Don’t.

When it comes to finishing pictures (call it “finishing”, not “editing”) I adhere to a few rules.

  • If it is news, only changes in colour, exposure and crop are allowed.
  • If it is art, anything is allowed, but that said, I do the minimum.
  • If it is portrait work, I am happy to lessen shadows, to lessen contrast in skin tones, and to lessen permanent blemishes, and I am OK with removing temporary blemishes such as pimples. But I do not remove permanent blemishes.

That last one is important. Read it carefully, and you see that I do not want to change people into what they are not. Not like this (and I have nothing against this particular software, I do not doubt that it is wonderful, but I really, really dislike this kind of advert):

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-22-06-08

“It does wonders to my pictures”? That means that either the photographer does not know how to light them properly, or she makes everyone into some kind of plastic thing that they are not.

And I think that this shows a lack of respect for the person. Like saying “you are too ugly to display as you are; we have to fix you first”. It also gives young women and men the idea that they do not meet society’s beauty requirements.

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from The Speedlighter! 

As for your 2017 resolutions, how about this one: Make this the time you finally perfect those skills you always wanted to hone! Skills that allow you to quickly and easily do pictures like the ones I took over the last couple of weeks. These include a few animal (and animal-plus-owner) pictures:

20161110-mw5d1613-1024

20161110-1dx_1783-1024

20161219-1dx_2654-1024

20161113-1dx_1819-1024

All those were made with the 85mm f/1.2 lens, and used a single speedlight in an umbrella.

But I also did an executive portrait, just yesterday:

20170101-mw5d2658-1024

20170101-mw5d2676-1024

Do you see the difference between the two above? For the first one, I did not want to show the outside (boring, homes). Easy, so the picture,like almost all my pictufes, was stright out of the camera.

For the second one, however, I did want to show the blue sky. So I exposed that one less (using the magic Outdoors Recipe–one of the things you will learn if you turn up). Both used flash, of course; fired by Pocketwizards and with their power set manually. The second one used much more flash power because I was using low ISO and small aperture to kill the outside light. I also had to, therefore, brighten the Apple logo in post-production.

20170101-mw5d2655-1024

I would almost call that last one an environmental portrait.

The next ones are certainly environmental portraits:

20170101-1dx_3062-1024

The one above used a 24-70mm lens and a speedlight with a Honl Photo 1/8″ grid. The one below, a 16-35mm wide angle lens and a speedlight with an umbrella:

20170101-1dx_3048-1024

What do they all have in common? Simplicity, good exposure, and a thorough knowledge of the technical necessities.

You can learn this too. Why not do it? I have several great opportunities coming up!

All of these are excellent learning opportunities, and will broaden and deepen your knowledge significantly. Hope to see you there and then. 

 

 

Review: Alpine Labs Pulse Camera Controller

“Late December” is a great season, with Christmas, Hanukah, and various other gift-giving opportunities. Especially when Santa brings presents. And Santa brought me presents this year—did he ever!

For starters, my son Daniel bought me this:

20161226-mw5d2449-1024

Superb.

But hardly as interesting to my readers as one of the gifts Jason, my other son, brought me from California—namely, the device I am reviewing here. Here it is:

20161228-1dx_2974-1200

This $99 (US) device is the extremely cool Alpine Labs Pulse camera controller:

20161228-1dx_2974-1200-2

What does a camera controller do? Um… It controls your camera. Duh.

Let me explain. First, here’s how you operate it:

  1. Mount this controller on the flash hotshoe on your Canon or Nikon (but not Sony) camera.
  2. Connect the cable to the mini USB/micro USB input on the camera. Unlike traditional remote triggers, this one uses Bluetooth, and it connects to your camera using the USB port, not the trigger port.
  3. Install the “Pulse Camera Control” app on your phone/tablet (search for it under that name). Both iOS and Android are supported.

20161228-1dx_2970-1200

20161228-1dx_2971-1200

You can now pair the device and use the app:

img_8660

(That pairing, incidentally, could be handled more elegantly. Rename your device and yet it often returns to the default name. But that is a minor issue, and even during my testing I received at least one firmware update, v.1.21. The iPhone app I tested with is v1.3.0.506e570. More about bugs later.)

The device had no trouble recognizing my Canon 5D Mk3 or 1Dx. The Alpine Lab web site has a list of cameras that will work: most current Nikon and Canon cameras are supported.

You can now use the app to control your camera in the following way. First, set the camera to manual focus and preferably to manual exposure mode.

Now use the app to:

  • Set exposure: i.e. set Aperture, Shutter and ISO (your camera should ideally be in Manual mode, and it should be set to manual or back-button focus).
  • Take pictures by pressing the “shutter button” on the app. After you take a picture, you get a preview, which although it is small, low-resolution, an blurry, is very useful. You can also get a histogram, which is also very useful.
  • Take Video, the same way.
  • Make Time Lapse sequences. This is an extremely cool and easy-to-use feature; see the screen capture below. Easy and flexible: It allows exposure ramping, and you can even pause the exposures. Don’t forget to turn off picture review on the back of the camera when using this mode, or you will drain your battery unnecessarily quickly.

img_8662

Exposure Ramping is a very cool feature:

img_0058

 

  • Take Long Exposure pictures. Without this, all you can do is up to 30 seconds, or use the “Bulb” mode, where you yourself have to hold down the camera’s shutter for the required shutter time. Now, you can easily take 35 second exposures, or 55 second exposures, or any exposures up to an hour and a minute. (You can still use “Bulb” mode also, if you wish, and you can start with a delay).
  • Take HDR combinations. Take 3-9 images, up to 7 stops (!) apart from each other. Pulse allows you to take the pictures; it does not combine them for you. You can do that in Lightroom or whatever app you use.
  • Photo Booth: a very simple photo booth mode where the app takes 1-10 pictures when you hit the shutter; 5-10-15-20-etc seconds apart.

Here’s the selfie, taken with the Pulse, whose preview you saw in the earlier screen shot:

20161228-mw5d2480-1200

This great app does have a few little bugs, but seeing the frequency of updates I am sure they will be fixed soon. Bugs I observed included:

  • The “LED brightness” setting did not work reliably (or at all? Hard to tell).
  • The LED stays on sometimes. Just constant, i.e. non-flashing, blue. At other times, it is completely off. Perhaps these states mean something, but if so: I have no idea what.
  • Several times, the “OK” button on the app screen was obscured by the iPhone’s keyboard. Resetting was the only fix, since there was no down arrow “remove keyboard” key.
  • The “select an accessory (this may take a few seconds)” screen takes up to 20s to appear sometimes.
  • Cosmetic bug: see the camera name in the first screen shot above?
  • The app (or device?) went to sleep sometimes. At these times, a complete reset of camera, device, and app were sometimes necessary to get everything working properly again.
  • When I connect the Pulse to the computer, every few minutes I get this warning:

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-10-05-18

These are relatively minor issues, most of which will no doubt be fixed soon. None of these stop me from using the camera, and some may well have been the result of me trying out all the modes. Still, robustness could be improved.

Overall

Many devices do some of what Pulse does; few or none do all; and none do it in such a simple and, I dare say elegant, way. This device will have a permanent place in my bag, and you can expect to see time lapse photos etc in my future.

EDIT: Jan 15, 2017: a firmware update fixed at least some of the issues I mention. Stand by for more updated information soon.

Stars and stripes

A technical post today—after all, this is a technical learning blog.

When you see a picture with details like this (from my Mac’s background picture)…
screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-10-10-24-pm
…then you know that a small aperture was used for this photo.

The only way to get the sharp star shape you see here, you see, is to use a small lens opening. Meaning a small aperture (“aperture” means “opening”). Meaning a high “f-number”. In this case, I used an aperture of f/22. The reflection is from my flash, which was aimed straight at the car.

I have other clues. Other detail in the picture includes:
screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-10-10-10-pm
That is at least proof that the lens was not wide open. If it had been, the polygon at the top would have been not a polygon, but a circle.

Other notable facts: the lines (there’s your stripes) all converge where the sun is. And finally, the lens is probably an expensive one: the polygon has seven sides. Most have five or six sides. The more sides, the more the lens approaches the ideal, a circle. That ideal gives you great bokeh.

Bokeh

THE TERM BOKEH, by the way, when used correctly, is used to describe the quality of the fuzzy background. “I want bokeh” is not a correct term: when people say this, they usually just mean “I want a blurry background”.

Correct usage: A lens that has great, beautiful bokeh is a lens whose blurry background is wonderfully smooth and evenly creamy. A cheap lens, on the other hand, has bokeh (especially “fully open” bokeh) that is more like clotted cream: much less smooth, more uneven. I can tell a cheap lens from an expensive one immediately, and I bet you can, too, when you see them side by side.

And that concludes today’s lesson. For more, attend one of my many upcoming workshops: scroll down to read more.

 

Learn Topics: Going Wide!

Time to start the new year with some special camera techniques!

Another hands-on seminar. In Brantford; Jan 4 at 7pm, repeated Jan 8 at 1pm.

I often see people who have a good overview of all the theory, but who lack detailed knowledge of some advanced or special techniques.  So rather than “going deep” with a topic like “macro photography”, this time let’s get together and “go wide”: I cover a whole bunch of these special topics.

600_455404428

Topics for this hands-on , in studio session will include:

  • Setting up your camera: in-camera editing, custom controls, copyright/owner, personalized menus, optimal playback options, and a settings review for your camera.
  • How to get super fast flash to freeze super fast motion.
  • Stroboscopic Flash (see the picture above).
  • First or second curtain: the differences, when to use.
  • Video with DSLR: How to set up your camera for video.
  • Simple HDR: High Dynamic Range without hassle. We cover both “in camera” (like in a Canon 5D) HDR, or HDR in Lightroom.
  • Panoramas: how to do them in Lightroom.
  • Off-Camera Flash: How to get your flash off camera using [a] built-in light control, or [b] simple Pocketwizard radio triggers, or [c] Yongnuo advanced radio triggers.
  • Using a Pulse camera remote as a remote trigger, or for time lapse, long exposure, and HDR.
  • Q:A session: As time allows, anything you want to ask.

These sessions are hands-on ,so they are limited to 6 people each time. Go here to book:

Hope to see you there!