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.