This is probably my favorite photograph. That is a big statement since I have terabytes of photos saved. Why is this photo so great? Well, because it just happened. Maybe it is not technically amazing (whatever that means). I do not even remember the camera settings. These are my 2 children. The lighting was just perfect. Sun was setting. They were having fun. I think it says a lot. Big sister leading the way for her younger sibling. Love. A precious moment. It is great because I was there. I was able to capture a moment that means something. I will always look back and remember this day. That is what makes it a great photograph. It took me a long time to figure that out.
Lori and Matt were married at the Kinney Bungalow in Narragansett, RI. I love this shot. Take a look at my main site for more images.
Ask any pro why they choose the body they use and one of the first things you will hear is durability. Before I ever shot my first paid gig, I treated my gear like it was fine China. Well, after awhile you realize that the difference between getting a shot and letting one slip away is just “being there.” That means sometimes your gear gets banged up. However, I never expected my Nikon D3 to survive getting driven over by a car! …I cannot say the same for the lens
I was recently shooting a wedding and someone accidentally drove over my gear. They destroyed my 70-200 f/2.8 (what a horrible sound). My D3 was pulled and dragged under the car as the lens was trying to tear off the body. I caught the tail end of the incident, only to watch in horror as I lost over $4,000 worth of camera gear. The lens is now a sad looking paper weight. To my shock and surprise, I picked up the D3 and it still worked. Sure, it is pretty banged up, but it was actually able to limp to the end of the night and allow me to finish the wedding with both camera bodies.
D3 Damage Report:
1. Nasty Road Rash, I mean chunks of Magnesium Alloy are still left on the ground.
2. The F-Mount has slightly torn away from the body on the right (causing slight blur on that side shooting wide unless I compensate with an aperture of around f/7.1)
3. The Shutter Release/on-off system is a little whacked. I can tap it and it turns on. Thankfully, it stays on!
4. The Aperture wheel is a little tighter than before.
Other than that, it can still be used…at least until I have Nikon repair it. I mean, it works, but that is a loose definition.
Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 Damage Report:
Overall, this is a testament to Nikon’s professional gear. Any other camera body would probably be in pieces. Sure, it has some serious battle scars. But, it will live to fight another day! Yes, I did lose over $2,000 and I still have to pay Nikon to repair the D3 so it is operating at 100%. But, the important thing was that I was able to finish the wedding. I was paid to do a job and, as a pro, you are expected to complete the shoot. The Bride and Groom deserve nothing less. The D3 allowed me to complete the job. This is why I will remain loyal to Nikon, even more than before.
Thank you Nikon. Thank you for making gear that actually lives up to the expectations people have, and then some.
I love off-camera flash. Here is a little example of a shot that is so easy to get…and packs an “emotional” punch. I am 20 feet away from the speed light on a monopod with SB-900 held by an assistant. I am shooting directly at the light with the couple in the middle. You can actually see the speed light in this photo (top left). It creates a lovely haze. Simple and effective.
Ok, so I have not posted in awhile. Why? Well, I have had little to say. The camera world is quiet since the release of the D4 and D800. The light leak issue of the Canon MK III has been solved with electrical tape (LOL). The weather is nice and I have been shooting. Here is a photo of a lovely couple from a Maternity Shoot I did yesterday. I had a great time and made some new friends.
You can see more photos on my main site. -Chris
Over the years, as I have progressed as a photographer, I see more and more photos posted online that look the same. Why? Because people rely too much on 2 things. Safe light (or open shade) and/or on-camera flash. Below is an example of a photo that is more interesting than it should be. Why, because of the dimension and light. The whole feeling of the photo is changed because I used the harsh window light to make for a more interesting composition.
Here we have a photo of my whacky daughter, obsessed with Dora, and for some reason wearing a diaper on her head. Ok, I know, kind of strange. But, I do have a point.
To get her face properly exposed, I had to over-expose the scene. Now, when I was a rookie to photography, I would have been afraid to leave AUTO mode. I never would have been able to get an image like this. Today, there are 2 ways to achieve this. Aperture Priority or Manual mode. In this case, I was in Aperture Priority at f/2.8. The key is to take the dumb camera meter out of the equation. Why? The meter would read all this light around the subject and speed up the shutter. The result, you would get a decently exposed overall scene with a very dark face. So, by over-exposing by EV +1.7, I certainly blew out the back a bit (I could dodge/burn it back), but I kept the face exposed and maintained the cool looking light falling on the subject. I like it.
Some might say, well, why not make it easy and just use fill-flash. Sure, you can do that. But, you would be left with a flash boring photo of my daughter wearing a diaper on her head. Fill-flash washes out the subject and scene. There is a time and place for it, sure. When I need a “safe” shot then I might use some fill. But, when I am trying to create art, no way.
There was a lot of talk lately on a Facebook group I belong to about the use of off camera flash. Some people were asking a lot of questions so I figured I would make a quick blog post about it. This is how I do it. It does not mean it is the only way. I do it like this because it works for me. People like Cliff Mautner (amazing wedding photographer) use this approach as well. I used to use big soft boxes, two of them. But, for the sake of speed and efficiency, this works best. You can learn more from sites like Kelby Training and such. This is a very basic overview of my set-up.
I use one speed light. I typically do not have an assistant with me so I shoot with the speed light mounted on a tripod. I use a flash diffuser to further soften the light. If I have someone helping, the speed light can me mounted on a monopod and the person holding it can move it around as needed. But, since I typically only use this approach for formals or portraits, this works. I can place the tripod/light any place I want. It is lightweight and there is no battery pack. Load the speed light with rechargeable Nickel Hydride batteries (I use Energizers) and you are good to go. Fast recycle times and long battery life.
Why use off camera flash? Well, put simply, it is better. The quality of light is so much nicer and you can control ambience and direction. Best of all, you can do it quickly. Using the pop-up flash is just terrible. Using infrared as a trigger brings line of site issues into play. There is a reason why pro cameras like the Nikon D4 do not have a pop-up flash. The light is harsh. Using a speed light mounted on camera is ok, but you still battle the harshness of light so close to the lens. Bouncing the light and adjusting accordingly is acceptable, but once you get that flash a great distance away from the camera body, you suddenly realize that you are shooting in a situation where the ambience and quality of the scene is completely under your control. For bridal formals, especially of groups, you can place the tripod/light set-up in front of (or to the side) of the group, get your settings, and shoot away. You can fill the group with beautiful light…FAST AND EFFICIENTLY. That is the key. Fast and simple. Less moving parts. Less chance of error.
So, here is a photo of my typical setup. D700 (with 24-70 f/2.8 mounted) and a Pocket Wizard (wireless trigger). I will start with ISO 800. In a controlled studio situation, I would go to ISO 100. There is more time to play with settings in a studio portrait session. The speed light here is an SB-900. Another Pocket Wizard is plugged into the PC port on the speed light. Both Pocket Wizards are on the same channel and ready to talk with each other. When I press the shutter, the signal goes to the hotshoe-mounted Pocket Wizard, which sends a wireless signal to the other one that is plugged into the speed light. Flash fires. It is that simple.
Now, what are the settings on the speed light? Well, it is in MANUAL MODE. On this speed light, I simply set it to “M.” Now, it is time to select a power. You have to understand the power settings. 1/1 = full power. A ton of light will be given off. 1/2 = half power. Here, I am at 1/8 (one eighth) power. Not too much light for outside, but plenty indoors. Each and every time I press the shutter, the flash will ALWAYS put out 1/8 power. I can count on it. If I can count on it, I can set my camera to manual mode and get an exposure. I will not have to change anything if the subject stays the same distance to the speed light. THIS IS THE BEST PART. I can put a mark on the ground, have the bride stand there, and people can fill in around her. Once I take a few seconds to get a proper exposure, I can shoot time and again and never have to adjust the camera at all. I am wireless. I can back up 100 feet. Nothing will change. Why? Because the group of people and the speed light are still the same distance apart. It does not matter where the lens, camera, or I am. The subjects will always be exposed properly. If the bride moves 10 feet back away from the mark, I will then have to make an adjustment. Further away from the light source would mean to open the aperture up or slow the shutter a bit…or make the ISO more sensitive. There are a variety of options.
So, that is really it. It’s not that difficult. Grant it, this was a very basic overview of how it can be done. Mastering light can take your whole career and I do not proclaim to know it all. But, it works for me with good results. It works for some of the world’s best photographers.
Oh, the camera settings. Sure. Well, that is the part you must learn. You have to get an idea of the situation. I typically start at ISO 800, f/4 to f/8, and shutter at around 125-250/sec. That would be more of an indoor start. Outside, I might be more around f/4 and use the off-camera flash as more of a nice fill rather than a main light source. Again, it’s all trial and error until you get a feel for your distance and flash power ratios. Eventually, you will get an idea of what settings you need to be at in camera given the available light of any situation.
The goal, however, is to get the flash off of the camera so you can focus on shooting. Let the flash fill the scene with soft light so the subject has a natural looking tone.
There are photographers and there are people that like to take pictures. I saw a special on TV the other day about Annie Leibovitz and it reinforced my beliefs.
She is a “Photographer.” an artist. I wished she shot my wedding!
Unlike a large percentage of people that take pictures, she has a vision. Most people that call themselves photographers, in my opinion, are not. They are people that take pictures. They spend a lot of time on forums talking about what camera is better. They study MTF charts. They always buy the newest and “best” camera. A lot of them even shoot weddings. Scary.
Photography is not about a $7000 camera and $3000 lens. If that were the case then most wedding photographers would be artists shooting a Leica M9 and Summicron 50mm f/1.4. No, photography is about watching and waiting. It’s about being in the moment and pressing that little button at the correct time so your photo will be cried over at someone’s 50th wedding anniversary. It’s real easy to take 4 hours setting up proper lighting to take an amazing photo of a… (INSERT RANDOM OBJECT HERE). It’s not easy to have a vision and see it through.
This is why I love Annie Leibovitz’s work. She might shoot with a $30,000 Leica S2 for one shot, and them grab a glorified point and shoot Fujifilm X100 for another shot. Maybe Canon one day and Leica the next. You see, it does not matter. She uses the best tool for the job. The camera is just the pencil or pen she uses to write her novel of life. She creates. For all I know, she shoots in AUTO mode. Who cares really. Her images are stunning and they make you feel something.
This is how I approach photography. Sure, I need good glass and such for paid jobs. Why? because there are times when you just need a technically good piece of equipment to capture a moment…IN LOW LIGHT. Aside from that, I want my work to tell a story. I don’t care about how I arrived at a shot, just as long as I get there. There takes a certain amount of skill or talent to achieve this goal, sure, but it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
Ask yourself this. Who makes the photo? The Photographer or the subjects in the actual image? If you answered the subjects in the actual image then you have just eliminated the tool from the equation and realized the camera just doesn’t matter. It is the person pressing the button…during a moment.
My advice is to learn your camera. The one you have now. Not the one that will be better next month. Learn the camera you have now back and forth. Up and down. Inside and out. Know it so you can get proper exposure anytime and in any light. Then, stop thinking about how to work it. That way, when you are in a position to capture an image of a lifetime, you won’t be fiddling around with a bright and shiny new camera with 45 Billion megapixels that you read about on some forum.
…A great and/or beautiful moment captured slightly grainy and a tad blurry will ALWAYS be better than a perfectly exposed image of something meaningless and boring.