In my experience what separates the real pro photographers from the wannabes is lighting. Light is to photographers what paint is to an artist.
I have a friend who shoots weddings for a living and I asked him what kind of camera he used, imagine my surprise when he pulled out a Canon T2i. It was a head-scratcher at first, until he dragged out his Quantum flash unit. He put his money into the lenses and higher end lighting. He’s booked for the summer months in advance, brides schedule their weddings around his availability, so he must be doing something right.
The secret for getting good results out of any camera is to start with the lighting.
Lee Morris demonstrated how true that is with a series of shots with studio lighting, a professional model and an iPhone 3G for a camera. The results speak for themselves.
I realize lighting isn’t the most exciting subject, but it’s critical for getting the best pictures. Not surprisingly, you’ll reach the same conclusion in the video world.
Amateurs argue incessantly about the “right” camera, the best chip, and judge each other on the number of megapixels their cameras sport. It’s all nonsense. A big chip behind good glass with the proper lighting will yield good results in the hands of a pro.
I realize a review of the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a bit belated, but it’s only been out since February and wanted to see what kind of market buzz it would generate. So far, the buzz meter over the summer has been near zero. The T3i is a camera that can best be described as “odd” in a number of ways.
In spite of the lack of enthusiasm and a few design quirks, the camera gets good reviews from owners. Canon seems to be trying to hide the fact it comes with an 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor. They’re all about mentioning the megapixel rating and the fact the T3i is packing the Digic 4 image processor, but I had to dig through the detailed comparison specs to get Canon to admit to the APS-C chip dimension. A strange oversight considering how many fine cameras in the Canon line use that particular chip.
Outside that the T3i is a consumerized version of the 60D, with more features for people who spend most of their time shooting on auto.
Another surprise in the T3i are the video specs, which are similar to their higher end models. 1080p HD at 24, 25 and 30 fps. Maybe Canon envisioned the T3i as a “B” camera for an independent filmmaker using a Canon 7D with a PL mount so they can drag out their cine glass. Odd that Canon would put so much video capability into a mid-range DSLR.
At $700 for the body only, I’d be tempted to lock one for a wide coverage shot on a video shoot and keep in the bag as a spare body for weddings.
Here’s a hands-on review:
For more info check our the T3i on Snapsort, or check out these comparisons.
One of the touchy moments for any photographer is when friends or relatives ask you to shoot their wedding. To me the answer is obvious, but for you, when the situation arises, the answer may not be so simple.
The hard cases are when friends are asking out of economic necessity. They can’t afford to hire someone so it’s you or no one, or maybe it’s a relative in the same situation.
When those situations arise, it’s good to review your mental checklist of why it’s a bad idea before you answer.
1) You won’t get to enjoy the wedding. Shooting a wedding right is a ton of work. It’s more than just taking a few snapshots, but that’s what your friends will say to try and convince you. “Ah, come on,” they’ll beg. “Just take a few quick pictures.”
Only it won’t be a few quick pictures, because if that’s all you do, you’ll miss many of the expected shots and your friends will be disappointed. Don’t kid yourself, if you take on the job it will be a day of planning, shot cards, dress shots, the entire ceremony, the formal shots and the reception.
2) If something goes wrong you’ll never be able to escape their disappointment. Data cards can fail, cameras can have problems, things can go wrong. If you’re shooting a friend’s wedding you might be tempted to cut corners and skip the backup body and second photographer. Something that will almost guarantee a problem with your regular camera.
3) You’re putting your equipment on the line. When dragging all your gear to a wedding, you’re risking having it lost, stolen or broken in an accident. Part of the reason you charge for doing weddings is so you can carry insurance against loss. When you watch your Canon 5D take a slow-motion tumble from the second floor balcony, you’ll understand this concern in a much clearer light.
4) You’re putting your financial freedom on the line. If by some bizarre circumstance you injure someone or damage something, you could end up being responsible. Organizations like WEVA exist to help photographers obtain liability insurance at reasonable rates.
Sometimes the answer might still be a yes. If you’re new to the business and want to build your portfolio, or if it’s a charity case and you’re willing to accept the risks. Just remember, in those cases you’re lumping the time and accepting the expenses and associated risks.
If you’ve ever been in a professional studio you were likely blown away by the sheer volume of lighting equipment and were maybe a bit depressed when you thought about what it all must have cost. And my friends in the video business are even more annoying with their envy-inducing rigs like Skylight Balloon Lights. I fell like The Joker in the Batman movie asking where they get all those marvelous toys. Still, even with the collection of lighting equipment available, I’ll still turn to low-cost lighting hacks in a pinch and there are one or two I use regularly because I don’t need the expensive rigs enough to justify the cost.
Milk Jug Diffuser
One that’s been around a while that doesn’t miss is the Milk Jug Diffuser, also called the Milk Jug Ring Light.All you need is a gallon plastic milk jug and a pair of scissors or razor knife. Cut out one side of a milk jug, and at the narrower end cut a hole the just slightly smaller than your lens filter.Fit it on the end of your lens and the milk jug should stick up high enough to act as a diffuser for your on camera flash. It looks funky, but works. I’ve also taken a shorter piece of milk jug material and taped it over the end of my hand-held flash with gaffer tape.
I’ve used Chinese lanterns in both video and still photography shoots and they make a really interesting diffuser. They’re big enough inside to work if you need to put foil on one side, and you can point your flash up, down or away from the subject and get a different effect. They’re very light, easy to move around, you can even hang them from the ceiling and hang the flash unit from the metal frame inside.
They come in a variety of shapes, colors and rib designs. Even the big ones are fairly inexpensive. If it gets wrecked on set, no one is going to lose sleep over it.
Do keep in mind they are not fire proof, so don’t go putting halogens or hot lights inside.
Another great feature of Chinese lanterns are they come with an internal wire support you can gaffer tape to the light stand.
So, you can spend $600 on an Octobank or $2 on a paper lantern, get a very similar effect and be able to run it up as high as your light stands will go. I don’t have my soft banks anymore, but still carry my paper lanterns around.
The $35 Beauty Dish
With a Fong diffuser, an aluminum foil turkey pan and some gaffer tape you can make a beauty dish.
Cut a hole in the middle of the turkey pan and fit the diffuser through it, tape if necessary to hold it in place. Foil or gaffer tape over the end of the diffuser and blaze away. Results are surprisingly good.
Complete DIY instructions here. For as often as I really need a beauty dish, I’ll risk looking a little low rent.
Craig Brewer made his first full-length movie called Hustle & Flow with nothing but shop lights and a handful of photo bulbs. Anytime we get separated at the hardware store, my wife knows right where to find me. I’ll be in the section with the shop lights.
I’ve used halogen shop lights on photo shoots and video sets as both primary lighting and for lighting background elements. I carry a set in the truck anytime I’m headed out for a shoot.
Sometimes the temperature is off, but nothing I haven’t been able to correct with $20 worth of gel filters from Adorama and a handful of clothespins.
The new LED shop lights are the right temperature and don’t out nearly as much heat. Perfect for when you need a shadow fill or colored gel for a background effect.
The Foamcore Strip Light
I think everyone has seen this one before, but it’s worth repeating. A little harder to put together because you need a glue gun and a space to work, but it really makes a nice strip light. Almost as good as any of the commercial units I’ve used. If you take your time and put them together neatly, a lot of people won’t even notice you made them yourself!
Earlier this month Fujifilm launched the X10, another in its line of inexpensive but feature-packed retro-styled cameras.
The X10 starts with a respectable 12-megapixel, ⅔-inch EXR CMOS sensor behind a Fujinon 4x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, sporting a 28mm-112mm equivalent zoom range. The lens turns in a respectable f/2 at the wide end and f/2.8 at the zoom.
Even though it’s smaller than the X100, the shell is die-cast magnesium alloy for durability and a bit of heft. The barrel on the lens controls the zoom, but it’s also the camera’s power switch. A very clever design feature.
The X10 has a side-mounted optical viewfinder with a 20 degree angle of view that takes me back to my Rangefinder days and a host of external menu controls that are easy to work and intuitive. The internal software is supplemented by a wide range of manual options and colour presets.
The EXR-CMOS, in conjunction with Fujifilm’s EXR imaging technology, gives the camera three specialty exposure modes: The SN mode for high sensitivity and low noise, the DR mode for wide dynamic range and the HR mode for high resolution shots. It also includes an electronic horizon level to insure the camera is level.
The improved EXR processor is fast enough to give the X10 a continuous burst rate of 7 fps at the full 12-megapixel resolution and the ISO range is listed in the specs as 100 to 3200 but has a feature to push the ISO to 12800 at a reduced quality setting.
For video the X10 records 1080 HD at 30fps with stereo sound and uses the H.264 codec.
Importantly for people who like to work with their photos in post, it supports storage in jpeg or RAW format. All in all pretty impressive specs for a camera.
Check out some comparisons of the Fujifilm X10 vs some of its competitors: