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.