Home studio Lighting set-ups for Beginning Photographers      

 

I am always pleased when I know that someone has actually read my articles.

Twice this past week I was visited by different aspiring photographers, that had read my last article on using lights and stopped by to ask advice on setting up home portrait studios.

For them and others that missed my past article on setting up a home studio, here it is again:

In each instance the photographers were quite troubled by the kind of lighting equipment other photographers were advising them to purchase and how much it was going to cost to get large and expensive studio lights.

They complained that they would have to wait till they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up. I believe they were paying attention to those that included expensive manufacturer’s names for their studio type lighting setups.

One might be able to locate used studio lights with a bit of searching online. However, there will be shipping costs, plus there is a chance that they will arrive not working.

There usually isn’t lot of quality studio lights locally, and to confuse new photographers more there will be lots of those cheap, inadequate, constant light kits that were purchased by other unsuspecting beginners for sale.

My opinion is they don’t really need to go to the bank just yet, and would be better starting out with the smaller speedlight type flashes.

With the money they save by not purchasing those big studio type lights they could buy a couple inexpensive light stands, umbrellas and maybe even a softbox and backdrop.

Most small home photography studios are in the basement with equipment stored to the side until the photographer quickly sets up for a portrait session.

And if the room is less than twelve feet high, thirty feet long and only used for children, small groups or single person portraits, those big powerful and expensive studio lights may be overkill, and a real hassle when one wants to soften the background by shooting a wide aperture because there is just too much light power for small spaces.

Photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. They can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I personally use, and call my “portrait kit”.

My portrait kit is four older hotshoe type flashes, each with it’s own wireless receiver and two stands. I can choose a shoot-through umbrella, a reflector umbrella, or once in a while a softbox, and might include a reflector. It’s an inexpensive and easily stored “portrait kit” that I would recommend for most first-time, home studio photographers.

Wireless senders and receivers come in all sorts of inexpensive incarnations, and it’s the same with lightstands and flash to umbrella mounts.

All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big studio-type flash units.

Even if there were a wad of cash burning a hole it your pocket, my advice would be to proceed slowly, and learn how use light to best photograph a person first.

I have been using multiple flashes off-camera since the 1970s. I prefer inexpensive used units that I can cheaply replace if they get knocked over or I wear them out.

Hotshoe type speedlights off-camera will be perfect for that educational process, and when they are no longer a good fit with one’s creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions.

Photographing behind the scenes for a movie.

This past week I was again asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair if I would be the “stills photographer” for another movie she was directing.

Ms. Boisclair was this year’s winner of the WIDC (Women in the Director’s chair) “short award”. That award allowed her to hire a cast and crew for her latest movie called, “Stood Up”.

When I wrote about my experience as a movie stills photographer last June I said that I drew on my background in Public Relations photography. PR photography is physically active, with never a chance to sit and where one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects to be successful.

So at 7:30AM I was lurking at the edge of the action voyeuristically capturing behind the scenes activity, and documenting the interaction and hard work of the people in that were making that movie happen.

I like tight shots that force the viewer to get involved with the subjects. I also like my subjects to be well lighted. I see no use in wide shots that have dimly lit people in the distance.

The beauty of my full-frame, large mega-pixel, camera is I can shoot wide and decide how the action and subjects are cropped in post-production with out any loss in detail or image noise in my final photograph.

I stay with a 24-70mm lens because I don’t get the edge and corner distortion of wider-angle lenses.

Modern TTL flashes offer the opportunity not only to bounce the light in any direction, and also allow one to increase or decrease flash power depending on the environment and proximity of the subjects.

When I give beginning wedding photographer’s advice on photographing receptions in large low lighting rooms, I always tell them to slow down their shutterspeed to increase the ambient light. Those “deer-in-the-headlight” type photos that are painfully common in beginner’s photos are so easy to correct by just moving the shutter dial to 1/125th or even slower.

Its that technique I used when photographing the behind scenes action. Indoors I would shoot wide with a slow shutter and outside I use the high-speed sync feature to increase the shutterspeed as needed to balance the flash in the daylight.

As with the last time I photographed for the movie’s director, I am after those classic images I have seen in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the actors, or working with the cameramen.

Photographing on a movie set is certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and again this time, my first hand experience with the actors and the crew as they creatively worked, more than proved that to me.

October photographer’s drive through Wells Grey Park   

 

 

 

My friend Jo and I decided to test out a big 400mm lens that came in to my shop.

I had brought it home to test and had tried couple shots in my yard, but decided it needed distance subjects for a realistic workout.

Jo had stopped by one evening and after a couple glasses of wine I flippantly said, “if we took it to Wells Grey Park we might find some bears”.

I was joking. Jo always tells me she would be afraid if she saw a bear wandering in the woods where we live. However, in an uncharacteristic comment she took a sip of her wine and said, “can we do that?”

A week later we drove into the wilderness park and Jo had that big six-pound lens attached to her Nikon D800. We had began by stopping at Spahats Creek Falls 400mm lens for some wide angle shots, then wandered around a long deserted homestead and were heading to Helmkin Falls when we spotted the bears.

In the forest town of Clearwater, just before the park, I talked to a local that mentioned there had been a sow and two cubs hanging around a large meadow on the way to the park’s entrance, so we were watching and as we turned a corner there were cars parked on the roadside. And there in a farmer’s mowed field were the three bears.

I stopped, placed my beanbag on Jo’s open door and stepped back as she rested that big lens 400mm f3.5 on it and began pressing her camera’s shutter.

After that exhilarating event we drove on into the park.

We couldn’t have chosen a better day. The temperature was cool enough for a light jacket and the fall colours were inviting so we stopped and stopped and stopped again to take pictures.

The park is a favourite of hikers, boaters, trucks towing large trailers for overnight camping and for anyone, like Jo and I that want to do roadside photography.

Like most photographers, we over packed. We had our cameras, tripods, lots of lenses, a bag of filters, two flashes, extra memory cards and enough food for two or three days.

We didn’t eat very much of the food, use the filters, flashes or tripods and had no need to mount a flash on either of our cameras. I only used my 24-70mm and other than when she photographed the bears with that 400mm Jo stayed with her 20-40mm. But although the need never arose for us to employ that trunk full of equipment we were well prepared.

October is my favourite time of year for scenic photography and as last year at this time, Wells Gray Park is always on my list for fall nature photos.

When the shadows grew and the temperature began to drop we knew it was time to head home. Clearwater to our homes in Pritchard is about two hours and for us that meant two hours of talking about the photos we took, photos we plan to take and places we want to go with our cameras.

I looked for a quote to end with and found this by the most famous scenic photographer of them all, Ansel Adams.

Everybody now has a camera, whether it is a professional instrument or just part of a phone. Landscape photography is a pastime enjoyed by more and more. Getting it right is not an issue. It is difficult to make a mistake with the sophisticated technology we now have. Making a personal and creative image is a far greater challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best lens (for the price) to photograph wildlife.    

In my experience, any image can be altered (sometimes dramatically) when one changes lenses.  A subject can be isolated and the perspective in front of, and behind, the subject flattened with a telephoto lens. And landscapes are changed using a wide-angle lens as the field of focus increases the view around the subject.

To add a bit more to my last article, “what is the best lens for scenic photography” I thought I’d continue with a discussion I had with a budding wildlife photographer.

I select my lenses depending on what I want my photograph to say about the subject. And to me, control over my image is important so I ask my self two questions.

What lens will show my subject best? And second, what final result do I want?

This past week I spent some time talking about lenses with a photographer after he read my last article and said, What about the best option for the price to photograph wildlife here in the interior of British Columbia.

I suggested starting with a zoom that can reach 300mm and then purchase a 150-600mm in the future. Each of those lenses has a narrow angle of view and plenty of magnification for wildlife photography.  I thought he might start with a lens that is inexpensive, lightweight, easy to pack around and hand holdable. The smaller multifocal length lenses are generally lightweight and excellent for vacations or just walking around.

He told me he is hesitant to dig into his savings for a super zoom at the present, so I thought moderately priced lenses like the might do for his introduction to long lens photography.

There are interesting lenses like the 300mm and more impressive lenses like a 400mm, 500mm and even the favourite of bird photographers, the 600mm. But for an introduction I thought a zoom might be more versatile until he was ready to make the financial commitment to a large prime or zoom.

When he gets serious and willing to spend a bit more there are big lenses with maximum apertures of f/2.8. Those large high quality lenses give the user lots of light gathering capability and the ability to use higher shutter speeds for reducing camera shake, and help stop fast moving subjects.

To explain that, there is an optimum amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor for a correct exposure. When the aperture is closed down it lets in less light and one must slow the shutter speed.  With large aperture lenses the shutter opening can be increased and let in a lot more light, therefore one has the ability to increase the shutter speed for less camera shake and still get a proper exposure.

All this also affects “depth of field”.  Depth of field is best defined as “that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is acceptably sharp”.  Photographers like to blur non-essential elements in the background by reducing the depth of field, and do that by increasing the size of the lens aperture.  In addition, letting in more light makes shooting in low light conditions less difficult.

And to that photographer’s question:  What lens do I need?  There are lots of other choices that will better help him visually discuss his subject. I don’t think there is one lens that fits all.

Each year manufacturers introduce more lenses with different technology, which improves imaging capabilities, and naturally, increases the price.

One of the favourite sayings in photography is “it’s all about the glass”.

Photographers I know that spend their free time photographing birds tend to stay with long fixed-focal length, or prime lenses. However an opportunist like myself will prefer the versatility of a multifocal length (zoom) lens.

With regards to that soon to be wildlife photographer, I expect to see him with more than one lens choice as he pursues his hobby and selects different lenses that meet his photographer’s vision. I know he will be cautious with his purchases, but ultimately his choice of lens comes down to what he wants viewers to feel and see.

Photographing the 2018 Pritchard Rodeo       

 

The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again.

Gosh, its 2018. I need to dig though my storage of photographs to find out how long I have been attending and photographing that fun filled tournament.

I will say that it is a much smaller event than it was years ago. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. The numbers of participants has declined dramatically and so has the crowd.

There are so many opportunities for people to attend each weekend that spending the day at a hot, dusty rodeo may have become low on many peoples list. Nevertheless, for anyone, especially photographers, that want to see great action, our local rodeo is still a worthwhile way to spend the day.

I arrived an hour early expecting to beat the crowds. However, there were already several photographers ready and waiting ringside for the action to begin.

It’s always so much fun saying hello and trading quips with photographer friends I only get to see once a year. As I looked at the cowboy hatted gaggle of photographers I noticed that every dang one of them were sporting Canon cameras, all to evident by the large white lenses attached to their cameras. So I was ready and waiting for the Canon vs. Nikon jokes that never end.

That said, when the dust and the jokes clear, those that I stopped to talk to were experienced, talented and certainly dedicated rodeo photographers.

The first bronco-riding event started at 1AM and I comfortably positioned myself along the metal railing. I checked my camera and set my ISO to 400 so I could get a reasonable depth of field, selected Shutter Priority Mode and placed my shutterspeed at 1/500th of a second to stop the action.

My lens of choice for sports is the 70-200mm. There are longer focal lengths available, but my well used 70-200mm is easily hand holdable and quick focusing.

I like photographing any kind of action, and that especially goes for rodeos. Small venues like the one a few minutes drive from my home in Pritchard are photographically accessible and the organizers haven’t put restrictions that limit photographers. And for those new to rodeos, it’s a friendly and easy place to practice and, of course, experiment.

This hometown rodeo makes it easy for local participants to get quality photographs of themselves that can be made into wall prints. All they have to ask some one with a camera as they pass by.

I began this article with the words, “The Pritchard rodeo has come and gone once again”. As always, that fun packed rodeo was, well gosh, fun. I got to talk with other photographers and renew friendships with neighbours that I rarely see. And, of course, had a great time taking pictures.

 

Photographing behind the scenes at a movie.   

 

My first full time job as a photographer was to document events for the Office of Education, Los Angeles California. Years later, after moving to Canada, I became a photographer for a University’s Public Relations Department.

During my 40 plus years earning my living as a photographer I pointed my camera at quite an array of exciting subjects, but it was those two early jobs that fashioned my approach.

This past week I was asked by writer and director, Cjay Boisclair, if I would act as a staff photographer for her movie, “The Bench”, for a couple of the shooting days.

I am retired and stay away from anything that demands that I be on time. But the thought of taking behind the scenes pictures intrigued me.

Although I have many, many times enjoyed watching movies being made, I have never actually been part of the film crew. “Film crew”, that can’t be correct. I wonder what they call themselves now? Nevertheless, I was sure the photography would be much the same as any public relations exercise.

Public Relations photography in my experience is physically active, there is never a chance to sit and one must to constantly be looking for animated subjects. I never saw or presented myself as being important as those I was photographing, and always preferred to sneak voyeuristically around. And although my photographs were used by news sources and much of the time were in publications, I never thought of myself as a photojournalist. Photojournalists tell a story, whereas my job was to document the interaction and hard work of the people in the event.

It was with that attitude that I quietly walked on to the set the morning of my first day.

I guess I forgot how small Kamloops is, one would think that in a city of over ninety thousand people there would be some anonymity, but alas, that was not to be. A complete stranger said, “John, right? They are around the corner.”

I photographed everything that happened behind the scenes for two days. I am sure that many star-struck, first time photographers might think, “what a great chance for me to photograph a movie”.   However, at this production there were three trained, creative, cameramen operating a two hundred thousand dollar camera, whose job it was to photograph the movie’s action. Taking pictures of the movie isn’t what I think my position as a still photographer needs to be doing. My job was to photograph the people that were actually making the movie and I did just that.

I shot for two tiring days. From time to time I was able to lean against walls, and once or twice even tried to sit down. But of course, as soon as I thought I could relax, I would see crewmembers doing something interesting and rushed to get that shot.

Mostly I wanted those classic images we see in the old newsreels of the Director in action. Pointing, talking to the lead, or working with the cameramen. The crew wasn’t huge and I got to talk to and photograph everyone working on “The Bench” at some point over the two days.

Photographing on a movie set was a new and certainly entertaining experience. I have always thought that movie people were a special breed, and now that I have had first hand experience being around them as they worked, I absolutely believe that.

 

Photography in the rain     

 

 

Last Sunday was cool and rainy. I had wandered a bit outside, but only long enough to feed my chickens and move some wooden chairs under a canopy so they wouldn’t get wet in the downpour.

Mostly, I just wasn’t interested in the rain or the cool light breeze and by noon I was content to just sit listening to music, and had just started a beer when there was a knock and my door and my friend Jo McAvany’s smiling face appeared through the window.

Some years ago one might have heard, “Can John come out and play?”   I really didn’t, I was enjoying the blues music and my beer on that rainy day. However, Jo had her camera and I knew I didn’t have much of a chance. She said, “How about we wander around, I want to take some pictures in the rain.

Ten minutes later we were ambling around pointing our cameras at features that on a sunny day might not have given us as interesting and creative photographs.

There are some cameras that are almost waterproof. A Nikon advertisement I once read stated that some models are, “splash proof’. Nevertheless, my main accessory for a rainy day is an old kitchen T-towel for wiping the rain off my camera. Every now and then I give my camera a wipe so the rain doesn’t accumulate, and continue on.

Shooting in the rain is one time that I enjoy a modern camera’s ability to use high ISO. Back in the painful days of film we were limited to 400ISO with colour film. There were a few black and white films that were rated at 3200, but their ability to give photographers reasonable image quality wasn’t all that good.

Wide scenic photos aren’t very pleasing in the overcast flat lighting, so we concentrated on more intimate and close-up subjects. Both Jo and I were using 70-200mm lenses that focused reasonably close. Not macro close, but close enough for us to confine and restrict the view.

Cloudy days always seem to be more colourful for plant photography, and there is something about green leaves and grasses on rainy days that attract me.

I once read, “one should embrace the rain’s infinite photo opportunities”. I like that. Photographing in the rain gives the photographer the chance to explore a whole new world that on a sunny, shadow filed day is invisible. The raindrops and the wet subjects are so inviting.

I know those gray clouds can be disappointing. However, keep a positive attitude. Sure there is a strong possibility that your hair and the knees of your pants are going to get wet, but in my opinion, wet knees are certainly worth the voyage. And remember you don’t have to go far, and with a bit of creative thinking and preparation you’ll be out having fun making photos, even in wet weather.