Saturday, January 31, 2009


Wall art, shot at the Adventure Aquarium, Camden NJ.

Canon 40D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4

Thursday, January 29, 2009

There Are Four Lights

Handheld at ISO 3200, f/2.0, 1/30sec

Shot with Canon 40D, and new Sigma 30mm f/1.4

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

While Driving...

It's been too cold for me to get out and walk around recently, but that doesn't stop me from taking my camera with me while driving. Lazy? Sure. I'll get out and start shooting again soon - I won't be happy with drive-by for very long...

Both shot with Canon 40D and my new Sigma 30mm f/1.4. It's a great lens to take out past dark - f/1.4 picks up a lot of light.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Apple iPhoto 09's Face Detection and Recognition

Click here for a larger view on my Flickr stream.

I'm just getting started with Apple iPhoto 09. I'll post a detailed review later, but for now, I had to show off my first glimpse at its face detection and recognition. I imported all of my photos from Aperture to iPhoto as JPGs.

I had the option to share previews between the two apps so that when I update a photo in Aperture, its preview is shared with iPhoto - however, I'm running out of disk space as it is, and have been considering separating out my photo browsing from post-processing. The extra time required to go back and modify a photo, then replace the copy in iPhoto should be worth it in the long run.

So, for this screenshot, I clicked on a photo that I was in, found a box that was already drawn around my face, then clicked the arrow under it. It presented me with about 20 photos, most of which had me in them. After selecting them, it showed me a bunch more - apparently having a better idea of what I look like.

So far, so good - this is going to be fun!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's Full of... stars...

It's full of...stars...
Note: View large to see how many stars you never really get to see with your eyes.

I took this New Years Eve, 45 minutes before midnight, (despite the oops-I-forgot-to-set-my-camera-clock-back EXIF data). I thought about taking a photo as the ball dropped... but I'm just not that moved by our time system rolling over one of its digits :)

Now solstices... well now, that's a completely different matter all together!

I can't decide if it's upsetting how few stars we can see with the naked eye, or how many more we can see when we use a camera.

This was my first real test of my new tripod. It's real windy, but my tripod didn't budge. I hung a twenty pound sandbag from it, just in case. If there's any movement in this photo, it's my deck, not the tripod :)

One note about the photo - I heavily adjusted the white balance to compensate for all the yellow put out by the artificial lights. This makes just about everything look better - more natural - except the stars. They're all skewed more towards blue than they actually are. Some of those actually appear reddish, some white, some blue.

* Canon 40D
* Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 Lens
* Bogen/Manfrotto 190XPROB Tripod Legs
* Bogen/Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead
* Impact Saddle Sandbag (27 lb Capacity)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shooting the Haas TL-15 CNC Lathe

Click to view larger
Winters are tough for photographers. When it's too cold to go outside, you end up pointing your camera at just about everything in the house. So naturally, when asked to shoot a giant computer-controlled lathe in a machine shop, of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Note: The decision wasn't actually that easy. This still required my leaving the house (remember, it's damned cold out). Had I my own giant computer-controlled lathe, I might have declined, but after 15 minutes of searching, I couldn't find one in my house to shoot, so I happily agreed.

As an engineer, I'm fascinated with machinery, so it was fun just getting a tour of JMT Machine Company. The shop recently acquired this machine, a Haas TL-15 CNC Lathe, and wanted some shots for their website and to hang in their front office. While I'm not exactly sure what I'd do with this thing, that doesn't stop me from wanting one. Unfortunately, I'm a little strapped for cash right now, and have a backlog of camera gear that's ahead of this thing in line.

Click to view largerFor this shoot, I decided to make the rather boxy machine a little more interesting by shooting up close with my Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 super wide angle lens. Now, being this close, I was (in retrospect, overly) concerned about getting the back of the machine out of focus. I generally shoot in the 30-55mm range, so I've been burned by too narrow of a depth of field in the past.

So, putting aside all of my ideas on how to shoot this thing creatively and erring on the side of making sure I got a few good snaps before leaving, I decided to be super-conservative and shoot at f/22. In retrospect, this was serious overkill. I should have known my DoF charts better for this lens - but hey, it's a learning experience, right?

If you're not familiar with flash photography, the one major difference between flash and ambient light is that, basically, only the aperture matters. You can't leave the shutter open longer to get more power out of your flash. That's how you get more out of your ambient. If you want to compete with that ambient, your only option is shoot bright and quick, not giving it the chance to burn in. Well, needless to say, f/22 eats flashes. I used a total of four strobes on this thing, spread out and each at 100% power and about eight feet away.

Here's a quick equipment check:
* Nikon SB-26, triggered by a Pocket Wizard radio flash trigger
* Canon 430EX, triggered by Pocket Wizard radio flash trigger
* Alien Bees B800 Flash Unit, triggered optically by the other flashes
* Nikon SB-28, triggered optically by the other flashes

My first thought going into this was to completely overpower the ambient lighting with a quick shutter speed and by cranking up the flash power. Well, as I mentioned, f/22 didn't leave me a whole lot of light to play with, and my first attempts at this were underwhelming at best. The flashes seemed overly artificial. Rather than stress out about that, I decided to try to use the ambient. After all - I was in a cool, grungy machine shop -- why hide it?

As it turned out, the existing light was awesome. Rows of fluorescents overhead and some powerful halogen (?) bulbs lighting up the business end of the machine when the door was open. This gave me some pretty cool color contrast to play with, while using my flashes for nothing more than fill. That suited them, considering how much they were knocked down by my choice of aperture. This gave the shot a more natural feel, adding to the shots.

At this point I had the aperture set, the flashes at the power I needed them, so the only variable left was the shutter speed, and that was all just trial and error. I ended up on four seconds. With my new, trusty, bombproof tripod (Bogen/Manfrotto 190XPROB legs and Bogen/Manfrotto 322RC2 grip action ballhead) and well, the tonnage of that machine, I was guaranteed a pretty still subject.

Overall a positive experience. I walked away with a better understanding of how deep a wide angle lens' depth of field is, how finicky optical flash triggering can be when in a large area (or outdoors), and that I shouldn't immediately dismiss the ambient light. And, the owner sent me home with some of his machined parts to shoot as I find the time.

Other equipment used during the photo shoot:
* Canon 40D
* Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS
* Bogen/Manfrotto 7' Pro Stand
* Bogen/Manfrotto 9' Basic Light Stand

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Low-Light Handheld Test

Canon 40D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 -- handheld at ISO3200, f/1.4, 3/10 second.

This shot was taken at night in a dark room with nothing but a small nightlight in the corner. Other than that, the hallway light was on, but only partially lighting the floor and a small amount of the wall behind me. I leaned up against the wall, shot at f/1.4, ISO3200, 3/10 second.

I focused this with Live View, which was tough, because even on the LCD screen, I couldn't see her eye, it was so dark. I had to focus on her ear.

Note that the Canon 40D has a true ISO1600, then pushes it a stop to ISO3200 for use when you absolutely need it. In this situation, I did. I couldn't have handheld for any slower than this - even here I was really pushing it. When shooting with a pushed ISO, you should give extra care to expose the shot properly. Any further brightening of the image will introduce more noise.

I just received my new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 yesterday, so I'm running around shooting in every room in my house with the lights turned off (it's been too cold outside). So far, I really love this lens. It's been a while since I've shot f/1.4, so I'm re-learning how tough it is to focus with it. The 40D's AI Servo focus is definitely helping.

Of course I was very interested in the low-light capabilities of this lens. The main reason I purchased this focal length, however, was so that I could shoot near a traditional 50mm - the lens many film photographers left on their cameras full-time. The Canon 40D and most other digital SLR cameras have sensors smaller than 35mm film, which effectively makes each lens a little more telephoto than they would be traditionally. This sensor is 1.6X smaller than 35mm film, so 30mm becomes 48mm.

If you decide to purchase this lens, make sure you get the correct one for your camera body. Sigma makes this lens for Canon (link), Nikon (link), Pentax (link), Sony (link), and Olympus (link). Those links will take you to B&H Photo, where you have 14 days to return the lens if you're not happy with it. If you haven't used f/1.4 before, you'll be amazed at what you can do with it. Just have patience - wide apertures take practice!

Again, this was shot at:
f/1.4, ISO3200, 0.3 seconds

If you're wondering how dark this room was, here's a couple equivalent exposures you could use if you didn't have ISO3200 and f/1.4:

f/2.8, ISO1600, 2.4 seconds
f/4.0, ISO1600, 4.8 seconds
f/5.6, ISO1600, 9.6 seconds

So, go into a pretty dark room where your camera's reading something like that, and you'll get an idea. Try a handheld shot at 9.6 seconds!

Monday, January 12, 2009

C1/C2/C3 - Custom Modes, Revisited

Just a brief update to my previous post on setting up the custom modes on my 40D.

Shortly after writing that post, I read one by wedding photographer, Ryan Brenizer on how he's able to post-process a shoot with an average of two seconds per photo. His big secret is that he's an expert at getting his exposure correct. The second was that he shoots all manual mode.

It's interesting that this never occurred to me. I've been futzing around with different metering modes all this time, usually disappointed with the results. At one point, I was sure that my camera meters dark because spot-metering on someone's face would result in a shot two-thirds to one stop dark. I'm pretty sure now that that was due to caucasian skin being about a stop brighter than middle gray. It was exposing properly, I was telling it that this person's face was gray, when it was much lighter than that.

Most of the time, and I'm sure this is the same with you, I'm shooting several shots in the same room, or same basic lighting. I've been letting the camera determine and re-determine the exposure with every half-click of the shutter. It seems so obvious now that that's a bad idea. When I'd shoot 50 shots in the same room with aperture-priority (Av) mode, I had to individually correct the exposure on every shot. Now, thanks to that invaluable tip, I'm able to spend a little up-front time getting the perfect exposure, then finish the rest of the shoot with the same settings. When I get back to the computer, I need a few minutes with the first photo, then copy and paste those corrections to the rest.

Simple, no?

Now, it's just a tad more complicated than that, of course. Unless you're very far from the light sources, you're unlikely to find a room with consistent lighting across the whole space. I need to be wary of that, and when I determine what exposure I'll be shooting at -- say, ISO 1600, f/2.0, 1/60sec -- I might need to take mental notes that on one half of the room nearer to the lamp, I should quickly adjust to, say, f/2.8.

So, to modify my previous post, I re-set my C1 and C2 custom modes to manual exposure, with a couple of starting points that I find myself often shooting. C1 was for indoor, ambient only, so I chose ISO 1600, f/2.0, 1/30sec. C2 was for indoor, with flash, so I set that to two stops darker, and enabled the flash - ISO 1600, f/2.0, 1/125sec.

It wasn't easy changing the custom modes from aperture-priority (Av) to manual (M) - I had to start over, since the shooting mode is determined by what mode you're on when you're saving the profile. I basically had to start over. No worries.

Next time I'm out in a new shooting environment, all I have to do is take some test shots early on to determine the exposure I'll need. I'll start with C1 mode, find the correct exposure, then save it to C1. Then I'll dial in a shot two stops darker for C2. This should make my post-processing go by much quicker. After only one round of shooting with the new modes, I must say I was impressed. I saw a continuity in the lighting of my shots that I'm not used to. Every shot turned out the same, regardless of whether I was pointing at someone wearing a white or black sweater.

Thanks, Ryan, for pointing out the obvious!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Canon 40D's C1, C2, C3 - Custom Modes I wish I had been using all along!

After spending two weeks drooling over the new Canon 5D Mark II, I started feeling like my 40D was inadequate. Of course it's not, but well, camera envy has its grip on the best of us. Being broke, I decided the best way to upgrade my camera was to pull out the manual and learn all those cool, unnecessary features. I didn't expect that search to get me so giddy!

Many of the newer Canon DSLRs have C1, C2, and some have C3 modes on the mode dial that you can fully customize. I never felt the need to save custom functions - I figured it only applied to a few of the minor features buried in the C.Fn-I through C.Fn-IV menus. Well, that's not the case - it seems that just about every setting on the camera can be mapped into one of these custom mode buckets - even the shooting mode (Av, Tv, M) and the ISO, aperture (in Av or M modes) and shutter speed (in Tv or M modes).

Are you excited yet?

Okay, here's why you should be. You know how you're at a get together and you're flipping back and forth between ambient-only and flash-assisted ambient? Or, when you're shooting fast-action sports one second, and then a portrait of a player as he comes back to the bench the next?

hrm, one more example...

How about you often shoot night shots on a tripod with Live view mode and mirror lock-up, but are tired of switching that setting back and forth every time?

Once you realize how great this feature is, you'll be upset that you only have two or three custom modes to set. You'll have to decide which types of shooting you do the most often, because the goal here is to save all the time that you spend changing the ISO, switching back and forth between Av and Tv modes, and turning on and off the flash. In my case, I take a lot of people shots where I prefer to use ambient, but if I have to, I'll switch to flash. I also like taking my fast lenses outside at night for some real low-light shooting, where I can push every photon as far as possible with this camera.

The following will probably be more info than you'll be interested in reading, but I'm including it because it's something I wish I would have read a year ago. Even if you're not shooting the same types of shots as I am, this should give you an idea of how you can think about these custom shooting modes, and how you can make them work for you.

Here's how I set my modes - your milage may vary:

Common Settings

** Settings common to all modes:
- Quality: RAW - if you're using JPG mode, throw out your DSLR and buy a point and shoot
- Red-eye: off - I never use on-camera flash, so I don't care
- Beep: on - I try not using it, but just can't live without it
- Review time: off - I can hit a button if I really wanna chimp
- Shooting mode: Aperture priority (Av). Most photographers use this mode at all times. I won't go into why, but if you're not using it, you should be.
- White balance: AWB (auto) - I don't care about white balance, because I shoot RAW, I change it later anyway
- Highlight alert: enable - insanely helpful feature - you can always darken a photo, but not when you blow out a section of the photo
- Histogram: brightness - just personal preference
- INFO button: shoot. func - I only use this if the camera's on a tripod and it's more convenient than looking through the viewfinder or on the LCD
- (C. Fn I) ISO expansion: on - I only use ISO3200 if I have to, but I like having the option (yes, I know it's the same thing as ISO1600 -1eV)
- (C. Fn II) - Long exp. noise reduction: off - this is annoying - I can see myself using this, but I'll temporarily switch it if so
- (C. Fn II) - High ISO speed noise reduction: off - no thank you
- (C. Fn II) - Highlight tone priority: disable - no thank you
- (C. Fn III) - Mirror lockup: disable - I use this often, but only on tripod - I have this as one of my quick settings
- (C. Fn III) - Lens drive with AF impossible: focus search on - I can deal with this - I'm capable of letting go of the
- (C. Fn III) - Lens AF stop button function: AF stop - I rarely need to cancel AF when I hit the shutter button halfway, but it's there if I need it
- (C. Fn III) - AF point selection method: Multi-controller direct - I love that joystick - it's great to jump right to the AF point you need
- (C. Fn III) - Superimposed display: On - I need this on to see what I'm focusing on
- (C. Fn III) - AF during Live View shooting: Enable - I rarely use this, but keep it available
- (C. Fn III) - Mirror lockup: Disable - I use this often, but only on tripod - I have this as one of my quick settings
- (C. Fn IV) - None of these are interesting enough to mention


1. Ambient Only
** This is the mode I'm in more often than not. If there's enough ambient light, I'm using it. I only pull out the flashes if I'm looking for a cool effect, or if they're absolutely necessary.
- Drive: low-speed continuous (3fps). This doesn't kick in immediately since there's three shots per second fired, so if I only want one, I can let go of the shutter button. If, however, I'm in low-enough light that I'm afraid of camera shake, I can keep the shutter down and capture a couple shots of the same scene and keep the best one.
- ISO: 1600 - Mainly because I'm usually in lower light
- Aperture: f/2.0 - I find myself shooting people in low light. Even if the lens I'm using at the time is faster than this, it's a good starting point which will get most of a face in focus close in. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering: Spot. I'm a fan of spot mode when people are in the scene in lower light. I usually meter on someone's blurred out face, the exposure lock, focus, reframe, then shoot
- Exposure compensation: +2/3eV - in spot mode, I like to meter off of a person's face. Caucasian skin is about a stop brighter than middle gray, so I have to adjust for this or get dark shots. I'm playing it safe by not going all the way to +1eV, but if I'm shooting a lighter-skinned person or notice my shots coming bright or dark, I'll adjust. Note that this adjustment goes away after I change metering modes
- (Flash Control) Flash firing: disable - this is one of my favorite on-camera settings, because I can have a flash on camera and turned on, but not use it when this setting is disabled. This way, I can bounce between settings very quickly and not have to turn my flash on and off.
- (C. Fn III) AF-assist beam firing: Disable - In this shooting mode, I'd rather not annoy people with the focus beam. I keep this in my quick settings, in case I need it. Again, it's great to be able to turn this mode off in the camera, so I can have a flash on camera and turned on, and not have it fire a focus beam


2. Flash, with ambient dropped two stops
** This is the mode I retreat to if it's too dark for my Custom Mode #1
- Drive: single shot. I'm using a flash here. If I took back-to-back shots with it, everyone in the room will instantly hate me.
- ISO: 1600 - I'm only in this mode because it's too dark for Custom Mode #1, so ISO 1600 is clearly not enough. I will be using a flash in this mode, but rather than rely 100% on flash, I try to get at least some ambient by keeping my ISO high. I'd rather deal with some noise (which is well-controlled on the 40D) than get a shot with zero ambient when I'd really like to have some.
- Aperture: f/2.0 - I was originally going to set this to f/5.6 to get the subject safely in focus, I realized that if it's too dark for Mode #1, I'd be shooting with the same shutter speed as in that mode if I drop the aperture down two stops, then drop the exposure two as well. So, I start this out at f/2 so I can quadruple the shutter speed from Mode #1 by default. I can always override this while shooting. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering Mode: Center-weighted - I figure in this mode, that's appropriate. I'm probably shooting a person standing right in front of me
- Exposure compensation: -2eV - this lets some ambient light fill the background a little darker than the subject, rather than leave black backgrounds, while letting you take a shot four times quicker than in Mode #1
- (Flash control) Flash firing: enable. Again, this is great to set on the camera - I can quickly switch to Mode #1 and not use the flash for a shot or two, then switch back and the flash is still powered up.
- (External flash func. setting) Flash exp. compensation: +2/3eV - I usually find my shots a little dark when using the flash. This might be due to metering on flesh tones that are a little brighter than middle gray. I keep this as a quick setting so I can override it if needed.
- (C. Fn III) AF-assist beam firing: Enable - In this shooting mode, I'm in people's faces with flashes, they can deal with some flash beam to help me focus. I keep this as a quick setting so I can override if needed


3. Low light shooting - get as much out of the lighting as you can without flash
** This is the mode to use when I'm trying to shoot where the average shooter gave up already - perhaps 30-60 minutes past sunset
- Drive: high speed continuous. I usually reserve this mode for fast-action sports shooting. However, the point of this mode is that I'm in such low light that I want to take advantage of my low-light shooting hardware. Most likely, I'm shooting around 1/20 of a second or slower, and there may be some serious camera shake. The best way to deal with camera shake is to take several shots, then throw out all but one.
- ISO: 3200 - this is actually a pushed ISO, which means it's ISO 1600, but taken at -1eV, then brightened by a stop. This brightening is a lossy operation, so more grain is introduced. It's a last-resort method of shooting, which is what this mode calls for.
- Aperture: f/1.4 - again, we're trying to get as much light to the sensor as possible while keeping this hand-holdable. Note that I set this aperture when my fast f/1.4 50mm was on the camera. If I'm using a slower lens, it'll just use the fastest aperture it has.
- Metering Mode: Center-weighted. I figure that there might be some high lighting contrast in this frame as there usually is when I shoot at night. I like sodium vapor, neon, and other lights against the setting sun and deep blue night skies. I rarely frame these shots with the bright lights in the center, and I don't mind if these have to get blown out towards the light source, leaving a nice colored halo around them. The shot is nothing if all you see is the lights - they're less important than the rest of the scene, and since I'll rarely keep them in the center of the frame, I've chosen a center-weighted metering mode which will favor the non-well-lit sections of the shot. If I used evaluative metering, I'd have the problem of the few bright lights in the shot keeping the rest of the shot dark, and the rest of the scene is what I'm after.
- Exposure compensation: +2/3eV - I usually find myself brightening the shot by a little bit, so I'm exposing to the right
- Flash Controls I turned off all flash firing, including for auto focusing. The idea of this shooting mode is to not draw a lot of attention to myself while blinding people with the flash.

I just started using these modes, so I'll have to see how well they work for me. So far, so good. It's really exciting being able to change my ISO, flash settings, exposure compensation, aperture, metering mode, and miscellaneous settings with the turn of the dial. I love being able to _quickly_ jump between flash and ambient shooting, then step outside in the dark and be a little less conspicuous, and make the most of the photons. And, as soon as I'm done using the custom settings, I can go right back to Av, Tv, or M modes, which still remember and share these settings among the three modes as well. I'm sure these custom modes are often overlooked, but if you sit down and think about the few common ways you keep shooting, you can save yourself a lot of time when shooting, and of course we all know that in the time you spend fiddling with the dial, you've just missed the moment.

The hardest part of setting this up for yourself might just be in deciding what two or three shooting modes you find yourself using the most. After that, you'll probably get as excited as I am about this - it kind of feels like you're building your ideal camera when tinkering at this level.