Sunday, March 25, 2012

Photoshop World in Washington DC

Hello everybody!
You probably thought that I will never write another post again but that is not the case! I am back after a very busy period (I wasn't just too lazy to write...) and I do apologize that I have abandoned this blog for a while, I will try to write more often from now on.
So today I got back from a very important annual event (for photographers anyway) - Photoshop World Conference and Expo. I wanted to go for a few years now but it was always held in Las Vegas and that's too far for me. This year it was held in DC so I just drove there and stayed for 3 days. Why would you care? Well first let me tell you how this event came to be and why. There is a fantastic organisation called NAPP - National Association of Photoshop Professionals. It was founded by Scott Kelby ( who is a writer, photographer, publisher and great teacher among other things. He is the reason I know Photoshop and mostly he is the reason I know photography. when I was starting out, I tried reading guide books about these topics but I personally think that learning a program like Photoshop from books is very difficult. Don't get me wrong, he has many great books but in my opinion, the most important thing he did was Kelby Training
He assembled a team of world class teachers, photographers and Photoshop masters and told them to give out their secrets to whoever wants to learn. Think of it as a cool university for Photoshop and photography where you sit in front of the computer in your own home and every time you want to learn something, you have an array of the best teachers on demand who can show you exactly how to do whaever you need to do. Yes you need to pay like $25 a month but you get unlimited access to any video class you want and I think it's worth the money.
So anyway, Every year, Scott and all the instructors assemble for a three day conference full of classes and presentations and teach you all the newest techniques live right in front of you. It was a blast! I learned a lot of new cool stuff and was inspired by all the great teachers that gave out their tips and tricks.
So if you really want to learn Photoshop, I highly recommend getting into this world of NAPP and Kelby Training. 
After a full day of classes I obviously couldn't resist taking my camera and going out to the major tourist attractions DC has to offer. In this photo below I just want to emphasize that a tourist attraction that was photographed a million times can still be photographed from a different and more interesting angle.
Washington Monument shot at night, hand held!
1/40 sec at f 2.8 ISO 2500 
Yes I was lucky enough to have fog and I shot at night but still, all I'm saying is if you see a group of people shooting the same statue or a building, get as far away from this group and go look for a different angle to shoot. Maybe try to tell a story or try to take a photo from a bug's point of view (you may have to lay on the ground and get dirty for this one) but whatever you do, don't shoot like everybody else. Trust me, when you show those photos to people, they will be amazed and every time they look at a photo or actually visit the attraction, it will be your photo they will remember.
As you may or may not know, I like to create compositions from different images I take. I am always on the lookout for an interesting texture, subject or location. Sometimes, people look at me very strange when I shoot a close up of a rock or a leaf instead of the gorgeous landscape behind it. But I know that I am gathering material for my next composite drawing and if I see something that I think I will use in the future, I will take a few shots no matter how strange that looks. during the expo, I was lucky enough to photograph a model that was hired by one of the exhibitors.
A model at Westcott's Lighting booth

She is a perfect mach for my next drawing and as soon as I finish, I will post the result in this blog.
In my drawings, I always use photos that I took and not from the web because of copyrights and because I feel that if I use someone else's photo, the final image will not be completely created by me. Yes you can buy stock photography but it just doesn't feel wright.
Another tip that I can give you, is always try to have the camera ready. Example below:
1/60 sec at f2.8 ISO 3200
I understand that I used settings that will create a lot of noise but hey, I had to get that split second in complete darkness so I didn't care. Life happens pretty fast and to catch an interesting moment, you have to be quick.

Ok so we learned 3 things today:
1- Look at things from a different angle and stay away from popular "postcard" photos.
2- Shoot a lot! One day, you might need it.
3- Always have the camera ready to catch an unexpected moment.

That's all for today folks! Hope you enjoyed it and please leave a comment or two and share this blog with your friends and I promise, I will try to write much more often :)  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Choosing the Right Lens

Hi everybody! It's been a while since my last post and I do apologize for that, I've been pretty busy. I promised you a post about lenses so here we go.

First lets distinguish two types of camera sensors that we have available (most common ones). You may have heard the term "Full Frame" and "Crop" sensors. If you didn't, it's ok, I will not hold it against you. Why am I talking about sensors instead of lenses? Just like with the camera situation, you would rather say "Just point to the right lens" or "Go buy it for me" but no! You will learn and decide for yourself. I'm not going to bore you to death but you have to know a few things.
The very elaborate and the most important component of any digital camera is the sensor. It is the heart of the camera and it is what interprets light captured into a photograph. Before digital, there were 35mm film cameras so without going into details, a full frame is the exact equivalent of a 35mm frame and a crop sensor is 3/4 or other fraction of the full frame. That's basically it, not too complicated. You might ask yourself why would manufacturers make a 3/4 frame? Well it's about twenty times cheaper to make which makes it the dominant sensor on  low end cameras. Pro cameras have full frame sensor and this is one of the reasons they are more expensive. Full frame receives much more information and can use a higher ISO setting without too much "noise".
So what does it have to do with lenses? Well pretty much everything. Lets say we have a wide-angle lens and we put it on a camera with a 3/4 sensor. Take a shot and you will get a normal wide-angle photo:

17-40mm lens on a Canon Rebel XTI at 17mm
 Put the same lens on a full frame camera and take a shot. The result can amaze you (it amazed me anyway). the photo will be much wider than the previous one:

17-40mm on a Canon 5D Mark II at 17mm
  Obviously, the difference will be visible not only in a wide-angle lenses but in all the rest as well. Now that we briefly covered that, let's talk about the different lenses out there. Again, I will remind you that I am a Canon shooter and I will give examples of Canon lenses but same applies for other manufacturers as well.
Just like with cameras and anything else you buy, there are good lenses and there are "can't afford so I bought this one instead" lenses. It's pretty simple really; more expensive lens will produce the sharpest and the better quality results than the less expensive. High-end lenses will be more weather resistant, will be made in most cases out of metal instead of plastic and most importantly, the glass will be much better. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have a good lens. When you do decide to go with a more professional equipment, start saving for the camera and at least one good lens. In a Canon world, a good lens is very easily distinguished by the thin red line around the lens. This is a sign for an "L" lens or a "Luxury" lens. When I got my first "L" lens, it was one of the happiest moments of my life (yes it's sad but I like a good lens so don't judge me)! Prices for the "L" series range from $700 to about $10,000 (yes people pay that much for a lens). So what is the difference between the lenses?

Canon's array of glass
Like you can see, there are many of them to choose from so lets distinguish the important stuff:

Focal Range:

This is the range at which the lens will capture light. For example: 17-40mm is a wide-angle lens, 24-70mm is mid-range zoom and a 70-200mm is a zoom lens capable of capturing close-ups without getting too close to your subject. By the way, those three lenses are the most common lenses in a wedding photographer's bag. They cover pretty much all the focal length you will need so you don't have to worry about missing the action. Other than weddings and events the most common uses for a wide angle lens can be landscape or architecture photography. A mid-range zoom lens is a great all purpose lens that can be used for travel (when you don't want to carry more than one lens), portraits, fashion and numerous other uses. A long zoom lens most often will be used for portraits, sports or nature photography.
There are lenses that have a set focal length such as 50mm, 85mm, 100mm and other lengths. These lenses are called prime lenses. In most cases they will be much more expensive and thus much faster (I'm getting to lens "speed" soon). In fact my next lens will probably be 85mm or 100mm "L" lens. The quality is superb but unfortunately the price is around $2,000 so it is not a purchase you make without much consideration. Some photographers use only prime lenses because they believe it produces the best photos and they call it laziness when you use a zoom lens in order to avoid moving your butt closer to the subject. With a set focal length you will need to move much more to get the results you want, when with a zoom lens you can just zoom in without moving. A small tip that I learned a while back: Try using the "wrong" lens for a specific situation. For instance: shoot a portrait with a wide angle to include the subjects' surroundings or shoot a landscape with a long zoom to single out a great feature instead of trying and capture it all:

Shot with 70-200mm at 200mm
Speed and f-stop:

If you have a DSLR lens, take a look at the numbers written next to the focal length. It should say something like 1:3.5-5.6 or 1:4 or 1:2.8 and so on. Well this my friends is the number we all want to see as low as possible and we are willing to pay a lot of money for. This is the f-stop number. I won't go into how does this work but the most important thing you need to know is the lower the number the wider your lens will open to accept more light in a dim situation. In photography, much like in other aspects of life, something is gotta give. There are always trade-offs for the three most important components: f-stop, shutter speed and ISO. Shutter speed number is usually shown in fractions such as 1/125 or 1/60 of a second. The FASTER the shutter opens, the less light will go through but you will be able to freeze the scene. However, there is a trade-off. Less light comes in, the darker the photo will come out. This is where the f-stop comes in. The lower the number (f2.8, f2...) the WIDER it opens, which will allow more light to come in despite the high speed of the shutter. Light will come fast but there will be more of it. So lets take a scenario where you want to take a photo of your child during bath-time in the evening (based on real events :) ). You need to consider a few things: The shutter speed must be pretty fast - 1/125 because the child moves all the time. The Aperture (the hole that opens for light and is measured in f-stops) must be low because it is pretty dark in your bath (for the camera at least), so preferably it will be f-2.8 - this is by the way where you start to understand that you need that faster and more expensive lens that can go as low as 2.8 and not 3.5 or 5.6... Also, it would be great if your ISO setting would be high (around 1600-2000) and this is where you want that expensive full frame camera that can handle this high ISO setting without showing signs of noise. So let's say you spend about $5,000 for equipment and took that shot at 1/125, f-2.8, ISO 1600. You should have a great shot of your child that doesn't really care about the money you spent to get it...

24-70mm L 1/125 f-2.8 ISO 1600 at 70mm
  All that was said here is of coarse meant for shooting without flash. Flash is a whole different story and we will talk about in another post. There are more aspects of the different f-stops but for now I think its good enough.

So the bottom line is this: A god lens is important just as much as the camera you get. When you buy a lens, try to get one with a low f-stop and a focal length you will use more often. My favorite is 24-70mm L f-2.8 zoom lens (about $1,300) and I use it pretty much for everything. I can't really recommend a cheaper lens because I would be lying if I say I enjoyed my first kit lens that came with my camera ( 18-55 1:3.5-5.6) but believe it or not, I shot a wedding with it and got pretty damn good photos. So although I can't say get the cheaper one, it's not the end of the world if you do and save money for a great buy in the future. There are much more that could be said about lenses but i think that i covered the basics and hope it helped.
Next post will be about creative composition  and should be pretty fun.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Choosing the Right Camera

Before we shoot anything, we need to decide what do we shoot with. Many people often ask me: "What is the best camera?", "What brand?", "Where to get it?" or my personal favorite: "Here is the money, go get me a great camera!". Well this madness stops now. I would like to say that there is no "best camera", what matters is the way we operate it. There are cameras that fit our individual needs and likes, and luckily we live in a time of incredible variety.
In my personal opinion, there are only two camera brands in this world: Canon and Nikon. I understand that the other companies are great or maybe even "cool", however if you want the best, choose one of the above mentioned brands. Quick note: iPhone or other mobile devices are not cameras, they are phones. Just wanted to clarify that...
I personally use Canon and I can advocate in it's favor for a very long time but there are plenty of other websites that compare the two brands and sometimes even offer an array of great verbal abuse competitions on some forums... I use Canon 5D Mark II full frame with various "L" lenses (I'll get to lenses in another post) as my primary camera.
When choosing the camera we need to consider a few factors. The most annoying of them is the price! but lets say you are a responsible person and tacking a second mortgage is not an option, how do you choose a good camera? 
"Point and Shoot" cameras are great for drunk club photos, day at the beach photos (you don't care about the sand as much) and other photos for Facebook or grandma monthly report. If you are interested in a slightly better results and pictures that you can proudly print and frame, you will choose a DSLR camera. DSLR or Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras produce the finest results when looking for a high quality photograph. Many of today's "Point and Shoot" cameras have great quality as well, however they will never be as fast as DSLR. You know that annoying and frustrating feeling when you think you have a great shot of your kid or pet doing something really amazing, but instead you get a scene from "The Blair Witch Project"? Well it happens to the best of us but luckily very easy to avoid. Pretty much any DSLR will do the trick so now it's the other factors that we need to consider:

Megapixels - An elaborate scam invented by marketers and sales people because they needed some kind of number they can throw at you when you buy a camera. You do not need more than 10 for great quality. The more megapixels you have the bigger the print you can do and still maintain the quality. Since most of us don't print on buildings, we really don't need more than 10.
High ISO - Now this is more important. The higher the ISO (film sensitivity) the less noise (those tiny colorful dots you see in the dark areas of the picture) you will have. Normal camera can go up to 3200 ISO without having any noticeable noise. My camera has a limit of 25600... that doesn't mean I can go that high but my 3200 setting and the same setting on a lower priced camera will produce different results and that is one of the reason for price difference.
FPS- The number of Frames Per Second your camera can shoot. Very important when shooting sports, kids and other fast moving objects. Most of the standard cameras have 3.7 fps and its a good number to start with.
Price - Very annoying but we have to consider it. If it's your first DSLR, don't go and spend $3,000 on it. Practice on a lower priced camera and then move to full frame camera (I will explain this in a post about lenses). 

If you are a beginner and would like to take great photos without spending a fortune, I would suggest getting something like this:
This by the way is the website I recommend for everything you need for photography. B&H Photo is a Disney Land for photographers and it is my favorite source. They are known for having everything and the prices are great.
If you want to spend a little extra, you can go for this:

Ok so I think I covered the most important factors and hope it makes some sense.