Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Elmhurst Ghost Tour

Halloween is here and there are a ton of ghost walks around the area. We managed to get a discounted rate for a ghost walk in Elmhurst Illinois. We found this ghost walk entitled "Elmhurst's Voices from Beyond". It was organized by Voices from beyond tours. Basically what it is is the speakers guide you to a walk of the town, to some buildings that are haunted and they tell you the history behind every building. The tour guides consisted of a guy who was an ex detective at a police force and a lady who is from voices from beyond who goes around haunted places taking EVP's or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. 

Elmhurst college. This is where the tour starts. Mill theater which is here, is supposed to be haunted.

The tour covers these areas in Elmhurst:

Elmhurst College's Mill Theater (reportedly haunted by a former technical director)
St. Peter and St. Mary's Cemeteries (students report a "lady in white" wandering the cemeteries at night)
Wilder Mansion (Seth Wadham's "White Birch")
Elizabeth's Rose Garden
Chicago Fire Relic at Wilder Park
Site of the Crane Sanitarium
Glos Mausoleum
Glos Mansion (History Museum)

I started out the tour making sure I had the right equipment with me to take shots. Of course for this event, I chose my Canon 17-40mm f/4 lens so I can take wide angle photos of the places that we were going to. Unfortunately, we didn't go inside any of the buildings they were talking about in the tour. Still bringing an ultra wide angle lens with me at that time was well worth it.

It was freezing cold out and I had a sweater on. Basically I was freezing to death on the first minutes of the tour. It got better as we walked though. On tours like this, make sure you dress up warmly.

The Glos Mausoleum...probably the best location that I shot that night. The lighting was perfect.

The tour was good. The speakers hand out photos of how the structures looked like in the past. Sometimes the structure is completely gone now like the Crane Sanitarium. It's nice to see how the location looked like before. 

The best part of the tour was Wilder Mansion. The speakers talked about some haunting in this place in certain rooms and parts of the mansion. It was nice to know how the mansion was built as a residence and is now used for weddings. It is one of Elmhurst's historical buildings. Why is it the best part of our tour? My wife and I got married there last June! Actually where we had the ceremony, one of the speakers told us that there was a very negative energy presence in that particular area. That's nice to know!

The Glos Mansion (History Museum). It was crazy dark and this shot was handheld. 

At the end of the tour, we watched a short video about the places we visited. Also, we listened to some EVP recordings taken by one of the speakers. They were kinda freaky to tell you the truth. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chicago botanic garden orchid show

 The Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid show was a lot of fun. Make sure you bring a Macro lens when going on one.

Went to the botanic gardens on the 2nd Saturday of October. We were just planning on walking around. It was raining most of the day so we were just planning to walk into the greenhouse when we saw that an Orchid show was going on. We definitely had to check that out. 

 It's always fun taking shots of flowers if you have the proper equipment with you. 

When I was packing my bag for the photo walk, I know I had to pack my 100mm macro lens. Going into a garden without a macro lens is like walking into war with a knife. I just had to bring it with me. Knowing that we are mostly going to be indoors, I had to bring my macro ring flash with me too. Times like this my Canon mr-14ex comes in handy. I rarely do use it, but when I do need it it's perfect for what I use it for.

 The Macro ring light usually gives you a very dark background when you set your aperture at f16 and above...which is ideal for macro shots.

The 100mm and the macro ring light are a perfect combination. I wish I had a longer macro lens but this will do for now. The thing that sucks about the 100mm macro and the mr-14ex ring light is that you have to remove any filters from the 100mm for the flash to snap into place, but that's just a minor gripe. I'd lose the uv filter anytime so I can put the ring light on.

 Be careful when you are too close to your subject with a ring light. Some parts can overexpose.

For Macro shots with flash, make sure you set your speed high and your aperture narrow. I usually set mine at f16 up when shooting macro. This will give the depth of field that is necessary to make your shots as sharp as possible. When shooting this close, your depth of field becomes paper thin. Also, I prefer to shoot in manual focus mode. A tripod will also help.

 Post processing to darken the background also helps a lot.

 A tripod helps in making sure your shots are in focus. If you have steady hands you don't need it.

 Depth of field is really shallow on macro shots.

The choice for macro lens is very important. I usually stay away from macro lenses that are shorter than 50mm. Right now I have a 100mm macro which I might upgrade sometime to a longer one. The longer macro lens you have the farther away you can be from your subject.  This is very helpful when photographing bugs.

 Manual focus helps out a lot.

I prefer a long lens for macro shooting. This will keep you further from your subjects.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Giving your flower shots dramatic lighting.

Oftentimes you see flower shots from calendars or websites that have a very dark background...usually all black. These kinds of shots are very simple to do. All you are going to need is:

A studio light with a modeling lamp, or continous lighting.
A tripod.
A camera (of course)
A dark's not necessary but it helps a lot.
A snoot, or barn door...again it's not necessary but it helps.
A reflector...a white piece of cardboard will do.

 I love doing dramatic lighting shots. Sometimes it takes away all the distractions and focuses mainly on your subject.

Attach the snoot or barn door to the light, place it around 45 degrees on top of the subject, either left or right, it's up to your personal preference. Turn the modeling light on, or if you are using a continous light just turn it on and focus the light into the subject. Adjust the light so that most of the hard shadows in the shot are gone. Remember, shadows are the key to a good dramatic lighting. The right amount of shadows will define your subject. 

If you are using a dark background, place it behind the subject. The farther the better. For flower shots I usually place them around 3 feet of more behind the subject.

Attach you camera to your tripod and frame your subject to how you want it. If your camera has live view, use it. Turn on live view and zoom into the part of the subject where you want it focused. Move your focus ring till the subject gets really sharp. You should be using manual focus for this. After focus has been set turn live view off. If you don't have live view, focus on the subject by using the viewfinder.

For these shots I used a 70mm macro. Macro lenses give you a razor sharp image with a wide open aperture. 

Set your camera to manual mode. Set your desired aperture. For these kinds of shots, I close the aperture a bit to get maximum sharpness. It's up to your taste how you want to set your aperture. Look at your meter and set your shutter. The meter should be around the 0 mark. Oftentimes I dial in my shutter to be a bit above the 0 mark but not too much. 

If you are shooting alone you need to hold your reflector towards the subject to minimize the harsh shadows. Try adjusting the reflector to however you want it. When you finally see the reflector position you want, try to remember that. Or an easier way is to just attach your reflector to a stand and let the stand hold it for you.

Set your camera to timer and press the shutter. While the timer is counting down, position your reflector to where you remembered the best position for it. Wait till the shutter opens and closes before making any drastic moves. Remember you are not using strobes for this shot. Check the image and tweak your settings to your desire.

If any of the background is showing, you can basically post process it to make it look darker.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 attached to my Canon 5D MKII.

50mm lenses are really popular lenses among photographers. They are usually small, fast, and cheap...well, not unless you're into the f/1.2 range anyways. But these lenses are usually a step up from your usual kit lens that comes with your body.

My first 50mm lens was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 mk2 lens. It was $99 when I bought it. It was one of the sharpest lenses I've ever used. The lens was so simple in its design that no mechanism in the lens itself got in the way of the superior sharpness that you can get from it. It was basically glass with an autofocus mechanism in it. With the $99 price tag also came with a plastic body and an almost useless manual focus grip. I didn't mind the plastic construction and the mount, it was just way too flimsy for some photographers. The 1.8 maximum aperture on it was no joke either. It gave me a very shallow depth of field for use with portraits with natural lighting. I loved the 1.8 maximum aperture so I wondered if a 1.4 aperture would even be better.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is so compact that I love just bringing my camera with it attached.

Enter the Canon 50mm f/1.4...a normal compact lens loaded with superior optics and a USM motor for fast precise focusing. I decided to get one and try it myself as I have heard a lot of good things about it. I managed to get one used from bh photo. It ran me around less than $300. Of course I had to buy a separate lens hood for it which I spent another $20 on. Three days later my lens came and I tested it out.

The 50mm f/1.4 with the ES-71 II lens hood that had to be bought separately.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is plastic on the outside. Although the construction is a bit better than the 50mm f/1.8, this version has a metal mount in it. It's also a tad heavier but still pretty light. The focus ring is wider than the f/1.8 version and is now in the barrel and not on the tip of the lens. The front element is recessed deep into the barrel like the f/1.8 version. A lot of people don't use a UV filter for this lens because of the recessed front, I still do. 

The front element is recessed like in the f/1.8 version.

I put it on my 5D MK2 body and like it's cheaper version, it's still pretty compact. It fits better than the f/1.8 version I think because of the metal mount. The cheaper version does twist a bit when mounted. This one stays in place. The focus ring is a bit loose but still better than the tiny one from the f/1.8 version. The front element moves forward while you change focus, but not that much. If the hood is attached, you won't see it moving. The hood fits in nicely and locks in place. It also mounts in reverse for stowing the lens away in a bag. The autofocus switch is on the side and it has a focus scale. That's pretty much what it is on the outside.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 features a focus scale, USM motor with full time manual focusing.

The Canon 50mm f/1.4 does not have ring USM, instead it has micro USM. Micro USM is kind of a cheaper USM version. It somewhat in between a ring USM and a micromotor. It's quiet and fast but not as smooth as a ring USM used in more expensive Canon lenses. You can tell by listening to it while it focuses that it's not as smooth as a ring USM, although it still features FTM or full time manual focusing which means you don't have to switch to manual focus when you want to tweak your focus after it locks. The focus ring does not rotate on autofocus.

One of my first few shots on my 50mm f/1.4

Shooting the 50mm f/1.4 in the studio, it really was not that much different from the f/1.8 version, if not better. Basically with studio lights, I cannot open my aperture to it's maximum, unless I use a neutral density filter. So for this use, I pretty much am using the old 50mm that I have. The results were pretty good. A lot of sharpness with good color rendition. 

Since it is not a macro lens, the 50mm f/1.4 can only go 1.5 feet for it's minimum focus distance. Not bad for studio use.

Autofocus was really responsive in the studio with the modeling lights on. It is pretty quiet and fast. On this aspect, the 1.4 outshines the 1.8 on speed and quietness of the focus mechanism. The 1.8 version isn't a slouch when focusing though, but not a lot of photographers like the whiny sound of its micro motor.

With natural lighting only. This is where the 1.4 is awesome.

Using only natural lighting, this is where the 1.4 shines. With very low light, you can now open your aperture to the maximum setting. On very low light, the 1.4 rarely seeks with auto focus. This is a pretty good indoor lens. With the sample shots that I provided, I tried opening the aperture to 1.4 to test out the limits of this lens.  

Shot wide open. Where the focus is, the details are still pretty sharp.

Shot wide open, this lens has mixed reviews. I myself never really had a big problem shooting this lens wide open. 1.4 is really shallow and usually when you get to 1.4 and beyond most lenses gets softer. I see the softness of the lens on some shots, but it never really bothered me at all. Compared to the 1.8 version of this lens when shot both at f/1.8, the cheaper version wins. Although, not by much. Bokeh...or the out of focus areas are pretty smooth. Almost similar to a 70-200 f2.8 when shot wide open. It is one of the strongest points of this lens. When I shoot this lens wide open, when focus is where I want it to be, a little post processing brings the details to life. I never shoot test charts...I try out my lenses shooting real objects in real shooting conditions. 

Another image shot wide open. A little post processing brought the focus point to how I want it to be. 

This lens paired with a full frame camera is phenominal. I got it for use with my 5D MK2. A full frame body with a 50mm attached to it is very light, and compact. Also the 50mm focal point is not so narrow but also not so wide that basically can be used for any shots. That's why they call 50mm's normal lenses. I can still use it with my cropped Canon 50D, although it becomes an 80mm, which is not so useful as a walkaround lens. It still is a very good lens for aps-c bodies. 

So the thing is, why would you want to spend another $200 for a lens that is softer than the cheaper version of it? A lot of photographers will pay thousands of dollars for an extra stop. I paid for the 1.4 aperture because I know that it will be useful when I take portraits using only natural light. Also I know that this lens will be so much useful for indoor shots which require very little light. You'll never see the beauty of a shallow depth of field till you attempt to do it yourself. I got this lens and most of the time I tried it out, I shot mostly wide open. Of course in real world photography, I wouldn't be able to do that all the time but when I do, I know that that extra stop will make a lot of difference from using a slower lens. 
Stopped down, the sharpness of this lens is phenominal.

My advice, if you already have the 1.8 lens and if you are looking for a faster one, get this. If you are happy with your 1.8 lens, then keep that instead. I was happy with mine but I was curious about trying out the 1.4, and boy I was happy with it. For the price of this gem you really can't let this one go.