Often I’ll come across a photographer website in which the photographer proudly proclaims, “natural light photographer.” The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve never seen a website proclaim, “artificial light photographer” or, “I use flash only.” So, why would they proclaim the the paradigm within which they are willing to work? Or, is it more accurate to say, the paradigm within which they are capable of working?
To be honest often times I think it’s the latter. Why else would one shout out to the world that they only shoot in natural light? What benefit is there to it? There is no benefit except to perhaps let people know from the beginning your limitations.
With photography you absolutely need light to make a photograph. If the available light is sufficient for what you’re trying to accomplish then, yes, go with available light. However, there are times in which the available light just isn’t sufficient. There can either be not enough light or the light is just not the right kind of light. In that case, you have to take control and make your own light, as it were.
On many of these websites proclaiming to be natural light photographers only, if you read through their information they will sometimes talk about the “natural” quality of available light and because the aesthetic of so called “natural” light is so uniquely awesome, they choose to shoot only in natural light. It makes my head spin. They will typically go on to then point out that, since they shoot natural light only because it’s so uniquely awesome, that when booking photo sessions with them, be aware that you’ll need to have the photo shoot either early in the day or late in the day because midday sun sucks.
Midday sun does suck by the way. But it can be dealt with a number of ways: scrims, reflectors, flash, etc.
The point is that for many of those who proclaim to be “natural light only photographers,” the reason is that they can’t use flash. Whereas I bet that most photographers who heavily use flash can and do show competence with natural light.
Granted there are types of photography in which using flash isn’t really feasible; documentary or street photographers, or press photographers, etc. I mean, can you imagine the press pool at a presidential daily press briefing with a bunch of flash going off? Also, with today’s digital sensors, the circumstances you can work in without adding light is pretty amazing.
But at the end of the day instead of limiting oneself to being a “natural light” photographer it would be best to simply be a “photographer” and learn to do what needs to be done to be able to take good photos in as many different circumstances as possible; including becoming competent in using artificial light.
Lightroom presets are a waste of money. At least according to this guy.
In the six years that I’ve been using Lightroom, I’ve never paid for a preset. In the past, I’ve downloaded a few free packs, clicked laboriously through every preset and decided that they were all useless: blunt tools creating over-edited results and deploying settings that I could easily have achieved myself had I wanted to ruin one of my photos.
Man, I agree with him. There are a lot of people out there pimping either their Lightroom presets or their Photoshop actions; all with the promise of replicating a look without, apparently, learning what the hell you’re doing. I can understand Photoshop actions a little better because they can actually aid in the learning process, but I’d never pay for them either.
A while ago I posted this image up on Flickr:
It ended up getting featured on Flickr Explore which resulted in a lot of views, likes, and comments. Consequently, I had a few people reach out to me asking me if I used a Lightroom preset or if I could make a preset and if so, would I mind sharing it. It was kind of interesting.
I have never made a Lightroom preset. I don’t even know how to create a preset. This image was pretty much me experimenting with a bit of a different approach to post processing. And, honestly, it was processed a bit in Lightroom, but mostly in Photoshop. In fact it has 13 layers and a substantial amount of masking, too, to apply the layers selectively.
It did make me understand the appeal of creating some presets or actions and trying to market them, though.
But, really, I don’t understand the appeal of some magic preset to be applied over multiple photos. I took the color grading inside of Lightroom that I did on this pic and replicated it on other images in my library just to experiment. It was a disaster. Now, I did take several photos in this particular garage and on different levels of this stairwell during this particular session. Applying the grading I did in this image to those images was OK because the lighting, mood, and location was pretty much the same. But other images taken at different locations?
For my approach each image or small set of images are unique thus requiring a mostly unique approach. There seem to be things that I’ll try on every image just to see how it works as a starting point, but it may or may not work. For example, on almost every image I’ll bring down the highlights a bit, open up the shadows a bit, and bring down the blacks a bit just to see if it starts going in a direction I want to go. I’d say probably a little more than half the time it works as a starting point. Often times I’ll just hit Auto just for the hell of it, too. You’d be surprised how often it actually results in a decent starting point. It used to be, until a couple versions of Lightroom back, that the Auto was absolutely horrid. Apparently Adobe has done some work on it.
The big takeaway, though, is that like the author of the linked to article above says, spending money on Lightroom presets is a huge waste of money.
Your time is way better spent just learning the tool.
Nikon Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras have finally been released. I admit that I’ve been waiting for this for a while. A long while. I’ve wanted to get into mirrorless because of IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), and EVF (Electronic View Finder), and silent shutter along with other benefits of mirrorless, but I’ve been holding off because I’m invested in the Nikon ecosystem and wanted to see what Nikon would come out with. Plus, I’ve been very happy with my D750. That camera just rocks.
But, if Nikon were to come out with something that was comparable to, say, the Sony A7III and they included a good F-mount > Z-mount adapter at a similar price point I would seriously consider going for it. With that in mind I was really looking forward to the Nikon Z6.
What is the Z6? It’s actually pretty awesome. 24 mp, 12 frames/second, IBIS providing up to 5 stops of stabilization and 273 phase-detect AF points along with some other awesomeness. All for a price of about $2000.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, wrong. It’s actually a turd in many ways.
Since the release of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 Mirrorless cameras they have taken a lot of pounding for various issues. Issues like the fact that many early reviewers who got to use a pre production camera for a couple of hours noted that the auto focus was a erratic and a bit sluggish; especially in low light. There have also been concerns over the perhaps weak battery performance. Granted, by the time the production models come out they may have addressed those issues via software updates.
I haven’t seen any reviewers rail on about the lack of included adapter, though, however for me it’s a big deal. Not because I want a free adapter (well, it would be nice) but because I just think it’s a colossal blunder from Nikon from a business perspective. Think about it. Nikon has the second largest market share of interchangeable lenses floating out in the wild. They are second only to Canon. Sony is a distant third. Though Sony is third, they are arguably the largest contender regarding mirrorless competition. In other words, Sony is who any camera manufacturer getting into the mirrorless game is going to have to compete with.
Plus, Canon is coming out with something, too.
What better way to compete than to incentivise the millions of current owners of F-mount glass to jump into your new mirrorless system? What better way to incentivise current owners of Nikon F-mount lenses to jump into your new mirrorless system than to include the adapter for the cost of the camera and that cost is on par with your competition?
But, like I said, not including an adapter doesn’t seem to be on many people’s minds. But it should have been on Nikon’s
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the release, and the one that has gotten A LOT of blow back from many people is the lack of dual memory card slots.
Yes, the lack of dual memory card slots.
That is why the new Nikon Z-mount cameras are turds.
What in the hell was Nikon thinking by releasing a camera line that people have been waiting for and that competes directly with Sony A7III and A7RIII that does not have a SECOND CARD slot? It is utterly stupid and for many (including me) a complete deal breaker.
It’s been a bit humorous watching the various hardcore Nikon supporters defend this indefensible decision. In fact I’m currently working on a post going over the various goofy things people have said defending why dual card slots are no big deal. They’re wrong, of course, but I’ll get into why on another post.
At the end of the day, cameras costing $2000 and $4000 respectively should be coming with dual card slots in today’s age.
Period. End. Of. Story.
Some apologists are saying that since this is a first gen mirrorless offering from Nikon we should give them a break. We should be patient. Don’t worry, it’s a process.
Nonsense. Nikon should want to compete with what’s already out there. All they had to do was come out with something that was at least on par with the Sony A7III and Sony A7RIII. Just doing that should have been the goal. They didn’t even do that. Cameras with a single card slot can never be on par (all things being equal) with a camera that has dual card slots.
I went back to the Little Sahara Recreation Area to follow up on some test shots I did there back in November of last year. We had a lot of fun, but to be honest it was kind of a pain in the ass because of just how freaking dirty it is. Blowing sand gets everywhere. I mean everywhere; eyes, mouth, gear.
I’ve been wanting to go out again because I had an idea on something that I thought would look cool in that environment. Plus, I’ve had a couple people ask me about going out there to do some shots. But every time I thought very seriously about it I thought about the pain in the ass factor and put it off.
Finally I said screw it. Let’s do it and we did indeed go back to the Little Sahara Recreation Area. Before heading out we stopped at a fabric store to pick up a large piece of cloth for the idea.
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take some flash gear; you know, catching that awesome shot with a breathtaking sunset as a backdrop. Note to self: Never take flash gear to The Little Sahara Recreation Area. It’s way too windy and way too much crap flying around. If you’re a photographer wanting to go to Little Sahara and you’re thinking about taking some flash gear, don’t.
Well, I suppose if you have an assistant it might be doable, but really. I wouldn’t bother. I wasted a bunch of time trying to deal with it. Time that would have been better spent just shooting with natural light.
I timed it to be there about two hours before sunset and that part worked out well. Here is the shot I think I like best:
I love this shot. The fabric works great in the windy environment. A big reason that I love this shot is that it exactly represents the vision I had in mind; the mood, the colors. It’s exactly what I pre visioned.
The biggest failure for me on this trip was that I didn’t spend all of the time just shooting natural light. Keep in mind that I love off camera flash. It would be great to do some hss flash work out here, but without assistants it’s just not possible.
Of course by the time we had everything packed up we were a sandy mess. “No,” I said to myself. “I’m not doing this again. Not worth it.”
But looking at this shot I know damned well that I’m going out there again.
There is just too much potential for great shots at the Little Sahara Recreation Area.
I’m a sucker for awesome eyes. Often times it’s the first thing that I notice. It certainly was for this stranger, Stephanie. I mean, look at those eyes.
Though I’d never met Stephanie before this, she and my wife are Facebook friends. This was also the first time that my wife had met her in person as well. Traveling through Sacramento we decided to arrange a meetup with her and have some lunch. The moment I first saw her the first thing I noticed was her amazing eyes.
All of that being said, this post is more than a simple 100 Strangers entry. It’s about those eyes, dammit. Without using flash or a reflector getting those eyes can be difficult in full midday sun. In this instance I was lucky enough to have a screened cloth hanging above us acting as a sort of scrim. That combined with the lighter wood floor to help bounce a bit of light up helped it to turn out well.
Finding models to photograph can be a real challenge at first. Sometimes it’s all about meeting the right person at the right time. But it’s doubtful that you’re going to meet them unless you’re doing things that one does that leads to meeting people. It sounds simple enough, but trust me, it’s not always that simple.
As I’ve progressed down this photographic path I’ve noticed that my interests have really been solidifying into photographing people. I’ve dabbled in street photography and it’s OK, but not really my cup of tea. I’ve photographed family members and that has worked out pretty well. Fortunately my wife, for example, is generally game for my photographic ideas. And even more fortunately she is particularly qualified; she’s tall and athletic. I love taking photos of my wife. Some of my favorites are here, here, here, and here. But the fact of the matter is that she’s not exactly enthusiastic about it. She doesn’t mind it, she can take it or leave it, but there are times when she is definitely indulging me.
Bless her heart.
I’ve often thought that I would love to shoot other people just to mix it up. I’ve even dabbled a bit in Model Mayhem, but it hasn’t been fruitful at all. I’ve gotten a lot of people there that say, yeah, I’m all in, but then you don’t hear from them.
Oh, well. It is what it is. And then I’m back to the conundrum of finding models to photograph. But what to do?
A while back I started doing the 100 Strangers Project for the simple reason of forcing myself to approach people and to get a decent shot in a quick and impromptu situation. It’s a whole other skill set that I’ve noticed adapts well to photography in general. My project is, at this time, currently on number 9. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m so going to finish it. In fact it’s probably something that I’m going to continue indefinitely.
So, you may be wondering what this has to do with finding models to photograph. Well, my wife, being the awesome supportive wife she is has been totally on board with the 100 Stranger thing. Often times when we’re out and about she’ll point out a particular face and say, “Man, you should try to get a shot of them.” That kind of thing. That’s how this Stranger shot came to be. Every weekend we go to Costco and do our weekly food shopping. One of the people that works there, like my wife, is a fellow emigre from Ukraine. Because of this shared background they have talked a few times. A few weeks ago they were chatting and I had my camera with me in case I had a Stranger opportunity. A few times I had thought about asking Yana for a Stranger pic, but every time that I’ve seen her in Costco she was so busy that it just wasn’t a possibility. During this time, however, she looked at my camera and asked, “Are you a photographer?” Right away my wife jumped in, “Yes, he is. You should have him take pictures of you, you’re beautiful.”
Right away Yana said, “Yes, I’d love to do that. Do you have a card or something?”
Of course I always carry a card with me. Note, always have a business card on you. Even if like me you’re not a “pro.”
A couple of weeks later using the email address on the card, Yana reached out to me to see if we could get together.
We set up a time to meet at a local park on a weekend. As we communicated via email Yana let me know that she had never done anything like this before, but she was game.
My wife and I met her at the park and we took a few shots. My goal was to get one for my Stranger Project. At this time I still considered Yana a “stranger.” It also gave me an opportunity to mess around with my reflector.
She was a bit nervous, as was I; not quite sure how to approach it. I just treated it like a normal Stranger session and asked her to just look right into the camera. We came away with this shot:
Technically it’s not a great shot. I could have done a lot better. I’ve got some blown highlights, a bit of upward lighting going on (messing with the reflector), but one thing is certain. The only reason that this photo is even remotely usable is because Yana is just so amazingly photogenic. She naturally engages the camera and just rocks.
After we took a few shots we decided to get together for an actual photo shoot; one in which we actually plan a little and spend a bit of time. So we planned to meet at the same park and go from there. This time I took some off camera flash gear; a simple speed light and umbrella. I had a particular place in mind, but after we met in the park I decided to get a shot there in a place that the lighting was particularly good. I’m not experienced at all with directing people to pose and Yana is not experienced at modeling. But we came up with this shot; the first real shot:
I like this shot. A lot. For me, it goes way beyond a simple photograph of an attractive person. It conveys something. Exactly what I don’t know, but it’s something.
A couple of weeks after that first real session we got together again. This time at a local place that is popular for people taking Instagram shots. It’s called the Cents of Style Wall. You’ll notice looking at their page that most everything is pretty Instagramy for lack of a better word. But it’s cool in that there are ready painted walls to stand against. I wanted to do something a bit different than what most people are doing with this wall, though.
This is what resulted:
Yana just exudes awesomeness in this pic. The way she engages the camera is, in my opinion, what separates a picture of a pretty woman from, damn, girl, you look like a freakin’ model.
Again, she was a bit nervous; a bunch of people standing around, trying to take direction, posing.
Here is another from that session:
Again, the engagement is just great.
After a few more weeks we got together again. This time in my little home studio. My wife and I invited Yana over to visit and do some pics. Since both my wife and Yana are from Ukraine they talked a bit about, well, Ukraine and drank a bit of tea.
I wanted to experiment with some very contrasty lighting using just a single speed light through an ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Flash Grid. It resulted in a very concentrated narrow beam of light. I placed the light camera left and we came with this:
This is a radically different look. Some may not like the heavy contrast, but I love it. And, again, Yana does an amazing job.
The point of this whole thing is that finding models to photograph is a challenge; especially when you’re just some schmo like me who would not exactly qualify as a “pro.” Just getting out there and jumping in and asking people, though certainly not easy, is really the only approach. I think finding someone new with whom you can experiment and grow together is quite fortunate. I’m always learning and growing as a photographer. Yana, here, has definitely progressed as a model. I think it’s apparent when looking at our very first Stranger shot and comparing it to the most recent shot above. Doing the Stranger Project is simply a way of forcing me to reach out to people and asking them if I can take their picture. That’s the big step. The next step of asking them if they would like to set up a more formal shoot is a tiny step.
Especially if you create something that they like.
Though Yana isn’t a total stranger, I still classify her as a stranger because I’ve only seen her a few times at a store that my wife and I shop at often. We’ve said hello a few time but nothing really extensive. A few weeks ago when we were at the store I gave her one of my cards, told her about the Stranger Project and asked if she would be interested. She was really quite excited about it, but it really wasn’t the time to do it.
A week or so after I gave her my card she reached out to me via the provided email address and asked if I was still interested in doing photos. “Of course,” I said.
We set up a time to meet at a park nearby and we met up there this morning.
To be honest I was a bit more nervous under these circumstances than had I just been able to take her photo completely impromptu.
Yana is an immigrant from Ukraine and has a couple of young kids She likes to take photos herself and has a nice Canon camera.
“What do you like to photograph?”
“I like taking pictures of flowers and nature,” she said. “That kind of thing.”
We took a few shots in the park and then called it good. She looked at some of them on the back of my camera and asked if we could do some formal photos sometime.
“Absolutely,” I said.
We talked about what that might be like; conceptual things, etc.
I’m rather looking forward to doing a “full blown” photo shoot with her.
I took quite a lot of photos and this is the one that seemed to stick out to me the most.
Thank you, Yana for letting me take some photos of you. I’m looking forward to making some more and no longer being strangers.
Technical stuff: The sun was still fairly low and I wanted her back to it to be able to get a bit of highlight/rim light on her hair. I had her hold a reflector to throw light onto her face. It would have been best to have a third person hold the reflector at about 45 degrees off to the side and up. I’m not too experienced with using a reflector as I’m more comfortable with off camera flash.
Since I took this photo Yana and I have done two shoots since. Thus far it’s been a good experience as we are both learning; she’s learning how to model and I’m learning how to direct someone who has never modeled before. She’s amazingly photogenic and we’ve done some good stuff. I’m currently working on a post going over our first two shoots. So stay tuned.
Previously I posted a Stranger photo of Mariah who works at a local coffee shop that I frequent fairly often. During that encounter she spoke highly of the owners of the coffee shop; the husband and wife who own it. She said that they were “the best.”
Meet Carl, the owner of this coffee shop. Though I’ve spoken with him briefly in the past as he rung up my order I’ve never been able to really sit and talk with him; to get to know him a little bit. Today my son and I sat drinking our lattes and having lunch and Carl walked up to our table and asked how we were doing. At this we began to talk and it turned into a nearly hour long conversation.
Carl is an Army vet who has since retired from service. He spent years in service (exactly how long I didn’t ask). He loves coffee and just over a year ago he and his wife opened up this shop. He’s very active in veterans affairs and he has a program in which he delivers coffee to our troops overseas.
We spoke a bit about politics and the role of our armed forces over the past few years. “We really need to just pull out of the Middle East altogether,” he said. “I mean, what exactly are we doing over there?”
He spoke about the action he saw in Iraq during Gulf War version 1.0 a bit among many other things.
The thing that I took away from our conversation is that Carl is passionate about his family, community and country. Being the son of immigrants I think has shaped much of his perspective regarding life in the USA. My wife is an immigrant and I think that as my son participated in the conversation he was aware of that similarity. In fact as we were driving home my son said as much.
When we were wrapping up the conversation, I asked Carl if he would mind if I took a photo of him. Though I didn’t explain the Stranger Project in detail I told him that I loved taking photos of people that I meet and get to know and post them on social media and tell a little about them.
We happened to be in front of a large window that was letting in absolutely amazing light. I asked him to simply stand positioned at just a slight angle to the window and I moved in such a way as to not have other people in the background.
Technical stuff: Because the light was so amazing I didn’t have to really do much as far as post production is concerned. The big thing was that SOOC, Carl’s eyes were way stark and vivid. I actually brought them down a bit because they were just too much. That’s a first; actually pulling back the eyes a bit.
Also, the more that I use the 85mm and get used to it, the more I love that lens. I took a total of 12 shots and didn’t give him any direction beyond having him turn to the window a bit.
Thanks, Carl for allowing me to take your photo. I’m certain we will see each other again as my family drinks our lattes now that we’ve become so acquainted. I’m looking forward to it.
Richard’s public moniker is Nutnfancy. He has a YouTube channel called The Nutnfancy Project which he’s been running for years. The channel is a gear review channel in which he reviews various things from backpacks to watches, knives, camping gear and firearms. He’s amassed nearly 750,000 subscribers.
I met him at some protests/counter protests at the State Capitol several days ago. Richard was on the counter protest side of the issue. When I saw him addressing the crowd with his bullhorn I knew that I wanted to ask him for a Stranger photo.
When I went to approach him he was filming the crowd with his camera and I waited for him to take a break then approached him. I held out my hand, introduced myself and told him about what I was wanting to do. He was pretty cautious at first.
“Are you with the media?”
“No,” I said. “I’m just a guy taking pics.”
He still wasn’t quite convinced. “What’s your political stance?” He asked. “Are you pro 2A?”
To the average person it may sound odd that he’s so cautious, but when you’re a somewhat public face like he is I think it’s understandable.
After a few moments I convinced him that I didn’t have an ax to grind and he lightened up a lot. In fact he became very friendly and agreed to let me take some photos.
Again, like the previous photos I took at this event, the background was a real challenge. He understood it, too, as I asked him to move a bit to position him. I finally positioned him so that we were parallel to a wall which seemed to be about as good as it was going to get under the circumstances.
I snapped a few frames; some close up head and shoulders and some further away. I liked this one the best because it encompassed some of the environment and crowd but wasn’t overpowered by it.
After I finished taking the pics we talked for a few short minutes about various things; history, government; high level things like that. I wanted to ask him so much more, but I knew that he was there with his camera, too, and wanted to get back to his work.
Technical stuff: ISO 100, 50mm, f2.0, 1/320.
I knew that his hat was going to be a problem with darkness over his eyes so I exposed as far to the right as possible without the building in the background blowing out (ETTR when shooting raw is your friend in these kinds of circumstances) and then pulled it down just over a stop in post (-1.2 in Lightroom). I took a number of photos with various degrees of ETTR and this one was just perfect. SOOC, it was pretty bright, but I was still able to maintain the details.
Before going out to shoot pics at this event I made the conscious decision to go with my 50mm. Up until I took this pic I was really regretting it as most of the pics I had taken up to this point had been head and shoulders/close up shots. The 50mm is not really a good focal length for that kind of portrait shooting because of the perspective distortion that always has to be contended with at short distances. However, for this shot, the 50mm was near perfect. We were both standing on a ledge and I backed up as far as I could for this frame. If I were using the 85 I wouldn’t have been able to get this half body shot showing his bullhorn.
In case you haven’t been able to tell based on my last few uploads, I took a number of Stranger Portraits at some political demonstrations this past week.
I followed this particular march to the State Capitol and I ran ahead to the plaza in front to be able to catch them as they came up the stairs. As the crowd funneled in I came across this guy. I was struck by his impeccable grooming (I mean, look at how tidy this guy’s hair is) and, of course, his mighty beard. I’ve been wanting to photograph someone with an impressive beard. In fact I’ve photographed a number of beards, but none of them really seemed to do it for me. Until this guy.
I approached him and introduced myself and held out my hand. He shook it and told me his name, but I don’t remember it. Generally I always carry a backpack that contains a notepad and pen, but on this occasion I didn’t have it on me. This is probably the first time in a year or longer that I didn’t have it on me. It won’t happen again.
I explained the Stranger Project and he happily agreed to be photographed. After I took a couple of shots I spoke with him a bit about why he was demonstrating. I’m hesitant to get into it because of the political nature and my reticence to touch upon it here in this forum. Lets just say that he is a firm believer in his cause. I asked him if he was from Utah and he answered that he was from California. I wanted to ask him what brought him here, but he indicated that he needed to get back to his friends.
Before he left I showed him one of the pics on the back of the camera and his response was, “Wow.”
Technical stuff: ISO 100, 50mm, f3.5, 1/500 second.
I seriously thought about editing the reflections out of his glasses; I’m clearly visible taking the photo, but decided against it because the view in the reflection is interesting; the view of the city in the valley below, the other people coming up the stairs, the crowd behind me. I think it really adds to the atmosphere of the photo itself.