30 November 2013

Getting Better - Okay, A SEVENTH Thing...

Art Model, Panda and Kiddo © 2013 Terrell Neasley
 “ Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop."
 – Ansel Adams

In the last post, I talked about SIX things you can do RIGHT NOW to greatly improve your photography skills, mainly aimed at the beginner-level photo enthusiast. I'm going to throw in one more idea that I picked up from listening to one of the latest episodes of TWIP. To me, this tip was fitting because I'm already so familiar with it from shooting film for so long. I can also attribute it to some of my days in the military as an expert marksman. And technically, this tip is an add-on to Number TWO from the last post, which was just to get out there and start SHOOTING! Pick up the camera, get out of the house and just go shoot something. Anything. Go for a drive. End up somewhere and start banging on the shutter release button. But now I want you to curb your appetite a bit. Instead of going out to spray and pray, I want you to:

Art Model, Panda and Kiddo
© 2013 Terrell Neasley

TIP SEVEN - Limit it to 36 for the day!

Yeah, that's right. I want you to be more deliberate in your shot selection, your composition, and your subject matter. This works better when you already know what you're going out to shoot rather than having no clue, ending up somewhere, and shooting willy-nilly. So basically, on a day when you know you're headed out for a specific reason, to a special place, to get some nice pictures, ONLY take 36 shots. You can even pull out one of those 512MB SD cards that you never use anymore from back in the day. Take a look at that again...that's Megabyte, not GIGAbyte. I know you've got one lying around there somewhere. Pop that baby in that new 24MP camera of yours and see how many max shots you get. For perspective, if I put a 512MB card in my old Canon 40D shooting RAW (which actually took CF cards), I could about 70 pics. On my Canon 7D (also CF Cards), I might get about 30 shots if that helps put things into better perspective. If I put that same card in my Nikon D800E (takes both SD and CF), I would max out after TEN PICS.

Art Model, Panda and Kiddo © 2013 Terrell Neasley
"Its not the caliber of the rifle that matters, but the caliber of the shooter."
- Unknown

So here's the mind set behind limiting yourself. The number 36 is not an arbitrary number I pulled out of thing air. That's typically how many exposures you would have on a roll of professional grade film. The consumer stuff you'd by at Walgreens would typically only give you 24. Pro rolls were mainly 36 exposures of "full-frame" madness! My fave brand of film was the Kodak TMAX 400. I'd use 100 when I needed to but 400 was more versatile to me, since the TMAX had a T-Grain emulsion that was quite fine...really close to 100 ISO on other film brands, and I had the latitude to push or pull it to whatever I wanted in the darkroom. But enough digressive darkroom talk. Back to topic, you only got 36 shots per roll. Now granted, you could take as many rolls of 36 as you felt you needed, but here's the thing. I only expected to get 3 or 4 shots out of each roll worthy of printing. Of course I would have damn near all of them, technically correct as to exposure, focus, etc. But I'd still be looking for my best 4.

Art Model, Panda and Kiddo © 2013 Terrell Neasley
If you want to get better, slow down. Don't come back home with 1,384 jpeg images on a friggin' card that you now have to download and look through. Slow down...be a bit more deliberate. Look at your settings on your camera, compose correctly for each shot. When its right, take the shot. Think of it as hunting with bolt-action rifle. You wouldn't hunt with a machine gun, would you? Bring a tripod. Even in broad daylight. Maybe even a remote shutter release. Not the wireless kind, but rather the one that plugs into the camera. Or try taking it off the tripod and getting on the ground. Not just kneeling, but lay down on the dog gone ground. Get low. Take your time. See the settings in the bottom of the viewfinder as you are looking at your subject. Make sure they are right and know WHY you are shooting in Aperture Priority rather than Shutter Priority. Know WHY you choose to drop the Exposure Value Compensator. Understand the value of bracketing the shot and how to do it manually when your camera doesn't have the BKT-function. My one-on-one students know this. You can, too. Try to make each one meaningful and purposeful. Know that each shot came out the way it did because you "meant to do that". You'll be better for it.

25 November 2013

Getting Better - Six Photography Things You Can Do Right Now

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
"Day by day in every way I’m getting better and better."
- Emile Coue

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
Lots of people who own cameras bigger than a point 'n shoot, talk about wanting to be better shooters or take better pictures. Many don't know where to start. Or they think they need to enroll in expensive college courses, safari adventures in Africa (where everybody knows the good pictures are), or workshops that you have to take a plane, book a hotel/rental car and then pay for a ticket to get in and sit for 5 hours listening to a speaker tell you about the latest and greatest photographic techniques guaranteed to improve your pictures. Well, I'm here to tell you that you can do those things if you want to, but there are convenient options for you right where you are that cost you nothing. And by no means is this list all comprehensive. There's always more. But to start, 

1. Pull out the manual for your camera. I know. Its dry as hell, but do you wanna get better or not?? The manual is free and it came WITH your camera. If by chance you bought it used, you can still go online and Google the manual for a free download. And if its just too hard to read it, check out Amazon and get a Dummies guide to help. When I teach my two-week one on one lessons, I pick up one for whatever camera system my client is using. Its easier to read than the manual and has added info to help you understand. And the reason is this: You need to know the capabilities of your camera. Its as simple as that. You will be a better shooter if you understand how to utilize the tools that you are trying to use. Automatic mode can do a great job a lot of the time, but you said you wanted to be better. So take the controls and learn how to use them.

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
2. Shoot. Its as simple as that. Get out there and shoot. I don't want to say as often as possible, because your definition of "as possible" is likely different from my definition. So get up now and dedicate some time every day to picking up the camera and experiment with different settings. Try shooting in Aperture or Shutter Priority (which you will understand AFTER you go through the manual). Find out what subject matter interests you, but don't restrict yourself to it. Actually it may also be beneficial to find out what you absolutely DON'T like to shoot as well. As you continue to explore, you may discover that you absolutely hate shooting people. This is different from finding out what you are not good at. If you are not good at shooting people, its far from not LIKING to shoot people. Avoid the things you absolutely dislike, but not necessarily the things you presently suck at. You may get better at those things if you try.

3. Test the limits of your camera. All systems are different as well as people's opinions. Don't just rely on what reviews have said or what you've heard. Try it out for yourself. What is the maximum ISO your camera can reasonably make a presentable shot at? Do you know? Try shooting at max ISO in some low-light situation. Try it at the maximum and then start backing off of that til you're back around ISO 800. Then go get those shot printed! It doesn't even have to be high quality prints...just some reasonable 11x14s to see how things look. Compare your camera's RAW to its JPEG. Test the bracketing features. Set your Auto Focus to the various settings and see how this performs. I did the same thing with my kids when I taught them how to drive. I wanted them to see how a car reacts when you hit the breaks at high speed. (Don't judge me, dammit...)

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley
4. Play with flash. How well do you understand your flash's sync speed? Try it out! See why that matters through practical application. Test out the stroboscopic mode (Canon), or the repeating flash (Nikon) and see how to calculate the needed shutter speed given the number of times the flash is to pop vs the frequency. Play with it and see when that might come in handy. Or put to use REAR CURTAIN SYNC! I've seen plenty of photos that could have been improved upon had the user correctly employed this feature. You can also practice lighting techniques using a bare bulb, a flashlight, or your iPhone light to illuminate the face of a model. Many bounce light from above (ceiling), but how many will bounce from below to reduce the shadows under the eyes, nose, and neck...or for perhaps when the subject is wearing a ball cap.

5. Look at a lot of pictures. 500px.com or Flickr.com are ripe for perusing through and getting a feel for what's possible. Find shots you like and try to figure out why you like them or what qualities make them exceptional to you. Break the shots down and look at the way it was composed and lit. Emulate those qualities in your own work. Don't put as much credence in the exposure info. Its good to know if you want to see what settings gave them the shot THEY took, but that does not mean you can set your camera to the same thing and get the same results. Its more important to see what sort of depth of field they got with f/11 or f/1.2 to better understand the mechanics of their shot. But don't expect to now go outside with your camera set the same thinking you'll achieve similar results. They may have taken their shot on a severely overcast day with a wide open aperture and longer exposure to add lots more light. You go out an try it on a sunny day will only result in confusion, frustration, and eventually feeling of self-loathing, inadequacies, and depression. Well, maybe that's a bit far, but the point is don't start thinking like that.

6. Commit. Make up your mind to jump on board and do whatever it takes to be better. Don't worry about gear. Get a basic camera and a cheap 50mm 1.8 lens. Just shoot. That's the main thing. Be serious about the craft and just go shoot. But at the same time don't be too serious that you get frustrated and put down the camera. Be serious enough to study on your own, but if you're not getting it, find a teacher or mentor. Don't get so serious as to take the fun out of it. Learn to love this and do it because you WANT to be better. If you find it isn't for you, no worries. You can back off anytime. But for now. Go For It!

Art Model, Enyo ©2011 Terrell Neasley

22 November 2013

Mind Set: Why I'm Opting for Fuji Over Sony Right Now

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
“I must have a prodigious amount of mind; it takes me as much as a week, sometimes, to make it up!” 
― Mark Twain

I already teach, mentor, and coach photography and sometimes its cool to let people into my thinking process on what decisions I might make concerning photo related matters. In light of my recent post on the break-out game-changers in the soon to be released Sony A7 and A7R, I have chosen (after a few agonizing weeks) to curb my excitement on that system for a bit. Am I waiting to see what bugs they might need to work out? Not at all. This Sony system is the first camera that I have been totally convinced, sight-unseen, that I want in my bag. I've been waiting on it since Sony introduced the RX-1 and also, I've seen enough sample images to know I don't need to "try it out" first. The price point for both cameras are definitely doable considering the A7R is a thousand dollars less than my 36MP D800E when it first retailed and Sony also makes the sensor for it.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

But here's where I had to hold my horses for a bit. I'm particular in how I shoot and my style dictates a priority on wide-angle and wide-aperture. So for now, lenses are the main reason I'm holding off. Sony has 2 lenses that will debut with the cameras in December and another one in Feb '15. The 35mm 2.8, the 55mm 1.8, and the 24-70 f/4. While the focal lengths are right up my alley, none of them give me the 1.4 that I so crave. Depth of field has been a signature and fave of mine for quite some time. I've already had to lament the sale of my Canon 85 1.2 last year, which I am still trying to get over. Nikon gives me 1.4 glass and I've been happy with that. Dammit, I'm not going 1.8 for my fastest glass. I'm not giving up any more aperture real estate for anybody. I'm a 1.4-man and that's just my prerogative. You dig? I know 1.8 is close to a 1.4. We are still talking a 2/3rds stop less. Not even a whole stop, I know. But I ain't doing it. I'm not giving up any more depth of field. Just ain't happening. I like my 1.4 glass and that's that.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

I'm wanting to go small for my next excursion which I'll get into later on. When I choose gear, I'm making my choices against traveling criterion. Love my D800E, but this is an experiment. My next trip will be more documentary in nature than just fine art, (which I think I'll still be able to accomplish without as much resolution). The Sony system would be perfect with the right glass. In their defense, I would be able to use my current Nikon glass with an adapter. They handle Canon lenses with an adapter a little better than Nikon lenses, but I'm not up for adapters so much. Well, I make that statement with one exception, and that's Leica glass. Give me a 50 Summilux and a 35 Summicron and I'd be good with that on a A7R. Sony will support just about any lens manufacturer's glass with the right adapter. But NAH...I'll wait. If the 24-70 was at least 2.8, I'd probably still jump. But nope. It ain't. So I'm gonna practice patience and wait for what I want...the right Full Frame E-Mount glass or Leica glass.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley
So what am I opting for instead? Fujifilm...(which I have no clue why they don't drop the "film" part and just go with FUJI!) just released a new system themselves. The X-E2 was released yesterday and is a slight step up from its predecessor the X-E1. I like the rangefinder feel, which is going to make me more comfortable with the Leica M when I finally get it. I like the faster Auto Focus and despite the DX sensor size, I'm excited about Fuji's new X-Trans Sensor upgrade. For what I'm looking for, this will suite me. I'm getting it as a kit with the 18-55. Yes...anybody who knows me believes I hate that format, but this is not true. That's a nice focal range, though I might prefer a 16-50mm zoom. What I hate is Canon's 18-55mm crap plastic lens. The Fuji is a metal barreled marvel with a max f/stop of 2.8 to 4 on the far end. I can deal with that quality and speed. On top of that, I'm getting the 35mm 1.4 and with that, I can breath. So initially, I had resolved to just go with my 24-70 Tamron and my Nikon 50mm 1.4. Well, these two Fuji lenses give me that same format for a DX sensor camera. And I'm cool with that. I get a much smaller package, less expense than risking my big stuff, same focal range and speed, in a bad ass camera system. What more could I ask?

10 November 2013

The Answer for Procrastination

“Procrastination is like masturbation. At first it feels good, but in the end you’re only screwing yourself.”
~ Unknown

I know many of us declared at the beginning of this year that you were going to finally get to that "Dream" project that you've been putting off for a few years so far. Well! You're in luck. There's still plenty of time left in the year to get your butt in gear and get to working on that gig so you can start some new promises for 2014. So yeah, this is a reminder that you now have about 40 days left on the table to get busy and get hot on that project. I know you have to work. I know the holidays are coming up. Busy, Busy, Busy, as a little bee. That's cool. Everybody's busy. But honestly. How long does it take to conceptualize your dream, plan it out, secure a location/model/prop/equipment and get it in the books? The answer is not long once you commit to the idea.

Let me help you out a bit. Start here: Tell yourself, "No matter what, I WILL get this project done!". Then sit down for a minute. Got no time? Sure you do. You're human. That means you require food and water. At some point you're gonna have to go to spend a little time in the bathroom...a few minutes at least. Sooo, can you see where I'm going with this. No? Fine, I'll spell it out. Take a pad and pen into the bathroom with you the next time you have to "spend some quality time" in there. While you are sitting down for a few minutes, this is an excellent time to conceptualize, write down ideas, and think about how you're going to pull this thing off and what you'll need. You don't need to spend a whole day in the bathroom, just enough time to get pen to paper and get those ideas out before your legs go to sleep.

See, that's a guaranteed few minutes every day! You don't need much more than that. And once you've got it written down, you can commit some time while you go about your regular day. On your way home from work, you can call up that fave model of your's and ask about her availability. Gotta pick up groceries from the store? Great. Stop by the hardware store right next to it and get the materials for the set you have to build. Or maybe its as simple as getting some gear. B&C Camera has a bunch of cameras, lenses, and lights you can rent for the weekend. You can easily reserve what you need ahead of time, pick it up Friday (after 3pm) and return it Monday (before 3pm) and only have to pay ONE day's rental fee! How cool is that. So if you require a macro lens, they got it. Prefer a wide-angle lens instead...they got it. What about some lighting? They got a 2-light Elinchrom wireless trigger kit complete with softboxes and stands that you can get for about $40 for the entire weekend. If you're not in Vegas, check out some online rentals like LensRentals.com or BorrowLenses.com.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
~ Walt Disney

Need some ideas? Okay. Do that thing you normally do, but this time shoot it at night. Just try some long exposure stuff for a change. Add some light painting. Take that flash off TTL and use some of its other functions. Ever drag the shutter with it? Ever do any high-speed sync work on it? How about some stroboscopic techniques? Ever do that? Try some macro work. Do something in that remote location that you came across while hiking last year, next to that goofy looking tree your friend took a picture of you in. Work on that self-portrait project you've been saying you were going to do. Try to emulate a lighting style you saw in that movie poster your girl/boyfriend likes so much. Here's another one. Freeze the action on a quick-moving subject. Like a dancer spinning around, where you capture every single strand of hair frozen in space with no blurring. You now have 40 days left to get your project done. Don't procrastinate any longer than you already have. If you think I'm speaking to you, I am. Get started. No more excuses. Go Shoot.