October 20, 2013

  • When Should You Retire Or Replace Your Memory Cards?

      QUESTION:
      One of the most common issues among both hobbyist and new professional photographers is the lifespan and “safe retirement” of memory cards. When is a good time to retire a memory card, or relegate it to “secondary usage only”? Well, any number of things can start happening to a memory card, from images going corrupt on the card noticeably often, to weirder things such as in our case today, where a professional wedding photographer noticed that their 16 GB memory card briefly appeared to only be 8 GB in capacity for no apparent reason. Sound like a harmless glitch? Think again! Even this subtle “weirdness” can be an indicator for impending total failure and data loss.

      ANSWER:

    The very first thing that comes to my mind as an expert in this area is, …where did you buy the memory card in question, and what “class” / speed and brand is it, plus of course how has it been treated overall?

    In my opinion, there is a good chance it is time to at least relegate such a memory card to secondary duty.

    HOWEVER, this “wrong size” issue is a common telltale sign of faux Sandisk cards from Ebay / Amazon third-party sellers, in which case you are at HIGH RISK of losing either half the card, or the ENTIRE card at any time, without further warning. And often times in this particular case there is no chance of data recovery, compared to how easy it can be to run a 100% successful recovery on a “legit” professional-grade memory card.

    I know this sounds terrible and maybe even a little bit paranoid / overreacting, however considering the cost of memory cards these days and considering that wedding photographers in particular are paid professionals who are capturing once-in-a-lifetime images, I see very little reason NOT to replace such a card immediately.

    I honestly just buy entirely new complete sets of memory cards every few years, card wallet and all. (After a few years of heavy use, the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket that I love so much can admittedly start holding CF and SD cards a little loosely, so that’s why I buy a new card wallet too. Plus I like to keep my old memory cards around, for emergency use and personal high-volume shooting.)

    Of course I shoot every new memory card to 100% full a few times on non-essential casual work, (I shoot a lot of timelapses, which is a convenient hobby) …just to test out the card. Or you Nikon users can just set your cameras to TIF mode, and fill a card in just 100-200 shots! Yes, I have had to send back a few cards over the years but that has only been when I tested out low-budget cards. The pro-grade, name-brand memory cards, purchased through an authorized reputable dealer such as B&H Photo Video, have NEVER let me down.

    Anyways my point is, the safest thing to do is to start fresh every few hundred thousand images. I now have three separate card wallets, and in a pinch if I have to shoot 5-6 days of weddings back to back I might start using the older cards to “mop up” dance floor reception shooting at the end of the night, while using the more reliable cards for shooting earlier in the day. Again keep in mind, when I say “more reliable” I’m not even referring to cards that have given me issues in the past, I’m just talking about replacing perfectly functional cards that are simply 2-3 years old. Personally, any card that gives me a serious error such as this, gets immediately taken off professional duty, and goes in the bin for “random timelapse footage” and quick around-the-house shooting only…

    So, it doesn’t have to be that OCD / complicated. All I’m saying is, if this is your profession; be ready to invest in its upkeep / wear-and-tear!

    Take care,
    =Matt=

October 19, 2013

  • Help! My Images Look Bright On My Camera LCD And Dark On My Computer Screen…

      Question: On certain cameras, (in this case the Nikon D700) …images seem to look nice and bright on the back of the camera, but then when they are on a computer screen they look much darker and under-exposed. What’s up? This hasn’t been noticeable on previous cameras…

      My Ramblings:

    Yes, the Nikon D700 is just the same as any other camera, although it doesn’t have auto-brightness LCD options however I dislike those anyways. (Some Canon DSLRs have that option, and you can try it and see if you like it if you own a Canon, but I don’t recommend it)

    I set the camera LCD brightness to be +1 or +2 in extremely bright sunlight, and -1 or -2 in extremely dark conditions.

    However other than that, I simply rely FAR more heavily on my histogram and my “blinking highlight warning” than the LCD itself. Never trust the LCD, especially if you find yourself shooting in dark conditions often like I do. (Wedding receptions, milky way in the middle of nowhere, etc….) The bottom line is that your LCD lies to you. There is absolutely no correlation between LCD brightness and a proper exposure, within reason of course. What I mean is, I’ve seen images that look “good enough” on the camera but are actually 2-3 stops under-exposed when you check the histogram.

    Unfortunately, calibrating your monitor will usually do very little other than correct the colors. Even a calibrated monitor can still “throw you off” if the brightness settings are wrong, actually.

    However I don’t think this is the problem in most cases, because 99% of the time people have their computer screen too bright, not too dark, for accurate tonal adjustments. That, and you really really really ought to get an IPS display with a 178 degree VERTICAL (not just horizontal) viewing angle. This will make a world of difference when gauging your shadow detail brightness on your computer. You know how on your laptop usually, you bob your head up and down and the brightness of shadows changes dramatically? Yeah, that’s what you want to avoid like the plague.

    Anyways, I think that’s the main problem here, the camera LCD brightness, NOT the display. So start using your histogram and highlight warnings more!

    Of course if you have an un-calibrated monitor it is good to get it calibrated at least once, especially if it’s a PC display. If you don’t want to invest in a Spyder etc. device, you can usually rent them from a local shop for $5. Unless your display is on at full brightness ALL the time, you really only need to calibrate every few months or so. And honestly your monitor probably shouldn’t be at maximum brightness for proper color correction, anyways. But follow the instructions for monitor brightness and contrast for whatever calibration device you rent.

    Last but not least, just know that your in-camera settings are never going to match what Adobe gives you. The bottom line is that Adobe’s default RAW processing is disgusting. It’s flat, dark, and un-exciting. However that is what presets and advanced RAW processing are for. It is unfortunate that our RAW images look bland compared to the vibrant beauty of the in-camera processing, but then again if our images were THAT perfect in-camera, we’d just shoot JPG anyways right? (And hey, some do!)

October 3, 2013

  • Professional Photographers, are you feeling burned out and over-worked? Here’s What You Must Do…

      Every advanced photographer, professional and hobbyist alike, feels burned out at one point or another. But for a professional, it’s extra tough because your livelihood depends on your ability to perform, to “bring your A-game” to a wedding or portrait session. If you’re not careful, you can slip away from the passion and even the talent-infused results that are currently paying your bills. So, how do you advoid professional burn-out, as a wedding / portrait photographer? (Or any self-employed photographer really, but for the sake of this ramble, we’ll refer to weddings and portraits.

      My Ramblings:

    This happens to everybody, especially this time of year when the money might be coming in less but the back-end work is just increasing. That’s just the way this career goes. But as long as you can get safely through annual slog then you’ll feel great in a few months.

    To be brutally honest however, if your goal is to continue truly LOVING photography as much as you once did, all-year-round, some very dramatic changes might be in order. At the very least, you need to try and minimize your weekday hourly slog. This career can downward spiral very, very fast if you get too buried. Trust me, I know. Out-sourcing your post-production is a huge thing, but not necessarily the only option. Many photographers simply adjust their workflow production time and get each wedding / session turned around in just a few hours, instead of weeks or months… I do highly recommend BOTH mastering post-production and figuring out a good out-source option. Both business models can work very well, you just need to figure out which is right for you. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both!

    The bottom line is that you need to make more time for yourself. I don’t care how fun photography is as a career, if you’re working 80-100 hours a week, that’s not cool. You could work a white collar job for 40-50 hrs a week, make way more money, and be an ordinary human being on nights and weekends. Because I don’t care how “soul-sucking” a corporate / blue-collar 9-5 job is, if you make a good living and work only 40 hrs a week, it’s actually a pretty cushy life.

    So, you need free time, plus a photographic hobby or you will go insane. I have lost count of how many people think that they’ve fallen in love with photography and that shooting weddings / portraits is their “calling in life” …yet for the past 1-2 years they haven’t touched a camera except to use it for paying their bills, or maybe to snap the obligatory cute kid / pet photo or two. (That wind up never getting edited and shared…)

    I’d blow my brains out if that were me. In fact that was me for a year or two, and it was indeed pretty depressing. But I learned my lession: no matter how passionate you are about using your camera to make money, you still need to use your camera to feed and liberate your soul. Whether you want to goof around with camera-tossing (yes that is exactly what it sounds like) …or get serious about landscapes or architecture photography, you gotta find something.

    And personally, I don’t even count portraiture as a “hobby”, since that’s part of what I do for a living. I like to do something completely opposite of what I shoot for work. I understand that some people’s “personal projects” might include themed portrait shoots, and I love doing those too, however I guess I just always categorized themed shoots with “work practice / expanding my style”, not my personal hobby…

    So, that’s my advice. 1.) Find a way to ONLY work 40 hrs a week, (or so ;-) if you’re currently bogged down working 80-100, and 2.) Find something that you’re passionate about, and keep it entirely separate from whatever you do to pay your bills.

    Of course it also goes without saying that you may or may not need to raise your prices, in order to afford this new-found free time. But everybody is currently charging something different and that’s tough to gauge except on an individual assessment.

    Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!
    =Matt=

  • What Should I Buy – Nikon SB700 versus SB910

      Ever since Nikon made the SB900 to replace the SB800, every professional or experienced photographer (note that the two aren’t always connected, but I won’t go there today LOL!) …every professional or experienced photographer seems to have forgotten about the SB800, and now the new SB700 which seems to be deemed only acceptable for amateurs. So, this is a question I see ALL the time: “Should I buy the SB900, or the SB910?” Or, every now and then, someone actually considers the SB700 as well, but the bottom line is that most everybody else who is giving recommendations out there seems to always recommend the SB910 and nothing else.

      My Ramblings:

    Yes, the SB900 has issues with shutting down due to the overheat protection feature, and yes if you turn off the overheat protection feature you may have zero issues….or you may explode your flash. So if someone put a gun to my head and made me decide between the 900 and the 910, I’d pick the 910. But I’d like to know, who is that “someone” who keeps putting guns to peoples’ heads and making them decide absurdly random stuff? That’s not the real world.

    In the real world, if I could choose any Nikon on-camera flash on the market, for me it would be the SB700 hands-down. It is every bit as functional as the SB900 / SB910, but it’s a fraction of the cost. And for some this is even more important- it is also way, way smaller and lighter! I hated how top-heavy the SB900 was, I stopped using it the day I got an SB700 as a backup actually. The SB700 is that good.

    Sure, the SB700 is slightly less powerful than the SB910, however I’ve just never had a problem with that I guess because I also rely heavily on wireless flash for my job, which is wedding photography. In my opinion, if you’re trying to bounce off ceilings that are so high that you can’t use an SB700 and you absolutely MUST have the slightly greater 1/1 flash power of an SB910, …well then you’re doing something wrong!

    BTW, I have another jag about flashes- Never, ever waste money on buying a brand new one. There is almost nothing under the sun that could go wrong with a flash that doesn’t void your warranty. Really the only thing that ever goes wrong with flashes is either you drop them, or you explode them. In either case, Nikon will just laugh at you when you try and ask for free repair under warranty. This is why I have been buying used flashes since, oh, 2006? (I have purchased 6 Nikon SB flashes in that time, and innumerable generic brand flashes for testing at SLR Lounge…)

    Just about the only reason I would consider buying a new flash is, if I were also going to get the third-party warranty, the “drops and spills” warranty. Because 90% of the time, the Nikon warranty is worthless.

    So, if you see a Nikon pro out there with the SB910, you can just snicker at them a little bit. Not only because that pro simply doesn’t know how awesome the SB700 is, but also because the SB900 / 910 has been known to be SO top-heavy, that it can cause connection (misfire, or no-fire) errors with certain DSLR bodies! (Most notably the D700 BTW) It is a serious issue that very few people actually know about; they always just dwell on the fact that the SB900 was so horrible because of overheating, and they just assume that the SB910 is the only professional choice. Well, I am here to tell you that it is not, in fact for anyone who has to use a flash on their camera for 8-12+ hours per day on a regular basis, such as wedding photography, I highly recommend, no I ONLY recommend, the SB700.

    I’ve been using Nikon SB flashes since the days of the SB80DX, and SB800 / SB600, and I gotta say the SB700 is by far my favorite out of every single one I’ve ever used. Maybe if you have a Spare SB800 laying around you can stick with that. Mine served me very well for many years. And if you can find a used one for under $250 that might be awesome. But other than that, buy a used SB700, or if you buy it new get the extra “drops and spills” warranty.

    Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!
    =Matt=

October 2, 2013

  • If you already have the Nikon 70-200 VR mk1, should you buy the Nikon 70-200 VR mk2? Why or why not?

      Here’s another very common question- If you already own the mk1 version of a 70-200mm f/2.8, should you bother buying the mk2 version?

      My Ramblings:

    Having tested every Nikon f/2.8 zoom since the old push-pull 80-200mm to the newest 70-200 f/4 VR, I have got to say that there isn’t much sharpness to be gained by going to the mk2. In fact the f/4 VR is the sharpest of them all, if you care about sharpness most. To be honest, after thorough testing I bought the 70-200mm f/2.8 mk1 for wedding photojournalism.

    Why? Not just because it’s “more than sharp enough”, but also admittedly because I hate the weight and I try not to use my 70-200 whenever possible. If I really, really need the extra resolution; say for example I get a D800 some day instead of my current beloved setup of dual-D700′s, …well then I would much rather turn to an 85 or 135 prime for “the ultimate sharpness”, than to a 70-200.

    So, that’s just me. I love what 70-200mm affords me while shooting church ceremonies and reception toasts, but other than that I try to minimize its use and grab my primes instead…

    Therefore, I suppose if someone were absolutely fine with dragging around a 70-200 all day, to both weddings and portrait sessions, then the mk2 would be a good buy. More important than any sharpness upgrade, it has a little bit FASTER FOCUSING, and the VR is a little bit better too. Those are honestly the much bigger differences. Compared to these advantages, I barely noticed a difference in sharpness..

    CANON SHOOTER DISCLAIMER: The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 situation is a little different. Their older f/2.8 L lenses (both IS and non IS) were never really amazingly sharp, they were mostly just “usable”. Yes, innumerable pros loved these lenses and used them daily to make tons of money. However that doesn’t make them the best lenses ever, they were simply the only option and they got the job done.

    Oppositely, Nikon has been turning out ridiculously sharp f/2.8 zooms since the 80-200mm f/2.8 with SWM. (silent wave motor, the new type of AF)

    So if you are a Canon user I do highly recommend considering the upgrade to the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS mk2. The mk1 is really only “awesome” if you plan to stick with it as a photojournalist lens that you shoot mostly in mRAW (the 10-12 megapixel range) and certainly not with whatever 40+ megapixel behemoth is just around the corner. At that point, the older 70-200 2.8′s are going to start showing their resolving limits. Of course the same goes with Nikon- If you have the Nikon D800 instead of my D700′s, you could see a bigger difference between the mk1 and mk2 f/2.8 VR zooms.

    Although again personally, Canon or Nikon it doesn’t matter: I’d still rather have an 85 and 135 prime for those situations when I really really need the most resolution. For me personally the 70-200mm is purely a candid / documentary photojournalist tool, not an all-day multipurpose type thing. I know that many probably don’t feel the same way as me, but shoot enough triple-headers and you just might… ;-)

    Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!
    =Matt=

September 29, 2013

  • RAW Original Images – Should You Delete Them, Or Keep Them Forever?

      When do you delete your original RAW images? Should you keep your originals forever? Ah, the eternal question. Pun intended?

      My latest Ramblings: (Don’t worry, this topic will be brought up many, many more times I’m sure! But feel free to comment if you have any other questions…

    First and foremost, if you’re a hobbyist then you can do whatever you want. This post is mainly directed at professional wedding and portrait photographers, simply because they are the most likely to experience “hey can you look for more photos?” situations from their clients, even years down the road.

    Yep, as a wedding photographer I keep all RAW “keepers” forever. RAW rejects get deleted after satisfactory delivery of any final product, such as a wedding album etc. If you’re truly OCD you can keep mid-rest JPGs of your reject files too, but I’m pretty liberal with what I keep so I feel this isn’t always necessary.

    However anyways to be honest as a post-production specialist, I feel that if a professional photographer does not make enough money to afford the relatively low cost of a few TB worth of storage per year that it would take to store your keepers permanently, well, there’s something wrong with how much you’re charging compared to the sheer volume of work you’re doing. Or maybe you need to cut back on “spray and pray” with your 36 megapixel RAW files, or if it’s a Nikon you can turn down the RAW bit rate to 12, and the RAW compression to “lossy”.

    In other words on the one hand f you don’t shoot very much, you should be able to fit 1-2 years worth of work onto a single 1 TB hard drive, which go for $70 or so these days. (Even in the small portable form!) Or on the other hand if you shoot an absolute ton of work and you just spray-and-pray like a maniac, you should at least be making enough money to afford the 2-3 3TB externals (usually around $100) that it would take to permanently archive your keepers. If you can’t afford that small expense, you shouldn’t be in business.

    To be clear, I’m not accusing people of running their business wrong, I’m actually just trying to point out a major flaw in most people’s workflow solutions: They let stuff pile up. They assume that every last gig they’ve ever shot right needs to be at their fingertips on their computer or some massive high-tech external device. This is simply NOT a good idea.

    Your workflow should consist of an “INBOX / OUTBOX” type workflow system, and dual external hard drives on a 1-2 year cycle archival solution. You simply cannot afford to let stuff accumulate on your computer, especially after you have fully edited and delivered it. Get it off your computer, onto (preferably two, and stored in separate locations) external hard drives.

    Honestly, do you really need that wedding you shot three years ago, at your fingertips on your computer? Do you really need to have the last 5 years of work at your fingertips on some big-ass Drobo or something? No. In fact it takes me all of 30 seconds to reach over to my archival shelf / drawer, grab my 2005 external, and boot it up. And unlike a Drobo or other massive, high-TB solution, the backup copy of my data is not stored inside a redundant device that could easily be stolen or damaged in a fire etc. …it’s somewhere else entirely, safe and sound. That is why I don’t advise trusting singular devices for long-term archival, even if they brag about how they protect you against hard drive failure. In reality, hard drive failure doesn’t count for NEARLY as much data loss as theft, disaster, or sheer human stupidity.

    Personally, I like to have a computer with a two-drive solution. Even many laptops nowadays can have dual 2.5″ hard drives, but let’s assume a desktop solution for most heavy-duty workflows. Anyways one hard drive, preferably an SSD, is for your operating system and programs only. A 128-256 GB SSD will do here. Then another hard drive, as big and fat as you need, is where all your data is stored. Internal RAID 1 is cool, but not absolutely necessary. You do want to back up all data on this second drive somehow, of course.

    But I digress. Either way, your computer itself it should ONLY contain your current “INBOX” and “WIP” work, nothing else. Maybe if you have a huge hard drive you can also store an “all-time best portfolio” …but I have a simple external 2.5″ RAID 1 device for that. (G-RAID mini, or my preference- the CINERAID enclosure which is BUS-powered via USB 3.0!)

    Anyways, just start storing most of your stuff elsewhere. It doesn’t belong on your computer, nor on one single external drive. For example as a 12-24 megapixel RAW shooting wedding photographer, with a hobby of landscape and timelapse RAW photograpy, I still only need to budget 1-2 TB per year, and I just go out and buy new externals each year on Black Friday. You can either buy the cheap USB 3 externals like WD Mybooks, or you can swap bare HDD’s in and out of a RAID 1 enclosure.

    The bottom line is that you gotta stay on top of your workflow. Since I have been doing private and group workflow coaching for many years now, and have managed post-production for a studio team of 6+ photographers, this is the NUMBER ONE DOWNFALL. You gotta stay on top of your workflow.

    Take care, and feel free to let me know if you have any other questions!
    =Matt=

September 19, 2013

  • What Should I Buy – Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G vs 50mm f/1.4 G

      Found on a Facebook group – what should I buy, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G or the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G?

      My Ramblings:

    Photographers always seem to break into two camps – 50mm lovers, and the 85+35 or 85+28 lovers.

    Honestly? In my opinion 50mm just gets boring after a while. I like having two primes, a wide and a long. 85mm is incredibly more useful than 50mm during things like ceremonies and toasts, while 28mm or 35mm is just gorgeous for close-quarters type candid stuff.

    Yes, I do own a 50mm, but I barely use it compared to the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G and 85mm f/1.8 G. Those two babies are just nuts-sharp, and the perfect combo for general photojournalism and portraiture.

    Even if you shoot a lot of medium sized family group photos or something, where 50mm is a great focal length, I don’t really even recommend the f/1.4 G because the new f/1.8 G is so flippin’ awesome! It is just as incredibly sharp as the 28 and the 85, in fact I like the flatness of the focal plane for large group photos more on the 50 f/1.8 G than the f/1.4 G. Bottom line, the new 1.8 G is not your grandpa’s “plastic fantasitc” disposable 50mm f/1.8 lens it even has a weather gasket around the mount, and overall solid construction.

    You have to be absolutely obsessed with 50mm in order to go for the f/1.4, and even then in my opinion anyone who is obsessed with only 50mm simply hasn’t “seen the light” yet.

    So there you have it. Start with the 85mm, if you shoot portraits on a full-frame camera. (Of course the whole discussion goes out the window, if you shoot on a crop sensor camera and you plan ot do so for a while to come. In this case, buy the 50mm f/1.4 G and be thrilled with its approximate similarity to the 85mm f/1.8 on full-frame!

      Then someone asks: But aren’t the Nikon 85mm’s kinda slow?

      My Ramblings:

    It depends on which 85mm you get. The f/1.4′s are slower than the f/1.8′s, and unfortunately, the G’s are slightly slower than the D’s. However the G’s are insanely accurate and consistent in low light, and in my experience on a semi-pro body such as the D700 the 85 1.8 G is incredibly snappy and trustworthy, even for stuff like aisle processionals and dance floor craziness. Although when autofocus conditions get truly abysmal, I must admit I opt for my 24-70 or my 50mm f/1.8, because those two lenses are just like laser beams with low-light focus.

    The reason for all this is that “D” and “G” lenses have different types of autofocus motors in them. The AF-D lenses are an older, “clunky but fast” type of autofocus and the AFS-G lenses are the newer, “slower but laser-accurate” type of autofocus. (Silent Wave Motor, AKA SWM much like Canon’s USM, if you’re interested)

    Basically, there is no reason to buy an AF-D lens unless you are on an extreme budget, or you have some very weird shooting demands for which the AF-D lenses are actually superior.

    Even on a budget, I would rather have a 50mm f/1.8 G than a 50mm f/1.4 D. The same goes for 85mm.

    Bottom line- having shot in all sorts of ridiculous light, from pitch-black to absurdly bright flares, I prefer the G lenses by a long shot, and the f/1.8′s suit my style very well- I prioritize focus speed and snappiness a little bit more than DOF. However if you’re mainly a portrait photographer and your subjects hold relatively still, then f/1.4 is the way to go.

    Personally, I just love these primes so much I wouldn’t mind owning both a set of 1.4′s and 1.8′s, …and just using whichever suited my fancy for the day.

    The 1.8′s are lighter and smaller, which is nice for general around-the-town type shooting. For example the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G is just about the ULTIMATE “trip to Disneyland” lens… http://www.slrlounge.com/nikon-28mm-f1-8-afs-g-n-lens-review

    Either way, you need to pick the lens that defines your style as a photographer, and invest the most in that lens first.

    BTW, right now both of these Nikon lenses have $100 instant rebates, but you gotta buy a camera body with them. Click HERE. The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G comes out to be $397, and the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G comes out to be $369.

    Thanks for reading and take care,
    =Matt=

  • Checking Your Autofocus Accuracy Without Microadjustment / Fine Tuning

      I recently purchased a Nikon 5200, only to discover that it lacked Autofocus Fine Tuning. Apparently there are others out there who are discovering this about their beginner / mid-range DSLRs, as someone posted online about their Canon T3i.

      My Ramblings:

    Yep, I’m very used to doing AF microadjustment with all my pro cameras for the work I do, and when I bought my D5200 a few days ago I was dumbfounded by this omission. Luckily the camera seems to focus perfectly with all my lenses.

    Aside from the fact that your camera simply cannot calibrate your lenses, it would still be nice to know whether or not you can count on this lens to function without any calibration. I especially like the trick where you shoot at an angle to a perfectly flat surface. I’ve never used those fancy charts and graphgs and programs in my life; I usually just go up on my apartment balcony and take pictures at a shallow angle of the grassy area below. The trick is to focus on something that is much larger in the viewfinder than your selected focus point, so that there is no room for error. The important thing is that you compose the shot so that there is a visible transition from foreground to background.

    I also have another tip: turn your in-camera sharpening all the way up to it’s max setting, and use one of the more vibrant picture styles too. This will allow you to check your focus on the back of your camera effortlessly, without using a computer or software to do any silly calculations.

    Of course if you shoot JPG or video, be sure to turn your sharpening and picture styles back to whatever you usually prefer, because while this is great for RAW shooters who like to determine sharpness easily, this will ruin your images otherwise.

    Honestly, I really do think charts and graphs and software are for people who have more money than they know what to do with. A simple test focusing on a tree trunk in the park will be perfectly accurate, as long as you understand simple geometry and get the angle correct.

    Either way, if you set up your test right you should be able to clearly see where focus is, in relation to where it should be.

    As with any test, be sure to eliminate variables that could cause error, and click multiple test shots. I use a solid tripod and a cable release that can perform autofocus. I perform my tests in bright sun and then also in dim light, but bright sun should be a priority of course for the best accuracy.

    And there’s a very good chance that, even without any focus adjustment, your Sigma will shoot perfectly on your T3i. As it is a big chunk of glass, of course, you will want to keep in mind that no super-fast prime can nail every single shot every single time, when used on anything less than a flagship camera. (And even then your keeper rate at f/1.4 and close distances may not be 100%) So, in other words, even when you’re on the job and you know your lens is focusing perfectly, you should be clicking 2-3-4 shots depending on the overall reliability of your camera’s autofocus. I have seen many people get angry at their lenses for not focusing accurately, when it is the body’s overall consistency that is the problem. ;-)

    Good luck!

    =Matt=

September 17, 2013

  • Shooting Large Groups / Families

      I found a question in a Facebook community regarding using a Nikon D3100 and a 50mm f/1.8 for a large group / family portrait. The concern of course is whether or not this is the appropriate lens for such a task…

      My Ramblings:

    Yep, while the D3100 will do a great job of delivering killer images as long as you shoot sharp and keep your ISO down, I would recommend renting something like a Nikon 24-70 for this.

    Nikon also makes a 17-55 f/2.8 which is great for crop sensor shooting in tight spaces, however the 17-55 can be prone to severe field curvature which means even though the lens may be ultra-sharp, it may not be able to get a flat line of people all in focus at once if you zoom out too far. The plane of focus may curve forward towards the camera and stopping down may not save the day.

    So you could go down to your local pro shop and see if the rental lenses have good off-center sharpness, but in general the safest bet is the Nikon 24-70. That thing is just wicked-sharp from corner to corner on a crop sensor, and as long as you have enough space to backup then 24mm will be more than enough to fit everybody in…

    Shooting 50mm on a crop sensor is fantastic if you have the room, (I’ve shot entire bridal parties on an 85mm on a crop!) …however it is just un-advisable to go into a job with ONLY that focal length, considering it equals about 75mm on full-frame. This is why I think renting or borrowing a 24-70 is the best thing to do. Don’t worry too much about distortion at 24mm on a crop sensor, even if you put a medium weight person at the very edge of the frame at 24mm, (actually, leave a little bit of room for a 8×10 crop!!!) …you’ll still be doing quite well considering that the focal length equivalent is just 35mm. For larger groups, that angle of view is still quite modest…

    Take care,
    =Matt=

  • Real Estate Photography – Crop Sensor versus Full-Frame

      A friend recently asked about full-frame versus crop-sensor with respect to real estate photography. The cameras in question- The Nikon D800 with the Nikon 18-35 G, versus the Nikon D7000 with the Tokina 11-16mm 2.8

      My Ramblings:

    Honestly if you use a tripod and stay at ISO 100-400, the D7000 and Tokina 11-16 ought to work out amazingly well. The D7000 still has the greatest dynamic range of any crop-sensor camera ever made, including newer models, and the D800 is only a minimal improvement. Once you get on a tripod and stop worrying about high ISO’s for hand-holding, dynamic range and overall color quality is in my opinion the number one factor in real-estate photography. Any camera with 12-16 megapixels or more is enough for general work, and even publication if you don’t crop your images and shoot sharply enough.

    Of course the D800 is double the resolution, but honestly even if you’re going to do print ads quite frequently the D7000 should be more than enough when shot right. Seriously if I had to choose between the D800 + 18-35 and the D7000 + 11-16, which is a ~$2-3K upgrade, …I’d stick with the D7000 and spend that money on myself, (lol) or just save it…

    If 18-35mm or 11-16mm aren’t wide enough for you, you could also consider the Sigma 8-16 for crop sensors or the Sigma 12-24 for full-frame sensors, but these can have pretty significant field curvature that requires careful use. The Tokina 11-16 on the other hand has a very flat plane of focus, which is great.

    I would try doing the first few shoots with the Tokina 11-16 on a D7000, just emphasizing the use of a solid tripod and maybe doing 2-sec timer or using a cable / remote release so that you can get the ultimate sharpness at like f/8 or f/11. That would give you amazing results. If you don’t yet have a solid tripod, I can make a couple recommendations…

    Most of the time, the lighting and overall conditions are much more important than other aspects of camera quality. You might want to play around with using strobes to light different areas of the room, shooting multiple images and then blending them in Photoshop later.

    Take care,
    =Matt=

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