Category Archives: lenses

Shooting Soccer Games

Summer Soccer Shooting

Most folks that I shoot with know that I will use my iPhone for any number of photography tasks. Even at a wedding because the iPhone excels at macro shots like shooting the wedding rings very close to show off the details. But, there are times that you really need to use the proper camera and lens to get the best picture. Much like a carpenter who has five different hammers, a good photographer will have a few different cameras and knows when it is time to switch it up and change the camera to get the best picture they can. And it IS all about the picture, not what hardware you shot it with.

 Goalie Megan Blocking Ball

This summer, I’ve been shooting soccer games on the weekends. I have to say I really enjoy watching the kids mix it up and a few times, some of the more adventurous will try moves they saw used in the World Cup games. Shooting soccer games, even in daylight has some interesting challenges to work around. You have a very fast paced game, you normally have harsh light which is also directional and you need to be able to stand at one end and still get the shot at the other end of the pitch (field).

To be successful at this type of shooting, you need to balance several competing settings. You need to shoot with a long lens and and after shooting with a micro four thirds and my DSLR, I would only recommend the DSLR in combination with 70-200 mm lens at the minimum. And not any DSLR will do, you need to have a fast focusing system that can track and focus continuously.  My system is a Nikon D700 using a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 lens. Yes, it is heavy but it has the reach along with just enough zoom to track 90% of the action.  The Nikon also has a decent high speed frame rate which can be as high as 8 frames per second with the right grip and battery pack. And yes, you will need this burst mode to really catch the fast action on the field. Also, you will need high capacity cards since burst shooting chews through megabytes of card space in a  hurry. I typically shoot through one 16 Mb CF card per game which is roughly 500 images.

Olivia Chasing the Ball

The lighting will be your curse because most of the time, these games are outside in harsh directional light of morning or afternoon sun. You will need to move to one side or the other to get the best light so the kid’s faces are not in heavy shadow. This means you will be moving around a fair amount so forget the big camera bag. I never change lenses or use a flash during these games so I have a “man-purse” which is a shoulder slung belly pack which has spare memory cards, spare batteries, lens cloth and some gaffers tape. I also keep my light meter in it. And yes, I use a light meter to get my first settings of the day. I shoot the games on full manual mode. Why? Why not use aperture priority (Av)? Because with consistent exposure, my post processing is much faster. If I find that for 20 mins, the lighting was one way, I can set all the images during that window to the same adjustment. My ISO is locked down to 400 and my shutter is locked to anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/4000 of second. As much as I like a bit of blur to show motion, I want the kid’s faces sharp so its a delicate balance. I normally just live with the lack of blur in exchange for a crisp image that will print well for the parents.

I also use a lens hood but not that hard plastic disaster that Nikon gives me. I have a nice rubber Mamiya lens hood that originally was for a medium format lens. It’s black and folds back on itself if I need it out-of-the-way. More importantly is that when something hits it, the rubber bends and absorbs the impact. Think about a spectator on the line not paying attention to where my lens is as they get overly excited. I’ve saved many a head with this rubber lens hood.

When you shot, always try to think ahead of where the action is going. Constantly be aware of where the ball is, where it’s going and who might be kicking it. Use your fastest burst mode and learn to shoot with a gentle touch on the trigger. If you see the player getting close to the goal, start burst shooting to have a chance getting  the actual goal shot. This is ALWAYS a hero shot as the player pushes the ball past the goalkeeper. Conversely, a save of the attempted goal is also a hero shot that is often times overlooked by the photographer.

Attempted Goal

At the end of the day, you will need to sort through hundreds of images but there will be some real gems along with the out of focus shots, just missed shots and accidental shots. There will always be one or two shots that sum up the game’s action for the day. I make up faux magazine covers to showcase a player who has an exceptional image.

Magazine Cover Soccer Olivia

I also give parents a custom app on their mobil devices with images of their child when they purchase a package from me. These images will be downloaded to the mobile device and can easily be shared with various social media sites right from the phone or tablet. For a live demo of the custom app, click here.

Smartphone Album

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Moment Lens for the iPhone

Moment Lenses for the your iPhone!! The kickstarter project delivered my set just the other day and man am I excited about it.

Moment Lenses

These new Moment iPhone lenses really do work as advertised. One lens is a 18mm wide angle that is wide and shoots pretty flat rather than normal bubbled or fisheye look. And there is a 60mm telephoto lens that really works well and is sharp. The 60mm even provides decent blurred background when you use it as a portrait lens. In the following image, I used the 60mm telephoto lens as a portrait lens with nice results including a pleasant softening of the background.

60mm telephoto portrait

You really need to use a camera app like ProCamera 7 to keep the focus point where it needs to be. With the telephoto, the iPhone will hunt a bit for focus so you need to be able to lock it down for the best results.

The wide-angle lens is a thing of beauty to use. It has nice heft to it and it does not have very much distortion at the edges or the “bubble” effect of many “wide-angle” iPhone lenses. It does have a bit of fringing when you shoot into high contrast light.
18mm Wide angle

With the telephoto, you can now get the “zoom” you want and still have the ability to crop it down 50% without destroying the image which is what I did with this image. This beats “pinch zooming” which just ruins your images due to the heavy cropping that the “zoom” really does.

This is a 60mm telephoto shot that is uncropped width wise.
60mm Telephoto uncropped

And this image is the same framing but cut down 50%

50% crop of same framing

These wonders come from Moment Lens which was a Kickstarter project that I bought into several months ago. The lens we’re designed from the ground up to be a top multi element lens design to work with the iPhone lens as an element. They are big and heavy due to real glass and a lot of it in front of the iPhone lens. They use a twist lock mount that is pretty solid.

Moment certainly understands their market with a very sexy black box and high quality packaging. The feel of the lens itself is one of heft and solidness. The mounting ring is a stick-on plate and I was a bit concerned as to the weight of the lens pulling the mounting plate away from the camera body but with two full days of leaving one of the two lenses on the camera while going around Disneyland has not loosened it up that I can tell.

The downside to all this metal goodness is that the lenses are not cheap. But then these lenses are not for the casual iPhone photographer. These are for the enthusiast iPhoneographer who loves to push the limit of what the iPhone can do with photography. Even as heavy as they are, the lenses are considerably lighter than a DSLR lens and they still fit into a shirt pocket though it is a bit chunky. When I shoot with them, I naturally cup the lens with a finger to help keep all the weight from pulling down on the mounting plate.

Here is the 18mm mounted on an iPhone 5S with the olloclip case. The case still works with the mounting plate and provides a way to keep from bashing the Moment mount and still swing out-of-the-way when you go to use it.

18mm Moment Lens mounted on iPhone

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So many words and a new book for iPhone photography

I’m in the last few laps of editing for my new iBook on Successful Iphone Photography. The writing of the book is easy, the editing will kill you. But I’m having a fun with this project. I’ve tried to put in imaginative images that I’ve taken with my iPhones and have gone outside the box to get some cool shots. This book is not a vanity project or an “art” project. God knows there are enough of those around. It’s just “here is how to get solid images from the iPhone”.

 

Here is a preview of some of the images being used in the book. None of these are traditional iPhone images but I have some of those too in the book. These are images to get you thinking about you can do with your own phone. The only limit is what you put on yourself.

 

Double shot of coffee

Nothing like a cup of joe in the morning ?

iPhone 4S using a Hoya R72 IR filter for infrared

Who says you cant shoot IR on the iPhone

Half a Moon with the iPhone

I had several people call me out and say there was not any way this could have been an iPhone shot. I have the EXIF data and the original file. Go ahead, make my day

Using Movie Filmmaking rigging and a iPhone

This was taken using suction cup, ball heads and rigging that I normally attach movie cameras or DSLRs to cars and trucks. This was a fun shot complete with the gaffers tape holding the neutral filter stack over the olloclip lens on my iPhone

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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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Why Film? and Why Medium Format?

Comparison of digital camera image sensor sizes
Image via Wikipedia

With the advent of digital camera came the keening of film’s death song. I mean, who in their right mind would every want to use film again? I have a plastic card that is the size of my thumbnail and it hold hundreds of pictures and costs 20 bucks. A roll of film before processing is 4 bucks and then 15 more just to get it developed and maybe some prints. And you still need to scan it to DO anything with it? So why film? Whats the draw to film?

Because film offers a depth and clarity that most digital cameras can only dream off. Film is analog so the number of tone changes are infinite. Digital is not analog, duh.. and goes up and down in a given number of steps. In an image that offer subtle tones such as a portrait, this can become very important. This is even more important in Black and White art since a digital image starts as color and then is converted to Black and White. In film, you can shoot with Black and White film and get that gorgeous tonality that you can not get with digital. Oh sure, you can get close, sometimes very close but it’s not same. If you put a good B/W digital conversion next to a real B/W print, you can see the difference.

Often, I can get a sharper cropped image from my Mamiya 645 that cost me 500 USD for the entire kit plus three lenses than I can get from a Nikon D700 full frame DSLR that costs 3,000 USD just for the body and then add another 1 to 2 thousand for the good glass. And even after all that money spent, I still have an image that is only 35×24 mm in size. My Mamiya is a medium format camera or 120/220 which means my negative is 60×45 mm in size. This is almost double the size so if you want to print BIG and you want SHARPNESS, the medium format is the way to go. This is why in some industries such as fashion, 120/220 medium format film is still used or if you are wealthy, you can use a digital back for your medium format camera assuming you can pay up the 35,000 or so for the full size sensor. I can buy a lot of film for 35,000 USD

Digital has it’s place to be sure, I’m not about to give up having 300 plus images on a single flash card or the ability to “chimp” and see in real time what my images look like. But I’ve relearned to embrace the time and effort needed to shoot film because in some cases, it’s still better than digital.

So here is a full size scan of a 120 frame. It’s 5500 pixels from a 2400 dpi scan using my Epson 4990. It’s not a super image, I was hand holding and did a snap focus to catch the monorail but it serves the purpose of showing off how much data you can get from a 120 film frame.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels

Here is a 200% crop of the above image. The crop is about 800 pixels in size and you can see how much detail is still there in spite of the insane crop. The 800 pixels would be a usable image for web use or even a small print if needed. Try to crop your D700 image 200% and see what you get. On my D300 crop sensor, 200% crop turns it to mush.

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

120 Full Size scan 5500 pixels 200 percent crop

And here is a test shot using 100mm lens and 120 film. The film is B/W natively and it shows in the huge tonality range in the image. Smooth tones without having to fight with actions or conversions. I can amp up the tones very easily just like I used to do in the dark room using polycontrast filters and/or different types of paper. Given that I’m working with a real B/W image, the total processing time is less and I get better results.

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

ilford 400HP5 B/W 120 Film

This is NOT a religious thing with me nor am I’m a luddite who you will have pry my film from my cold dead hands. I’m someone who firmly believes in using the right tool for the task at hand. I also believe that sometimes in the rush for new technology, the benefits of the old tech is overlooked in the rush. I also firmly believe that while “good enough” is fine most times, to make the best art I can requires the use of the best tool I have access to. So while I can get “good enough” with a digital color conversion, I can do better with film and a bit more of an expense. And the few bucks more is “in the noise” when compared to the payoff.

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Why spend money on the good stuff?

uploaded to replace :Image:moosa.png as this o...
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We all like to save money dont we? I mean, business is a bit slow with the economy and whatnot so everyone likes to save here or there. There are coupons, deals, specials, closeouts, eBay and Craigslist.  But one place where it’s foolish to try and save too much on are your critical pieces for your business. Take computers for example. I use Macs..  I have twelve of them of various types and ages. My main computer is a MacPro dual quad. This was a three thousand dollar computer new, I bought it used off Craigslist last year from someone who bought it as a “trophy” and now needed cash. I ended up getting a great deal on it too. Why did I spend about double of a home brew clone that could have been hacked to run OSX? Because I tried the clone and after dealing with not working pieces, no support except what I could dig up on Google and spending HOURS getting it finally work right just to have it die on an update, I decided enough was enough. I could not count on it when I needed to work the most. Saving one thousand dollars was costing me more in lost time, productivity and more. It was cheaper over the year to buy the real Mac used then it was to try and save more by a hack job.

I still have my Hackintosh.. actually, I have two of them. I have a Dell netbook and my first tower with a single Quad. As it turns out, the Hackintosh works great as a media center in my office. Or it did until the EFIx card that let it run OSX died. So I ended up wasting a day putting it back together another way that did not need the card. And it reminded me why over a year ago I stopped using the Hackintosh as my main computer.

Sometimes trying to save money will cost you a considerably amount in the future. This lesson is why I buy the best camera bodies I can buy, the best lenses and the best software even though it hurts to write those checks. I get support, I get efficiency and I get peace of mind.  There are some places you can cut a corner or two and get away with it but you need to always think ahead and ask yourself, “what if”. What if your deal dies in the middle of a work day? What if your deal cant be upgraded? What if your deal turns out to be a trojan horse that ends up letting bad things on your computer (think bit torrents and the like). As a hobbiest, one  can get away with alot more than as a business person. Because as a business, there is far too much at stake ranging from your client’s images to your profits.

There are places you can save ALOT with some careful shopping. Take lenses for example, there are many high lenses for sale on eBay that are what I call “trophy glass”. Someone bought them when they were flush with cash and now they need cash. I bought my 17-55mm F2.8 for less than half of what a new lens would cost and I sent it Nikon for refurbishment. Even then, I was at a bit over half price of a new boxed lens and I had a “new” used lens. My 70-200mm F2.8 was the same way but not quite as a good deal but better than buying new by four hundred or so. One D300 was a factory refurb and the other came used from B&H and had a 30 day promise of replacement if needed. Both were several hundred cheaper than a new boxed camera. That right there more than paid for the MacPro.

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Distoration and the Canon G11

When I read the reviews on the Canon G11, nobody and I mean NOBODY mentioned the horrible lens distortion that the 6mm setting puts into the image. Worse, nobody mentioned that even in mid setting, there is a pin cushion effect, subtle but there regardless. Why did I see all this and not anyone else? Do I have the all seeing eye? Not so much but I AM shooting exclusively RAW which was one of the prime reasons I bought the camera. It turns out that in JPEG mode or in Automatic, the camera applies filters and corrections to fix all this but in RAW, you are pretty much on your own.

What I found out recently is that Lightroom under Camera Profiles Lens Corrections, you can fix alot of this type of problem for many cameras. If I were Adobe, I would be shooting this from the mountain tops and not keep it hidden. In the case of the G11, I can pick Canon G10 (pretty much the same camera) and LR will fix virtually all the distortion cleanly and fast.

See the image below for a side by side of before and after.

lightroom camera profile before and after

Lightroom Camera Profile before and after

This is image is not retouched in any way other than the camera profile and whatever sharpening was applied in the conversion to JPEG from RAW in Lightroom.

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel

But that is not all folks, you can have access to transforms from within Lightroom!! No more having to leave LR to go into Photoshop to use transforms. Check out this second panel in the Camera Profile panel.

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel 2

lightroom camera profile lens corrections panel 2

And there is one more feature. Take a look at the next picture and you will see a grey background where I have transformed the image onto an angle which leaves a blank area. Instead of having to manually crop this, you have the option of clicking on the tick box to constrain the image as you go. This keeps the image cropped while you work. You can always go back and adjust to taste just like any other crop setting.

Camera Profile Lens Correction Auto Constrain Crop

Camera Profile Lens Correction Auto Constrain Crop

I hope this tip helps you as much as it did me. Even my good glass from Nikon benefited at times from the automatic corrections. Not nearly to the degree of the Canon but then the glass cost fours times as much as the Canon cost 🙂 You expect better from something that costly.

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Come Sail Away

One thing that a photographer needs to learn (truthfully, most people need this) is how to make lemonade from life’s lemons tossed your way. I had the absolute misfortune of being taken off my flight at Heathrow airport due to the ash cloud shutdown of Europe’s airspace on April 15, 2010. We were loaded and ready to go when we were told “everybody off”. I was one of the lucky ones, I was able chase down my luggage and clear customs with relative speed, only about three hours. Some other had not gotten their luggage in three days after the event.

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

Two days after Heathrow shutdown

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

3rd day of ALL FLIGHTS CANCELLED

I had booked my flight with a very good travel agent, Linda Christen since I was going overseas and past experience has taught me to avoid the self service sites like Orbitz and Travelocity like the plague. She was able to dig up a room at a local hotel when all hotels were saying “we are full”. It was not a cheap room but definitely cheaper than many around it and the neighborhood sucked being right at the airport. However, it was clean and beat having to go to London proper which was twenty miles or so away then having to either cab it or take the underground back each I needed to be at the airport. During the week it took me to get out of Heathrow, I had over nine flight cancellations in six days. I had to extend my room four times. And even when they opened the airport, my airline still cancelled flights and would not take new reservations due to the existing flights already being booked up weeks in a advance. Some airlines were and still are offering specials to booked passengers who are willing to cancel their flights to free up seats. So it was looking something the first week of May before I could really consider getting out.

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

First Flight from Heathrow in 5 days

This brings up something very important to anyone traveling not just photographers, make damn sure you have a good line of credit. I brought my ATM card which is how I normally pay for things but I also had brought my business AmericanEx card plus one MasterCharge with a fairly good limit and nothing on it. As it turns out, since I had the MC card AND I had called them ahead of time to let them know I was going to be in the UK, I had zero issues with using the card, even to charge the cruise to it. All sorts of people around me were struggling with cards maxed out or not being accepted because they were overseas and so on. The good thing is by putting the cruise on a single empty card, I know exactly what part of this debacle is the cruise and which part is the hotel. Since my flight was booked on AmEx card, I might get some of it back via the built in insurance policy but we shall see.

Since I had been in Oxford on a holiday to see my eldest daughter, I had not planned on being out of country more than 6 days. So by week two, laundry was becoming an issue. I had been able to take advantage of the dorm laundry when I was visting so I had a buffer of a few days of clean clothes. However, it also that meant that in a few days I was in the shower washing shirts and underwear while getting myself clean. Since I never knew when I could leave, I could not risk the paid laundry since it took two days. My hotel did not have any kind of gift shop, so I had to shop at other and nicer hotels to buy razors and other supplies. This was a one mile hike to get the closest one and I found a minimart at a carwash that had some soap and sold cheap boxed sandwiches to avoid the twenty pound lunch at the hotel.

In the end, a very crazy idea that I had on saturday night paid off. I had sent an email to my travel agent to see about booking passage on the Queen Mary 2 which I had read on the internet was leaving in a few days out of Southhampton. And yes, she thought I was nuts but she humored me and she put my name on the wait list of two hundred people. This was before the ongoing flight cancellations all week. I had done it as a “last resort” type of thing and when I got a call on Weds saying there was a cabin available, the waitlist had over 1,500 people. I had a flight for thursday but American Airlines would not confirm the flight would even take place. As it turns out, it did not take place. So for about 2/3s of the price of staying in a hotel for yet another week plus bad food, I was able to get a cabin on the biggest and the only true Ocean Liner left in the world.

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

My ride home - Queen Mary 2

Oh yes, I am terribly underdressed for this event. In fact, as I write this entry, everyone around me is getting ready for Captian’s Night which I have zero chance of attending as it’s tux only. I dont even have slacks much less a tux, I have good working jeans that travel well 🙂 But the food at the buffet is very good and my jeans are perfectly acceptable there.

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Queen Mary 2 Grand Staircase

Now, what does all this have to do with photography? Plenty, the photographic opportunities aboard the QM2 are amazing. I have seven days to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. There so much art and architecture on the ship to shoot that it’s a perfect place to practice and refine your craft without the pressure of time.

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

Queen Mary 2 Sunset on the first night

The QM2 has wireless in most cabins and in most public places. If you buy a block of eight hours, you will pay about thirty five cents a minute for internet. Not cheap but it’s enough to get email and upload small sized images to sites like Flickr or a blog. A side benifit of the wireless is that while the Queen has cell coverage, I can use Skype to call home. Why use Skype and not my cell? because even with international roaming, the voice charges are 1.40 USD per MINUTE and the data rates are 11.00 USD per megabyte. By contrast, I paid 167.00 USD for 8 hours of internet time which works out to be .35 cents per minute. Skype is free plus the .35 cents per minute so this is a no brainer.

This leads to yet another piece of advice for really anyone nowadays traveling. Bring a laptop or even a netbook that is fully loaded with the various applications like Skype, FTP, a couple of different browsers and emergency software like file recovery and/or flash card recovery software. In my own case, I had just gotten a new 13 inch Macbook Pro but I not had a chance to load all my favorite items on it and I decided pretty much at the last minute to take old reliable which is a 15 inch Macbook Pro from three years ago. A very good choice on my part since I have all my normal software loaded so I can edit and adjust images, post to my blog, phone home and more.

So with the travel tips finished, lets move on to shooting pictures on a cruise ship. On the ship, one problem is that they use a type of florescent light that is very yellow in color and will wreak havoc on your white balance. The best thing is to shoot RAW and correct in post. Lighting inside tends to be dim so ISO 800 is more the rule to get a decent shutter speed while shooting at F2.8 to F4.

The lens of choice so far after three days of shooting is my 11-24mm F4. So much of the ship is expansive and you really need the wide angle to bring it all in. I had my 17-55 F2.8 but so far I have not had a need for it. Another excellent item to have is a really good point and shoot. I brought my new G11 with me as a test and it has been getting quite the unintended workout in the past three weeks. The camera is perfect for most shooting on the ship but it has a very hard time with bright and dark in the same image. When the lights blow out, they blow big and fringe badly. So in some cases, I have taken my D300 and gone back to locations to get nicer shots that I had shot first with my G11.

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

Queen Mary 2 Quiet Time

The color issues can be adjusted in post so long as you are shooting RAW. With JPEGs, it will almost impossible to correct well. What is interesting is that while I see it as a pale yellow, the camera sees it as a vivid yellow, very intense. This ship also has halegon spots all over and when the two lights mix, it’s very tough to get a good white balance. I brought a set of gels with me so I will probably break out the SB800 and my gels to see if I can gel the lights. For that matter, I might just tape the gel to my G11 for a fast test. I brought a small roll of gaffers tape, dont you travel with some wrapped around a sharpy? You should!

Something else to consider when on the road, I have bought what I called “Extended Manuals” from Amazon via their Kindle service. I then use the iPhone version of the Kindle software to have these manuals for the D300 and G11 at the ready for reference. This is very important for times like now when I’m toting a new camera along for the first time.

Another invaluable accessory that I bought recently was the Luma camera strap. I also bought an extra lanyard for it. So I have one camera strap for two cameras. And when I have to clear security like getting on to the Queen Mary for example, it’s a simple matter of unclipping the lanyard and then reclipping it when I’m done. No more trying to lift a strap over my head, hat, jacket etc. To be honest while the Luma is awesome for the G11, I prefer my Rapid Strap for the D300, even more so with a long lens on it. The lanyard will twist and let the bounce around quite a bit on my hip whereas the BlackRapid strap tends to hold the camera against my hip and in the same position all the time.

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Shooting with the Canon G11

The more I use the Canon G11, the more I see that the newest and higher end compact cameras are under rated. I have spent over a week now shooting the G11 in all conditions and I have to say that while the ergonomics are poor, the picture quality is very good. And the camera has a very “well built” feel to it, like the difference between a Honda and a Mercedes.

The G11 itself is built very well and feels sturdy in your hands. Even the swivel screen does not feel flimsy as you swing it in and out. The problems I have with the camera revolve around where the right hand has to grip the camera body. There is a small bump to wrap your fingers around it on the right but it’s too damn small to be of any use. The body really needs to be extended here and in fact, on the older G series, one of the most popular accessories is a grip extender. Without it, my thumb ends up resting on the buttons since there is not any space to put it anywhere else. The “menu” button ends up jammed into my palm and the thumb goes right over the function button. So often, I find my settings have changed. Holding the camera in the vertical mode is worse, to keep your finger on the shutter button keeps my fingers hitting the buttons all the time. Most common I find my F stop has changed without my knowing it. A button lock switch would have been a killer addition. Something like small slide switch on my iPhone where I can silence the phone in an instant.

But since I dont have it, I make do. Ergonomics aside, the picture quality is very important, I mean, no matter how good the buttons are, if the picture quality sucks, then why bother? This camera had the sensor size “degraded” from 12 to 10 megapixels in order to clean up some of the noise from putting too many pixels on a very small sensor.

Now the noise is not alot compared to other small cameras, it is still considerably more than my D90 or D300. Even at a relatively low ISO of 400 is still noisy. This means in post, there is an extra step of having to run Noiseware (or whatever your choice for noise reduction is). In Noiseware, the “Film Grain” setting seems to work very well at cleaning up the images without ruining the edge details. In this picture, I shot at ISO 800 with a shutter of 1/125 F3.5 and 15mm. The noise is clearly visable but not too objectionable and would easily clean up. At 3200, you would be to pretty desperate to use the image even after clean up. ISO 1600 is pretty much the limit of the G11 to make a decent image that will still clean up well.
The Chancel Vault

Here is a crop of ISO 800 without any retouching or noise clean up.
Crop showing ISO 1600 G11

Given the price tag of the G11, I am surprised at the stunning amount of distortion in the wide angle settings. At a retail price of 500 USD, I would expect much better optics than this. In this shot of my MBP screen at it’s widest, you can see the barrel distortion all around the image.
First Contact

To fix it, you need to remember to move the lens in just a touch and the level of distortion drops right off. This is overshadowed by how well the camera works in close up work and macro work. It can take stunning ly good close up shots in very difficult situation even holding it without any tripod. The IS that Canon added to it works incredibly well. In these shots, I was shooting through a case case in both shots.I was right up on the glass but not touching it and just using spread finger tips as a “tripod”. In both shots, the G11 was set to macro mode and in full manual. In the gears shot, I did use manual focus to get the focus exactly where I wanted it.
Gears Astrolab

I will say that I bought a spare battery for this and I find that I really dont need to use the spare even after shooting off over 300 images during the course of a day. Now, I did not use the flash very much and I tend to turn off the camera when I’m not shooting since it comes on very fast. But still, it’s a very good achievement in battery life

And lets talk about RAW vs JPEG. On my older Canon SD500, 550 and 800 cameras, the camera generated JPGs are pretty good. On the G11, they suck. Is that plain enough? The color balance and sharpness is not there. I find that shooting RAW is the ONLY way to really use this camera and then clean it all up in post. So in a major way, that defeats the whole reason for using a point and shoot which is connivence. Now, I dont mind since my workflow is already geared up for RAW but for someone like my wife, this camera is completely wasted on her and she is a pretty good snapshot artist. So if it were me, I would NOT recommend this camera to anyone other than a serious amateur or a working pro who really can use the manual settins and the close up/macro capability of this camera. Anyone else will be very frustrated by it. As it is, it frustrates me but I’ll live with it till someone designs a better semi-pro point and shoot.

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It’s all in the wrist or how to shoot car races successfully

I think we photographers at times get caught up in the latest hardware or widget that promises to make us the hot shot photographer we want to be. And we then forget about some very basic skill sets that we knew at one time and should probably remember more often.

I had the chance to see the NASCAR AAA 500 out in Fontana this weekend in one of the private suites on the infield. Amazing view of the race, the cars, the sound and the action. I got very lucky to be there and to get to take tours of the pits and the garages so I made the most of it by bringing along my D300, 17-55 F2.8 and my “big gun, the 70-200 F2.8 VR. For the garage stuff, the 17-55 was cool but it was hopeless out matched trying to shoot the cars zooming by at 180 MPH. The 70-200 was my top gun for most of this effort and I got to experiment some since I had time on my hands watching cars go in circles for a few hours.

The track wakes up

Even at 1/2000 shutter, you could not get a clear shot of the cars while holding everything still. You had to, guess!!! you had to PAN the camera and pan it FAST. One of the most basic skills that I used to shoot these shots has me finding out that people are astounded that it works. I did have to make sure I was not going to clock my neighbors on the left side with the lens as I swung it around in an arc very fast. That 70-200 VR F2.8 is a solid and heavy lens, it would really do some damage to hit someone up side the head with it.

Number 33

What makes a good NASCAR or any racing car picture? In a word, motion! at 1/1250 shutter, everything was crisp and you could read the letters on the tires with a good smooth pan. But the car did not show any motion so it looked like a model placed on the track. At 1/800, you had crisp with the letters on the tires blurred. By the time I got to 1/250, it was sweet.. blurred track, blurred fans and blurred lettering but with a good pan, the car would be crisp. Now I had the money shots.

Close Quarters

Next tip was to shoot full manual and in RAW. Why? because the lighting changed CONSTANTLY and to get the fastest focusing and consistent shots, the camera needed to be locked down. RAW because of the random lighting, many times in post, I had to bring up or down about 1/2 stop to get the exposure right on the money. RAW let me do that and to really dial in the colors without fear of trashing the image like you would in a JPEG.

Next tip? Easy.. prefocus the camera and then let it fine tune it on the pan. This gets the fastest automatic focus you can get.. plus having it in continuos focus mode. If the camera has to waste time moving the focus from the middle of the range to the extreme end, you will miss the cars every time.

On fast subjects like these cars, dont forget to LEAD the subject, just shooting a gun. And shoot rapidly, I did 3 FPS which was plenty.. the guy behind me was shooting at 8FPS but then he also had the big assed 500MM and was probably getting paid to be there.

Still using Holley carbs

Dont forget that it’s a story and not just cars. Shoot the pits because that can be VERY exciting. I also shot quite a bit in the garages getting very interesting detail shots of the templates being used, car testing, cars on stands, mechanics working etc. All of this can really keep a persons interest as they go through your pictures.
Army's driver Ryan Newman and interviewer

Walk around, change locations to get different angles, 300 images from the same place will look BORING in short order.

Ready to roll

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