentrate for a moment on how an image makes you feel. If you have a confident image that you can wake up to every day, then you can set your sights easier as a confident person.

No one wants to be considered vane or narcissistic, but we can fight against those vices so strongly that we act in demoralizing ways! Yes, you deserve to have a beautiful portrait, and yes, you can feel good about yourself!

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Same lighting as Michael, a three light setup. Brent is a friend of mine that wanted some updated photographs for friends, family and internet use. He may not be capitalizing on his appearance like an accountant or real-estate agent scoring clients or a band member getting their appearance out to the world, but having a professional portrait where he looks great makes him happy.

Get the best image you possibly can. As a person dissatisfied with every image of themselves, “good enough” has to do for me. I like to ask a friend and have them pick their favourite of the images that I think are “good enough.” We’re often more critical of ourselves than our friends, and having the third party can help us make a decision.

Get the kind of image that when you look at it you say: “That’s me. Today, that’s me. That confident, intelligent, happy, go-getting, unstoppable force. That’s me.” Ultimately, you want an image that gives you pride. Something that shows the best version of yourself, the person that you can aspire to every day.

Good luck!

Thank you to all my friends who have acted as guinea pigs for my projects, allowed me to use their photographs and helped support my business. I really appreciate it!

Watch a pro put together a product photograph for a bottle of wine and be inspired

In this video Karl Taylor describes a set lit with 5 lights and exactly what each one adds to his final piece.

This isn’t a technical video where he is going to talk about power settings and whatnot, so if you’re new to studio photography you won’t be left behind. He describes his set and the reasons for the props he added and why each light is necessary.

Business Portrait Timeline — A Red-Eye Photo Studio Challenge

I’ve developed quite the collection of portrait studio gear over the last couple years, and I’m getting itchy to start using it to develop the stunning images that my clients deserve. Corporate headshots, or high quality imagery for anyone with a LinkedIn or other social media profile, seems like the way to go. Starting off, anyway.

I’m still working out the kinks of a convenient, efficient and quick workflow with a portable, small-space-capable studio, so late one night (OK, it was early one morning, to be technical) I attempted to get through a self portrait in the span of 1 hour.

Imagining myself as the client: “I want this stranger in and out of my home as quickly as possible so I can get back to watching Game of Thrones in sweats. The images better be good, fast, and I want to review them before he leaves.”

Knowing this as the photographer, I have a breakdown similar to this:

  1. Set up photo gear: 15 minutes
    • Backdrop stands and backdrop
    • Light stands (up to 4, but probably just 1 or 2 with only an hour on the clock)
    • Lights, levels and positioning
    • Camera settings (custom white balance and other basics)
  2. Photograph the subject: 15 minutes
  3. Review images, select and pay: 15 minutes
  4. Pack up: 15 minutes

That’s a very tight schedule. My plan is to tell the client to free up 2 hours for the session, while my goal would be 1 hour. Under promise, over deliver!

I accomplished my timeline well enough, and even had time to spare. I changed a filter halfway through which messed up my white balance, and didn’t bother correcting it. I assumed I might do it in Photoshop later, but no matter what I did the results were not where I wanted them. The photograph below was taken on a different occasion under similar circumstances, where I took the time to set everything up correctly.

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The botched photograph had more professional attire, but that is still one of my favourite shirts. I let my friends write and draw on it with one of those fancy clothing markers. It went as expected: lewd jokes that I can’t wear in public. They’ve all but faded now, and are not visible in the photograph.