Portrait

Three months with the D800

Wow, I can not believe that it has been five months since I last entered anything onto my blog. I knew life had been busy but there are no excuses.

During the five months since I last blogged, I have not been suffering from 'Photography Block'. In fact the opposite. I have been using my camera more than ever. In part due to an upgrade:-)

In March I finally decided to cough up and move to a full frame DSLR. I had been looking for a long, long time but various life events delayed this.

Whilst I would have loved to have purchase the D810 it was just well above the price I was prepared to go to. I settled therefore for a used D800 from www.wexphotographic.com. I really couldn't be happier. The price was reasonable, the service was excellent, and I can not fault the camera that I have ended up with.

The previous year I had bought a Nikon 24-70 2.8 (part of the holy trinity) and this lens was just crying out for a Full frame body to attach it to. The two coupled together has revolutionised the way I take photographs and I just wish that I had done it earlier.

Here are just a few things that I LOVE about this camera.

Using the AF-ON button at the rear of the camera along with AF-C focus mode, capturing eyes perfectly becomes far less about chance. Something that is critical when photographing energetic kids.

Using the AF-ON button at the rear of the camera along with AF-C focus mode, capturing eyes perfectly becomes far less about chance. Something that is critical when photographing energetic kids.

FEEL

The D90 that I was using felt extremely unbalanced with the 24-70 lens attached. All of the weight was at the front, and after a full days use I could really feel my wrist taking the strain. A larger body on the D800 now balances things nicely, I guess this is no coincidence since this is the type of body the lens was intended for.

SPEED OF FOCUS

Having a small child (almost 2) and a hyper 6 year old, trying to get sharp photographs on the D90 took a lot more time and patience. The D800 focus is lightning fast and enables me to capture the moments that would have otherwise been missed.

ISO Performance

Using the D90 I never really strayed above ISO600, and I knew that if I did it would be noticeable. Low ISO performance on the D800 is something that I don't even have to think about anymore. If the situation demands an Auto-ISO setting to keep the shutter/aperture desired I know that, within reason, the photographs are still going to come out lovely and clean

Being able to capture a sunset and recover the details within the underexposed foreground is something that lesser sensors wouldn't have been capable of.

Being able to capture a sunset and recover the details within the underexposed foreground is something that lesser sensors wouldn't have been capable of.

DYNAMIC RANGE

After watching/listening/reading so many things about full frame sensors, it was hard to avoid the mention of tonal range. I never really knew how much this would mean to me until I got my hands on a few files and experienced the flexibility that this gives you. Shadow areas can be recovered easily and made to resemble exactly what the eye would see. Underexposed photographs can now be rescued within minutes using any photo editing software.

DETAIL

File sizes are huge, and pack a massive 36MP. Nailing the focus results in such rewarding, and detailed images.

Due to the sheer pixel count this also enables images to be cropped whilst still maintaining their original sharpness. For someone that is a fan of the 1:1 format this is big benefit.

No concerns whatsoever when cropping an image to 1:1. Details are retained and sharpness is still superb.

No concerns whatsoever when cropping an image to 1:1. Details are retained and sharpness is still superb.

So with all of these positives, what are the downsides. To date I only have a couple….

WEIGHT

Handing the D800 over to people to take a family photograph is a risk manoeuvre. Many flinch at the weight of the body, and the lens. And I am already thinking hard about what I will take with me on a forthcoming holiday abroad.

FILE SIZE

There is no getting away from the fact that the file sizes produces by this camera are huge. Approx 75Mb each my 2011 iMac is really beginning to creak at the sides whilst processing the RAW files that come out of this camera. So much so that something drastic needs to happen (significant uplift of RAM and HDD, or a new computer!!)

CONCLUSION

All in all I think you can probably tell that I am 'over the moon' with my recent purchase. It excels in all of the areas that I hoped it would.

For anyone teetering and wondering if they should take the plunge into Full Frame. Do it, do it now and don't waste those valuable shots. I have so many photographs now that I wish I could take all over again with a Full Frame camera. 

Each Nikon camera I have had has lasted me for someone between 3-5 years before trading up. This one is certainly going to take some beating.

A Special Portrait Session

I had the great pleasure of attempting a rather different portrait this week. Typically due to the fact I have two young kids myself I end up taking many younger portraits and gifting them to parents.

This time I was taking a photograph that carried with it a much greater responsibility. Ethel is my mother in laws mum so I had better get this one right!!!

I was excited about trying to capture the warmth and the character of such a special person, who has lived through so much and brought up 9 of her own children, has 23 grandkids, and an ever growing number of great grandkids.

Conscious of the fact that sitting in front of light stands, soft boxes and a big fat lens can be pretty off putting for anyone I wanted to work quickly, taking only a few shots but carefully working with Ethel to ensure that she was always comfortable and happy.

I think that the session took less than 20 minutes and resulted in about 15-20 shots.

I tried to diffuse the light (provided by an off camera strobe - SB700) using an Optibox and reduce the ambient light by bumping up the shutter speed, a technique that I have used successfully in the past. I din't however want to end up with a strong shadow over the broadside of Ethel's face and so had to adjust the position of Ethel's face accordingly.

There are a few different looks in the photographs that I took. Personally this is one of my favourites. Others have been passed over to Ethel and she is very happy with the results. There is no greater compliment than that!! Maybe I will share them on here at some point but for now I want to leave them with her and her family.

The reason I like this particular image is there is a slight smile, creeping into the mouth.It is evident in the eyes too but not so much that it looks fake. B&W is always a winner for me when it comes to portraits.

I have purposefully left post processing to a minimum. This is a portrait that I hope all of the family relate to strongly. By smoothing, cloning etc. I felt it would take something away from the picture. Therefore the only edits made adjustments to the Highlights, Shadows and blacks using the curves tool, and a slight bump up of the contrast.

I really enjoyed this photographic process and would certainly gave me the urge to start taking a more diverse range of portraits in 2015. 

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

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!!