Saturday was a bit cold and blustery in Indy…so I figured I might as well go shoot a little. The nice big puffy clouds were just too tempting for me to resist doing a little HDR (High Dynamic Range) image work, and besides…I’m in the middle of trying to wrap up some nifty photo compositing projects that I figure will make some good material for Indyshooter. If you aren’t familiar with HDR, just do a quick search for the term and you’ll come up with all kinds of sites. Trey Ratcliff is one of the more well-know HDR gurus….check him out at Stuck in Customs.
So, for the background (in more ways than one…) I’m working on team photos for the Indianapolis Junior Roller Girls. In mid-January I scheduled a team photo session where I took a number of individual and team photos. I’ve been working my way through making fun Indianapolis-themed backgrounds for the team shots. Once this is complete I’ll be posting a fun little tutorial describing the whole process, but for now this is a little sneak peek at one of the background shots and how I set up the camera to take the images used to create the final HDR image.
One of the challenges in shooting HDR is setting up to take multiple exposures of the same scene. You really need to use a tripod and make sure that nothing moves…you can notice the flags on top of the distant building to the left have some ghosting – this is one effect of the HDR process. anything that moves from one frame to the next shows up like a ghost image. For my purposes I wasn’t terribly concerned with the movement of these flags – it really isn’t going to be a big factor. I set my Camera to manual and took seven frames each a full stop apart…so if you consider the normal exposure as “0”, this gave me the following exposure sequence (in stops away from 0): -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3. The other main consideration here is to make sure the exposure changes are made by adjusting shutter speed and not the aperture. Changing the aperture will create inconsistent depth-of-field between the different exposures which then leads to a strange fuzzy-focus issue in the final HDR image. Not cool. So when shooting for HDR I always either set my camera on manual and take multiple frames by adjusting the shutter speed, or set the camera to auto-bracket in aperture priority mode. The difference here is that I prefer to get at least seven bracketed frames for each image. It creates a smoother effect after processing. The auto-bracket function on my Canon 7D only takes three frames: the baseline exposure and then one over and one under-exposed frame. I tend to only use that option if I’m stuck shooting hand-held for some reason. I’ll switch into burst-mode and just hold as still as possible while letting the camera make the adjustments in exposure.
Photomatix by HDRsoft does a splendid job of combining your series of photos into a HDR image. You can load the images directly into the program or run them through a plug-in from Adobe Lightroom. This is how I tend to work because I like to catalogue everything in Lightroom. You select the photos you want to use and export them into Photomatix for processing and then the final image is pulled right back into Lightroom for a little final tweaking. I’ll be posting a more in-depth tutorial on that whole process in a few days.
I’ve been approached by a few different photographers asking about recommendations for upgrading their cameras. Most of these inquiries have been from talented amateur photographers looking to “go pro” and get better shots. Usually, my first reaction is that it isn’t the gear that gets you the great shots…although it does help. Your skill in understanding how to use what you have is most important. That said, there are many reasons why upgrading from an entry-level DSLR camera makes sense.
More often than not photographers at this level have done some research and know about the technical details of the cameras, but are looking for a bit of first-hand user feedback. With that in mind I’m going to take a look at two of Canon’s “pro-sumer” cameras that have been on the market now for a couple of years, the 5D mkII and the 7D. In a follow-up article I will have a photographer friend of mine relate his experiences in shooting with various Nikon brand cameras in this same level.
Living with the 7D
I’ve owned my 7D now for about 2 years. This camera has been my sidekick on numerous fashion shoots, a good number of roller derby sports events, weddings, family gatherings, pestering my cat and countless random forays into other photographic realms. I can honestly say that I have never ceased to be impressed with how well this camera functions. I can get good sharp images while tracking a fast moving skater in fairly low light. The crop-sensor format gives you a nice close-up range when shooting with a 70-200mm lens. The 7D is also quite at home in a studio cranking out fantastically detailed portraits or macro work. Once you’re familiar with the control layout the camera is a breeze to set up for any shooting scenario you get involved with.
The image below shows a relative comparison of the zoom factor with the 7D’s crop sensor vs. the 5D mkII’s full frame. I shot the opposing camera body from the same location with the same lens at 6400 ISO.
Experiences with the 5D mkII
For the purposes of comparison, I borrowed a 5d mkII from a photographer buddy of mine, Marc Lebryk. He gave me a quick synopsis of his likes and dislikes of the camera and after spending a few weeks putting the camera through its paces I’m pretty much in agreement with him. It’s a great camera…but. Some things about it weren’t really updated when it came out. The auto focus system is an older design, unchanged from the original 5D. It just feels a little sluggish in comparison to the 7D. It doesn’t track moving subjects as well and shoots fewer frames per second…although still more than a Rebel. On the plus side, it’s a full frame camera that delivers absolutely stunning 21 megapixel images vs. the 7D’s 18. When I loaded the first few test frames onto my computer I just kept repeating…”Wow.”
When the 5D mkII came out its high-ISO capabilities were big news. Now that the buzz has died down a little bit and even better high-ISO cameras have been developed, I think it’s worth mentioning that you might not be completely thrilled with the pictures you get in low-light conditions. They are certainly much improved over earlier camera models like a 40D (which is my back-up body). But if you’re expecting to get a studio quality shots at high ISO settings, you’ll be disappointed. For reference – the cat’s eye image at the beginning of this post was shot with ISO set to 12800. It’s certainly a nice image, but still too grainy to maintain fine detail when printing large format prints. (Still, I think it’s fantastic that I’m reflected in Shaggy’s eye…Meow?)
The 5D mkII’s low-light capabilities are marginally better than the 7D, but the exposures are more consistent with the 7D. What do I mean by that? Well, I set each camera at ISO setting of 6400 in manual mode using my 24-105 f4L lens with an aperture of f4.0 and 1/400th shutter speed. I set the cameras to burst and fired off as many consecutive images as each would handle in a RAW file format. The 7D stopped shooting at 18. The 5D mkII stopped at 14. Comparing each exposure, there was slight variation in the images from the 5D mkII, but virtually none from the 7D. The noise level was fairly equal, but the 7D had a higher occurrence of hot pixels. Not much, but a noticeable difference. Does that exposure variation with the 5D mkII matter? Probably not for 99.9% of photographers. It was not much variation at all and was only noticeable doing a test like this. If you were to shoot a series of high-speed images to combine into a single stop-motion style composite image, you might notice a difference, but it would be a very simple fix to adjust that back in to match.
I’ll be honest – I’m not the best person to ask about shooting video with these cameras. I’ve done it, and they both do capture full High-definition video quite well, but I use a dedicated video camera for my video work. Why?? Because these DSLR’s weren’t designed to shoot for an hour continuously. The sensors start to overheat after about 7-8 minutes and the camera stops recording until it cools off. Additionally, the audio capabilities are lacking in comparison to a full-fledged video camera. That said, they can produce some phenomenal video (The season Finale of House was shot using only 5D mkII’s). So if it’s something you’re going to consider, either one of these cameras can get good results.
So, between the two, as a generally great all-around entry into the big-leagues camera body the 7D is a very solid performer. It produces great images with excellent saturation and contrast, sufficient resolution for all but the most insane enlargements and has a great autofocus system. If you are going to be primarily concerned with the best image quality you can get for the money, the 5D mkII will serve you well. Its bigger sensor with more pixels gives you photos that are just breathtaking…when they’re in focus. Which, they will be if you primarily do one-shot focusing and aren’t trying to chase around a gaggle of children at a wedding reception. For a studio or landscape photographer who wants the bigger images and isn’t interested in rapid fire shooting, the 5D is a winner. If you like to shoot sports, the 7D’s crop-sensor (which effectively gives you a longer telephoto), high-speed shooting and autofocus systems will delight you. When I first unleashed the burst mode on mine in a sports-photography class the look on everyone’s face was priceless. You’d think I had just opened up on the scene with a machine gun! Certainly, there are faster cameras out there. The newly announced 1DX can belt out about 14 frames a second…and you could get four 7D’s for the same price.
This city has been my home for all but a few years of my life. It is a fantastic city – peaceful yet bustling with activity. We have a world ranked women’s roller derby team – the Naptown Roller Girls. There is Massachusetts Avenue (Mass Ave.) – a delightfully intriguing mixture of arts and entertainment with such places as the Rathskeller and the Theater on the Square.
And then…there is the Super Bowl.
This year is really starting off with a bang. I’m not generally a huge football fan but I do enjoy watching the games. Ask me who won last year’s big game and you’ll just get a shrug of the shoulders and impish smile. I dunno…It’s just not something I follow that closely. Last night’s trivia night halftime question was to name the four NFL coaches who have had four Suber Bowl losses. Well, I can name a total of two coaches and they both no longer work for the Colts!
Anyway, with all the hoopla over the Big Game it’s brought me to the understanding that this is something I should experience – just to say that I did. I mean…there’s a zip-line strung up between buildings in the middle of the city! That just doesn’t happen every day around here. My friends and I are going to be wading into the crowds this afternoon, so I decided to do a brief drive-through just to get my bearings…and of course take a couple photos to share. I decided to get a view that most likely isn’t going to be played on all the network stations – they are all focused on the crowds and the stadium and the big trophy slapped on the side of the JW Marriott building. Well, I’ve included some of that…but from a distance, with a more serene and reflective view of the city…a view that even some locals aren’t familiar with.
This is an HDR exposure of the downtown skyline taken from the West side of the city along the White River Park walkway. The big square building in the center is the JW Marriott – the side opposite from the Super Bowl Village and the Vince Lombardi Trophy mural. The Lucas Oil Stadium is to the far right. This is one of my favorite views of Indianapolis. It’s close enough to feel like you are in the city, yet removed enough to still feel like you have your own space. You can sit quietly and contemplate while joggers huff by and gasp out a friendly hello. There is a little bit of traffic, but not so much that it becomes obnoxious.
So if you come to visit this crossroad city…by all means indulge in the hustle of the downtown activities. But if you want to get away for a breather…and some good photo ops…be assured that there are opportunities to do so readily available
This year has been an exciting year for me. I’ve had enough photography and video projects to keep my creativity revved up and with a good helping of encouragement and advice from some new online friends like Light Stalking and Prairie Light Images, I launched Indy Shooter with the theme of making Photoshop more approachable for photographers. There is certainly still work to be done, but I’m very grateful and beyond excited to see what the New Year brings!!
My personal photographic addiction is in the realm of fashion and portraiture. That doesn’t stop from shooting anything interesting I come across, but I’ve had the great honor of working with a wonderful Indianapolis-based Fashion magazine, Fashion Wrap Up. Their editorials are gorgeous themed spreads covering some great trends and they offer lots of entertainment and fashion news as well. I’ve had a number of fantastic photoshoots with FWU but took a break for most of this year to attend some classes and work on some other projects (video work for the fantastic Naptown Roller Girls among them!!). Then earlier this month FWU and I got back together to do a Holiday themed shoot and the results of that effort are some of my favorite images to date.
That said, I am both proud and humbled to announce my personal Photo of the Year:
Many thanks to everyone involved, but especially Christy Pastore – editor of Fashion Wrap Up, Melissa Ingersoll – Allure Salon, our model – Amanda Katherine and our location for the shoot – Cambria Suites in Noblesville, IN.
Putting together each of the looks was a huge undertaking by Melissa and her team from Allure and I would be remiss if I did not say that they did an absolutely amazing and professional job. As a photographer I cannot overstate how valuable good stylists and make-up artists are. Without their hard work none of these shots would be possible. Amanda and all out models for the day were total troopers putting up with all the fussing and posing and running from dressing room to set.
Details of this photo:
I’m fairly certain it was Christy who first had the thought to shoot this pose – looking out of the elevator as though she is searching for her significant other, but once that idea was struck it was a definite “Yes!!” moment. While Amanda was finishing with make-up I set up my lighting in the small hallway that served as the elevator landing. My main light is a 21-inch beauty dish/strobe combination set up just a few feet to camera left. There were two small speedlight flashes gelled to match the color temp of the main strobe. One of these was further down the hall to the left and another was inside the elevator with a small 4-inch dish reflector and grid to give Amanda’s hair and dress a nice back rim-light. These were all triggered with a Pocket Wizard Flex-TT5 system for Canon. I shoot primarily with a Canon 7D and 24-105 F4L lens.
Just rattling it off like that sounds so easy, but this location was quite a struggle for me to figure out how to light it. That’s one thing I love so much about portrait shooting on location – there’s always a new challenge!! It took me a good half hour of jockeying lights and angles to decide what worked.
One entertaining tidbit…once we had everything set and were shooting, the elevator alarm started going off because of Amanda holding the doors open (she got a good workout from that too, by the way!). So there was extra pressure to work quickly since we didn’t want the hotel management to kick us out after our first set!
This image was a joy to work on because it just kept getting better and better. I tried a couple different approaches to editing the whole series, but here are the steps I went through to finish out this image:
I used Lightroom to do initial exposure adjustments, boosting contrast and noise reduction, cropping and rotation and spot fixing a few spots and fingerprints on the metal surrounding the elevator.
Once the image was imported to Photoshop, I ran a high-pass filter to smooth out the skin tones (see my post for a description of this technique).
After that I used Topaz Adjust on the Strong Details setting to really make the dress and textures pop. Topaz is one of the few external plug-ins that I use.
The result of that process was faded a bit to blend back into the original image
A very slight darkening vignette was aplied around the edges of the image
Finally I used the dodge and burn tools to selectively enhance shadows and highlights such as folds in the dress and details in her hair. A very small brush was used to burn the details around her eyes.
Look for a future post describing more of these techniques in greater detail.
See the entire editorial at Fashion Wrap Up. (All images are Copyright Vivid Oranje Consulting, LLC and Fashion Wrap Up magazine). For a behind the scene’s look at this shoot visit AK’s World, a blog written by another of our fantastic models, Adrian Kendrick.
Hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Holiday Season and I’m looking forward to an exciting New Year!!!
I wanted to let you all know about Rabari – Encounters with the Nomadic Tribe, a fascinating new photography guide written by renowned travel photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich and recently published by our friends at Light Stalking.
I have to say that my first impression on a quick scan-through of this eBook was simply, “Wow!!” Not only has Mitchell given us a wonderful documentary of his project photographing a rural nomadic tribe in India, he has shared the experience in an instructional format providing a wealth of background information on his approach to “getting the shot”. For each of the ten excellent images in the book the reader is given insight into dealing with shooting in a foreign country and working with an interpreter, reasoning and vision for the image, lighting diagrams and posing considerations, challenges in getting the shot and details on workflow and post-processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
When I finally got the chance to sit down and fully digest everything in the book I found it inspiring and easy to read. You really get a feel for what it was like to be on this project and how the author learned and interacted within the lives of these tribal people. Mitchell Describes everything in an easy, conversational text that feels like he’s teaching you one-on-one, detailing each shot and what the situation and his thoughts were before and after clicking the shutter. He gives you a breakdown of the gear he took (which was very minimal), how he dealt with transportation and finding a local guide and then goes through each image providing wonderful detail for photographers hungry to learn.
In short Rabari is a resource unlike any I’ve come across before and it should happily find a home in any photographer’s reference list. This is much more than just a “do this and do that” manual…it’s nearly 60 pages of Awesome. It gives you sense of what it is like to be a photographer on location in a desert shooting portraits of a people that don’t understand most of what you say. Add to that all the how-to details and you have a uniquely rich and satisfying edition. I have to give a heartfelt Thank You to Mitchell and Light Stalking for putting this together and I am certainly looking forward to more!
Well, it is late evening as I’m writing this but I wanted to share another really great sunrise. This time there were no clouds, just a nice golden glow in a clear sky that faded to a deep purple/blue. It was neat because I can see this flag from my back deck. I get to wake up and see these sunrises out my kitchen window and this morning just had a nice little treat. So I skipped breakfast and drove by on my way to work to get a shot. Nothing super special about the exposure, just slightly under-exposed (2/3 stop) to deepen the sky color and create more of a silhouette with the flag yet still have enough detail to see the stripes.
A simple, peacefully inspiring image for waking up on election day in Indy.
This was one of those “Thank God I have my camera” moments. I was traveling around I465 headed to a dinner and trivia outing with my friends. The whole drive around I was captivated by this incredible sunset that was developing. By the time I exited the interstate I was literally bouncing in the seat eager to get somewhere I could capture this glorious display. Well, turns out there’s this funky little fishbone sculpture right near the restaurant I was headed towards. I’ve been by this a handful of times before…even managed to see a Great Blue Heron sitting on top of the fish at one point. That was a moment of “dangit where’s my camera…” Anyway, I tear into the parking lot by this little retaining pond and snatch the camera out of the trunk without even bothering to shut the car off and run down to the edge of the water to start shooting. I got about 10 frames before the sun and all it’s color were gone. Literally, had I been held up for another five minutes anywhere along the way I wouldn’t have gotten this shot.
It has been said before…in a lot of photography, timing is everything. You can have great light, great models, a beautiful wardrobe and so on…but if you miss the moment that perfect “look” happens, you’ve missed a great shot. The gear doesn’t matter as much. Sure I used a Canon 7D and 70-200 f2.8 lens. Could have gotten a great shot with a 40D or even an old Rebel Xti…the key was being there when the light was working, when the clouds were glowing, and when God said, “Here ya go…”