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 Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Although the two days I spent in Shenandoah National Park last June were mostly rainy with heavy fog, I managed to get close enough to this adorable just-born fawn for some clear images. The white-tailed deer fawn may be my favorite baby animal and this photo alone would have made the trip worthwhile.
My camera choice for this trip was the EOS 5D Mark III. I made this choice for the combination of image quality (the EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R had not yet arrived) and AF performance.
While I had several telephoto lens choices along, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens was my primary wildlife lens. The deer I photograph in Shenandoah National Park are often at least somewhat approachable (though mothers with fawns seem to be an exception), making 400mm often adequate and the 560mm option is available at the throw of a switch. The other issue is that getting close to the animals is often a requirement to eliminate trees and other obstructions. The need to get closer makes even 400mm on a full frame body very frequently too long (unless head shots are desired). The zoom range feature of this lens offers plenty of flexibility in framing at a range of subject distances.
My second choice lens on this trip was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. This is another incredible lens that offers an even longer focal length range than the 200-400. Yes, the 200-400 has the built-in extender, but the 100-400 is also compatible with extenders. The 100-400 is considerably smaller and lighter, but the 200-400 has a wider aperture – a full 1 stop wider at the long end. As I mentioned, the weather was rainy with heavy fog, which translates to dark and being able to stop motion in 1/2 as much light was important.
The next thing you are going to say is that ... this photo was captured at f/5.6. That is correct. The fawn happened to be at the edge of a clearing with an above-average amount of light on it. It had been nursing from its mother moments before and I was using f/5.6 to gain some depth of field. So, in this case, the 100-400 L II would also have worked well.
Moments later, the fawn was bouncing around in the woods and ... that meant that the 200-400 L was the right choice.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
400mm  f/5.6  1/320s
ISO 1600
5431 x 3621px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/20/2016 10:21:36 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, January 18, 2016
by Sean Setters
If the term "stroboscopic" is unfamiliar to you, you're not alone. My guess is that many Canon 580EX / 580EX II / 600EX-RT owners have yet to explore this intriguing feature found in their Speedites.
So what is stroboscopic flash? Fortunately, the 600EX-RT manual provides a good description in the feature's introduction:
"When using stroboscopic flash with a slow shutter speed, you can shoot multiple successive movements within a single picture, similar to stop-motion pictures.
In stroboscopic flash, set the flash output, number of flashes, and flash frequency (number of flashes per second = Hz)."
As outlined above, stroboscopic – or MULTI, in Canon's terminology – flash allows for the Speedlite to fire several continuous flashes within a specified duration of time, which is beneficial in illustrating movement by exposing the subject with individual burst of lights as it travels across the frame during a single exposure.
What kind of subjects work well when captured with stroboscopic flash? Dancers and falling/bouncing objects are commonly utilized, but just about anything that moves will work. Keep in mind that a dark shooting environment is necessary to achieve optimal results because any constant/ambient light will cause motion blur to be captured between flash bursts.
To set up your flash for stroboscopic/MULTI mode, press the Mode button until "MULTI" is displayed on the Speedlite's LCD panel. If the flash is set to Slave mode, you may need to hold the Mode button for a few seconds until it switches out of ETTL mode. Note: In Slave mode, the MULTI label will blink.
Next, you'll need to set the flash power, number of total flashes and number of flashes per second (Hz).
Canon Speedlite Multi Stroboscopic Illustration

In the illustration above, the flash is set to fire 8 times at a rate of 12Hz. In this situation, the flash wil be firing for 2/3 of a second, meaning that the camera's shutter speed will need to be set to 2/3 second or longer in order to capture all 8 of the individual flash bursts.
Note that as you use higher flash powers, the number of flashes you can fire in succession begins to dwindle. That means that there's a limit to how many continuous flashes you can expect to achieve at various power levels, with higher power level use allowing for fewer continuous flashes. Once again, the 600EX-RT's manual comes to the rescue to provide a handy resource for determining the number of continuous flashes we can expect at specific power levels:
Maximum Number of Flash Bursts During Stroboscopic Mode 600EX RT

Creating the Example Image
To create the image above, I used a tripod mounted 5D Mark III, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ST-E2 and (2) 580EX Speedlites set to stroboscopic/MULTI mode. The flashes were set to 80mm zoom and positioned slightly behind the bouncing platform (a board) so as to limit the amount of light spilling onto the background, an Impact Collapsible Black/White Background.
The flashes were set to 1/128 power, 15 flashes at a rate of 30Hz. This made my shutter speed calculation quite easy – 1/2 second. And if you look closely, you'll notice that the exposure time and framing allowed me to capture every flash burst from the Speedlite in the image (you can count 15 individual balls). With an aperture of f/7.1 and an ISO of 250, I was able to capture a dark background while maintaining a good exposure on the subject, a ping pong ball. Note that I purposefully shot this image at night with the overhead lights turned off to minimize the ambient light in the room (I left a hallway light on and the studio door cracked to provide enough working light). To create the exposures, I set the camera to manual focus noting the plane of focus on the board. I then gently dropped the ping pong ball at the point of focus while triggering the camera's shutter button with my other hand.
So why would someone uses stroboscopic flash instead of simply firing off a continuous burst from the camera with flash set to trigger on every exposure with the intend of combining the exposures in post? One word – speed. For example, an EOS 7D Mark II can achieve a burst rate of 10 frames-per-second, meaning that the camera's burst rate limits the number of individual exposures you can create in a 1-second duration. And if shooting with a Rebel/xxxD series DSLR, the burst rate becomes even more limiting. But using stroboscopic flash, you can essentially capture a subject 40 times within the same 1-second time period (at 1/128 power), translating into a much faster burst rate while simultaneously reducing the amount of post-processing required to achieve the desired result.
If you've never tried stroboscopic flash, we invite you to do so. Creating images using stroboscopic flash is a great way to spend an evening creating fun, creative images. And when you've captured your favorite stroboscopic image (or if you already have one), share it in The-Digital-Picture Flickr group with the tag "stroboscopic flash".
A larger version of the example image can be found on my Flickr photostream.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/18/2016 9:02:44 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, January 13, 2016
They don't take Christmas decorations down on December 26th, but ... the crowds will be lighter than before Christmas. Public Christmas displays, including large Christmas trees frequently found in towns and cities, make great photography subjects. Photographing these displays after the crowds leave can make life easier for the photographer (and your social schedule will likely be cleared). Though the Christmas anticipation feelings may have subsided, the resulting photographs can be as good or better than those captured before the holiday.
When do they take down public Christmas decorations? That answer varies greatly, but on this particular year, the large Christmas tree on display at PPG Place in Pittsburgh was scheduled to be taken down on Jan 26th. Part of my pre-trip planning involved asking that question. On January 5th, a very cold Tuesday afternoon, the crowds at the ice skating rink were light, but ... timing the photograph with the ice being cleared for the Zamboni to do its resurfacing work meant a completely empty rink.
To add an extra element to the image, I aligned the sun with a small hole in the Christmas tree and used a narrow aperture to create a strong starburst effect.
Setting the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens to 11mm will take in a VERY wide angle of view. Pointing 11mm upward will cause buildings to strongly lean inward.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
11mm  f/16.0  1.30s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/13/2016 11:14:16 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, January 12, 2016
With plentiful wildlife and beautiful scenery, Katmai National Park ranks very high on my list of favorite places to photograph.
In this photo, the large, bare, coarse-edged mountain peak, the more-gently sloping mid and lower elevations covered in green, and the various waters below, all being large in the frame, are obvious to the viewer. With a little more attention paid, a sow and her standing cub, concerned about the risk presented by the boar that is eyeing and potentially approaching them, come into view and give the photo that extra element I always like. Additional elements (and not as visible at this resolution) are the large number of salmon splashing their way up the stream in the foreground and a pair of brown bears on the distant shoreline.
The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was practically glued to one of my Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies while in Katmai NP and a great complement to my big lens, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II. The 100-400 L II, with its long focal length range, can capture wildlife images ranging from environmental portraits to close-ups, depending on the subject distance of course. That 100mm was nearly too long to frame 1,000+ lb brown bears at times was ... a very exciting part of this trip.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
142mm  f/9.0  1/320s
ISO 200
5792 x 8688px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/12/2016 12:17:46 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
As I was creating yesterday's post about the New York Public Library releasing 180,000 images into the public domain, I began thinking of ways in which the wide range of images could be used.
With a primary interest in portraiture, the first idea that came to my mind was incorporating one of the public domain images in a portrait simulating a multiple exposure. With that in mind, I picked up my 5D Mark III and favorite portrait lens – the 85L II – and captured a profile of Amanda lit with a 580EX flash diffused by a small soft box positioned in front of (and slightly behind) her and another flash pointed at the background. This left me with a significant portion of Amanda's profile in shadow, meaning that I could use a public domain image set to a Lighten blending mode in Photoshop CC to easily blend the two images.
After cleaning up the background (making sure it was completely white) and a few adjustments (including a Black and White adjustment layer), the base image looked like this:
Profile Portrait with Public Domain Image Base

For the overlay, I settled on an image in the public domain library that seemed to indicate that the wheels were turning in the subject's head. I thought this overlay image would work well because with the subject's eyes looking to the right, she looks as if she's thinking about something.
New York Public Library Public Domain Image no. 1691644

I adjusted the brightness and contrast of the overlay layer in order to obtain an optimal balance with the base portrait (a matter of taste, of course) and placed the overlay below the same Black and White adjustment layer so that the adjustment applied to both images. The final composite can be seen above and the full resolution image can be found on my Flickr photostream.
Do you plan on using public domain images in your work? If so, let us know how in the comments.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/12/2016 8:30:18 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, January 8, 2016
While attempting a few macro shots yesterday, I was inspired to turn my lens on a subject that has always fascinated me because of its intrinsic beauty and complexity – the eye.
Gear Used
EXIF: f/10, 1/80 sec, ISO 320
Thought Process and Execution
As I wanted a macro shot of the eye, my lens choice was easy. However, as I wanted to get as much magnification as possible, I stacked all three of the Kenko Extension Tubes behind the lens. This shortened the minimum focus distance allowing me to get even closer to the subject for a larger than 1.0x maximum magnification.
How much larger? Well, let's see.
With the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM...
Update: I revised this section to make the calculation simpler.
Magnification = Native Maximum Magnification + (Extension Length / Focal Length)
Magnification = 1.0 + [(12 + 20 + 36) / 100]
Magnification = 1.0 + [68 / 100]
Magnification = 1.0 + .68
Magnification = 1.68
Note that the magnification value assumes we are working at Minimum Focus Distance.
Another factor we need to consider is the effective aperture in this scenario. As magnification increases, the effective aperture gets narrower. Here's how the effective aperture is calculated:
Effective Aperture = Aperture Setting + (Aperture Setting * Magnification)
Effective Aperture = 10 + (10 * 1.68)
Effective Aperture = 10 + 16.8
Effective Aperture = f/26.8
Working with this kind of magnification brings with it a couple of challenges. One challenge is that your depth of field becomes very thin. Even at f/10, there's only a sliver of the image that's in focus (the reflection of the top eyelashes). And on top of that, a higher than 1.0x magnification makes the viewfinder very dark. Minimal DOF combined with a dark viewfinder makes precise focusing a challenge to achieve.
And because of the very narrow effective aperture, a lot of light is needed for a proper exposure. In this case, I used a manually controlled, shoe-mounted Canon 580EX set to nearly full power (at ISO 320) in order to obtain a decent exposure. Of course, the RoundFlash Ringflash Adapter I was using resulted in a certain amount of light loss from diffusion, but I felt it was the best modifier for the look I was going for and well worth the penalty of a slightly higher ISO.
As far as the shutter speed goes, there was no specific reason I chose 1/80 second over anything else. In this particular instance, any reasonably fast shutter speed would work (even one that would likely show motion blur during at normal magnifications). That's because the light captured in this scene is provided entirely from the flash which has an extremely short duration. In effect, the shutter speed was the flash duration.
I typically use a tripod when shooting macro subjects. But in this case, using a tripod seemed a bit impractical. That's because with such a small DOF, I thought it would be easier for me to adjust the camera back and forth slightly to achieve focus rather than try and direct the subject to move her head the same amount. I also typically use 10x Live View to aid in manual focusing when shooting macro subjects. But in this case, using 10x (or 5x) Live View would have had two big consequences: the inability to see the entire framing and a loss of stability needed for precise manual focusing (as my eye would not be on the viewfinder).
I overcame focus challenges by sitting on the coffee table in front of the subject and bracing my elbows against my knees with the camera pressed firmly to my face. This gave me a relatively rigid platform where I could sway ever so slightly forward and backward as the subject stared straight into the lens. This also allowed me the ability to easily adjust framing on the fly for slightly different looks between shots. I concentrated on timing my shots when the reflection of her top eyelashes looked sharpest (a challenge with the dark viewfinder, but not impossible). After several attempts, I finally had the framing and focus that I wanted.
In post-processing, I increased clarity to help bring out details in the iris, upped the saturation a little and made relatively minor adjustments to brightness/contrast. The image is uncropped.
You can find a full resolution version on my Flickr photostream.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/8/2016 8:58:49 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, January 7, 2016
Pittsburgh, home to three rivers (Ohio, Alleghany and Monongahela), is also home to great reflections and many bridges. The reflections of the city, however, are usually color blurs due to wakes from boat and barge traffic. Thanks to the wave-rebounding solid vertical river walls, the waves seem to never dissipate and when planning this long daytrip, I was visualizing a creamy-smooth river of color during the blue hour and later. What I found on this day was ... no boat traffic and very different images than I had visualized. Different in a good way, I think.
The most difficult part of this image capture? Being there.
To take the actual picture, I simply stood on the north shore of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail river walk, centered between the Robert Clemente and Andy Warhol bridges, set the aperture to f/16 to get the star burst effect from lights, adjusted the framing to level (both pitch and yaw to keep the buildings and their reflections vertically straight) and pressed the shutter release (mirror lockup with 1 second delay).
The RAW file post processing was not challenging. In DPP, highlights were reduced (-5), shadows were boosted (+5) and saturation was added. While this result was very good, I opted to brighten the reflection in the water slightly (1/3 stop) using a simple HDR process. Two 16-bit TIFF files were created (one at -.83 EV and one at -.5 EV) and combined in Photoshop.
Being in Pittsburgh for the day meant renting a car the night before (4 drivers with 2 cars is not working so well), driving 4 hours, hiking roughly 3 miles with a full MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods, extra cloths, food and water) and overall, being outdoors for 9 hours with temperatures in the teens and twenties (°F). I arrived home at 2:30 AM and got up to return the car in the AM.
The beauty of our brains is that, in a few days, the only thing I will remember is having spent a great day in a beautiful city and the images will last for a lifetime. I'm ready to go back.
Another beauty is the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens that I was "focused" on for the day. I referred to this lens as a "scapes" lens and it performed excellently in its cityscapes roll this day.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Instagram and 500px. If reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 1/7/2016 12:52:27 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Thursday, December 24, 2015
1. Install Christmas tree and clean up (this is the hardest step)
2. Wait for dark
3. Mount the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on a full frame DSLR camera
4. Mount the camera to a tripod, zoom out, move in and level the camera (both pitch and yaw)
5. Turn off all regular lights, turn on all Christmas lights.
6. Take some test shots to determine that 15 seconds at f/16 (to get the starburst effect from the lights) and ISO 200 is right
7. Wait for the kids to go to bed (to avoid any floor vibrations)
8. Shoot until you run out of new composition ideas
9. Brush your teeth
10. Make one more attempt at finding new compositions.
My family and I wish you and your family a very "Merry Christmas!" May all of your photos be amazing!
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/24/2015 3:07:11 PM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 22, 2015
If you look through Bryan's and my own favorite images, you won't see many abstract images. Typically speaking, our subjects are clearly defined and discernable (although our backgrounds may not be). When focusing on a specific subject (pun intended), the quality of your equipment and the sharpness your lenses deliver take center stage. Also, your subject and/or background must be visually compelling to grab the viewer's attention.
But what if you don't have the sharpest lenses? What if you have become uninspired by your immediate surroundings (a common problem I face)? In October, I posted the Top 6 Ways to Inspire Your Own Creativity, but I recently realized I missed a big one – Abstract photography.
My recent fascination with abstract photography began a couple of evenings ago when Amanda had fallen asleep on the couch, lit only by the faint glow of a TV left on in front of the room. Her arms and legs were humorously perched in awkward positions while our two dogs were cozily sharing the couch with her. It seemed like the perfect time for a personal snapshot that I never intended to share with the general public. But then happened...
Abstract Example #1

With my camera set to Live View (Silent Mode), Av priority at f/1.4 and ISO 800, It seems that I miscalculated just how slow the shutter would be even with -1 stop of exposure compensation dialed in (I wanted the scene to look as dark as it appeared to my eye). Soon after pressing the shutter, I raised the camera to look at the LCD preview only to notice the end of the exposure happening at that time. The resulting "accident" was oddly captivating to me.
That's what got me thinking about the benefits of abstract photography. Some of those benefits include:
  • You can easily create interesting abstract photos with inexpensive gear.
  • You can use very narrow apertures and significant motion blur to render subjects unrecognizable, yet still compelling.
  • The abstract images created can be used in many different ways.
The quality of gear used for creating abstract images is largely irrelevant as sharpness isn't a priority. According to, "abstract" can be defined as "expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance" or "difficult to understand; abstruse." In photographic terms, an abstract image is one in which the actual subjects are not clearly discerned, and the easiest way to accomplish that is to blur subjects through motion (my personal preference) or bokeh. When doing so, the incremental sharpness of one lens over another is practically meaningless.
And if our subjects are going to be blurred to oblivion, we can use rather uninspiring subjects found around the house to create interesting abstract images. At this point, I've photographed the flowers in my backyard about a dozen times over the past month. While they are still beautiful, they've stopped inspiring me to grab my camera for yet another shot of pretty flowers. But when focusing on abstract photography, the flowers become exciting again. Forgoing the tripod I usually use with macro subjects, I grabbed my 5D Mark III with the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM attached to capture the following images:
Abstract Example #2

Abstract Example #3

Abstract Example #4

And using motion blur and a macro lens, you can even create a relatively interesting image with something as mundane as a concrete patio (below).
Abstract Example #5

Of course, motion blur isn't the only way to render subjects unrecognizable. You can also use a wide aperture and unfocused subjects to create an interesting composition. The Christmas holiday seems to provide ample creative bokeh opportunities.
Out of Focus Christmas Lights

So what can you do with abstract images? Well, like any good image, a compelling abstract can liven up a blank space on your wall, but its usefulness does not end there. An abstract image can look great as a background for future portraits (either via post processing or via a Light Blaster) or they can be used for many generic stock image background needs and various typesetting projects.
At the end of the day, creating abstract images can be a fun and fulfilling way to spend time behind your camera.
Do you have abstract photos you'd like to share? Just add them to the site's Flickr group and tag them with "abstract".
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/22/2015 9:57:07 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, December 21, 2015
Putting up and decorating is a big family tradition at our house and the annual photographing of the tree is my own sub-tradition.
The photo setup starts long before the camera comes out, beginning with the position of the tree. In addition to the location selected in the house (ours has a very logical one), make sure that the tree appears vertically straight (regardless of the trunk's curvature) and, if the tree is being centered on a feature (such as a set of windows), fine tune that position.
The next item on the checklist must be attended to before you string the lights on the Christmas tree (I know, that is the favorite job). The key is to make sure that all of the strings of lights have bulbs with the same brightness (or that they are dissimilar enough to look proper). Perhaps I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack as I skipped this step (thought we corrected this issue last year) and ... apparently there are two different Christmas light models in our tree kit. At least I have a dark-light-dark-light pattern going up the tree. Hopefully most will think that design was intentional.
After the tree is fully decorated, clean up the area around it – minimally all that will be included in the frame. This task may include smoothing the carpet if it shows tracks.
The Best Time of Day to Photograph the Christmas Tree
A Christmas tree can be photographed at any time of day or night, but the best time of the day is when the ambient light is right for the image you want. A tree located in a room with many windows will, without significant shading, show mostly green with ornaments and a subdued look to the strings of lights. This is a very nice look.
My preference for photographing our tree, installed in our great room/living room, is to use only the light from the Christmas tree lights with very low or no additional ambient light. With windows behind our tree, I am quickly limited to the after dark timeframe. After dark comes early in late fall and early winter, but there is another issue. People walking around cause the floor to flex slightly and that makes the ornaments swing, becoming blurred in a long exposure. So, after the kids are in bed (or plan to be somewhere else in the house for a period of time) works best for long exposures sans kids in the picture.
Having windows in your photo quickly complicates the tree photo session for a couple of reasons in addition to the ambient light they provide. One reason is what is outside of the window. Waiting until after dark usually takes care of this problem unless there are other lights visible through the windows (such as street lights). In the latter case, blocking your windows from outside, such as with black foam core, may be a solution to the issue. In this photo, I waited until late in the blue hour on a very foggy day to get a slight even blue glow through the windows. I wasn't sure how bright I wanted the blue to be, but capturing a frame every few minutes allowed me to choose what I thought was ideal at a later time.
Reflections are another issue with windows. If Christmas lights are being reflected, those reflections are often beneficial to the composition. But, if something else in your house is being reflected (such as the LCD panel on the microwave or thermostat), the effect will not likely be appreciated.
Lens Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
The desired perspective should always drive focal length selection and in this case, working space may limit the perspective options. Within the bounds of walls and other furniture (consider moving it), the optimal perspective will often result in a wide angle lens being selected.
Experiment with perspective, utilizing the various focal lengths at a variety of distances. Also try a variety of camera heights, but do so with an understanding that a vertically level camera is going to keep vertical lines in the frame straight. Windows, corners, furniture and other items will provide those straight lines.
Aperture Selection for Christmas Tree Photography
While a wide variety of apertures can be used for Christmas tree photos and blurred Christmas trees are quite beautiful, f/16 is one of my favorites. I know, your first thought was to cringe at the softness that diffraction will impart at this aperture and that is a true concern. But, the narrower the aperture used, the bigger the star effect created by each light on the tree. The f/16 aperture is a bit of a compromise in that the images remain reasonably sharp (and sharpenable) with rather large stars being created. Experiment with f/8 through f/22 to determine your own preference.
While ISO 100 is ideal, I went to ISO 200 for this exposure to reduce the amount of time each frame was taking. This one stop increase in ISO meant little in terms of noise, but it took 15 seconds off of the exposure and another 15 seconds off of the long exposure noise reduction information capture following the exposure.
You have spent (or are going to spend) all that time and expense putting the Christmas tree up and decorating it, so ... plan on spending some time taking pictures of it. If you don't think the right lens is in your kit, this would be a good time to buy it. Renting a lens to use over the holidays is another great idea.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/21/2015 11:15:45 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 15, 2015
by Sean Setters
Full disclosure: my extended family already celebrated Christmas this past weekend. We generally all make the long drive to my aunt's house to get together a week or two before Christmas so that actual Christmas day can be spent at home with immediate family.
As such, I thought I'd share my "Christmas Day Presents Opening" kit because, after photographing my family's event over the past few years, I've finally settled on a small kit that seems to work very well for the festive day.
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III (or EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R / 6D)
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is an extremely versatile body that works well in just about any situation. The AF system is great, the full-frame camera offers a wider angle of view compared to using the same lens with a crop-sensor camera, and its high-ISO image quality allows me to grab ambient only shots when desired. As I'll explain later, a full-frame camera body isn't necessarily required, but it is certainly my preferred choice. I also like that the 5D III (and 5Ds/5Ds R) feature dual memory card slots. While capturing the fleeting moments of bliss and unbridled happiness that the day brings, having a backup set of images means that you're less likely to lose your precious memories because of a memory card malfunction or accidental deletion from the primary card.
Lens: Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (or Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II / EF 35mm f/2 IS USM)
A lot of people prefer a general purpose zoom for these types of celebrations and events, and there are certainly advantages to having a versatile focal range available for use. However, I find a 35mm f/1.4 lens to provide an excellent balance between focal length and maximum aperture. The 35mm focal length is wide enough to you create a story with relatively loose framing, yet it's rarely too wide. It's also not too long so that photographing in smaller spaces/rooms becomes an issue.
The wide f/1.4 aperture allows you to separate your subject from the background while [in most cases] still getting a sense of what's actually taking place in the background. The wide aperture also allows you to utilize the ambient light while helping to freeze action (certainly a benefit when arms and hands are busy opening presents) without having to use your maximum ISO.
But just because you can shoot at f/1.4 doesn't mean that's going to be optimal for your needs (especially with the depth-of-field needs associated with keeping multiple subjects in focus). The next part of my kit allows me much more flexibility in choosing the right aperture/shutter speed/ISO those kinds of shots.
Flash: Canon Speedlite 580EX (or 600EX-RT / 430EX III-RT) with CTO Gel & Flashbender 2 (Small)
No matter how much ambient light there is, I always like to be able to push a little bit more light into the room in order to allow for the use of lower ISOs and/or faster shutter speeds or to simply change the quality of light in the scene.
In a presents-opening situation, I'm typically using a camera-mounted flash with its head pointed straight up toward the ceiling to create flattering, room-filling bounce flash. Attached to the flash I use either a full CTO or a 1/2 CTO gel so that the color of the flash more closely matches that of the room's ambient light (generally created by tungsten lamps and even the glow of Christmas lights).
Another tool I find helpful is the use of a Rogue Flashbender 2 (Small). I like the Flashbender 2 (Small) because it isn't unwieldy when attached to the flash and it pushes just enough light forward to mitigate dark eye shadows that can sometimes be caused by the primary light source coming from overhead.
And while the flash works great with a wide aperture prime lens and a full-frame camera, a flash can also enable the use of narrower aperture zooms (or primes) and/or cameras with pixel-dense sensors (i.e., crop-sensor cameras). In these cases, the flash will likely shift from augmenting the existing ambient light to being the predominate light source in the scene.
So that's the kit I used this past weekend and it worked very well for capturing a wide variety of shots throughout the day. Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations? Let us know in the comments.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/15/2015 10:17:49 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, December 9, 2015
We all know that it has been needed for a long time, but someone had to take the courage to reveal our problems. Today, I'm stepping up to the plate with the first publication of the Photographer's Medical Dictionary.
I do realize that other photographers have ailments that I have not yet recognized or, bracing myself, I have additional ailments that you have recognized. Help us make this resource complete by sending your photography diseases along with the associated symptoms and recovery prognosis for inclusion in the photographer's medical dictionary. Or add information to one of the conditions already discussed. Send your info to
Together, we can find the cure. Or, at least provide ourselves with a support group and the stress-reducing knowledge that we are not alone in this.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/9/2015 9:15:18 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, December 7, 2015
I recently had the opportunity to photograph from the top of the Rockefeller Center, from the observatory decks named "Top of the Rock". The view from this location is excellent and the imagery waiting to be captured is eye-catching, but there are some things you should know before you go. I have posted a guide to help you maximize your time at this location along with many tips that can be applied to other similar locations.
The Ultimate Guide to Photographing at Top of the Rock (and Tips for No Tripods Allowed Locations)
This image was captured at 16mm with the amazing Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, a great choice for this location. And, the Feisol TT-15 Mini Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod made this 2 second shot possible.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr, Google+ and Facebook. Also, if reading from a news feed reader, click through to see the framed image.
Camera and Lens Settings
16mm  f/5.6  2s
ISO 100
8688 x 5792px
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/7/2015 7:45:48 AM CT   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 1, 2015
by Sean Setters
The formula of "1/ (effective [full-frame] focal length)" is likely ingrained in your head and can be recalled and calculated on the fly as you place a camera's viewfinder to your eye. It's a simple formula which has allowed photographers to determine a shutter speed that will negate the effects of camera shake and that formula has served us all very well for many years.
Here's how the traditional formula worked: Let's imagine that you are using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR paired with an EF 135mm f/2L USM lens. With a full-frame camera and a lens featuring a 135mm focal length, the shutter speed needed to prevent camera shake would be 1/(effective focal length, 1*135), or 1/135 second. As our cameras cannot be set to 1/135, we would typically round that figure to the next fastest 1/3rd stop shutter speed for a final calculation of 1/160 second (though 1/125 second would technically be closer to the calculated result).
If using a crop-sensor camera like the EOS 60D with the same 135mm lens, we would traditionally calculate the full-frame equivalent focal length value. In this scenario, the focal length would need to be multiplied by 1.6 (the crop factor) to obtain our effective focal length. The formula would change to 1/(1.6*135), or 1/216 which would then be rounded to 1/250 second.
But before we plow ahead, we need to clear something up. The "effective focal length multiplier" formula is, by all accounts, an arbitrary value in the camera shake negating formula. In the above scenario, we multiplied the lens' focal length by 1.6 (the crop factor arrived at by comparing the 60D's sensor size to that of a full-frame camera). However, the original problem regarding the need to increase shutter speeds when using a crop-sensor camera had nothing to do with effective focal length of those cameras, but instead was the result crop-camera's higher pixel density sensor.
Full Frame Crop Sensor Overlay

The above graphic helps illustrate my point. The full-frame lens projects the same image circle no matter whether it's mounted to a full-frame or crop-sensor camera. If the lens is mounted to a crop-sensor camera, the outside portion of the projection is simply unused. Therefore, as the name implies, a crop-sensor camera simply crops the full-frame lens's projected image circle from the center; it doesn't magnify the projection. With all things being equal aside from the surface area of the sensors, there would be no need to modify the shutter speed formula when using a crop sensor camera. But as we know, all things haven't traditionally been equal between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras.
The "effective focal length multiplier" makes perfect sense when discussing relative field of view. A 50mm lens on a crop-sensor camera gives you the field of view as an 80mm lens on a full-frame camera. But as field of view has nothing to do with motion blur, the 1.6x value shouldn't necessarily be tied to the shutter speed formula.
Why did I say "necessarily?" Because at some point in the past, the higher pixel density of crop-sensor cameras meant that a roughly 50% faster shutter speed (compared to the shutter speed required with the same lens used on a full-frame camera) could help a photographer negate the effects of camera shake. I suppose it was around that time that the focal length multiplier became incorrectly associated with the camera shake negation formula. But since that time sensors have become even more dense meaning we're well past the days where the values coincidentally coincided.
Considering the pixel-dense sensors found in a large portion of recently introduced DSLR cameras, the formula we've been using for so long simply doesn't work for calculating a "safe" shutter speed that will eliminate camera shake with these cameras. The formula must be re-evaluated and revised if you are currently using one of Canon's (or Nikon's or Sony's) cameras featuring a pixel-dense sensor.
Notice I used the term "pixel-dense sensor" and not "high-resolution sensor." The terminology is very important here. The term "pixel-dense sensor" is being used to describe any DSLR whose sensor has individual pixels that are similar in size to the high-resolution 5Ds / 5Ds R. With this in mind and for our purposes, let's consider the following Canon DSLRs featuring sensors with pixel sizes less than 4.2µm to fall under the "pixel-dense" umbrella:
DSLR CameraPixel Size
Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R4.14µm
Canon EOS 7D Mark II4.10µm
Canon EOS 70D4.10µm
Canon EOS T6s / T6i3.71µm

Notice that both full-frame and crop-sensor cameras are falling under the same umbrella. As we described above, the pixel density of the sensor is what really matters. As these sensors feature pixel densities that are somewhat similar, they're all getting thrown into the same group.
After spending a significant amount of time evaluating the EOS 7D II and 5Ds/5Ds R specifically, we think the camera-shake stopping shutter speed formula for these cameras should be:
1/(focal length * 2)
I realize the formula doesn't look terribly different, but that " * 2 " portion makes a huge impact when using pixel-dense sensors. Keep in mind, this isn't the first time we've suggested this exact formula for arriving at a preferred shutter speed for such sensors. Bryan specifically mentions this formula in his EOS 5Ds Review, but I thought it was important enough to highlight on its own.
So if using a 5Ds / 5Ds R with the same EF 135mm f/2L USM mentioned above, our new formula for negating camera shake becomes 1/(1*135*2), or 1/270 which is then rounded to 1/320 second. You might even go so far as to use a shutter speed that's 1/3 stop faster when using the most pixel dense sensor in Canon's lineup, the one found in the Rebel T6s/T6i just to be safe.
And on that note, with ever evolving sensor technology (producing even more pixel packed sensors), and the fact that everyone's a little different in how stable they are when holding a camera, the sad fact of the matter is that even the 1/(focal length * 2) formula is only a guide that seems to work well for this particular period of camera technology, and every person – no matter what camera they are using – should perform their own standardized tests to see what shutter speeds produce acceptable sharp images when shooting at various focal lengths with their camera(s).
Of course, an image stabilized lens will allow you to use significantly longer shutter speeds while avoiding the consequences of camera shake, but you'd still need to use a revised shutter speed formula (either ours or one developed using your own tests) to use as your starting point before considering the benefit of image stabilization. And when it comes to stabilization, a tool that's been around for a hundred years may be your best bet for making camera shake irrelevant – the humble tripod.
Going forward, as sensors become more densely packed with pixels, we must constantly re-evaluate the shutter speeds necessary to stop the effects of camera shake to achieve the sharpest images.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 12/1/2015 9:40:40 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
 Monday, November 23, 2015
A couple of years ago I finally converted all my Manfrotto RC2 Quick Release plates and clamps to the Arca-Swiss standard. Looking back, I don't know why I waited so long.
Arca-style plates and clamps lock down your gear so well that they've become the industry standard in camera support. And thanks to the system's popularity, you can buy Arca-style plates and clamps from a myriad of manufacturers, meaning there's a brand to fit nearly every budget. As there aren't a lot of technologically demanding aspects of the plate and clamp system, I oftentimes buy well-reviewed (and significantly less expensive) plates and clamps from the cheaper brands like Sunwayfoto and Desmond. Generally speaking, I've been very happy with these price conscious brands.
Unfortunately, there's a small catch. Even though the Arca system is indeed an industry standard, there still seems to be some variation in the widths of plates among the wide range of manufacturers. If you're using a typical quick release clamp that is tightened with a knob, the slight variation in plate widths is no problem and you can use any plate with utter disregard for the brand name. But if you're using a clamp with a lever release, things can get a big trickier.
A lever release is designed to clamp down with a sufficient amount of tension at a very specific width. Even though the clamp can typically be adjusted to different widths, the adjustment usually requires the use of a hex key. If you're using several plates from a range of manufacturers, the adjustments necessary would be less than convenient when switching between cameras. This is the exact problem I experienced with a recent QR plate purchase.
I own a Glidecam HD-4000 that I use for video production. As I wanted to use the gimbal stabilizer with more than one DSLR, I decided to use an Arca-style clamp on the top to make switching out cameras faster and easier. Finding just the right QR clamp proved challenging as I needed one whose clamping mechanism did not extend beyond the bottom of the base of the clamp. That requirement ruled out all of the knob style clamps I came across. The one product I found that worked was the Desmond DLVC-50 Lever Clamp (seen above). Its tensioning lever does not extend past the base of the clamp meaning that it can sit flat on top of the Glidecam. Its "skeleton" design saves weight and the hole in its lever makes it easy to tighten and release even with the camera in place. I adjusted the clamp with the included Allen wrench so that it provides the optimal tension when used with my Kirk L-brackets and the setup worked well – but not perfectly.
I'm a huge battery grip fan and both my cameras have L-brackets designed for use with the battery grip. And while using a battery grip with the Glidecam works, it's trickier getting everything balanced when the weight of your camera and lens sits that much higher off the stabilizer's base. Therefore, I bought a universal QR plate for the times I wanted to use the Glidecam with a battery grip-free camera. Unfortunately, the plate proved very slightly narrower than the Arca-style plates on the Kirk L-brackets, meaning that the plate would slide back and forth in the clamp when tightened.
To prevent this, I could of course adjust the clamp so that it was properly calibrated for the new plate. However, I wanted to leave the clamp's adjustment as-is just in case I wanted to use it with a DSLR with the battery grip attached (for times when extra battery power trumps ease of stabilization). I considered returning the plate and getting one from another manufacturer in the hopes that the new plate would fit better. But then I had an idea...
The Fix
Gaffer tape.
Or in this case, technically speaking, spike tape (a narrow width gaffer tape). I cut the gaffer tape so that it would fit along the lower half of the groove where the QR clamp should come into contact with the plate. Two small strips (one on each side) was all it took to provide the perfect amount of friction between the plate and the clamp. If I had needed an even smaller adjustment, could have used gaffer's tape only on one side of the plate.
Will this solution work forever? Probably not. With enough use, the tape would likely wear down enough to warrant replacement. However, my guess is that because the tape is consistently being squished against the plate via the clamp, it'll stay in place relatively well. It should only experience wear during the mounting and unmounting of the camera, thereby leading to a relatively long lifespan for the fix.
In the end, a $12.50 plate and a few cents of spike tape worked just as well for my needs as buying a comparable Kirk-branded, $50.00 plate. Gaffer's tape never ceases to amaze me when it comes to its usefulness in photography.
Posted to: Canon News,
Post Date: 11/23/2015 8:45:40 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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