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5 Ways To Get Better Shots From Your New Camera

5 Ways To Get Better Shots From Your New Camera

Got a point and shoot camera for Christmas? Here are some easy to remember tips to help you get the best out of it.

1. Turn off the flash.

The smaller your light source is, the harsher it is – and this thing is tiny! No one looks good when photographed with a compact cameras on board flash and it’s so weedy you need to stand close to you subject. Moon faces ahoy! Which leads us on to:

2. Stand back and zoom in for portraits.

When you turn on your compact camera it’s going to be at the wide end of its zoom range. For portraits, this is U.G.L.Y. A wide angle (aka a short focal length) gives people big noses and round faces. Take a few steps back and zoom in a little – instant improvement. And as a bonus, you’ll notice the background is a little more out of focus too making your subject pop.

3. Shoot. A Lot!

Digital is free so take lots of photos. I used to imagine the photographers I admired walking into a scene or onto a set, pressing the shutter and boom – magic! Photography’s dirty little secret is that you need to take a lot of images to get that great one. But be sure to…

4. Edit Ruthlessly.

Just because you shot 200 photos doesn’t mean you need to show all 200. Pick the best and share them with the world. If you have 3 amazing shots, don’t drag them into the mire of mediocrity by sharing 50 average ones too.

5. Have Fun!

The more you shoot the better you get and the more fun you have – so get out there and shoot. Take some time to learn the craft but make sure you practise what you learn as much as you can. Don’t sit at home fretting about the terms and conditions on Facebook or Instagram and don’t feel like you have to watermark everything. Shoot. Enjoy. Repeat.

Light Painting A Car

Light Painting A Car

I’m lucky enough to have access to what can loosely be called some studio space (a huge empty room, large enough to get a car in that gives me completely control of the ambient light) so last night I tried a little automotive light painting.

So armed with nothing more than a camera, tripod and an Elinchrom Quadra with the modelling light on although any constant light source would do though.

I’d like to say that was all done in camera but it’s not. There are 3 individual shots that have been composited to make that final shot. Firstly, because of their brightness relative to the Quadra’s LED modelling light, I shot the headlights.

Then it was time to light the car. After a few tests with various softboxes I found the most even coverage came from simply walking around the car with just the Quadra head and 18cm reflector. A 13 second exposure at f/8 gave me time to walk fairly slowly around the car. The first shot below is a lap with the light held fairly low to get light onto the doors and the second was as high as I could reach to bounce some light of the car roof.

For this pass (another 13 second exposure) the light was held higher to thrown light onto the roof of the car.

Once in Photoshop, I layered the 3 images in Lighten mode and did a little burning to darken down the walls in the background. I also added and masked a desaturation layer to remove the slight yellow tinge from the fog lights and remove a colour cast from the wheels and floor. The result:

For a first attempt a light painting a car I am pleased, although looking at the final image, I see a few things I’ll look out for next time.

My Data Storage Workflow

My Data Storage Workflow

After watching a couple of Chase Jarvis videos lately about his studios approach to data storage and backup, I thought I’d wade in and give you my smaller scale version. I might not work on assignments the size of Chase’s (yet!) but loosing my images, even if it’s just my personal projects with no paying client, is still not something I want to experience.

 

Sandisk Compact Flash Cards

I don’t understand the logic in spending money on the latest camera body and quality glass, then risking every single image to save £20 by buying a cheap and nasty CF card. Even with the 5DMkII’s 25MB RAW files I don’t go above 16GB. 500 shots on one card is enough for me, and I don’t keep shooting until they are completely full so there’s always a quiet moment to swap. Once out of the camera, they go to different places – first into my Black Rapid strap pocket, second into my camera bag etc.

Drobo - Redundant backup

After the shoot I get the data from the cards as soon as possible. This is will either be to my MacBook Pro or main iMac depending on where I am. I use Lightroom to copy the data to the on board hard disk and a 2nd external drive at once. In the case of the laptop it’s a 500GB USB driver, with the iMac it’s to my Drobo. I also leave the data on the cards until I need to reuse them – no point in deleting another backup unless you have to. If the data was uploaded to my laptop, it gets imported into the main library on my iMac and Drobo as soon as I get back to base.

So at the is stage I can lose my iMac hard drive and one of the drives in my Drobo and still have a backup. I’ve also still got the original Lightroom catalogue on my laptop and the corresponding backup – although that won’t have any of the adjustments I have made on my main studio computer.

The final chink in my backup armour here is the location of the drives; pretty much side by side. So if the building suffers a power surge, fire, flood or zombie attack I could be in trouble. Enter another couple of bare 500GB drives containing another copy of the data that rotate out to an off-site location after every shoot. No disused cold war bunker or safety deposit vault here – just a different building far enough away not to be caught up in the same natural disaster.

Not quite on the same scale as CJ Inc. but still similar principles at work.

  • Use quality cards and drives
  • Make a backup of the data on your cards a soon after shooting as you can
  • Don’t erase those cards until you have to
  • Always keep your data on more than one drive and;
  • Ideally keep those drives in more than one place.
Rig photography – It`s OK to talk about it.

Rig photography – It`s OK to talk about it.

Even if you’ve not heard the phrase “rig photography” before, you’ve almost certainly seen examples of it. It’s the technique used to capture those images of cars speeding down the open road you see in adverts.

Only it’s not half as dramatic as it looks. The cars aren’t speeding for starters. They have a long metal boom attached with a camera on the end and they are being pushed to minimise vibration.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science or witchcraft but for some reason, almost nobody involved in rig photography will discuss their particular method of mounting the camera to the car, let alone show pictures of their rig.

Why? I have no idea. To me it’s like being cagey about what tripod I use, or what shoes I prefer to wear when taking photographs!

And on that note, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, version 2 of my rig. I say version 2, but I am not sure my first attempt, comprising B&Q suction cups, a pole I found in the shed and duct tape, even warrants a number. This ones made from slightly better quality kit.

2x Manfotto/Arri LF.1000.A Pump Cups: These 6″ suction cups are the core of my rig. Because the bases are flexible rubber, they cope well with the curvature of car body panels and they won’t just let go suddenly like cheaper suction cups. The red line around blue pump button only appears when the cup is loosing grip and is your cue to tap the button a few times to restore full suction. The spigot adjusts to any angle via a heavyweight ball & socket joint and slots perfectly into the next time on the list. Make sure the cup is clean and you wont mark the paint work either.

3x Manfrotto Superclamps MN035: Basically THE clamp. Built like a tank and designed to work with all manner of standard lighting and photo kit. Press the button on the side and push it down onto the pump cups spigot and it won’t come off. Tighten the thumb screw to stop it rotating.

 

Turning the lever on the side opens and closes the jaws which can grip onto and tube or pipe up to 50mm. Be careful not to over tighten or your crush it. It even comes with a little plastic wedge that will allow you to clamp it onto flat objects like doors, tables and shelves. Seriously useful for mounting anything anywhere, especially when used with a:

Manfrotto 244 variable friction Magic Arm: This articulated arm with a pivot in the middle and ball & socket joints on either end (all tightened by a single knob in the middle) lets you position pretty much anything in almost any way you like. Even NASA use these things on the Space Shuttle program. In the case of my rig, I have a SuperClamp on one end and a camera mounting plate on the other.

 

So that’s 2 pump cups to hold the rig to the car, 2 clamps to attach the boom to the cups and a magic arm at the other end to give some freedom in positioning the camera. Simple, and when assembled and installed it looks like this (and yes, that is an aluminium painters pole acting as the boom! It’ll be replaced in version 3).

The final 3 images show the final the setup, the RAW image as captured and final post processed image from today’s tests.

Not the most exciting rig shot, I’ll admit, but it does show what can be achieved with off-the-shelf kit costing just over £100