15 Feb 2011

Waterfall at the National Botanical Gardens - Pretoria, South Africa

Every time I do a shoot here I give the falls another go in the hope that I get that elusive perfect photo. (Please note that perfection is unattainable) ;-)

13 Feb 2011

Who couldn't love the Nikon 50mm f1.8D "Nifty Fifty"?

For the price I don't think there is a lens to beat this one anywhere on the planet! (Canon's "nifty fifty" is a hair's breadth away from being it's equal with only it's plastic mount letting it down.)

Nikon D90, Nikon 50mm f1.8, natural light, f2.8, 1/320s.

11 Feb 2011

U looking at ME?

Ellie with attitude. Soft box someplace to camera left fitted with a 500w Elinchrom.

2 Feb 2011

More on the junky tripod to super cool light stand conversion...

Ok, so maybe the light stand from a tripod is not super cool, but it was fun and more importantly it worked! So maybe fairly cool then.

Basically I had an old cheapy tripod that came with my Nikon F65 when I bought it for next to nothing. During November I needed a light stand to get my flash and shoot-through umbrella higher than an average cheapy tripod can manage, so I looked to the tripod that was too light to hold an SLR camera steady.

First I detached the head from the aluminium pipe it was mounted to and got this:

The black and white bits top and middle of the pipe will be explained soon.

I then took a piece of chromed curtain rod of the right diameter to fit the head mount and stuck the business end of the head mount into the pipe, drilled a small hole and screwed it in both sides like so:

See the screw? Easy, with only basic DIY skills needed... and a drill... with a suitable sized drill bit. If you don't know what a drill bit is just ask your friends and the first one that knows has earned the privilege of assisting you with this little project! ;-)

Next up I had to drill a hole into the head somewhere, without destroying the heads usefulness, for the umbrella shaft to be pushed in to. Time to ask the DIY savvy friend for help again... Here is where I put my hole, yours may be in a different spot. (You will have to use some common sense on this step.)

I chose that particular position because the drill bit could go all the way through without damaging any important bits inside. Make sure you get this right otherwise you may render you old tripod head quite unable to mount the flash. Also make sure that the diameter of the drill bit is the same as the umbrella shaft, too small and it won't mount, too big and it will fall out.

While it looks oh so neat from the outside, I'm afraid the same cannot be said of the inside, but heck, nobody looks in there anyway... except all of the readers of this blog. Darn!

This is what it looks like with the umbrella inserted into the hole. NICE!

Finally, in order for the curtain rod to fit snugly over the original aluminium pipe that the head used to be mounted to I simply wrapped some electrical tape top and middle and by simple trial and error got it just right:

So that's what those black and white things were! I wanted it to be easily portable, so that's why I didn't screw the curtain rod to the tripod. Now it simply pulls off!

Here's the whole lot together:

The dangly bit hanging from the umbrella shaft is a long balloon that I tie onto the shaft to stop it from sliding in when it is pointed up to use as a bounce umbrella, or I tie it on the other side to stop it from falling out when I am shooting through and it is pointed down. Simple is good.

Here is a pic of the set-up using this rig while shooting Santa in December:

It worked flawlessly!

Here is another shot taken with the same:

This last one was bounced to cover more area while the Santa shots were all shot through the umbrella.

I should probably have just gone and bought a light stand but hey it would not have been half as much fun!
(This was also free since I had all the bits...) (No, not drill bits... ask your friend.)

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.