23 Jan 2011

The 35mm f1.8 as a portrait lens

After my last post I decided to look through some previous work that I had done to see how the 35mm f1.8 performs as a portrait lens, and I have to say it's not too shabby at all! I would normally recommend a slightly longer focal length for closer portraits because of the problem with a "normal" prime to distort a little when closer in, however, as you can see from the pic below, it can do the job if needed!

The Nikon 35mm f1.8 is an el-cheapo wonder lens designed exclusively for Nikon's DX format cameras and has the same perspective as a non-existent 52mm prime on an FX camera. 52mm is close enough to qualify as a "standard" lens and has all the attributes one would expect from a good prime i.e. it's sharp and fast!

The photo below is the sort of small group or environmental portrait that I would normally recommend the 35mm focal length (on DX) be used for.

Both photos were taken with the excellent Nikon 35mm f1.8DX lens attached to a Nikon D90 and lighting was from a single Nikon SB600 flash shot through an umbrella.

20 Jan 2011

The 50mm f1.8 as a portrait lens

On a crop sensor camera a 50mm lens gives an equivalent focal length of about 75mm for Nikon and 80mm for Canon. This gives a greater distance between camera and subject, and crops out part of the image from the lens, and therefore two things happen:
1.) Distortion from being too close to your subject with a 50mm lens is eliminated because you have to stand further back to get the same framing. This pushes it a little closer to being a standard "portrait" lens, especially on a Canon.
2.) The weakest part of the cheaper 50mm lenses are the edges where fringing, aberrations etc. occur. But because the sensor is smaller these weaker areas are effectively cropped out all together and we are left with only the best part of the image! Oh yeah!

At the ridiculously low price of the "standard" 50mm f1.8 lens this means that it makes perfect sense to invest a small bit of cash to get near "pro" results! To get the same quality from a zoom you will be spending a LOT more money, and it will be larger and heavier to boot.

More "pros" than will care to admit it carry the nifty fifty in their bags, just ask them for a peek in their bags, it will be there somewhere. Ask Chase Jarvis, he has one in his bag too.

And if you are an "oldie" photographer and like the 50mm focal length because that was your favourite back when you still used a film camera (remember film?) then consider the Nikkor AF-S 35mm 1:1.8G DX  for a crop sensor Nikon cameras as it gets closer to what is considered a "normal" focal length which in this case equates to 52mm. I also hear good things about the Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC HSM for most brands of crop sensor cameras. These are both great for half body, full length or environmental portraits and also for small group shots, giving superb performance for a low cost, although I from what I hear the Sigma might not be as cheap as the Nikkor.

So if you have examples of portraits with the "nifty fifty" then please post a link to them below for the benefit of us all!

19 Jan 2011

El Muerto Pare El Santo

Got mine today! Look, see the ugly dude reading the photography book:

You can get your own copy if you go here: http://www.johnsevigny.com/ (Do it, you won't be sorry!)

Most people would give a book review at this point, but let me simply sum it up in these few words -
El Muerto Pare El Santo is all one would expect of John Sevigny, unconventional, a little dark, raw humanism mixed with a certain spirituality that pushes social norms into a corner while real life takes centre stage. I liked it!

If you haven't seen it yet, John's blog is here: Gone City
Tell him I say hi.

Fungus at F2.8

So I posted this mushroom shot which was shot at F8 and a closer perspective and I think the result was quite pleasing with the fungus standing out from the background in sharp focus against the relatively out of focus background. Moving further away from the mushroom at the same f-stop would have caused the background to be less defocussed and the effect of highlighting the subject (mushroom) would have been lessened to a large degree. Here we have the power of a sharp prime coming to the fore because I dialled it open to f2.8 and instead increased the the out of focus character of the background and actually heightened the effect!

The Nikon f1.8 wins again! At R999 (directly converted to US $149 although they go for a mere $100 in reality) this is the bargain of a lifetime! If I had set it to f1.8 the result would have been an even thinner slice of focus but at the expense of a tiny bit of sharpness. The main problem is that very little of the subject (mushroom) would have been in focus and then the effect would have been ruined. So don't be afraid to experiment a bit until you find what works for you.

13 Jan 2011

The Storm Cometh!

A sunset giving some golden light and an approaching storm... what more could a photographer ask for!?!

11 Jan 2011

Mushrooms are not plants: they are a fungus.

Found this one behind our tent while taking a leak in the bushes last weekend when we were out camping at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

Shot details: Nikon D90, Nikon 50mm f1.8D, f8, 1/60s, ISO200, Aperture Priority, processed in Corel Paintshop Pro X3.

30 Dec 2010


If only we could retain the joy, wonder and innocence we had as children... the world would be sooo much better!

29 Dec 2010

Eliminate That Hotspot!

While I was out shooting Santa last week I had some spare time to play with my flash and shoot through umbrella set-up and took the following shot:

As you can see there is a distinct hotspot in the umbrella. Not so great for even distribution of light, which is the point of the umbrella to start off with. Of course it does help to distribute light, but not as well as it could. The flash was set to about 50mm here, so I flipped out the built in diffuser and it automatically went to 14mm wide with the following result:

Beautiful even distribution of light resulting in a better wrap around effect for portraits!

The light stand used here is in fact a junky old cheap tripod with the head removed and refitted to an extension pole which I then mounted to the top of the junky old cheap tripod, I then drilled a hole through the plastic head (taking care to avoid anything important) and voila! Nice tall light stand for the man on a limited budget. Here is a close up of the head:

Some people say I'm tight, but I like to think of myself as frugal...

25 Dec 2010

Shooting Santa...

...a profitable low point in my artistic career! Lets face it there is no artistic value in doing the typical Santa in the mall shots, but it does provide the bread and milk money.

I decided to go for the less is more philosophy and had a single shoot through umbrella with a Nikon SB600 flash, camera set to manual, 1/80s, f5.6, customised portrait mode, jpg only (to save time). The results were quite adequate for the task at hand:

The setup
Santa with baby

Santa with another kid

Santa and Helper
Everybody loves Christmas! Except the Grinch I suppose, but he wasn't there.

22 Dec 2010

Blue flowers in black and white...

If you are on a very tight budget and don't want to spend a whole lot of money (or any at all), Picasa by Google is a simple but fairly effective editing tool. It doesn't have the options of Photoshop, Paintshop Pro or the GIMP, but it is fast and very easy to use. It has all that the amateur home photographer/happy snapper needs, so don't buy into the "I must have Photoshop" line, you can great results without blowing the bank or needing a three month course in how to use the program first! (Photoshop will not make you a better photographer either btw.)

Picasa also has a few extra little bits that make it easy to publish to Picasa's on-line web-album, resize for email, and even watermark, if you feel the need. Download it here: Picasa

Taken with a Nikon D90 and Nikon 35 f1.8DX, edited in Picasa.