Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Manfrotto 055C Tripod

This tripod is a fine example of a well-built, sturdy and long lived piece of photography gear. I have owned and still own a number of tripods of varying age and materials, including three modern carbon fibre models and an original 2.5m extended Gitzo Geant; no lightweight but sturdy and built to last.

Quality photographic gear should be looked upon as an investment, not a cost. A decent carbon fibre tripod may initially cost £400 or more, but you know that you have a reliable device that will not let you down at a critical time. And buying from an established manufacturer you will be assured quality support both in practical and customer service terms!

I would recommend the Manfrotto 055 in the current iteration to anyone considering a first tripod. The range is varied with something to suit most photographers and applications.

In the near future I will be leading a workshop on supporting your camera. We will cover a number of techniques and show numerous ways to use your tripod safely and securely steady your camera. Contrary to popular belief tripods are not just for low-light and night-time photography.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Rosco CTS & Tough Spun Portrait

Today is a typical English Spring day, heavy grey overcast cloud, flat dull light and none too warm! I turned up at my clients location knowing I need a portrait of Rod the stone mason as part of the content I'm creating for their new website.

I went prepared with an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra kit in the car along with sheets of Rosco #3006 Tough Spun diffusion material and #3442 1/2 CTS (Colour Temperature Straw) which has less red content than CTO.

I had planned to create a portrait of Rod on two levels, 1. The safe shot with just #3006 Tough Spun on the highly polished deep bowl reflector. The #3006 Tough Spun produces diffusion gives a feathering effect to the light beam with minimal beam spread. See a comparison here.

To achieve the defocussed background I shot on a Canon 100 - 400 mm f/4.5/5.6 L Series zoom lens at the long end aperture f/8, supported on a tripod. The light was about 10-20 feet from Rod at roughly 8 o'clock and 9 feet off the ground.

As you can see in the above frame, the ambient light was a little top heavy putting Rod's eyes into shadow.

To make the image pop I decided to under expose the background by by 1.5 stops under the TTL Aperture Value reading and shooting in manual mode. Remember, aperture regulates flash exposure, shutter speed ambient light exposure. So knowing I wanted to maintain an aperture of f/8 I adjusted the shutter speed accordingly.

As you can see, the location is a crowded stone yard full of background distractions, hence the desire for controlled DoF (Depth of Field). I needed to keep the light away from Rod otherwise I would have optically fried him; polished silver deep bowl reflectors are great for simulating sunlight effects, even when difused with #3006 Tough Spun. You will also notice the spill from this reflector, especially on the green gloss painted building in the distance. The spill could be controlled with Black WrapPhoto or CineFoil or even barn doors.

Once I had the safe shot in the can, I opted to create images with a cooler background. To achieve this I needed to warm up the flash with orange colour correction gel. I then made sure the camera was set to record RAW images in order that I could correct the warm cast in post-production. Normally when cross balancing I would shoot a white card as a reference for post-production. In this case it was not necessary as CTS has a know Kelvin correction value of 5500 °K to 2900°K.

This is my first frame with two cuts of #3442 Half CTS in place giving me the equivalent of #3441 Full Straw, as I do not appear to have any full CTS. Exposure compensation was simple, about a one stop loss for the CTS, so I increased the Quadra power output accordingly.

Without any further correction, you could use this set-up to simulate warm late afternoon/early evening direct sunlight to good effect.

You don not need fancy accessories to hold gels and diffusers in place; here I used small fold-back clips attached to the reflector lip. You can also use wooden clothes pins/pegs or even crocodile clips. Had there been barn doors in place I would have attached the gel and diffuser to the front of the barn doors, hence the apparent mess here as I used standard 20" x 24" sheets!

This is the first frame from post-production with 2900 °K dialled in. OK, the background is cooler blue but Rod's skin tone is also a bit on the cool side. The shadows to camera right are filled by the local ambient light, hence the blue colour remember that to correct for the orange light, blue has to be added to create a more neutral effect. Blue is opposite orange on the colour wheel.

This version of the image has 3400 °K dialled in giving a more pleasing effect. The #3006 Tough Spun has produced light suited to Rod's rugged good looks.

With the exception of my usual post-processing tweeks, all of the above images are effectively straight out of camera with no vignetting, dodging, burning or other manipulation.

Don't be affraid to deviate from brollies and soft boxes, experiment and see what you can achieve with standard reflectors on your studio or location battery portable flash and Speedlites.

Happy snapping:)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

How to avoid the disaster & heartache of bad wedding photographs

If having a set of photographs to cherish from your wedding is important to you, then this could be the most important article you ever read!

With the advent of affordable, professional standard digital cameras, just about anyone can call themselves a professional photographer. It may come as a surprise to you but the law does not require a professional photographer to have any qualifications, training or experience! It is all too easy to get a website, some business cards, and an impressive looking camera and start calling yourself a wedding photographer, even if you have never been to a wedding.

Wedding photography is something that most people only ever buy once, and because of this, brides seldom know the potential pitfalls or what relevant questions to ask to sort the good from the bad. Remember, there are cowboys in every industry!

To help you choose the right wedding photographer for you and avoid the heartache of bad wedding photographs here are a few tips and questions to ask any potential wedding photographers:

Ask friends, work colleagues and family for recommendations.

If they did a good job for your workmate, chances are they’ll do a good job for you.

How many weddings has the person photographed alone?

Do you want someone who’s still learning their trade or someone who has mastered it?

How long have they been photographing weddings for payment?

A statement such as “I photographed my first wedding in 2005” can be very misleading. This could have been their best friends wedding and they only started earning money from wedding photography last month.

If they have not photographed many weddings, what training has the person received or have they worked with another photographer as an assistant or second photographer?

We all have to start somewhere and every industry needs new blood. If you are on a very tight budget and can not afford to hire a professional, make sure any newcomer you consider hiring has taken their training and education seriously.

Is the person a qualified member of a professional organisation such as the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography), MPA (Master Photographers Association), Guild of Photographers, SWPP (Socirty of Wedding & Portrait Photographers), NPS (National Photographic Society), RPS (Royal Photographic Society)?

Industry recognised qualifications are shown as letters after the photographers name such as LBIPP or ABIPP. Having a degree in photography does not mean the person is a fit wedding photographer, as there is much more to wedding photography than just taking pictures.

Does the person carry both Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurances?
No one can guarantee that everything will go perfectly on your wedding day. Planning for the best is great, but a reputable business person will also prepare for the worst by having the appropriate insurance in place. Public liability protects you & your guests in the event of an accident. Professional indemnity insurance will pay out in the event of the photographer not delivering the promised results, loss of images or memory card failure etc. Because of the lack of professional indemnity insurance, many of the couples who have recently been awarded compensation by the courts, have still yet to receive any money from their photographer.

Are they familiar with the health and safety requirements of the venue(s)?
Most wedding venues have strict requirements for sub contractors using their premises. This will very often include PAT certified mains powered equipment, completing a risk assessment and having the appropriate insurance to indemnify the venue owners from the increased risk.

Do they have back up equipment?
If a photographer only has one camera, what do you think will happen if it develops a fault during your wedding?

Is their address and landline phone number on their stationary and website?
If they do not, or only offer a PO Box number or mobile phone number, ask where they live before booking? If something should go wrong, how do you contact them after the event? A non-contract mobile phone number can very often be untraceable, even by the police.

Do they have a comprehensive booking form with clear terms and conditions?
Some people can be wary of signing contracts, but a written contract is as much in your interest as the photographers. Read all the terms and conditions prior to signing and make sure everything that you have agreed on is included.

Is the person you are speaking to the person who will photograph your wedding day?
If not, ask to meet the photographer and see examples of their work before making a booking or entering into a contract. You will spend a big part of your wedding day with your photographer, its important to book someone you like.

Are the photos they show you original images created by them and of real weddings?
If you are not shown photographs of at least one complete wedding, beware!
If you are being shown sample albums with no photos in, beware!
If you are being shown album catalogues rather than actual albums, beware!

Some people will attend one of the many “portfolio builder workshops” available to novices, where for a fee a professional photographer will set up a number of shots of models in wedding attire and allow people to take the photo as if they took it at a real wedding. A tell- tale sign of this is the photos are only of the bride and groom. Some people will assist professional photographers and take photos of their weddings, or just take photos of a family wedding. A tell-tale sign of this is the subjects never looking at the camera.

Ask to see images from a whole wedding; preferably more than one wedding. Photographers will show you what they consider their best images. If they only show you a sample that contains one or two photographs from many different weddings, beware! A good photographer will have lots of images from a single wedding. Only showing a couple of images from each wedding could indicate they only took two decent pictures all day.

Some photographers will tell you that they only work by available light as flash or supplementary lighting will spoil the atmosphere of your wedding. In all probability that person has no experience of working with other light sources. So what they are really telling you is that they have limited skills and unless the natural light is perfect on your wedding day, they won’t know what to do.

Many photographers advertise themselves as photo-reportage or “fly-on-the-wall” unobtrusive photographers.
Some photographers are brilliant at this as they trained and worked as freelance photo- journalists or for newspapers, some are just naturals. Expect to pay hefty fees for a good photo-journalist as they are in great demand. Other people are merely “snappers” and shoot like this because they do not have an eye for what makes a good image, are not able to “create” a good image and/or are not comfortable dealing with groups of people. Chances are they will only give you a collection of random images, often no better quality than what your guests take.
You get what you pay for.

We all love getting a deal and saving money, but a cheap starting price nearly always means low quality. Very often it can also mean hidden charges. If you buy cheap shoes and the sole falls off the first time you wear them, you can take them back. If you buy a cheap diamond ring which turns out to be a fake, you can take it back. If you hire a cheap plumber and they flood your house, you can get the house fixed up as good as new. In all these instances, if things go wrong they can be put right
But your wedding day is a one shot deal so the photographer has one chance to get it right. If they don’t there is no coming back next week for another go, and even if you do, you will know the pictures are not of your wedding day, but of the day you staged to make up for your wedding photos being ruined by someone claiming to be a wedding photographer, who turned out to be nothing of the sort. By all means shop around for a good deal, but don’t decide based on price alone.

Trusting a family member to photograph your wedding.
In the majority of cases, if you have a friend or relative with a good camera and ask them to photograph your wedding to save money they may say yes, but you have none of the comeback when something goes wrong. The photographer needs to have professional detachment in order to get the best images. A professional wedding photographer makes it look easy because she is a professional and has a vast wealth of experience to draw upon.

Do they have a plan in place for if they can’t attend your wedding?
They can tell you they have never missed a wedding yet, but there is always the first time. Accidents happen, usually when you least expect them. Reputable photographers will usually have links with other photographers and they cover for each other should the worst happen. Can they provide a named photographer who will shoot the same style to take their place?

Do they only provide a disk of unprocessed images straight from the camera? 
If so, it is doubtful if they have any post-production or image processing skills. It could also be an indication that they have no arrangements with the suppliers used by the professionals.

Don't believe that it can be fixed in Photoshop. 
Image retouching and manipulation is a skill that has to be learnt over many years. There are no quick fixes. People new to photography do not realise this. Much of the time images need to be created with post-production or Photoshop in mind.

A Final Thought
Your photographer is charged with the task of recording your wedding day for you. They will be creating the only material thing that survives past the honeymoon. They will have to interact with the Vicar/Priest or registrar, the reception venue staff, your wedding planner (if you have one), the car drivers, the DJ/Band, the toastmaster (if you have one) and all of your guests. You will be spending a good proportion of your day with your photographer. They will have one eye on you all day, watching for the special moments that make great pictures.

This means your photographer is more than just a service supplier. To get the full return on your investment you will need to work with them before, during and after your wedding. So book someone you can get along with, someone who can work around and within your plans.

Good luck for your wedding day and for your future together.

This article was written by Ian Pack in collaboration with Paul Spiers of the NPS. You may use article in the whole unedited form on the condition that the authors are both clearly acknowledged.

Ian Pack is an established commercial photographer and film maker with over 500 weddings to his credit. He has been featured in national photography magazines and trains emerging and experienced photographers in lighting techniques.

Paul Spiers is a wedding photographer and also trains wedding photographers. He is a regional officer for the NPS and on their panel of experts. Paul has been featured in British Journal of Photography, Photo Pro Magazine, Image Maker Magazine & Advanced Photographer Magazine.

This article has been bought up to date and republished as it has been bough to my attention that there are wedding photographers publishing this content on their websites as if it were their own and without attribution.

Lowepro Pro Roller x200 Off-Road Modification

Oversize pneumatic wheels retro fitted to a Lowepro Pro Roller x 200 camera case

Rolling camera bags in my opinion are the must have accessory for any photographer on the move. The manufacturers have done a great job with their designs so long as you work in an urban enviroment.

I am sure that I am not alone in needing a rolling camera bag with larger wheels to cope with the rougher terrain encountered in much of my work. As there does not seem to be a product suited to my needs I have modified my Lowepro Pro Roller x200, featured here in my blog during 2012.

Fortunately, the wheels on modern rolling camera cases are designed to be replaced and are removed with a standard metric allen hex tool.

The modification was quite simple as I had most of the parts laying around my studio, with the exception of left-hand thread studding and nuts, which with a quick search via Google yielded a few options. As you look at the bag from the side that opens, the right wheel bolt has a right-hand thread and the left a left-hand thread. This ensures that the axle bolts do not work loose in operation.

The wheels are from a trolley I use to move heavy equipment cases, which have a larger axle diameter than the axle bolts on the bag. To reduce the diameter I cut lengths of smaller diamter metal tube to create not only an axle but a sleeve bearing lubricated with grease, but if you don't have grease you can always use petroleum jelly aka Vaseline.

Similar wheels are also available from Ebay and are used as jockey wheels on trailers and the like.

Ground clearance has increased, just as well when you see the scuffs to the bag from uneven ground!

The original wheels where left in place to act as a spacer and also so I don't loose the things! An addition spacer is also required to prevent the bigger wheels from chaffing against the bag.

To lock the wheel to the axle I have used two nuts tightened against each other to form a lock nut. I could have used Nyloc nuts, but didn't have any laying about.

The stand is a standard Manfrotto Super Clamp with a length of 16 mm / 5/8th inch steel tube cushioned with rubber grommets. Ultimately these will be replaced with a rubber walking stick tip.

This modification can be removed in minutes returning the bag to urban configuation.

That's all folks and happy snapping;-)