Tag Archive | improvingphotography

Street photography with a big camera

At face value, it doesn’t seem like the Canon 5D Mark III is a suitable camera for street photography. I am always a believer that any camera with you is the best camera you have however looking at the bulk & size of the Mark3 it’s bound to turn a few heads & feel intimidating to people you are trying to capture on a photograph. Even so, the challenge of getting the shot using a big camera is enticing so perhaps we can talk a little bit about how to use a big camera when street shooting.

Use a small & short focal length lens

The shorter the better. Try not to use anything longer than an 85mm on a full frame sensor camera. That’s about 50mm on an APC sensor body. I’ve shot using a 17-40mm ultra-wide angle lens on the Mark2 & the Mark3 before in the streets so it’s doable. Avoid big lenses like the 70-200mm. You already have a big DSLR. Don’t make it worse by putting a cannon on the thing! If you are a beginner like me, choose something comfortable like a 50mm where you can get close to the subject but not so right in the face if get what I mean!

Use the silent mode

If your camera has a built-in silent mode, use it! Usually this is only available on the higher end pro series DSLRs however I anticipate that Canon & Nikon may introduce this to later entry models. Besides street photography, I can see this feature being useful when shooting weddings & events if you are looking for candid moments. Extremely useful feature if you ask me so turn it on & leave it on for the duration of your shoot.

Live view

Somehow lifting the camera away from you while shooting something is less intimidating than lifting the camera’s view finder to your eye. This is perhaps a psychological thing but try it, you’ll find it easier to get a candid shot doing this & your subjects will mind less when you do this. Also for those who do not have silent mode on their cameras, shooting with the live view on is usually more silent.

Shoot blind!

Another technique which requires some practice, sometimes shooting blind helps. Without lifting your camera, just point it at your subject & snap. If you have silent mode, this helps. It requires a bit of practice to get successful shots so it’s best to fire some shots in quick succession so you increase your chances of getting the shot. Don’t do this all the time though. It’s always best to allow the subject to know you are actually photographing them to create that connection between subject & photographer. This is important even in street photography.

Develop thick skin!

Street photography really is about battling it out with yourself. Pointing a camera at a complete stranger without their consent can be viewed as a violation of social norms which can make the subject feel uncomfortable. Being the photographer taking the photo can make you feel like a complete creep. I constantly battle with this every time I bring my camera out for street photography. Here are a couple of tips that I use when I go out street shooting with a big camera…

1. Make eye contact with your subject. Don’t look away. Smile & nod your head. Lift the camera to your eye, compose & take your shot. Smile again & nod once more. You’d be surprise how this works most of the time.

2. You’re not going to die if someone puts up their hand & says NO. Just stop what you’re doing & say sorry or nod then be on your merry way.

3. Like what I mentioned above, use a wide-angle lens. The wider the better. Shooting with a long lens doesn’t make you more confident, it turns you into a creep! 200mm lenses aren’t meant for street photography, they are meant for stalkers & peeping toms.


The Canon EOS 5Dmk3 and Canon 50mm f/1.2 L combo

I will be honest… When I was using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens on my Canon EOS 7D, I was suffering! Focusing was a problem & especially at narrow apertures between f/1.2 & f/2.0, it was quite problematic. Basically the lens will back focus when the subject is near & at times front focuses at infinity. This can drive a sane photographer nuts especially when missing those crucial shots!

For this reason I can never shoot a photo at f/1.2 without reviewing or chimping after the shot. Over time I learned to work around the problem & be patient with shooting wide open especially on a lens which has such a large opening that it felt like shooting with a black hole attached to your camera! I soon learned after scores of similar issues by other users this is something I may have to live with if I wanted to shoot with this lens. Despite the difficulties I hung on to this lens because of the scores of great photos I achieved with it over the past year or so. You can view my 50mm album on FLICKR if you like.

When I first attached the 1.2L on the Mark 3, I wasn’t expecting much difference in the way of my photography workflow. I was expecting to chimp as usual for each shot I took & nothing made me thought otherwise. How wrong I was!

For some reason the 1.2L on the Mark 3 was awesome! Perhaps it is the lateral color fringing correction or perhaps Canon did something to the Mark 3’s focusing system but it seems that all my focusing problems were solved! I mentioned before that 61 AF points didn’t really appeal to me. Give me 9 points I can trust & I will be satisfied. This time however we get 41 AF cross-type points on the Mark 3. Still a tad too many for my liking but I’ll take it. The Mark 3 & 1.2L combo is so good now even at f/1.2, I nail my focuses every time! The only way you can miss is if your subject is moving faster than your shutter speed can handle or it’s basically your fault!

I was out with a bunch of mates doing some group street photography last Saturday & I was able to shoot candid photos of people moving tact sharp even at f/1.2… Something I would never have been able to do on the 7D or my old 5Dmk2. I set the AF to the area focusing & placed it right in the middle & the camera was fast enough to shoot from the hip or at eye level, whichever. I was even cocky enough to challenge my friends to a no chimping street walk! Boy did I get a bunch of very usable shots!

If focusing speed & accuracy is something you look for in a Canon DSLR, this is the camera for you. If you shoot L primes, this is the camera for you. Heck if you shoot Canon…. well…. I won’t continue!

I leave you with some photos taken during my group street photography event. You can view the entire album HERE.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark 3… Is it worth the hype?

Canon’s long-awaited 5D series successor to the 5Dmk2 has finally arrived. Aptly named the 5Dmk3, this full frame DSLR sports a 22 mega pixel sensor with an insane ISO capability of between 100-25,600 & full HD video capabilities. The Mark 3 now comes with 61 point AF system with 41 cross sensor type AF. A vast array of improvements include a headphone jack for video, customizable AF system & a reworked menu system, not to mention built-in HDR & multi exposure capabilities.

But before I continue, I’d like to mention that this is not a camera review. I am not going to touch on all aspects of the camera. Just the ones which I think matter to some people who may be looking to upgrade from their 5Dmk2 or 7D DSLRs. I prefer to focus on things that improve the cameras usability rather than image quality or ISO performance. All this is good, but I feel a camera is an extension of oneself which allows us to create photographs. I will try to talk more about such aspects when compiling my thoughts on this latest version of the Canon 5D series.

Noteworthy improvements

1. Auto focus accuracy & customizability

I don’t care for 61 AF points to be honest. What I do care for is the AF speed & accuracy. I shoot mainly with a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L so the slightest misfocus will render an image unusable. I’ve suffered intensely when using this lens at anything wider than f/2.0 on any DSLR. On the Mark 3, even at f/1.2, the focus is accurate & the images at this aperture is tact sharp. The Mark 3 will certainly make many prime lens shooters very happy!

2. Improved ISO range

On my 7D & my old 5Dmk2, I dare say I shoot up until ISO 3200. I’ve only really shot 1 photo at ISO 6400 using the Mark 2 while I was at a Chinese opera performance last year. On the Mark 3, the ISO range has improved a further 2 f-stops to a usable ISO 12,800.  The noise levels for ISO 25,600 is much like the old ISO 6400 on the Mark 2, which to me is rather poor. That said, the camera can still churn out pretty darn usable shots at ISO 12,800. Kudos to the Canon engineers who made this happen!

3. Automatic correction of lateral color fringes

Purple fringing was a huge problem when shooting using the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L on the 5Dmk2. The problem becomes very apparent when shooting against strong back lighting, like for instance, the bright sky behind some branches & leaves. Post processing was a nightmare & even after removing the purple tint, the images looked as if layered incorrectly on top of each other at the corners. This is a big improvement especially for those shooting with the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L & the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II.

4. Silent mode

This is by far my favourite feature on the Mark 3. Turning off the focus beep & enabling the silent mode… I can shoot without disturbing others & is extremely useful when doing street or candid photography. I personally do quite a bit of street & candid photography so this function is god given! Of course in this mode, the continuous shooting speed is reduced. However in single shot mode, you will hardly notice a difference in the speed of execution.

5. Flash sync. speed in Av mode

You can now flash sync. your Av mode to between 1/60 sec – 1/200 sec variable, or hard set it to 1/200 sec. Aperture priority shooters like myself will love the ability to control this!

6. Other improvements

Other improvements include the ability to set your exposure bracketing to 7 exposures, improved ergonomics especially the thumb grip, headphone jack & touch sensitive rear dial while shooting video.

What still needs work!

1. The playback review after each shot

The playback review after each shot is very limited & prevents you from flipping between shots. In fact the only thing you can do is to switch from the different previews (eg. exposure information & histogram) & zoom in/out. If you wanted to compare sharpness between 2 shots by zooming in & then turn the dial to the next photo… you can’t! You need to press the PLAY button which will temporarily bring the playback mode out & in again!? To me this crippling effect is dumb & is an oversight by the Canon menu designers.

2. The auto focus can sometimes slow you down

I don’t mean the auto focus speed, I mean the time it takes you to move your focus point from one place to another takes quite a while. You cannot hold the little joystick down to move the cursor. You actually have to click it each time to move 1 square… Great! Now with 61 AF points, you should get what I mean by SLOW! By the time you move your AF point, you would have missed the decisive moment. Nice work Canon!

Also the focus point do not light up when you are trying to focus on a subject. The red light does illuminate the viewfinder for a brief moment when focus locks, however before that the focus point is but a black square. When you try to focus in low light, you will have problems finding where the hell the bloody focus point is! This is inexcusable & folks are going to waste a lot of time figuring out where they positioned the focus point especially in low light or while focusing on dark surfaces!

3. No focus illuminator & no pop-up flash

There is still no focus illuminator on this version of the 5D series. Missing also is a pop-up flash for those nice to have moments when you need some fill-light.

4. Stupid RATE button!

I am dumbfounded! This must be the most useless button on a DSLR ever! Wait! You can customize it!… but only to protect files from being deleted. You cannot program it to do anything else other than protect & add stars to your photos. Face palm!

5. Not all lens correction information is loaded

Information on a popular lens like the 50mm f/1.4, is missing from the factory preload of lens data on the 5Dmk3??? Good thing is that you can install it manually. It just seems very odd that a popular lens like this is not factory loaded by Canon when they shipped the Mark 3.

My thoughts

Although the Mark 3 is still lacking in some areas, it remains a formidable upgrade for 5Dmk2 & 7D users. The AF accuracy & ISO performance is good enough as any to justify getting the 5Dmk3. And for photographers who like being stealthy, the silent mode is a welcomed addition to the list of features available on this camera.

My verdict? Highly recommended!

Photography : Giving a useful photo critique

I’ve talked about how to take & get criticism in photography in my last two articles so it’s inevitable that in the third part of this topic I will talk about giving a photo critique. Criticizing & giving feedback on anything is really quite easy; giving useful feedback on the other hand is quite a different thing. Giving good & useful feedback on something as subjective as a photograph is, well… something even more difficult.

I have seen my fair share of people who try to give feedback & most often we often fall into one of two categories. Those who bash in the most inappropriate or impolite way & those who are just too nice & aren’t very honest about their opinions. With the addition of the LIKE button on social websites like Facebook, it’s easier to just click LIKE & move on. Being overly nice & on the flip side, brash isn’t going to help anyone.

Remember that there is no wrong or right in photography. Extreme technical errors can be deemed as “wrong” but sometimes it all depends on the artist. If a photographer wanted the image to be ‘darker than normal’, he would then dial his exposure down to achieve this effect. The question is that did the photographer do it on purpose, or he made a mistake & didn’t know what he was doing. This is why I take some time to either name the photo appropriately or talk about the image & why I created it that way. Read my article titled,Composition… how I view things… It’s true sometimes you will never know. But a photographer who really wants to learn, will be honest about his work.

Make sure the photographer truly wants a critique. Be sure that the photographer really wants a critique & really wants to improve in photography. Even if they are asking for comments on their photos, they may not necessarily want negative comments. It helps to ask first before you plunge into talking about the photo. Sometimes a simple, “Would you like some comments on your photo?” would help pave the way to ensure that the photographer is open to idea of having his work being critiqued. If the answer is NO, then don’t.

Try to interpret the photo. When you view the photo, take a moment to look at the entire frame. What is the meaning of the image. What did the artist want you to see more of & what less of? Did the photographer include a title or short commentary of the image? What did it say? In your first few sentences, talk about the photo & how you felt when looking at it. That sometimes in a way is a critique in itself. If the photographer intended you to see something but you saw a complete opposite, that in itself is feedback to the artist that something went wrong!

Start off with what’s good then followed by what can be improved. No brainer here. It’s easier to get someone to listen when you begin a conversation on a good note. Once you have built the rapport & respect, you can move on to what are the things that need work. To make a photo critique concise, I normally find two aspects of the photo which I like & perhaps one quality of the image which I think can be improved upon. More experienced photographers can probably find a strew of things wrong with a photograph but this is not a competition. There is no prize for pointing out mistakes here. The 2:1 ratio isn’t a rule, but I say taking one step back after walking 2 steps forward is still progress in the correct direction… Don’t you think?

Be specific. This is something I almost always see photo critics fail at. Even when you give a positive feedback, you need to be specific. If so happen a good photo is a fluke, the photographer will not know how to replicate the conditions if he didn’t know what he did right in the first place.

Here are examples of comments I have seen which add no value to a critique…

“Great photo! Nice colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait, I like your model’s expression!”…

“Wow! What a moment!”…

All great compliments but nothing the photographer can use to better his or her photography. If not it helps to boost a bit of moral by ego stroking, nothing more.

Now imagine if the above 3 critiques were worded as such…

“Great photo! I like the saturation of photograph especially the contrast between the horizon & the sky. Great work in making the photo pop with the usage of colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait. I liked the way you managed to obtain that kind of expression from your model. You’ve managed to put her at ease throughout the session & your efforts have paid off. Nice work!”…

“Wow! You must have been very patient with your camera. You have ceased the moment well & you have captured a once in a lifetime photo!”…

These are just examples.

Be specific about the negatives as well. As with positive comments, you should be as specific if not more detailed about what you think can be improved. Don’t just say, it’s bad… Explain why you think it doesn’t add to the photo & how you can make it better.

This is when you need to be honest! This is quite hard for a lot of us. This is where majority of use fall into the LIKE a photo category. It’s easier to hit the like button & just move on. If you intend to tear someone’s work apart, say so. If you want to help someone improve, you should be honest about it too.

Let’s give a shot at giving a photo critique…

What do I see? When I look at this photo, I see a painting of a portrait of a man on the side of a building next to a partially opened window. The image of this person is perhaps someone of importance & he looks somewhat solemn as if sad.

How is this photo technically? This photo was probably taken on a bright sunny day. The image is somewhat overexposed because the colors seem washed out.

What I think? I like the idea which the photographer was trying to deliver. The composition was not bad with how he put the man’s face to one side & the window on the other. The crop was as tight as it can be under the circumstances. There isn’t much in the rest of the photo to make it really stand out. I think the bottom part of the middle section, probably windows to the ground floor of the building is rather annoying. The “landing pigeon” on the top left corner with its wings clipped off by the edge of the frame doesn’t help. Neither does the few leaves creeping into the left side of the frame

This next part is where you give the real critique…

What would I do? I can certainly try to shoot using a different zoom range or crop the image to exclude the things I didn’t care for. I would also increase the contrast, perhaps lower the exposure & increase saturation. I believe there are more details on the walls than this photo is really showing. Bringing out the details would enhance this photo & make the image pop more.

This is the proposed re-imagination of the photo. I’ve removed the distracting elements in the photo, brought down the exposure which increased the overall contrast & color. Pushing up the colors even more made the details appear clearer but at the end of it, it was the sharpening at the end of my workflow which brought out more of the details.

If you want to view a high resolution version of this photo click on my FLICKR link HERE.

There you go. Want to give photo critique a go? It’s your turn!

Photography : How to get criticism

In my previous article, I talked about how to handle criticism when you post or share your photos. While it’s true that some photo critics may not be tactful in providing feedback, it is always good to provide some context into what areas that you’re trying to improve upon. Simply showing a photo & ask for comments or criticism sometimes just doesn’t cut it. As photographers who are trying to improve oneself, we are the best people to know our own weaknesses & perhaps aspire to shoot images of a certain quality which we are not able to as yet due to lack of experience.

Get real, what are your true intentions?

You should really ask yourself that question. If you are part of a photographic community where you are absolutely the top guy when it comes to the landscape genre for instance, posting a top-notch landscape photo on your forum & asking for “criticism” is rather a vain gesture. Similarly a photographer who specializes in street photography, captures a once in a lifetime moment which obviously took experience, hard work & a keen understanding of the surroundings where he shoots…. posts a photo over Facebook & says, “It’s just a snapshot!” or one of the more annoying comments like “Simply shoot..”. Seriously, what are you trying to prove besides soliciting for LIKEs & admiration for your work? I honestly have very little respect for such people.

If you know you are good at something, share it with the rest in the form of a note explaining how you got the shot & what it took to get it. Share your experience with others. Do not portray your skill as something you are born with & little to no effort to reproduce. You will not be respected for that. We were once all beginners & noobs. It is the act of sharing & helping others that makes you a better person, someone people can look up to for guidance. If you are asking for input from someone or some group of photographers, please let it be because you know that there are areas to improve & you genuinely want to improve. Otherwise don’t bother!

Ask the right people

No-brainer, right? You don’t ask a plumber to fix your electrical outlets when they fail, so you shouldn’t ask people who know nuts about photography how to improve on your skills!

Don’t just ask anyone. It makes perfect sense to look for friends or people in your photographic group who has a sense of style in which you really like. Just because someone is a professional wedding photographer doesn’t mean he or she may take photos that you find to your liking. Professional does not equate to good, just that they are paid for what they do. Sometimes, amateurs shoot better because they shoot for the passion of photography, not the money!

Photographers in general are usually very poor at expressing themselves outside from the way of making a photograph. This is why we hide behind the viewfinder because we are basically introverts who prefer to capture the moment rather than being the moment itself. A good photographer with a keen sense of vision who can provide you constructive input, able to share his thoughts freely & willingly are hard to come by. These are the type of mentors you need to look for when you want your work evaluated to enable you to acquire the most out of their experience. They may be short on supply, but if you look hard enough, you will find a friend or a colleague who fits this description.

Ask for the right thing

When you ask for your work to be evaluated, provide context. When you ask someone to comment on your work, a simple “Can you give me some advice on how to improve?” just may not work. Likewise posting a photo on a group forum & asking a general, “Comments & criticism welcomed”, the infamous C&C! You will not get much useful input with that. More often than not you will attract stray comments which does little to help you.

Structure your ask on one or at the most two areas of improvement. Be specific. If you were having problems composing the image, tell your audience. If lighting was your concern & you need to learn new ways of solving the problem, ask about lighting. Give as much information about how you took the shot & what you used to get it. Be prepared for questions that your critic may ask you to learn more about your understanding of photography.

If you broke some of the basic photography rules, tell your audience! I sometimes frame my images with smack in the middle compositions. I wasn’t thinking of rules of 3rds because I intentionally wanted the photo to be different. I’d make sure that my audience knew that if I were to ask for comments. If you purposely ‘underexposed’ an image to obtain a certain effect, make sure you indicate it. This will avoid some annoying critics who will point out the obvious & ruin your day! Unless of course you don’t know what you’re doing then it’s ok.

At the end of the day, you will only benefit from this exercise if you listen. Learn to filter out what is bad & learn from what is good. Learn how to HANDLE CRITICISM! Done correctly, asking for comments on your work will help you be a better photographer!

Composition : Right in the middle

You may have seen many articles on rules of thirds or placing your subjects off-center to create a better looking image. However in some circumstances, placing the subject dead center may not be a bad idea… assuming the subject is a strong one & holds by itself. At times placing the subject dead center on one axis but having the other axis two-thirds of the way may work very well to make a more powerful image. A strong image isn’t always the one that follows rules but it’s how you are able to bend & break them to create something unique which no one has thought of. Fresh ideas often works best which will make the subject jump out at the audience & wow them.

This was taken inside the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain. The smack in the middle composition was quite obvious on this one. I stuck a tripod (which I later found out I was not supposed to do!) & took 3 exposures to create this HDR image.

Also an obvious choice for a center composition. Despite being dead center on the x-axis, did you notice that there is a 2/3 composition on the y-axis?

Here are more examples of compositions that work when placed in the middle of the frame.

“Converging in the middle”

“Circular Tracks”

“Spinning Top”

“Inside the train”

Film is still available!!!

I was at Moontree 47 the other day having coffee with a friend when this gentleman showed up, took a look at my Canon A-1 SLR & said, “Wow! You’re old school!” Don’t you feel like a dinosaur when photographers around you never used film cameras before? What’s even scarier is when someone who is around your age group asks you to help him or her load some 35mm film onto their camera! Has it really been that long ago or am I really going the way of the dodo?

For some folks, the act of shooting using a film SLR or medium format camera may seem a tad snobbish. Perhaps they think that we people who shoot with film are in an era long forgotten; where gentlemen wore top hats & spoke Queen’s English while sipping Earl Grey!

When I go about street shooting with a 35mm camera, I still get odd stares from people as if I’ve got fungus growing on my head! Flashing question marks on their foreheads when they ask, “They still sell film for those?” or “You can still get film developed?” This really cracks me up & if I had a penny for each time someone asks me that, I’d be filthy rich!

With state of the art modern DSLRs like the Canon EOS 7D with 8 frames per second continuous burst modes you can very much shoot movies even if the camera didn’t have a movie mode! Large compact flash memory cards & the auto modes make it possible that you don’t need to think nowadays to do photography.

With only 36 frames on a 35mm film camera or worse, 10-16 frames on a medium format camera without anyway to preview what you just snapped… you learn to be much more careful with what you shoot & whether the shot is even worth taking ! It forces you to think & compose each frame with care… Check your settings & rechecking them to make sure. Well for good reason, it costs money to buy each roll of film & get them developed, scanned or printed. Even if you developed your own film, the roll isn’t going to magically recycle itself so you pretty much have to stock film in your cabinet.

What’s really interesting since I started shooting film again is that my years shooting digital helped me “transition” to 35mm film much easier. Back when I shot 35mm, I had a lot of problems due to my inexperience in photography & my poor understanding of light. The good thing about digital cameras is that they make the learning curve for photography much quicker. My experience made it easier for me to shoot in full manual on my Canon A-1 & AE-1.

What is even more interesting is that since shooting film, my digital camera skills improved because nowadays I don’t just trash the shutter button on my Canon 7D just as much as before.  Shooting film actually made me appreciate what hardship photographers go through in the past & made me think before I take any photo now. So digital made me shoot well on film while shooting film made me better on a digital camera!

Well for whatever reason don’t just hear this from me. Go give it a try & see. While it’s still available try it because Ilfords are awesome. Try it because when you pop open the film canister or remove a roll of 120’s from its wrapper, it smells good! Try it so that you can tell your children’s grandchildren that you shot with film before…. Try so you can tell people who never used film before what it’s like & then get them to try it!