Striving For Perfect Exposure

Polaris Digital Light Meter
A good quality light meter is still worth carrying in the world of digital photography

I’ve been taking pictures for decades. For at least the first 10 years of that time, I was a pretty much a full auto shooter and got results that were consistent but unimaginative.

In the old days of film cameras, the light meters could be off as much as a full stop. Occasionally the discrepancy would work in my favor and I’d produce some fantastic shots, proof that even a blind sow gets an acorn once in a while. Nikon shooters had an advantage in those days, as their internal light meters were far more consistent.

Then I started to get suspicious that my camera’s light meter wasn’t always giving me the whole story and got an incident light meter. That was quite an education. Then I went the opposite direction. I turned into the manual exposure hall monitor from hell. Internal light meters in cameras were crap and anyone who didn’t think so was hopelessly amateur. The worst part was that I was shooting really amazing pictures in those days, which only reinforced my bad attitude. I was an exposure snob.

Today I’m back to shooting on auto. Well, not exactly and not completely, I shoot mainly on my Canon 7D’s CA, or Creative Auto setting. With the menus on the back I can quickly bump the exposure up or down, change picture styles, and control the depth of field without manually setting the aperture. I do a lot of what’s derisively called “chimping”, checking the LCD screen every few shots to see if I like the results. If not, I change the exposure and try again.

I still go back to manual exposure in certain situations when the lighting is tricky and I know that even the marvelously accurate computers inside the camera are not going to meter the scene properly. I still use a light meter sometimes, more in the studio these days than outside, but lately there are fewer situations when the camera and light meter disagree.

A properly exposed photo is still a thing of beauty, but now we’re so used to near exposure perfection from even average digital cameras that the manual tweak of imperfection is becoming a statement in its own right.

The main thing is find your own style for dialing in the perfect exposure. Don’t let anyone tell you chimping is not okay. The LCD screen on your camera is a fantastic tool, use it.

But do invest in a good quality light meter, they really are quite handy. Even doctors need a second opinion once in a wile.

Top Six Lenses Given As Gifts

You gotta love statistics. It gives you the ability to slice and dice data and make discoveries of interesting trends, like the top six lenses that are purchased as gifts, as compiled by Amazon.

1) CanonEF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

Canon EFS
Canon EF-S 55-250mm

The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4-5.6-IS lens is designed for the consumer market with EF-S mount cameras, primarily APS-C models. This model will not work well with full frame cameras like the Canon 5D MKII. The big selling point is having a long zoom range with built-in image stabilization.

This lens has received some criticism for feeling like plastic, but overall gets good marks from users.

2) Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

Canon 50mm f/1.8
The Canon 50mm f/1.8

The Canon “Nifty-Fifty” 1.8 lens is a must for any camera bag.  It’s small, sharp, fast and inexpensive.  A great lens for any kind of general shooting duty, including portraits and walking around.

Has been criticized for feeling like plastic and noisy focusing motors, but what do you expect for $100?


3) Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6

Canon EF 75-300

A very light and inexpensive lens for the focal range. While the build quality is mediocre, the lens generally gets decent reviews from users.

Criticized for being soft at the wide end at lower f-stops, the clarity improves as you stop down. Focusing speed is okay, but not fast.




4) Nikon Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6

Nikon Nikkor 55-200mm
Nikon Nikkor 55-200mm

A lens criticized for the plastic mount, but praised for high quality optics and excellent clarity. Considered by many to be the telephoto lens deal of the decade.


Handling does take some care not to chip the plastic mount.


5) Nikon NIkkor 35mm f/1.8

Nikon Nikkor 35mm
Nikon Nikkor 35mm

This inexpensive hero from Nikon is frequently the one that gets left on cameras the most often. Fast focusing and versatile, this lens gets high marks from Nikon shooters.

Criticized for feeling like plastic and being a little slow on the focus.



6) Nikon Nikkor AF-S 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 55-200
Nikon Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm

Another Nikkor lens that gets high marks for clarity, light weight, and optics but criticism for the build quality. Another point of contention is the noisy autofocus. A lens popular with many weekend sports enthusiasts.

How The Pros Do It – Portable Lighting For Wedding Photography

Ac 3
The PocketWizard AC3 paired with the MiniTTL for Canon

My nephew got married recently, an event I was unfortunately not able to attend, although my high tech family managed to send me pictures of the event. One picture that made my teeth grind was one with the wedding photographer in the background, trying to light a dress shot with a dinky external flash.

This was the photographer with a killer web site that my future niece felt she was lucky to get, but there was no way the results displayed on the web site were captured with the camera and flash combination in that photo. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen so far, she was duped by a slick web site with, at best, a tenuous connection to whoever took the promo pictures displayed there.

To contrast the difference between that lighting setup and the real pros, I went to see Karl Leopold at Images4Ever near Melbourne Beach, Florida. Karl has been shooting weddings longer than most photographers working today have been alive, has won more awards than I can list here, and is the president of the Atlantic Professional Photographers Association. I wanted to see a real pro lighting setup and wasn’t disappointed.

Karl builds his portable lighting kit around a pair of Canon 580 EX ii Speedlites, pairing those with a PocketWizard FlexTT5  for Canon. The trigger on the camera is a combination of the MiniTT1 matched up with an AC3 Zone Controller for changing the power settings on any of the flash units on the fly wirelessly.

“I can change the power by 3 stops on any of the flash units right from here,” Karl explains, dialing back the power with the AC3. I watched him flip through the power settings while shooting nearly continuously, much faster than making the change through the camera menu.

The arrangement provides the flexibility to mount the fill flash on a monopod and let an assistant adjust the location and height to fit the situation. If he’s working alone he can mount the remote on a light stand and adjust it himself. Instead of being tethered to the camera, he can also move the key off the bracket handle if the situation calls for it.

Lighting set up
How it all comes together - One Speedlite on a standard bracket, the other a remote that can be mounted on anything

It’s all about speed, reliability and flexibility, with added bonus of being able to light the world.

“The big advantage is you can put a light behind the subject for those nice, bright highlights,” Karl explained. The radio triggers work around corners and even when concealed behind foreground objects.

Equipment isn’t the only factor separating the pros from the posers, but having the right gear is definitely a bonus.

In the days to come I’m planning to work with Karl and Images4Ever on more articles on studio lighting, exposure, and working with models on commercial shoots. Stay tuned.

Do Low-Price Photographers Hurt The Business?

Just because you have a camera doesn't make you a photographer - by Nicolás García

Put five photographers together and you’ll get five different gripes about low-cost competition. Photography is one business where there are definite lines between “low-cost” and “cheap”.

You can hire a cheap photographer, and I can almost guarantee you’re going to get what you pay for. Anyone with a modern camera like a Canon 7D or Nikon D5100 can take decent pictures and if “decent” is good enough, and sometimes it is, then there’s no need to pay more.

There are certain risks that come with cheap photographers. One being that because they’re cheap, losing one customer here or there isn’t going to concern them. So, if they have car trouble, camera trouble, or just don’t feel like showing up, they’re not going to be worried about missing an appointment. Pros are going to have people they can call on to cover for them in an emergency, you might get the assistant, but you’ll get someone. They also have spare bodies in case of camera trouble. One photographer I know has a box of spare bodies, all packed neatly into a custom Pelican case.

Someone running an honest business has to hold back money for taxes, which takes a third right off the top, health insurance, liability insurance, equipment insurance and what’s called E&O insurance, which stands for Errors and Omissions. If a professional photographer breaks or damages something, they’ll have insurance to cover the loss, the low-rent shooter probably will not have coverage and suing them will be a waste of time because they likely don’t have anything worth taking.

Low-ball photographers end up hurting themselves worse than the industry. Sooner or later the IRS will catch up to them and they’ll get hit with a bill for back taxes, they’ll break something and get sued, or some other calamity that will ultimately put them out of business.

Modern cameras make it seem like anyone can be a photographer, but the reality is quite different. You not only have to be a fantastic photographer, but you have to understand business, and charge enough to stay in business.  If you enjoy taking pictures as a hobby, just understand that getting to the level where you can make money at it, turns it into a job.

Canon Announces Powerhouse EOS 1D X

The Canon 1D X
The Canon 1D X is jammed with new features - by Canon

For Canon a big X marks the spot for the new king of the EOS line, the Canon EOS 1D X, which merges the 1D and 1Ds lines into one model. Offering a new combination of speed, resolution and image quality, Canon claims the 1D X is the most advanced EOS model it has ever produced and, from the specs, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The 1D X features a newly-developed 18.1-megapixel full frame sensor with 16-channel read-out and a sensitivity rating of ISO 100-51200, expandable to an eye-popping ISO 204,800. With ISO numbers like that you have to be approaching the ability to take pictures in the dark.

Backing up new sensor will be not one, but two Digic 5+ image processors. Canon claims speeds up to three times faster than the standard Digic 5 processor. The dual processors allow for full-resolution continuous shooting at up to 12 fps with 14-bit A/D conversion, which can be pushed to 14 fps in JPEG only mode.

It’s clear that Canon is aiming the 1D X at filmmakers, who have been generally opting for the Canon 5D MKII instead of the 1D or 1Ds. Canon claims the new Digic 5+ will reduce artifacts from moire and provide longer continuous shooting times by automatically creating a new file once it reaches the 4 GB file limit. Canon claims the continuous shooting time can be extended to nearly 30 minutes, up from 12 minutes in the 5D and 7D.

The 1D X also features twin CF cards which can be set to either write from one card to the next or duplicate photos on both cards.

In another nod to professionals using their Canon cameras primarily for video, the 1D X includes the ability to manually adjust the sound levels which are displayed on the LCD screen. You can almost hear millions of video shooters saying, “Finally!” at the same time.

Integrated into the camera is a gigabit ethernet port, but no word yet on whether video shooters will be able to get a raw data feed out of the data port. Right now that seems unlikely, but stay tuned.

The 1D X has added a second joystick on the back for controlling camera functions along with a 3.2 inch Clear View II LCD screen with 1040k dot resolution and anti-reflective coating. If you’ve ever noticed your pictures seem to look better in the LCD screen than on your computer, expect that to be even more noticeable with the 1D X.

back of Canon 1D X
On the back the 1D X sports another joystick controller - by Canon

As you would expect from any top of the line camera, the 1D X sports a high-grade magnesium alloy, advanced weather seals, and a new sensor cleaning system that uses wave-based vibrations to shake dust and dirt from the sensor.

Canon has some add-on features available that include the GP-E1 GPS receiver and the new WFT-E6 wifi transmitter.

In an unusual move Canon has announced the availability of the 1D X in March 2012, apparently trying to get some of their customers to postpone holiday purchases. U.S. pricing is expected to be in the range of $6,800 for the body only.

Video from Canon: