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 Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Putting up the Christmas tree is a highly-anticipated annual event at our house. We visit a local tree farm, driving up into the hills to select the perfect tree. The off-road 4x4 driving with the family might be my favorite part of the entire process. That, and causing the girls to complain about the trees I suggest. They think we need the tallest tree available, although I'm not fond of driving home with an enormous tree across the back of the SUV (on a Hitch Haul), usually with the trunk barely clearing the guard rail while the top is hovering above the road's center line on the other side.

I "get" to put the finally-agreed-upon tree in the stand (twice this year – it ran out of water and needed to have the stump cut off again to eliminate the sap seal) and try to keep it upright for the season (we understand firsthand that a fully decorated tree falling over is traumatic, at least to young kids). Oh, and I also "get" to string the lights, regardless of the height. Photographing the Christmas tree is the last job and one of my favorites. Who can resist capturing all of those sparkling lights?

While I photograph the result of a lot of work every year, I don't remember if I've ever used the same lens more than once for this task. There always seems to be a new one on hand that would work great for the task. This year, the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM Lens on a Canon EOS R seemed like a perfect option.

Deciding on a composition is always an early decision for this task and this year I opted for a straight-on view from a level camera position. I wanted the windows to remain vertically straight and any camera tilt would create converging or angled lines. I determined that the timing for this photo should be during the blue hour so that a touch of color would show through the windows. With windows in the frame, reflections had to be controlled and in this case that meant that I needed a dark house. So, an afternoon when the girls were going Christmas shopping seemed ideal. That way, the have the house would be empty with no one's interests being hindered (i.e. a relaxed shoot). The exposure would not have to be timed for when no one was walking on the floor, creating vibrations for both the camera and the hanging ornaments. And, no one would care that the lights were off.

After sitting at my desk all day, I needed to get some exercise, ideally in the form of a trail run, before it was dark. A late start on that task meant that an increased pace was necessary. Despite a blown out sock along the way (requiring a stop and reversal to prevent a hot spot from becoming a blister), I still managed to complete my tough 3k course in near record (for me) pace. Phew. there was just enough time to cleanse the scene and set up the camera prior to the ideal shooting time.

Experience taught that when the outdoor ambient light was ideally balanced with the indoor light, an ISO 100 exposure of 30 seconds at f/16 would be ideal. Why f/16? Do you see the stars on the candles sitting on the windows? Every light on the tree also has a similar-but-smaller star. You need a narrow aperture to make those happen. Also note that a wide max aperture lens often creates the biggest stars and the RF 28-70's stars are awesome.

While f/22 will create even larger stars, the strong softness caused by diffraction at this setting is hard to accept. While some diffraction effects are visible at f/16, this seems to be an optimal choice for balance between star size and sharpness. Using a +1 sharpness setting is a good compromise for using f/16 over the sharper f/11 setting. Nice is that the deep f/16 depth of field makes it easy to keep everything in the image sharp.

Scene prep involved moving a couple of items (couch, ottoman, ...) out of the way and smoothing the carpet. As I began setting up the camera, my oldest daughter called (from the shopping excursion) to ask questions about a Christmas gift she was putting together for her husband. I of course wanted to help her, but ... the light was fading (so much for the relaxed shoot). Her questions were answered just in time to finalize the setup and begin shooting. It is difficult to visualize when the perfect blue hour light balance is achieved, so I usually opt to shoot through the period of time that contains the ideal balance. Then, during post processing, there is again a struggle to decide which time was best because subsequent images appear quite similar.

When there was no more blue left in the windows, I knew that additional images were not going to look any different than those already captured (without choosing a new perspective) and I went to find warmer clothes (there had been no time to change out of my running clothes prior to the shoot).

Amazingly, the girls opted for a tree that I selected this year! They did a great job decorating the tree (as always) and they like the results of my final job, the formal tree picture. That is ... my final job until I get to clean up the results of the Christmas morning package destruction (and later take the tree out).

That is probably more than you wanted to know about this Christmas tree, but ... from my family to yours, we wish you a very warm Merry Christmas! And, I wish you many memory cards full of memories from the day!


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

Note that you are going to be hearing more about this tripod. I'm impressed.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
28mm  f/16.0  30s
ISO 100
4480 x 6720px
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Post Date: 12/25/2018 8:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Friday, December 21, 2018

In response to a tilt-shift lens question, Canon USA Technical Advisor Rudy Winston provided a detailed response that we though was worth sharing with you.

Canon TS-E Tilt-Shift Lens General Shooting Procedure

While there's no one "official" way to work with the TS-E lenses (I'm sure you'll find some diversity of opinion on what different users feel is best), the following is what works best in my experience. Keep in mind there's no "one-touch" way to set the lens up unless you've recorded previous settings and are shooting the same subject subsequently, at the same camera position, subject distance, and so on. Otherwise, there's a bit of trial-and-error, especially if you're trying to adjust the zone of sharpness (notice I avoided saying "depth of field," as that technically doesn't change; you're altering the plane of sharpest focus via the tilt operation).

THE BASIC OPERATIONS

It is important to be sure in one's mind what the two different possible adjustments – Shift and Tilt – do, and why you might want to apply one or the other. There are certainly many instances where just one will provide the look you want in finished images, so don't assume every shot will need a combination of both (of course, experimentation can be great fun).

A couple of other points:

I *always* recommend starting with both tilt and shift zero'ed out, before you begin to work with adjustments.

Metering with DSLRs: You MUST perform any in-camera metering with a TS-E lens at the zero Shift and Tilt positions. On any of the cameras with an optical viewfinder, you will get exposure errors or deviations if you meter daylight or E-TTL flash with a TS-E lens that's not at its zero adjust positions. Note that this is far less of a problem with the mirrorless cameras, since they're metering directly off the image sensor, and the light doesn't have to get reflected upward by a DSLR mirror, and then get scattered by a focus screen before it's read by a metering sensor in the prism area, near the viewfinder eyepiece. Bottom line, do any metering (manual mode, of course, is ideal for this, since nothing will change if you begin to adjust the TS-E lens), before you start tilting and/or shifting, and you should be in a good place to begin taking actual shots... don't freak out if you do need to tweak exposures, after a couple of quick test shots, to nail it down the way you want. Parenthetically, if you're using a separate hand-held meter (not the one built-in to the camera body), you can normally set the camera to whatever the meter suggests, whether you've engaged tilt and/or shift or not, as typically a hand-held meter will be pretty close to optimum exposure for ambient light.

Shift function

Shifting the lens up, down, left or right is primary for perspective control – the obvious example is keeping vertical lines on a building or product (like a cereal box) straight, and avoiding the "pyramid" effect of converging vertical lines. It can sometimes also be useful for literally shifting the subject in the frame, removing the image of photographer & camera if shooting into a wall with small mirrors (this won't work for an entire mirrored wall, of course!), and so on.

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Shift Example Cabin

Tilt function

Tilting the lens, so that the front section is no longer perfectly parallel with the image sensor/film plane, changes the plane of what is in sharp focus. Shooting with a lens from an angle (rather than straight into a subject, like a wide-angle shot of a car taken from around the front fender/wheel well), it's possible to focus on the near part of the subject, then tilt the lens so that the front section is closer to being parallel to the whole length of our hypothetical car (or any other subject), and you can get sharpness to run from the near area focused upon, down the length of the subject. To be clear, tilting has **nothing** to do with the architectural photography need to keep vertical lines straight; that's SHIFTING alone. Of course, you CAN combine tilt and shift in the same image... just be clear up-front about the role of each, or you'll spend a long time trying to dial-in an optimum setting.

Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro Paddy Field Tilted at f 2.8

Shooting Aperture

Anything you want. If you apply tilt correctly, you won't require tiny f-stops like f/22 just to hope to get an entire subject sharp. In some cases, even a wide-open aperture can get the job done, which might never be possible with a conventional lens.

Tripod Use

Tripod use is definitely preferred where possible, since it keeps everything anchored and lets you concentrate on composing and working the lens's controls... though it *is* possible to do this hand-held. However, it's nowhere near as smooth an experience, and you can expect your arms to get tired after a while at the controls.

Release Knobs for Shift & Tilt

180 degrees from the actual adjustment knobs for each movement are locking knobs, slightly smaller in diameter. Be sure to UNLOCK each before trying to adjust shift or tilt, and then snug it back down once you've arrived at a desired setting to keep it from any inadvertent movement. This is especially important for SHIFT, since if you apply it vertically, the weight of the front section of the lens can sometimes allow it to drop downward slowly, if it's left unlocked after you've adjusted it.

Home Position and Rotating the Lens as Needed

By default, whether you've decided to apply shift/tilt or have everything zero'ed out, there's still a basic position from which you can apply your tilts and shifts. Mount the lens on the camera when it's all correctly oriented to the default settings, and you'll see the name plate at the TOP of the lens, when it's mounted and secured to the camera. AT THIS POSITION, any tilt movements (with most of the TS-E lenses, anyway) will be tilting the lens *left or right;* the larger Tilt knob will be facing upward and any shifting at the same default setting will move the lens up and down. This means the direction of each is at 90 degrees from the other movement, which is NORMAL operation for Canon TS-E lenses.

You're not locked-in to this. The lens can rotate, without loosening it from the camera. The 2nd generation lenses (see below) have TWO rotation points. However, the one closest to the camera body is definitely the primary one. It'll allow you to rotate the lens up to 90 degrees left or right. Example: in the standard position, the Shift is up and down. Say you wanted to shift side-to-side, for whatever reason. Ninety degrees to the right (think the 3 o'clock position, with the camera aimed at a subject, and in horizontal orientation) is a small, projecting tab, just inside the camera grip when the lens is correctly mounted. Press this release tab toward the camera body, and virtually the entire lens can be rotated in 30-degree increments, to the left or right. Move it 90 degrees, and your Shift now moves side-to-side (the Tilt moved as well, now tilting upward or downward).

In most real-life situations, you can rotate via this rear-most tab and move the desired adjustment to where you want it; much of the time, realistically, you won't be applying shift and tilt simultaneously. So just rotate the lens so your Shift *or* Tilt is where you need it.

Rotating Using the Forward-mounted Control

About 1/2 inch or so in front of the little, 3 o'clock projecting metal tab is another, very similar tab. THIS ONE allows you to rotate JUST the front section of the lens, while the rear section stays put. The primary purpose here is if you needed to apply both shift and tilt, and needed to change the normally standard orientation where tilt and shift are at 90 degrees from each other. However, DON'T use this rotation point to simply rotate the front section, if all you want is to change the tilt orientation... if you only want to change the direction of tilt, use the rear tab and rotation point to arrange the tilt where you want. There's a technical reason for not reaching for this forward rotation point if you can avoid it.

As I said, first-generation Canon TS-E lenses didn't have this forward mounted rotation capability... there is only one way to temporarily unlock and rotate the older TS-E lenses. Here are the lenses... check the lens naming at the front of the lens to determine which one you have.

First-gen TS-E lenses:

2nd-gen (current) TS-E lenses:

Shooting with the Canon TS-E Lenses

Example 1: Correcting converging vertical lines with SHIFT. I'll assume the camera is tripod-mounted, although again, you can do this hand-held if you can endure the hassle.

a. Keep the Camera Level – This is the most important part of being able to correct for converging lines, regardless of the lens you're using. Any upward angling of the entire camera, to "get the whole subject in," is going to make it impossible to correct for convergence... this is why buildings shot with conventional wide-angle lenses look like they're falling backward. It's perfectly normal not to get the entire subject in the frame at this stage.

Here's a wide-angle example of a typical building, with the camera aimed upward. The vertical lines converge inward, making the subject look a bit like a pyramid, or like it's falling over backward.

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Pointed Up

b. Aim the camera straight ahead, not tilted up. Obviously, you now can't see the entire subject, but that's the role of the Shift function. What you WILL notice is that now, with the camera level, the vertical sides of the subject are indeed parallel, and not tilting inward. This is your starting point!

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Straight Ahead Level

c. Now, start shifting the lens upward, to include more of the subject.

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 1

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 2

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 3

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Lens Home Example Shift Up 4

d. When the entire building (or cereal box, or whatever) is positioned where you want, lock the shift in-place, and begin shooting! You're done! Of course, if you move the camera, or go to a new subject, you'll likely need to use the Shift again to compose and align things as you want.

Example 2: Tilting to keep a subject sharp, as it recedes into the distance. Normally, this would require stopping-down to your minimum aperture, and hoping you have enough depth-of-field to cover you, front to back. TS-E lenses offer another alternative, and sometimes, you can even pull this off at the lens's widest aperture. Regardless, though, you'll find a lot less need to shoot at f/16, f/22 and so on!

a. Compose the scene as you desire, horizontal or vertical. We'll use a horizontal example here. b. **Focus on the NEAREST part of the subject or scene you want in sharp focus.** Of course, the background will be out of focus.

In this example, we've got a receding fence, drifting out of focus. Sharpest focus deliberately placed at nearest point we want in-focus; in this case, the first-generation TS-E 90mm f/2.8 lens was used wide-open, at f/2.8 throughout. No Tilt/Shift movements applied, yet.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Lens Fence Example No Tilt Nearest Focus

c. Now, start to tilt the lens so that the front section starts to move in a direction closer to parallel to the subject you want to keep sharp. In this case, that meant the tilt section was moved so that (viewed from above) the front of the lens now tilts to the left.

IMPORTANT: As you start to tilt the lens, you'll see two things. The farthest part of the subject (fence in this case) will become progressively sharper. However, the front portion you just focused upon in step a will begin to drift a bit out of focus. Here's the key element to using tilt – you want to tilt until the degree of DE-FOCUS you see, front to back, is essentially constant. In other words, as you tilt, nothing in the fence or whatever the subject is will appear tack-sharp. What you want is to get the tilting so that the entire subject, front-to-back, appears about the same degree out of focus (it won't be radically out, but obviously just not tack-sharp, even at the point you focused on a moment before). This is absolutely normal.

d. Once you get the tilt so the entire subject looks pretty much the same, in terms of the degree of out-of-focus you see, you've got the tilt close to right-on. NOW, RE-FOCUS THE LENS TO GET THAT FRONT POINT SHARP AGAIN. If the amount of tilt was correct, the entire subject will now appear sharp. Again, if you examine the picture immediately below, keep in mind this was taken at f/2.8 with a 90mm telephoto lens.

Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Lens  Fence Example After Tilt and Refocusing

A mistake many users make at first is tilting TOO MUCH, especially with relatively distant subjects. Do it in little increments, slowly, until you begin to get comfortable with the process. And, in general, the closer a subject is to the camera, the more you'll typically need to tilt the lens. This is something many users have to play with for a while, to get the hang of watching that entire scene/subject drift out of focus as they tilt, and stopping when the amount of de-focus is about the same, front to back. It's at that point, if done properly, that you've got the right amount of tilt dialed-in.

Thanks go out to Rudy Winston for providing this information. Images used in this article were provided by Mr Winston.

Read our Tilt-Shift lens reviews to find the right model for your needs:

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Post Date: 12/21/2018 8:10:52 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Thursday, December 20, 2018

Eurasian magpies are common in many locations, but not where I live. Thus, they are more interesting to me than others. Especially interesting is that they are extremely intelligent (relative to animals in general). That these birds' loud calls can become annoying surely leads to local disinterest, but with their great colors and shape, it is hard to argue that magpies do not look amazing.

Magpies are not a subject I have set out to specifically target with a camera, but I will take advantage of incidental encounters. When one landed in a tree in front of me as I was chasing elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, I went into opportunistic mode. I had the right lens in hand and all I had to do was adjust the monopod height, direct the camera at the bird, focus on the eye and press the shutter release.

I of course pressed the shutter release many times in the short period of time the bird cooperated with me. Why did I select this particular image to share? Here are some reasons:

First, I like the head angle, turned slightly toward me with some sky reflecting in the eye to add life to the subject.

I also like the body angle. While the bird may be turned very slightly away and that is not usually my favorite angle, in this case, that angle allowed the iridescent feathers on the wing to show their colors prominently. The tail was angled downward enough to fit in the frame (that can be an issue when photographing magpies) and with a slight toward-the-camera angle, the iridescent tail feathers also showed their colors.

Aspects I like that were common to this set of images, in addition to the beauty of the magpie, include:

I was able to get to eye level with the bird (by quickly adjusting the monopod).

The background was very distant and became completely blurred with a close subject photographed at 600mm f/4. With all details in the background eliminated, the bird stands out prominently.

I also like that the lighting was very soft with a touch of rim lighting happening. Looking closely at the catchlight in the eye tells me this day was partly cloudy and that clouds were blocking the sun during this exposure.

Unless flying, birds are on something – a branch, sand, rock, water, etc. In this case, that something was a dead tree limb. That this particular limb did not distract from the bird and even had a little character was a positive aspect.

While Rocky Mountain National Park is an awesome location for elk photography, it offers much more. Including magpies.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 12/20/2018 11:33:50 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Sunday, December 16, 2018

When the landscape is attractive, incorporating it into your wildilfe photography is a great idea. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is my go-to lens for this scenario. The focal length range keeps both the animal and the background large in the frame and provides plenty of framing flexibility.

A partly cloudy day sometimes provides ideal lighting. This image was captured just before the shadow of a cloud reached the bull elk, leaving the surrounding background dark, helping the bull and its antlers stand out.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
158mm  f/9.0  1/1600s
ISO 1250
4787 x 7181px
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Post Date: 12/16/2018 6:30:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The following information was provided by Datacolor; we are sharing it for the benefit of our readers. Color calibration is a vital part of the photographic process and we personally rely on Datacolor products (purchased online/retail) for our own display calibration needs.

From Datacolor:

The need to have a calibrated monitor is of paramount importance, but very often overlooked. Every photographer knows they should be calibrating their monitor, yet many still don’t bother with it, seeing it as a complex and time-consuming task that will hinder instead of help their workflow process.

You want to be able to trust your monitor, as it’s the window to your digital photography and the gateway allowing you to view the true image. However, this would not be the case if you have a non-calibrated monitor, as your colors might not look how you intended due to skin tones being off, crucial shadow detail being missed or whites not being as pure as they should or need to be.

Photography Workflow

Making monitor calibration a key part of your photography workflow eliminates factors such as tiredness, human error, and the lack of dependability you will have by solely relying on your eyes to adjust the monitor correctly.

You want all on-screen images to match the initial shot taken, and using a screen calibrator is crucial to this process. Datacolor’s Spyder5 will measure light and color that appears from your screen, and make corrections to ensure the colors and details of your image are displayed as accurately as possible.

Using Different Monitors

Every monitor displays colors differently. Just because your images look accurate on one monitor doesn’t necessarily mean they will be the same on another screen you use. As they are not built ready-calibrated, their colors will in fact shift over time. Not calibrating properly and using different monitors can lead you to wasting unnecessary time editing, with your images on screen not displaying the true colors or details of your photos.

Using a colorimeter to an industry color reference standard not only gives you refined color accuracy for better print matching, but will eliminate the guesswork out of image editing, helping you to save time and efficiently manage your workflow better.

Regular Calibration

Staying up to date with calibration is vital, as making a regular habit of calibrating your display on a monthly basis will give you confidence your edited images will always match your prints best as possible. Also determining optimal monitor brightness, calibration will keep your monitor fresh with the display’s output intensity and stops you from needlessly buying abundant amounts of ink and paper.

Without calibrating your monitor, you can’t fully trust the colors you see on-screen, which then leads you to make questionable editing decisions, and waste time, paper and ink on re-printing as the color on your images don’t appear right.

To ensure printed images are as close of a match as to what you see on screen, an accurate color calibrated screen is the best starting place.

Datacolor’s eBook

If you’re serious about photography, taking advantage of color management tools in your workflow to prepare your images will save you time, effort and money. Furthermore, if you’re planning to edit or view your images, using a reliable colorimeter to profile your monitor and calibrate any device can only help improve your process and photos.

To help photographers and videographers of all standards understand color management better, Datacolor has launched an extensive color management eBook, ‘Spyder5 eBook: Color management can be easy’. All six chapters are available for you to download here.

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Post Date: 12/11/2018 9:13:28 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, November 16, 2018

by Sean Setters

I've often heard the phrase, "The best camera is the one you have available when you need to take a picture." And of course, there's a lot of truth in that statement. When time is of the essence, and your ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) is not at hand, by default, the smartphone in your pocket is the best available tool to complete the task.

Since mid-September when Olivia Jane was born, my wife has snapped hundreds of pictures of our baby with her iPhone (an Apple iPhone 8, to be exact). And while many of those smartphone shots have been posted to social media, none of them have been deemed worthy of printing and physical display.

Of course, my wife isn't a photographer. But when my wife handed me her iPhone to capture Olivia Jane wearing a cute Halloween costume hat, I didn't feel much like a photographer either. The iPhone 8's 28mm full frame equivalent focal length did little to isolate the subject and the perspective wasn't very flattering for a close portrait. The lag shutter lag also proved to complicate the process of capturing fleeting expressions. My daughter would make a cute face and I'd quickly try to take the picture, but alas, I always seemed to miss it.

After several attempts to create a decent photo, I remembered that my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a backpack full of prime lenses was one room away in the dining room. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art was already mounted to the camera, and I figured it would work well in this particular situation. With the camera set to aperture priority mode at f/1.4, ISO 1600 and +1/3 exposure compensation, I framed the scene and snapped a few pictures (the resulting shutter speed was 1/320 sec.). After a quick check of the LCD, I felt vindicated for taking the time (about 30 seconds) to grab my "real" camera. But it wasn't until I really started looking at the images captured that I fully appreciated the difference that the right gear can make.

Here's the best image I captured with the iPhone (straight out of the camera, f/1.8, 1/15 sec, ISO 50):

Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone 8 SOOC

Of course, the smartphone shouldn't bear the complete burden for this substandard photo. It isn't well framed or well exposed (with a little effort, I'm sure I could figure out how to apply exposure compensation with the camera app). Being used to the 3:2 aspect ratio of Canon DSLR cameras, I'm not really fond of the iPhone's 4:3 aspect ratio. However, I wanted to see how close I could make the smartphone image look like the ILC-captured shot in post processing. After more editing than I care to admit to, this was the result:

Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone 8 Edited

Ignoring the less interesting facial expression, it's not a bad result necessarily, but it's still not as good as the DSLR image which required far less editing (highlights +2/shadows+14/saturation -4 in Adobe Camera Raw).

When it comes down to it, shooting with a smartphone left me feeling handicapped and a little annoyed. I know I could learn to be a better smartphone photographer, but the sheer physics of a very small sensor combined with minimal options for adjusting field of view will always leave me wishing I had a better imaging solution in my hands. The iPhone 8's sensor is 3.5 x 4.8mm, which is tiny compared to a full-frame camera's 24 x 36mm sensor.

Canon Full Frame APS C iPhone 8 Camera Sensor Comparison

Even at ISO 50, there's a huge difference in the image quality when compared to the 5D III image at ISO 1600 (with no noise reduction).

Olivia Jane Halloween 2018 iPhone vs 5D III

Even though the Apple iPhone (in all its iterations) is probably the most popular portrait camera produced of all time, you likely have a much better tool or set of tools (such as an ILC with various lenses) at your disposal to document your memories. If so, make sure those items are as convient to access as your phone, ensuring that you make the most of the imaging opportunities that abound in everyday life.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir here. If you're a regular site visitor, you probably aren't relying on your smartphone for much of your imaging needs. But even so, do you always have your DSLR/mirrorless ILC at hand when your child does something cute (or monumental) or when you're driving home and the sunset in your rearview mirror is overwhelming captivating? I hope so. But if not, it might be time to pack a small bag with your "real" camera, a backup battery and 2-3 lenses to have available on a consistent basis. Of course, keeping up with a camera bag won't be nearly as convenient as carrying a smartphone, but... the quality of the images captured will almost certainly be worth the extra effort.

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Post Date: 11/16/2018 11:52:14 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, November 9, 2018

For those familiar with Photoshop, you'll feel right at home with Photopea, a photo editing solution that has many of the same basic tools as Photoshop but runs in your internet browser window.

Photopea Screenshot

Using Photopea, you can open and edit PSD, XCF, Sketch, XD, CDR as well as popular image file formats and save them as PSD, JPG, PNG or SVG files. And yes, it supports layers and masks.


I must admit to being very skeptical when I was first introduced to this in-browser editor, but it didn't take long for me to be impressed by its functionality and design. Of course, it's not as full-featured as Photoshop CC, but it's still one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. I highly suggest you bookmark the page and keep it handy for those times you need to do some quick editing on a machine where Photoshop isn't (or otherwise can't be) installed. [Sean]

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Post Date: 11/9/2018 9:15:02 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, November 7, 2018

by Sean Setters

Very soon after we learned that we'd be having a baby, Alexis asked me to create a series of images showing her progression over the next 9 months. She doesn't ask me to take pictures of her often, so I took her request very seriously. After she showed me some examples of pregnancy progression photos she liked from Pinterest (no doubt the inspiration for this request), we decided a plain white background and strong rim lighting combined with a dark outfit would work well for the concept.

For this particular series of images, I used 3 studio lights and 1 shoe-mount flash for the lighting. One monolight was in a 4 x 6' (1.2 x 1.8m) softbox that served as the background and the other two were camera left/camera right slightly behind the subject, diffused by gridded strip boxes. The fill light was provided by a Canon Speedlite 580EX flash that was reflected into a white umbrella and boomed above my Canon 5D Mark III & Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens which was mounted on a tripod.

Unfortunately, I was not terribly organized at the beginning of this endeavor. I remember thinking, "This is a pretty simple setup. I can recreate it without any problems." That thought proved to be quite inaccurate. As my mind was quickly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information on raising a newborn, it apparently left little room for the details of the lighting setup I was certain I'd remember. As such, I found myself analyzing the first month's image on the second month and taking test shots to ensure consistency. After that, I decided to document the entire setup to streamline future sessions in the series.

So, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating a similar pregnancy progression photo:

  • Choose a stretchy outfit that can grow with the subject, or choose plain clothing that can be duplicated in larger sizes as time progresses.
  • Take time creating the first image to ensure it's exactly what you want. Choose a pose/hand placement that can remain consistent as your subject's belly begins to fill out.
  • Choose a background that's plain and evenly lit so that compositing the final image is easier.
  • Use a tripod and lighting equipment that you'll have continuous access to over the next 10 months (use studio lights or flashes; do not rely on window light which can vary).
  • Record the following details after the first shoot:
    • Camera/lens used and camera settings
    • What your subject was looking at/exact direction of the subject's gaze
    • Distance between the camera to the subject and height of the camera on the tripod
    • Distance between the subject and the background
    • Position/types of lights and modifiers in relation to your subject
    • Power level of all lights utilized for the session (use manual power settings, not TTL)

  • Use your records to recreate the photo setup each month.

If recording all the measurements above seems a bit too tedious, you maybe be able to simply mark subject/lighting/camera placement with gaffer tape on the floor (assuming the tape won't need to be removed within the required time period) and/or taking pictures of the setup from several angles with your smartphone for referring back to.

From a business standpoint, a series like this would require 10 separate sessions, generating constant revenue for the photographer over the gestational period. With the all the details well documented after the first session, future sessions could be relatively quick and easy to set up and capture.

My wife loved the final image so much that we had a matted 12x36" version of it printed. It now hangs over the changing table in the nursery.

Alexis's Pregnancy Progression Framed

Of course, a pregnancy progression series requires a long term commitment to achieve optimal results, but I think you'll find the final image created well worth the effort.

A larger version of Alexis's Pregnancy Progression image can be seen on Flickr.

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Post Date: 11/7/2018 8:00:46 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, November 4, 2018

Upon locating these intriguingly-curved aspen trees in the San Juan Mountains near Ophir, CO (south of Telluride), I had hours of entertainment before me. Aspen tree trunks are beautiful and their fall leaf color is amazing. With the numerous curving trunk shapes (likely caused by an avalanche when the trees were younger), there were seemingly endless angles and perspectives to use for images here. Helping was that the lighting/weather was constantly changing, ranging from snowing to sun shining bright enough to create shadows with subsequent images appearing different without even moving the camera. It was perfect.

I have many hundreds of images to choose from (I'll likely share more). Many of them were captured with a wide angle zoom lens, but this particular perspective seemed ideal for 50mm and I happened to have the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens in the MindShift Gear FirstLight 30L backpack I was carrying. I originally thought this image was captured with that lens, but ... this happened to be the last image taken with the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens prior to mounting the RF 50.

Using a "standard" or "normal" focal length makes keeping both very close and very distant subjects in sharp focus a challenge, even at f/16. For this image, I focused on the foreground trees for one frame and on the background trees for a second frame. For a simple focus stacking technique, I loaded the two images as layers in Photoshop and used a layer mask to determine which image the foreground trees were showing from.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 11/4/2018 6:30:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I have to wonder what a model thinks when the assignment to wear a parachute dress at Dragon's Teeth (Kapalua, Maui, HI) comes in. "I get to wear an enormous dress designed to blow in the wind while standing barefoot on sharp rocks in extreme wind next to an ocean with occasional rogue waves that send salt water spray over everything nearby for an entire very hot, sunny day!" Pick me! Pick me! [Finding Nemo]

This model obviously accepted Canon's request and she managed the assignment very professionally. Parachutes are designed to ease the landing, but in this case, the parachute was more likely to cause a liftoff (followed by a perilous landing). I would have been more comfortable if she had a crash pad beside her, but she stayed on her feet through even the strongest wind gusts.

A 50mm lens does not create the extreme background blur that long telephoto lenses can create, but the 50mm angle of view allows a closer camera position that provides a more intimate look while the f/1.2 aperture still provides a strong background blur that makes the subject stand out. The look is unique in a very positive way.

The extremely wide f/1.2 aperture allows handholding in very low light levels but with a white dress in the sun, even a 1/8000 shutter speed is not always fast enough to avoid blown highlights at f/1.2 and ISO 100. In direct sunlight, a neutral density filter or, as used in this example, a circular polarizer filter on the lens.

When water is on the horizon, I usually want the image framed with the horizon level. Electronic viewfinder levels have greatly improved my original captures in this regard, but with the wind and unstable footing, I still managed to get a small degree of tilt that needed to be corrected in this image.

An ultra-wide aperture lens is generally selected to make use of those ultra-wide apertures. Often, especially with 50mm ultra-wide aperture lenses, the image quality at the widest apertures is not good and often describable as "dreamy". While dreamy can be nice on occasion, it is not usually what I am going for. With this lens, f/1.2 results are very sharp, showing good resolution and contrast. I have not hesitated to use this lens wide open and ... haven't stopped it down very often. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens is a compelling reason to get a Canon EOS R camera.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
50mm  f/1.2  1/8000s
ISO 100
4448 x 6672px
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Post Date: 10/31/2018 9:32:37 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Tuesday, October 30, 2018

After spending over a decade trying to establish milkweed plants on our property (what monarch caterpillars eat), healthy plants finally emerged a couple of years ago – in the flower beds next to our house, not close to where we were trying to grow them. While most "weeds" are not welcome in the flower beds, we embraced what we got and allowed them to prosper in place.

This year, milkweed plants started growing randomly throughout the yard, though frequent lawn mowing kept their visibility near nothing. After an especially long period of rain, the yard crop started showing leaves and my observant daughter spotted a monarch laying eggs on them. Prior to the next lawn cutting, she and my wife removed over 40 eggs from the rogue plants.

Most of the eggs were transferred to the being-tolerated flower bed plants and several were raised indoors, which produces perfect specimens for photographic purposes. The ideal time to photograph butterflies is just after they emerge as their wings are in perfect condition and they remain mostly still for a couple of hours. Knowing when that time is coming involves observing the monarch chrysalis color. Newly-formed chrysalises are bright green in color, but they turn very dark just prior to emergence of the butterfly stage.

I saw this opportunity coming and had some gear ready. When your camera is an EOS model with a hot shoe, the set of lighting accessories available, both Canon brand and third party options, is vast. For this image, I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash for a very even light on the subject. With the dual MR-14EX flash tubes configured for equal power, this flash creates a flat light, often void of shadows. When the subject is as vibrantly-colored as this one, flat lighting works quite well.

The background is a piece of orange paper (I tried a variety of colors) being held with a Delta 1 Grip-It Single Arm with 1" Clamp (extremely useful accessory) and lit with a remotely-controlled Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash. Alternatively, I could have used a white paper and gelled the flash to create the desired color.

The background light being positioned behind the foreground light meant that it did not influence the lighting on the subject and the background being far enough behind the foreground meant that the foreground light did not influence the background brightness.

While I didn't expect the Canon EOS R to have any trouble with Canon's Speedlite system (other EOS models don't), it is always nice to have reassurance, especially for a new camera line. Or, maybe this test was just the excuse I needed to spend a couple of hours photographing the monarch.

At macro focus distances, depth of field becomes very shallow. One of the keys to capturing this image was to align the camera so that the wing was perfectly parallel to the imaging sensor, perpendicular to the center of the lens' image circle. Still, f/16 was needed to obtain the depth of field necessary to keep almost the entire butterfly sharp.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 10/30/2018 8:07:31 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, October 27, 2018

I was in Aspen, Colorado for two nights and the primary goal was to capture another set of classic Maroon Bells lake reflection images that included the amazing fall aspen color. After arriving at the hotel late in the evening on the first night, I set the alarm for 2:40 AM and went to bed. Probably no one thinks getting up at 2:40 AM is fun and ... that I was dragging my wife and youngest daughter with me ... raised questions about my sanity. Still, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the country and I calculated that it was going to be worth the sleep deprivation (and potential grief from the family) to get the perfect position along Maroon Lake.

Upon stepping outside, the heavy cloud cover was obvious and occasional light rain followed us. Landscape photographers live for the openings in breaking storm clouds and I stayed with the plan. I was one of the first photographers to arrive at the side of the lake, but I immediately encountered disruption of the plan. The first issue was that a rope now lines the path around the lake, preventing close access to the water. The second issue was that the lake level was extremely low. The restricted access and now-distant, very shallow lake combined to provide a dirt/stone former lake bottom as the image foreground and the lake was now small enough that the reflections were rather unexciting at the proximity available. In addition, the aspen leaves had changed (and many dropped) about a week early this year, courtesy of the drought that also accounted for the drained lake.

I continued to stay with the plan, remaining standing in my spot, alongside a large number of other photographers, from about 3:30 AM until close to 9:00 AM, waiting for a break in the clouds. That never happened and I finally decided that a decent photo was not likely to happen. The hike I promised the girls was looking like a great option and that became the plan.

After all of the early AM effort, the best scene of the day showed up in front of us while hiking near the far side of the lake. An opening in the clouds allowed sunlight to penetrate, brightly lighting a grove of aspens that were still holding their brilliantly-colored leaves. The key to getting my favorite Maroon Bells image on this trip was just being out in a great location, watching for something good to happen.

The Canon EOS R and RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens were perfect hiking companions.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 10/27/2018 9:32:58 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Monday, October 22, 2018

by Sean Setters

Oatmeal raisin, white chocolate macadamia nut or classic chocolate chip? No, I'm not referring to one of those types of cookies. In lighting terms, a "cookie," or cucalorus, is a "...device for casting shadows or silhouettes to produce patterned illumination." [Wiki]

A cookie is placed between your light source and the subject or background and casts a desired pattern of highlight and shadow. What can be used as a cookie? Fabrics with interesting weaves, potted plants, venetian blinds and matte black cinefoil with custom cut-out designs are popular choices. In the example above, I used an old lace curtain suspended between my main flash (camera right) and the subject, producing the interesting effect (a flash positioned camera left/low provided fill light).

So the next time you're looking to create a unique portrait, look around your home or antique/fabric stores for items that can be used to cast an interesting pattern of light onto your scene.

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Post Date: 10/22/2018 10:09:21 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Sunday, October 21, 2018

I signed up for an east Maui rainforest waterfall hike and knew that the path could be wet and muddy. What I didn't know was that, thanks to a just-previous hurricane, "wet" meant I would be fording swift rain-swollen streams up to waist-deep with the MindShift Gear Trailscape 18L camera backpack being held overhead. That certainly upped the hike's entertainment value (and provided a new understanding of how well Gore-Tex trail-running shoes hold water).

Having both stories and images always makes an adventure better.

The Canon EOS R and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens were used to capture this idyllic Hawaiian rainforest waterfall. Aiding was a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizer filter, cutting reflections and increasing saturation. These filters are nearly a requirement for waterfall photography. An f/8 aperture would have provided adequate depth of field for this 29mm image, but the narrower f/11 opening permitted a longer exposure, creating a more strongly motion-blurred waterfall.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

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Post Date: 10/21/2018 7:00:00 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, October 20, 2018

An evening sail was part of the Canon Hawaii 2018 announcement event and I saw a great sunset in the making as the boat was coming ashore, returning to the beach in Lahaina. I hurried down the ladder and ran across the beach to find a clear composition. With a Canon EOS R and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens in hand, the rest was easy.

Photographing the ocean (usually) is a type of action photography as the scene is constantly changing. Water reflects and smooth water provides the best definition of whatever is being reflected. Although they nicely reflect sky color in general, most oceans I've visited are far from smooth. However, the thin layer of water remaining on the sand immediately after a wave recedes is often quite smooth and can provide some definition of the colorful clouds, the subject most often desired to be reflected. Consider timing the capture of some of your beach images for this wave position.

Another beach photography consideration is what the leading edge of the waterline looks like. I like the frothy white roll clearly delineating the sand and water as seen in this image, but other options can also work well.

I always find a great sunset to be photographically irresistible. Islands often have very long distance views of the setting (or rising) sun, making them ideal locations for watching this time of the day through a viewfinder.


A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.

 
Camera and Lens Settings
24mm  f/11.0  1/250s
ISO 400
6655 x 4453px
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Post Date: 10/20/2018 9:30:47 AM ET   Posted By: Bryan
 Saturday, October 13, 2018

by Sean Setters

I've been shooting a moderate amount of indoor studio portraits over the last couple of years and I am consistently impressed by the impact a fan has on the quality of my images. Take the shot above, for example. In it, I'm using six flashes to illuminate the subject and background (with various modifiers). Good lighting is a key to producing a high quality studio portrait. But the finishing touch, the element that makes this photo really interesting, is the hair movement provided by the fan placed just in front of the subject.

In this case, the fan is a oscillating, variable height/variable speed pedestal model that my dad gave me when he was moving [downsizing] a few years ago. He used it to minimize his home cooling expenses; I use it to get shots like this:

Brittney Headshot 1

And this:

Hope G Black Light - Oct 2018

Note that a fan doesn't have to be motorized for it to be useful for portraiture. Anything that's flat and somewhat rigid will do the job if you have a photo assistant available (or the ability to operate the camera remotely). Things like collapsible reflectors and foam core boards can easily be used in place of a dedicated electric fan, again, assuming someone is available to operate the device. A nice thing about non-motorized fanning tools is that they can very easily be used outdoors to create a wind effect on an otherwise calm day.

Of course, for a fan to have an impact on portraiture, it must influence at least a part of the composed scene in some way. You can use the fan to introduce movement in hair, fabric/clothing or props (such as leaves). The opportunities for capturing dynamic, fan-induced movement in your portraits are too numerous to list.

If shopping for a fan for studio use, from my personal experience, a pedestal model with an adjustable height is ideal as you can easily set it to an optimal height for your subject. However, a pedestal-style fan certainly isn't a requirement. If you already have a floor model or tabletop fan, you can simply place it on a higher surface (table, apple boxes, etc.) if needed. While some may appreciate an oscillating feature (especially if the fan is doing double duty as a cooling device), I typically lock my fan into a static position so that it's always blowing air in the desired direction.

Note that constantly blowing air at a subject's face can cause uncomfortable dry eyes. To prevent this, tell your subject to keep his/her eyes closed right up until the moment a photo is taken and use an audible countdown to alert the subject of an impending shutter release.

A fan is an inexpensive tool that can have a big impact on the quality of images delivered to your clients, making it a must-have item for any studio photographer.

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Post Date: 10/13/2018 12:50:21 PM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Friday, October 5, 2018

by Sean Setters

I was reading an article yesterday that stated the Canon EOS R had a "1.83x crop factor" when recording 4K video. However, while the EOS R certainly has a crop factor in 4K recording, it's actually a slightly lower crop factor of 1.75x.

I can understand the source of the confusion and, as such, I thought we'd take a minute to go over the math involved in determining a camera's sensor or video recording crop factor.

Before we dive into the crop factor calculations, it's important to understand why a crop factor is relevant. The crop factor determines the field of view we see in a given situation. For more information on the root of this phenomena and how it relates to sensor size, check out our Field of View Crop Factor explanation.

At the heart of it, the formula for determining crop factor is easy: you determine the ratio of the larger area's hypotenuse (diagonal) to the smaller area's hypotenuse measurement. For that, we'll need to use the tried-and-true Pythagorean theorem (a2+b2=c2). For example, to determine the crop factor of a Canon APS-C sensor, the math looks like this:

EOS-1-series Full-Frame Sensor Hypotenuse (mm)
362 + 242 = c2
1,296 + 576 = c2
1,872 = c2
√1,872 = c
43.27 = c

EOS 7D Mark II APS-C Sensor Hypotenuse (mm)
22.42 + 152 = c2
501.76 + 225.00 = c2
726.76 = c2
√726.76 = c
26.96 = c

Now the crop factor can be calculated by dividing the full-frame hypotenuse by the APS-C one:

APS-C Crop Factor
43.27 / 26.96 = 1.605

We know that APS-C sensor cameras feature a 1.6x crop factor, so with a little rounding, the calculation proves correct in determining the crop factor. The process for calculating video crop factor (when the video recorded is sampled via a 1-to-1 readout of the pixels in the center of the sensor which creates the video's resolution) is similar, but not exactly the same. The first difference involves our units of measure; we'll be using pixels to determine the hypotenuses for comparison. We can do this because the pixel size is the same (a standard) throughout the comparison. The second difference is that we'll need to normalize the aspect ratios to figure out the appropriate crop factor.

As I mentioned the EOS R above, we'll use it as an example of how to calculate the camera's (4K) video crop factor. First we need to determine what part of the sensor would be used if the video recording utilized the entire width of the sensor. To do that, we need to calculate the pixel area of a 16:9 (4K) ratio crop of the camera's 3:2 ratio frame. To do that, we simply divide the sensor's pixel width by 16 and then multiply by 9 to get the area utilized by an uncropped 16:9 video.

EOS R Video Pixel Height (Full Sensor WxH = 6720 x 4480 px)
6720 * 16 / 9 = 3780

So in a world where the EOS R captures "uncropped" 4K footage, the sensor would utilize an area of the frame that is 6720 x 3780 pixels and then downsample it to the lower 4K resolution. The video is technically cropped from a 3:2 ratio frame, but it's referred to as "uncropped" because the horizontal field of view remains the same (it's cropped at the top and bottom, not the sides).

Now that we know the portion of the frame that would be utilized for a 16:9 aspect ratio video, we need to compare it to the video size actually being recorded by the EOS R, or 3840 x 2160 pixels. Because of the rather large numbers, I'll shorten the following equations by eliminating some of the calculation steps.

"Uncropped" 16:9 Video Hypotenuse (px)
√(67202 + 37802) = c
7710.175 = c

EOS R 4K Video Hypotenuse (px)
√(38402 + 21602) = c
4405.814 = c

Crop factor of EOS R
7710.175 / 4405.814 = 1.75

So for practical purposes, the EOS R has a 4K crop factor of 1.75x, where a 20mm lens delivers a 16:9 field of view equivalent to a 35mm lens when recording in 4K. From a technical standpoint, saying that the EOS R has a 1.83x crop factor could be accurate if we also labeled the Sony a7 III as having a 1.05x crop factor in video mode. But when you call the a7 III's 4K video "uncropped," you necessitate normalizing the field of view captured in the EOS R's 4K 16:9 aspect ratio frame, resulting in the 1.75x result.

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Post Date: 10/5/2018 11:56:02 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, September 26, 2018

by Sean Setters

By now, she's actually a couple of weeks old. But at the time this image above was taken, Olivia Jane had been breathing air for only about an hour. My life has change a lot since September 11 at 4:50pm, but one thing remains the same – the importance of photography in documenting the world around me. Specific endeavors require specific gear, and lately I've been leaning heavily on certain lenses more than others. Specifically, I've been relying on wide-aperture prime lenses, with their ability to create subject isolation and freeze motion (using moderate ISOs) when second-chance opportunities are fleeting or non-existent.

A couple of years ago, I posted an article urging site visitors to prepare a Go-Bag packed with the photography gear necessary to accomplish a certain goal. With my wife nearing her due date, I took my own advice and packed a Lowepro backpack with the following:

Sharp-eyed site visitors have likely noticed two aspects regarding the kit listed above. The first is that all the lenses I packed were prime lenses. I chose to pack a large assortment of wide aperture prime lenses because I wasn't sure how well lit the hospital would be and the max aperture of my general purpose lens, a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, seemed too narrow to rely on for the indoor event. As it turns out, the room where my wife gave birth was "softly lit for patient comfort" (hospital terminology for "relatively dark") with a couple of bright spot lights illuminating the delivery zone. The wide aperture primes proved essential for maximizing image quality while documenting the life-changing event. When packing the bag, I suspected the longest and shortest focal length primes would be too long/short for effective use in the areas I'd be shooting in during our 2-day hospital stay, and that largely proved to be true.

The second thing you might have noticed is the lack of a backup camera. Knowing the importance of the situation ahead, I packed a second very small shoulder bag with the following items:

This kit in this bag had two purposes. One, it provided me with a backup camera should something happen to the primary camera in the other bag. Second, it gave me a couple of STM lenses that I could pair with the 7D II should I decided to capture video. Not knowing how much room I'd have to store things in the delivery and post-partum rooms, my plan was to leave this backup camera bag in our car parked in the parking lot and simply run out to the car if I wanted/needed it. Of course, a primary camera failure at a critical time would have left me without an easy-to-access backup, but... thankfully, that didn't happen. In fact, the backup camera bag never made it out of the car. Note: I don't recommend leaving your camera gear in an automobile for long periods of time because of prolonged heat/humidity and chance of theft. In this case, however, I prioritized a less-cluttered hospital room over my gear's safety (the bag was well hidden/out of view in the vehicle).

So which lenses did I utilize most during the big event?

LensShots
Captured
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro157
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM156
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art42
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art31
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM17
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM2
Rokinon 14mm f/2.82
Total407

Olivia Grasps Finger September 11, 2018

Unfortunately, the data is a bit misleading. I used the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro to capture lots of close-ups of Olivia's feet, hands, ears, etc. However, without stabilization (and not wanting to push ISOs too high), a lot of those images came out blurry. However, I was shooting the macros when I wasn't pressed for time and the baby was relatively content, so I often shot a large number of images for each framing I wanted. In other words, the macro lens was only used for a limited number of compositions, but I recorded many shots of each composition to ensure I got what I wanted.

Alexis Going Into Labor

The lens that was mounted to my camera for most of our hospital stay (and just before leaving for the hospital) was the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. The moderately wide focal length paired with image stabilization made it an extremely versatile lens, able to capture enough slightly-blurry background with the subject to tell a story while remaining easy to work with in relatively tight spaces. The lens' IS system meant that I could use even-slower-than-usual shutter speed when subject movement was minimal, while the wide f/2 aperture allowed me to freeze action even in dimly lit conditions.

Olivia Moments After Birth

The next most-used lens was the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. It was the lens I chose to mount as soon as Olivia saw light for the first time. At that point, I wanted to limit distractions in the composition by using a narrower field of view to focus on my wife and baby seeing each other for the first time. A wide-aperture 50mm prime lens gave me the composition I desired along with action-stopping shutter speeds and a relatively low ISO setting.

In the Waiting Room

The rest of the lenses I brought were used sporadically, but looking back, I could have sufficed without them. That said, different hospitals may present different opportunities for various focal lengths, so having several available is nearly always a good idea. Could I have gotten away with using only a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens? Maybe, but the max f/2.8 aperture would have required a 2-4x higher ISO to be used to achieve the same action-stopping shutter speeds compared to most of the primes I brought. Also, considering the amount of background distractions found in a typical hospital room, an f/2.8 aperture would not have allowed me to blur those elements quite as much. The downside to primes, of course, is the need to change lenses when a new focal length is desired for the optimal composition.

My Father Holding Olivia

My backpack full of prime lenses proved equally useful after returning home from the hospital. I left it sitting just inside our dining room and would quickly grab the camera for capturing the various "awwww" moments that occurred in our home over following week.

It's been two weeks now, and that day is a bit of a blur in my memory. But thankfully, I have a wonderful set of images to look back on to remind me of the way during my child's first few days outside the womb. My photographic style is typically very deliberate, with lighting and/or tripod setups that slow down the capture process. While prime lenses fit well into that kind of workflow, they aren't absolutely necessary as lighting (either added to the scene or recorded via a slower shutter speed) isn't really a problem. But when documenting life as it happens, what a wide aperture prime lacks in focal length range, it more than makes up for in the versatility and aesthetic afforded by its max aperture.

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Post Date: 9/26/2018 11:52:31 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, September 19, 2018

by Sean Setters

My wife has two night-blooming cereus plants which were cut from her mother's decades old plant. In fact, the origin of this night-blooming cereus goes back four generations with mothers passing down cuttings to their daughters. If you're unfamiliar with this type of plant, an apt description can be found on Wikipedia:

Night-blooming cereus is the common name referring to a large number of flowering ceroid cacti that bloom at night. The flowers are short lived, and some of these species, such as Selenicereus grandiflorus, bloom only once a year, for a single night. Other names for one or more cacti with this habit are princess of the night, Honolulu queen (for Hylocereus undatus), Christ in the manger, dama de noche and queen of the night (which is also used for an unrelated plant species).
The night-blooming cereuses we have typically bloom once or twice a year, with the flowers appearing well after the sun goes down and wilting sometime around sunrise. Once you see the white petals just poking out of the ends of the nearly enclosed buds, you know the flowers will be blooming later that night.

Having noticed the imminent blooms, I photographed one of the buds earlier in the day. The leaf the bud was attached to was sticking out well beyond the railing of our back porch, giving me plenty of working room and few obstacles to shoot around if shooting from the side. To photograph the bud, I set up a tripod-mounted Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro and pointed the camera alongside the railing to get a nice side view. However, the background (a line of trees bordering our backyard) proved too distracting because a) the relatively narrow aperture I wanted to use did not diffuse it sufficiently for good separation and b) the colors of the background were too similar to the bud to create color separation.

To remedy the situation, I clamped a black foam core board behind the bud to eliminate the background. Here's what the setup looked like:

Night-Blooming Cereus Bud Setup September 2018

At this time of the day (approx. 12:30pm Eastern Time), sunlight was filtering through the trees, giving it a soft quality, but the bud was still relatively well lit. Therefore, I used the sunlight as my main light and simply held a white foam core board angled slightly below the bud to fill in the shadows caused by the high sun. Of course, the sunlight was also illuminating the background, making my very dark grey foam core board less dark, but... I liked the effect. Here's what the bud shot looked like after processing:

Night-Blooming Cereus Bud September 2018

EXIF: f/10, 1/160 sec, ISO 200

Later that evening, the real show began. Around 10:00pm ET, we noticed that the flowers were starting to open up. I quickly grabbed the same tripod-mounted camera and lens and got to work. This time, I used a shoe-mount flash diffused by a 24" collapsible softbox with grid positioned behind the flowing plant (rather high) to create a diffused backlit glow and rim light. I used the same white foam core board that I had used for the bud shot positioned below the flower for fill. EXIF for the end result seen atop this post: f/8, 160 sec, ISO 400.

My mother-in-law questioned why I didn't shoot the flower from the front to show off its interesting structure, and many of you may be wondering the same thing. Truth is, I captured many shots of the blooming flower from the front but didn't like them nearly as much. Here were the challenges that made photographing the flowers from the front less ideal:

  1. The position of the bloom (sticking through the railing) limited where I could place off-camera flashes and modifiers (no rim/back lighting possible), leading to a rather dull image.
  2. Night-blooming cereus flowers are very deep. Front lighting the flower from anywhere except the camera's axis results in dark shadows in the deepest part of the blooms.
  3. Getting the entire flower in focus from the front of the petals to the back (within the depth-of-field) is very challenging. As I was photographing the flower while still attached to the plant, small movements made focus stacking an impractical solution.
Sometimes you just have to accept the limitations of a given situation and figure out a solution that works best.

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Post Date: 9/19/2018 10:11:44 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
 Wednesday, September 12, 2018

by Sean Setters

My wife and I would like to introduce the newest member of the The-Digital-Picture.com family. Pictured above is Olivia Jane, born yesterday at 4:50pm. She was 7 lb 13 oz (3.54 kg) and 20" (50.8 cm) long. She's healthy and, contrary to what last night's seemingly constant crying might indicate, probably very happy to be here. I'm running on very little sleep, so... I'll make this post short and sweet. I'm a father now, and it's a whole new world. :-)

Olivia Jane Grasps Father's Finger – September 11, 2018

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Post Date: 9/12/2018 6:40:03 AM ET   Posted By: Sean
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