Blowing out the Background

Blowing out the Background

The image above was not shot on a white background. It has a minimal level of adjustment in Lightroom to it, mostly to clean up the edges, but that’s about it. It was taken in front of the greyish-blue wall in the lobby of the BorrowLenses.com offices in San Carlos. The thing about a relatively light-colored background is that it lends itself to a surprisingly large number of options for photographers. Though grey backgrounds work best for this, you can with some tweaking, turn just about any light-colored background — grey, blue, beige — completely black, as I demonstrated in this article on how to kill your background completely. In this article, I’ll show you how to blow out that background completely to make it look like you’re shooting in front of a white backdrop. The setup for this portrait was exceedingly simple. I placed one Nikon SB-910 in a Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe and one bare-bulb, with the included diffuser attached. The SB-910 in the Lastolite softbox was placed on camera-left, while the bare-bulb SB-910 was placed directly behind Ben, and slightly below the level of his shoulders. It was pointed up at an angle at the wall behind Ben, as shown below. I set the flashes to manual, making sure that the flash hitting the wall was about 2 stops brighter than the flash on Ben’s face. The diffusion in the softbox cut the power of the light on Ben by another 1/3 stop or so, I estimate. That was it. It took a bit of tweaking the power on the lights and the aperture for exposure and...
Daylight Savings Time is Here: Don’t Forget to Change Your Camera’s Clock

Daylight Savings Time is Here: Don’t Forget to Change Your Camera’s Clock

Unlike your computers, tablets, and smartphones, the clock in your camera doesn’t typically do the “Spring forward, Fall back” routine required to keep its clock accurate. If you don’t go in manually to change the time and date on you camera, the EXIF data it stamps your files with will have an inaccurate time/date stamp. While it’s not the end of the world if your photos show a time that’s an hour off, having your clock accurate is always a good thing. Knowing the exact time an image was taken can help you if you want to replicate the exact atmospheric conditions in a landscape shot at a later time, for example.  Having accurate timestamps is especially important if you’re doing any kind of geo-tagging of your images using a GPS tracker or your iPhone to record a GPS track file and apply it to your DSLR photos in Lightroom or Aperture. This article will show you how to adjust the time on your Nikon or Canon camera, as well as how to adjust your photo timestamps if you forget. Not all cameras use the exact same menu setup, so please check your camera’s manual for instructions specific to your gear. On a Nikon (we’re using a D800E in this example) go to your “Setup” menu and select the “Time zone and Date” option. Now, rather than changing the actual time once you’re here, you can simply change the “Daylight Savings Time” option and your camera will automatically jump its clock forward an hour. Switch it form “Off” to “On.”   On a Canon camera (We’re using a 5D...
Shooting Fast Action with a D800E

Shooting Fast Action with a D800E

When you think of fast-action photography, the D800E isn’t exactly the first camera that comes to mind – and with good reason. At a top speed of 4 frames per second and a buffer that will fill up pretty quickly with those massive 36MP files, it’s not a camera that lends itself to that kind of photography easily. If you’re in a pinch, however, and need to be able to use the D800E (or the D800) for a bit of fast-action work, there are a few things you can do to get a bit more performance out of this camera. The first thing you can do is switch your D800/E to DX-mode. This accomplishes a few things. It ups your framerate to 5fps. It makes your file sizes smaller, which gives your camera’s buffer the ability to handle more shots before it chokes your shooting speed. It gives you more “reach” than the FX-mode, so you have the field of view of a 900mm lens when using a 600mm lens. To do this, simply go to the “Image Area” option in the Shooting menu, as shown below. Select the “Choose Image Area” option, then scroll to “DX” and hit the “OK” button on your D800. Now your image size has been dropped down to about 16MP, and if you look through the viewfinder, you’ll see a rectangle outlining the field of view for the cropped image size. Use that to frame your shot. At this point, you’ve already bumped your shooting speed by about 25%, but there’s another way to bump it even more. Rent the MB-D12 battery grip...
Kill the Background: How to Turn a Background Black with Speedlights

Kill the Background: How to Turn a Background Black with Speedlights

I was recently inspired by a recent series of portraits by our very own Alex Huff. Titled “Chiaroscuro Portraiture,” it features these gorgeous close-up portraits of the men and women in her life, each one of which is a study in how to render the interplay between light and shadow. Alex takes these images in front of a grey background, and through a combination of getting in close to her subjects and using one light, sends what little you might see of that grey to almost pitch black. I began to think of what I could do if I didn’t have a backdrop to shoot against, if I needed to make a portrait in a relatively brightly-lit area. In theory, it could be done; a basic understanding of the Inverse-Square Law reveals that much. But what if all you had was a basic modifier and a couple of speedlights, not a big studio strobe? Could you still do it? I had to give it a try. I picked the area above to try this out in. That’s the lobby of the BorrowLenses.com West Coast headquarters in San Carlos, CA. As you can tell, it’s a pretty bright area, with large glass windows letting in a lot of ambient light, grey walls with photos mounted, a television and a glass case in the corner. Not exactly an “uncluttered” background, but it made for a great area for a test case. I roped in a couple of guys from our front-desk team, who’ve been long-suffering models for my various experiments, to be my portrait subjects. I started with taking a test exposure....
Shooting On the Go With the Olympus OM-D

Shooting On the Go With the Olympus OM-D

Not too long ago, I switched to the Nikon D800E with a series of prime lenses for all of my primary photography. I love the Nikon, and it’s proved to be a fantastic system, capably handling just about everything I’ve thrown at it. The downside is that it is, truly, a system. A big, heavy system. I quickly found myself looking for a smaller, carry-around camera for some of my more photojournalistic endeavors, and immediately turned to the family of mirrorless cameras out there for an answer. Of these, there is no shortage. You have the awesome Sony NEX-6, which I’ve raved about in the past. There’s also the Sony RX-1, the Panasonic GF3C, the Fuji X-Pro1, and the subject of this article, the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I’ve had the Olympus OM-D E-M5 for the past few weeks now, and have been using it as my primary “take everywhere” camera. It’s small size, lens selection, and great image quality combine to provide a system that’s flat-out my favorite in this category. In this article, I’ll present my experience shooting with this little thing, rather than a full-on technical review. The Build This thing is solid and extremely well-built. I’ve got chubby little sausages for fingers, but I can still get a pretty decent grip on it, thanks to the tab on the back and the indent in the front that give your thumb and middle fingers a secure place to grasp onto. The buttons, though tiny, are pretty responsive, so it’s not hard to use many of them just by feel The back of the OM-D, shown above, is...
Powerful Portrait Inspiration With Steve McCurry’s iPad App

Powerful Portrait Inspiration With Steve McCurry’s iPad App

Steve McCurry is one of the most prolific photographers alive today. His photograph for National Geographic’s June 1985 cover of Sharbat Gula (also know as the “Afghan Girl”) is one of the most recognizable portraits in history, and his imagery has graced NatGeo’s pages many, many times since. McCurry has repeatedly proven himself an absolute master of the portrait. His street portraiture, especially, carries tremendous impact. He has an uncanny ability to capture his subjects’ essence, distilling it in a split-second into an image that can range from haunting to exciting and everything in-between. Now, McCurry has taken 200 of his best portraits and rolled them into an iPad app. Along with a 20+ minute introductory video, the app shows his portraits, where they were taken, and a caption with some details. Based on that description, you might be thinking, “What, no backstory? No technique tips? No metadata for the images?” Well, no. And thank goodness for it. First, many were taken with film cameras, so adding metadata would be out of the question. Moreover, the caption is all the backstory these images need; they speak reams and volumes on their own. The simplicity and elegance of the app is actually kinda impressive. In the current marketplace, where photographers are gravitating towards apps in an increasing fashion – McCurry isn’t the first NatGeo photographer to release a portfolio on the iPad – basic things like user experience and sensible interface design often get left by the wayside. So to see a well-designed app like this one is a true pleasure. That’s not to say that the app is a glorified...
Mirrorless Magic: Spending Time With the Olympus OM-D

Mirrorless Magic: Spending Time With the Olympus OM-D

When we recently received the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (there’s a mouthful for you) in our warehouse, I wasted absolutely no time in snagging one of the bodies and taking it for a whirl. My “whirls” usually last a few weeks so that I can put the camera to use in a variety of different ways, and given the feedback I’d heard from other photographers about this diminutive body, I was eager to put it through its paces. Two weeks later, I have my conclusion: Olympus has an absolute winner on its hands. The gear The Micro-Four-Thirds platform isn’t a closed-loop system. Olympus and Panasonic both make bodies for it, and there’s even an MFT-based version of the enormously popular Blackmagic Cinema Camera on the way. Panasonic, particularly, has two lenses that I decided were going to be my go-to lenses for this test: the 12–35mm f/2.8 and the 35–100mm f/2.8 lenses. Together, these cover the equivalent of the 24–70 and 70–200mm lenses in 35mm terms, giving me the focal lengths used by most photographers. Because the OM-D features a 5-axis, in-body stabilization, that entire focal length is stabilized as well. First impressions and handling The first thing you think when you see the OM-D is that it’s both bigger and smaller than you thought it would be. It’s bigger than, say, Olympus’ E-PL2 (which I used for a long time), but it’s smaller than any of their DSLRs, despite looking like one. The design is also very retro, evoking the look of Olympus’ venerable OM–2. The front is pretty sparse – other than a lens release button, there’s nothing...
The Softbox Cheat Sheet

The Softbox Cheat Sheet

A while back, we put together an article on how to use softboxes with your light of choice. At that time, I mentioned that we’d be putting together a cheat sheet that would allow you to figure out which softbox could go with which light, and what you’d need to make it work. Well, that cheat sheet is here. In the the matrix below, you’ll see the lights we rent down the vertical axis and the softboxes we rent across the horizontal. There’s a legend at the bottom of the table that will indicate if you need something additional to make the combo work. You can click on the image below to enlarge it (warning – it’s a big image), or download the PDF version here. The PDF version has embedded links to direct you to the gear mentioned.   We hope this helps with the constant conundrum of what softbox goes with which light! As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below....
Is the Canon 6D Under-Exposing? UPDATE: No, It’s Not.

Is the Canon 6D Under-Exposing? UPDATE: No, It’s Not.

Final Update and Winners of the BorrowLenses.com Gift Certificate, Friday, December 7, 2012 11:35 AM Okay, we found the cause of the D600 bodies’ overexposure. Turns out, it WAS damage, not a defect. In the damaged bodies, the little prong that actually pushes the aperture closed was bent, as you can see in the image below. The top one is of one of the damaged D600’s, while the bottom is of an undamaged D7000. No idea what caused this, but there you have it. Winners of the $50 BorrowLenses.com Gift Certificate: K.G. Wuensch, who left the suggestion that led to our discovery of the cause of the overexposure on the D600 bodies is, unfortunately, not based in the U.S., and so is unable to use the certificate I promised him. He has, instead, requested that his prize be entered into the pool for the general drawing. So we now have two gift certificates to give out. I entered all the commenters’ names into a list randomizer at random.org and the two names at the top are our two winners. Congratulations to David Johnson and Michael Clark! Please email your contact info to sohail.mamdani at borrowlenses dot com, so I can send them to you. Once again, thanks to everyone for your fantastic support and feedback.  Update Thursday, December 6, 2012 2:11 PM Thanks to a suggestion from one of the folks who left a comment below, K.G.Wuensch, we found the issue that led to the big discrepancy in the images you saw from my test, and the issue turned out to be with the D600, not the 6D. Take a look at these images. Both...
Building on the Sony NEX System

Building on the Sony NEX System

Sony’s NEX cameras have been taking the mirror less camera market by storm of late, coming out with models that repeatedly and substantially improve on their predecessors. And, as these models have evolved, the number – and quality – of add-ons for them have increased as well. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few ways of building on the NEX series of cameras – which now include some fantastic video-specific offerings from Sony as well. First, let’s clear one thing up. Sony’s NEX series of cameras, which include the NEX–5, NEX–6, and NEX–7, as well as the VG-series of video cameras, use a lens mount called the “E-Mount”. Sony also has a line of popular DSLRs, which use the older “A-Mount” system they inherited when they bought Minolta. Sony has made a number of fantastic lenses for the E-Mount, including the 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS and the 10–18 f/4 OSS lens, both of which offer built-in Optical SteadyShot, Sony’s name for their image stabilization technology. The stable of E-Mount lenses isn’t filled out just yet. There are a few missing holes, mainly in the area of constant-aperture zooms and longer lenses. However, this isn’t as noticeable an issue as you might think, as Sony – and a few third-party vendors – have come up with a first-rate way to compensate for the lack of a full selection of lenses. They have done so with a number of adapters that allow you to use Canon, Nikon, and Sony A-Mount adapters with the NEX system, and in this article, we’ll take a look at some of them. From Sony...