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.

Posted in people, photography, technique Tagged |

Outdoor lighting for photography

Using studio strobes on location

The other day a fashion designer asked me whether I could shoot some outdoor shots of a couple of her latest designs. Sure, why not I thought. Usually I shoot in the studio, so it sounded like fun to try an outdoor photo shoot. I’d wanted to practice outdoor lighting for photography for a while anyway . The first task obviously was to find a good location. Since I don’t have a battery pack for my strobes (yet) it had to be a place where I had access to a power outlet. I remembered a place in town where they recently put up some cool graffiti on the walls. That might be a nice contrasty background. After I explained the management of the place about the photo shoot they were all for it. Luckily a socket was in reach with an extension cord.
outdoor lighting for photography
So we found the place. Next thing was to decide what kind of look we wanted. Since we were going to shoot against a grungy graffiti background I didn’t really want to use a flattering soft light source. A hard light that gives more contrast and lots of shadows felt much more appropriate for this type of background. Hence I packed a strobe and a 21cm reflector, which for the occasion I fitted with a 30 degree grid. You don’t want to light the heck out of the model and the wall. You want the light to be on the model, with just enough exposure on the graffiti to feel the texture and the color. With a grid spot I could do just that. By the way, I was using an Elinchrome strobe of 300Ws, and I had all the power I needed to shoot outdoors.

 

With the location set and the lighting scenario in mind, we packed all the gear we needed and drove off to the site. And now came the hard part: I got exactly one hour to set up the gear, measure the light and make the shots. The models were waiting outside getting cold and wanted to leave early.  The manager of the place was already looking at his watch before we even got started. Working fast was the message. Ok, so you want a simple lighting setup. You can’t waist time messing around with a bunch of lights and reflectors and whatever have you. I quickly set up the strobe with the grid and started measuring the light. Under these conditions you really start appreciating a light meter.

outdoor lighting for photography

I started with the strobe at full power. It was still daylight and I figured I needed all the flash I could get to overpower the sun. Wrong! My light meter went to f25 and I was blowing out the whole scene. Nice surprise! I knew these Elinchrome strobes are good, I didn’t know they were that good! After some fiddling with the meter and the lights I ended up lowering the output with 3 f-stops, at half the maximum output. That gave me a reading of f11, just where I wanted it. By the way, when shooting in daylight, your modeling lights are useless. So you really need to have a light meter to check where the light is going. Especially when you’re working with a narrow beam of light from a grid spot. I guess you could go for the hit and miss approach with a test subject, but I didn’t have that luxury.

outdoor lighting for photography

Once I had the light at the right output to get a good exposure the rest was easy. The key was to choose a shutter speed that will allow the strobe light to blend in with some ambient light. At 1/125 of a second I got sufficient ambient light mixed in to light the background, but still keep the overall mood pretty dark. Like this the model would really stand out and catch the attention of the viewer. If you want the background lighter, that’s easy, just lower the shutter speed, and keep the strobe at the same output. Setting up and measuring the light took me around 20 minutes. That gave me another 40 minutes to do the actual photo shoot. Plenty of time to get some nice shots. You can see some more images of the session here. All the shots were taken with a Nikon d700, at ISO100 with a 70-300mm lens.

Posted in Dushanbe, Fashion, flash, modeling, outdoor lighting, photography Tagged , , , , |

Photo Exhibit La Grande Dame

PASCAL
VLIEGHE

PHOTO EXHIBIT

at

La Grande Dame  17-31 March

Pascal Vlieghe is pleased to announce his first photo
exhibit in Dushanbe!

Both talented and versatile, Pascal presents an
all-round collection of photographs from Tajikistan and other countries. The display
features glimpses of daily life in Tajik residential care facilities, fashion
& beauty photography, macro and studio shots as well as nature and
landscapes.

The exhibit is made up of 50 colour and B&W framed
photographs, from small to poster size. The exhibit will run from 17-31st of March in La Grande Dame.

 Opening
Reception Friday 16 March from 19:00-21:00 hrs!
.

You’re all welcome to visit and join Pascal for a drink and chat at the
opening reception.

Posted in Dushanbe, photography, Tajikistan

What camera to buy?

What camera to buy – Olympus or Nikon?

 

What camera to buy? If you ever thought of buying a DSLR camera then you probably asked yourself this question. There are so many different brands out there with different prices and they all come with a bag of options. It just seems difficult to make the right choice nowadays.

Myself I’ve been shooting with an Olympus E-520 and a Nikon D700 for a while now. Over time I got to know these camera’s pretty well.  So I thought ofOlympus E-520 sharing some of my findings that might help you decide which camera might be your thing. And yes, I know, the E-520 and D700 are in a different league. You can’t compare them.  Of course the D700 is the better camera. It costs 5 times as much as well. But that’s not the point. I just want to share some characteristics that are brand specific. I’m not going to compare these two models.

For instance, the Olympus DSLR cameras are what they call four-thirds cameras. Why? That has to do with the size of the sensor. The Olympus sensor in these cameras is 18×13.5mm. That gives you a photo ratio of…right, four by three. The sensor size in the D700 is 36mmx24mm, almost four times as big and has a three by two ratio. Why do we bother about sensor size? Well, for starters, it determines the size of your camera and of your lenses. Four-thirds cameras in general are smaller and lighter than cameras with larger sensors. But also the lenses are a lot smaller, especially the zoom lenses. It does make a difference when you want to drag it up a mountain.

On the other hand, sensor size determines image quality. I’ll explain. The E520 has around 10 Megapixels crammed on a relatively small sensor. The D700 has 12 Megapixels on a sensor four times the size. Therefore each pixel point on the Olympus sensor has to be around four times smaller. The importance is that smaller pixel points compromise on image quality. This means that an image taken with an Olympus four-thirds camera will be much more sensitive to noise compared to cameras with bigger sensors. Photos taken in low light situations are going to have noise. That’s probably an issue if you’re a landscape photographer who likes to shoot early morning or late evening. And don’t let the salesman fool you when he says you can control noise with noise filters. He’s right, you can do that, but cranking up the camera’s noise filter will reduce your image quality dramatically. You will loose sharpness and detail. I’m just switching the noise filter off altogether when I shoot with my Olympus. I prefer to control the noise filter in post process. Although the E520’s ISO goes up to 1600, I find that if I shoot at more than ISO200, I get annoyed by tNikon D700he level of noise in the images. I don’t know why they put the higher ISOs in there. You can’t really use them.

Because of the smaller sensor, the dynamic range of the four-thirds camera is also smaller. That means that the Olympus will get into difficulty when you try to shoot in high contrast situations. That translates in images with blown out highlights and black shadows.  Not nice.

Does that mean you shouldn’t go Olympus? Absolutely not. It still remains a great camera. You just need to be aware of its limitations. What am I using it for? Mainly for close-up and macro photography in the studio. Why? In the studio I can control the lighting. So I can stay at ISO100 without having to worry about noise. Also, it has a brilliant 50mm f2.0 macro lens that comes at a reasonably good price. It’s tack sharp, and easy to focus, provided you do it manually. But that’s something you should do anyway in macro photography (close-up sample). Another strong point is that the camera has a great and easy to use live view. It shows depth of field and allows you to focus while zoomed in 10x. That comes in really handy for close up photography. I find the Olympus live view much easier to work with than that of Nikon. I don’t really use the Olympus for other studio work. That’s because the auto-focus is unreliable in low light situations, as is the case in a studio. That wouldn’t matter if you’re shooting pictures of your kids. But when you have a client in front of you it can get quite embarrassing when they see you struggling with a lens that doesn’t focus. Therefore in low light situations I will use my Nikon, which has a superb auto-focus.

I also use the Olympus for outdoor photography, but only when there’s sufficient light. Otherwise I’ll run into noise problems. I like the performance of the 11-22mm wide angle lens, and it’s an easy camera to carry. The fact that I can go less wide than with the Nikon doesn’t really bother me (because of the crop factor of 2x, an 11-22mm lens on an Olympus corresponds to an 22-44mm on a full frame sensor. See here for more on crop factors). Some say that’s a disadvantage if you’re shooting landscapes. If I want to go really wide, I shoot a panorama. It’s so easy in the latest version of Photoshop to stitch a panorama together.

I use my Olympus for:

–          macro & close up photography

–          nature and landscape photography when sufficient light

I use the Nikon for

–          portrait studio photography

–          indoor and street photography

–          nature and landscape in dim light

 

So in short, if you’re looking for an all round snap-shot camera that gives more flexibility than a point and shoot, Olympus is a good buy. If you’re a more demanding shooter, or you’re planning of becoming one, you’ll quite soon hit the limitations of the E-520 and find that you can only use it for certain jobs. In that case I’d go for Nikon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Posted in design, gallery, photography, technique, wordpress Tagged , , , , |

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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support to disabled people in Tajikistan

disabled children and old people support in Hissar, Yavan and Dushanbe

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough getting the opportunity to visit some centres for disabled people here in Tajikistan. In fact I was asked to go and shoot pictures. Now that was great! Unless it’s for professional reasons you probably won’t get access to these places let alone shoot photographs.Tajikistan children travel location photography people disability adults social health care And now I was given a chance to do both at the same time! I didn’t think twice to accept. I packed my gear and off we went. I expected limited time to set up so I took only the most important stuff: my camera, a fast 50mm lens, a 70-300 zoom, a speedlight and one of those practical pop-up silver reflectors, in case I run out of daylight. Forget about tripods, remotes or strobes and umbrellas. Don’t want to drag that up the stairs of a four floor building. It turned out I guessed prety well that day. When we left Dushanbe it was cloudy and raining. Good I brought my reflector I thought.  And throughout the morning we rushed from location to location and floor to floor. Not bad to travel light either.

A specialist in the social sector had warned me to be prepaired for some distressing situations the day before, so I braced myself for gloomy spaces with crying kids in run down facilities. Boy, I got it wrong, thank god. We first visiting a centre for disabled kids in Hissar, some 30km out of Dushanbe. It turned out to be a happy place filled with toys and cheers and an army of friendly nurses. And they all wanted to be photographed. One particular fellow followed me throughout the centre and kept popping up in front of my lens.  After a few hours of shooting and when we were about to leave I realised that actually the best light was in the entrance of the building. Luckily a brave boy was learning how to walk at the very moment, encouraged by a therapist. I took my camera back out of the bag and continued shooting. Two good lessons for the future I thought: first look for the light, and never pack your camera until your back in the car. The other places we visited were no different. It resulted in us having a good feeling about social centres in this countrty and me having a series of great shots. You can check them out on the images from Tajikistan gallery. For more info on social support for disabled people in Tajikistan go to http://www.cbm.org/Tajikistan-292813.php or http://www.unicef.org/tajikistan/media_6780.html

 

 

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fashion show dushanbe 2011 Tajikistan

fashion show dushanbe 2011 Tajikistan girl mode serena hotel catwalk central asiaLast saturday the Dushanbe fashion show took place in the Serena hotel, right here in the center of town. If you were there I don’t have to tell you how great it was. If you weren’t, you missed without any doubt the fashion event of the year. It turned out to be a glamourous feast with beautiful models showing some of the finest clothes you’ll ever see in Dushanbe. First the clients got a go on the catwalk modeling the dresses they had tailor made by their designers. Tajik models followed in a number of amazing dresses and outfits, each more spectacular than the other. And I got to shoot al this. Since it was an outdoor event that started prety much at dusk, I was worried sick about the changing light conditions. Not a bit good for photography. Luckily I decided prety much last minute to take a strobe and a large umbrella. I positioned it at the end of the catwalk and bingo, it threw enough light to get some great shots. Probably just as well the show started late afternoon. Like that I could shoot from the start in manual mode at a shutterspeed of 1/160 which I needed to sync my strobe. Used my ISO to account for distance and the changing light. Probably not the most professional solution but hey, it worked and that’s what matters. You can check out my official pics in my beauty/fashion gallery or on the Dushanbe fashion website. I’ll upload more in a couple of days.

Posted in design, Dushanbe, Fashion, modeling, photography, Tajikistan Tagged , , , , , , |