Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Polaroid Camera for the Digital Age: the Polaroid Pogo

The first Polaroid Land camera came out in 1948. For the first time in photography, the photographer could see his/her photos only a minute after taking them. Color Polaroid film was introduced in the 1960s. The general public bought up Polaroid cameras like hot cakes and professional photographers used Polaroid film and film backs to take test shots before using their regular negative or slide film to capture the final image/s.

By the the late 1990s, digital photography was beginning to take off and started to cut into the Polaroid market. After Polaroid's recent announcement that they will stop making Polaroid film at the end of this year (2009), it seemed that Polaroid's run as a special player in the photography market was finally over.

But digital photography only replicated one feature of the "Polaroid experience": the instant viewing of a photo just taken. What about the instant *print* feature? Sure, you can connect a digital camera to a printer and get a print reasonably easy; but you still need another piece of equipment to make the print possible.

Apparently Polaroid finally realized the initial inspiration for the Polaroid Land Camera still had some mileage to give them. So they've come up with the new Polaroid Pogo which is a digital camera with a mini printer build into it! You can print a nifty 2"x3" print right in the camera and hand it to your friends and family to "ooh and ah" over. The camera has a 3.0" LCD on the back; so unlike the original Polaroid film camera, you can sort through the images and only print the ones you like. It'll be available this June (2009).

I don't how much it's going to cost or how good the images or prints will be, but I have to say they've done it again! They come up with a product that rekindles the original Polaroid magic and I, for one, would like to take a look at one once they become available...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Canon 5D Mark II Redux - Report from a Wedding (Wedding Photography)

I shot my first wedding using a Canon 5D Mark II. I've got it on loan and have nothing invested in having to like it (if I'd bought it, I'd have to rationalize the purchase!). I'm a long-time 5D user and I have also owned and/or used various 1-series Canon DSLRs. I photographed approximately 40 weddings over the past three years.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 15mm Fisheye lens, 100 ISO,
f/2.8, 1/200 sec, aperture priority

I was interested to see how well the new auto ISO feature worked because it covers almost the entire range I've ever used with the 5D (all except for an ISO of 50). I also wanted to see how well the new auto 1/60 - 1/200 flash sync setting worked for flash photography. But before I report on those, I have a note of warning for Canon 5D users...

New Placement of AF-On Button
If you're a heavy user of the AE-lock button like me (it's the "*" button at the top right rear of the 5D that you use to lock in an exposure settting), beware the new AF-on button on the 5D Mark II that is now located just to the left of the AE-lock button...(!) I couldn't figure out why the AE-lock button wasn't working very well for much of the day, until I realized my thumb was used to reaching for "the far left" button whenever attempting to press the AE-lock button. But on the Mark II, Instead of pressing the AE-lock button, I was pressing the AF-on button, which seemed to be doing absolutely nothing!

So, if you're a heavy user of the AE-lock (*) button on the 5D, be sure to retrain your thumb before shooting an event with the 5D Mark II. Note: I just discovered you can actually swap the functioning of the AF-on and AE-lock buttons in the custom function settings; so you may want to look into that.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens, 1600 ISO,
f/2.8, 1/10 sec, aperture priority; processed in Lightroom

RAW Image File Sizes
I shoot weddings in Camera Raw (i.e., with the camera set for camera raw image file format) to make image adjustments easier afterward. There was no way I was going to shoot 21 megapixel raw images with the Mark II; image files that large would fill up my 8 GB memory cards too fast! So, I chose the Mark II's new sRAW1 format, which yields 10 megapixel images. According to Canon's EOS 5D Mark II instruction manual, these 10 megapixel images are about 14.8 MB in size. This brings me to two issues...

1) The 5D Mark II is giving you 10 megapixel raw images that each take up 14.8 MB of space on your memory card. Well, it turns out that a full 12.8 megapixel RAW image on the 5D takes up less space on your memory card...about 13 MB! Now, I'm guessing this is because the images have gone from 12-bit to 14-bit. What will make a bigger impact on your client...the color depth in the images or the number of pixels? I guess you'll have to be the judge. In any case, the 12.8 mp RAW 5D images take up less space on a memory card than the 10.0 mp RAW 5D Mark II images.

2) I took a look at the image file sizes for the images I shot at this last wedding. (I was shooting with both a 5D and the 5D Mark II.) The file sizes from the 5D ranged from about 12 MB to 16 MB. The file sizes from the 5D Mark II (sRAW1) ranged from about 10 MB to about 23 MB. So the file size is much more variable on the Mark II and really depends on what you're shooting.

Auto ISO
I was really looking forward to the new 100-3200 Auto ISO feature when I first heard it was going to be included on the 5D Mark II months ago. How many times have you suddenly gone from a low-light situation to a bright-light situation while photographing (e.g., a bridal couple coming out from inside a dark church to the bright sunshine outdoors) and forgot or didn't have a chance to change the ISO from 1600 or 3200 ISO to 200 or 100 ISO??

In a nutshell, this new feature isn't the "silver bullet" I hoped it would be. I didn't have any problems with it outdoors, though I have heard some say it selected a higher ISO than they would have wanted in such situations. My main issue with the auto ISO is when it selects a too-low ISO (especially indoors) and allows the shutter speed to go down to 1/20 second! I've got a number of blurry indoor shots for which I wish the camera would have selected a higher ISO and shutter speed when I was shooting with the lens wide open in aperture priority mode. Maybe auto ISO works better indoors in shutter priority mode?

If you could set a minimum shutter speed in the custom functions, that would be a possible solution; that doesn't seem to be available with the 5D Mark II. Also, be aware that the upper end of the auto ISO changes to 400 instead of 3200 when you have a flash attached and turned on.

One other thing: I was wondering what would happen if you had the camera in manual exposure mode and had the ISO set at auto; would the ISO fluctuate so that your exposure would suddenly be off? Or maybe the ISO would change to accommodate changing lighting conditions, effectively giving you a semi-auto-exposure manual exposure mode! Well, it turns out the ISO simply fixes at 400 ISO regardless of the lighting conditions.

New 1/60 - 1/200 sec Auto Flash Sync
In addition to the 1/200 fixed flash sync speed on the 5D which works in aperture priority mode (I use this a lot because it works much better than Auto when you're shooting in a dark room with a flash in aperture priority mode), the new Mark II also has a variable 1/60 - 1/200 sec auto flash sync for flash photography that works in aperture priority mode. Well, I have to say I didn't notice much of a difference. In fact, when you're trying to catch people moving and dancing around in dark reception halls, you almost always need 1/200 anyway. I still like the idea of it, but it didn't make as much of an impact as I had hoped.

920,000 Deceiving LCD Pixels
The new 3", 920,000 pixel LCD is quite nice; it's certainly much less "pixelly" than the 3" 230,000 pixel LCD I witnessed on the 40D! However, the definition is *so* nice, I think it can actually deceive you into thinking the captured image is actually sharper and better focused than it really was! It misled me more than once. Probably once you get used to the higher definition LCD, you're better able to discriminate between the sharp/in-focus images and the blurry/out-of-focus ones.

Odds and Ends
The auto white balance (AWB) on the 5D was never that good, but my initial experience with the Mark II indicates it's no better. In fact, it seemed ever so slightly worse to me. The autofocusing system on the 5D Mark II is the same as it was on the 5D; this indeed seems to be the case (i.e., it works fine in most cases, but tends not to be very good in low light...especially without a flash attached and the AF Assist turned on).

For some reason, it really stood out to me how well the Mark II performed when I was taking photos of the people in the receiving line just outside the church. It was a bright mostly cloudy afternoon and almost every photo seemed to a have close-to-ideal exposure with the camera set to aperture priority + auto ISO. However, in other cases, with strong backlighting, I was having a heck of time getting the proper exposure...even when I switched to spot metering.

I liked being able to switch the ISO to 6400 on the Mark II to get some important shots in the dark church where the ceremony took place. However, I'd swear there were shots I could get with the 5D at 3200 ISO that required me to switch to 6400 on the Mark II to get. And even though I was using two different lenses on the two camera bodies (70-200 f/2.8 on the 5D and 24-70 f/2.8 on the 5D Mark II), I had them at or near the same maximum f/2.8 aperture on both lenses when I really needed to, and the 5D seemed to need less light for a proper exposure. Not a completely controlled experiment, but...

So, the 5D Mark II was really my "main" camera for this wedding and it did a pretty decent job. However, I really don't feel like it was a significant "step up" from using my good old 5D as my main wedding camera. I said this in a previous blog post and I'll say it again here: I sincerely think a lightly used 5D for around $1300 at eBay may be a better purchase right now than a 5D Mark II for around $2700....*unless* you really want or need the capability of: the extra 8 megapixels per image, high definition video recording, or shooting at 12800 - 25600 ISO even though the camera may not be able to autofocus in such low light conditions.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

No Difference between Canon 5D and Canon 5D Mark II at 1600 & 3200 ISO

I just got a Canon 5D Mark II in my hands from an official Canon source that I shall not mention here. Here's the question I had: is there any difference between the Canon 5D and the new Canon 5D Mark II at 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO? The 5D Mark II can also shoot at 6400, 12800 and 25600 ISO. But I wanted to know if any improvement had been made at the two highest ISOs they share: 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO.

I shot photos of one of my kids' rain boots laying on the basement floor in very dim natural light. I used a Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens on both the 5D and the 5D Mark II. I shot all photos at 51mm and f/2.8. All photos were shot in RAW format and then prepared for this report with Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS2. Now, I know the 5D Mark II comes with some new fancy algorithms for reducing image noise. But if you shoot almost everything RAW, like I do, those don't really matter much.

The one thing I did that some people might object to was crop the same amount of the scene for both cameras, even though a true 100% magnification section would take in less of the scene with the 5D Mark II compared to the 5D because it has 65% more pixels per image. (At the end of this test I'll include one of those comparisons in case you're interested.) My reasoning was that if I were looking at a specific object in a 5x7 print from each camera (for example, the bride's face when she's with the groom on the dance floor at the reception), I would be interested in the amount of noise I saw in her face in the 5x7 image, which would be the same size for each camera (more pixels doesn't change the relative size of objects in the same 5x7 photo!).

Note: I didn't use a tripod for these tests; so you can't tell much about the resolution of details from these photos; but some camera movement will not affect the amount of digital noise in the image. I did no sharpening when preparing these images for this report.

At 1600 ISO

Canon 5D Mark II at 1600 ISO (a higher quality version of the above image)

The details are a bit clearer in the Canon 5D Mark II shot; but it's not clear whether that is due to the greater number of pixels in the 5D Mark II image, or whether there was more camera shake when I took the 5D shot. Regardless, the point of this test is to compare the amount of noise in the two images. Look at both the shadow and highlight areas. Do you see any significant difference? I don't.

At 3200 ISO

Canon 5D Mark II at 3200 ISO (a higher quality version of the above image)

Somewhat ironically, the image from the 5D has the better detail in this comparison, probably due to camera shake. But again, this would not affect image noise. So, if you look at the noise in the highlight and shadow areas, which camera is best? Is there really any difference?! I think it's truly a dead heat.

Now, the 5D doesn't offer the higher ISOs of the 5D Mark II....6400, 12800, and 25600 ISO. So, let's look at a similar image taken at 6400 ISO with the 5D MarkII:

Canon 5D Mark II at 6400 ISO (a higher quality version of the above image)

Pretty noisey. Makes me wonder if I underexposed a shot at 3200 ISO with a 5D by one stop if I'd do any worse once the exposure level was raised in Lightroom?

Anyway, let me show you the 100% magnification crops for the 5D and 5D Mark II at 3200 ISO so you can see if it makes a difference--i.e., if it makes the difference between the 5D and 5D Mark II any clearer:

Canon 5D Mark II at 3200 ISO 100% magnification

Canon 5D at 3200 ISO 100% magnification
(higher quality version of above image)

The 100% magnification view doesn't make much of a difference to my eye. Let me know if you see something I'm not.


I think there's the assumption out there in the Canon user community that the 5D Mark II probably has less image noise than the 5D at 1600 and 3200 ISO because it can take relatively "acceptable" photos at 6400 ISO, and can also take photos at 12800 and 25600 ISO. The results of this test have convinced me that this difference doesn't actually exist. And unless I want to take a bunch of photos at 6400-25600 ISO, have an extra 8 megapixels per image, and shoot HD video, then a lightly used 5D selling for $1300 versus the 5D Mark II selling price of $2700, might just make a lot of sense!

Addendum: I made the statement that the noise reduction in the 5D Mark II doesn't affect RAW images. While I believe this is true, I can't find mention of this in the 5D Mark II manual. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I will include the fact that the 5D Mark II's high ISO noise reduction setting was at "standard" for these tests, which is second only to the highest setting: "strong" noise reduction.

Note: you may also be interested in my follow-up blog post describing my experience using the 5D Mark II to photograph a wedding.

Note 2: I finally got a hold of the 5D Mark II again and did a follow-up comparison of images at 1600 and 3200 ISO with those from my 5D. My results were a bit different this time...

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Canon 1DS Mark II, Canon 1D Mark II & Mark III, Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 5D, and Wedding Photography

On the brink of the majority of my 2009 wedding photography season (I had one wedding in January), I have been looking around for another camera to accompany my trusty old Canon 5D. I've used this 5D for over two years as my main camera for weddings and portrait sessions; it's got some mileage on it and I'm worried I might get to the end of its shutter lifespan any day now. (Having to get a new shutter isn't the end of the world; but it *is* expensive and puts the camera out of commission for a week or so.) So I really think it's time for a new "main" camera to shoot weddings with. Perhaps the trusty old 5D can take over the role of "second" camera...(?)

I've always shot weddings--and will continue to do so--with two cameras for at least two reasons:

  1. It makes two different lenses (e.g., wide angle and telephoto) immediately available at all times
  2. I have a backup immediately available if something goes wrong with one of the cameras or lenses
Last year I used a Canon 1D Mark II as my second camera. It was an ideal camera to put a 70-200mm lens on and take photos outdoors or indoors. The camera is relatively big and heavy, but this helps to steady your shots when you're using a big and heavy telephoto zoom lens (like a 70-200 f/2.8) that tends to tip everything forward. It also worked well with my 15mm fisheye lens because the 1.3 crop factor of the 1D series cropped some of the most distorted part of the image (for which fisheye lenses are famous), but left lots of nice wide angle coverage.

I considered moving the 1D over to being my main camera with the flash for weddings (my "main" wedding camera always has a flash attached for when I need some flash lighting), but I found that it never performed as well with my 580EX II or my 550EX flashes compared to my 5D. Also, I've gotten used to having the 12.8 megapixels of the 5D--especially for large group shots, because I like to leave extra space around the groups in the image so my clients can crop them to different sizes and aspect ratios--and feel that 8 megapixels is on the edge of acceptability. One other factor playing into this decision was my new involvement in stock photography where they really prefer as many megapixels as you can give them. I decided to sell the 1D Mark II.

What about the new 21 megapixel 5D Mark II? Isn't that what 90% of wedding shooters using Canon equipment are doing?! Well, the main thing I like about the 5D Mark II is the ability to shoot at even higher ISOs than the 5D or 1D Mark II (6400 ISO and even 12800 ISO look usable on the 5D Mark II). But the camera I'm looking for here is my main camera with the flash attached; I usually shoot the low-light, non-flash photos at weddings using my second camera with the "specialty" lenses attached (e.g., my f/1.2 and f/2 primes). The 5D Mark II is an expensive "second" camera! Especially because I would want the vertical grip on it to make work better with the 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto zoom. With the grip, the 5D Mark II is pushing the $3000 barrier. I also have an issue with the autofocusing system on the 5D Mark II being the same as the 5D; both of which aren't that good in low light compared to the 1-series. Plus 21 megapixels is overkill for my needs; and the HD video capabilities aren't something I care to get involved with at this point.

What about the 1D Mark III? It's got the great low-light focusing capabilities of the 1-series cameras! I borrowed and used the 1D Mark III for four weddings last year. I like the focusing system and used the max ISO of 6400 quite regularly. But in addition to many of the reasons I've ruled out the 5D Mark II (including it working better as a second camera than my main camera), the 1D Mark III is more expensive (about $4000) and has only 10 megapixels...which is fine for wedding photography, but which makes it less attractive for stock photography than even the 5D. (Note: high ISO capabilities are of little value for stock photography because they [the stock photo companies] seldom accept images with an ISO of higher than 800 from *any* camera.)

Well, let me tell you, I convinced myself that the Canon 1DS Mark II was the camera I was looking for! It's got 16.7 megapixels (plenty of resolution for stock and weddings), the 1-series focusing system that works well in low light, and it's a workhorse tested to 200,000 shutter actuations! Sure, it doesn't have a self-cleaning sensor and the LCD is only 2". But I've only had one camera with a self-cleaning sensor and many of my LCDs have been 2" or smaller (e.g., the 1.8" LCD on the 20D), and none of this scared me off.

So, I found a $2100 1DS Mark II in really nice shape and bought it. It had fewer than 50,000 shutter actuations and should last, I felt, at least a couple of wedding seasons. I did some preliminary testing and found it to worked well. I compared images to my 5D and saw that the noise at 1600 and 3200 ISO was even slightly lower on the 1DS. I was pretty happy!

Before the end of my 7-day testing period, I put a 580EX II flash on the 1DS and took it to a fashion show. I generally stay away from flash photography as much as possible. But there are times at weddings--especially during night-time wedding receptions--when I simply can't avoid using my flash or flashes to provide some needed light.

The fashion show was taking place in a somewhat dark gymnasium in the late afternoon on a dark, dreary, and cold early Spring day. I was taking some photos at 3200 ISO with my 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens on my 5D and the shutter speed was still quite low: 1/40 and 1/30 sec. I tried a few flash photos with the 1DS; but since the ceiling was so high and there were no walls around, I didn't like the absence of reflected light (I usually "bounce" the light from my flash as much as possible) and didn't take many flash photos.

Well, I had promised to take photos of a certain group of models because I knew one of the models in the group. It was getting time for me to leave, so I gathered the group for photos. It was evening at this point and quite dark; so I was going to have to use the flash. Well, I discovered that the 1DS was having quite a lot of trouble focusing to take the flash photos! This was true when the models were standing still and even worse when I tried to take of photo of them walking toward me.

I believe part of the problem stemmed from sporatic functioning of the AF Assist light; when the AF Assist wasn't coming on, it was having lots of trouble focusing and allowing me to take the photo. It was pretty embarrassing when I couldn't get it to work in a timely fashion standing in front of these models!

The next day, I decided I needed to get to the heart of the problem. I have the Canon 580EX II Speedlight and the older 550EX Speedlight. So I did a bunch of side-by-side tests. I put the 580EX II on the 5D and tried some shots without the lights on in my basement; then I put it on the 1DS and tried the same shots. I did the same thing with the 550EX on the two cameras.

The AF Assist was working on both cameras with both flashes; so I'm not sure why I had *that* problem the night before; maybe it was one of those weird temporary problems that goes away if you turn the camera or flash off and back on.

In any case, here's what I found: compared to using a flash on my 5D, there was a slight but significant delay in the flash firing and the shutter opening on the 1DS MkII, even when the AF Assist light was working. The delay was long enough that if you were photographing someone walking in a low light situation (e.g., a wedding couple coming toward you down the aisle in a dark church), the focus would never lock in, the flash would never fire, and the shutter would never trigger. *This* was exactly the problem I was having at the fashion show!

I tried all sorts of different settings to get rid of this delay on the 1DS MkII. The only solution that came close was putting the camera focusing system in AI Servo mode, regardless of whether the subject was moving. This got rid of the delay, but most of the flash pictures taken were out-of-focus; i.e., it no longer stopped me from triggering the shutter and flash until it was in focus, but then most of the time it was out-of-focus!

Now I don't know if this is an issue with this particular copy of the 1DS or if I'm missing some other setting I could tweak (I swear I tried them all); but I decided this flash delay killed any chance this camera had for being my "main" wedding camera. I sent it back.

So, where does that leave me?

It occurred to me that I have no problem with the 5D being my "main" wedding camera with the flash attached. The only problem I have is using my current 5D because it's been through so many weddings! But if I could find another one that hasn't been used so much, it should make a fine main wedding camera.

Even though I have some reservations about buying used camera equipment from a place like eBay which, obviously, features camera equipment used by non-professionals; it's the perfect kind of place to find camera equipment that hasn't gotten much use. Even though professionals may be better about taking care of their equipment (this isn't always so), they actually *use* the equipment because that's what they use for their work! Amateur photographers, on the other hand, may go through phases of taking photos and ultimately give the equipment light overall use. Also, amateurs may treat their equipment better because it's part of an enjoyable hobby.

In any case, I decided to buy a relatively lightly used 5D on eBay to be my "main" camera with flash attached for weddings. I also bought two other things to set up my trusty old 5D as a good second camera: 1) I bought a vertical grip to make it easier to handle with the big 70-200 f/2.8L IS attached, and 2) I bought a Canon ST-E2 Speedlight Transmitter to give it an AF Assist light in particularly low-light situations (and also to do some creative lighting during wedding receptions in conjunction with my two flashes...more on this in a later post).

So, we will see where these decisions take me. I'll have more to say later in the wedding season!


Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Photographing Fashion Shows - Lessons Learned

Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/5.6, 1/60 sec,
manual exposure, 200 ISO

Over the past four years, I've been photographing the fashion show put on by the Cornell Design League (CDL) at Cornell University early each Spring. This is always a "dead" time of the year for photography up here in the Northeast, so I do it as a warmup and chance to test new equipment for my weddings and portrait sessions that begin in earnest in May.

Neither the CDL nor Cornell University pays me anything up front to photograph the event, but I often make *some* money from print sales to designers, models, and their relatives, and digital sales to media organizations, like the Cornell Chronicle.

After photographing four years of shows, I've learned a bit about what works and doesn't work when it comes to fashion show photography.

Before the show even begins, I like to go backstage and take "getting ready" photos. Much like the "getting ready" photos I often take during the weddings I photograph, these are candid photos of the emotional and
sometimes quirky things that go on before the "big event". I find them to be more interesting than photographing the event itself, because it's all unstaged. However, there are commonly special challenges presented during this phase.

Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/80 sec,
aperture priority, 1250 ISO

CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/100 sec,
aperture priority, 1250 ISO
CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/60 sec,
aperture priority, 1600 ISO

The Cornell fashion show takes place in a large gymnasium-type building with lights 25 feet up near the high ceiling. Even when these are on--they turn them off 45 minutes or so before the show--it's pretty dark back behind the main stage where everyone is getting ready. Some of the designers bring their own lights because it's so dark. Needless to say, the lighting is usually insufficient and uneven. And I resist using my flash because it destroys the ambience and candidness of the moment.

Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/50 sec,
aperture priority, 1600 ISO

Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/250 sec,
aperture priority, 1600 ISO
So, commonly, I'm pushing the limits of my equipment. It's not uncommon for me to have to open my aperture to its maximum setting of f/2.8 and dial the ISO up to 3200. Even then, the shutter speed for proper exposure can be 1/30, which is pretty slow, even with Image Stabilization (IS). So, the biggest challenge is getting them sharp! A monopod wouldn't be a bad idea; I usually just steady and brace myself and take 2-3 shots in a row and keep the best one.

CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/100 sec,
aperture priority, 1600 ISO
CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/400 sec,
aperture priority, 3200 ISO

Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/2.8, 1/25 sec,
aperture priority, 3200 ISO

Show Time - Finding and Securing a Position
Though I haven't been good about this myself, it's really a good idea to get to the runway/cat walk early to check out different positions to take before the show starts...and then *reserve* the best spot you can find. I haven't tried this, but I bet I could put an official-looking sign that says something like: "Reserved for Show Photographer" on the best seat near the stage to keep anyone from sitting there. If that's not possible, you could bring someone and have them sit there until the show starts and then move to let you in. All this assumes "open seating" and will vary from fashion show to fashion show. It also wouldn't hurt to talk to the show organizers and see if they might reserve a spot for you.

In any case, you'll want a relatively central spot near the end of the runway. Personally, I like being slightly off-center because I find a slight angle to be more interesting than straight-on shots. Also, you probably don't want to be right *at* the stage, if that's even possible. If you're right at the stage/runway, you'll have to use a small aperture and wide angle focus length, which is a bad combination in terms of perspective/distortion, shutter speed, and depth of focus. It's best to be 4 feet or more back and use a normal or telephoto lens. More on lenses next...

CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/3.5, 1/60 sec,
manual exposure, 250 ISO
CDL Backstage
Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/5.6, 1/80 sec,
manual exposure, 250 ISO

Cameras and Lenses
The last two years, I've brought two cameras with me and put a standard zoom (24-70mm or 24-105mm) on one camera and a telephoto zoom (70-200mm or 80-200mm) on the other. I then catch some shots as they first start down the runway with the telephoto lens, and then switch to the standard zoom for the posed shots at the end of the runway. (Tip: be sure to time synch the cameras just before the show so that all the images from both cameras are easily time sequenced afterward.) In the two previous years I shot with one camera connected to a 80-200 f/2.8L lens, a 1.6 crop factor DSLR, and positioned myself well back from the end of the runway. I think the ideal one camera + lens combo would be a 70-200mm lens on a full-frame DSLR and then position yourself within 10 feet of the runway. 70mm on a full-frame camera isn't so far from a normal (50mm) perspective, and you still have the 200mm to catch them at the beginning of their stroll. If I photograph the show again next year, I think I'll try this latter one camera configuration. Even though it's nice to get some of the wide angle shots afforded by the 24-70 on a full-frame camera, I'd be able to get at least 85% of the shots I'd want with only one camera and lens.

Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/6.3, 1/80 sec,
manual exposure, 250 ISO

The lighting at fashion shows is reasonably good because, presumedly, the designers want the audience to be able to clearly see the clothes they designed! Due to this fact and my fear of annoying everyone around me with my flash, I seldom use flash at a fashion show. Sometimes, however, there are dark areas near the end of the runway that the lighting setup people have missed. If you experience this situation at a fashion show and you have brought two cameras, you can attach the flash to the camera with the standard zoom (e.g., 24-70) and use it only when the models step into the dark area/s when they get near you at the end of the runway.

Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/4.0, 1/80 sec,
manual exposure, 200 ISO

Uneven Lighting
Even if the lighting is sufficient to keep your camera's ISO settings below 800, it can vary along the runway. Also, occasionally they will allow different designers to incorporate different lighting effects into their presentations. This can wreak havoc with your exposures if you're using a manual exposure setting! So, let's talk about camera settings...

Camera Settings
Even though I was using shutter speeds of 1/60 and 1/80 sec this last show (I wasn't thinking straight because I was coming down with a cold), I advise using shutter speeds of 1/200 sec or faster....especially when catching them during their long walk down the runway. They'll be moving--sometimes running and dancing!--and you want some nice sharp detail. Your aperture for the distant shots when they first start down the runway can be quite large--e.g., f/4.0 or even f/2.8 is not usually problematic. But once they get close to you (like within 10 feet), you'll want f/6.3 or f/5.6. If you're using two cameras, the one with the telephoto lens can have the larger aperture and the other one should have the relatively small aperture. If you're shooting with only one camera, you would be well advised to go with the smaller aperture (f/6.3 or f/5.6) and leave it there.

CDL Backstage
Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/6.3, 1/80 sec,
manual exposure, 250 ISO
CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/3.5, 1/60 sec,
manual exposure, 250 ISO

The biggest question to me in terms of camera setting is which camera mode to use..? The last two years, I've photographed the show in manual exposure mode. The goal was to reduce the amount of image processing needed after the show. However, I've run into two problems that have undermined this goal: 1) the uneven lighting along the runway means I get darker and lighter photos depending on the variation in light, and 2) I occasionally bump either the shutter or aperture setting and end up with bad exposures.

The main reason for #2 is, I believe, because I'm using two cameras and all those camera switches end up in accidental alterations of settings (due to jostling). I could solve this problem by using only one camera, or putting tape over the controls that keep getting bumped to help keep them in place. The only solution for problem #1 (short of changing the manual settings *as* they walk down the runway!) is to switch to either aperture-priority or shutter-priority mode. So, why don't I just do that?

CDL Backstage
Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/5.6, 1/50 sec,
manual exposure, 200 ISO
CDL Backstage
Canon 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, f/3.2, 1/60 sec,
manual exposure, 160 ISO

I photographed the first two years of fashion shows in aperture priority. But when a model walks out in a pure white or dark black outfit, the exposure the camera calculates automatically can be seriously off! Using shutter-priority makes a lot of sense in some ways--because you know you want to maintain a relatively high shutter speed--but the camera is still calculating the exposure and can be as far off as aperture priority mode. Of course you can also play around with the type of metering the camera is doing (spot, partial, average, etc), but I've found that all of them are off in *some* situations.

Unless the lighting varies a *lot*, I think I still prefer manual exposure for the best overall results. But shoot in raw format to best allow for exposure adjustments in post-processing. Also, if you are shooting with two cameras, you can optimize the one with the telephoto lens for the lighting at the beginning and/or middle of the runway, and the other camera with the standard/normal lens for the lighting at the end of the runway.

Canon 1DS Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8L, f/3.5, 1/40 sec,
manual exposure, 3200 ISO

So those are my tips and "lessons learned". I hope they help you should you too come across the opportunity to shoot a fashion show. Fashion shows can definitely be interesting and a lot of fun!..:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Blog About Photography Premieres

Welcome + Background
Welcome to my new blog! My name is Michael Grace-Martin and I am a professional wedding, portrait, fine art, and stock photographer based in upstate New York near the Finger Lakes. I am an active member of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA), the Artistic Guild of the Wedding Photojournalist Association (AGWPJA), and Canon Professional Services. I have successfully sold fine art and stock photos over the last 3 years and have gone from charging $800 to photograph a wedding to $4000 and beyond.

Most of my camera equipment is made by Canon, and the vast majority of my photography is done with Canon digital SLR cameras. I also dabble in medium format film photography. I scan the film negatives, slides, or polaroids to produce digital image files. All of my photo prints are produced from digital files regardless of whether the original photo was acquired with a digital or film camera.

95% or more of all my digital image processing is done in either Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. I have processed tens of thousands of images in Lightroom and have many techniques and presets (presets are to Lightroom what actions are to Photoshop) to share.

The Mission
The purpose of this blog is at least five-fold:
  1. In addition to plenty of free information, imagery, and instruction (the 3 "i"s), I will also be offering information products (e.g., How-tos) and helpful computer software (e.g., Lightroom presets and helpful image file related utilities) for sale right from this blog.
  2. In the past, my images have been spread out at various places--like Flickr, Smugmug, and Facebook--with no organization or centralized access to them. Lightmanship is going to take over the role of centralized portal and showcase for these images.
  3. When I post an image to Lightmanship, I'm going to give details about how the image was produced. The goal is to make the posting of my images instructional for budding photographers, and more informative and interesting for photo aficionados.
  4. As a member of Canon Professional Services, I am able to borrow almost any professional grade camera equipment Canon makes. So, I'll be including some equipment reviews done by yours truly.
  5. This blog will replace the bi-weekly e-letter I was sending out.
Even though this blog will primarily cover digital photography, from the blog's name--Lightmanship--you can see we put considerations of light and lighting in a paramount position! Regardless of what type of photography you practice or prefer, knowing how to see and use light is essential to the making of *any* great or even good photograph.

Publishing Schedule
We will be publishing one main article each week, plus 1-3 shorter posts each week. You can sign up to our email notification list if you would like to get an email notification each time a post goes up. The email notification will contain an excerpt of the content of the post so you can decide whether to follow the link to the full posting.

Going Forward
So, come back each week to see interesting and beautiful photos, learn about how to make them, get inspiration for your own photography, learn about techniques and new equipment, and/or just keep abreast of what's going on in digital photography and Michael Grace-Martin Photography!

In short, if you like Michael Grace-Martin's photography, then come back each week to get a good "dose" of his imagery, plus his knowledge and enthusiasm for the art & practice of photography...:-).

-Michael Grace-Martin

All images and text (c) Michael Grace-Martin