Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Learning: Free RANGEFINDER Magazine!

I received my Rangefinder magazine subscription renewal today. I have received it for several years, and I dive into it as soon as it arrives. This magazine is a good publication for professional photographers. You get to see the work of lots of photographers, read articles about technique, see reviews of new products, and view ads for potential product and service providers.

Published monthly, it usually runs about 140-150 pages. This month's issue (June 09) features articles on the state of the industry, conversations with the pros, an interview with a first year photographer, and more.

If you are an aspiring or new professional, you should get the free subscription here. It beats just about any of the amateur photography magazines out there. It will take you 2 minutes to subscribe, and then you will have access to a great resource for no cost!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Technique: Indoor Dance Recital Images

This weekend found me in the sound booth at my daughter's dance recital. I was assigned to music and another person had lights. We had spent the prior two days perfecting the lights, cues, sound, stage and props. We were through our first evening show and the jitters and lumps had been worked out.

So for night two, I felt we had enough spare resources between Jamie the lighting person and me to squeeze off some stills of the recital.

The challenge for dance is tough. The dancers are moving, requiring a moderate (1/60-1/200 sec) fast shutter to prevent motion blur. The light source is continually changing, meaning that a fixed exposure will probably not create consistent exposures. The low levels of light confound a lense's auto focus, and the photographer is often quite a distance from the stage. This is a common challenge for indoor performance photography. The objective is to stop the motion and get as much detail as possible. So here was my setup:

  • Canon 50D
  • Medium JPG setting (8MP images)
  • ISO 3200
  • Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 Lens, set to capture the whole stage
  • Manual focus (used live view to sharp focus near the front of stage before show started)
  • Tripod mount
  • Manual White Balance (taken from Tungsten reference)
  • Shutter priority - 1/100 sec (most of the exposures were f/2.8 to 3.5)
  • Remote trigger on 10 foot cord
We taped the trigger button to the light board between us and marked it with tape so we could see to hit it in the near darkness of the light booth. When Jamie was working heavy lights, I would look for the good shots and punch the button. When I was cueing music for the next number or talking backstage over the headsets, she would take over.

We took over 1000 images of nearly 40 numbers over the four-hour show. Each one was well exposed, and showed only the smallest signs of motion blur at the dancer's fastest-moving body parts. With fixed manual focus, the shutter lag was low, so we could capture many leaps in mid-air. And, an advantage with the fixed position of the tripod was that I could crop and resize all 1000 images in a batch using a saved script. That saved me literally hours of editing.

The images are far from technically perfect, but they are very good considering the shooting environment. They are not as crisp as if we could have shot at a lower ISO, but we captured the true spirit of the performance and created some wonderful memories and images that can be used to show the variety and versatility of the dancers, choreographers, and lighting team.

For me, this wasn't a commercial gig. It was for my daughter and the larger dance family to which we have belonged for years. But if it was for money, I would not have changed much in terms of the camera setup...maybe shoot at a higher resolution and vary the zoom level. If I had a faster lens, I could have dropped the ISO a level or two. This is one case where Image Stabilized lenses would not have helped...I needed every bit of speed from the f/2.8 lens, and being on a tripod with remote cable release removed any vibration problems.

So, next time you are challenged with a dark room and can't use supplemental lighting, break out the tripod and fast lenses, set your shutter speed and high ISO and fire away!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Professional Networking

Every photographer needs to continually grow - socially, professionally and technically. One good way to grow your skills, techniques and business savvy is to network with other photographers.

I belong to three professional photographer groups:

Professional Photographers of America (PPA) - very good professional communications, studio management and outstanding annual convention. They also handle professional photographer certification. They offer a two year "aspiring" membership at half price. Their monthly magazine is top notch.

Society of Sport and Event Photographers (SEP) - Geared toward people who shoot events - sports, school, church, etc. It's affiliated with PPA.

Digital Wedding Forum - An online forum dedicated primarily to wedding photographers, but also branching out into portrait and other areas. It has many forum discussion areas, and now has a new blog, which is excellent. I believe you can follow the blog without being a member. They also have a "student" membership which is no cost, but only allows access to some of the resources.

I also belong to the local chamber of commerce, for local business networking.

Each of these provides learning and networking opportunities which allow me to grow technically, professionally and as a businessman.

So where should you start? I recommend Digital Wedding Forum "student" member first. Lurk and participate with other beginners, and then decide if you want to take the $100/yr plunge to become a full member.

Then check out PPA as an aspiring member. That will let you go to the PPA convention, which in 2010 will be in Nashville!

Don't just sit there...network!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review: The Hot Shoe Diaries

I just finished a great book on photography and lighting. The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes, (ISBN 978-0-321-58014-6, $39.99 list, $26.39 at Amazon), by Joe McNally, is both an entertaining and educational read.

His approach to photography involves the use of portable strobes. Although he uses the Nikon camera and lighting system, the principles apply to any location photography. I easily adapted his ideas to my Canon system.

His writing style is very informal and fun to read. His understanding of the technical aspects of camera lighting is strong, and his imagery is stunning. It is amazing to wander through the book and understand that certain photos were made with just one or two portable flashes.

He spends a lot of time talking about color temperature and how to gel your portable flashes to create a light color that works in your image setting. He also describes how to use light modifiers like shoot through screens and umbrellas to soften the light.

I was inspired from his writing, and at a recent wedding indoors under tungsten light, I used his techniques for some indoor lighting. I gelled my flash, applied my favorite softener (the Gary Fong Lightsphere), and ended up with good soft camera light that was compatible with the decor. Good thing, because I was shooting f/2.8 at ISO3200! I was very happy with the resulting images.

Joe also addresses some of the fundamentals of good photographic technique, such as camera grip and center of balance. The book, 300 pages long, was filled with great images, diagrams on how they were made, and colorful narratives on how the image/session was conducted.

In summary, this book was very informative and useful. I read five to ten photography books a year, and this one was the best I've read in a very long time. I highly recommend it to anyone who shoots digital photography, whether you think you are a portable flash user or not.