Have a little fun on your next photo shoot and capture some expressions that’ll put a smile on your face.
| Portraits and People
Taking fun portrait photos doesn’t have to be difficult – with a few simple tips, you can create something that breaks the mould.
Simple kit is all you need
If you want to use natural light head for a space with a large window or if you prefer to use artificial lighting, a simple two light setup, positioning one light slightly to either side of the model should do the trick. Plain backgrounds work well as it’s the expressions we’re interested in not the colour of the scenery. We used a studio background but a table cloth, sheet or wall will work just as well.
Take note of your settings
As you don’t want your subject’s face to be blurred, make sure you’re using a quick enough shutter speed when shooting hand-held. If you’re using natural light and are having problems with shake, stick your camera on a tripod. Watch your white balance too as you’ll be putting these shots together at the end and if the white balance is right in-camera, there will be less work to do once you have the shots on your desktop.
Don’t think this is something for just DSLR users either as when using natural light, a smaller compactwill work fine.
Shoot Spontaneously & Candidly
When it comes to taking the photographs, don’t linger on one expression for too long as if your subject thinks about what they’re doing for too long it can look a little fake. You’ll also find it’s more fun to shout out instructions rapidly as it can sometimes go wrong, giving you the chance to capture your model laughing or pulling an expression you didn’t expect. Have a list of ideas to hand, particularly if you’re working with kids who need a little more instruction, but don’t be too strict with it. Adding props such as food or a drink can work well, too.
If you want to create a triptych or other style of portrait collage, simply re-size them in your chosen software, check the tone and brightness, then pull all the images onto a new document, positioning them as you go.
A few months ago Unistallar and Nikon announced the launch of a new smart-telescope called the eVscope 2. The two companies claimed it was the world’s most powerful and simple-to-operate digital telescope for consumers. While I absolutely agree the system is incredibly easy and actually fun to use, dubbing it as the world’s most powerful is a hefty over-promise.
The company sent us the $4,200 telescope to test out around Los Angeles where light pollution would be a challenge but we also coincidently struggled with a period of consecutive cloudy and hazy days where visibility was incredibly low. Despite taking it out on multiple evenings over the two weeks I had the device, there were only really a few brief moments of clear skies available. That being said, despite my issues with mother nature I found the device to be really fun to use with my friends.
Design and Build Quality
Out of the box, the telescope is surprisingly compact and comes with a comfortable and well-designed backpack and a “customized” tripod for safe and easy transport and setup. The tripod sits on the outside of the bag while the telescope itself slides into a custom-fitted backpack with foam inserts and straps to keep it safe while you’re moving around. This includes a small padded “bag” on the inside to hold extra USB-power supplies, cables, tools, and anything else you may find yourself wanting to store in there.
The new eyepiece, which is designed in partnership with Nikon, is a nice new feature that works relatively well. The previous (and much cheaper) model, the eQuinox, relies entirely on a connected app to be able to view and make adjustments.
I can kind of see why.
While I did use the viewfinder to see how things looked compared to on the screen of the app, I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would since you had to make movements for the telescope using the app anyway. It was often was much easier to rely on that than checking and making manual adjustments back and forth. It is worth noting that the telescope is an entirely digital device that requires it to be powered up to use. That means the eyepiece is also electronic so there is no real option for analog or manual adjustments, and you cannot modify the telescope to accept another camera like you could with traditional, non-electronic telescopes.
According to the company website and spec sheets, both the eVscope and the eQuinox telescopes are about the same size and weight, and both have a 4.5-inch diameter mirror inside. However, the eVscope does have better resolving power and a larger field of view. The company says the eVscope has an effective focal length of 450mm and a sensor capable of capturing 7.7-megapixel images with a digital magnification factor of up to 400x.
The only thing I didn’t really like is that the scope doesn’t have a “handle” on it, which made me really nervous when taking it out of the bag and mounting it on the tripod in a dark environment. It isn’t heavy or awkward, but it did feel nerve-wracking to handle such an expensive piece of technology without a real “grip” on it. The last thing I would ever want is to slip and drop the scope as I was getting it in position.
Mobile App and Focusing
The telescope can be used to manually find and view stellar objects (if you happen to be more experienced with telescopes than I am) or you can pair it with the free app on Android and iOS devices and let it automatically seek out and find constellations, planets, and other celestial objects that are visible based on your GPS and elevation data.
The eVscope 2 can rotate a full 360-degrees on its base while tilting up and down to find and track celestial events, and while it may be a bit jumpy making adjustments manually, using the app’s list of available objects to choose from is impressively fast and smooth to locate and track.
As someone who is absolutely not familiar with using a telescope, I have to admit, the automation within the smartphone app was incredibly fun and easy to use. On the first use of the app, the telescope uses an autonomous field detection to find its own place on the planet (and relative space) by comparing the GPS information from the connected smartphone and comparing it to what it can see itself in the sky. From there it was quick and clear how to use the automated tools to find a celestial object and have the scope automatically slew to its position, leaving the user to ensure the focus was set.
Based on whatever region the user is in, the app will tell you what is available to be seen through the scope, including recommended objects, leaving the user with just a click for the scope to get moving to the object. It is at this point where things get a little tricky for rookie users like myself. When focusing on objects at such a distance, the company recommends using a device called a bahtinov mask, which is conveniently built into the lens cover of the telescope.
Using the mask and once pointed at a “bright” celestial object, it will create a distinct crosshairs pattern or diffraction spikes that you need to align together, creating a sort of X to achieve optimal focus (the middle spike will be dead center of the X). As an amateur, this was rather frustrating to do properly since when you touch the telescope to adjust the focus ring (located at the bottom of the scope) it can significantly shake and move the scope’s point of view. Pretty much all of the images from the first night out that I shot were at least slightly out of focus, if not entirely, but I feel as though that was still mostly my user error more than anything else.
Once focus is achieved, the rest is rather easy. Just choose the celestial object you want to view, let the telescope find and center it, and then you can either save a quick image taken in just a few seconds or enable enhanced viewing mode where the telescope will track and take multiple exposures of the image up to several hours worth, automatically layering them in the app and providing a much brighter, and sharper image to view. My evenings of testing were rather short so I was not able to test out a completely overnight shot, however below you can view a few images that were captured using this method from the Unistellar community (shared with permission) and cleaned up in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
Despite the focusing headaches and weather not cooperating, the one thing I did find truly fun about this telescope is how you can share the experience with up to 10 people in the area using the app. As a primary user, you can share the device to multiple other smart devices and allow them to see what is happening in real-time as well as allowing them to take images for themselves while the primary user is making adjustments. The images that are captured on the smart devices are not exactly high-resolution, and are typically just a few megabytes in size and at a resolution even smaller than a typical smartphone photo (seven-megapixels or smaller).
While this can be a lot of fun for everyone with you, as a photographer or someone interested in astrophotography, the image quality is pretty underwhelming.
Image Quality and the “Process”
As mentioned above, the images taken with connection via a smartphone are typically a low resolution of seven megapixels or less in size. This is not by itself necessarily a bad thing, but I found it to be pretty underwhelming when you have a telescope of this price that also can’t provide any immediate method to create a high-resolution image. I say “immediate” because you can connect the eVscope to your network at home and tell the scope to upload the images to the Unistellar servers and have the company send you images at higher resolution.
Does it work? Yes. Is it easy to do and confirm? No, it is not. Are the images better than the tiny versions taken with a smartphone? Arguably, also no, they are not.
First off, this is one place where the application and workflow needs some significant improvements. When you have the telescope at home and on your network, you can tell it to upload the images stored on the telescope to the Unistellar servers. When you do this, the app kind of just shuts down and does not let you know the progress of the upload or if it even started it, let alone finished. The only thing you can do is, after a few hours, reconnect to the telescope to see if the memory is still being used or not. If it is now freed up, you can assume the images have been uploaded and the internal memory is cleared for additional use.
Getting these images as a RAW file is a whole additional challenging ballgame. To do so, you have to contact the Unistellar customer support, provide the serial number of the telescope (as well as your email and contact info) from which the representative will go through the servers to find and prep the images for delivery back to you. This could be as quick as a day or, in my case, nearly a week before the download links were provided.
Once received, I have to admit I was once again rather underwhelmed.
Granted I am no astrophotographer — and will never claim to be — but for some reason, I was expecting more out of the “RAW” stacked files than what was provided. In my short shooting tests of the M57 Ring Nebula for a two-minute exposure, somehow the mobile phone app was able to do some behind-the-scenes magic and create a better and more enhanced image than I was able to with the 47 image stack in Photoshop.
After speaking with the Unistellar team, the company did say that most of the user base only use the images saved directly to their smart devices, and only a small percentage request access to the larger RAW files. Unistellar says it still plans on making improvements to the interface and the backend tracking for users who want to gain access to the RAW files and access more advanced processing capabilities but were not able to provide any sort of timeline for that feature as of yet. So be aware, if you are looking to use this telescope to access and use the RAW files, currently you will have to contact customer support directly each time you make an upload.
This feels like a system that is destined to fail given any kind of load. I was one of only a handful of reviewers who even have access to the eVscope right now and I had to wait a week to see my images. I can only imagine how long that wait can extend to after the product gets into more people’s hands.
Really Fun, But Not for Photographers
While I honestly had an absolute blast with my friends each time I had the opportunity to take the eVscope out to test, as an imaging professional I was more than underwhelmed, especially given the $4,200 asking price. After speaking with the team at Unistellar, the company did confirm that it had no intention of competing with professional top-tier astrophotography telescopes, as its goal was to get the device in the hands of hobbyists and enthusiasts to share the experience of live celestial observation.
As a photographer, I was not overly impressed with the images I was able to get with the eVscope 2 telescope, but that does not mean I did not have a ton of fun using it. Sending this device back was actually a rather sad moment, and I wished I was able to use it more and in an environment with a darker night sky.
Still, you have to look at this device and understand that it’s basically a big camera made in collaboration with Nikon, a camera company. The method of accessing RAW files on a case-by-case basis in which you are required to get customer support involved instead of having a way to just connect the telescope to a computer for fast image downloads is honestly a glaringly huge missed opportunity.
The eVscope is not meant to be a professional photo level telescope, I get that, but it could be something incredibly fun and more useful for professionals or even hobbyists were that feature an option. Additionally, I found focusing the telescope to be very slow and frustrating as a rookie telescope user. Given the device is incredibly “smart,” I was left wondering why it could not autofocus on its own. The Unistellar team has said that they are researching and developing an autofocus mode, but for now, they say the fastest and easiest way is to use the provided Bahtinov mask.
Are There Alternatives
The STELLINA by Vaonis is one of the more recent alternative smart telescopes that is pretty close to the eVscope in its target market, similarly providing images on a smartphone at a price about $100 to $200 less, but weighs significantly more.
Otherwise, you might want to look into a standard telescope with a camera mount adapter. This is significantly less “smart,” but with a bit of practice, at least you have near-immediate access to higher resolution photos.
Should You Buy It?
Probably not. If you are even a beginner-level photographer who is looking for a telescope to help you get bigger and better night sky photographs or are just looking for a small “beginner” telescope to get started with astrophotography in your backyard, this is probably not the device for you. Higher skill level photographers will be even less impressed. While you can get some incredible images of the night sky quickly and easily, the resolution and quality are not there yet.
Remember when lenses had character? Tokina remembers. Last year, it released the SZX 400mm f/8 reflex lens which oozes personality that most modern lenses miss out on — it’s a tiny but mighty telephoto lens.
While Tokina originally announced the lens in July of 2020, it recently also added support for Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts, making it available in just about every major popular lens mount outside of L-mount.
As a preface, the Tokina SZX 400mm f/8 is what’s called a mirror lens or a reflex lens (or if you want to sound like a real nerd: a catadioptric lens). This general design has been around for a very long time, going back to the 1800s when it was first developed for microscopes. With regular photography lenses, the light enters and travels down the optical path right to the camera’s sensor. For reflex lenses, the path is folded by an internal mirror which makes it possible to have long focal lengths contained in a relatively small housing.
Most all of these lenses, including this SZX 400mm, do not have autofocus and are manual focus only. They also all have a fixed aperture. That means that this f/8 lens is only an f/8 lens and cannot be stopped down further without the use of neutral density filters or other external means. Finally, they have a weird-looking front glass element because of the mirror system inside. This round shape that sits in the center of the lens shows up in the out of focus areas of a photo for a distinct look that we’ll see below.
Build Quality and Design
Owning a 400mm lens usually comes with limitations on where it would be comfortable to bring along. You wouldn’t necessarily want to casually take it on a dog walk where photography is not the primary focus, for example. Yet, the Tokina SZX 400mm to me does not reach the threshold of being a burden on almost any occasion. It’s quite small — about the size of a standard 24-70mm f/4 lens — and also very lightweight at just 12.5 ounces (354.4 grams). It’s a carry-everywhere type of lens, but it’s also got heavy firepower with that 400mm reach. That’s an exciting combination.
Looking at the full lens, we see a very simple metal construction on the outside. Virtually the entire lens rotates and acts as the focus ring, but there is a wide strip of rubber as well to allow for a better grip. The focus ring twists a very smooth 270 degrees that you’re either going to love or hate. While it allows for gentle, precise movements, it pays for this by being slow to focus greater distances.
For wildlife, I found it to be irksome having to twist so much in order to focus from subjects near to far and back again — I cannot sweep the focus range in a single twist of my left hand while holding the camera steady in the other. As the focus moves from infinity toward the close focus distance of 3.77 feet (1.15 meters), the physical length of the lens also extends out up to around 0.75 inches (1.91 centimeters).
Another point that I think many will agree with me on is that the lens hood design is not good. The metal hood screws right onto the lens’s 67mm filter threads and creates a few problems in doing so. For one, the lens hood cannot be reversed and attached to save room in the bag. Instead, it will need to be wrapped unsecured around the lens. Secondly, when the lens hood is attached, that means the supplied lens cap cannot be clipped on at the same time. Thirdly, one cannot use filters and the lens hood at the same time as they require the same threading.
On a positive note, Tokina designed the SZX 400mm to have interchangeable camera mounts. That’s right: the camera mount end can unscrew off and be replaced with any of the other supported mounts that are sold separately. For this review, I’ve been using the Sony E-mount version. However, if down the line I get into the Canon mirrorless system, I simply purchase the $29 RF mount, swap them out, and the lens comes with me. Mounts are available to be purchased independently for Canon EF and RF, Nikon F and Z, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony E.
Inside, the lens uses six elements in five groups and has multi-layered anti-reflective coatings. For a $250 400mm lens, the image quality ended up exceeding my expectations. I never assumed this lens to be wildly sharp with stellar contrast and clarity, and sure enough, it doesn’t go that far. That said, Tokina SZX 400mm holds up quite well for the cash spent. After some minor tweaking in editing to bring back contrast in photos, it’s hard to complain when that’s all it really needs.
One benefit typical to the reflex lens design is the elimination of chromatic aberrations. While other cheap photo lenses out there typically suffer from heavy color fringing, there is none to be found with this 400mm lens.
As for image sharpness, I felt that was more a matter of attaining accurate focus in the first place. It can be a difficult task to hit critical focus manually with 400mm at f/8. The fact that the lens naturally lacks some clarity also contributes to the difficulty in eyeballing it.
I quickly learned that the best way to ensure sharpness was to use the focus magnifier setting mapped to a custom button on my Sony camera and digitally punch in on the image to adjust focus as I’m firing away on the shutter. It’s not the easiest thing in the world for constantly moving subjects like birds, but it gets the job done with greater accuracy than focus peaking or eyeballing from the full-frame display.
Lastly, we can’t talk about a reflex lens without bringing up one of its defining qualities: the bokeh. Since the lens features a round opaque structure set in the middle, this results in matching donut-shaped bokeh balls in out-of-focus areas of the image.
It’s busy, it’s strange, and it’s pronounced, but it’s also unique and fun and can give photos the extra spark needed to stand out in a positive way. Personally, I love it, but the trick is to really lean into the look and embrace it. If I shoot with the sun to my back and there’s flat lighting in the out of focus areas, it tends to not look flattering. On the other hand, shooting backlit and really trying to find out-of-focus backgrounds and foregrounds with scattered high-contrast light everywhere makes photos shine with a special, original look to them.
The Greater the Challenge, the Greater the Reward
This is not an easy lens to use, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad lens. It’s actually quite fun to be challenged to find scenarios where the photos from this lens will pop because once you do, the results are magical. It’s also extremely handy to keep around since the size and weight means it can be tossed in any bag or left on the camera for whenever the occasion strikes to zoom in.
Are There Alternatives?
For $300, there’s the more expensive Rokinon Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS that can be purchased new for select camera mounts. It’s less focal length but also a fixed f/6.3 rather than f/8 like the Tokina.
Alternatively, since the mirror reflex lens design is more of a historical product in photography these days, there’s always the option to head to eBay and pick up one of the older designs and adapt them to a modern mount where possible. You can find 500mm, 600mm, and even 800mm f/8 reflex lenses out there for relatively cheap.
Should You Buy It?
Yes. For $250 and the ability to switch out camera mounts down the line, the Tokina SZX 400mm f/8 Reflex is a creative-use lens that’s worth the cost if you’re up for a fun challenge.
Has the fun of photography been taken over by the mobile brigade.
Like a lot of us older picture takers on this site I grew up learning all about speed, F stops and focus range. Along with the many other do’s and don’ts that many well meaning people wanted to pass on. This was followed by years of photographers that only wanted to talk about gear or the techinical side of picture taking. Well meaning as they were, they stopped seeing the picture for itself, and camera clubs became the shrine for these people to meet.
Camera, lenses and software got better and better in the digitial age but these people will always go on about don’t use auto this or auto that. Real photographers shoot in manual. Then along came the smartphone producing great images with built in software to do the hard work.
To the old school photographers this is just a passing phase.
Then the mobile camera started killing of the camera sales of the compact market, which is the main money making parts of a lot of camera companies. (How did they get that so wrong.) The biggest thing that happened was social media and the fun everyone had with that. No more stuffy people talking about the rule of thirds, golden spiral or placement in a frame, it was all about the fun no matter how they got the image.
Every rule was done away with and people just really enjoyed taking pictures again.
If you want to test your photography skills while having a bit of fun, then ePHOTOzine’s weekly photo challenges over in the forum will be right up your street.
Those who visit/read the forums regularly may have seen the weekly challenge threads popping up but if you only read our reviews or peruse the gallery, it could be a whole lot of fun you’re missing out on.
Each week, there are two friendly challenge threads; Sunday is the ‘Macro’ photography challenge while Wednesday is ‘Black and White’ themed. There are no prizes, as much, but the winner does get the opportunity to set and judge the following week’s challenges.
To take part, all you have to do is get an entry in by the closing time of 8 pm on the day the challenge is taking place. Results are published around 8-10 pm on the same day so you’ll need to be available at that time to judge or check if you’ve won the honour of setting the next challenge (this goes live the following day but a great degree of allowance is included for international participants.)
It’s all good-humoured and entertaining and these challenges are a great way to make you capture images outside of your usual favourite style/genre. They’re also a great way to interact and meet fellow photography fans as you can chat in the forums.
To take part and to learn more, click the button below.
I make a habit of spilling as much ink as possible in this column towards extolling the virtues of making your gear purchases based on business needs rather than emotion. In today’s article, I will do the opposite.
Now, to be clear, it’s not that I’m contradicting myself. Far too much hype around cameras centers on the increasingly unbelievable and often completely unnecessary specs provided with each successive generation of image-taking devices. Sometimes, photographers, especially those just getting started, can often confuse having the most up-to-date technology with being the thing that separates professionals from amateurs. In actuality, one thing that does actually tend to separate professionals from amateurs is that, after being in business for a while, you start to fall in love with gear that’s dependable and does its job rather than paying a great deal of attention to or paying a great deal of money to get extra specs you’re not likely to actually use.
Of course, being highly dependable and built to last aren’t exactly the sexiest slogans to put on a poster. And regardless of what I may be telling you at this moment, I am hardly immune to gear acquisition syndrome or having my head turned by the prospect of a shiny new toy. In fact, even as someone whose gear purchases are the literal definition of business investments, I have actually found that investing in a camera sometimes simply for the love of using it can pay huge dividends. Of course, that statement comes with caveats. But today, I’d like to have a look at a few benefits that can’t be easily expressed on a spreadsheet.
Have you ever wondered why professional sports teams don’t wear their game jerseys during practice? Or why most teams will have a practice facility completely separate from where they play their games? If you played college football at an underfunded program as I did, the real answer may have something to do with not having the gardening budget to keep the game field looking good for both games and practices. But, assuming your program is adequately funded, there is still a benefit to having two distinct stomping grounds. Mentality.
Yes, practices can get intense. And the old adage of how you practice is how you play most often holds true. But no matter how much effort you put into practice, on game day, when you come out of that tunnel, dressed in full game uniform, to the screams of the gathered fans, there is a rush of energy that is really hard to explain in words. Simply put, your brain and body just go to a different plane versus how things feel on a quiet and isolated practice field. You step into the stadium and know it’s time to put up or shut up. It’s game time.
It’s been, ahem, a long time since I actually strapped on a set of shoulder pads, but I still get that same rush every time I show up on set to do a photoshoot. When I step onto a set, greet my clients, introduce myself to the models, and start to strategize with the crew, the rush of adrenaline is very similar to stepping out onto the field. This is partly why I’ve grown to appreciate my professional gear more for its dependability and efficiency than just for cutting-edge specs. Just like on a football field, once the whistle blows, no matter how good they look, the only thing that really matters about a pair of cleats is whether or not they will prevent you from slipping or twisting an ankle. The only thing I really want my camera to do on a professional set is to not be the reason why the shoot doesn’t go well. I don’t care if the camera’s autofocus speed performed a millisecond slower in a lab test against a competitor or if its eye detection works on a nearly extinct form of mongoose. I just want it to deliver on the basic principles of photography in a consistent and repeatable manner.
On shoot day or game day, to follow the analogy, I want the absolute best and most dependable tool to do my job. As important as any piece of gear, I need to be able to get myself mentally to that place where I can release the beast and just create, out of my head and into sheer performance mode. The camera I choose for my “main” camera is the camera that allows me to best achieve that mindset.
But odds are that if one were to stay at that level of intensity all the time, it’s highly likely that they would at some point explode. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that is what would happen. We all need to take a moment to downshift gears from time to time as well. This reduction in intensity allows us to decompress. And during that decompression, we can recharge our batteries for the next round. This is where the secondary practice camera comes in.
Like Pavlov’s dog, over the years, I’ve trained myself to the point where when my hand picks up my main camera, my mind automatically shifts into game mode. I expect the images I shoot with it to be of a certain level, regardless of if I’m shooting a model or photographing my dog. It’s good to have that level of expectation because that’s the bare minimum of what my clients expect.
But, in order to get to that level, I need to be constantly finding ways to improve and see the world in a different way. Having a second camera that is largely different from my main camera can help to put enough temporal difference between the shooting processes that it can encourage me to look at my art in a different way. Sure, my practice camera might not have all the bells and whistles of my main camera, but do I really need to be able to shoot 30 frames per second to do a neighborhood walkabout? Come to think of it, do I really need 30 frames per second to shoot anything, professional or otherwise?
But I digress. By making a tangible change to my shooting experience, I can subtly shift my mentality. There’s a good chance that my second camera is going to be decidedly less efficient than my main camera. After all, if it was super fun to use and more efficient than my main camera, it would probably be my main camera. Secondly, it’s likely that I haven’t spent a great deal of money on my second camera. At least relatively speaking. It is still an investment, after all. So, if this camera is meant to be only a change-up or an emergency starter, it makes sense to pay accordingly. You don’t pay your backup quarterback the same salary as your starter. My second cameras tend to be either older cameras that have simply cycled out of being my main cameras, newer cameras that I had high hopes for when I bought them but didn’t quite pan out, or secondhand cameras I purchased for a song with very little in the way of expectation.
Because these second cameras are almost inevitably less efficient than my main camera, I tend to have to slow down when shooting with them out of sheer practicality. They simply lack the design of my work camera and trying to operate them in the same way will result in immense frustration.
Now, just in case the opening section discussing me on set as being akin to an incredibly amped-up football player rushing out of a tunnel with veins full of adrenaline didn’t tip you off, I should probably clarify that I am not someone who likes to slow down on set. I don’t want to overthink my camera settings. I don’t want to waste a millisecond trying to remember which of the gazillion available customizable buttons I mapped my aperture or shutter speed to. When it’s game time, I just want things simple. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and reading (or creating) the light. Assuming a very basic level of autofocus competency, I really don’t want to worry about any other settings when I’m on set. And even the basic exposure trio I don’t so much think about as simply feel after having done photography for so many years.
But, the reason I can operate in flow mode is that I already understand the settings I need to create the images I want without having to think about them. The reason I don’t have to think about them on set is that I spend so much time off of set trying to figure those things out on the practice field. Having a second camera that helps you to slow down and focus on the basics can help further that education. It can make you really think not only about what you are doing but why you are doing it. If I was being forced to slow down like this when real money was on the line, I would be less than thrilled. But doing this on the practice field or just when snapping photos for fun lays the groundwork for the more instinctual creativity that I need to kick in once I’m on set.
It’s for this reason that I’ve found that the second camera you might have lying around the house can be incredibly valuable. Whatever type of camera it might be, whether it be an old film camera, a modern mirrorless, or a smartphone, it can help you see things in a different way. It can help you reconnect with the joy of simply witnessing the beauty and finding the best way to capture it. Throw it into manual mode and you have a ready-made experimentation device for learning about exposure. You have a tool that can help you to try out different combinations and see if they result in a trick you might want to teach your main camera to perform. Take time to really let in the sensory overload that comes with calmly sliding your eye up to the viewfinder, pressing down on the shutter button, and hearing that beautifully loud audible thump of the mirror rocketing open and closed. Yes, I said mirror. Report me to the modernity police as an old man DSLR guy on the loose, but oh, how I do love that sound.
Of course, we don’t all have the money for one camera, let alone two. But the objective of the exercise is not to have the fanciest camera, but simply to have a tool that helps you to see. That could be a high-end camera. Or it could be a sketchpad and a set of pencils. The point is to shake up your creative complacency and allow yourself to see your environment in a different way. It is merely a totem that helps to alter your mentality and reconnect to the base elements that caused you to fall in love with the art form in the first place.
Investing in a second or third camera not necessarily designed to handle the demanding tasks of your day job but which fills you with joy might seem like a waste of money. But putting yourself through the mental exercises necessary to help improve your ability to see creatively is an investment that always pays off.
Whether it’s a line of lampposts on a dark street, light glowing from the windows on the front of your house, a night sky bursting with stars or a panoramic cityscape showing the twinkling lights from the homes, shops and streets that fill the city, there’s something for every photographer, no matter where you live, to photograph at night.
1. Kit Choices
Your most important piece of kit if you’re heading out at night is a tripod as it’s impossible to work hand-held when you’re dealing with very long exposures. If you have one, pack your remote release to help minimise shake or make use of the camera’s self-timer if you don’t. Your standard lens will do just nicely but take a telephoto along to get you close to lights on top of buildings and illuminated signs. Pack a torch, wear suitable clothing and take a watch along for timing when using the B setting. Do have fun experimenting with Bulb as you’ll be able to produce some interesting and creative results.
2. How Dark?
It doesn’t have to be totally dark for you to have a try at night photography. Late dusk, when there’s still a little light left in the sky, will give you scenes with less contrast as the light that’s still in the sky will illuminate areas not lit by artificial lights. If you do want to head out when most people are tucked up in bed take someone else with you for safety and they can keep you entertained while your long exposure ticks along. If you’re not very patient you could, of course, use a higher ISO, however, sticking to ISO100 or 200 will give you better quality images.
3. Long Exposures & Timing
How long your exposure is will depend on what you’re photographing. If the light, such as street lamps, is your focus you’ll have a much shorter exposure than if you were photographing an illuminated building when you’re photographing light that’s reflected. If you have both types of light in one scene go for the longer exposure as if you don’t, the only detail will be the lights, you won’t see a building. This does mean you’ll get flare from the street lights, but this isn’t necessarily bad.
Overexposed street lamps, particularly if it’s a damp night, can look really good.
4. Metering & White Balance
You may get a few metering problems as areas of darkness which are occasionally illuminated by bright lights can confuse your camera. If you find your scenes too dark or the lights have washed the scene out, use the compensation setting to adjust the exposure and try again. Don’t meter from a dark area either as this will just cause lights to be overexposed.
Keep an eye on your white balance as different lights can have different colour casts. Shop windows will be fluorescent while street lamps and buildings lit by floodlights are often tungsten which gives a yellowish cast to images. But you may find the colour cast adds to your image anyway.
Other techniques to try at night include:
Light trails of moving traffic
Fairgrounds at night – use a slow shutter speed to create pictures a wash of vivid colours.
Cityscapes taken from an elevated point to give you a sweeping shot of twinkling lights.
Most people get into photography because it is fun and exciting. But when you do photography as a job or even if you are in school studying photography, it can at times lose its luster. Finding ways to bring joy and fun back to photography can be a challenge, but is a worthwhile pursuit.
I’m sure most of us have been there at some time or another. Photography can at times feel like a chore, instead of something you want and are excited to do. Maybe it is because photography is your career and you have been focused on the photography needs of other people and not your own goals. Or perhaps things have become so technical and formulaic that the play has been taken out of the medium for you. No matter the situation, when you lose the joy that drew you to the medium, it can be frustrating, to say the least.
My first article here at Fstoppers was about getting out of the creative doldrums, and while those tips can certainly apply here, feeling like photography is, for lack of a better word, work, can require a slightly different approach.
Go Low Tech
When I was in my undergraduate years, I had a photography class that was solely dedicated to learning The Zone System. This was done on black and white film, and the first half of the semester involved photographing nothing but a gray card on a light table. Photography went from being creative, exciting, and spontaneous to mathematical, tedious, and predictable. Don’t get me wrong, The Zone System was valuable to learn, and I am very grateful for that course, but at that moment, I felt like something was missing from my photography world and desperately missed being creative.
My answer to that was to pick up something that was the exact opposite of what we were doing in the course: a Holga. Holgas are extremely cheap, plastic film cameras that have very minimal options for settings. They have only manual focus, two aperture options (one for sun and one for cloudy conditions), and a whopping two shutter speed options; bulb mode and somewhere around 1/100 s (yes, the one shutter speed isn’t even precise). They are prone to light leaks, don’t advance to the next frame exactly, so it is easy to partially overlap images, and because of how you release the shutter, it is easy to end up with blurry images. But, it was all those quirks that drew me to the camera. I wanted something that I didn’t have to think about and something that would give me wild results no matter how much I tried to control the situation. The low-tech, minimal camera sparked that love of photography once again and fueled me to keep creating.
Holgas are still out there, as are lots of other cheap, low-fi film cameras. If you don’t want to mess with film, there are also Holga lenses for digital cameras, which was a fun tool to play with during my graduate school work. And there are also some low-fi digital options these days as well, which mimic the film toy cameras. Finding a low-tech camera or tool can be a great way to take the precision and pressure off when it comes to photography, which can lead to making photography fun again when the joy has been sucked out of it!
Budget Time for Personal Projects
Some genres and areas of photography lend themselves to creativity more than others, but if you are in one that doesn’t allow for that, it can become tedious quickly. There will, of course, be times that this just isn’t possible, but purposefully scheduling time for personal projects among your client work is an important thing for keeping the fun alive. Perhaps set a few hours on Saturdays aside for photography fun or maybe a day once a month. Finding a good groove with regular, consistent time to create just for fun can be extremely beneficial. There is, of course, something to be said for spontaneity, but getting into the habit of making time for your own passion projects is also important.
Your personal projects don’t have to be related at all to what your professional work is focused on, and in fact, it might be good to stray from that significantly for the sake of boosting creativity. Personal projects also don’t have to be serious or focused or meant for anything more than just playing around. For example, I really enjoy photographing water splashes, but those are just pure enjoyment and not intended to be more than that. Perhaps your personal project is even more focused on the editing side as opposed to just shooting. The important thing is to find something that makes you excited about photography again!
Be More Selective With Your Clients
I understand that many do not have this option, as simply having any client is a necessity. Being more selective with your clients can be an extremely difficult thing, but if you have the flexibility to do this, it can be hugely helpful. Choosing to work with clients that fully trust your creative vision and style and will let you do your thing can be the key to staying excited about photography while you are also working. This can be done with commercial clients or even if you photograph weddings or portraits for families. I have worked with clients before that have had extremely specific opinions on how they want their photographs to look, and it doesn’t necessarily align with my existing style. I took the job because I needed it, but it became a bit frustrating and tedious trying to meet their expectations instead of going with my normal process. On the flip side, I have worked with people who have given me free rein, allowing me to explore and do my thing, and that fueled me instead of draining me! It made me want to continue creating, instead of having me dreading sitting at my computer to edit images or go take more photographs.
Take a Break
Lastly, sometimes, it is important to take some time off. This is true in basically every profession, and photography is no different. At times, just an afternoon of complete freedom and no photography-related activities whatsoever is enough. Sometimes, however, a bigger break is required to hit the reset button and feel excited to work again. Time away from responding to emails and client inquires, although hard to do, can also be important. With the freelance photography life or even if you work a more structured, traditional photography job, it is easy to get sucked into the mentality that you have to always be working. The boundary between work and life can easily become extremely blurred or even non-existent, which isn’t healthy and can quickly lead to burnout. Giving yourself breaks and setting up boundaries with your time will help prevent that burnout and keep you enjoying photography.
Do you have tried and true ways to keep the fun in photography? Share your tips below!
We went from cold weather and grumbling about the rain to hot weather and grumbling about the heat in 24 hours. Seriously though, a hot, sunny day today and we ambled on down to Lancashire Mining Museum, aka Astley Green Colliery Museum, where Things Were Afoot. We ran into NeilWigan and his wife Joan and had a natter for a while, shot some images and drank a can of Diet Coke. There was plenty going on, stalls, ice cream, snacks and drinks, the new miniature railway carrying the first passengers, the winding engine being started up and a chance to have a look at what has been achieved by the hard working volunteers during lockdown. It’s continuing tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, and free to enter the site, so why not mosey on down and have a look?
The Lady Mayoress of Wigan was in attendance, happily dressing up in the Miner’s Cottage before she explored the site.
The site itself was quite busy, but there was still plenty of parking available.
The new miniature passenger train was under way, all cordoned off unless you had a ticket, but we caught a distant glimpse!
Then we sneaked round to have a look at the new air compressor that now drives the winding engine. The best way to sneak anywhere is in full view of everyone. We didn’t have a clipboard to carry (that always adds credibility) but a confident step always gets us there.
Spring is here, and with the weather warming up and the outdoor world coming to life, there are numerous fun photography opportunities waiting for you. This great video will show you 10 ideas for springtime photography across a variety of genres.
Coming to you from Maria Perez with B&H Photo and Video, this fantastic video will give you 10 fun ideas for springtime photography. No doubt, with everything blooming and the temperature warming up, it is a wonderful time to head out. Even if you are not going out for client work, just grabbing your camera and spending an afternoon on a casual photo walk can be a great way to unwind a bit and get back to the pure fun of photography. Beyond that, laid-back photography in which you are not under the constraints of client requirements is the best chance to experiment a bit creatively and try things you might not be able to otherwise. And often, it is the little ideas you experiment with and discover during these private, low-pressure sessions that end up becoming the things you implement into your professional work and become known for later on. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Perez.
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