Category Archives: technique

Concert photography

Dushanbe jazz festival

Dushanbe was bubbling with Jazz last weekend. Once a year the ethno-jazz festival takes place in town. This year was no different. Concerts were organized on concert photographyFriday, Saturday and Sunday in various places in town. Bands flew in from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and of course Tajikistan to perform their best. With concert halls fully packed and a bunch of enthusiastic musicians it turned out to be a great event. Great opportunity to shoot some nice concert pictures. My first steps in to concert photography. I was curious to see what I could get away with.
The first impulse was concert halls are dark, so we’ll need to add some flash. Wrong! I tried it and didn’t like the results. The flash was giving nasty reflections on the instruments and threw ugly black shadows on the background. Since there was nothing I could bounce of the flash I gave up on that idea. Plan A trashed. Concert photography Plan B was required. In my case that meant cranking up the ISO to a 1000 and more, and opening up to the biggest aperture possible. With my lens, a 70-300mm zoom, that meant aperture f5 or so. I point measured the light at some bright spots and ended up with a shutter speed of around 1/125. I decided to shoot everything in manual mode at that speed. If you keep the camera really steady pictures will be pretty sharp, even when zoomed in over 200mm. In aperture mode I’d risk shooting at too low shutter speeds. Plan B turned out to work pretty well actually. No at least thanks to the brilliant ISO performance of my Nikon D700. With a DX camera results would very likely be less exciting. You can check out the full photo series here.

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photography babies

Baby photography

Here’s a nice and easy setup for baby photography . If you ever wondered what might be a good way to get those nice baby shots, this will work! First, keep things easy. Go for a simple lighting setup. Like that you can concentrate on baby photographywhat the baby does without having to worry too much about the lighting. For this shoot I set up a 90×120 Elinchrome softbox at camera right. The softbox was at a 45 degree angle from camera-subject axis. The light was kept horizontal and almost touching the floor. Like that you get a nice soft wash of light that wraps around the subject. On the camera left was a big white reflector, a polystyrene foam panel of 1.20×2 meters that I picked up from the construction market. We put the baby on a seamless white background that we lit with two strobes fitted with umbrellas. The seamless is in fact a roll of white painters’ canvas, the widest I could find. It’s not exactly photographers gear but it works wonders. We measured the background to be lit 1.5 stops over the subject and we got it perfectly white. My studio isn’t too big, so I actually got some spill from the background lights, which works as fill. Not according to the book, but the results look nice, so what the heck. Finally we measured the key light to be at f11, and we were all set to go to take some lovely baby photographs.

One thing I quickly learned is that babies don’t sit still. They move in unpredictable ways. So not a bad idea to shoot at f11 instead of lets say f5.6 or so. That gives you just a bit more focusing margin. What else do you need? You need a baby wrangler, someone to grab the attention of the baby with toys and moves and sounds and whatever have you. If they can’t sit up you need someone to keep the baby as well. Here we just worked with both parents. The baby was very comfortable like that. It only took a little while to get those smiles we were after.

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nextgen or Photocrati galleries for WordPress website?

 

Nextgen galleries or Photocrati for your website?

Chances are when you build a photo site you’re going to add some galleries. So you’ll have to choose a tool to make them. I had to. When you build your site with WordPress, there’s a bunch of free gallery plugins you can choose from. Check here to see a few of them. However, the one that seems to have won the popularity contest is the Nextgen gallery plugin. It’s amazingly diverse, easy to use and it comes with a truckload of options. One option I liked in particular was that Nextgen lets you edit gallery thumbnails. Like that you won’t end up with a pare of feet or a beheaded model in your gallery overview. So Nextgen comes highly recommended. You can easily download it from your wordpress dashboard.

There’s a ‘but’, however, and a big one if you ask me. When you build your galleries with Nextgen your photographs won’t be picked up by Google very easily. This is an old problem that seems to be difficult to solve. Allegedly the latest nextgen versions are fully compatible with the Google search engine. Especially if you use the Yoast SEO to make your  website’s sitemap. But I tried all that and didn’t get very excited by the results. After several months only very few of my pictures got picked up by Google. photocrati template wordpress website nextgen gallery blog photography site

When I got tired of fiddling with file titles, descriptions and photo tags, I decided it was time for something new. And after a short search on the net I ended up on the Photocrati site. They offer a set of 15 templates for your wordpress site that also includes a gallery tool. I got interested because the site stated their gallleries were compatible with Google. That was exactly what I was looking for. Would it really work? Only one way to find out and that is to purchase the template package. I did and reworked my site with one of their templates. It took me around two days and I have to say that the results are great. Only one month after the makeover all of my photographs now get picked up by Google. That’s really a big difference. Buying Photocrati sets you back 89$, but it’s really worth it. There’s a little downside though. The Photocrati gallery tool offers less customising options as Nextgen. It doesn’t let you edit the gallery thumbnails. But what’s more important? Customisation or outreach? Right, I thought so. If you’re interested in Photocrati, check it out here. highly recommended stuff.

 

 

 

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How to shoot flowers

A cool way to shoot flowers

red amaryllis speedlight outdoor flower close up photography tungsten white balance cto gel

End of year is flower time. Flowers for New Year, flowers for X-mass, flowers in pots and flowers in boxes. If you like to photograph them it’s a great time. I do.  Great. But how to shoot a picture of a  flower so that it catches the eye? Let’s try a couple of things and find out.

First we need a flower. The nicer the flower the nicer the picture. That’s obvious. I got lucky when guests showed up with a big bunch of deep red Amaryllis flowers. They were big enough to shoot with my 70-300 telezoom lens. Now, what kind of light do we need? Inside the house was too dark to make a nice picture. The sky outside was grey overcast. Better make the photograph outside in this case. Because of the clouds the light was very soft light. That works well for flowers.

red amaryllis speedlight outdoor flower close up photography tungsten white balance cto gel

Now, how about the background? The book sais flowers look nice on black and white backgrounds. But I didn’t have any of those laying around. I had a grey wooden wall outside though. How about a neutral grey then? That will let the green and red pop. So we had a deep red flower, overcast sky and a grey wooden background. I also dialled -1 in the exposure compensation to make the red deeper. The focal length was 200mm and shutter time of 1/2 second. Result: nice photograph, but can we make it more exciting?

Sure, we can.  What if we could turn the grey to blue so that it looks like water? In fact that’s not difficult to do. Just change the white balance setting of the camera to tungsten and everything will turn blue. The texture of the water even look like waves. One slight problem: our red flower will turn blue as well. And that’s not what we want. There’s away to fix that though. We can take an off camera flash and turn it into tungsten light. Simply by taping a CTO gel on it. If our white balance is on tungsten, and we shoot with a tungsten light, we’re back on neutral. Except that our background and will remain nice and blue. By the way, you have to shoot manual at a low shutter speed, so that you catch the day light on our background. And the nicest part is that the flash makes it look that the picture was taken at sunrise, near a lake or so.

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Tajikistan – persimmons covered in snow

Tajikistan – persimmon trees covered in snow

 

persimmon

Snow came early this year in Dushanbe. As I was walking through my garden admiring the white blanket I noticed the snow covered persimmons remaining in the trees. That deserves a picture I thought, and went back inside for my camera. My first shot I took in aperture mode. Let the camera do the thinking and see what comes out. Not bad, but nothing special either. Just another picture of persimmons hanging in the tree.

persimmon

 

Let’s throw some light on this, I figured, and took out a strobe that was still standing in my living room from a previous shoot. First shot, nothing fancy, just pointed the strobe straigth on the persimmons. I mounted a grid of 20 degrees to concentrate the light. Camera put in manual mode, at f16 and a shutter speed of 1/125.  It already looks a bit more interesting, but the f-stop effectively blocked out the daylight and made it look like it was shot at night.

persimmon

 

So for the next picture I reduced the f-stop to 6.3 in order to blend in the daylight. To avoid overexposure I lowered the power on the strobe. Taping some orange gel over the light helped to bring out the soft orange from the persimmons. Now that starts to look like a picture. Nice orange colours almost like there’s a glowing sunset. There wasn’t though. It was a grey overcast day, as you can see in the background. That light is not affected by my gel covered strobe.persimmon

Would be nice if I could get rid of that grey colour. Not that it’s ugly, but it doesn’t help the magic of the moment. Hang on, how about changing white balance? And since I have a very orange gel on my light, turning the white balance to tungsten might just work. Tried it, and it did. The background turned to deep blue, which just works wonders with the saturated orange of the persimmons.

Same persimmons, but with a bit of light and white balance tricks a picture that is just common turns into wow. This picture was made with a strobe, but the same could be done with an off-camera flash. Check out this link for more on colour gels and white balance.

 

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Five tips for sharper images!

 

Five tips that will help you to make sharper images!

 

1. Use a tripod. This will probably have the most impact on the sharpness of your images. Unless you only want to shoot in bright hard sunlight or raise your ISO to unhealthy levels, you will probably end up in situations where there just won’t be enough light for your camera to choose a high enough shutter speed. Result? Blurred images! For instance you want to shoot a nice sunrise near a lake, or an indoor shot of your kids without ruining it with flash. In those cases you’ll need your tripod to avoid blur and save your photos. You may feel silly and uncomfortable dragging one around, but as the saying goes no pain,no gain!!

 

These days you can get tripods for little money that will do a decent job. They are lightweight, come in a little bag and even fit in your handluggage.

 

2. use a remote control or cable release. I’d say that this is probably the second most important tip. By pressing the shutter of your camera you create vibrations. To get sharp photo’s you need some way of triggering your camera without touching it. Now, you could set the self timer on your camera to introduce a couple of seconds between pressing the shutter and taking the picture. This works cause a couple of seconds is enough to eliminate the camera shake. It’s just not always practical, especially when you forgot the self timer is still on when you what to shoot that passing bird. Bye-Bye bird, bye-bye picture.

 

I find it much more handy to either get a cable release or even better a remote control. The latter come pretty cheap (depending on your type of camera, less than 50EUR) and have a good range, sometimes up to 100m. The good thing about remotes is that they will allow you to get in the pics without having to rush like mad because of a ticking timer.

 

3. Make sure your shutter time is higher than your lens focal length. This is a very simple rule of thumb but it really works. It means that if you’re shooting with a focal length of 100mm, you want to have a shutter time higher than 1/100seconds. If you shoot at 200mm, you’ll need to go for 1/200 or more. The reason being that at longer focal lenghts the slightest camera shake gets amplified a lot more than when you’re shooting wide angle. You can increase your shutter speed in aperture mode by either choosing a lower aperture or a higher ISO.

 

4. Shoot at your sharpest aperture. That’s right. Your lens doesn’t give you the same sharpness throughout its aperture range. As you approach the upper or lower aperture limits (for instance less than 5.6 or higher than 16) your images will become a bit softer. Often the aperture at which you’ll get the sharpest photos is around 2 stops above your minimum aperture. That is, if the lowest you can go is 4.0, then you’re likely to get your sharpest photos at around aperture 8.0. Make some tests and decide yourself, or check out test results of your lens on the net.

5. Use fill flash when you don’t have enough light. When your shutter speed drops below 1/50 of a second it will become harder to get sharp pictures whilst handholding your camera. In these situations using fill flash can save your picture. The trick though is to blend in your flash with the daylight so that you don’t get that horrible pop-up flash look. To do that you need to switch to manual mode. Then, lower your shutterspeed to around 1/15, open your flash and start shooting. The lower shutterspeed will allow the daylight to blend with the flash light. If the flash is too strong, lower its intensity until you obtain a balanced image. Give it a try!

 

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