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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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.