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The $100 Portrait Lighting Challenge

$100 flash challenge

The components of my $100 portrait lighting challenge assembled

In the recent past we covered basic three point lighting for portraits and basic five point lighting. That’s all well and good if you have a space big enough for a studio and can afford the equipment. But what do you do when you’re just starting out and can’t afford all that? Or you have to choose between portrait lighting and your kid’s braces? There are also many situations where you want to shoot fast and scoot along without the overhead of setting up big lights.

Today I thought it would be fun to put together an ultra-el cheapo, one light, hand-held system that will still take a decent portrait and try to keep the price tag below $100. Here’s what I came up with and today’s prices.

Yongnuo YN-467 Flash (I had one of these left over from another article) $76.65

A Neewer 33in Translucent Umbrella $7.07

Flash Shoe Holder Type B with Umbrella Holder $7.95

That all comes to $91.67. I picked the components for value, price and versatility. The umbrella you can use as a shoot-through or shoot turn the flash around and shoot into it. It yields a nice soft light that works surprisingly well for portraits.

No flash sync cable or wireless controllers this time, neither one was in the budget. To make it work off-camera, I’m going to set the flash power manually and use my camera’s built-in flash to trigger the external flash in slave mode. But to keep the built-in flash from taking over, I’m going to shoot in Program mode, manual flash operation, and crank the flash exposure compensation down to -2 ⅔.

Now the built-in flash is way underexposed but still bright enough to fire the slave trigger so most of the usable light is coming from the external flash, but there’s still enough from the built-in flash to fill in some of the shadows without being too harsh.

model photo jone

Proof is in the pudding. For $100 in lighting gear I think that looks really good.

The flash bracket is the type that can be mounted on a flash stand, which you can pick up for around $20.

Since I already have a flash stand I’m going to use it even though that, technically, puts me over budget. I could just as easily hand-hold it or get someone to hold it for me, so I’m claiming the $100 price point victory anyway!

Okay, fellow cheapskates, show me what you got.  Let’s see how many of you can beat my $100 rig on price and quality.

model shot three

I think these came out excellent and I didn't have to advertise myself as a "natural light photographer"

model shot two

I used AfterShot Pro for a little touch up, but I would not be embarrassed to charge money for these shots.

 

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Wedding Photography: Five Tips For Second Shooters

back stage with a wedding photograher

Karl Leopold sets up a bride and groom shot as video pro Bruce Reynolds works a separate angle

One of the most common ways to build up your portfolio as a wedding photographer is to start out as a second shooter for someone else. While you won’t make a lot of money, you will learn a lot about taking wedding photos.

If you want to work as a second shooter for the primary photographer there are a few things to remember both in terms of preparation and the actual shoot. Since it’s been a while since I shot a wedding, I decided to hook up again with Karl Leopold and tag along as the second shooter at a beach wedding in Cocoa Beach.

I’m going to be honest here and admit I made some mistakes, mostly because I haven’t done it in a while and because I use my DSLR a lot for video. My mistakes will help you avoid doing the same thing.

On this shoot Karl was using a Canon 5D MK II with a Canon 580 EX ii while I was shooting a Canon 7D and an off-brand speedlite.  One of the mistakes I made early on was trying to lock my ISO at what Karl was using for consistency.  A crop sensor camera with a long lens simply can’t shoot at the same ISO as a full frame sensor, which has much better response in mixed light.  That was one of those moments you ask yourself later what you were thinking.

What To Wear

Unless otherwise specified, you’ll almost always be okay wearing black slacks and a black button-down shirt. For an outdoor or beach wedding you can usually get away with khakis and lighter colors.

We were at a beach wedding and while the guests were barefoot, I don’t recommend that when you’re working. One stray metal scrap will put you on the sidelines. Wear shoes, but not dress shoes which don’t do well in sand.

Arrive Early

arrive early

Get there early and shoot some background if you've never shot that venue before

Arrive early, particularly if you’ve never shot at that venue before. Use the time to get your angles and exposure settings.

If you’re working with a top-notch wedding planner, the venue will be ready well in advance. Introduce yourself to the venue, support staff and other vendors but don’t take them off task. Everyone there has a job to do besides you.

In the off chance the primary photographer is late, be prepared to step in and shoot some of the preliminary shots. Traffic happens, accidents happen, so even as the second shooter you have to be prepared to do the entire job. If something happens to the primary, it’s all you. Hope that never happens, but approach every job like it could.

Focus On Your Assigned Coverage Area

Mine was crowd shots, candids of the wedding party and guests, and to shoot the diagonals on the ceremony because I had a longer lens.

candid photo

My assignment was guest shots and candids of the wedding party

There’s no point in having two good photographers shooting the same shots. I did a couple times on this shoot, only so I could show you the setups and resulting shots. Otherwise, as second shooter, be out looking around for other shots. If the primary is busy with the bride and groom, grab some shots of the family and kids. Take pictures of little details that can get lost in the rush, those shots can add a lot to the memories of the day.

You’re Not The Only Person Working That Day

There are a lot of people working at weddings, including other vendors. At this wedding we had a video guy besides the wedding coordinator. Give others room to work and try not to be banging away with a flash when the video people are trying to get their set shots.

Also be aware that the video shooter will likely have a wide covering shot running somewhere, try to walk behind that camera whenever possible. Give other professionals room to work and they’ll give you room to get your shots. It will all get done.

video guy

Try to avoid firing your flash when the video people are trying to get set shots, work cooperatively with other vendors

Remember Who You Represent

Keep in mind as the second shooter you are representing the primary photographer. Your shots are going out under their name and they’re responsible for you. This is not the time for showboating or self-promotion. I always carry one or two business cards of the primary photographer and if one of the guests asks for a card, that’s the one I hand out.

If other vendors ask for your card, that’s a little different. Then it’s okay as they usually already know the primary photographer.

Who Owns The Shots?

When you’re shooting second camera normally the photos belong to the primary and go out under their name. Don’t expect any residuals on the prints or reorders. If you need the photos for your portfolio or other uses, clear that in advance with the primary. After the shoot is not the time to try and negotiate ownership and usage rights!

The idea here is not to undercut the person you’re working for. In most areas the vendors all know one another and treating someone poorly will get around in a hurry. No person is an island in a small business and you may find yourself someday needing the people you treated badly.

On the other hand, shoot well, conduct yourself like a professional and be responsible and you may find a lot of photographers appreciate what a good second shooter can bring to the table. All the while you’ll be learning from the best and building a portfolio you can be proud to show off.

comparison shot

One of the mistakes I made was framing too tight in the camera. My shot is on the left. Karl's version has room for a decorative picture frame and recognizes that prints come out darker.

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Pixels, Bytes, and DPI – Oh My!

When it comes to sensors, size matters, but maybe not as much as people think - by Infomatique via Flickr

Understanding the difference between megapixels, megabytes and DPI is one of those subjects that makes people glaze over sometimes because it’s technical. But, if you’re angling to make money from photography or do it for a living, it’s important to understand what the terms mean and the difference it makes in your photos. So, while I realize a pictorial of hot models in skimpy clothing is how you’d rather be spending your time, I’m going to try to make this discussion as fun and interesting as humanly possible.

Megapixels

Probably the most ridiculously overused comparison in digital cameras today, and the camera manufacturers go along with it because it’s not worth the effort trying to explain why it’s not always a fair comparison. Comparing cameras by their megapixel rating is like my wife picking a new car because she likes the color. The number of megapixels has very little to do with the quality of the final image. Color, tone and sharpness will have far more sway over the quality of the final image, which is one of the reasons the highest rated cameras are all over the road when it comes to the megapixel rating of the sensor.

The difference in megapixels does effect the resolution of the final image, but even that is a geometric comparison and not a linear scale. The number of pixels increases by the square of the resolution. If you double the resolution of an image, you quadruple the number of pixels.

If you’re comparing a 5 megapixel camera, like your cell phone, with the 10 megapixel Sony TX300v, you now know that does not mean the 10 megapixel camera is twice as good. In fact, the difference in resolution is just 1.4 x in either dimension. Not so great now, is it?

sensor size chart

You have to nearly double the sensor size to see any significant increase in resolution - via Wikipedia

So when considering the difference between a 16 megapixel camera and a 19 megapixel camera, the difference is nearly insignificant. Other factors in camera and lens quality can erase such a small difference.

Where megapixels do matter is the image size, the more megapixels, the bigger the final image. That says nothing about the quality. A large blurry image through a bad lens is still a bad picture no matter how large it is.

If you’re just looking at your own pictures on a display device, it’s not an issue. If you’re hoping to sell stock photography, it becomes more important because many stock photo companies set minimum image sizes.

True resolution

Snapsort uses true resolution which is based on the physical size of a cameras sensor and not the manufactures advertised high megapixels, which can be misleading.

Megabytes

A megabyte is a measure of digital storage, the same as it’s applied to any digital storage. How large an image is is loosely related to the final image size, but every image file is a little different based on a large number of factors including the compression type (JPEG vs RAW).

NASA photo

In 1999 NASA had to take a composite image to get this 2,796 x 2,796 pixel image of Io. Roughly 8-megapixels, or about the same resolution as an iPhone 4s today - by NASA

DPI

Dots per inch is only relevant to a discussion of a printer or other display device. Outside of printers, you can pretty much forget about DPI. In the old days if you changed the picture DPI, your editing software would automatically resize the print output. These days if you tell Photoshop you want a 5×7 and change the DPI, you’ll still get a 5×7 print.

In photography it’s all about the resolution and resolution is measured in megapixels, but that isn’t necessarily significant unless the difference is very large.  There would be a noticeable difference between an 8-megapixel camera and a 12-megapixel camera, the difference between 12 and 16-megapixels would not be as significant, if it were even noticeable.

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Taking Better Photos With Your Point and Shoot Camera

An award winning photo taken with a Olympus tough 6000 waterproof point and shoot camera, photo by Brenden Sherratt

Some of you might look at pictures taken with a DSLR with a bit of envy, imagining that the camera is somehow responsible for getting better photos.

Well, here’s one the dirty secrets that the High Council of Jedi Photographers will likely not like me telling you, but these days there is not a great deal of difference between many point and shoot cameras and high end DSLRs.

In fact, mirrorless cameras like the Sony Nex-5N, Pentax K-01 and Samsung NX-11 have the exact same sensor size as my Canon 7D (compare) and they’re a lot easier to carry around. Though they lack some of the other features like weather sealing and build quality, they all can take amazing photos. All you need are a few tips for getting the most out of your point and shoot camera.

Read The Manual

read the manual

It's boring but you must read your camera manual

No amount of coaching will help you get the most out of your camera if you don’t understand how it operates and the features it provides. I’d be willing to bet a good 75 percent of camera functions never get used and half of the time because their owners had no idea their camera could even do that.

You’ll need to know how to set your camera to shutter and aperture priority modes, how to change the shutter speed and aperture manually, and how the exposure compensation features operate. If your camera has a built-in flash and how to change the flash compensation. All that knowledge is yours for a 30 minute date with the owner’s manual.

Shoot Everything

I recently calculated that National Geographic photographers are taking anywhere from 350 to 1,000 pictures a day, depending on the assignment. At a recent wedding, the prime photographer and I were taking around 200 photos per hour, each.

The more pictures you take, the better the odds of getting one that’s amazing. Some of my best photos were ones I remember wondering why I even bothered to take that shot. You just never know. Shoot everything, sort it all out in post.

Stop Taking Pictures of People Sitting On The Couch

people on couch

Taking pictures of people sitting on the couch is now banned - by Simon Law via Flickr

The photography world is flooded with pictures of people sitting on couches and, frankly, we’ve had enough. Get pictures of people doing something, anything. Get a picture of them playing a game, riding a bike, cooking, or engaging in some hobby that tells us a little about them as a person.

Besides, it’s a great excuse to get everyone off the couch and up doing something.

Your Camera Is Not a Rifle Sight

Stop treating your camera like a gun sight, putting your subject right in the middle. Take a look at this article on the Rule of Thirds and remember, it’s not the Helpful Hint of Thirds or the Recommendation of Thirds, it’s a rule. Get the subject over to one of the thirds.

This is why taking pictures of people doing things is so helpful. If you center the activity, frequently the person doing the activity will be off to one side of the photo. It’s a good way of training yourself to frame better.

Flash Off Inside, Flash On Outside

fill flash

Everything done right. Subject doing something, interesting angle, plus use of fill flash in daylight - by Aske Holst via Flickr

For all the amazing features of point and shoot cameras these days, the built-in flash is probably the worst light source in the history of photography. Turn it off whenever you possibly can. Get your subjects over by a window, or even better, outside to some open shade. Then turn the built-in flash on and make it fire.

While the internal flash is a terrible light source, it is quite a good fill light for outdoor portraits.

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Olympus Announces New Mirrorless E-M5

new olympus mirrorless camera

The new Olympus OM-D E-M5, Micro Four-Thirds in an SLR body

Olympus raised the curtain on a new Micro Four-Thirds camera, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the first new model not part of the Pen series and sporting a new line of interchangeable lenses.

The E-M5 is styled like a smaller version of the old style Olympus SLR cameras, down to the control knob in roughly the same position as the ISO dial on the old OM-1. Yet the E-M5 has at its core a Micro Four-Thirds, 16.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor, backed up by the TruePic VI image processing engine providing a maximum ISO of 25,600. That compares to the 12.3-megapixel sensor in the E-P3 and E-5.

My question for Olympus would be why they stuck with the Micro Four-Thirds sensor on an SLR form factor instead of going with an APS-C chip? I’m guessing it has something to do with the size, weight and ability to stick with the quieter electronic shutter that makes barely a whisper when taking pictures. The slightly larger prism hump actually houses the 1.44 million dot electronic viewfinder.

The E-M5 incorporates a new type of 5-axis image stabilization built to compensate for multi-direction camera shake and Olympus is claiming they have the world’s fastest 3D AF tracking system that can follow moving subjects at up to 9 frames per second.

Top view of Em-5

Top view of the Olympus EM-5 is reminiscent of the old OM-1

For video the E-M5 offers full 1080i video at 60 fps with automatic correction for rolling-shutter, sometimes also called “jello cam”. Somewhat strangely the in-camera video effects include Echo effect that deliberately creates visual trails behind objects in motion.

back of Olympus E-M5

The EM-5 has a tilt screen LCD in back

What you won’t get is a built-in flash. A detachable flash is included with the camera, but that’s something you’ll have to remember to stick in your pocket or do without if the situation arises.

The Olympus E-M5 is due out in April and is slated to have two kit configurations: A 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 for $1,100 and the new 12.50mm F3.5-6.3 lens for $1,300.

Compare to:

Olympus E-M5 vs Olympus E-5

Olympus E-M5 vs Sony NEX-7

Olympus E-M5 vs Sony SLT-A55

Olympus E-M5 vs Panasonic GX1

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