Saturday, December 31, 2011

Family Christmas portrait

It's the holiday season and holiday cards are everywhere. A lot of people create custom cards with their own portraits in them. I had the pleasure to shoot my friends family portrait for his holiday greeting card. This year they got a dog...and basically he's going to be in the card too.

The setup was really simple. As usual, for a mobile portrait studio, I packed:

2 Canon 430ex II speedlites
5d mk2 body (perfect for portraits in tight spaces)
50mm f1.8 lens
2 stands
2 flash triggers and transmitter
Beauty dish
Shoot through umbrella

The beauty dish was set up as a hair light. Giving the subjects a hint of light from the top. Very effective in giving the subjects a highlight for separation. I then placed a speedlite with a shoot through umbrella 45 degrees to the subjects left side. The lighting ratio was 1:2, meaning the hairlight has half the power of the main light. The 50mm was the perfect focal length for these kinds of shots. I never leave it at home for shoots like these.

The shoot went through pretty easily. Mr. Red the dog was pretty cooperative. Though we felt that he didn't really like his red sweater, he still managed to take it like a very good boy.

Mr. Red was very behaved during the shoot.

The 50mm had the perfect focal length for a limited shooting space

Shots with pets involved usually require a fixed focus point, and a fast shutter finger

Always make sure that everyones face gets lit up when doing a family portrait. There will be times that one member will be blocked from the flash by another person in the shot.

Take a couple of shots...the choose which ones are the best. Make sure everyones smiling and properly positioned in the frame.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Vello TTL off camera flash cord

I was doing macro shots one day using my ringflash taking a bunch of flower shots when a thought crossed my mind. I was thinking, what if I can move my flash around so my macro shots would look more natural than having that really close ringflash type of lighting?

One disadvantage of using a ringflash is that it restricts you from actually moving your flash around the subject. Of course you can adjust the ratio of your ringflash from left to right or the power of the flash but it sometimes still not give you that natural looking light. Sometimes flower macro shots look better with natural lighting...although this is not possible when you're in a dark studio or shooting without a tripod and shooting with a very slow shutter speed. In macro, the faster shutter speed and the narrower aperture is necessary to get that uber sharp close up shot. This is all possible with a flash. Although some photographers like me, still like that natural light look even when using a flash. The solution to this is positioning the flash that it mimics how natural light strikes our subject. One good way of doing this is using a flash cord so your flash isn't attached to your hotshoe, making it movable to wherever you want it to be. And of course, a hotshoe cord costs like hundreds of dollars less than a ringflash.

I then browsed BH photo and video for a good deal for a flash cord. The Canon one is around $65. I then browsed for the after market ones and I found this. It's the Vello TTL off camera flash cord. So for $14.95 I dove in.

2 days later I got it in the mail. I opened it and basically there's nothing much to it. Although I will say that I am really impressed at how the cord was built. For $14 I was expecting a cord that looks like it'll break down after a month of use, but I got something better. The cord felt really high quality. The coil looked pretty sturdy, and the mount was metal. Better than the older canon flash mounts from years ago. Here's the best part...the cord actually looks like it is weather sealed. It has that rubber seal that goes between the mount and the hot shoe, reminiscent of the 580ex II mount. The mount is actually better than my 480ex II mount. Now that's high quality right there.

I then mounted it on my camera body. It was kind of tight the first time you put it in. The mount has a lock that is basically the same as the 430ex. It has that push button quick release mount instead of the screw in mount. A couple of times of putting i on and taking it off made the mount feel easier to put on, exactly like a genuine Canon speedlite. The flash mount is the same as the hotshoe mount on the Canon body. The flash mount actually has a thread at the bottom so you can attach it to a tripod or a light stand with a screw in lock. Be careful though if you're mounting it to a stand. If the cord is too short, you might end up pulling the flash with the stand with you. For these instances, I suggest you get the long version of this cord.

The mount seems weather proof. I'm not sure how good the sealing is but it's better than nothing!

The metal mount is the same as what you'll find in a 430ex II or an 580ex II.

The bottom of the flash mount is threaded so you can attach it to a tripod or a light stand.

Electronically, the cord allows you to use the full features of your speedlite. High speed sync (hss), 2nd curtain sync flash, and ttl are all usable with the cord. This is not possible when using a cheap flash mount wireless trigger as it disables these features. These features are also usable with high end wireless flash triggers such as the pocket wizards, and also IR triggers such as the Canon ste-2. The hss feature is very useful when photographing drops of water or when shooting outdoors when you want to use a shallow aperture.

I then spent hours playing with my flash with the cord attached to it. So far it it's performing pretty good.

On a budget? Can't afford a ring flash and want to use your existing flash for macro? If you need a high quality sync cord for your speedlite, this is an awesome deal! This is actually one of my best buys for this year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to all!

Just wanted to wish everyone a very merry christmas!

Have a very nice holiday!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Basketball game coverage

A good friend of mine asked me to cover a couple of basketball games in Willow Springs Il., it was for his amateur league that he created and he wanted somebody to cover the games. I said yes as I know that it is going to be a fun gig. The downside to it though is that the game starts at around 8 am. Too early for me especially on a cold, almost winter Sunday morning.

That same morning I packed my camera bag with the equipment that I am going to use for the event. I had to bring only equipment that I know I am sure I'm going to use. I cannot bring extras that will only weigh me down. So my bag only included these items:

50d body
5d mk2 body
70-200 IS USM 2.8 lens
17-40mm f4L lens
Canon 430ex II
Extra batteries

That was it. I had to bring 2 bodies only to save me the time in changing lenses. A 70-200 equipped in the 50d is not really useful for taking a team shot but is excellent for the game itself, vice versa with the 5d equipped with the 17-40mm.

As what I said, I mainly used the 50d equipped with the long telephoto for the game itself. Mainly for action shots. The 50d has excellent focus speed and burst mode for sports photography. The 5d's main use will be for close group shots that require you to use the full frame of the camera. If I had only one body, I'd use it for both wide and tele shots.

I never really did use the flash at all. I was thinking the court might have poor lighting...though it wasn't bad at all. For the whole event I put my camera to shutter priority, so I can specify a faster shutter speed. I then set my ISO to auto ISO, which I rarely do. For instances like this, I'd rather have the camera adjust it for me than bothering with it myself. There's only so much you can do to prevent noise in the pictures, but instances like this you'd really have to bump up your ISO. I'd rather use natural lighting in this situation than use a flash...that's just me. I then adjusted my exposure compensation between 0 to +1. This tells the camera to automatically adjust the ISO and the aperture to satisfy that range of exposure.

Just to let you know, when you are using auto iso (not all slrs have the feature), the body adjusts the iso, and either the aperture or speed (depending if you're on aperture or shutter priority) to satisfy the exposure range that you set it to...although it is dependent on the focal length of your lens. Lets say you are in aperture priority using a 100mm lens. The body will adjust the ISO and the speed according to your 100mm lens...meaning, it will never go below 100th/sec for the speed if you're exposure compensation is at 0. If you set it to +1, the body will try to set the speed to a lower ratio according to your lens. The more compensation you dial in, the more light the body will try to let in. It's kinda hard to just have to try it out for yourself.

Anyway, I try to maximize the shutter speed that I can get from that lighting situation inside the basketball court. The shots weren't bad at all. I post processed some of the shots to brighten them up a bit.

After the game, the teams wanted me to do a team shot so I then switched to my 5d mk2 with my 17-40mm equipped. Same thing, no flash, only natural light. The 17-40 gave me the wide angle shot to include everybody in the frame:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mom and Carter

My fiancee had a party at the beginning of the month and a couple of people came. Her 2 year old nephew was there too...and what better time to take shots again!

Carter actually just had his 2nd birthday weeks ago so it was the perfect time to take his 2 year old portraits. So off to the studio we went and did a couple of shots. It was perfect as he was in a good mood. All we basically had to do was hand him a cookie and then shoot! Well of course that only lasted for about half an hour but that's better than nothing.

For this shoot I really had no time to swap lenses or position the lights perfectly. We had to do it on the spot before Carter gets in a bad mood so I just grabbed my camera and shot the set. It was my 100mm macro which was in my camera the night before so that was what I used for this set. It actually was pretty good for a small studio setup. I usually go for my 50mm for shoots like this but I was impressed with the 100. The setup was really dish on top then a main light on the left side of the subject and boy did it produce good results!

Can't wait for the 3rd year shoot!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Model head shots

I did a couple of model head shots when I had that model photo shoot weeks ago. Head shots are pretty simple to do. It is one of the most fun parts in portrait photography. It was actually the highlight of that day.

When doing head shots, I prefer using a longer lens. A longer lens doesn't give you bad distortion in the models face. You know you have bad distortion when your models nose becomes pulled in towards the center of the frame. Giving it a larger than what it's supposed to be look, a very common error for head shots. The longer lens also gives you breathing room between you and the model. Models usually don't like it when there's this huge camera less than 2 feet away pointed at their faces. The extra breathing room a longer lens provides makes the model feel at ease.

For this shot I used my 70-200 lens. The distance between me and the model gives me that perfect frame. For this shoot I used my favorite beauty dish for the top light, and a strobe with a softbox below the models face. I then used strobes for the background, overpowered to blow out the highlights in the background. The beauty dish gives the models a punchier light than a softbox without burning the I've said before, you can't live without one for portraits.

The rest of the shoot was just plain fun. We were making the models laugh while shooting them. Making the photos look more natural than real staged ones.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Baby and family shots

Months ago a friend of mine from work had her baby and I was lucky I was picked to do a couple of shots of her baby and the family. It was awesome because this is going to be a really quick photo shoot, with minimal studio equipment. Less hassle of setting up lights here and there. The shoot was going to be in her house so I knew it was going to be pretty easy and fun.

I had a very minimal light setup. I brought 2 speedlites, 2 umbrellas, stands, and 2 flash triggers. I love using the speedlites as studio lights, they are light, small, fast, and portable. Of course the downside to them is power but for a small group of people, it's enough to do the job right. I'd rather bring them along instead of the bulkier studio lights.

So I got there around 2 and the sun was pretty bright. Although it was really overcast that day. I set up the lights in the living room and took my first shots. I snapped my trusty 50mm f1.8 and the camera was good to go. I setup the lights at around 45 degrees on the left and right of the subject, with a ratio of 1:2. Basically you can set up the lights to however you want them.

We then moved right next to the sliding glass door. This time I was going to put that natural lighting to good use. In combination with my artificial light, the lighting setup gave my subject a wrap around soft light. Perfect for portraits.

And of favorite shot of that day...