Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Camera Strobes/Flashes

First of all, let me say, I will call flashes strobes.  Strobes are a way of adding light to a scene.  You can either have a strobe on camera, or off.   Have it light part of a scene or all of a scene.  Use one or multiple strobes.  It is up to you and what you want to do.  You can purchase very cheap strobes and do a lot with them or spend thousands of dollars on top of the line strobes and be limited to what you can do with them.

First thing you should do, before buying any type of strobe, is check out the Strobist website.  A lot of great information can be found there.  Infact, just about anything you want to know about shooting with strobes can be found there along with contests and assignments.  A great resource.

Since I shoot sports a lot, I thought I would just scratch the surface of using strobes for sports.  We would all love to have that perfect light outdoors, but there are times we need a little extra.  A good example is night time football.  You can only get away with using flash with football in high school and bellow, but thankfully, most college and pro venues have enough light that you do not need a to add any light.

With football, one thing you want to avoid is on camera strobes.  With long lenses, having your strobe on camera will give you very bad red eye.  There are ways around this though.  A flash bracket for your camera, or one that mounts on your lens tripod ring is a great way to do it.  When I shoot with a 300mm lens, I am always using a monopod and I mount two, Vivitar 283 strobes about 16 inches bellow the camera on the monopod and fire them wirelessly.  By having the strobes set to 1/4 power using a Vivitar VP-1 power adapter for the 283's, I get good recycle times and a lot of light being thrown onto the football field.  I have talked to another photographer who uses Vivitar 285's in the same way but he has one of the strobes set to around 50mm (on the head of the strobe) and the other set to a telephoto setting (I believe 100mm +/-).  This gives him one flash that is illuminating a wide view and one giving him a throw of light further away.  I have also seen photographers set up a light stand on the sideline with a studio strobe or two or three and even seen strobes mounted up in the bad high school stadium lights.  Another fun way to shoot with a off camera strobe is a strobe on a stick.  Mount your strobe and pocket wizard on a monopod and have an assistant stand about 10 yards from you, following the action with the strobe and when you fire, bam, nice 45 degree side lighting.  It does not work perfectly, but it is pretty fun when it does.

The above set up will work with just about any field sport.  LAX, football, soccer.  But do not, I repeat, do NOT use this with baseball.  Umps, coaches and players do not want a strobe going off that could distract someone as a ball is flying at them at 60mph or faster, and you do not want your strobe going off at the instant a play is made that blinds the umpire so he can not make a call.

Now for indoor sports like basketball, the set up is different.  Some high school's do not allow strobes or on camera flash.  Check first to see if it is ok.  And do not use on camera strobes on the baseline.  Basically, you want your strobes out of a direct line of site for the players.  I mount my strobes about 20 feet in the air at the corners of the court.  I have the strobes set to a wide angle covering from the baseline to about mid court.  You want a strobe that recycles fast and puts out at least a guide number of 200.  The Vivitar's are fine for this, but you may find that studio strobes will be a better option.  There are a lot of discussions on various forums online about what strobes to use and how to use them.  Bounce, direct, sports reflectors, ISO's, etc.  Best thing to do for you is practice practice practice.

Now.  After going over this, you are more than likely thinking, "That's great, but I need fast shutter speeds to freeze the action, and my flash will only sync at 1/200th of a second."  That is all you need if your strobe is powerfull enough and has a fast duration.  Over powering the ambient light is key here.  If you over power the ambient enough, your strobe is the main light source.  And if you have a strobe with a duration of 1/2500th, then even though your shutter is only set at 1/200th, you are capturing the action at 1/2500th of a second.  Think of it as your strobe is now your shutter.  Take an exposure reading for the strobe, set it to your camera and you are good.  If ambient light is 1/125th at 2.8 and your strobe gives you a exposure of 1/200th at 5.6, then set your camera to 1/200th at 5.6 and you are good to go.  Images will be captured at 1/200th but because your strobe is doing the actual work of the shutter, it will freeze the action and make it apear that you used a super fast shutter speed.  So, using a hand held light meter is important.  With my Minolta Flashmeter V, I set the camera shutter speed flash sync, which for my 1D is 1/500th and 1/250th for my 1D Mark II, and I start with an ISO setting of 400.  I then take a reading from the basketball court of with the strobe.  For basketball, I shoot for around a F4-f5.6 reading.  If I get that, I am good to go, but if I get an F8, I will drop my ISO or if I hang around F2.8 I will increase the ISO to 800.  Set your camera to what your light meter says and you are good to go.

So, when buying a strobe (flash), decide what you need it to do, what you want it to do, and research what will work with your camera and what will fit in your budget.  Canon makes speedlights that scratch $400 - $500 and Vivitar makes flashes around $100.  Canon's will be fully compatible with their cameras and have all sorts of features, where Vivitars will be a basic full manual strobe.  

My final advice was aready touched on.  Read Strobist.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lens selection.

Lens selection.

We all know, or should know, that you need a lens or set of lenses in order to take photos with any SLR camera.  What you shoot and your level of experience should dictate what lens or lenses that you get.  Do not get a lens just because you have enough money to get the very best and it is the same lens that your favorite photographer uses.  Just because you might have the same gear as that top Sports Illustrated photographer, does not mean you will get the same quality photos that they do.  Experience, knowing your gear and what it is capable of and what it is not, and how to use it to it’s fullest extent is key to great photos.

So, speaking to you with the thought that you are a new photographer, learning the craft, what I am saying is, if you need a 300mm lens, do not run out and spend $4000 on a Canon 300 2.8 IS L lens.  This is a heavy lens, expensive, and one that beginning photographers would not likely use to its fullest extent.  There is a special learning curve for large lenses, in fact, there is a learning curve for most lenses, but lenses that way 5 to 20 pounds are much different to use than a lens that ways 2 or 3 pounds.  Canon makes a variety of lenses in the 300mm range from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand.  If you want to try a 300mm lens, go with a zoom, like a 70-300 to start with.  Typically these are slower lenses, but they will get you a feel for the focal length and you may find that you do not need 300 as much as you thought.

For anyone starting out in photography, learning about apertures, depth of field, shutter speeds and such, a inexpensive kit can be built that can be used in various shooting styles and allow you to grow as you need to.

Most digital cameras that consumers buy like the Digital Rebel Xti or 30D, have a kit lens that come with them.  For Canon, that is the 18-55 3.5-5.6 lens.  On the 1.6x APS-C sensor these cameras have, this is similar to a 24-70 lens.  While it is a cheap, plastic lens, it is actually a very nice little lens.  Light weight, and a great lens to build around, and when you are ready, a good lens that has good alternatives.  To go along with this lens, Canon makes another inexpensive lens, the 55-200.  Not too big, again, plastic, and a little slow, but a good focal length and lightweight.  A good lens to learn with as you start out.  Another lens to add to this set is one for low light.  When you start shooting in low light situations like parties, museums, and the like, the kit lens and the 55-200 will not give you shutter speeds fast enough to stop the action.  Adding a 50mm 1.8 lens, which runs around $100 is a great choice.  It also is a cheap plastic lens, but for the price, you can not buy a better lens.

As you get more experience, you will notice what lenses are holding you back and what focal lengths you use more.  Before selling that 55-200 for a $1600 70-200 2.8 IS L, you can look at alternative choices.  Like third party lenses, F4 versions, and the like.  As you start looking for lenses to replace the ones you have, you will get an idea.  One suggestion I have for you is, other than the kit lens, stay away from the EF-S mount lenses.  While their focal lengths might be very desireable, like the 10-22 or 17-55 2.8, if you get to the point that you want to shoot a different Canon camera like a 1D, 1Ds, or 5D series, these lenses are useless.  They are designed for the APS-C sensor and can not be mounted on any other body.  An 18-55 can be replaced with a 17-40, 16-35 or a 24-70 2.8.  Also, Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron makes some very good lenses at a fraction of the cost.  A Canon 24-70 2.8 lens might cost $1200, and a Sigma version will run under $400.  While the Sigma will not be as good as the Canon, it is still a great lens and another great lens to learn with.

If you are looking into a all in one lens, one that will be small and lightweight for hiking, or camping, where weight is an issue, there are some lenses from Sigma and Tamron that may work for you.   28-200 and 300mm that are small work great for giving you a lot of focal lengths in one lens, but it comes with a drawback.  Lenses like this are not the sharpest, and are typically not for low light shooting.  Also, lenses that are more than 10X zoom, like the 28-300 should be avoided.  They just are not a lens that produce good images.

When you start shooting sports, especially youth sports which may be played in the evening, or indoors, you are kind of stuck.  Fast lenses are they way to go.  Fast shutter speeds to stop the action and large apertures, like 2.8 or faster are needed to throw your backgrounds out of focus and separate your subject from the background.  But, when you can spend $200 on a 55-200 or $1600 on a 70-200, it starts turning into a major investment.  Again, Sigma should be looked at as an alternative.  A 24-70 and 70-200 from Canon could run over $3K, where the same lenses from Sigma are around $1300-$1400.  A full $1600-$1700 you could spend on other lenses, or flashes, or memory.  Not a bad idea if you are on a budget, and they perform very nicely.  In fact I have had numerous photos published in major newspapers and magazines like ESPN the Magazine taken with a Sigma 70-200 2.8.  

Now, the last thing I want to touch on is IS.  IS, or image stabilization, is honestly a luxury, and should not be over used.  In fact, not one of my lenses have IS.  On long lenses, like the 400 2.8 or 600 f4, IS is great, because of the length of the lens, the weight, and possible vibrations or lens shake, it helps, but at 300 or less, as long as you can keep your shutter speed above the focal length (If you are shooting at 200mm keeping your lens at 1/250th or higher), you do not need IS.  However, if you are in a low light situation, that you just can not use a support like a monopod or tripod, IS can be a life saver.  Otherwise, in my opinion, all it does is suck your battery down quicker.

In closing, do not buy the best of everything if you can, but focus on learning how to take the photo, develop your eye, and upgrade your gear as you need to, you will become a much better photographer over time.

Find reviews of lenses, and other gear at www.fredmiranda.com

Next tip..Flashes….on camera and off….

Monday, July 02, 2007

Photo Tips

I have to say, I get more questions from people than to seems like I sell photos some times.  So, I got to thinking, since I do hold workshops from time to time, maybe I should start a little tip section.  I will start out things pretty basic and move on to more advance things as weeks go by.  I will cover things from equipment to lighting to how to shot specific things.

To start off, lets be real basic.  To take a photograph, you need two things.  A camera and someone behind the camera.    That person who is behind the camera, you, needs to understand how the camera works in order to capture photographs.  So my tip, as basic as it may sound, is one that many photographers, or people with a new camera for the first time do not do.  Read your manual.  Beyond reading the manual, look at maybe picking up a special guide just for your camera.  A company out there produces books called the Magic Lantern Guide which is esentially your camera manual on steroids.  It should give you a better understanding of what your camera is capable of doing and what it is not.  Familerize yourself with each of the functions of the camera, and either keep your manual in your camera bag, or make a little cheat sheet of things you may need to know when you are out taking photos.  This could be basic settings to custom functions.

My next tip will be on lens selection.