Me@Work

This was me a week or two ago:

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A fun photo booth. I love doing them: not much money but a great job technically, and a fun evening full of happy people.

A lot of work. Here’s the hallway before I pack the car:

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You can see. it takes many hours to prepare, and then many hours to set up, pull down, re-pack… a lot of work, and that’s why it costs money. If you see it advertised for less, you get less – it’s as simple as that.

I look forward to the next ones!

 

The pendulum swings.

You know how in life the pendulum swings back and forth? Thesis leads to antithesis, resulting in eventual synthesis, and so on?

Well, right now Apple is swinging backward.

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Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine you wanted a tech company to fail. A recipe for failure for a company like Apple would have components like:

  • Let’s kill professional/prosumer apps like Aperture, Final Cut Pro, and so on.
  • Let’s kill the only web design app that’s any good: iWeb.
  • Ignore the iMac; make everything iOS. Pretend you can have one platform everywhere (my Apple TV auto-installs apps I buy on my iPhone, for instance).
  • Make the User Interface so complicated that people like me have to Google simple actions like “how do I watch Apple special events on my Apple TV”.
  • Make WatchOS 3 “the best running experience”. Fine, but I am not a runner.
  • Hang everything on Siri, which probably works fine – as long as your accent is average. If you’re me, it sucks.
  • Make it unreliable. Both my Apple TVs, Gen 3 and Gen 4, crash when I watch the Apple Special Event. The Gen 3 crashes after ten seconds; the Gen 4 after half an hour.
  • Let’s lag behind. We now get Touch ID, meaning using your fingerprint to unlock the Macbook Pro. Cool new feature! Only, um, I had this in 1999 on my IBM Thinkpad. That’s 17 years ago.
  • And worst of all: let’s remove connectors. I use power, USB, HDMI, connect displays… When teaching, for example, I always connect a laser pointer, my iPhone, and a VGA display. I need more USB ports, not fewer! But no: let’s kill all those connectors so that I have to carry a plethora of dongles.
  • Oh and the SD card, let’s kill the SD card slot!

But there’s no way Apple would do those things, right? Right?

Except they did.

Innovation is not removing useful ports and forcing people to buy dongles. I noticed that in today’s Apple Special Event, the audience looked subdued, bored and un-impressed. Oh wait. Someone smiled – after 35 minutes, finally.

Mr Cook is no Steve Jobs, unfortunately.


EDIT: added next day:

I see that they have also removed the best feature of the Apple laptops: the MagSafe power connector. That magnetic connector, that lets go when you trip over the cable (instead of dragging the computer to the floor), has saved my laptop probably a dozen times. Without it, my computers will not last more than six months. Remove MagSafe? Now I know Apple has lost it.

 

Flash-flash-flash…

A tip today about something rather simple, which can be a lot of fun

A modern flash like a Canon 600EX or Nikon SB-900 can do “stroboscopic flash”.

To use it, simply:

  1. Set the flash’s mode to stroboscopic (“Multi” on my Canon flashes);
  2. On the flash, select frequency and duration and power level; see below for the settings I used yesterday;
  3. On the camera, which is probably on a tripod, select a shutter speed at least equal to the duration above;
  4. Make sure it is dark enough so that this shutter speed does not light up everything;
  5. Have a black background
  6. Move and shoot!

The flash:

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In this case, 1/128 is the power level; — is the duration (so I set it to one second in my case); 1 Hz is the frequency (10 Hz in my case).

The result, set to the settings above:

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The flash was set to:

  • Frequency 10 Hz
  • Duration 1 second
  • Power level 1/32 power.

Camera was set to 1 sec shutter speed. Because it took assistant Rob about a second to move his arm.

You will note that the higher the flash power level, and the shorter the time, the fewer flashes you can do. This is because the flash runs out of power after a few flashes: the higher the power level, the earlier that happens.

Go have some fun!

 

Lens Choices Are Simple?

“What lens should I buy?” is the most common question I hear from students. And no wonder: lenses cost a lot of money and there’s more than one to choose from. That said, surely choosing a lens for your camera cannot be that difficult? I mean, it’s not as though there’s a lot of them to choose from, is it?

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Oh.

OK then, so there’s a lot. But still.

Here, then, are my Top Ten Timeless Tips about lenses:

  1. The lens is more important than the camera. I would much rather shoot with a Digital Rebel and my current lenses than with a Canon 1Dx Mk2 with kit lenses like a consumer “standard zoom” 17-55 f:3.5–5.6 EF-S/DX lens.
  2. You get what you pay for. Good “glass” makes better photos, and good “glass” costs money. But unlike a camera, a lens is an investment that keeps both its value and its functionality for at least several decades.
  3. There’s no “one lens does everything for everyone” lens. The more things a lens does, the worse its performance on each of the things it does. An SUV does a lot of things, but it’s not the best at any of the things it does. So as much as you would like there to be one lens that does it all, that lens will be a compromise lens. You may be better getting a couple of specialized lenses,
  4. Lower minimum “f-numbers” are good: you can shoot in the dark and you can get those blurry backgrounds you love. The number mentioned on the lens is the minimum for that lens, and lower is better. So a lens that says “1:2.8” can go as low as f/2.8, whereas a lens that says “1:3.5–5.6” can go as low as 3.5 when zoomed out, and can go as low as 5.6 when zoomed in.
  5. They do different things: Wide angle gives you “3-D” and easy-to-use; telephoto gives you “compressed perspective” and blurry backgrounds.
  6. They have different benefits: Zoom (adjustable)  lenses are convenient; prime (fixed) lenses offer low “f-numbers”, consistency, and quality. The “consistency” advantage is often overlooked.
  7. Zoom lenses are best “in the middle”, not at the extreme wide or telephoto focal lengths. So a 16-35mm lens will not be at its very best at 16 or at 35mm.
  8. Zoom lenses are best “in the middle”, not at the extreme wide or narrow aperture. So an f/2.8–f/22 lens will not be at its very best at f/2.8 or at f/22.
  9. Use the right lens: For portraits. use longer lenses. Unless they are environmental portraits (where the person is small in the picture); then, you can use wide lenses.
  10. Third party lenses: By all means consider 3rd party lenses (such as Sigma). Their warranties are great and they can be very much cheaper. Try them on, hold and feel them: if you like them, go for it.

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Full frame camera; 85mm f/1.2 lens at f/2.0—isn’t that nice, blurring out the noisy background? This way you can shoot nice family portraits anywhere, just about.

I love my 85mm prime lens for fashion or half-body portraits. On a crop camera, you might like to use a 50mm prime lens to get pretty much the same effect.

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Full frame camera; 85mm f/1.2 lens set to f/8.0.

Let’s finish this note with an overview of my seven lenses. These are the typical photojournalist lenses, a list designed to meet pretty much any need quickly and efficiently:

Prime (fixed) lenses: for consistency, quality, and sometimes for special purposes such as macro/close up, here’s my favourite fixed lenses:

  • Canon 35mm f/1.4
  • Canon 85mm f/1.2
  • Canon 100m f/2.8 Macro
  • Canon 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift

Zoom lenses: for convenience, these cover the gamut from very wide to kinda long:

  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS

Misc: this allows the 200mm lens to become a 400mm lens (at f/5.6), without the cost.

  • YongNuo 2x teleconverter

And those seven lenses allow me to cover what I need to shoot, whatever it may be.

Now it is time to get some sleep: tomorrow, I lead a Match.com workshop in Toronto.

Taking A Cat Snap

As seen in the previous post: Mau, just now:

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So what are the salient technical points of this photo?

  1. I have two flashes aiming toward the camera and toward Mau Mau from the back, providing back- and rim lighting.
  2. Back- and rim lighting provide “3-D” modelling and drama, and light the whiskers well.
  3. But the white bedsheets (and I!) reflect enough back so there is some forward lighting also.
  4. Camera: manual mode, 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, and f/22:
  5. So that is the “darkest” possible ISO, the “darkest” possible shutter speed (“sync speed”), and the “darkest” possible aperture this lens offers; alll this to completely kill the bright ambient light (and at this close distance the flashes are super bright, so that’s not a problem).
  6. I used a Yongnuo YN622C-TX wireless controller on the camera, and a YN622C connected to each one of the flashes.
  7. These flashes have to be 430EX MkII or 580EX or 600EX, or equivalent: the old 430EX with the switch does not work here. Much as I like the switch, this is a situation where electronically setting the wireless mode is a must have.
  8. Although this setup supports TTL, I used manual power setting for the flashes, 1/16 power worked fine in this case (trial and error). Manual power setting is the way to go, if you have any control over the environment.
  9. You should lose any filters you may have on the lens: they will often increase flare to an unacceptable level. They certainly will not make the picture better.
  10. The lit eye is in sharp focus; of course at f/22 there is quite a lot in focus. Eye and whiskers are essential.

As you see, beyond the obvious, rather a lot of thinking can go into a simple picture. And few of these are “the only way to do it”. That is why photography is such a cool artistic endeavour.

So if few of those are “must do this way” points, why list them?

Because it is more important that you think about all these things than what you think about them. In other words, an analytical approach to photography helps you create repeatable art, where a photo works a certain way because you want it to, rather than “by accident”.