Personal Assignment – Wide Open

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I don’t choose lenses just for focal length and speed. Oh no. Each lens has its own character. Technically, a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens is at its best stopped down to f/5.6. But you don’t buy a 1.4 lens to shoot it at f/5.6.  So for July, my assignment is to shoot the 85mm f/1.4 wide open, in black and white.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Low Light

The New Chordettes in the Studio, 4.5 Years Later

My own comfort and confidence behind the camera influenced their comfort and confidence in front of the camera.

My own comfort and confidence behind the camera influenced their comfort and confidence in front of the camera.

Four and one half years ago, I photographed The New Chordates in my home studio. I was somewhat new to studio lighting at the time, but the results were pretty good and even graced two CD covers.

Last month I got a do-over, and I’m pleased to see that I learned something about lighting and posing over the last few years. Of course, it never hurts to have a group of beautiful women posing for you…

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Although I struggled to separate dark hair from the dark background, overall I was very happy with this session’s lighting. I used two tools unavailable to me in 2011: the Photek Softlighter II and the Orbis Ringflash. With the SB-800-powered ring flash around the Nikon 24-70 and the SB-600-powered Softlighter II at camera-left, I added an umbrella-ed SB-600 from high camera-right as a little bit of hair light. I like the overall look (although I would have preferred a stronger, tighter hair light), and best of all, the broad soft light provided by these tools allowed me to do very little retouching to the images. So nice to have evidence of progress in my work!

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Dance Concert D7100 vs. D610

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Last December I shot a dance concert with the D610, and while I got some very nice shots, I was disappointed with the focusing system and made a note to try the D7100 next time. Well, next time happened earlier this month.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

These concerts are always both stressful and fun. I’m not sure there’s any focusing system that would be optimal in these circumstances, but the D7100 definitely did a better job than the D610, and I got well over 150 keepers from the first performance. But you know what? I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

While I was over-processing, pixel-peeping, and over-analyzing images from night one, I decided that I had sacrificed dynamic range and low-light capability by choosing the D7100. I resolved to shoot night two with the D610. It’s a good thing I got most of what I needed on night one.

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8. Well exposed and out of focus.

Now don’t get me wrong. I got some good shots with the D610, but it was more of a crap shoot, focus wise. I knew that I was trading focus acuity for lower noise at higher ISOs, but I was surprised at what a bad trade it turned out to be. There are several factors at work here: 1) the D610 doesn’t focus as well as the D7100 in low light, 2) the full frame sensor produces less depth of field at the same aperture, 3) the full frame sensor also required me to use the lens at its extreme end of 200mm, where it is less likely to be sharp than in the middle of its range. (I haven’t tested this, but it’s a plausible hypothesis). Whatever the reason, the images were not as sharp as often, and that was a shame, because the dynamic range and high ISO were visibly better.

As I say, I got most of what I needed at the first performance, and the teacher is happy with the 198 images I delivered. This experience reminds me to carefully choose the right tool for the task at hand. One week after the dance concerts I did a studio shoot with the D610 and cannot imagine a better camera for the job (blog to come).

So the very good news is that I got to see these magnificent dance performances, make some very nice photos, and learn something important about my cameras. Win, win, win.

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

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Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater, Low Light

Playing the Cards I Was Dealt at the Ojai Storytelling Festival

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify.

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify each frame.

I’ve attended sixteen Ojai Storytelling Festivals, and I’ve photographed at least twelve of them. Every year there are new challenges. Oh, he’s going to juggle flaming torches? Okay. Oh, she’s going to spin and twirl all over the stage? Okay. Oh, they’re going to wear black clothes and bright white makeup? Okay. I attend nearly every event over the weekend, so if at first I don’t get the shot, I usually get another chance.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a harsh spot that produced "raccoon eyes" unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a highly placed spotlight that produced “raccoon eyes” unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This year threw some unknown unknowns my way.  The past two years, I’d gotten quite used to taking up a position behind or up against giant speakers at stage-right, which allowed me to get close to the performers without distracting the audience. But those speakers weren’t used this year. Nor was there seating in the “orchestra pit” area, so any attempt to get close to the stage put me out in the open, between performer and audience.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

I found a relatively unobtrusive spot stage-left, where I faced a busy background and obstacles (music and microphone stands) in the foreground. Unsightly backgrounds and cluttered foregrounds became a bit of a theme because most of the daytime performances previously held in Libby Bowl were staged this year at the Ojai Center for the Arts. On a makeshift stage, under a canopy. A small canopy.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

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But wait, there’s more! Two of the tellers were accompanied by musicians. So I’ve got busy backgrounds, cluttered foregrounds, and I’m looking for compositions that accommodate a standing teller and a seated musician.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, it took some gymnastics to find the angles.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, but it took some gymnastics and yoga moves to find the angles.

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On top of all this, I faced the ever-present gels of doom – purple and green and maroon and blue; not the most flattering replacements for skin tones.

But you know what? I told myself the same thing I told a visiting German photographer who didn’t like the light in Monument Valley last month: I play the cards I’m dealt. And I found two techniques that mitigated most of my challenges: tighten the frame, and narrow the color palette.

It only has to work a few times to deliver what the tellers and the promoter need. And I think it did.

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Next week I return to shooting dance. I wonder what cards I will draw…

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A Slow Learner, but a Learner Still

Only so many dusks, only so many springs.

Only so many dusks, only so many springs.

It seems like just one post ago I was supposedly relearning that I will only get so many magic hours (dawn & dusk light) in my life, but just this afternoon I sat at my desk, trying to decide whether to haul a camera into the backyard or take off my shoes and lounge about the house.  Continue reading

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The Most Important Lesson: Remember Who You Are

We scheduled our visit to Monument Valley to coincide with the full moon. Very challenging, but fun fun fun.

We scheduled our visit to Monument Valley to coincide with the full moon. Technically challenging, but fun fun fun.

As regular readers know, I’m not the sharpest lens in the bag. One of the reasons I maintain this blog is to record lessons for myself – despite the fact that, in the words of Elvis Costello, “I talk to myself but I don’t listen.”

So, several of these lessons are things we all already know. In fact, most have been featured on this blog before. Still… Continue reading

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Filed under Camera Gear, Travel and Vacation

2015 Southwest Vacation Slideshow

In future posts I’ll share photos and lessons learned – and missed – during this trip. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow.

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Filed under Travel and Vacation