Tag Archives: photography

Workshop recap!

Immediately after February’s “Creativity on the Fly” workshop, I got lots of messages from people wishing they could have made it. Free weekends are a rare commodity for me, but luckily I had one more before the season exploded and got a bunch of great photographers together for a day of discussing advanced techniques to make the most out of bad situations. I figure any workshop can take you to a fabulous beachfront estate, but what happens when you come back to real life, and all you have to work with is five minutes and a parking lot? I am lucky to work with Philip Stark in his studio, which is a great place to meet, but it’s almost TOO fantastic, so we spent the day looking for the least photogenic parts of the building and discussing what we could do with them.

Again, I want to say what an honor it is to have people come from across the country and the world to hear me prattle on for a day or two. Some people have asked me why I’ve started to do workshops when I have some rather well-documented gripes with the photography workshop industrial complex. First, it’s really, really fun. Second, it lets me try to address those problems by simply doing things the way I want. But lastly, the more I teach the more I realize that it is going to make me a much better photographer. I do so much client work that sometimes I don’t get the chance to step back and look at what I do from a different perspective. Teaching forces me to do that, to break down what I do and why I do it instead of just, you know, doing it. And by making me put this in some sort of sensible framework so people can reliably see whether a given workshop will be helpful for them or not, it has made me think about exactly the message I want to put out in the world, what things are valuable for me to teach.

Few things break my heart more than hearing people say “I wish you’d taken my wedding photos. We hate ours.” I think that wedding photography is important, and I want as many people as possible to love their photos, whether or not I took them. And I want as many people as possible to stay in love with the process of photography. And so, whenever I can find time within my packed photography schedule, I teach.

Here some of the workshoppers gather for the day. None of them seemed to need nearly as much coffee as I did to start at 9 a.m. Hmmm…

I always want to do these with people I’m comfortable with, so the day was filled with people who have been featured on this blog before, such as my friend Rochelle, who made a fabulous model. On the left she is looking cheeky for a Brenizer Method demonstration (I took the class through the whole process, from visualizing to stitching and output) and on the right we are mixing ambient and off-camera flash.

It was brisk, but much warmer than February, so we headed outside for some flash composites. This is three frames used for stark contrast with the ambient light.

And here is our “wedding party.” Flash composites are great for group shots, and here it wasn’t used as starkly, just to provide attractive light and better contrast. Again, I took the class through everything from pre-visualizing to the (very fast and easy) photoshop output.

Here I was doing a quick demonstration of Auto-FP flash, using 1/8000th of a second to bring the room ambient to blackness.

Then we moved on to couples, including my intern Isla and her husband Dan. I put them in the only part of the studio you would never want to photograph in — the kitchen we had just made dirty. To bring down the background, I stuck three flashes outside the window, mimicking bright daylight and getting interesting textures from the bars on the window.

Our next couple was the amazing Kindiya and Thomas, otherwise known as “The Couple on the Rocks.” Now we went to the ugliest part of the whole building, a nasty stairway where, Thomas noted, it looked like they were about to conduct a drug deal. Although, I said, it also looked like a place where a couple might actually make out. I don’t know anybody who spends a lot of time making out in front of gazebos. Off-camera flash and some movement to blur the shadows brought the effect here.

Here we used a very warm tungsten video light to cool the puke-green ambient into a nice turquoise. And you can see all the voyeurs in the class.

The sun came out and I showed the class how to kill it dead. f/22 wasn’t nearly dark enough for the effect I want, so we used the Sledgehammer of Light and Auto-FP to shoot at 1/8000th, f/6.3. That sky is straight out-of-camera. No HDR here.

Then we used the dramatic effect with flash compositing to light the couple from the left.

Then I wanted to show how to work when you had very, very little time, such as when you are holding an elevator. Yes, the “shaft of light” from the last post is an elevator shaft. The important thing here is pre-visualizing and then working quickly. We tossed three flashes in the reflective elevator at half power to turn it into a glowing room of white and positioned them right in the doorway. We also had a second, safer shot using video light inside the elevator.

We had a session of free shooting so everyone could work through some of the things they saw, and I took another Brenizer Method shot of Kindiya and Thomas, as well as showing the effects of studio lights (not shown).

Group shot! One of these days I’ll remember to do a group shot at the beginning, before many of the workshoppers leave.

Thanks so much everyone! This is probably the last weekend workshop I can host for a long time, but I’ll put together a weekday one aimed squarely at wedding photographers, covering business as well as wedding-specific issues, in the mid to late summer.


Photo of the Day: Office Space Rock Stars

100206-160909 35.0 mm f_1.jpg

I’ll have a full write-up of my workshop later today, but here’s a teaser image from it. One of my mantras that I shared with the group is to keep pushing yourself until there is a decent possibility you might fail — if all of your shots are pretty good, you’re not expanding yourself. (Of course, this has to be at times where you are safe to fail on a few frames. The first kiss is probably not the best place for it).

So I let the group watch as I decided to give myself a challenge: I would find the most boring, ugly place around and take photos right there. So I found a featureless office hallway with the ugliest green fluorescent lighting you’ve ever seen. The only thing it had going for it was the natural perspective of a hallway. So I took my awesome couple and sat them down, so that we could see that perspective better, and I lit them with a very warm, tungsten video light. With white balance correction, that turned the ambient from a horrible puke-green to a kind of funky and cool deep turquoise, a nice contrast to her red shirt, and of course this is kind of a funky couple.


Photo(s) of the Day: New Year’s Eve at War? (Point&Shoot photos)

091231-110047-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg

I had such a fantastic New Year’s Eve, thanks to being around some great people. I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico with some new friends. One of them was originally from the area, and had an invitation to a party for friends and family at one of his mother’s friends’ houses. It sounded like such a change from the normal club scene that we had to take up the offer.

I’m glad we did. Everyone was so warm and inviting, celebrating first the San Juan-time New Year’s and then the New York-time New Year’s with dancing and an amount of fireworks that would get you thrown into a federal penitentiary in New York. Since I decided against bringing my expensive Nikon D3s out on New Year’s, I captured the scene with my friend’s automatic point and shoot, the Canon 780. I embraced the limitations, switching to black and white mode, pushing it to ISO 1600, and pre-focusing and metering so I could get the shutter speeds and exposures I wanted. Whereas the D3s can capture pretty much any scene with more literalism and detail than your eyes can, here I embraced the expressionistic quality of a limited camera. And I had a great time — as my friend said, “These look like you spent New Year’s in Beiruit!”

A few more:

091231-110204-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg

091231-110918-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg

091231-111012-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg

091231-111540-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg

091231-112510-5.9 mm-Edit.jpg


Shante and Akili: 10/3/08

Surgeons in Love

Mea culpa. I’ve been racing so fast to get photos and products to my wonderful clients that I haven’t had the time to properly tell their stories here. I have a lot to say, though, so I’m going to try an interesting challenge: I will post something to this blog here every day for the next 25 days (behavioral theorists will note that’s long enough for an action to become habit-forming). Some of it will be discussion of photography tech, some of it will be tips, and some of it will be write-ups of the fantastic weddings and events I’ve been lucky to shoot, such as the fantastic wedding of Shanté and Akili.

Talk about a power couple: BOTH Shanté and Akili are surgeons. It’s only fitting that a young couple who has worked so hard to get where they are got married at a castle — the gorgeous Lyndhurst Manor in Tarrytown, NY.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend viewing the full slideshow of the wedding. Both of them looked awesome, and the party was energetic, to say the least.











Review: Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro

Taken with the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro

DSLR lenses are specialized tools — they can open up new opportunities that point-and-shoot cameras can’t, but they also have some limitations. Usually the first way a new user discovers this is when they try and take very close macro shots that had worked great on their point-and-shoots, and finding out that the fancy new camera can’t focus anywhere near as close.

The good news is that there are a slew of specialized macro lenses for every model of DSLR. The bad news, of course, is that they cost more money. But the good news is that pretty much every macro I’ve ever heard of is exceedingly sharp, even from brands like Vivitar that don’t always inspire confidence. So what would it mean if a company released a lens so sharp that even users of all these other tack-sharp macros were surprised? And what if it were one of the cheapest lenses in its class?

At first glance, that’s exactly what Sigma seems to have accomplished with the 70mm f/2.8. Review after review have noted how sharp it is, even wide-open, from corner to corner. It sounded too tempting to resist, so I picked one up for myself. Here’s what you need to know about this lens:

  • Yes, it’s extremely sharp. Sharp enough to be noticeably better than even other amazingly good lenses, like my 24-70mm f/2.8. It also has nice color transmission and great contrast. I like sharp photos on the principle that you can always make things less sharp later, but it is noticeably unforgiving on human skin — the tiniest crows feet wrinkles show up even at f/2.8. It’s a perfect portrait lens for kids and a great focal length for headshots on APS cameras (equivalent to a 105mm lens, a classic portrait length), but you might want to have a good make-up artist around for adults. On the photo above, I purposefully left the clear-as-day fingerprint on the man’s ring to show you the precision that excessive sharpness requires.

    But remember, all macro lenses are pretty darned sharp. Unless you have a super-high resolution camera, like the new 14+MP APS cameras or the 21MP 1DS Mark III, the difference between them may not be all that noticeable, and other factors might matter more.

  • Good, smooth bokeh This is not true of many of the older macro lenses, and can be important because true macro images often have incredibly narrow depth-of-field. In the image above, the food stands out because of sharpness and clarity, but the specular highlights of the glasses behind blend nicely without being distracting.

  • Underwhelming autofocus It’s hard to make macro lenses with good autofocus, because there’s such a huge range between macro distance and infinity. What you see above is the Sigma 70mm focused at infinity on the left, and focused at 1:1 on the right. As you might imagine, it can’t rack all that lens back and forth very fast, so if your camera hunts through the range to find the right focus mark, you’re guaranteed to lose a few seconds of time, and possibly the photo you wanted. This makes it a much less useful lens for shooting moving objects than an internal-focus design like the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro, which racks through its focus range comparatively quickly. The Sigma does have a focus limiter switch, but even then it’s not speedy. To save cost and size, it doesn’t have Sigma’s HSM in-lens focus motor, which means cameras in Nikon’s entry-level DSLR class cannot focus with this lens at all.

    The huge focus extension also means that when you are focused all the way in, you are incredibly close to your subject, close enough to knock your lens hood against it if you’re not careful. If you’re shooting animals who might be scared of a lens in their face, you might want something longer like Sigma’s 150mm f/2.8 Macro.

  • Poor lens hood design. If you like to use lens hoods, you might be disappointed at the outdated screw-on hood, which cannot be fastened to the lens backward for easy storage and which renders the lens cap pretty much useless. If you switch between lenses often, this makes the task of getting this lens ready for flare-free shooting much more onerous than it needs to be.

In short, this lens is an optical marvel, but it is a specialized tool for specialized tasks. The first thing to consider is whether you really need macro, or if you can make do with the close-focusing of your existing lenses. The second thing is to consider whether this lens hits the sweet spot of usability versus cost. You can probably easily find a used manual focus macro for dirt-cheap that performs admirably, but then you’ll lose focus (and maybe metering ability). You can also find a lens like the 105mm f/2.8 VR that’s more usable for non-macro shooting, but it costs a lot more money. If you want fantastic macro performance with autofocus at a good price, or you simply want absolutely ludicrous optical quality over AF speed, this lens could be for you.