Tag Archives: canon

It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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Photoshopworld 2010

So I survived Vegas with it’s 30 dollar lunches, 25 dollar shots of Scotch and my cheap room at Mandalay bay. I guess it all balances in the end since I did not give a nickel to the slots. The keynote was awesome, the Tweet up was alot of fun, the Expo was crazy good fun and I did sneak out early because of the holiday and trying to fly home on Friday.

I split my time with several class this time. I noticed that in 2007 which was the last time I was there at PSW, I saw 95% software based classes. This time, the tracks were split between real photography classes and software like Painter, Photoshop and such. I ended wishing I could attend them all but settled on a mix of classes

My preconference class was “The Art of the Digital Canvas” with Faye Sirkis and I had high hopes for the class since I really wanted to see how to make CS5 work with the new bristle brushes. But, the class fell short of my expectations between a lack of real meat in the class and technical issues with CS5. The good news is that was the only class that fell short in my opinion. The two classes I took with Joe McNally were awesome to be in and Joe has a very good sense of presentation with humor and solid information.  I took a Fashion Portrait class with David Cuerdon who I found relatively recently on Kelby’s training site and have decided that I really, really like his style and teaching methods.. The fashion class was a wealth of info on how to shoot and more importantly, retouch the shots effectively.

Zack Arias did a couple of classes but the one I went to was “Stuff you need to know to be a photographer” and as always, Zack did a bang up job of getting down to the nuts and bolts of being successful as a photographer and to figure out what is really important to you and and your craft. A hint, passion only gets you so far as a photographer.

I did the concert and event photographer on something of a lark and it was very interesting to hear how it works behind the scenes as it were. Also the choice of gear, how to get the pass and what to expect as a photographer at a concert. Alan Hess did a very good job at showing the class the real world of Concert photography and proving that yes, you can have fun while working for a living 🙂

Here are some random shots from the trip. I split my shooting between my Canon G11 and my D300. Both worked well but the Canon struggled with the low light in the classes. The D300 would work but only but shooting at 2.8 with ISO 3200 or 6400. I was really wishing for a FX camera and ISO 25,000 🙂 The NAPP Keynote was completely shot using the G11 and it did very well considering I had the zoom maxed out and the lighting was so bad. The class shots of Joe McNally were taken with the D300 at ISO 6400.

Zack Arias

Zack Arias

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Metal prints were the hot item

Metal prints were the hot item

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

Photoshop Keynote

Photoshop Keynote

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Home Base

Home Base

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Photoshop TV LIVE

Photoshop TV LIVE

Joe McNally

Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Joe McNally in action

Joe McNally in action

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

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Posted in commercial photography, event photography, photography, technique, training, Travel, venue Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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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Canon G11 Lousy Button Placement Ergonomics

After my bad mouthing the Canon G11 ergonomics, I was asked to show why I’m so bitter about such a lousy design. So here we go. A few close up shots of where my right hand thumb ends up while trying to shoot the G11.

The first picture below is a full back shot of the G11 showing the backside of the video screen and the right hand button controls.

Canon G11 Back

Here is a close up of the offending buttons. As it turns out, my thumb lays right across the control wheel plus the selector button. So I’m always changing settings without knowing it unless I’m very careful in placement and pressure.

Canon G11 controls on back upper right

Now you can see what happens when I hold the camera in my right hand ready to shoot. My thumb which is not excessively large, manages to hit most of the buttons just by virtue of being there holding the camera.

G11 Right Thumb Placement

Here is a side view of my thumb pressing into the buttons.

Sideways G11 Thumb Placement

So hopefully you can see why I’m constantly cursing the design of the camera controls. I dont think the Canon engineers ever had actually USE the camera for any length of time. And trying to hold the camera in the vertical position is even worse. Now you thumb really does have to press down to steady and hold the camera. Did the engineers not even TRY to use the controls?

These shots were NOT taken with a G11, I shot these with my Nikon D90 and a 1.4 50mm lens almost wide open.

The first shot was taken with the G11 siting on the hood of my Explorer and in the shade. I blew out the background and popped the internal flash but dialed down 1.5 stops. I used LR and CS4 for post. I dialed down the saturation to get nice blacks on the body and I touched up the reflection to darken it a bit more.

The lanyard is for the quick release of the LumaLabs camera strap. Works great on the G11, not so good on my D300 with a 70-200 F2.8 lens hanging on it.

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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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Traveling Light

Don’t you just love being invited to see someone’s travel pictures? Does the groan escape your lips before you can stop yourself or do you just bite the bullet and suffer quietly? But here is the kicker question, how do YOUR travel pics look to everyone else? hmmmmm? Thought so.. so here are some tips on creating memorable travel shots that wont put your audience to sleep OR cost you and arm and a leg in glass.

Bones of a BE2c

My first tip is a bit odd and not so much a tip as something to think about. Travel is all about seeing the sights and experiencing new things, people and places. Unless you are getting PAID for the trip, it’s NOT about dragging two bodies, half dozen lenses and assorted equipment along. So my first piece of advice is to consider, strongly consider getting a really good point and shoot camera.

In my case, I got a Canon G11 because I truly believe that Nikon’s point and shoots are best left home. None of them equal the G11 in features or flexibility. I also feel that Nikon is making serious mistake with that line of marketing. But anyways, there is the G11, there is the slightly cheaper but in some ways, better S90, the Panasonic LX3 and there are the newer four thirds which are a a marginal point and shoot with swappable lenses. I tend not to include the four thirds in this talk because of their size. The Canon G11 is almost too big but still qualifies as a “point and shoot” due to it’s fixed lens and smallish size.

I suggest a good point and shoot because when traveling with one like the G11, you have virtually all the control that you have with the DLSR. You do NOT have swappable lenses but then the zooms on the P/S camera are pretty amazing at the ranging they can work. I just spent a week in the UK and never pulled my D300 out of my ThinkTank bag. I shot everything with the G11. This leads to another tip.

Leave 90% of the “must have” accessories at home. I did a week in the UK and never used my remotes, my SB800 flash, graphics tablet, D300, 17-55 F2.8 lens, 50mm 1.4 lens, spare batteries etc. I DID use my Epson P5000 to archive my images from the Sd card, I DID use my Macbook Pro for email and fast edits for posting to Flickr so friends and family could see a few shots as I went and I DID use my USB hard drive for my Time Machine backups while in the room. So when thinking about the trip and really think about what you plan to do, be ruthless! Most museums will NOT let you use the fancy flash and/or camera without hassling you about it. Nobody gave a damn about my G11. I lived in my Luma Loop strap and it was great at the checkpoints where I could just unsnap the camera, hand it to security and then snap it back on. No mess and no fuss trying to lift straps over my head and jacket. I like it much better on my G11 than I do on my D300. For my D300, I prefer the Rapid Strap but since we are talking about lightweight point and shoots, really take a look at the Luma.

I consolidated quite a few of my chargers down to three and one I didnt need. The AA charger was not needed since I never used the SB800 flash I brought. The old Razor charger works on my Crackberry and is lighter and smaller than the OEM for the Blackberry. I had the Canon charger and a USB cable for the iPhone since it can charge while connected to the laptop. I had two more USB cables, both the same type so I could plug in both my flash card reader and the external HD at the same time. I did bring a spare power pack for the iPhone for while I was on the airplane since it was 11 hours of flying time and time at the airport. I also have a small two piece plastic stand that holds the iPhone horizontal and at a 50 degree angle for watching movies or podcasts. I brought spare earbuds since I have them fail before.

So what can you do with a point and shoot you ask? Am I going to “give up” anything? Yeah, weight and size. A good point and shoot can perform almost as well as the DLSR. Note I said Almost.. not As well. There is some give and take but we are talking TRAVEL pictures people, not the cover of Vanity Fair or Country Life. You want nice shots that wont bore people to death when you show them. And that my friend is more of YOU than the camera. So learn how to use the point and shoot CORRECTLY. It’s not the same as your DSLR and it will require a different technique to some degree. And it will require more post processing to get the most out of the image. There is distortion in the wide angles, noise even at relatively low ISOs like 400 and on my G11, a distinctly narrower tonal range between shadow details and totalling blown highlights. The G11 also fringes blue like mad on blown or close to blown highlights. So experiment before you leave and make sure you understand the limits and how best work around them.

When I use my G11, 90% of the time I am shooting full manual mode. I tend to shoot ambient light and the G11’s smarts do not do so well with backlit scenes. There is a feature on the G11 that I absolutely love. I can be in full manual, focus on the subject and dial up or down F stop and/or shutter in real time and see the changes on the screen. No guessing, I just focus and dial in what I want it to look like or as close as I can get. This is such a cool thing is nasty lighting like a dim church or museum. I dont have to take the camera away from my eye and look at the screen to see the shot. I just hold it up, focus and watch the screen in real time. The G11 also has a rotating screen which I LOVE!! My old Nikon 950 has one and that is the one feature I miss the most on my D300/D90.

Another tip is to shoot RAW if you can. The JPEGs on the Canon just plain out and out suck. In RAW, I can recover alot of those “blown” highlights and pull back the fringing if I want. I also can run my normal workflow of Noiseware and a highpass filter which gives me clean and sharp images. Much better than the in-camera JPEG processing could ever hope to be.

Use the built in flash but use it wisely. In other words, dont turn it on and leave “on”.. learn to set it just like you do aperture or shutter speed. The built in flash works very well as fill for getting rid of those nasty shadows under someone’s eyes in bright light. It works very well to bring up the shadows in a dim museum assuming you are allowed to use the flash.

Amanda Oxford Portrait

Play with different techniques and post work flow. Dont be afraid of blur or Black and White. I learned a trick from Jack Davis (How to WOW) about using slow shutters while shooting out the window of a moving bus or car for an impressionistic look. With a bit of luck, it looks very cool. Also, take interesting shots of family, they are the models traveling with you and since they tend to ignore you anyways, play into that.

Rider
Blue Skies

Black and white is easily accomplished with today’s tools and remember, it’s BLACK and WHITE, not middle grey which is what you get with default settings of greyscale. It’s all about tones and texture in B/W, not color so strong subjects, close ups and something with a large tonal range can work very well in B/W.

WWII in B/W

Stairs of Light

Dont forgot to use interesting composition!! Dont take the same damn shot everyone else takes. Well, take it first and get it out of the way then start experimenting. You have digital film for pete’s sake, damn near unlimited assuming you either have a large flash card or you brought spares. You DID bring spares yet?

Hyde Park in London

Museum of Natural History Oxford

And FOOD!!! Remember, this is traveling and you are not eating at the same old places (you had better not be!) So sometimes, the food can be quite interesting to shoot and share with friends later.

Pizza

Every one of these pictures were taken with my point and shoot Canon G11 under a varity of conditions. All are not your typical crappy image out of a point and shoot. The equipment helps but in the end, the photographer working the camera makes the biggest difference. The point and shoot allows you to travel very light on equipment and in many ways, frees you to be more creative by doing more with less. Try it and I think you might yourself addicted to using the point and shoot alot more than you think you will.

Happy trails!!

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Stabilize me

It used to be in the old days, you needed a shutter speed roughly the same as the focal length of your lens. So if you were shooting with a 200mm lens, you need to use about 1/250 to have a chance at a reasonable sharp lens. And telephones were the worst since their length amplifies the wiggles of unsteady hands, age, too much caffine and so on. If you were active, it was worse. You learned to pan very carefully, you learned to cradle the camera right up against your body like a gun. And you still ended up with fuzzy images.

Move up 20 years and now we have IS (Image Stabilization), VR (Vibration reduction) and other names for the same thing. Some work in the lens and some work in the body of the camera. It has become cheap enough that most new point and shoots have a form of it available. I can hand hold the lens at 1/80 and get a sharp image at a wedding without a tripod or monopod. In other words, I can get difficult shots much easier.

VR will not save the world in spite of the marketing propaganda. Sure, you can shoot at 1/10 F5.6 and get a sharp picture but whats the point if the subject is moving? Like kids at a party? So you get a sharp wall and a blur that was the kid running past.

But what does it DO? In simple terms, with the Nikon, there is a package of electronics that move the front element of the lens set actively to get the sharpest image when the shutter is triggered. On many Nikon DLSRs, you can hear a “clunk” as the system engages. I know alot of professional photographers who sneer at VR (I shoot Nikon, so I know this system) as a crutch and that “real” photographers do not use VR. To be honest, I did too for a while and then I thought VR would save the world but finally I understand that VR is just another tool that an help or hinder depending on how I use it.

For example, I spent quite a bit of money on a 70-200mm F.8 lens that is also VR. Why VR on a “fast” piece of glass you ask? Well, the lens can take amazinly sharp images but with the VR engaged, I expand my working range of settings. Instead of having to be still at 1/250 shutter, I can be in a car at 80 MPH and shooting 1/360 at F8 with the lens racked out at 200 mm and still get sharp images inspite of the car and the camera bouncing around on the roadway.

Lets take a look at VR (IS) and see when it’s useful. A typical arrangement for Nikon shooters is to use something like a D80/D90 with a 18-200mm F4.5 VR zoom. So the typical shooting would be something like ISO 1000 to 1600 to keep the noise manageable. So shooting at F4 which is wide open for this lens means in a semi-dark event, that you are shooting something like 1/20 of second shutter. It will be bad enough that the subjects will be moving but at 1/10-1/20 hand holding a zoom lens at something like 100mm on average means alot of blurry pictures. On the other hand, VR will at least give a clear image of what is not moving while you shoot. VR normally is like 3 stops.. so the 1/20 is really shooting at about 1/60 to 1/100 “apparent” shutter speed. It wont stop the action but the background, tables etc will be sharp. Where VR really shines is shooting something like a stage show with enough light that you will be shooting about 1/60 ish and you are shooting long like 100 to 200mm. The shutter is just fast enough to catch people standing still and the VR will give a good focus even at 200mm since the “apparent” shutter is around 1/200.

Here is a family shot taken at 200mm with a 18-200mm zoom shooting wide open at F5.6 and 1/100 shutter. Normally, this would have blurred unless taken with a tripod or supported some how. In this case the camera was held by hand and resting on my forearm. The VR gave a clear image with the low shutter speed relative to the smallish aperture.

Little Angels

VR is not a cure all and it does cost you some in clairity at least in the cheaper lenses like the NIkon 18-55mm VR and 18-200 VR. I always seem to see a bit of softness instead of a really sharp focus with these lenses. This even holds true for the expensive F2.8 VR but on that lens it is very dependent on how bright the image is. Shooting VR in good conditions gives a razor sharp image that you can count nose hairs with. In low light, it’s a bit fuzzy on the edges. But I got the image and it’s usable unlike shooting with it and not getting a usable image. I find that a high pass sharpening works wonders at cleaning up the edges.

Here is another shot where VR really makes a difference. I shot several pictures together by hand at night with the F4 aperture and about 1/30 shutter. Then I stitched them all together. With the VR, all of the images were sharp in spite of hand holding and the low shutter speed.

Christmas Block

VR works in the daytime also. One of my favorite lenses to shoot with for daily stuff is a Nikon lens that costs about 150 USD and looks like it might blow away in a stiff breeze. It’s scary light when you pick it up but it can really take some nice pictures when given a chance.

These images were taken with the 18-55mm VR and both images have sold. It is not always about the equipment.

This image of the Disney California Adventure Zephyr was taken by hand with a shutter of 1/2 second

Zephyr

This image was taken using a shutter of 1/40 and panning with the zoom at 18mm. Look how sharp the people and rocket is. Hard to believe it was a 150 dollar lens huh?

Rocket Ride

So the bottom line is that stabilization is your friend and even in a cheap lens, it can really make a world of difference. You just need to know the limits of VR (IS) and remember that some basic rules apply even with VR. Shutter speed is shutter speed, a slow shutter will give blurred motion to moving objects without or with VR enabled. Stationary objects work best with VR. VR is not perfect but it will certainly help.

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Save a buck

Lets be honest, most photographers are equipment junkies. We view lenses and camera widgets like a crack addict views crack, cant get enough and no matter how much we do get, we want more. To aid you in this endeavor, I want to offer up some tips I have used over the years to at the least, lower the acquisition cost of new toys.

One of the biggest expenses is good, fast and heavy glass.. primes or zooms, they cost a mint to buy new. For example, I wanted a Nikon 17-55m F2.8 for shooting weddings and events. It’s heavy, temperamental focusing but when it’s on, it is VERY good. The damn thing also costs 1,600 bucks new even at a discount. So what is a poor boy to do? Can you say “Ebay”? But, you say, the lenses on ebay are abused, no warranty, grey market, stolen etc. All true to be sure but with some careful shopping and planning, you can pull the deal of the year. Here is how I got mine at less than half the new price.

The economy tanking has driven down the prices somewhat on good glass but it really has brought alot more on the market. Some of the glass are what I call “trophy” pieces, bought when times were good and the person had too much money in their pocket. Now times are tough and cash is needed so the trophies go on the auction block. These are what to look for and careful reading of the ads can help as can a bit of luck. Even a high milage wedding lens IF at a GOOD price will work for this tip. Even a damaged lens so long as the glass is good. I found my lens from a seller with good marks (200 plus postives), good price as a “buy now or best offer” AND I had an Ebay coupon that was 10% off the price. So the 800 price came with free shipping (20 bucks), 80 bucks off with the coupon and another 25 bucks off due to my best offer. Total saved was 125 so the lens cost me 675 delivered.

But, it is still a used lens and when I got it, I noticed the zoom was stiff in the middle. Here is where the second part of my plan came into being. I specifically found a lens with good glass and no apparent damage but I had already planned on sending the lens to Nikon’s repair shop for a “tune up and alignment”. So opened the box, looked at the lens, closed it back up and shipped it to Nikon. Three weeks later I got my lens back completely rebuilt and repaired from an apparent drop onto something hard. Cost was 190 dollars but after the savings adjustment of the purchase, my out of pocket expense was 65 dollars for basically a new lens. I also pursued the seller for not telling the truth about the lens and got some wedding album templates for my troubles. He really should have known better but hard times caused him to make a poor judgement. His karma, not mine.

In the end, the lens cost me 865 total and it’s new on the inside. A brand new lens is 1600 plus tax of 130 plus shipping of 20 for a total of 1750. So my price is just a touch less than 50% of new. Yes it cost me in time with a week or so for the seller to get me the lens and another three in repair but I think it was worth it.

My second lens was a 12-24mm F4 which cost me about 60% of new from eBay and cam to me looking and working like brand new.

So deals on ebay can be had with some patience and luck. Another way to save is look at refurbished bodies. My D300 was 400 less than new as a refurb and there was absolutely nothing on it or in how it worked to tell me it was a used camera. The warranty is a bit different than new but Square Trade or in some case, the seller like Adorama offer extra warranties if you feel the need. In my case, I have insurance through PPA that covers all my equipment from theft and damage.

Craiglist is another potential gold mine of cheaper equipment. I found a very nice Nikon D70s (electronic shutter so sync speeds are upwards of 1/4000 with flash) for a cheap price locally. I also picked up a fourth SB800 flash for about 2/3s of new, it was well used but still very serviceable.

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In praise of the lowly “Point and Shoot”

The serious photography snubs it, the soccer moms toss them into the purse, dads keep them in the backpocket of their jeans and the kids treat them like the crackerjack toys they appear to be. Yes, the “point and shoot” camera, the throw away camera, the 59 dollar target special that no “serious” photographer would be caught dead using when they could be using their black, heavy, look at me, DLSR with a strap that could hold the Queen Mary at the dock.

I used to fall into that camp but I have to say that the truism about a man is only as good as his tools goes only so far. A good photographer can make good pictures with a cardboard box and a pinhole. The current P/S cameras are better than anything Ansel Adams used to drag around. Unless we are just talking pure image size ( 8×10 neg vs. 10 megapixel on a thumbnail) but even that is “better” when one considers that the P/S weights a few ounces vs. the pounds of equipment Ansel used to take. 

I use a older SD500 from Canon that is a hand me down from my wife when I got her a new SD900 Canon. And it takes some pretty nice images so long as you stick in the low ISO to keep the noise down. Would I make 20x30s from them? Nope.. but most of my shots would never be magazine spreads or posters anyways so that part doesnt matter. Can I do my normal drag the shutter tricks or gel the flash? You bet!! And with a bit of thinking, I have gotten images just as good as my DSLR without nearly the cost in weight and people noticing me.

 

Watering Hole

Watering Hole -- This image could easily pass as one taken with a very expensive camera but it was my SD500 which is worth about 100 bucks now days. I over rode the smarts and put the flash into manual which gave me my fill light for the backlit subject.

 

A quarter’s worth of gel held over the flash can give you color correction or enhancements just like the big boys can do. A piece of kleenx works well as a diffuser for the flash which tends to run hot.

The SD even has a tripod mount hole on the bottom to allow me to use my portable plastic tripod or gorillapod. There is even a USB hack to use the USB port as a remote trigger.

The Canons lend themselves to being hacked and in my case, I use a code base called “All the best” which gives me the flash over rides plus the ability to shoot RAW plus JPEG just like the big boys do.

 

 

 

 

My dream P/S camera is one of the last year model G8 from Canon. It’s a real manual or automatic pocket camera plus a hot shoe. All in a pocket sized package so no more 10lbs of body and lenses just to shoot my kids birthday or whatever. It also works well enough to use as a spotter or site camera which I use to rough in some ideas.

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