Sunday, 25 July 2010

Joe McNally in London

It's not often you walk away from a workshop fired with the enthusiasm that Joe McNally gives. Joe is not only a gifted photographer but a superb communicator.

If you get the chance, go and see Joe live, you'll not regret it.You do need to know your gear to fully appreciate Joe's workshops which move at a fast pace. Joe gives depth and insight to the way he works and the processes behind the creation of stunning images. Truly a master of his art.

To see some of the images Joe created on the day, just visit his blog:

Thank you Joe, Drew, Adam and the Kelby Training team for a such a great day. Well done. Let's do it again sometime - soon.


Worldwide Photo Walk, Brighton, 24th July 2010 - Update

Well . . . What a day! Brighton certainly came up trumps as a location with plenty of variety. I've just been checking out the Brighton 2010 Flickr group and some great images are starting to filter through.

We had a good turnout with a few familiar faces and some new ones to. We had walkers from as afar afield as Abu Dhubi and the Phillipines. One or two walkers even bought their off-spring, with the youngest on our walk being primary school age.

Brighton Photo Walkers get down, but not dirty!

Walkers please do not to upload your images for local judging and selection to the Brighton 2010 Flickr group and if you would like to share your mages with the rest of the world to the "official" Flickr group and please remember that we need to see your images uploaded for judging/selection NO LATER THAN THURSDAY 29TH JULY at 9:00 PM.

I look forward to seeing more images very soon.



Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Rogue FlashBenders from Expo Imaging

My youngest daughter and a good friend camped in our garden recently and in the morning decided it would be a nice idea to have a photograph together in the tent. So I took the opportunity to create a few snaps using the new Rogue FlashBenders from Expo Imaging.

Basically, FlashBenders are flexible light modifiers for just about any make of hot shoe mounted or off camera Speedlite flash unit. They are well made and benefit from their own intergral rubber backed Velcro fasteners, which incidentally also fasten Go Pro Photo Gel Clips in place. This is handy as these shots were warmed up with a 1/4 CTO gel** for a bit of localised warmth in the shot. It is quicker and easier colour correcting in camera than messing around with layer masks in post-production. All the shots in this piece are as they came out of the camera with very little (if any) tweeking in ACR (Abobe Camera Raw).

As you can see from the image above, Rogue FlashBenders produce a soft even light when used close-in for portraits, in this case about 2 feet from the subjects.

This shot was lit with one Speedlite to camera right, level with the subjects, at about 1/8th or 1/4 power. The shutter was set fairly fast at around 160th/200th* second and the stop f7.1 at 100 ISO to over power the ambient light which was sun peeping through broken cloud. The Speedlite was triggered with a “Poverty Wizard” radio trigger bought from some oriental outfit on Ebay! The ambient light was under exposed by about 2 stops for the cloudy conditions - I tried to shoot when the sun was behind the clouds. I suppose I could have gone the e-TTL route to over-power the ambient, but this was Sunday morning. Hey!

In the following shot you can see the under exposed ambient light and the set-up. The flash with the large Rouge FlashBender was mounted on a Manfrotto backlight stand as I was shooting from close to ground level.

Rogue FlashBenders are a good investment for any off-camera flash photographer or fan of Strobist style lighting. They are light and very well made from high-quality, durable materials. Their construction allows you to shape the modifier to control the light from your Speedlite just about any way you want, including making snoots or acting as a flag to mask light from part of a shot.

Rogue FlashBenders are available in three sizes:
  • Large Positionable Reflector
  • Small Positionable Reflector
  • Bendable Bounce Card/Flag
These reflectors are flexible enough to carry in most camera bags - so no excuses for not having a flash modifier with you. I’ve carried one in my Think Tank Photo Retrospective Lens Carrier 2 and all three just lay on top of my kit in my Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW back pack.

These lovable Rogues will soon be available in the UK - click here for a list of distributors/resellers.

* I’d like to have worked at 1/250, but these cheap radio triggers will not sync at higher shutter speeds - you get what you pay for!

** CTO is actually intended as a daylight 5500k to tungsten/incandescent 3200k conversion filter gel. The 1/4 CTO gives just the right amount of warmth to pale British or northern hemisphere skin tones.

4 Days and Counting

Well, it's now only four days until Worldwide Photo Walk 2010. There's some important information for walkers on Scott Kelby's blog today which may be of interest to you if you're one of the people joining us in Brighton on Saturday.

I've set up a Flickr group for Brighton's 2010 walkers:

This is a public group so sign up should be easy.

I look forward to seeing everyone on Saturday.

Have a great week.


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Rosco Strobist Gels - Quick Tip

If like me you use more than one of your Rosco Strobist gels at a time, you will probably forget which ones go where in the pack. The solution is simple; under every piece of gel is a piece of paper identifying each gel. Just leave the ID paper out of the packaging which will show you where to return the gel after use. No more mixed and confused gels!

Happy snapping.


Worldwide Photo Walk, Brighton, 24th July 2010

We're all geared up and ready to go next Saturday. If you need to contact me before the day with any concerns about travel, car parking, where we are meeting, what to bring, the do email me

The Royal Pavilion, no trip to Brighton is complete without seeing this amazing building.

Don't forget that during the day there will be a couple of local competitions running in addition to the Worldwide Photo Walk competition. There will be a Chimping Competition - for what Ben & I deem to be the best image viewed on a camera preview screen. Do make sure it's a sharp image (unless intentionally shakey or blurred) by using the magnify feature, as with any luck the winner will be published on my blog and in the Park Cameras newsletter. There will also be a prize for the best iPhone/Smartphone pic of the day - so if you've got a stack of imaging apps on your phone, now's the chance to show us what you can do.

Click on the image above to see the route and contact information etc. You may want to print a copy to take with you.

Regarding kit, remember that you're the one who's going to be carrying it! Take as much or as little as you think you'll need. You may want to limit yourself to one prime lens and body and concentrate on creating great images. Forget the tripod and take a monopod if you have one. A backpack may be a hinderance as we will be going down a couple of narrow lanes in the old town area behind the seafront. These do make for some wonderful opportunities for those of you who own a WIDE lens - 24 mm (full frame) or shorter.

This is a shot with a 15 mm full-frame fisheye lens
- the alley is about as wide as my shoulders and a piece of cinema history. The text to frame left was about 5 or 6 inches from the lens front element.

DON'T FORGET to charge your batteries the night before and bring plenty of memory cards. 1 or 2 Gb will not last long in Brighton! It is also worth formatting your memory card in the camera you intend using on the day, especially, if like me you use more than one camera. This will reduce any read/write errors, lost or corrupted files.

There's no need to worry about bringing vast supplies of food and drink as there are plenty of options on the route. And remember, if you must have a bag of chips, remember that grease and cameras do not make a good combination.

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday 24th July, 3:00 PM and feel free to bring a friend or two along.

Think Tank Photo Retrospective Lens Changer 2

I recently received one of the new Think Tank Photo Retrospective Lens Changer 2 bags in the post. It was eagerly awaited as it's a camera bag with a difference  - it doesn't look like a camera bag, more like an everyday street bag.

The Lens Changer 2 is designed to take 2 decent size pro lenses, accessories and memory cards. Think Tank Photo specify a f2.8 70 - 200 mm zoom with the hood reversed. I tend to use a Canon 100 - 400 mm f4.5 - f5.6 L Series with a tripod mount and quick release plate attached, which drops into one of the pouches with room to spare.

Here's a short video showing just one set kit I carry. In this case for a location portrait shoot.

I will vary the kit I carry according to the requirements of the shoot. These days I do not carry any more kit than necessary. Less is more in terms of creativity and interaction with your subjects and clients.

On this particular day I carried my Canon EOS 5D Mk II over my should with the 24 - 105 mm L series attached and in the Lens Changer 2 the following kit:

All of the above in the 2 lens pouches with the following items in the zipped rear pocket:

  • 12" pop-up diffuser
  • 8 x AA cells for Speedlite
  • Spare battery for 5D Mk II
  • Note book
  • Pen
  • Supplied weather proof cover
Under the flap on the outside of one of the pouches is a Velcro™secured pocket to take the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket, complete with a loop to secure the leash on the TTP PPR! Nice touch.

The whole shebang is concealed under the large front flap which secures with large Velcro™patches which can be noisy in some situations - think of a solemn moment during a wedding ceremony or during a stage performance, RIIIIIPPPPPPPP! Think Tank Photo have overcome this problem with very clever silencers which cover the hook and loop patches. I do like the concept of the flap closure - you have to close it once you've changed you lens or whatever, thus securing your gear in the bag (no zips to remember to fasten!). See my blog entry about my 50 mm F1.4 for more on this.

This is an excellent bag, and if like me when working in towns and cities you don't want to be laden down with a stack of kit in a back pack or shoulder bag, this is just the job. The bag is lightly padded to protect your gear and reduce the bulk of the bag. The Retrospective Lens Changer 2 has a good wide strap with a comfortable non-slip should pad. When adjusted correctly (this will differ according to your taste) the bag can be carried on one shoulder comfortably for long periods without even noticing it. The long shoulder strap allows you to carry the Lens Changer 2 sling style if that's your way. And unlike a backpack you will not be bumping into other people on the street or suffering with sweaty back syndrome.

My preference is for the Pinestone material which is discrete and any brand labels are on the back of the bag away from the prying eyes of would-be thieves!

Yet another 5 star product from Think Tank Photo. Well done, guys!

Think Tank Photo products are available from selected resellers in the UK or direct from the importer, Snapperstuff.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Best Portrait Lens

This seems to be an on-going discussion and debate when I meet with other photographers or lead a workshop. We all have our favourite lenses and I generally take the line that there is no right or wrong lens with which to create a portrait.

Recently I have seen some stunning portraits created with wide angle lenses by David Hobby (aka Strobist) and National Geographic shooter and Kelby Training instructor Joe McNally.

David have no choice but to use a wide angle lens when shooting Xavier, a safety officer with the Atlas Experiment, LHC, CERN. If you scroll down the page you'll see why David chose wide glass - he was working on a walkway about two feet wide!

Conversely, Joe McNally created a stunning portrait of Ybor on a street where there was plenty more room with a Nikkor 24 mm f1.4 wide open - just look at the control of the depth of field. You must know your kit and be confident in your skills to turn in shot like that.

A lot of photographers I talk with lust after the Canon 85 mm f1.2 L Series lens for portraits - yep, it's a great lens and those that show me images created with  the 85 mm f1.2 don't seem to get the point, use it wide open. Just about every shot I see they have stopped down to f4 or even f5.6. What's the point? Use that shallow DoF!

Personally, my favourite lens for general day-to-day portraiture is the Canon 50 mm f1.4 on 50D body. It's light, it's fast and most important, doesn't cost £1,800 for a lens! And, I've a great lens for use on my 5D Mk II.

So it's a no brainer - if you're a Canon shooter and want a versatile general purpose day-to-day and portrait lens, go for the Canon 50 mm f1.4 on a body with an APS-C sensor and save your money for other kit, especially lighting kit. And, if you need a another reason to justify your purchase, the Canon 50 mm f1.4 is stunning performer in low-light, and a lot lighter and smaller than the f1.2!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Strobist Shoots Monty

Here's a quick shot from my iPhone 3G of David Hobby shooting Monty at his recent London gig.

This shot has had a little treatment from the Plastic Bullet app from Red Giant Software

You can read more about the image of Monty on David's Strobist blog Upgrade Your Rims

Have a good week.



Sunday, 4 July 2010

Giottos Carbon Fibre Tripod Review

For a few weeks I have been using a Giottos MTL 8350B carbon fibre tripod and MH 1301-652 ball head with quick release plate and must say that I am impressed. This is a superb lightweight combination suitable for a wide variety of photography assignments. The MTL 8350B is compact enough to carry on my Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW without any instability, yet rigid enough to support up to a 5kg load - in my case a Canon 5D Mkii and 100 - 400 mm L Series zoom. Not bad for a combined weight a shade over 2 kg!

The clamps in the leg sections are firm and easy to release and secure and the carbon fibre sections have little or no flex.

The centre column on this model can be removed and inverted for low level shooting, or tilted for overhead shots or copying documents. The legs have mechanism that allows them to spread for increased stability when working close to the ground. At the base of the centre column is a hook that allows you to attach a cord loop which you can use to pull down on the centre column to increase stability in adverse conditions, such as strong side wind, which no matter how good the tripod, strong wind will cause your tripod, whatever make to vibrate!

At the top of the tripod there is a small bubble level, which in my opinion is unnecessary, as you should be levelling the camera which is attached to the ball head which moves independently of the tripod.

MTL8350B Specifications
Material Carbon Fibre
Folded Height 52cm
Min Height 22cm
Max Height without centre column 132cm
Max height with centre column 162cm
Weight 1.6kg
Weight Capacity 5kg
Leg Sections 4

The MH 1301-652 ball head is a joy to use. It is light in weight and can be adjusted precisely with the aid of a variable drag/friction control. Your camera is attached via the MH 642 quick release plate. This also has the advantage if you use multiple cameras, or have lenses with tripod collars, you can attach a QR plate to each item for ease of use. I have QR plates on each camera body and lens with a tripod collar. This also has means that you are not unscrewing an refastening screw threads which can easily be damaged. A QR plate may cost you a few quid or bucks, but in the long term it will save you having a stripped thread which will be very costly to replace - on my old Canon 1Ds I was quoted GBP150!

There is a 3 way bubble level on the ball head which should be used when levelling your camera.

Both myself and participants at my macro photography workshop yesterday used the Giottos MTL 8350B carbon fibre tripod and MH 1301-652 ball head and it provided a stable platform that could accurately positioned without any drift.

MH1301-652 Specifications
Height 10.5cm
Weight 0.5kg
Max weight capacity 10kg
Bubble level yes
Quick release plate MH642

Watch this space for an entry of how to get the best from your tripod in the near future, including the cord loop trick!

For many years I've been a dedicated user of other tripod brands and was an early adopter of both carbon fibre tripods and monopods when they were first introduced into the market. I can honestly say that the Giotto's range of tripods represent excellent value for money and will make an excellent long term investment. When I lead landscape and macro photography workshops I am regularly asked which is the best brand of tripod to buy - I don't make a recommendation, but let people use my various tripods and decide for themselves. In terms of cost vs. quality, Giotto's are fast becoming popular the choice.

In my experience it is best to buy the best you can afford early in your photography career. Buy cheap and you end up having to replace the item too quickly and the money is wasted. There's no point in spending money twice!

And finally, unlike some other major brands, Giotto's tripods are supplied with an accessory pouch containing a spanner and allen keys, so when fittings do work loose, you don't have to go rooting around in your tool box for the right tools.

Giottos are part of the Canadian Daymen Marketing company, the same people who supply Lowepro bags.