Preparing for first corporate photoshoot at Highstreet Mobile

Already some years ago my oldest son together with his business partner started a software company. They are a SaaS company and their product focuses on fashion brands. Fashion brands will get a mobile shopping app that works both on iOS and Android. They focus heavily on making the consumer experience great. The shopping app is fully branded, integrated with existing e-commerce systems and it gets better all the time. Their initial focus was on the iPad, however, now the apps also work for the iPhone and for Android devices. The company is called Highstreet Mobile, and is located in Utrecht.

A month ago he asked me whether I could do a photoshoot for his company: team members, the office etc. I am quite honoured to do this, at the same time it will be the first time that I will do this type of photoshoot, so it is also a challenge. First, the three of us (my son, his business partner, and I) had a telco to make sure what kind of pictures were required. Basically it comes down to: head-shoulder pictures of each team member, a group picture (likely to be taken outside in a nearby park), pictures of group activities, and pictures of the office environment. Themes that characterise the company are: innovative, informal, and passion.

Based on this I decided that I needed three flashes for the head-shoulder pictures: one from the left, one from the right and one from the top (using a snoot). In the past I bought three PocketWizard FlexTT5, one was used as transmitter on the camera, and the other two for two flashes (receivers). Now I needed three receivers, so I decided to buy a second-hand PocketWizard MiniTT1, which is a transmitter, to put on my camera. I also had a look at a good tutorial about the Zone Controller PocketWizard AC3 to make sure I knew how everything worked. Another advantage of having three flashes, and having full controle over them, is the easy way of lightening the office.

So, besides the flashes and the PocketWizards I need two umbrellas, one snoot, and three light stands with brackets. Furthermore, I had to make sure that all the batteries were fully charged. Besides the general-purpose lens 28-300mm I will take the 70-200mm for the head-shoulder pictures, and the 16-35mm for the office pictures. I will also take the battery grip. It makes taking the portrait pictures (vertical) easier. 

The day before I went to Foto Konijnenberg to clean the sensor and to buy the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L. In the evening I went through my checklist and packed everything.

Fully packed

[to be continued]

My Farewell Gift: a Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L

Fully load Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L

When I retired from the university I got a voucher from my own research group to buy photo equipment at Foto Konijnenberg in Den Ham. I took some time because I wanted to buy something special. Something, that reminded me of the very innovative environment I used to work.

After getting acquainted with Capture from Peak Design in San Francisco, I had a closer look at their products. The backpack I had in mind was a compact one with space for a full frame camera with the 28-300mm or 70-200mm attached and separately the 14-35mm lens. And besides that some room for a water bottle, a compact rain jacket, and a lunch. Looking at the website of Peak Design, I found the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L. I deliberately choose the 20L one, instead of the 30L, because I wanted a compact backpack for photography during a hike in the woods or a stroll through a city. It is compact: without extending it is only 12L. 

The main characteristics of the Everyday Backpack are:

  • innovative way of packing: while attached the dividers can easily be shifted left or right; the outer parts of the dividers can be flipped left or right or both (split); the dividers can also be left out;
  • easy access of equipment:  with a simple pull on one strap, the backpack can be swung in front of you like a slingbag; the camera with attached lens or other lenses can then easily be accessed form the side of the backpack (both sides); 
  • easily extended: the top compartment can be kept small, however, if you want to put more in it, it can easily be extended (another 8L) and still locked solidly; also, there are smaller straps to attach something on the outside, like a tripod, a yoga mat, or sleeping bag.
  • sufficient space: a 15″ MacBook and an iPad Pro easily fits; and a small compartment for an iPhone;
  • many small innovations: carrying the bag from the top or from the side;  carrying on top of rolling luggage; straps can rotate to adjust to different body sizes; locking the zippers; tuck-away waist straps,  horizontal strap that can be operated with one hand to keep the main straps in place; etc.

My first use of the backpack was for a photoshoot. So, the backpack was fully loaded as you can see below.

 
Until now, I used it only once, so it is still too early to tell whether I like the bag, however, I am impressed with the comfortable way I carried a fully loaded bag and am I also impressed with the many innovations that make it comfortable to use. And note, it is NOT just for photography. It is really a multi-purpose bag.

So again, thanks to my research group for giving me this gift. It will definitely always remind me of my research group!

 

Hiking experience with Peak Design Capture

Since my retirement I am hiking a lot in the neighbourhood of my home town carrying the Lowepro Transit 350 AW with the D800 plus 28-200mm lens attached and 16-35mm lens, together with two bottles of water, some food and a rain jacket. I noticed that when I saw something interesting to shoot I was a bit reluctant to get my camera out of my backpack. It was too much effort for small things. In the past I used a belt and hand-grip of B-grip to carry the camera on my belt, ready to shoot. However, after some time I was less satisfied with it, for two reasons:

  • the part on the belt that carried the D800 plus 28-300mm lens attached was pressing my leg too much (which is inconvenient for long hikes), and
  • the plate under the camera was made of out of plastic, which was not stable enough in the tripod head for macro-photography.

So I looked on the internet for something new. I found Capture Camera Clip of Peak Design. I put Capture on the left strap of my backpack, however, it can also be put on a belt, on a strap of a bag etc. Below some picture of me carrying the Capture first without and then with the camera plus a 28-300mm lens attached. Apologies for the bad quality of the pictures.

 
In the beginning I thought it looked a bit weird to carry the camera high on my chest. However, in practice, it is very convenient. Also the plate under the camera is made out of metal, so it is stable in the tripod head. On the picture in the link above it shows Version 3. I decided to buy Version 2 because it better fits wider straps. The other advantage is that the plate, with additional “wings”, fits perfectly in the Manfrotto RC2 tripod head.

Replacing the plate also meant that I had to get another hand-grip. Peak Design also has a nice solution for that: Clutch Camera Hand Strap. It, of course, uses the same plate as Capture.

During the hike south of Geesteren I used Capture for the first time. Right from the start I carried the D800 and 28-300mm lens in Capture mounted on the left strap of my backpack. 


 
I noticed that I could immediately grap the camera and start shooting when I saw something interesting. Here are some pictures I took on the way. 

 
Looking back at my first experience with Capture, I can say that I am very satisfied with it. I have the camera ready whenever I need it. Taking the camera out of the clip is very easy, just press the red button. Putting it back is also easy, however, to make sure that I do not drop the camera I always look whether it slides in correctly and listen to the click. Something, definitely worth buying. Also the Clutch is very convenient, it is easy adjustable and it fits like a glove.

My first macro pictures

Withered roses

A couple of years ago somebody showed me some pictures of macro photography. They looked interesting, however, it did not resonate with me. Now, many years later, I read the book Praktijkboek Macrofotografie (in Dutch) and looked at videos on Youtube. It turns out that macro photography is a lot more than taking pictures of plants and insects and laying on the ground. So, there was a growing interest.
After realising that my regular lenses would not suffice, I looked at possible cheap adjustments:

  • close-up filters are put on a regular lens and they magnify. The disadvantage is the you add more glass between the subject and the sensor, thereby reducing the quality of the picture substantially;
  • extension tubes are put between your regular lens and the body of the camera. They are used to reduce the focal distance and thereby increase the magnification. The disadvantage is that it mainly helps up to roughly 50mm, beyond that the reduction of the focal distance is not substantial anymore.

So I decided to look for a macro lens (Nikon calls it a micro lens). They are expensive. The Nikon 200mm micro lens costs something like €1500. Beyond my budget for a hobby. So I settled for a secondhand Nikon 105mm. And I am very pleased with it. Very sharp pictures.
My first experiments with macro photography immediately showed that getting the subject in focus is quite a challenge. Even more than I expected. For example, at a distance of 40cm the 105mm lens at f/8 has a Depth of Field (DoF) of only 0.5cm. Handheld this is not going to work. Even by breathing you move more than 0.5cm. So, you need a tripod. Although I am not very fond of a tripod for macro photography it is an essential tool.

Macro photography in action

Like I said, with f/8 the DoF is only 0.5cm. In some cases this is fine,  however, if you take a picture of a flower, maybe you want a larger DoF, like 1.5cm. In this case the aperture should be f/22. This means that if you are indoors, you need to use flashes. Below you see my set up in the garage. It consists of two flashes and a camera, all three on a tripod. I had set the shutter speed at 1/100th of a second, and the camera in Command Mode using TTL and a -1 compensation for both flashes. The subject are roses I gave to my wife for our 35 year wedding anniversary. I used them just before they were thrown away.
The next step is to get the right part of the roses in focus. I set the aperture to f/3.8 to get enough light in the camera. Autofocus does not always work, so I use Live View to visually focus. You can even magnify the screen to better focus. After that I set the aperture back to  f/22 and take a picture.
At the top and below you see two of my first pictures. I am satisfied with the quality of the picture, however, I still need to learn more about composition in macro photography.
Withered roses

Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

Tripod or not? Learnt my lessons!

Basically I am not very fond of tripods. On rare occasions you need one and still you have to carry them around all the time. Another reason for not liking them is the lack of flexibility in positioning the camera (for example, horizontal or vertical, or the position I want to take). So, I never take a tripod with me.
Coming back from Xi’an in China I noticed that in the hall of the Terracotta Army quite a few pictures had an ISO value of 6400 or close to it. And that the Shutter Speed I choose was not fast enough to compensate for the zoom of the lens to avoid shaken pictures. For that reason, a couple of pictures were rightfully not accepted by Dreamstime.  When you blow up the picture (100%) you can see the errors.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

Let us have a closer look at the contradicting circumstances and requirements in the hall of the Terracotta Army:

  • In the hall there is not enough light, maybe this has something to do with the preservation of the terracotta sculptures.
  • I wanted a large DoF (Depth of Field) to have several ranks of soldiers in focus.
  • The sculptures are a bit away from where I could stand, so to get enough detail I had to zoom in. Otherwise I would get only overview pictures with no detail.

If there is not enough light, there are four options: use a flash, slower Shutter Speed, wider Aperture, or increase the ISO. Remember, the last three determine the Photographic Triangle. See my post on this to understand the relationship between them: if you change one it at least affects one of the others to get a correct exposure. 
Let us have a look at these four options:

  • Use a flash This was no serious option because the sculptures were a bit too far away to evenly light the two or three ranks of soldiers I wanted to capture. And maybe I was not even allowed to flash.
  • Slower Shutter Speed Because of the low light conditions, the Shutter Speed was already pretty low, even further lowering would produce shaken pictures. Furthermore, there is this rule that if you zoom to for example 200mm, the Shutter Speed should be no higher than 1/200th of a second.
  • Wider Aperture Because I wanted several ranks of the soldiers in focus this was no option.
  • Increase ISO Given the above three, ISO was already in the 5000+ range. Going beyond 6400 (the limit of my Nikon D800) produces only darker pictures with a high noise ratio.

To handle this conflicting situation, I took a slightly slower Shutter Speed. As to be expected, this resulted in slightly shaken pictures. As long as the pictures are small, like in this post, you can hardly see it. However, to sell the picture commercially, the picture has to be perfect, even at 100%.

Terracotta Army in Xian, China (image is shaken)

So, what is the solution? Use a tripod. Because the sculptures don’t move using a slower Shutter Speed is no problem. You can take an arbitray long exposure time to get the right DoF and, at the same time, a low ISO to avoid noise.
So, I have learnt my lessons. Next time I take a small tripod (Traveller Mini Pro) that can be attached to the outside of my photography backpack (Lowepro Transit Backpack 350 AW).
Lowepro backpack with small tripod

Stock Images

Madonna del Sasso, Locarno

Madonna del Sasso and Locarno
Madonna del Sasso and Locarno

Madonna del Sasso is a sanctuary above Locarno. To go there, you need to take a very old, however, well maintained funicular from the city center to the pilgrimage site of Madonna del Sasso. In a short while it takes you a little less than 200 meters higher. From there it is an easy walk to the church.
The church Madonna del Sasso was founded in 1502 on the site where brother Bartolomeo d’Ivrea had a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1480. Because of that it is regarded a pilgrimage site. The church is a nice and quite place to visit. It has some nice spaces at different levels. Also the view of Locarno and of Lago Maggiore is magnificent.

View of Locarno
View of Locarno

I had taken only my general-purpose Nikkor 28-300 mm lens. It gives me the flexibility I need in unexpected situations. Most of the time if I go somewhere where I haven’t been before, and I want to travel light, and I also know there is enough light, I take this lens. Maybe it is not the best lens, however, in combination with my D800 it never let me down. For example, the picture in the church was taken with ISO 5600 and it still looks good.
Here are some of the pictures I have taken. Some of them are also on Dreamstime. Hope you enjoy.
Stock Images

From fisheye to macro

My children know that I love photography. So, last week I got four lenses: a fisheye, a wide-angle, a macro, and a super macro. So, you can imagine I was quite pleased with this present.
Currently, I have wide-angle (min 16mm) and telelenses (max 300mm), however, a fisheye is completely new to me. Also, macro-photography intrigues me, however, I have no experience at all in this field.
I guess I forgot to mention that these four lenses are a clip-on of Olloclip for my iPhone. One of the nicest things is that they do not weight anything. So, it is easy to take them with me all the time.
Here are the results of my experiments with the wide angles:

Normal iPhone lens
Regular iPhone lens

Olloclip wide-angle
Olloclip wide-angle

Olloclip Fisheye
Olloclip Fisheye

The first picture is just the regular iPhone lens, the second one is with the Olloclip wide-angle, and the third is the Olloclip fisheye. Really impressive and so easy to use.
Now we will have a look ate the macro lenses. To use them, I have to unscrew the wide-angle and fisheye lenses. Under the wide-angle there is the macro 10 times and under the fisheye is the macro 15 times. Below are the experiments with the macro lenses:
Regular iPhone lens
Regular iPhone lens

Olloclip macro 10 times
Olloclip macro 10 times

Olloclip macro 15 times
Olloclip macro 15 times

Again the first one is a regular iPhone lens, the second one is the Olloclip macro 10 times, and the third one is the Olloclip macro 15 times. As you can see, which is true for macro photography in general, it is difficult to get the right focus with a handheld camera.

This was just my first experience with these lenses. They are great fun, so I will continue my experiments with these lenses, which is quite easy because I carry them with me everywhere. Great present!

Pro approach to autofocus

AF-ON
AF-ON

Most of us completely rely on the autofocus of our camera. On my Nikon D800 there are two options: AF-S and AF-C. The first one is used for still life objects and the latter for moving objects. The S stands for Single Servo and the C for Continuous Servo. If you know in advance which situation applies it is easy to set the relevant option.
However, in practice when I shoot a group activity, I like to combine sport photography of activities and journalistic portrait photography of individuals. I have to act fast, so, there is no way I will continuously change from AF-S to AF-C and back again. For me this is not going to work.
After reading the extensive guides of the Nikon D800 by Thom Hogan (he writes excellent guides) I found out about the Pro Approach to Autofocus. The idea is to separate focus and release.
Standard they are combined in the Shutter Release. Pressing it halfway is to focus and pressing it completely is releasing the shutter. In the Pro Approach the focus is assigned to the AF-ON button. The only function of Shutter Release button is release. Furthermore, set the focus mode to AF-C.
This enables us to do the following:

  • Portrait Focus on, for example, the eye by pressing the AF-ON button, then let go the button. Reframe and then press the Shutter Release.
  • Sports  Press and hold the AF-ON on the subject to focus on. While holding the AF-ON press the Shutter Release. In this case the AF-C mode makes sure the subject is followed even though it moves through the screen.

In the beginning it takes some time to get use to. Now it has become second nature. The only disadvantage is that it is not easy to give the camera to somebody else to take a picture. However, for me it makes life a lot easier.
 

Radio Triggers

In the past, for a studio setup, we used cables to somehow connect the camera to the various flashes. Furthermore, we had to set the power of each flash individually, by hand. Nowadays, all major camera manufactories have a wireless system to connect the camera to the speedlights of the same manufacturer.
For example, when using a Nikon camera and Nikon speedlights it is relatively easy to get a correctly exposed picture by using AWL (Advanced Wireless Lighting).
The idea is that the pop-up flash of the camera gives a number of small pre-flashes to tell the speedlights to give an orchestrated pre-flash. In this cycle the camera measures and calculates, using Through-The-Lens (TTL) metering, what the strength of the final flash of the various speedlights should be. This is all done just before the mirror goes up, so before the actual picture is taken. It goes so fast that we do not even notice that the pop-up flash flashes several times.
This means that with my D800 I can manage two groups of speedlights, A and B. For simple portrait photography this is fine. I have been using this for the last couple of years with some great pictures.
However, there are also some drawbacks: it only works when there is line-of-sight between the camera and all the speedlights, it is difficult to add a studio flash, and in some cases three groups (for example: main, background, and kicker for the hair of the model) are required.
So, recently I bought:

IMG_1186
The Flex TT5 is both a transmitter and a receiver. So, one goes on top of the camera and per speedlight or flash another one is needed. The advantage is that line-of-sight is not important anymore and it can handle 3 groups (A, B, and C).
IMG_1188With the AC3 it is possible to control the strength of flashes of the speedlights in the various groups (max 3 groups).
IMG_1187For my studio flash, an old Linkstar FS-200D, it is only possible to control whether it will flash or not. As you can see, the Flex TT5 is connected to the studio flash with a cable. The strength of the flash has to be set manually on the studio flash itself.
The Sekonic L-478DR allows me to trigger each group of speedlights separately (without using the camera) and get a per group and a total reading for shutter speed and aperture. It also shows how much each group contributes to the total light. It is really impressive.
In a future blog I will come back to how the equipment works in practice.