I am a big supporter of the “get to know your gear” opinion. I strongly believe that the more you use something, the better you learn to take full advantage of the strengths of that particular piece of equipment, and the better you learn to manage its shortcomings without even thinking about it. To a point where they just disappear, in fact, and make the statement that gear does not matter as truthful as it is. Gear does not matter (to an extent), but knowing it and liking it does. This, I think, it the crucial link between equipment and photography itself.
A while ago, Nasim went to London to spend some time with his family and meet up with some of our dear readers. You might have noticed that, for a couple of weeks, he did not have much time to work on articles, certainly not as much as usual. You might also have noticed my own absence for the last couple of months at least. We did not plan to take vacation at the same time. It just so happened that I, too, have been extremely busy at the time, hence no new Lightroom or composition-related articles coming out. My time away, however, was rather less glamorous than that of my friend’s. And less relaxing, let alone fun or enthusiastically met. In fact, it was somewhat of a nightmare at times, a blur of nights and days turning into long, long weeks of never-ending stacks of books, articles and albums. How I missed my job! Although rationally I understand it is not, in the moments of weakness writing articles seemed like a much simpler endeavour. Certainly much more fun.
I am happy to say, though, that in the end the result is just as pleasing and satisfactory to me as Nasim’s trip was to him, even if the process was nerve-wrecking. I expect at this point you are rather curious what I am on about. Well, just a few hours ago I received my Bachelor’s degree. Yes, I am now officially an educated man with a Faculty of Arts diploma, cheers! But that’s not very interesting. Let’s be fair, as challenging as it was writing some 40 pages of theory and spending even more time photographing, it’s no doctoral dissertation, Bachelor’s degree is merely the first, smallest of steps up an educational skyscraper. It is also rather common in my country where most people seek a degree right after finishing high school (generally at the age of 19). What I hope is a little more interesting are these portraits, some of which make up the creative part of my thesis.
People often ask me about my post-processing when they look over my photography. To be honest, the post-process I’ve developed has been a combination of small tutorials I’ve taken over the years from artists I respect. I’ve since developed my own style from these tools, but the most important part of post-processing is having an image that will take it on well. In this article, I will be talking less about the post-process and more about how to utilize natural light. In order for proper digital development, the shot has to be versatile for the final result.
Do you want something dark and soft? Do you want something bright and warm? These are just a few questions to ask yourself when setting up a portrait session.
The greatest joy for me, as a photographer, is utilizing light to produce a moving image. This can come in any number of forms, from the smallest single strand of light against a face or a subject in a field mid-afternoon. It’s imperative to train the eye to the spectrum of natural light. The only way to do so is to shoot constantly.
I am excited about presenting yet another addition to our Photography Life family – please welcome Charles Hildreth! Charles is an amazing portrait photographer, who is coming back to Denver after spending the last several years working in Hollywood, California. I found out about Charles through my wife Lola, who showed me some stunning work by Charles on his 500px account (which happens to be one of the top). We will be closely working with Charles on some projects in the future right here at PL, so please give him a warm welcome!
Update: this article seems to have spawn a number of different opinions. Which, we must admit, makes us rather happy – discussion, as someone much brighter than me has said, is an exchange of knowledge. More importantly, argument is an exchange of ignorance. While the photograph described at the beginning of this article is not actually all that important for the said discussion, a lot of our readers have expressed their curiosity and wish to see the reason for this article popping up in my head. And no matter how tastefully and subtly done, please do note it contains nudity, and if that is something you’d prefer your children not to see – or something you would prefer not to see yourself – take caution. For the rest, click here and enjoy.
Several weeks ago, I came upon what I think was a magnificent black-and-white photograph. It portrayed a young, rather skinny woman laying graciously on the ground somewhere in a forest clearing, naked. She was lying on her side, half curled up around a large, moss-covered rock. So different from it in most every way possible – warm, alive, sensitive – she was embracing it gently. The photograph was taken from directly above the young woman and, through the use of loose central composition, negative space and beautiful natural light, she, as the main subject, would instantly draw the viewers eye, her skin so pale and bright against what must have been dark green, brown Autumn foliage. While I will not be publishing this photograph here for obvious reasons (Photography Life is 100% child-safe and will always remain so), I must note there was not a hint of erotica about the photograph. Rather, a very subtle, tasteful tribute to the human body. Fine art. Pure, light. Airy somehow. I called it sensual at first, but many misunderstood me, or perhaps I chose the wrong word. Sensuous is a much better fit. I could not help but admire it for what seemed like hours. And then I read a comment left by one of the viewers: “This is not a portrait. It is a piece of fine art nude photography”, – he stated.
Even just a few hours ago, I was once again asked by a reader what lenses do I use most for my wedding photography. The answer is and always has been the same for my wedding, family or general photography needs – a classic fifty. I am sure hardly anyone will find this at all surprising, because fast 50mm fixed focal length lenses have become a legend of sorts. Ask any photographer and he will tell you – that is one of the two most versatile fixed focal length lenses you can buy (the other being a 35mm lens). It is time we back up that claim with actual photographs, and plenty of them. Is there a single reason for it being so versatile? No. Rather, it is a combination of various characteristics and generally pleasing manner of “drawing” the photograph that, even today with all the amazing zoom lenses, makes it such a sought-after lens.
Naturally, the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G is not the only lens I own and use, but I really do feel this particular focal length deserves a separate article just to show how truly special it is. I adore it. More than that, my warm feelings towards such a lens are not dictated by raw technical characteristics, rather how much it resonates with the way I previsualize my work. And that is why, instead of boring you to death with technicalities, I will gladly let photographs do most of the talking for a change.
Some photographers oppose the idea of using flash or light modifiers. Sometimes because it does not suit their style, sometimes because they do not feel comfortable using flash in first place. While we as photographers often love the feel of soft, natural light, knowing how to utilize artificial light can be of tremendous value in low-light environments. Not to mention that such knowledge and being ready to overcome challenging tasks in pretty much any environment can boost confidence and give peace of mind when working in the field. In this article, I would like to go over situations when flash should be used and how it can work to our advantage. I divided this article into indoor and outdoor photography to make it easy for everyone to follow. Please feel free to add your use cases in the comments section below. Please note that I am not going over the basics of flash photography here – the article assumes that you understand the relationship of flash with ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.
1.1) Lighting Ballrooms, Churches, Wedding / Corporate Reception Areas
As a working professional, one should have at least the basic lighting plan to be able to capture the day with ease. High-end DSLRs may be flexible enough to capture images in poorly lit environments, but it is a game of compromises. If light levels are too low, you will have to deal with blurry images due to motion blur / camera shake, or you will have to increase ISO level too high, which obviously increases noise, messes up colors and greatly reduces dynamic range. In short, you are leaving very few options for post-processing. In order to avoid that and potentially reduce your post-processing time and other headaches, why not use flash instead? You can start out with a simple configuration, with flash mounted on your camera, or you could get more creative and use flash in an off-camera setup to make images appear more dramatic and well-balanced.
In this article, Patrick Downs is providing very useful portrait photography tips to our readers, sharing his experience and beautiful images that he has taken as a professional photographer. As a photojournalist for 25 years and shooting for much longer, I may have a different or expanded definition of what a portrait is, and what it takes to produce them. There are genres of portraiture, of course, such as: editorial, corporate, commercial/retail, documentary or candid, and illustrative portraits. With some you exercise almost no control (e.g., William Albert Allard), and with others almost total control (e.g., Annie Leibovitz). There is no right or wrong answer … the photographer chooses their style! There are many photographers whose portraits I love, and not all of them are pure portrait photographers. Allard is a documentary photographer, but his found portraits are wonderful. Annie L. imposes her will on her subjects, but the results are fascinating and something I’d love to be able to do. If I were to pick my top 3 pure portraitists, it might be Arnold Newman, Gregory Heisler, and Annie L, in no special order. I went back and read my Arnold Newman’s “One Mind’s Eye” the other day, and was struck by how many of his images don’t use “perfect” light by today’s standards, but so many are amazing. This one, of Igor Stravinsky, is still one of the most brilliant photo portraits ever taken, I think. It’s interesting to know that Greg Heisler was one of Newman’s last assistants.
I have (too many) other favorite portraitists, for sure: Albert Watson, Mark Seliger, Mary Ellen Mark, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Avedon, Art Streiber, Dan Winter, Peter Yang, Brad Trent, and photojournalist Joe McNally, who is really a great generalist. I know I’m forgetting many.
The most exciting announcement of the week for me personally, is the new Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, a lens that I have been waiting for many years now. This is a specialized, one of a kind lens that is basically the modern version of the Noct NIKKOR 58mm f/1.2, a legendary manual focus lens with extreme performance that still sells for over $3000 used today. Although Nikon currently offers two f/1.4 and f/1.8 modern 50mm primes with autofocus capability in its lens lineup, the 58mm f/1.4G is a lens at a whole different level that is specifically designed to yield maximum sharpness and microcontrast, along with beautiful bokeh at the maximum aperture of f/1.4.
As someone said, “photography is all about the light”. And nothing gives a photographer more flexibility to craft light better than quality studio strobes. If located in a permanent studio, they provide wonderful lighting and an endless array of possibilities, particularly when used with various light modifiers. Taking them on the road, however, is a different matter. Many models are bulky, heavy, and require proximity to a power source, making them impractical for many settings. Traditional off-camera flash units are much more portable and can be used creatively in a variety of situations, as David Hobby (a.k.a. “Stobist”) and others routinely demonstrate, but lack the power of strobe lights. To meet the needs of photographers seeking the power of traditional strobe lights combined with the flexibility of off-camera flash units, Impact provides the LiteTrek 4.0 DC Two Monolight and Mini LiteTrek (LT) Battery Pack Kit, a portable lighting kit consisting of 2 flash heads and a portable battery pack.
1) Initial Thoughts
This lightweight kit is well-designed and made. Add two lightweight light stands (not included) and it has everything you need to create a studio environment anywhere you need. I was surprised at the lightness of the 400W heads relative to their power. They were much lighter than my 550W Bowen’s studio strobes.