Friday, 28 September 2007

Getting 'THE' Shot

Another gorgeous day, another great shoot. I finished off this amazing week by going to one of the coast's great lakes - Lake Kaniere.

I thought I would use this post as an opportunity to explore my 'creative' process a little more deeply - for those who are even remotely interested (come on, there must be one of you, surely?).

I reached Lake Kaniere just before sunset - leapt out of the car, and this was literally the first shot I took... and I kinda like it. It ain't perfect (get rid of those specular highlights - go on, dare ya), but it has great colour, I love the light flare from the sun and the 'spontaneity' of the image. But I admit, this was just a start.

After taking a few more like this just to get 'warmed up', I attached the camera to the tripod and got more serious about my composition. I was also out to test my new purchase - A Cokin 'P' series filter holder and Grey graduate filter - just the thing for bright sunset sky's and dark jetty foregrounds. First thing I discovered, however, was that the Cokin filter holder was visible at the edges of the frame when I zoomed out to 10mm's! Darn!

14mm was as wide as I could get away with - which is still reasonably respectable wide-angle (about 22mm in conventional terms), so I settled on that and found the composition I was after.

This has a much more 'composed' feel than my first attempts. Some may not like it - but this was more like what I was after. This is a much more 'saleable' image than the first, with obviously more care and control over the light. In this sense, the Cokin Grey Graduate filter worked perfectly and allowed me to get the exposure pretty close in-camera. I have blended the image again 'slightly' in CS3, but nowhere near as much as I would normally need to with an image like this.

Because of my background in 35mm film - and especially darkroom processing - I will often 'see' in Black & White. Don't get me wrong, I love shooting digital, as it gives me the best of both worlds. I can now have colour and B&W (my cake and eat it), and will often do a version of each that work equally well.

You can also see that I'm constantly 'tweaking' my composition - zooming in or out just a little to give a different feel to the photo. All of these images (in fact almost all on my blog) are 100% from camera - I crop very little, if at all, off the final image. This is another throwback from my film days where I learnt to crop before pushing the shutter. 9 times out of 10 for my images this is still the case.

I was now getting there with the image I had in my minds eye, but it wasn't 'quite' right. What I also wanted was a mood - a sense of movement - an ethereal quality that you get from longer exposures and water. So I bided my time, took the Grey Grad away and added a polarizer instead (to slow my shutter speeds by reducing the light 2 stops), and took my 'money' shot.

This is the shot I will frame and exhibit. This was the image I was after. The one I had in my minds eye even before I got in the car to drive to Lake Kaniere. This has the feel, the mood, the light and the composition that I was after.

It doesn't always work out this way - I sometimes come away with nothing at all. But not often. I know these areas reasonably well, and know what to expect when I get there. But in this case, familiarity doesn't breed contempt, it breeds creativity. I am always trying hard to come away with something 'different' - something I haven't taken before, and this is where the challenge, and the achievement, of photography comes from for me. Happy shooting.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

More 10-22mm photos

Man am I having a ball with this lens! Coupled with the fact that we are also having a great spell of weather here on the Coast - and that means lots of photography for me. Ah, life is good.

Have gone to local beaches over the last few nights at the 'golden' hour before sunset. What a beautiful period of the day it is. Everything glows a yellow-orange colour and people are out enjoying the warmer evenings.

The first evening I went to Rapahoe Beach hoping to catch a brilliant sunset. That didn't eventuate, but I got some great shots with the 10-22mm anyway. The ultra-wide turned the patterns and shapes of the sand into hills and valleys that lead the eye perfectly into the scene. I also got lucky and managed to snap an obliging family with pet dogs as they made their way across the beach.

Tonight I ventured a bit further up the coast road, to a favourite spot of mine that has some very interesting rock formations. While there I met up with a fellow photographer, Nelsonian - Daan Dehn, who was also enjoying the evening light. Check out Dan's shots from around New Zealand at

Getting there an hour before sunset gave me time to scout out the best shooting possibilities, and also time for scrambling around the rocks to find shots like the starfish on the left. The ultra-wide is great for creating masses of depth-of-field, but I have found that you need to be careful about sun placement. Very strong sidelight will tend to give some lens flare if you're not careful. I can see that I will have to invest in a lens hood in the very near future.

Unfortunately, sunset wasn't up to much this time either, but I was determined to hang around until after dark and try some long exposures. The water moving through the rocks as the tide comes in looks pretty cool, and I wanted to try this effect out with the Canon 10-22mm. I'm glad I hung around, because I came away with some images I'm pretty happy with, although they needed a bit of post-processing in CS3 to get them looking how I wanted.

Because their was such a huge difference in exposure between the sky and foreground, I shot in RAW (I normally do anyway) so that I could 'blend' the two exposures digitally later on. Opening up the shadows also introduces some 'noise', but this was easily fixed in Noise Ninja. I also like the 'blue' tint that these long exposures at night give (my longest was 35 seconds), but I also thought it might work in B&W.

Long-range forecast for the next few weeks is looking pretty good. So me and my 10-22mm might see a lot of action over the next month. Based on the results so far I couldn't be happier. It's probably about the best $1000NZ I've ever spent on my photography, and it's certainly one of the most 'fun' lenses I've ever owned.

And with all these landscape images mounting up, it just might pay for itself in the not too distant future as well. That's gotta be good.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Canon 10-22mm f3.4/4.5

Well it finally arrived today - my 'new' Canon 10-22mm ultra-wide EF-S zoom lens. I had hoped it would arrive on Friday for the weekend, but it didn't. Instead it arrived today (Monday), and I was able to get out this evening with my son to take my first images with the lens.

Firstly let me say that it's a compact lens that balances nicely on my 30D, is very quiet (thanks to the USM focusing) and quick to focus. Very much on a par with my EF-S 17-55mm f2.8. In fact as soon as I attached this lens to the camera I knew I was going to enjoy using it. It may not be as solid as an 'L' lens, but it's plenty solid enough for me.

As you can see above, 10mm (16mm in conventional terms) is pretty wide and can really bend and warp those angles. But also look at Joshua who is placed fairly centrally in the frame. He's actually not too bad, and looks fairly normal. Used with care, ultra-wides can be portrait lenses, especially for 'environmental portraiture'.

Josh and I went down to a local 'historical' park that has a building I knew would be fun to shoot with this lens. And really, 'fun' is the operative word. It's amazing how close you can get to your subject with the lens set to 10mm (it focuses as close as 24cm) and still fit everything in!

When you can go as wide as 10mm, it's amazing how 'normal' 22mm (35mm in conventional terms) looks. While still considered 'wide', the 22mm end straightens things up nicely, while still allowing for a lot of real estate to fit in the viewfinder.

More than just a 'gimmick', an ultra-wide like the Canon Ef-S 10-22mm really makes you think about your compositions - what to leave in and what to leave out. You can't (and shouldn't) just stick this lens to 10mm and shoot everything in site, assuming you have a great image just because you're going ultra-wide. All you'll achieve by doing this is to end up with images that look, well, 'gimmicky'.

Because it balances so nicely on the 30D, you can also get away with hand-holding this lens when the light gets pretty low. The shot above was taken at 1/20th of a second, and is tack sharp. With good technique and a steady hand, low shutter speeds aren't really a problem with wide angles - although a tripod is always advisable for critical sharpness. I can't wait to get this bad boy onto a tripod and out into the wilderness for some serious landscape work.

Canon's top level of EF-S lenses (the 10-22mm, 17-55mm f2.8 and 60mm macro) have impressed my greatly. Many claim that the only reason they aren't called 'L' lenses is because they won't work on 'pro' camera bodies. They certainly come with a pro price tag and use pro glass. Granted, they probably aren't quite as ruggedly constructed as the 'L' lenses. But hey, you can't have everything. The 'most' important factor to me (and you) is image quality. This they have - in spades.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Canon imagePROGRAF iPF 5000 Printer

I've been using the Canon iPF5000 at work for a few months now, so I thought it was about time I gave it a bit of a plug.

Prior to using the 5000, I used an Epson 4000 wide format printer which, like the Canon, is a 'pigment' based printer for longer-lasting archival quality inkjet printing. Traditional inket printers use a 'dye' based ink which fades quite quickly, especially when exposed to UV light (behind glass when framed for your wall). I have ink-based prints that I have framed and hung on the wall that are now looking quite faded - after only a year or so.

Independent research has shown, however, that even under glass, pigment based prints are extremely archival and should last a lifetime. When you are selling prints to the public, this is a very important consideration. If you are printing out your own images for sale, pigment printers are the only way to go.

Canon's iPF5000 uses twelve inks, which is a step up from the Epson 4000's ten. The Canon has a conventional black, as well as a matt black, which it switches between automatically depending on the paper type selected. In this respect, the Canon is a great choice for photographers who print a lot of black and white, as it handles the switch between colour and b&w much better than the current Epson's do.

The only down-side to the Canon's cartridges is that they are only available in a standard 130ml capacity (and the inks supplied by Canon to get you going are only 90ml, with half that used just to prime the inks to the printhead). Epson allow the use of much larger 250ml cartridges (at twice the price obviously). As a general rule with the Epson I could get about a year's worth of steady printing out of a cartridge - not bad really. So I must assume that the Canon's 130ml cartridges should last approximately 6 months each - again, depending on how much printing you are doing.

The iPF5000 is what's called a 'large format' printer, able to print up to A2+ in width (17" across) and up to a meter long. Sheets are fed either through a cassette at the bottom of the printer, through a single sheet feed at the top, or through the optional roll feed at the back (as seen above). If you are going to be doing a lot of large printing (and hey, why wouldn't you), then the optional roll feeder is a very good investment.

The iPF5000 supports a multitude of papers and sizes, as well as canvas printing, and prints very quickly by using two print heads. More importantly, these print heads are user replaceable and don't require a service technician.

The iPF5000 is very easy to use and I find it much more user-friendly than the Epson 4000. With the Epson I was forever loosing prints due to printhead clogging - the bane of pigment printers. I'm very glad to say that there is none of that with the Canon, thanks to a very clever self-cleaning regime that it undertakes regularly. Every time I send a job to the Canon I know it's going to print all the colours, with no clogging, first time, every time.

So what about print quality? Well, it's nothing short of astounding, with beautiful colours and faithful black & whites. Not worrying about clogging is a huge advantage over the Epson, and it seems to behave itself as it should (unlike the Epson which seemed to have a mind of its own).

It isn't a small printer - no large format A2+ printer is, so you'll want to have a lot of bench space, set it up, and forget it. This isn't a portable printer. But it is a fantastic printer, and I would highly recommend it above the Epson.

If you don't want something quite as big, but still need a pigment based printer, then also check out Canon's Pixma Pro 9500. It's a smaller A3 printer, but has the same fantastic quality and reliability of it's bigger brother the iPF5000.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Go ultra-wide instead

Ok, I've been pretty slack and haven't posted here for a while - but not a lot has been happening on the photography front recently.

I was supposed to go to a seminar with Yervant and Joe Buissink (two of the world's best wedding photographers) last week, but I got sick and couldn't go! I'm really beginning to think that God is trying to tell me something about this whole wedding photographer thing. No bookings for this season, no responses to my adverts, and I miss out on seeing my heroes in person. Is that subtle or what?

My good friend Stewart went instead and got to be 'me' for the day. He also brought back several DVD's with him, so all was not completely lost. In fact, it was while convalescing in bed watching one of Yervant's DVD's, that I came to a decision that had been bugging me on and off for quite some time - my next lens purchase.

My recent post on the 70-200mm suggested that was where I was heading - and it was. But with my lack of weddings, and increase in Landscapes, I began to wonder whether I shouldn't be doing a complete 180 degree turn and go down the ultra-wide route instead.

And then, surprisingly, watching Yervant's Wedding DVD confirmed it for me. It seems that a lot of his more 'dramatic' portraiture is done with a 16-35mm ultra-wide, and that this lens, along with a 24-70mm f2.8, makes up 90% of his wedding kit (admittedly with a 70-200mm f2.8 thrown in for good measure).

Since he shoots full-frame, the lenses he uses correspond to the 17-55mm f2.8 I already have for my 1.6x 30D, with the addition of the EF-S 10-22mm which would give me the ultra-wide 16-35mm component. So not only would I be able to use the 10-22mm for landscapes, but also (with a bit of practice) for weddings to add an element of drama.

So I've been and gone and done it. This evening I won a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5/4.5 ultra-wide on trademe and now I can't wait for it to arrive so I can try it out.

There was also a Sigma 10-20mm f4.5/5.6 up for auction as well, but I just couldn't make myself bid on it - even if it meant saving myself $200NZ. I've decided from now on (rightly or wrongly), that I'm only going to use Canon lenses. Call it snobbery if you want - it probably is but I don't care. I have owned and used Sigma, Tamron and Tokina lenses in the past, and of all of them I would have to say that I have found Sigma to be the better of the three.

But if I'm completely honest with myself I'd also have to say that I've never been really happy with any of them (and downright hated most of them). So for me, an extra few hundred dollars in the grand scheme of things to get Canon lenses is more than worth it for piece of mind. I don't believe it's a decision I will ever regret.

So there it is. An ultra-wide is my next lens purchase. I will try it out when it arrives, and post some of the first images taken with it. I'll still look at getting a 70-200mm to round out my kit in the future, but for now it will be ultra-wide all the way. Happy days.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS

When I decided to change my kit from Nikon to Canon, I also decided that it was the perfect opportunity to get the lenses I really wanted. Most of my photography career has been a matter of compromise. I know what I would 'like' to own (or at least I think I do), but I have rarely been able to match my desires to reality.

All that has changed with the switch however, and I am now no longer prepared to compromise on image quality. I have advised so many people time and again that it's really the lens that counts and I'm finally going to take my own advice. Trouble is, all this lack of compromise comes at a hefty price!

When putting my budget together for the Canon kit, I portioned more than half of it for a lens. I knew I wanted a mid-range zoom, I knew I wanted a fast, fixed aperture, and I knew I wanted a Canon. I presumed that would steer me towards the 'L' series (and it did), and that I would end up buying a red rimmed lens. I was wrong.

What I eventually came away with was the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS - a non 'L' lens with an 'L' price tag. On the 30D it's gotta be the best all-round lens Canon produces - fast, sharp and with an Image Stabilizer to boot. Soon after I also picked up the EF-S 60mm macro, and my kit was starting to take shape.

Since then, I've been considering my next lens purchase. I could go ultra-wide and get the Canon EF-S 10-22mm, which also gets very good reviews. I must admit I am tempted, but I'm also not sure that an ultra-wide is where my style or interests lie at the moment. Instead, I think I will probably go the other way and look at Canon's telephoto options.

For me (and for a lot of others) that points in one direction - the 70-200mm 'L'. These 'white' telephotos are legendary in Canon circles, and also happen to be some of the sharpest zooms Canon make. They also come in four 'flavours' - two with IS, two without, and both versions available in either f4 or f2.8.

Now - remember what I said earlier about 'no compromises'? That's made my decision 'slightly' easier because I will opt for IS over non-IS any day. Why? Just 'cos. But seriously, IS is great to have with telephoto lenses because it GREATLY reduces the possibility of ruined photos due to camera shake. For telephoto lenses I wouldn't want to be without it.

So now it's just between the f4 or the f2.8 (pictured above). Normally this wouldn't be a consideration either - f2.8 wins hands down over f4 because it lets twice as much light in and has IS. So what's stopping me?

Well, two things really. First, there's the price. Yeah, I know, there's that word 'compromise' again. But this time I do think it's kinda justified, and is a good enough reason to give pause. At NZ$3200.00, the 70-200mm f2.8 'L' IS couldn't be called a cheap lens, and when you consider that for the same price I could get the f4 version and a second 30D body... well, you see my quandary.

My second issue is with the sheer weight of the lens. It's almost 1.5kg's for crying out loud! In comparison, the f4 is half that at 760gms - still not a featherweight. Canon's kit lens, the EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 by comparison, is a mere 190gms.

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. And while I can surmise about this-and-that feature until the cows come home, I really needed to experience using the lens for myself to be able to formulate my own opinions. So last weekend I borrowed a 70-200mm f2.8'L' IS (thank's Richard) and took it for a spin.

The image opposite, of my son Joshua playing for the Karoro Crusader's (go the Crusader's!) Junior Hockey team, was shot on a very murky, overcast, cold and drizzly morning. Boy was I glad the lens went to f2.8! Even then, at ISO 400, most shots were taken around 100th of a second, with IS on. As you can see, the results were O.K - nothing startling, but O.K.

2.8 also gave a nice separation to the subject and background, and while the lens certainly is heavy, after a few minutes I didn't really notice it. I shot for about half an hour without any fatigue, but I wouldn't like to push my luck hand-holding this lens for a couple of hours on the trot without the use of at least a monopod. Even though the f4 lets in half as much light, I think I'd be willing to bump up the ISO for a speed gain for the pleasure of the extra mobility the lighter lens will bring me. I'd hate to get the f2.8 and then leave it at home because it was too heavy to carry around with me. Especially since my prime motivation for getting the lens will be for weddings and portraiture (with the odd hockey game thrown in for good measure).

Now before I get hate emails (yeah, like anyone actually reads this stuff), I will qualify all that I've said above by saying that my time with the 70-200mm f2.8 was all-too brief. But still, it was long enough for me to know that 'for me' the lighter f4 version is probably going to be the better option. Both are beautiful lenses. Some even say that the f4 version is a tad sharper.

For anyone else considering getting the f2.8 version of this lens, I would certainly advise that you get one and try it out on your camera. Even though the weight might not be a deal-breaker, it may still be an important factor in your decision to get one or not. That is, if the price hasn't already put you off!?

Sunday, 29 July 2007

My 'Bappa-tism'

With much pomp and ceremony, and a whole lotta love, I was Baptised today by Rev. Tim Mora at the Anglican Parish of Cobden-Runanga. I've called it my 'Bappa-tism' because that is what my 6yr old son Joshua called it all day. Very cute. That's the kind of stuff I hope I don't forget about my children, although sadly I know that I will.

Anyway, I digress.

I had been preparing myself for this for a couple of weeks - ever since Tim and I talked about it happening. But still, I wasn't prepared for how emotional it would be, and how it would effect me on the day. From the moment Tim asked me up with my family and sponsors (yeah Stewart and Eric, thanks guys), I felt overwhelmed, and a little light headed.

The feeling of fellowship, love and belonging I felt today was something very special. Jesus has blessed me since I asked him into my life, and today was the perfect affirmation of that blessing. All, I suppose, that a Baptism should be.

I'm not naive enough to think that my life as a 'born again' Christian will be all wine and roses (or should that be fishes?). My wife and I have already experienced some 'spiritual' attacks since my coming to Christ (as have Tim and Nikki - sorry guys, keep up the great work), so I know that the journey has only just begun. But what I do know is that during the tough times, not only will I have God beside me, but also the love, generosity and affection shown to me today.

My 'Bappa-tism" was all that I hoped it would be. There was cake, gifts, food, laughter and song - all centered around my public declaration - but all pointed towards the one who matters most, our heavenly father.

God is Good.

My wife - Joanna, my daughter Emily, my son Joshua, and Me at my "Bappa-tism" today.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Getting Closer to God

Life is full of many journeys - that's what makes it so exciting.

If you had told me a few years ago that I would become a Christian at 39 and give my life to Christ, I would have said you were crazy. For most of my life I wasn't even sure I believed in God, living my life through my head, and not my heart.

That's not to say I lived a debauched life and have a lot to make up for. In fact the opposite is true, and even though I would never have professed to being a 'Christian', I believe I lived most of my life guided by Christian values and principles. I just never took that next step - that leap of faith.

Well, that's finally changed. On Sunday (29th) I am being baptised at my local church and will give my life to God. I'll write more about this after the weekend, and post a few pics, but to get back on track (this is a 'photography' blog after all) I would like to talk about a sense in which I always was close to God - through my landscape photography.

About a year ago, I decided to give up landscape photography. I was trying too hard to get 'the perfect' shot, even though we know there is no such thing. I decided instead, to concentrate on weddings - and this is largely still true.

But I also found that as soon as I stopped trying so hard, I started taking some of the best landscape photos of my life. This has also coincided with my journey to Jesus Christ. As soon as I stopped trying so hard to figure out what it was all about, and just gave myself willingly, God has offered up his wonders to me in a way that I have never experienced before. And no, I don't think this is coincidental.

Now, more often than not, I find myself at the right place at the right time - as God offers me his amazing creations to be photographed. It's times like these, out at Te Kinga last weekend where the above shots were taken, that I truly feel at one with God.

Since becoming a Christian I have often asked God to fill me with his spirit, only to then feel a little let down when I didn't feel anything. But it was out with my family last weekend, while taking these photos (and a whole lot more like them) that I suddenly realised I was being filled with God's spirit - right before my very eyes.

So what am I trying to say? Do you have to be a Christian to take great landscape photos? Of course not. Great photography comes from practice, patience and perseverance - with a strong element of luck thrown in. Being at the right place, with the right light, at the right time. I've got the 3 'P's sorted - have had for a while. It was always the 'luck' I seemed to be lacking. This all changed when I gave my life to God.

When I take photographs now, God's spirit is everywhere. I know it won't be perfect weather every time I go out, but I no longer stress about it. I have put my faith in God, and so far I have been richly rewarded. Try putting that in your camera bag!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

First Macro Shots

I wrote recently that I had managed to purchase a 'new' (used just a couple of times by the previous owner) EF-S 60mm f2.8 macro. I've got it mainly for weddings to do detail shots, but of course when you get a macro lens your thoughts immediately turn to bugs 'n stuff.

So to give my 'new' macro a test drive, I went out today into the winter's sun in search of insects to shoot. It took me ages to find any, but once I did I was amazed at how many I must have missed as I went back over sections of the garden. I settled on two particularly large stick insects that were in the right light, and in very close proximity to each other.

It was very windy, although I tried to set up so that the wind was kept to a minimum. Still, I found myself waiting regularly for the wind to die down before taking the shot. Once I was set up, the next consideration was focusing - and depth of field. For focusing I switched to manual, and for depth of field I sat on around f8 to get decent sharpness and fast enough shutter speeds considering the wind. Of course, all of this was set up with a tripod, again to minimise any chance of blur or shake being introduced to the final image.

I'm not a macro specialist, and I don't profess to be, but I was very pleased with the results I managed to get from this set up. I did have to get up very close and personal to the insects, but they seemed to tolerate my presence (for about half an hour at least), long enough for me to get off twenty or so shots.

They aren't the most technically brilliant macro's ever taken, but I was very happy with my first outing with the EF-S 60mm f2.8. It was a whole heap of fun, so it won't be the last time I go out looking for small creatures to photograph.

One last thing about the whole experience as far as using the 30D is concerned. Because I was outside in fairly bright light, I struggled to get a decent 'feel' for the image off of the LCD screen. In fact, until I got back inside and viewed them on the computer, I thought the images looked horrible! In this respect I think the Nikon LCD screens have got it all over Canon (and no, I'm not trying to turn this into a Canon vs Nikon thing - I just think it's a legitimate observation). I did check the histogram on the 30D often, and all looked good, so I just hoped that this would translate into good images on the computer - and it did. Whew!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

'Must Have' Books on PhotoShop/Lightroom

Further to my recent post extolling the virtues of Adobe's Lightroom - here are a couple of 'must have' books from the King of all things PhotoShop - Scott Kelby.

The first is Scott's book on Lightroom, and is a brilliant introduction to this new software and what it can do for your images. He covers pretty much everything, in a step-by-step way so that first time users will feel confident almost straight away.
This is what Adobe's manual 'should' have been, although I guess if it was then Mr Kelby would be out of a job.

If you've seen any other Scott Kelby PhotoShop books than you'll kinda know what to expect. Heaps of examples, step-by-step screen shots, and lots of quick tips make this a 'must have' if you are new to Lightroom - or even if you've been tinkering around with it since the beta release.

The one major difference between this and his other books is that the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers (yep, that's its full title) is meant to be read from start to finish. Scott takes you through a 'workflow', from import and sort, through to manipulation, print and show. It's all covered.

If you've had Lightroom for a while but feel a little intimidated by it, just got it and want to get to grips with it quickly, or even maybe contemplating getting it in the future - then this is 'the' book for you. Highly recommended.

Another 'highly recommended' book is Scott Kelby's 'Photoshop Channels Book.'

Now this one isn't for the faint hearted. It's more for the intermediate to confident Photoshop user and unlike most of his other step-by-step guides, it assumes a certain level of understanding from the get go.

Understanding channels is incredibly useful when masking, using certain sharpening techniques, and to really come to grips with colour manipulation in Photoshop. It's written with digital photographers in mind, but graphic designers will also benefit from getting hold of this book and really coming to grips with the myriad uses for channels in their work.

When I first heard Scott was doing a whole book on channels I thought 'jeez, how boring'. But boring it aint. It's amazing what can be achieved through the use of channels, and you'll be inspired in no time to start using them to make the most out of your own images.

One particularly cool effect Scott outlines that I can't wait to use for my own work is 'adding a beam of light' to create drama to an otherwise flat portrait. The applications for wedding images will almost be endless. Roll on next wedding season!

The Channels Book is also one that Scott recommends you follow pretty much chapter by chapter, although once you have it would be a book that you could dip into whenever you wanted for a quick refresher.

Kelby's a genius at teaching difficult techniques as simply as possible. If you come across any of his books, check them out. Oh, and while your at it, do yourself a favour and BUY IT!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Adobe Lightroom

If you haven't already tried it, do yourself a favor and download a trial version of Adobe Lightroom - especially if you shoot RAW files on your digital camera. Hey, you know what... don't even bother with the trial version, just go out and get the full thing. Buy it, use it, love it!

Adobe, the guys who make PhotoShop. Nuff said. In fact Lightroom started life as another programe - Raw Shooter - the best damn RAW conversion software on the planet! It was even better because when RAW Shooter first came out it was FREE. Yep, nadda. The guys at Adobe know a good thing when they see it, so they bought Raw Shooter and turned it into Lightroom... the best damn RAW conversion software on the planet!

What?: RAW conversion software takes RAW files from all makes of cameras, and allows you to process them in the same way a lab would process 35mm film negatives. You can easily change the white balance, exposure latitude (plus or minus up to 2 stops), curves, tone, b&w conversions, highlights and shadows - all in a 'non destructive' manner. That means that your original RAW file is never changed. Instead, a small file is 'attached' to it that tells Lightroom how to 'process' the file when it is converted to a jpeg or tiff for printing etc. Very cool.

Lightroom works on a module-based system. The Library module lets you import and sort your files (not just RAW, but jpegs and tiffs as well). The Develop Module is where you tweak invidual images to get them right - and then apply this in batches to other images if applicable. In Slideshow you can create exactly what it says, a Slideshow with music, fades and titles, which you can then save so that others can see it as well. Then there is the Print Module, and finally the Web Module where you get to make web galleries for uploading onto your own site. I haven't really played around with the last three yet, but I certainly plan to.

Why?: Shooting RAW used to be a pain, because it adds another (slow) step in the whole file process. But that was then, and this is now. Lightroom is very fast, highly intuitive , and with batch processing conversion is a breeze. Yes, it does add another stage in the workflow, but the extra detail, control and subtle tweaking that you can achieve with RAw vs Jpeg is well worth the effort IMHO.

When?: Weren't you listening before? Get it NOW!

You can download the trial from the Adobe website, or order a copy from your local software distributor. It's 'reasonably' expensive (about $500NZ), but when you start processing files with this software I think it's worth every penny I paid for it (and more - but don't tell Adobe that).

I don't really have a 'How' - but I would say this: I have tried to use Apple's 'Aperture' software (which is supposed to do the same thing) for the past year, and I'm still struggling with it. I'm a huge Apple fan, and really wanted to like using 'Aperture'. But in all honesty I have to say that it's a bit of a dog. It does have a pretty cool loupe function, but that's about it (really). Lightroom is just sooooo much better in all respects. Shame.

Finally, I would also say that Lightroom, and most other high end digital software products for that matter, demands a pretty up-to-date system to run smoothly. They recommend 756MB of RAM to run it, and ideally you want 1Gig. As mentioned earlier, I think Lightroom flies through its work, but I'm running a high spec'd Core Duo iMac with 1.5Gigs of RAM, so it had better!

Unless you need to work with layers, text and thousands of filter effects (that you will probably never use), you can forget about PhotoShop and just get Lightroom. If you 'do' need to work with layers, then just get Adode Elements which, when combined with Lightroom, would set you up for almost any photo-editing job you would care to imagine.

As I said right at the beginning... Buy it, use it, Love it!

First landscapes with 30D

Went out this weekend as the rain has finally passed. In fact, it was a beautifully clear, still, crisp (read 'cold') winters day.

Took the family to one of my favorite spots to photograph - Lake Mahinapua, in South Westland (West Coast of New Zealand). It's a beautiful place to photograph early morning or late evening - and we managed to get there late afternoon.

Used the D30 with the 17-55mm f2.8, on f8 (mostly), and it performed faultlessly. Met up with another photographer shooting there - David Wall from Dunedin (hi David) and his family, and we swapped Canon stories. He was using the 1D Mark II with a 24-105mm f4'L', the lens I was considering had I not opted for the 17-55mm f2.8.

Anyway, took lots of photos, but the above image of the lake in the late afternoon light was one of my favorites. I like the richness in the water, bleeding out to the lightness in the sky. I'm finding the 30D's exposures to be pretty reliable first up, and I'm not having to compensate too often (using overall metering).

Later we drove back through Hokitika as the sun was setting. The colours were glorious down by the beach and I saw this shot of a series of Cabbage Trees silhouetted against the setting sun. Just had to stop and shoot this as well (as the family stayed warm in the car with the heater turned up to full).

Even in almost pitch dark, the 30D locked on focus almost every time, which was pretty impressive. It was a lot darker than the above photo gives credit for - the exposure was around 8 seconds! And the resulting file at ISO 100 is pretty clean and noise free.

All-in-all I arrived home very happy with the images I had taken. I'm enjoying using the 30D every time I take it out of the bag and look forward to my next photographic expedition.

I've also had a macro lens arrive that I haven't really tried out yet (there's some hoar frost around that may help with that), and I've recently installed Adobe's Lightroom for all my RAW processing. More on that later as well.

And one last thing! Yervant & Joe Buissink are giving a one day seminar on Wedding Photography here in New Zealand in September! Yahooo!!! I'm there! Can't wait, and will definitely report back on that.

Life is good.

Friday, 29 June 2007

17-55mm f2.8 in low light

I almost forgot! One final post of Joshua's birthday, taken to highlight the 17-55mm f2.8 IS low-light capabilities.

Took this at ISO 100, 1/15th sec at f2.8 hand-held. The IS gives amazing results at these shutter speeds - what little blur there is comes from subject movement, and NOT camera shake. I was very pleased with this result from only about my 6th shot out of the 30D - can't wait to use this in a church.

BUT... having said all that, over the course of this last week I have been a 'little' freaked out about some postings I've read about this lens on the Canon forums. Many wedding pros have posted comments about their 17-55's dying on them half way through a Wedding - after only 4 or 5 weddings!

Others also mention a dust problem, although the feeling with this may be that it gets sucked in from the front element and if you use a U.V. filter from day one the dust problem is minimised or even eliminated?

But it's the lens dying half way through a wedding that has me worried the most! Maybe I should have sprung for a 17-40 f4L or 24-105 f4L instead? But in every other respect the 17-55mm has it over the other two 'L' lenses. Faster aperture with IS, sharpness to kill for, excellent focal length coverage, and great balance on the 30D. The lens I've always wanted. Now if it can just make it through the next few wedding seasons...?

Equipment update

Camera gear is coming in thick and fast now, and my new 'kit' is almost complete.

The 430EX flash arrived soon after the camera and lens, and a day later the BG-E2 Vertical Grip turned up. Boy, I thought the 30D was hefty on its own - attach the grip with flash all batteried up and you know you're carrying some gear around! I used a Nikon D2H for a few months last year, and I would say that the weight is comparable.

Unfortunately, since it's begun arriving the weather has packed in and it's been bucketing down for days. I'll get out eventually, but the wait may just about kill me!

A 'very' cool Canon gadget bag turned up today that I won on an internet auction. The original image that went with the auction wasn't all that clear, so I purchased it on faith and a whim. Now that it's actually here I'm very chuffed. Heaps of compartments, very comfortable to wear, nicely padded, and oh yeah, super cool. It's got 'Canon Pro Team' stitched on it and everything! Will definitely be using it for Weddings. ;-)

My other purchase off the internet which hasn't arrived yet, is a 'new' Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro. Should be here tomorrow (Saturday), not that it will do me any good with the aforementioned cats and dogs falling outside. Still, I've wanted a macro lens forever, and never got one with my Nikon gear - although I did get to review the Nikkor 105mm VR Macro - a 'very' nice lens. Don't expect that the 60mm Canon will be quite in the same league, but the reviews from users on the net have been 'very' positive.

That (both you and my wife will be pleased to hear), will be it for a while. All the major purchases have been made, and now comes the fun part - actually getting to use the gear!

I'll save my pennies for a bit, look at getting a second body before the wedding season starts in Nov/Dec, and then - depending on how my tax return goes this year - I'll consider my next lens purchase. Not sure at this stage whether that will be the EF-S 10-22mm f3.4/4.5, or maybe a 70-200mm f4'L'. Maybe the lure of my first 'L' will be too strong, or maybe the need for going 'wide' on the 1.6 crop will win out? We'll have to wait and see...


Sunday, 24 June 2007

Joshua's Birthday

I got the 30D a day before my sons birthday, so here are a couple of the very first images that I took with the 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM. I was a little bit 'iffy' about getting this lens to be honest (I really wanted an 'L' lens), but after only half a dozen photos... WOW, I'm glad I did.

Time for a Rest
Available light - ISO 100 - f2.8, 1/125th sec

Guitar Man
Available light - ISO 100 - f2.8, 1/30th sec

Am I initially impressed? Yes I am. I'm also quite surprised at the weight of the camera and lens combination (surprised in a good way that is). Very quick and responsive auto focus, and I really like the 'new' joystick button that handles the auto focus activation points. After having used Nikon for the past two years I wouldn't exactly call my handling with the 30D 'intuitive' just yet. But with a bit more time, and a lot more images, I'm sure it will soon become second nature.

More soon.


Thursday, 21 June 2007

30D Arrived!

Well, right on schedule (and in spite of pretty wild, wet and windy weather) my new 30D arrived this morning together with an EF-S 17-55mm f2.8.

There's nothing quite like a nice shiny new camera and lens! I love the whole 'boys and their toys' aspect to photography, and find a nicely made camera very sexy! Yeah, I know it's sad, but trust me - camera's aren't the 'only' things I find sexy, so there is hope for me yet (much to my wife's relief).

First (very early) impressions of the 30D are very positive. Good weight and heft thanks to the alloy chassis, solid construction, nice placement of functions, and a great big 2.5" screen that I'm looking forward to using.

Add the 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM to the 30D and it becomes even more solid. So solid, in fact that it will certainly benefit from the Vertical grip available for the 30D (my next purchase along with a 430EX Speedlite).

I will finish setting it up tonight, and then actually start taking some images with it. Yes, even I know that a camera is actually meant to be 'used'. And I hate the statement often made by people who like my images and then say "Wow, you must have a great camera"!

Well yes, I have. But it IS just a tool, albeit a very sexy one (sorry). I am also very excited about the images I will make with this camera and lens combination over the next few years. I'll post some here on my blog, and let you know how the camera and lens(es) are shaping up.

More soon.


Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Welcome to My Photog Blog!

Hello everyone, and welcome to my nzdigital blog. I must be up front and say that this isn't my first blog, and if any of you are returning (good on you) to nzdigital you will notice a 'slight' change.

My previous nzdigital blog also covered digital photography - but from a Nikon perspective. My 'new' blog, however, has obviously switched allegiances (or moved over to the dark side, depending on how you look at it) to Canon.

Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, maybe a confused individual, or maybe even edgy and provocative? But I intend to post here with as much zeal about Canon gear as I did about Nikon gear - heck, maybe even more!

Anyway, I'm pretty pumped about my new purchase - the Canon 30D, with a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM? NICE!!!

I'll go into the whys and wherefore's in later posts, but for now I'll simply say that coming 'back' to Canon Digital is like coming back home to my 'roots'. It's where I started out in photography about twenty years ago (with a Canon T70), and it feels good to be back.

Moving to Nikon with the D70 when digital hit was, for me, the right thing to do at the time. And make no mistake, Nikon make some very nice kit. The Canon equivalent (the 350D) wasn't a patch on the Nikon - and I've said so very vocally in publications and several photography forums). But, times they are a changing... and with the winter upon us here (Downunder) and a few months to prepare for the next Wedding Season, I felt the time was right to re-evaluate my previous decision. Canon has a strong line-up in the mid-ranges now with the (firstly) 20D and then 30D - and rumours of the 40D coming out in the third quarter. My move away from Canon wasn't as clear cut anymore.

So - long story short - my 30D is coming... Should be here tomorrow in fact, which is good timing, because tomorrow also happens to be my sons birthday (6yrs old). So I'm thinking that the first images I take with the camera will be of him on his birthday. Very fitting indeed.

I'll post first impressions when the gear starts to arrive, but for now - so long and thanks for visiting.