Archive for '• Gear & Gadgets':

Canon Switch Update :: All is Well

December 8, 2011 | Shop Talk • Gear & Gadgets

 

I recently wrote in length about my switch from Nikon to Canon. I thought I’d update you on a few things since making that switch.

#1 – Lately I find myself predominantly shooting with the 35mm f 2.0 and 85mm 1.8. You could weld one of those on each body and I’d be set for life I think. Except that 35mm f2. When I made the full switch I kept the “decent” Canon 35mm f2 and bought the crockstar 24mm 1.4 lens. I now wish I would have switched that decision. I’m just not shooting that 24 nearly as much as I thought I would. I’ll be replacing that 35 at some point. It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow because the f2 is still an amazing lens but I’ve tried the 1.4 and I know that would get welded to a camera body to never be removed. Live and learn right?

#2 – I really miss the in-camera multiple exposure feature in Nikons. I didn’t think I would but once you don’t have it you want it. Multiple exposure images are easy enough to do in post production but it takes the fun out of it. When doing it in-camera you either get it or you don’t and there’s lots of room for really interesting mistakes and WTF moments to happen that you just don’t get when doing it in post. Oh well. I don’t shoot it that often but I do wish I had it. The image above is a “triple exposure” done in post. I try to not tweak things too much. I want the chips to fall where they may as though I did it in-camera.

#3 – I thought I would shoot the 135mm f2 more than I do. I’m surprised I go to that cheap little 85mm 1.8 so often but that 135mm f2 lens is one of the finest lenses I’ve ever owned. For me I like to have a healthy amount of space to use that thing. Many of my assignments lately have had me in pretty tight quarters so it hasn’t been put to use that much but there is zero regret in getting that lens. Oh. Emm. Gee.

#4 – I do miss the D3 body but I’m still happy with my switch. Aside from that lens decision I would reverse I’m pleased with my switch. I most love having one complete system instead of two half assed systems. If I were to add anything to this kit it would be the 14mm f2.8 lens. That is a beast of a lens but I’m good without it.

And… I’m done with 35mm DSLR buying for a long time to come. Bring on the five dee mark three point two sub paragraph nine whatever. I’m good.

Cheers,

Zack

PS – Yes… I’m on my annual social media hiatus. I find I need to unplug from most things as we head into the darkness of winter. It’s my time to figure out what in the hell I’m doing with myself. That’s hard to do with all the noise. I’ll be blogging and despite it falling in the social media genre, I’m still on Instagr.am. :) Hope you are all doing well!

Headline :: I Switched To Canon. World Still Turns.

August 14, 2011 | Shop Talk • Gear & Gadgets

I made a “what’s in my bag” post in 2009 about my mixed kit of Nikon and Canon gear. I’ve recently sold my Nikon gear and have gone 100% Canon to the surprise of many including myself. I’ve fielded lots of questions on Twitter about it, many I have not gotten to, so I’m making this blog post to cover your questions and to take the time to talk about why I am doing all of this. In this post I’ll talk about my past kits, my current kit, why I made the switch, the gear on my wish list, and why none of this matters all that much. Be warned, this is fairly wordy. :)

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Fuji x100 :: Review

July 4, 2011 | Shop Talk • Gear & Gadgets

 

Let me get this out of the way… The Fuji x100 is the greatest digital camera ever made and may just be the greatest camera I have ever owned. You’ll have a hard damn time convincing me otherwise. I can state with confidence that this is my favorite camera I have ever owned. Period. End of story. Done. Best. Camera. EVAR. OMG. Etc. Note that I am not sponsored by Fuji, I have no relationship with Fuji, and I paid for this camera with my own money. I have nothing to gain in services, advertising, affiliations, or monetary value by writing this review.

I’ll break this down after the jump …

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de_VICE :: Streets of NYC with the Fuji X100

In case you haven’t read my 1,000 something tweets about how much I love the new Fuji x100, then I need to let you know that I love the Fuji x100. I’m working on a full review of the thing right now. It will NOT be a pixel peeping, button counting, megapixel masturbation fest of flowers and cats. It will be more of a review about how it fits in the life of a working photographer and how to work around the number of “quirks” the thing has.

I’m in New York this week getting my book looked at and stuff. It’s a fantastic process and I’m meeting some fantastic people. The brand is done. The site is 98% complete. I’m having some issues with the portfolio PDF download. Working on it.

Here are a few more from the streets of NYC. It’s a little series I’m calling #de_VICE. We are tethered to our devices to the point they may be a vice. I know I struggle with it. Once you are in the iWorld it’s amazing how unaware you become of your surroundings. Like, some guy taking your picture of you doing whatever it is you are doing there on your device.

More images to come with the review. It’s an awesome camera and a total pain in the a** at the same time. I absolutely love it.

Cheers,
Zack

Modifiers :: From Day 03 of My creativeLIVE Class

Ok. Are you ready to get your nerd on? Calling all pixel peepers! Here are the images for the modifier run down we went through on Day 03 of the creativeLIVE studio lighting class. I’m not sure which took me longer… Shooting all of these images during the class or prepping them for the web. :)

Before we get started with the images there are some things I want to go ahead and cover with you before you check these out.

This isn’t the most comprehensive light modifier test in the world. It isn’t even half way scientific in approach. There are real issues with comparing modifiers like this. I’m telling you right now that this isn’t the true proper nerded out way of doing this kind of thing. While we strove for consistency and Dan and I spent some time in the morning before the broadcast testing things out, remember there can be variations 1/3 of a stop from pop to pop with those Alien Bees. That’s why they are affordable.  With all that said let me now say… if you run through some modifiers in this way you’ll learn a lot. I do this kind of stuff when I’m checking out a new modifier.

Why do I feel the need to give this big disclaimer? To ward off the measurebators that are about to descend on this post. The guys who look at photos on the photon level and lose all the soul of this craft. I like to nerd out from time to time and discuss CMOS vs. CCD but never at the cost of losing the soul of the craft. So… enjoy this comparison. There are things to learn.

Things to look for ::

• Take a look at how the modifier effects the exposure on the subject and the background. • Watch the transition from highlight to shadow. How hard is that line? • Take a look at the catchlights in the eyes. • How effecient is the modifier in terms of lost light from the standard? • Look at the difference in the quality of light when some of them are moved closer than the standard shooting point. • Moving the light closer to the subject changes exposure so I didn’t list the change in aperture for those images since they deviated from standard position.

I’ve highlighted a few areas here to watch in the photos below… Look at this crop between the 7′ and 4′ Octabanks…

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Notice how the transition from highlight to shadow is much more gradual with the larger 7′ Octa. Notice how the shadows are more open with the 7′ as compared to the 4′. Notice the 4′ Octa has a brighter catchlight. Notice they have about the same effect on the exposure of the background. The background is important to watch with these. There are times I pick a modifier based on how it is going to throw light on or flag light off of the background. Here is the same image without the circles. From modifier to modifier some areas will change dramatically and some will barely be noticeable.

The following image is the “standard” for this test.  It is an Alien Bee with its standard 7″ silver reflector in place. The standard exposure for this at this distance is f13. We then paraded different modifiers off of the same light stand position. At times I moved the stand to demonstrate a distance I would more likely be using that particular modifer.

Here is a crop of the 7′ Octa (our largest modifier) in comparison to the standard 7″ reflector. Notice how light from the Octa wraps all the way around to her ear.

Want to pixel peep? Here you go!

If you look at a few of these and say “I can’t really tell any difference between the $30 modifier and the $800 modifier!” then note the disclaimers above. There are ways of shooting a shoot through umbrella in this kind of situation and make it look a whole lot like the Octabank. Then there are times that one will absolutely run circles around the other and the difference is night and day. To walk through each of these drastic and subtle usage changes would have taken the entire three days of teaching. Your goal is to get to know YOUR modifiers and be educated about the basic differences between different kinds so you can make educated choices the next time you go buy one of these.

As Bill, one of the creativeLIVE crew members, said so well… “There’s no morality in choosing a light modifier.” Let that sink in. Sometimes I pick a modifier based on… “Ummmm. How about…. Uh. This one.” Other times I walk in a room and I know that I want my 28″ Westcott Apollo and there is no other modifier in the world that will do the job. Sometimes I pick a modifier because it is more efficient with light than another that is similar to it in look. Note how the reflective umbrella lost 2 stops of light as opposed to the 4′ Octa. Sometimes that stop is a make or break situation on a job.

At times there’s “just something” about one modifier over another. You can’t quite put your finger on it but you just like “that thing” about that modifier. That’s how I feel about the 22″ beauty dish. I could get a very similar look from the 28″ Apollo or a small silver umbrella but there is just “something” about how the light feathers and falls off with the beauty dish that makes me pull that out over a small softbox. Sometimes I just like the catchlight more.

I like circles. :)

Sometimes.

Other times I like rectangles.

There’s not a moral issue on the table here.

Another issue with this test is we aren’t shooting full length. You’d see a BIG difference between a 60″ umbrella and a 7′ Octa when shooting full length. I tested that out and went back and forth on it. The reason I decided against it was our awesome subject, Lou, would have been standing in one spot for a long time. That little stool she was on was bad enough. I felt standing for as long as we needed to run through this would have been too much to ask. Remember, we are in the service industry. Serve your clients. Make them as comfortable as possible. I guess I could have had her lean on something. That would have been a light stand or a broom handle. Neither make for the best props. :)

My last caveat to all of this… Go shoot your own lighting tests! :) Seriously. You’ll learn so much doing this. Change the distance, the angle, the height, etc. Watch what your modifiers do full length vs. head and shoulders. LEARN YOUR GEAR!!!

All the images and download links after the jump….

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"I need a rooftop. In Manhattan. Tonight. With a garden hose."

I just finished editing my first music video this week. I shot this in New York last fall thanks to the help of friends, twitter, and Kmart. Read a little story about it after the jump.

I had a few extra days in New York last fall and I spent those days shooting as much personal work as I could. I was in the area to shoot a wedding with Marc. Assistant and intern extraordinaire Brian Hall was along for the ride as well. I reached out to as many people I knew with connections in NYC to find musicians to shoot. It turned out that Snowden frontman, Jordan, was in the city at the same time. Snowden is one of my favorite bands in the world and I’m blessed that they are from Atlanta and I’ve been able to work with them a few times.

Jordan and I decided we would meet up Sunday night and shoot some new promos for him. He sent me a few of his new songs for me to listen to before our shoot. I heard this song Lemon Peel and loved it right away. Saturday night I’m riding the train and I decided we should shoot a music video instead of portraits. I sent Jordan a text and he was down for whatever. Sunday morning I put out a message on Twitter that read something like,

“I need a rooftop. In Manhattan. Tonight. With a garden hose.”

Ten minutes later I get a message from Neil at Nomadic by Design. He had access to a rooftop on the upper west side and it most definitely had a water hose we could use. The only caveat was we couldn’t make a lot of noise because we would be standing over his friend’s apartment and their two year old would be asleep. So no screaming, jumping, playing loud music. Ok. No worries. I thank Neil for helping me out and we plan to meet at his place later that evening.

Now then, I had flashes for portrait work but I sure didn’t have any video lights with me. The 5d MkII does pretty well in low light but not in no light. I knew that I wanted to build off of the water references in the song and I knew that water looks best if it can be back-lit. I also had to do this on a budget of “not much”. Like, less than $50. I went to the Kmart at Penn Station and bought six flashlights. I would have bought some more but that was all they had and I still had another band to shoot AND take 10 portraits of 10 strangers so I didn’t have a lot of time hitting up the entire city looking for more flashlights. On a tech note, these are those focused LED beam lights and they were making odd patterns of light on the roof behind Jordan. I needed to diffuse them to get rid of the pattern so I used the white plastic Kmart bag they came in to do that. I ripped the bag up and put pieces of the plastic over the front of the flashlights and that got rid of the patterns. Ghetto Video Dot Com!

Marc and Brian came along for the evening. Marc was on the flashlight lighting Jordan. Brian was on the water hose. Everything and everybody was soaked by the end of the sixth take. The wind was really unpredictable and we just had to deal with it. Jordan’s MacBook playing the song was wet, the 5d was dripping wet, and Brian turned out to be just as soaked holding the hose as Jordan did getting hit by it. All in all… it was a great night.

So why did it take me so long to edit? Because the idea I had for the edit sucked and I couldn’t re-envision the project. I had it set in my head that it was going to be one way but that way turned out like crap and I couldn’t “see” anything different. That happens to me a lot. I get an idea for a shot. I see it in my head. I pick up the camera. I take a photo. The photo sucks. It is nowhere close to what I see in my head. In photography I have learned to let those things go until another day. I couldn’t let this one go until one evening this week. I’ve been editing images for a new portfolio and this Snowden video was bugging the hell out of me. Jordan froze his ass off for this video and I still haven’t pulled anything out of it. I divorced myself from my first plan and just started fresh and new without a plan and I knocked it out in one night. Seriously. One night. Done. WTH? It’s like doing taxes. No, no it’s not.

So yes… my first music video. I’m happy with it. I’ll hate it soon enough but for now I’m really glad I dropped my first idea for the edit and went in a different direction with it. Am I going to sell my self as a music video director? Nope. Do I want to do more of these? Absolutely. Yes. Just spoke with a past client last night about another one of these. Hip to the hippity hop!

Cheers, Zack

PS – I won the last GOYA shoot out! I really thought it was going to be Robin (photographer E). I’ll do another post later.

Workflow :: Photo Mechanic to Lightroom to Photoshop to Delivery

(for a higher quality version of this screencast view the source file here.)

I. Love. Photo Mechanic. End of story. This one program has saved hours and hours of my post production time in the last six months that I’ve been using it. How do I use it? Well, as I state in the screencast above, I only scratch the surface of what it can do but just watch how fast this program is. I can not say enough great things about it. It is available for Mac and PC.

Read below for a $10 discount code on Photo Mechanic!

In this screencast I walk you through my process from start to finish. I have recorded, encoded, uploaded, and ditched this project three times this weekend with the third attempt being my final. Workflow and post production is far from being the funnest and coolest part of our jobs. There is only so much you can say or do to make it the least bit interesting yet it is crucial to our day to day jobs. The more efficient we can be in post production the more time is added to our lives.

Please note that I am not the end all be all workflow guru. Far from it. I do what I do and it works for me. I’m sure many of you are going to leave some comments here teaching me a thing or three about workflow and how I might skim a few more minutes here or there off of my time working with my images. I welcome that. Let this be a conversation about workflow instead of a teaching lesson coming from me.

I want to mention that the Lexar UDMA FW800 card reader I refer to in the video is currently on sale at B&H for $53.99.  That sale ends March 6th. That is more than $20 off the retail price! Do yourself a favor and pick up a few of these. You can daisy chain up to four of them per firewire port. I avoided these for a long time due to the price point but now that I’m using them I don’t know how I lived without them. I wish I would have bought them a long, long, time ago.

I also mention my tutorial on shooting on white seamless on this blog post. You can find the begining of that tutorial here if you have not already seen that.

Many of you asked on Twitter about my thoughts on LR 3, Aperture, and archiving. I can answer that quickly here. I have not really looked at LR 3 yet. I’ve read Kelby’s ongoing posts about new features and I’m excited to see it once it goes public … and … a few months after that since there are always bugs to figure out once a large update is released. I’m too busy to test new software, deal with glitches, and throw up my hands to only go back to what I know and wait for the glitches to disappear. I am interested in the new Aperture 3.0 since it can sync libraries between multiple computers. Aperture has always been a resource hog though. Not that LR is anything but 100% efficient but I only have one editing machine I feel could make the most of Aperture and I’m not convinced that I need to convert from LR to Aperture just yet. I know plenty of you use it and love it with a capital LOVE. I get that. Their brushes look far more intuitive than LR’s brushes. I typically can not afford to jump from application to application when I’m not convinced it is what I need. I was happy in bridge until I sat in a two hour workshop covering LR. Once I saw what it was capable of I switched from Bridge to LR. Maybe the same would happen if I attended an Aperture workshop.

As for archiving, I have decided that should be a post of its own.

For more information about the deeper features of Photo Mechanic, check out the great tutorials on PhotoMetaData.org.

I hope you enjoy this screencast more than I did making it. :) Actually, it was a fun process until I watched the final, uploaded, ready to go versions before this and decided they were far, far, far too boring. I decided it needed 100% more hip hop and down tempo.  Side note – I’m now using Affix Music for my soundtrack needs. They are a new music licensing company who specialize in urban and electronic music. Their catalouge is growing and growing. Check them out. Would you all be interested in a discount code with them? Let me know and I’ll see if I can swing one. They are an amazing service!

BTW – Caleb sat next to me on this one and he wants you to tell me in the comment section if it was boring or not. :)

Photo Mechanic Discount Code ::

All you have to do is ask…. I called the good folks at Camera Bits, makers of Photo Mechanic, and told them I was doing a screencast based on PM and asked if there was some sort of discount they could offer all of you. They were more than willing to give me a code that is good for $10 off the price. You get to pay less than I did! In the name of full disclosure… I’m not getting anything from Camera Bits. This is not an advertisement. I pay for my software.

Call 1 503 547 2800 or email (sales @ camerabits [dot] com) to order and use the code PMzarias. This code is only good for emailed and phoned in orders. They currently do not have a promo code box when simply ordering online. This code is good until March 15th, 2010. (EXPIRED)

Cheers, Zack

PS – I know curves are a great way of dealing with exposure issues but at times, brightness and fill does the job for me. As with all things post production, there are 10 different ways to do the same thing. :)

Where Umbrellas Dare Not Go :: Flying Silks

January 25, 2010 | • Gear & Gadgets

Do you ever need something larger than an umbrella or softbox? Not quite sure if you are wanting to deal with a massive Octabank? Try a 12×12′ silk! Tie it up to some stands like these Matthews Tall Boys and presto! Gorgeous light.

Did you click on the links? Expensive aren’t they? Not to rent!

PITA to carry around, set up, and use? Absolutely. Worth the pain in the ass it is to carry around, set up, and use? Absolutely. Want to do it on your own? Absolutely not. Bring a friend or two.

Silk’s are great because they cut ambient light, you can blow flash into them, you can use them as background material, they look cool blowing around in videos, etc, etc, etc.  Octa’s are cool because you can blow flash into them. (crickets) No etc, etc, etc. after talking about big octa’s. Don’t get me wrong, octabanks are amazing light modifiers.  LOVE them!  But if you need something that is just as much a pain in the a$$ to set up, sand bag, and move around as a large octa is, then consider using a silk.  I prefer the 12×12′ as it is really versatile at that size. I think we are paying about $25 a day to rent two silks.  That’s an affordable solution to a modifier that can do a number of things.

I can’t show the goods from today’s shoot but here is one that I really like from today showing the silk flying in the air like it just don’t care.

Cheers, Zack

Black Rob :: An Audio Experiment

January 24, 2010 | GOYA • Gear & Gadgets

As we get deeper into video production I know that one skill I really need to work on is audio capture and editing. I headed out this evening with a Sennheiser ME-67 and an Edirol audio recorder. Big thanks to Marc for letting me borrow the recorder. The recording comes after the story.

Meg was in Little Five Points to purchase some props and wardrobe for a shoot we have next week. I met her there and walked around recording sounds of cars, people, etc. Someone called out to me;

“What in the hell is that thing? Is that a gun or something?”

The ME-67 is about 14 inches long and is kind of menacing looking in the dark. Black Rob (as he’s known on the streets) was just making sure nothing crazy was about to go down. He started asking me about recording equipment and I started asking about his life.

I recorded Rob without the aid of headphones. I scurried out of the studio too quickly today and left my headphones behind. Always a great thing to do when trying to learn how to capture audio. Luckily the Edirol recorder has a nice level readout so I just kept my eye on that while recording.

I came home needing some music to lay under the recording I had made. Meg disappeared into Loretta (her recording studio) to create an original song just for me. She reappeared at 5am. I had cut all the parts out of the recording that I wanted and got to work in Apple’s Soundtrack Pro. This is the first time I’ve used the program and it was the first time Meg used ProTools.  We’ve both been sliding down a steep learning curve.  

I’m sure you audio guys and gals would have some opinions on this. I would love to hear them.

Listen to the final project for the day

Cheers, Zack

I'm freaking motivated! :: Drew Gardner DVD Review

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Well I’m freaking motivated now. Meg and I just watched London based photographer Drew Gardner’s DVD entitled “Location Lighting with Drew Gardner.” I picked it up from Midewst Photo Exchange for $24.95. That is a grand theft video right there and it is an introductory offer. I think it is going to sell normally for $34.95 or $40. For UK readers you can purchase it from the Flash Centre for 20 pounds.

Synopsis of this DVD :: You follow Drew on two big location shoots. He walks you through the location, the lighting, the thought process, and finishes each section with a quick look at the post production. The reason the post production is a “quick look” is because he does as much as he can at the time of shooting instead of relying on Photoshop. Granted, these images “require” some compositing. I mean, where are you going to find five perfectly trained badgers? The following images are the final images from these two shoots…

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These are big production shoots with a station wagon full of gear. Drew uses a Phase One medium format back, Elinchrom Ranger lights, the beautiful and remarkable Red Wing boom (I really want one of these), grids, Chimera softboxes, a smoke machine, and assistants to help him get all of this together. Here is the thing though… Do not think that you HAVE to have this gear to get something out of this video. I don’t have any where near the type of gear he uses for this and I’m completely inspired to get off my arse and step up my game.

So what does that mean? That means I pick this information apart and retrofit the techniques Drew uses with the gear I currently own. That means I shoot 35mm based digital instead of medium format digital. It means I use my Alien Bees with a Vagabond battery in addition to my used Nikon flashes. The Rangers are incredibly wonderful and powerful lights but I can’t yet justify the cost of them and chances are you can’t either. It basically means I step up my skill set with whatever gear I have. I work within my limitations and that is going to make me a better photographer.

Another thing I think about is I can rent bigger lights if needed! I can rent a Ranger and a head for $55 a day here in Atlanta. Plan your shoots well and you can sometimes pick up rental gear on a Friday afternoon, return it on Monday and only pay for one day of rental. That gives you 2 1/2 days to shoot.

Some of you may be saying, “But I’m a wedding / portrait photographer. Why would I go to these lengths for my shoots?”

Because you could absolutely separate yourself from the pack of competition if you slowed down and thought through sessions with the detail Drew goes into. When you show up with something completely different than the standard you attract a client base looking for something different. You also attract better rates for your services because you put more into it than the new kid on the block with the camera from Best Buy.

Slowing down is something I have to be doing these days. I’m the kind of photographer who feels he must shoot, shoot, shoot and get this angle and that angle and the other angle. A lot of times this is great and keeps me on my toes but I know that I’m not getting exactly what I want because I feel some sort of internal pressure to move on to the next scenario BEFORE I get the best I can get from what is in front of me. I’m really attracted to tethered medium format digital right now because it makes you slow down and really think through the shot in front of you.

Seriously, exchange the girl on the water buffalo with a bride and you have a John Michael Cooper meets Drew Gardner kind of thing. :)

This DVD is NOT a down and dirty, nuts and bolts technical video. If you are new to lighting and photography in general then this one is going to go a bit over your head. This is best suited for those of you who are comfortable with lighting or at least you have the knowledge and understanding of f-stops and shutter speeds. If you are new to lighting then check out the OneLight DVD and/or the Strobist DVD for the foundations of lighting and gear.

It is currently being offered at MPEX in the US for $25 and that’s a steal. I suggest picking one up before the introductory price is up.

Find out more about Drew on his blog at www.TheDarkArt.com. And here is a quick trailer for the DVD…

Cheers, Zack

PS – Yes… I taught with Drew in Dubai. NO… I’m not getting any kind of commission / kickback for posting this review! I really do love this DVD as does Meg. Yep! Even Meg got excited about photography after watching this and she isn’t a photographer! :)


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