Monday, 7 December 2009

Making It Look Like It Was Shot In A Huge Studio

If you are shooting against a white or black background, you can give the illusion of having shot something in a huge studio. It is really quick and simple using Photoshop. Just make sure your background is either pure white (use the dodge tool) or pure black (use the left hand slider in Levels or the burn tool).

In Photoshop, press D on your keyboard to give you the default background colors (black and white). The X key will toggle which is the background and which is the foreground.

  1. Set your background color the match your photo.
  2. Select the crop tool and drag it across the full size of your photo.
  3. Grab the edges of your crop frame and drag them out to the size you want.
  4. Hit Enter on your keyboard and the background color will be filled in.
The photo above was taken against a 6' x 7' Lastolite Hilight background with white vinyl on the floor in a small living room.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Lightroom Killer Tips

If you're an Adobe Photoshop Lightroom user, you should check-out a great blog called Matt Kloskowski of Kelby Training posts a wealth of information, with a mixture of tips, videos and free presets. The blog has been running for a long time now, so there's loads of content to work through. You can also expect a lot of tips for Lightroom 3, now that it's on beta release.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Keeping A Shooting Sketch Book

I use an artists A5 sketch book and pencil to plan for upcoming shoots. I sketch out individual frames of ideas to use as a guide on the day of the shoot. Some I end up using and some I don't. But I know that I have something that I can use if inspiration doesn't show up on cue!

Sometimes a sketch will springboard from the original idea into a completely different direction, but it gives me a starting point. I have a portrait shoot this weekend and the request is "black and white and  unusual". I have a few sketches, I might use some none or all of them, but I know that I have ideas and somewhere to start. I'm also lucky enough to do whatever crazy ideas I come up with.

Monday, 30 November 2009

10 Tips For Shooting Fireworks

1. Check that you have the right equipment for the job before leaving home (preferably the night before). A tripod and cable release are essential, but remember to take spare batteries and a hat and gloves if the weather is cold. A torch (or two) are another must have.

2. Arrive early and find a good position that is not too close or your camera will be pointing upward (not the best look and uncomfortable when shooting). It helps if you are there before it gets dark.

3. Make sure that the horizon is level. This is not as easy as it sounds and is another reason to arrive before the sun goes down.

4. Set-up your camera before leaving home as it will save you fumbling in the dark and it's hard to see the top of your camera when it's on top of a fully extended tripod.

5. Set your ISO to a low setting to get the least amount of noise. 100 or 200 is ideal.

6. Set the focus to manual. As the fireworks are normally coming from a fixed location and your camera is on a tripod, you can zoom in, focus, then recompose and you're good to go. Check your focus every now and then just to make sure it hasn't moved.

7. Aperture is best set to f8 or f16 which will get a wide depth of field and allow for a slow shutter speed.

8. Shutter speed needs to be low to capture the full effect and movement of the fireworks as they explode and fan out. You will need to play around for the best results, but somewhere between 4 and 10 seconds should get good results. Remember to use your cable release to stop camera shake!

9. A wide zoom lens is best. Around a 17-55mm on a crop sensor and a 24-70mm on a full frame sensor will give you a good range, but this will depend on your distance from the event.

10. You shouldn't  need much post processing, probably Levels to add black, beef up the colors a bit and a bit of sharpening (Clarity in Lightroom). You will probably need to do a bit of cropping, because you need to shoot at a wider focal length to catch some unexpectedly high fireworks.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Drobo :: The Ultimate Storage System

I have a 300GB and a 1TB drive inside my computer and a stand alone 1TB sitting on my desk. To most people this would be more hard drive space than they would ever need. But to a photographer it's just enough to get by for a while until we're forced to shell out for another drive. Then there's the hassle of deciding what to copy on to each drive...

The perfect solution is the Drobo by Data Robbotics. Drobo is a single unit containing up to four hard drives, but the computer sees it as one single drive. The most amazing thing is that if a drive fails or even if you simply pull one out, the Drobo doesn't skip a beat, it just heals itself and use's it's own back-ups to rebuild a totally safe place for your digital files to live. You can mix and match the size and make of each drive and you don't have to use expensive drives either. Drobo sells for around £340 / $398 on Amazon for the four drive version (drives not included). There is also an eight drive version.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Best Way To Improve Your Photography

The best way to improve your photography is by looking at other peoples photos. It's that simple! We live in a great time (photographically). The internet has opened up the ability to learn just about anything you want to know about almost any subject. Photographers probably benefit the most from the net, because we can learn so much just from looking at a single image.

From composition to lighting to technique and everything in between, you can really learn a lot from just looking. Try to dissect the photo and discover what makes it interesting to you. Is it the subject matter? Is it the colors? Is it the amount of contrast in a black and white? Is the subject cropped in tight or small in the frame to give a sense of space.

There's an endless amount of great photos on the web. Try to set aside some time each day to just look at lots of photos. Remember to do the other great thing to improve your photography too...take lots of photos!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Review:: The Spyder3 Express

The Spyder3 Express arrived sooner than expected and I got two of my monitors calibrated yesterday. The box contained the software CD, a quick-start guide, warranty card, cleaning cloth, Colorimeter and suction cup.

I was expecting a complicated list of menu's, questions and the need to search inside my computers Control Panel to adjust lots of setting, but I was delighted and amazed just how simple and straightforward it was. You basically install the software, plug the Colorimeter into a spare USB port, start the software program and confirm which type of monitor you are using (CRT or LCD). As long as your monitor has been switched on for 30 minutes or more, you can hang the Colorimeter over the front of your monitor, adjust the position of the weight on the USB cable so that it hangs over the back of your monitor. The software runs through a collection of colored and grey boxes and the Colorimeter checks and makes adjustments on them.

At the end of the process you are instructed to remove the Colorimeter from the monitor and are then shown a collection of photo's that you can zoom in and out of and switch back and forth between your old profile and the the new Spyder3 profile. My monitors were calibrated using Adobe Gamma, but the difference between the two color profiles was quite substantial. Although I only found the suction cup in the box after I had calibrated my monitor, I personally would only use it on a CTR screen. I recommend just keeping your finger pressed very lightly on the Colorimeter of use a large rubber band to keep it against the screen.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy the process was to calibrate my monitor using the Spyder3 Express. It's a basic calibration, but if you need something a bit more in-depth, you could shell out the extra and get the Spyder3 Elite, Pro or Studio. The Spyder3 Express cost £77 or $88 from amazon.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lens Review:: Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye

I've had the Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye lens in my kit for a while now and although you can't use it all the time, it's a great little lens in a lot of situations. From architecture to portraits (see my Rules Are Made To Be Broken blog post) and everything in-between. With a fast wide aperture of F2.8, it's a great lens for low light situations.

The 10mm Fisheye is designed for APS-C size sensor cameras. The Nikon version produces a diagonal angle of view of 180o (154o on Sigma and 167o on Canon) and a minimum focus distance of 13.5cm/5.3 inches. The lens is predictably soft at the edges between 2.8 and 3.5, but at F4 and beyond it performs much better than expected. The centre of the lens is pin sharp and the bokeh when shooting wide open is fantastic.
You can pick one of these lens's up on Ebay secondhand for around £300, and it really is worth it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Before You Discard That Photo

Before you dismiss or even delete a photo that just doesn't cut it, try playing around with a few things in Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop. There are a few things that transform a photo from mundane to Magnificent, but the quickest and most reliable two ways are cropping and converting to black & white.

The photo bellow was taken on an overcast day with a sky that was too bright to be dramatic and light that was just flat and uninteresting. It did nothing for me when I first processed the bunch of raw files that it was part of. But a few weeks later, I was flicking through my Lightroom catalogue looking for something to play around with and this one looked as though it had a lot of scope to be transformed. A quick crop, convert to black and white,  push up the blacks and hey presto! Black & White is without doubt the best way to transform a color photo that looks bland.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Spyder3 Express

Monitor calibration is a very important task, but it's one that a lot of people either don't get round to or don't think they need. If you have ever printed a photograph and had the colors look different from the screen to the print, then your calibration is off.

The Spyder3 Express is available from Amazon (pre-order in the UK) and retails for £77/$85. There's no excuse to not calibrate when the Spyder3 Express is so inexpensive. If you have more than one monitor, you need to have one of these even more. If like me, you sometimes have to start your edits on a laptop and finish them on your desktop computer, calibration will stop all those annoying readjustments that you need to make after you transfer your images. I'll have a full review on the Spyder3 Express in a week or two when I have a test model.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Shooting In Cold Conditions

It's getting really cold in this part of the world, so I thought I'd share a few tips on shooting in winter.

I keep a pair of black fleece gloves in my camera bag about four months of the year. They're inexpensive, warm and thin enough not to restrict the use of any camera controls.

Batteries drain fast in cold weather, so keep them in a pocket as close to your body as possible until it's time to shoot. Rotate batteries between your camera and pocket frequently to get the most out of them.

If you're shooting in cold weather and you're going to take a break for lunch, leave your camera in the cold if possible. Going from cold to warm will cause your lens, viewfinder and even sensor to mist up and will prevent you from using your gear. Locking it in the back of your car is best, but make sure you keep a watchful eye on it

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

D-Town TV

Although D Town TV has now come to an end, I highly recommend any Nikon user, new or old, should watch all twenty-four episodes.

Each week, Scott Kelby and Matt Kloskowski ran through tips and tricks to get the most out of your Nikon gear. There were a few episodes dedicated to lens's and flash and a few guest spots from Joe McNally and Moose Peterson.

So whether you're a beginner or a pro, there's something in D-Town for you. You can download all twenty-four episodes from iTunes for free or see them at the D-Town TV website .

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lastolite Tri-Flip 8:1 Kit

The Lastolite Tri-Flip 8:1 Kit is such a versatile piece of gear that you really shouldn't be without one. The kit consists of a Tri-Grip Diffuser and two Tri-Flip sleeves which are reversible. So although you don't get eight sleeves like shown in the Lastolite photo above, you do get eight sides, seven reflective surfaces and one subtractive (black) surface.

The Diffuser is an absolute must when you're shooting outdoors in bright sunlight and need to get rid of squinting eyes and harsh contrasts. The reflector sleeves are the icing on the cake and the variety in the different temperatures of reflected light is everything you will ever need. From soft silver to gold and everything in-between - if you only buy one reflector, this is the one you should have in your kit.

I have a lot of Lastolite gear, from the small XpoBalance and softbox's, to the fantastic Hilite illuminated background. There is something in the Lastolite product range to suit every lighting situation. My next purchase will be the 100cm Umbrella Kit (maybe I'll do a review here in the near future).

Friday, 6 November 2009

Leave Room To Let Your Subject Breath

Sometimes you need to get in really close to your subject and fill the frame with detail. But don't forget to leave space when it's needed. One of the most important times to remember this is when you're taking a portrait and your subject is looking to the side. Always leave nose room. You can crop behind the head as tight as you like, but make sure that your subject has some space in front of their face.

Take the above photo as another example. A tight shot would look good too, but this photo gives a great sense of how small and agile the aircraft is in the huge vast sky. So whatever your subject matter, the next time you're shooting something, why not zoom out or walk back and give your subject some space.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Help Portrait

Help Portrait is a movement of photographers who are using their time, equipment and expertise to give back to those less fortunate. The date is 12th December 2009 and is open to all photographers, amateur or pro. It's about doing something for other people. It will cost you time and a little bit of money for prints, but you'll feel good about yourself and make someone else feel good about themselves. The movement was started by photographer Jeremy Cowart in the US, but has now gone global.

Watch the video on Scott Kelby's blog here for more info or go to the Help Portrait website.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

10 Tips For Shooting Live Music

1. Don't use flash. Flash kills the colors of the stage lights and you will just end-up with smokey dull photos.

2. Use a high ISO, at least 1600, but it will depend on how good your camera is. Most medium to high end Canon and Nikon's will shoot great photos with little noise at 1600 and above.

3. Use a fast lens with an aperture of at least f2.8. Use one with image stabilization if possible.

4. Most gigs have a three song rule. Photographers can shoot as many photos as they like but only have until the end of the third song to get what you need.

5. Try to get access to the side of the stage for some of the time (like the shot here). You will also get closer to the guys at the back (keys, drums, backing singers).

6. Try to get a rapore going with the band. It will help your shots and the band will go out of their way to give you some good stuff.

7. Take plenty of shots. When you shoot in low light with energetic musicians, there's no way that all of your shots will be in focus and have no motion blur.

8. If you use Lightroom or Aperture for your post processing, add black to get rid of most of the noise. Levels will work wonders in photoshop. Try some noise reduction filters too.

9. Drummers are the hardest to photograph. They are at the back and not always in the best light. Plan ahead and come up with a way to overcome the problems. Sometimes you might need to get the drummer to play on his own before or after the gig, so you can stand on stage and get some cool shots. Keyboard Players are the next hardest ones to shoot.

10. It helps if you know the music that the band play, so you can be ahead of the game and know where the songs build up and when the action will happen.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Candid Frame

If like me, you love photography podcasts, I really recommend you check out The Candid Frame. I like my photo gear as much as the next technology hungry photographer, but it's very refreshing to hear people talk about the art of photography and like the theme of recent shows says "living the photographic life".

I've been listening to The Candid Frame for a while now and I get real inspiration from the wide variety of guests that appear on the show. Host Ibarionex Perello has a nice laid back style and a fantastic smooth voice for podcasts. Ibarionex really makes his guests feel at ease and you feel that you're almost eavesdropping on a couple of photographers having a conversation over a coffee in a hotel bar. If you haven't listened to The Candid Frame, you should check it out at iTunes and start from the earliest ones and work your way up to the latest one.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta

Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta is available for download here. You should also watch the three tutorial videos at AdobeTV while you are finding your way through the new version. This is a Beta version for testing, and not the official release. At first glance there doesn't look as though much has changed, but when you start to poke around, you can see that there's quite a lot of new features.

The Library Module: As soon as you click the import button you will see a full new section that can be set to full screen mode for initial set-up and then reduced to a thin bar for day to day imports. A great new feature here is the ability to save import settings as snapshots. Unfortunately the import page keeps causing Lightroom to freeze all the time (it is Beta). Another great new feature in the Library Module is the ability to upload directly from Lightroom to Flickr.

The Develop Module: The big changes here are in the sharpening and noise reduction. There is a new Effects panel that revamps the way that post crop vignetting is applied. The Grain slider is a very welcome feature too.

As I've only downloaded L3 Beta today, I haven't had time to go through the full application, but I like what I've seen so far.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Find Great Light

Photography is about light. The most mundane and boring scenes can be transformed into fantastic shots just by the time of day that you shoot them. Photographs taken in the middle of the day tend to be uninteresting and more like snapshots (although there are exceptions). But the best light tends to be the first and last hour of daylight (known as the golden hour). Now I'm not saying don't take pictures at any other time, just don't miss the very best light there is, get up early or head out late. Winter is upon us, so sunrise is not that early and sunset is not late at all.

I'm lucky enough to be able to see up to six sunrises and sunsets per week, which is probably more than a lot of people see in a year! The shot above was taken yesterday at 7am with a Canon G9. The photo is straight out of the camera, with no editing whatsoever. The G9's meter overexposed slightly because the scene was quite dark, but I couldn't be bothered fiddling in the the menu to adjust the exposure compensation. I switched the flash on to fool the camera into bringing the exposure down. The foreground was far enough away that the flash had no effect. Go on, get out of bed and see what you're missing!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Photoshop Snapshot Layers

Here's a tip for one of the quickest ways to edit in Photoshop. It's called Snapshot Layers and is based in the History Panel and uses the History Brush. Load a photo into Photoshop and make sure you have the History Panel displayed, if not, got to the Windows drop-down menu and make sure there's a tick next to History.

For the photo above, I went to Filter then Blur and then Radial Blur. Click Ok and the Radial Blur will be applied to the full image. Now click on the small Camera icon at the bottom of the History Panel to make a snapshot. Make sure the new Snapshot is highlighted (it's the one at the bottom). Now you need to select a source in the history that you want to brush back onto the image. Click the small box to the left of the original Snapshot and a History Brush icon will be displayed in it. Select the History Brush from the left hand Tools Panel. Now paint in a circular motion in the centre of the photo and if you have chosen the right source and destination, the original photo should start to show through the blurred image (like the image above.

To darken a sky, adjust the Levels or the Bightness/Contrast for the full image and then use the History Brush to bring back the foreground. Or why not change the image to Black & White and use the History Brush to bring back selective color (color popping).
The best way to see the full potential of Snapshot Layers is to mess around with it. It's a quick and easy way to do most jobs in Photoshop. Remember to click on the Camera icon each time you make a change to the image, that way, you can bring back pixels from any point in the history of your editing.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Two Websites For Great Photos

Photography Served is the place to go if you like project based photography. you can loose track of time going from one project to the next, each one different from the last. At the foot of every page you will find a link to three more projects and before you know it, it will be way past your bed time. Click here to go to the site.

The Big Picture is part of the Boston Globe's website which posts a collection of pictures from a different photographer every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The images are chosen from all around the world. Click on each photo to view the full set. Click here to go to the site.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

New Nikon D3s Out In November, But Don't Buy It....Yet

The D3 has had it's 's' update and is now available for pre-order from the usual outlets. If you are in the market for the D3s, I strongly advise not buying one for at least two months. I pre-ordered a D300s as a back-up from Calumet and was very unhappy when the price dropped drastically within a few of weeks. It's sad when you get screwed for being the kind of loyal customer that the camera manufacturers want.

The D3s has had a similar make-over to the D300s. 720p HD video is the obvious big addition, but the on line photographic community are already saying "why no 1080p?". The dedicated Live View button is a handy new feature, not just for video (see my Live View/White Balance tip here). The D3s also gets the quiet mode and Integrated Dust Reduction System. For a full list of the new features go to the Nikon site here.

Monday, 12 October 2009

How To Shoot Video At Night On A DSLR

I was going to write a post on shooting video at night with a DSLR, but this video does it better than I ever could in this short space. Check out the other great videos from Eye Patch Productions on YouTube.

Friday, 9 October 2009

How To See Your White Balance Live

White balance is very important, especially if you're shooting in jpeg. But it tends to be a bit of guess work and you're never sure of exactly how it's going to look. Well guess can see it in the screen on the back of your camera.

Just put your DSLR into live view mode and move through the various WB settings. You can use the usual suspects, like Cloudy, Tungsten, Florissant, but it's really helpful when you start to tweak the Kelvin settings to get exactly what you need. When you get what you want, switch off live view and you're good to go

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Best Camera:: iPhone App

I've been using 'The Best Camera' iPhone app for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that it's the best photography app that I've came across.

The app is by photographer Chase Jarvis, who is one of the online photographic communities most prolific contributors. Chase has also put out a book of his iPhone photos called 'The Best Camera Is The One That's With You', and put up a website that ties in with the app. Here's how it works:

You take a photo with your iPhone or use one that's already in your Camera Roll folder. Then you apply any of the cool filters that do things like - add saturation, desaturate, darken, warm-up, cool-down, add vignette....etc. You can also crop the photo into a square and add a white border. The filters can be moved into a different order to change how they effect the photo, or you can remove the ones you don't like.

After you're done with the editing side, you click on the Share button and you can save it back to your Camera Roll, send as an email, send to Facebook and Twitter (adding text to your tweet too) and even upload it to to be displayed on the site. Tap on the Globe icon and it will take you to a viewing wall (see the photo above). This is the view from the Best Camera website and is constantly changing. Now you can see your newly uploaded photo and you can click on a thumbs up icon if you like other peoples photos. Warning it's addictive...but it's cheap!

Monday, 5 October 2009

The UK:: More Afraid Of Photographers Than Terrorists?

I was in Aberdeen at the weekend and woke-up early with the sun projecting a nice orange glow on the hotel room wall. I got dressed quickly, grabbed my camera and headed out for the golden hour. After a session photographing down at the docks, I passed by The Mall on my way back to the hotel. The side entrance has lots of stairs that go from street level to shop level, which I thought might make some interesting black and white shots.

Ten shots later, and with no-one about, I was done. I headed up the stairs toward the shops, but before I reached the top, I was confronted by a security guard who asked why I was taking photographs. He told me that I needed permission and a permit to photograph in the mall. I pointed out that if it was for terrorism reasons, I don't think that terrorists would be standing their with a full sized pro body DSLR and a big Nikon 17-55mm lens. The security guard shrugged his shoulders and I left The Mall, never to return...ever!

How many people do you think take photographs in that mall every day with point and shoots and mobile phone cameras? I would think plenty, just like every-other shopping mall in the UK. I'm no terrorist, but if I was, I would use a point and shoot with a subject strategically placed so that I got whatever I wanted in the background. I would not walk in with a few kilo's worth of Nikon gear and a jacket that has embroidered on the front and back. The Mall does conveniently display a floor plan on their website for all your terrorist needs Click Here , but I didn't want to infringe on their copyright by posting the plan here.

Photographers are not the enemy! I personally don't even think the enemy are who we're told they are. I don't remember Afghanistan invading another country. I did notice that the UK and US did invade two countries lately though. I suppose it's different from when Hitler did it???

Sorry if this is a bit heavy for a photography blog, but we're losing all our rights, and worse than that, people are losing their lives! I'd rather be squeezing a shutter than squeezing a trigger!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

New Home For This Blog

Over the last few month my blog has been getting more and more visitors, which is great, but bandwidth was limited. In August I just made it to the end of the month before the bandwidth ran out, but last month (September) it ran out in the second week, which meant that my blog has been suspended for a couple of weeks.

I've moved to Blogspot for greater bandwidth and because I can finally get my logo at the top of the blog and move things about easier. Due to the old host and the new one being incompatible, I've had to migrate all the old posts manually, which took some time.

I will be posting here three times a week (Mon, Wed & Fri), starting from this Monday 5th of Oct. I look forward to some feedback from you the reader

Monday, 14 September 2009

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

There are lots of rules in photography, like don’t have your horizon in the centre of the frame, don’t have converging verticals and use a telephoto, not a wide angle lens for portraits. All good advice and worth keeping in mind most of the time.

On the other hand; sometimes you can get fantastic results from bending or breaking the rules. Take the above photo. Mark is a fantastic piano player who comes across as a very serious guy when you first meet him. But under the serious exterior, he has a terrific sense of humour. A medium telephoto lens, say 80mm or 105mm would have been fine for this backstage shot, but the 10mm f2.8 fisheye really helps to show you that Mark isn’t so serious after all. If a rule’s worth breaking, it’s worth breaking to the extreme.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Nikon Speedlights:: Part 3 - The Nikon Creative Lighting System

To round off this week’s Speedlight posts, I thought I would recommend a great book to help you master the Nikon Creative Speedlight system (CLS). The book is from Nikonians Press and is written by Mike Hagen.
Although it comes in at 153 pages, Mike Hagen’s book is split into sixteen chapters, four of which are optional. These are the chapters on the individual models, SB-600, SB-800, SB-900 and one chapter on the SU-800 SB-R200 and R1C1. The former three are pretty much identical and take you through all the controls of each flashgun. You can read the chapter for your model and leave the rest out until the day when you splash out the cash for the other toys. The rest of the book is made up of examples, accessories, camera set-ups, flash theory, CLS background and much more.
If you are new to the CLS system or if you just picked-up enough from the first few pages of the manual to get you by, this is the book for you. In a very short time you will know your model of Speedlight inside-out and be ready to rock in a full blown wireless system. This is the book that you should read before moving on to The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Nikon Speedlights:: Part 2 - High Speed Sync

Scenario 1: You’re taking someone’s photo outdoors with the sun behind them. Or maybe you’re subject is indoors, a window behind them with bright daylight outside. Easy, just pop a bit of fill flash in to light the subject. But the background is too bright; the sky is a washed out blue and too bright in general.

Scenario 2: You’re using flash outside, but want a nice shallow depth of field. You’re in aperture priority mode at ISO 200 and the widest aperture you can use is around f18 at 125sec), but you need f1.8 or f2.8 to get that blurred background you’re looking for.

Solution and Set-up: Use high speed sync! For this (the tip you never see in books), you will need to set-up your camera first. Go to your camera Custom Settings Menu > Bracketing & Flash > Flash Sync Speed. Now choose either1/320s (Auto FP) or 1/250s (Auto FP). I use the former, but any one will do (the important thing is the Auto FP). That’s it, you can leave it set that way forever.

Here comes the science bit: When you use a shutter speed of 250th or slower, the front curtain moves across to the end of the frame, and then the rear curtain follows. This leaves a point in the middle where the curtain is fully open allowing one big pop of flash light to expose the whole frame. If you use a very fast shutter speed though, the rear curtain follows the front one so soon that there is only a thin slit moving across the frame. But in high speed sync mode the flash will fire rapid bursts of light that will expose the full frame in stages.

Aperture priority mode will give you nice even results, but try using the camera’s manual mode and you can up the shutter speed as high as you like (8000th of a sec if you like) which will darken the background, still keeping your subject evenly exposed. You can almost change your background from day into night. Try experimenting with a combination of shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and flash compensation. You won’t always get the result you expect.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Nikon Speedlights:: Part 1 - Setting Up Wireless

In any wireless system you need a sender (commander) and a receiver (in this case a wireless flash). There are three options to use as a commander, camera pop-up flash, SU800 Wireless Commander or another hotshoe Speedlight.
Using the pop-up flash: When the pop-up flash on your camera is used as a commander, the flash fires before the photo is taken, sending rapid pulses of light that instruct the remote flash(s) how long the light should last and how much power to use. The downside to using the pop-up flash as a commander is that it could cause your subject to blink. I’ve never had this problem, but it is a possibility.

The SB900 is so simple to set-up and use. 1. Turn the selector switch (on/off switch) on the right hand side to Remote. 2. Use function buttons 1 & 2 to change the group and channel settings. If you’re only using one remote Speedlight, then set it to Group A, Channel 1, but as you add more Speedlights you will need to use different Groups. Make sure the Groups and Channels on the Speedlights match the ones on the commander.

The SB800 is a bit intimidating when you pick it up for the first time, but it’s easier to work than it looks. 1. Press and hold the centre SEL button for 2 seconds. 2. Move the cursor to the box with the squiggly lines (see above) and press SEL (the up and down arrows appear). 3. Scroll down to remote and press and hold select for 2sec. REMOTE is displayed on the LCD. Pressing the SEL button toggles between the group and channel sections and the up and down switches on the main selector increases or decreases them.

Controlling the wireless flashes from your camera: The great thing about wireless Speedlights is that they are controlled from the camera. So once your lights are set-up, you can stay behind the camera. Go to Custom Settings Menu > Bracketing/Flash > Flash cntrl for built-in flash > Commander Mode. To set the camera’s pop-up flash as a commander,change the Built in flash Mode from iTTL to (two dashes). Group A and B adjust your Remote flash’s.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Nikon D300s Raw Files:: DNG Workaround

So, if like me, you have your new Nikon D300s and are out there shooting lots of photos to test it out. Maybe, like me, you have an important job coming up and you’re looking forward to putting it to work. But if you shoot in RAW and use Lightroom or Aperture, you have a problem, as the D300s is so new, neither Lightroom nor Aperture can handle the Nikon NEF RAW file format for the camera yet. So until they have been updated, you will either need to shoot JPEG or use Adobe’s DNG converter (*see bottom of this post about Camera Raw 5.5). I always shoot in RAW, so JPEG is not an option for me.

Using Adobe DNG converter, there are two ways to go. The first option is to convert NEF to DNG...job done. The downside is that you can’t extract the NEF file once the Lightroom/Aperture updates are available. The second option is to convert to DNG, and embed the original NEF file inside the DNG. The downside to this is that the converted DNG file will be around 25mb, double the size of your original NEF, but you will be able to extract the NEF at a later date.

*There is a 5.5 update for Camera Raw which covers the D300s, but it looks like it will only load on a 64bit machine. Photoshop CS4 will not work on a 64bit machine (according to the forums). Camera Raw 5.5 won’t work in Elements either...useless!

Download Adobe DNG converter at

If you want to see previews of your DNG’s in Windows explorer, you will need to download the DNG Codec at

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Media Storm

If you’re into photo journalism or documentaries, then head over to The site is photography based, but the images are interwoven with video and music to create fantastic pieces of multimedia. Subjects range from easy on the eyes to hard on the heart and mind. There are some fantastic films on a wide verity of topics. Some of the hardest hitting are, Bloodline, Rape of a Nation, Never Coming Home and The Marlboro Man.

My personal favourite is ‘Intended Consequences’ by photographer Jonathan Torgovnik. The film starts with a young Rwandan girl holding a photograph of a lot of skeletal remains, and pointing out which ones are her mother and her brother. It’s a powerful piece on Rwandan children that have been born through rape, and the mothers who say they don’t love their child.

Intended Consequences, like everything else on MS, is a first class piece of journalism. Don’t forget to watch the epilogue, where photographer Jonathan Torgovnik tells his story of having to interview these women. Jonathan tells the story so well, and you get a real sense of how much of a mark it has left on him.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-f4.5

I bought the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-f/4.5 about six months ago when I was planning on buying a spare Nikon body as a back-up. I had a similar size Nikkor lens, but I wanted to keep that in my main camera bag. I bought the Sigma because it was an f/2.8 at the wide end. I payed £128 second-hand from eBay and didn't expect much. Six months on and I'm using this lens more than any other. The 17-70mm is one of the sharpest lens's I have used and it's not even one of Sigma,s high-end EX range (I have a new Sigma 10-20mm EX now too). If my gear got stolen tomorrow, this is the first lens I would buy again. The only downside is that it's not a fixed f/2.8 aperture.
I had a shoot last week for an album cover by Italian guitarist Will Barbero and the 17-70mm was the lens I used for 90% of the job (Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 made up the other 10%). The photo of Will bellow was taken by the Sigma and has been reduced from a 9.35mb raw file to a 43.3kb 640x425 blogable image. Taken at 40mm, f/5.6, 60th sec, 200 ISO on a Nikon D300 on manual.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Give Us A Decent Viewfinder On A Small Camera...Please!

So Olympus has released the E-P1 Pen Camera. I’d like to try it out, especially at higher ISO’s to check the noise levels. A smallish camera with interchangeable lenses is most welcome for a carry everywhere unit, but it has one very important thing missing...a viewfinder.

I know that Olympus has a hotshoe viewfinder available as an optional extra for the 17mm pancake lens, but what I’m looking for in a small camera (Canon G11, Olympus E-P2, Panasonic LX4, Nikon P7000) is the following...

I want a really nice viewfinder with all the usual shooting info on display - aperture, speed, ISO, exposure compensation... I don’t want to look at a 3” screen when I’m taking a photo, it doesn’t feel right. I’ve used Live View on my Nikon DSLR about twice since I bought it, and both times was for shooting at ground level. At the very least, I’d like a nice bright, wide viewfinder with good optics and I’d settle for the shooting info on the LCD.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

DVD Review:: War Photographer

War Photographer is a powerful and fascinating documentary on DVD following photojournalist James Nachtwey through various countries and subjects. From war to famine, Nachtwey captures images that are not for those with a weak stomach. Using a micro movie camera mounted on the photographers SLR still camera, we see both the photographers point of view and a look back into the eyes of Nachtwey himself.

Nachtwey is probably the opposite to what you would expect a war photographer to be. He's a quiet, shy and caring guy who hasn't became hardened or indifferent to other peoples suffering. He does what he does to bring awareness and to try to change war and famine by showing the harsh truth. The music on the film is perfect for the images that it accompanies and is a big part of what makes this documentary so powerful. One of the best chapters on the DVD, and a great example of hi-impact imagery and a perfectly matched score, is the section on Rwanda . I highly recommend this DVD if you are interested in photojournalism, or war and everything that it brings.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Great iPhone App For Nikon Shooters

I've been using a handy little app on my iPhone lately. It comes in two versions at the moment, but more cameras, lenses, and flashguns are due soon. The next camera will be the new Nikon D5000.

The apps are clones of the Nikon D3 or D300 menu's. You navigate through the menus on your iPhone just like you do on the camera, but when you reach the end of the particular menu item, there is a description of what it actually does. It cost very little and is a great point of reference. Buy it on iTunes or go to the website at

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Nikon D300 Discontinued....D400???

The fantastic Nikon D300 has been discontinued (so has the D60) and rumors are now starting to come from more reliable sources that the D400 is on the way. The rumored spec on the D400 (if that's what it would be called) is:

HD movie funtion with stereo sound. * 16-18mp sensor (DX format). * Articulated screen (like the D5000). * Better ISO performance (at least as good as the D90).

Friday, 8 May 2009

DIY Reflectors:: Part 3

Lastolite TriGrip reflectors are fantastic, but not the cheapest. If money is tight or you need more than one on:

You’ll need one of the mount boards like we used in part 2. A craft knife and a roll of silver sticky back plastic covering (available from hardware shops). Place the board on the floor and cut a shape like the one in pic 1. Take the two largest pieces that you have cut off and trim them to use as strengtheners for the handle.

When you have cut the shape required, cover one side with the silver stick back plastic and trim it to size using the craft knife.

Take the two largest scrap pieces and trim and shape them to fit at the narrow end of the board. Cut a hole in one for a hand grip. Now place both together and use the knife to cut an identical hole in the other one. Place one of the handles on the main board and cut another identical hole through that to. Cover one handle with the sticky back plastic, wrapping it round and tucking it under.

Glue the handles on each side of the board and you now have a handheld reflector, silver on one side and white on the other.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

DIY Reflectors:: Part 2

Most art and craft shops sell large pieces of plastic mounting board. They have a dense foam inside, sandwiched between a couple of sheets of smooth white plastic and are very lightweight. I’ve used these before and they give of a nice soft reflection. You will need two of these plastic boards.Lay one board down flat in front of you in a landscape position and cut it in half. Now cut the top of both of these halves at an angle (as shown in pic 1). I simply measured 6” down each side to give me the angle required. Discard the two small pieces. Now place the large piece (the full sized one) in the middle of the two halves and butt them against each other so it looks like one large board.

Tape the left and right sides together down the seam using white (or silver) gaffer tape. Now fold both outer pieces in as if you were closing double doors. Tape down the edge (pic 2), then lift the full thing up and wrap the tape around the back. The tape acts as a hinge.

You now have a self standing three way reflector. You can stand it up on the flat end and use it as a horizontal three way reflector. Or you can stand it up on the angled end for a tilted reflector.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

DIY Reflectors:: Part 1

This is part 1 of a 3 part credit crunch/economic downturn (call it what you like) blog on DIY reflectors. Today’s reflector is not so much DIY as it is BIY (buy it yourself). We’ll get around to actually making stuff in part 2 & 3, but I’ll start off simple.

You can buy a thermal windscreen/windshield cover at most supermarkets or auto spares shops for very little money. They tend to be silver on one side and white on the other. Although they won’t stand up on their own you can wrap them round (or glue or staple) a piece of card or board or even lay them on the ground or over something. They fold or roll up really small and are very handy to keep in your kit bag. They also tend to have a hook at each side on the end of a piece of elastic, which can be handy for hanging up or attaching around something like a tree or fence.

For part 2 & 3 you will need the folowing:

3x sheets of mount board (dens foam sandwiched between two sheets of thin pvc). 1x craft knife. 1x silver sticky back plastic. 1x roll of white gaffer tape. 1x measuring tape or ruler.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

James Nachtwey:: War Photographer

"I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony.
The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated".

James Nachtwey is one of the worlds best war photographers, with a career that spans decades. He has been the subject of a documentary (simply called War Photographer) which is available on DVD.
Take a look at this clip on YouTube, but be warned, it contains scenes of death