Kit Lens vs Holy Trinity

It has been some time since i have had the opportunity to blog anything. Life has been hectic, and whilst I have still been able to take the occasional photograph, blogging, and keeping things moving (in a photographic sense) have been hard over the last two to three months.

A few months ago I was able to purchase one of the 'Holy Trinity' of Nikon lenses. The amazing (but slightly heavy) 24 - 70 mm f/2.8

The trinity (as commonly referred to) consists of:

I am still using this on a crop sensor (Nikon D90) and hope to soon update this to a full frame sensor. In the meantime the step up in the quality of glass is evident straight away.

The first time you get a photograph focused exactly where you wanted it, and with the DoF that you intended. Bang!! You know instantly what you are paying for.

Eyes are crystal clear, eyelashes are clearly distinguishable, lovely soft drop off of focus. You know you are working with a quality piece of kit.

Anyone that has know me for a while will know that I regularly like to head down to photograph the Liverpool waterfront. I really wanted to test the clarity of this news lens, against the kit lens that I have successfully used for many years. This location was always going to be a good test.

Whilst the evening didn't particularly provide anything stunning the test speak for themselves. See the screenshots below:

This is a sample image taken with the 24 - 70 mm f/2.8

This is a sample image taken with the 

On the left you will see a zoomed in sample of the image taken using the 24 - 70 mm f/2.8, on the right the 18 - 70mm f/3.5 - f/4.5

On the left you will see a zoomed in sample of the image taken using the 24 - 70 mm f/2.8, on the right the 18 - 70mm f/3.5 - f/4.5

As you will see the images on the left hand side show much more clarity. Writing on the side of the museum can be deciphered, even the hands on the clock of the Liver Building can be seen and the time read.

Since having this lens it has not been removed from the body of my camera. It has been used for landscape images, and mainly portraits.

Already I am thinking about the next purchase from the trinity (the 70 - 200mm) and now understand the importance of glass.

Everything you read, and hear will tell you to invest in 'Glass' instead of trying to keep up with the constantly changing bodies. I now wholeheartedly understand, and agree with this. My only regret now is not getting good glass earlier, I may have to revisit all of those locations to re-shoot the images that I want.

Maternity Portrait Shoot @ Castlefield, Manchester

Close family friends expecting the birth of their second child were the perfect subject to get the ball rolling with some more portrait photography.  I was honoured to get the opportunity to take some photos, and very appreciative of such a patient couple (and child).

My hope was to provide at least a couple of nice images that would capture a special time.

Manchester means a lot to this family and therefore I thought that it would be apt to shoot somewhere in the city. However, I also knew that it wouldn't be pleasant or possible to take the shots in a location that was too busy.

I had scouted a quieter area (Castlefield) beforehand and knew that it was quite picturesque, but also quite urban, exactly the right mixture. I had also seen a number of spots that I thought would make a good backdrop.

Add to this the excellent Alberts Shed for food and drink, and you have the perfect combination.

The day went well, and I am happy with the results, although I put this down to have a very picturesque subject!

Throughout the shoot, and certainly afterwards I learnt some really important lessons.

Lesson Number 3 - Catching this shot was far more difficult than I had imagined. Using lighting equipment certainly makes children far more wary of someone with a camera.

Lesson Number 1 - Strike whilst the weather is good.

Enjoying nice food, whilst all of the good weather disappears is not the wisest move.

Lesson Number 2 - Don't choose a location with deep canals nearby when there are kids involved!!

Lesson Number 3 - Some kids do not like the intimidating look of a big soft box! Especially if they are shy of the cameras in the first place.

Lesson Number 4 - Having someone to assist is really useful. This saved a lot of time and effort in setting up and adjusting lighting. Cheques in the post!

Lesson Number 5 - Bare flash in the shot above gave quite a nice dramatic feel to the image. Just to the right was Leanne's husband (my assistant on the day) holding the SB-800 being triggered via the CLS system.

Lesson Number 5 - This is probably the one that I am kicking myself for. Never drop the shutter speed too low to compensate for the ambient light. Instead increase the ISO.

There was a series of photographs that would have looked great. Unfortunately because I dropped to 1/60sec / ISO200 some of them really aren't as sharp as I would have liked.

With modern ISO performance increasing this to 400 - 600 wouldn't have been noticeable, and would have allowed for a much faster shutter.

Lesson Number 6 - Depending on how you are going to shoot, background may not necessarily be too relevant. I thought long and hard about where to shoot, and don't really think it was incorporated to the extent I would have liked.

Anyone who likes the results and would like to discuss a similar shoot should contact me

Low Key Photography and That Bottle - Adventures in Portrait Flash (Part Two)

One of the techniques that I have been desperate to try out is High Sync/Low Key flash photography. One of the main reasons is so that I can just get rid of any background. Attempting portrait photography in the house is hard enough, add to this, wallpaper, photographs on the wall etc, and it becomes a real tough job to get a clean looking photograph. I knew that mastering this 'Low Key' technique would allow for some really dramatic effects and most importantly clean looking images. You see this method used in B&W portraits often. It would also negate the need for any cumbersome backing, and stands. Something that I just can not accommodate at the moment.

To achieve the effects below I rigged up two speed lights (SB800 and a newly acquired SB700). Flipped the camera body into Auto FP, and then either went into full Manual mode, or Shutter priority.

I had read a bit this week about the use of ambient light and the methods used to incorporate it, or completely lose it. With this fresh in my mind I knew that once my shutter speed was set to 1/4000th of a second there would be no ambient light getting in. And the only way to change the lighting effect from the flash would be to either adjust the power, modify the distance of the flash from the subject, or adjust the aperture. Actually once this was embedded into the grey matter it was quite easy to get to a point where I had the exposure of the photograph to the desired level(s).

Breaking Bad

For the 'selfie' image I wanted something very dark, it was purposefully set so that one half of my face was almost completely in shade (in fact in the image below I just used the single speed light) I was basically looking to represent some of the silhouetting depicted on my t-shirt. I thought that it would work... Me, Walt, Jessie and Mike looking moody!!

Let me know what you think, could I be an extra?

If I ever get a recording contract this would be my album cover.

N.B. Anyone that knows me will understand I can not sing to save my life so this is never going to appear in the shops!

That Bottle

Next, I had purchased the most awesome bottle of red wine yesterday. It wasn't cheap but the bottle just blew me away, the character, the shape the texture. It could have been filled with Rolla Cola and I would still have bought it. I tried to disguise the fact that I had bought this purely to photograph by saying it was to be a special drink on my wife's birthday in a few weeks time.

Anyway I like taking photographs of drinks. It gives me an excuse to drink them afterwards.

So the same technique (as above) was used. With both of these images you really have to get the flash light close to the subject otherwise you're not going to see anything.

Below is a photograph of the setup. The optibox was from Calumet. In the setup the SB800 firing through the Optibox was set to Full Power (not ideal but it was working well). And the SB700 (with the diffuser on) was shooting at approx 1/128th.

And here is the result

Just look at the shape of that bottle… Now you will understand why I had to buy it.

I absolutely love the effect that you get from the Low Key, Hi Speed Sync photography and can not wait to play around with it some more.

This setup literally took me 5 minutes to setup and the very first photograph was a keeper. The only thing that I changed as I went through a few shots was to bring some rim lighting onto the side of the bottle so that the strange shape of the bottle was not completely lost in the black background.

I would encourage anyone to have an attempt at this effect. High Key has been done to death (although that is what I will be looking at next). This is a great alternative with very different purposes.

Adventures in Portrait Flash (Part One)

Following on from my little shopping trip to Calumet Manchester, I needed some trusty volunteers for some portrait images. Obviously family can never say no (especially when they are only 4 months old), so they were the first guinea pigs.

I had two attempts to get used to the equipment that I had bought. Unfortunately the first session was a bit of a wash out and I have been forbidden from posting any of the photographs on here! And that certainly includes the one of me.

With the wrong lighting, and very few hours sleep flash can be quite cruel.

I had to ask Kerry (my wife) if I really looked like that...

Anyway, today has been a little bit more successful although I am really kicking myself for not getting a second flash whilst at Calumet. That is certainly one of the next items on the list.

I was 'quite' happy with how these turned out, primarily using the Calumet Hex 21 Speedbox, with a bounce reflector to the side (silver/white side). The thing that I am not happy with though is the light fall to the back of the subject. The wall behind is actually painted white however due to the short distance of the flash coverage, in these pictures the wall has taken on more of a grey look. If anyone has any suggestions on how to avoid this, without having a)seamless paper background b) a second flash (as a backlight) then please let me know. The only thing that I could think of would have been to move the subjects closer to the wall, but due to the limited space that I was using this wasn't really possible.

Anyway there not the worst photographs ever taken they're just not quite what I wanted, back to the drawing board.

To Be Continued…...

Any volunteers that would like a portrait photograph taken please leave a comment. I am happy to practice on anyone!!

Portrait Masterclass

As I embark on a new venture to publicise, and increase the portrait photography I do this YouTube video provided me with some masterful inspiration.

Gregory Heisler's lecture is both extremely interesting and delivered in a really engaging way. I especially liked the tale regarding the shoot with Tommy Lee Jones (1hr 16mins)

Now, where and how do I book the observation deck of the rockafeller building NYC?

Join Gregory Heisler as he lovingly details the lore behind selected images from his professional career and the newly-published book, "Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer."