Monday, August 16, 2010

Ready, set, go! Oh wait! I forgot my camera!

Before any shoot, I run through a mental checklist to make sure I have everything and that everything is setup correctly. This list can be used by anyone who enjoys photography and is using a camera with multiple settings.

A friend of mine did an entire shoot with his ISO at over 1000 – this resulted in an incredible amount of noise which pretty much destroyed his entire set. After this happened, I decided to make a quick list of things to check for to make sure I am always prepared for a shoot.

These are the things you will be checking:

  • Run the sensor cleaner a couple of times even though the camera cleans the sensor automatically every time the camera is turned on and off.
  • Clean all the lenses and filters.
  • Pack up cleaning supplies to make sure you have something to clean the lenses with if needed.
  • Go through all the memory cards, make sure they are empty, and use the camera to format them.
  • Make sure the camera battery and the extra battery are fully charged.
  • Pack up plenty of rechargeable batteries and a charger for the flash.
  • Check the image quality settings – I usually shoot in FINE JPG for personal shoots and I add RAW for paid shoots. Both these take up a lot of room on the memory cards, so I always bring plenty of cards.
  • Check the ISO settings. I usually shoot at around 200 unless I’m in low light conditions that warrant a higher ISO.
  • Check the shooting mode. It has happened that I started shooting only to be momentarily confused as to why my LCD was showing me a black or a brilliant white screen instead of a photo. Then I checked the shooting mode and realized it was on Aperture Priority for a night shoot instead of fully manual for a day shoot. Aim to always shoot manual – this will assure you will always check your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.
  • Check the white balance. The auto feature is fine, but in some cases, you will need to set the white balance to get a desired effect. It’s easy to forget to reset it.
  • I always make sure the focus is on Auto unless I’m working on a specific project or am doing a low light or macro shoot.
  • One thing I often forget and am trying to remedy is bringing a tripod. I finally found a collapsible tripod that somewhat fits in my bag, so hopefully I’ll start having it with me more often.

This has now become routine so I no longer need to keep this list with me, but you might want to either have it saved on your phone/laptop or keep a printed copy in your bag.

Happy shooting!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Guerrilla Photo Shoots

Today, I want to focus on the idea of “guerrilla photo shoot” – a term coined by me to explain how I prefer shooting.

I am not fond of studio work. It’s good for very specific portrait shots and more serious work and doesn’t have the artistic slant I like to give my work. Of course, anything can be reproduced in a studio, given the right amount of money, but why reproduce when we can shoot in the original?

Well, for one, studio work allows for a complete control over light and shadows, which cannot be obtained as easily in an environment where most things behave independently of your will. Oh yes, I have often wished I could simply make people vanish, move trees, and have the sun come out at will – it doesn’t work.

And that’s actually what I love about it! I shoot all over San Diego and many of my shoots involve interesting locations that require some level of physical work. The last two shoots found me mostly squatting, on my knees, crawling, laying on my back, and climbing on chairs and step ladders barely hanging on with one arm while holding the camera with my free hand. I am getting more and more in shape and am finding more ways to discover beautiful angles and shadows to play with.

A good example of typical guerrilla shooting was my session with Alex Julian and model Nataliya Joy Prieto. Alex is a wonderful artist who used Nataliya’s body as a canvas. We shot in a San Diego bar that caters to artists and that was open to the public during the shoot. This resulted in several challenges I had to meet to get the photos I was after.

I had to be flexible – wait for people to walk by, smile at the ones watching the art being created, and not get in the way of Alex as he was painting. I could not set up any professional lighting and could not have a crew of people holding reflectors. I also could not ask the model to pose a certain way – she belonged to the artist, 100%.

This resulted in Alex and I almost dancing around Nataliya. We soon adopted a rhythm that worked. We had one spotlight to play with shadows and that was it. I spent a lot of time squatting in a corner, leaning back on one hand and waiting for the right moment where Alex would move just enough to showcase Nataliya’s beautiful face.

I also spent a fair amount of time dragging bar stools and climbing on top of them, holding my balance while the stool precariously leaned against a wall at the just right angle so I could catch the suppressed giggle in Nataliya’s eyes as the paint tickled a tender spot.

We started the shoot at 10:30 at night and when I left at a little past 1:30 in the morning, Alex was still painting away. This is a shoot I will definitely sign up for again. I left exhilarated, exhausted, and sore and it all felt wonderful. Recreating that scene in a studio would have been impossible. This is why I will take guerrilla shoots over studio work any time.

Some pictures from the shoot (some partial nudity; might not be work safe or suitable for everybody):

More here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shutter Actuation Count

So, considering how much I've been shooting since I bought my D90 back in January of last year, I have been curious to know how many shots I've taken and how many shots my camera can take before the shutter could go.

I spoke with several "professionals" in camera shops throughout San Diego who stated adamantly that there were no ways to find out how many times I had activated my shutter. I decided to do my own digging and discovered several method to check the shutter use:
  1. Preferred Method: Download this neat and simple utility called Preview Extractor. I just used it on Windows 7 and it worked great.
  2. Upload your pictures to Flickr untouched and check the exif information on Flickr by clicking on MORE in the Additional Information section. I've tried this method several times and have yet to find my shutter actuation count there, but some people swear it works.
  3. Use Photoshop C3 (could not reproduce in C4) by clicking File\File Info\Advanced. From there, open up the 4th item ( and look for the line called aux:ImageNumber: The number listed in the number of shutter actuation count.
I'm sure there are more freeware out there that will do the same trick; just google Shutter Actuation Count to find them.

The second question I had was how many actuations until my shutter would die. I ran a quick goggle search for "D90 shutter life" and found out my camera could go to 100,000. You would think this would be good for a lifetime and that's what I thought until I ran my new little utility and discovered that in less than a year and a half, I have already taken ... you're ready for this? 38,492 pictures. No wonder I keep running out of room on the old external hard drive.

So my final question was how much would it be to replace the shutter. Again, the professionals threw their hand up in the air and told me that by that time, it would make more sense to buy a new camera. The camera I would have to buy, to be comparable to my D90 now, would cost anywhere between $900 - $1,500. If the shutter replacement will cost less than $400, I think it makes sense to get a new shutter. So off to google I went again and found some information. The research I've done has shown me that replacing a shutter will cost about $300 to upgrade to the 300,000 actuations going through Nikon directly.

For me, it's a no brainer. I absolutely love the D90 and will only replace it when I can upgrade to a fully professional camera. I would love this little jewel:

Of course, I will have to wait a while before I can splurge for this beautiful piece of equipment. In the mean time, I will probably settle for a $2K - $3K camera like the D300:

I never said this was a cheap hobby.

Keep an eye how for a couple of how-to posts I am working on and as always, please throw me some feedback:
I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wrist Strap Review

So I received this wrist strap today:

Everything considered, it does what it's supposed to do and it was affordable. It came with no instructions, so being completely not mechanical, it took me a little bit to figure out what to do with the strap, but I rigged it my way and it works.

It attaches to camera's tripod mount and has another tripod mount on the back so the strap can remain attached when the camera is mounted to the tripod. That was a lot of mount and mounted and tripod!

Worth the cost, but not ideal as the grip moves around a bit when taking pictures.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wrist strap

So I prefer holding my D90 in my hand and not around my neck. I'm still looking for a neck strap that will help with the backaches - the camera, especially when the 300 lens is attached, kills my back if I wear it on a strap around my neck. If any of you know of a long strap that I could wear like I would a purse over the neck/shoulder, please let me know.

In the mean time, I'm ordering this wrist strap:

I'll let you know what I think of it once it gets here. And yes, I am working on reviews of everything I've bought so far as well as the more than 30 books I have read, am reading, and will read.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Waist Belt

As I thoroughly enjoy looking like a geek, I am thinking of purchasing this belt:

I can't find reviews on it, so I will review once I receive it as well. Let me know if any of you already own it and tell me what you think of it.

New lens

I just placed an order for this lens and will post a review as soon as I receive it:

I would like to use this lens to do some urban decay shots - abandoned building and such.