March 28th, 2012
Jean-Luc looks out at life from his Airstream kitchen
I’m not much of a manifesto guy, but the last week has made me want to jump up on the barricades and take a stand for a particular type of photography.
I’ve just finished the Documentary Storytelling workshop with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice at the Santa Fe Photography workshops. Over four days (that included class time), I shot and edited a story about French chef Jean-Luc Salles, who’s given up running high-end restaurants to cook excellent food from scratch that he serves out of a 1960s Airstream trailer called Le Pod that sits in a parking lot here in Santa Fe. (I’ll write a post about him and show more of the photos later).
I learned a great deal, met lots of good people, and the experience enhanced my love of documentary photography as the most powerful and compelling type of shooting (not to mention the hardest to do well).
Making it hard for yourself
When you’re shooting a portrait, your first instinct is to clean up the background, get in tight to the subject and show only their face (or perhaps show a full-length portrait against a neutral non-distracting background). A portrait photographer might well control also the light, give instructions on how the subject should pose, and take their time to get the shot they’re looking for.
March 23rd, 2012
As Spring arrives in Santa Fe, let’s revisit a chillier time late last year, when I did a family shoot in the heart of Santa Fe.
Just before Christmas I had the pleasure of photographing Melissa, Jeff and their 4-year-old son Jackson while they were in town for a holiday break.
Visiting from Houston, they were enjoying the snow and wanted family photographs that also showed something of Santa Fe in the winter.
We we met up at the casita they were renting, and planned to walk around downtown.
I’d planned a loose route, and had taken some sketch photographs in a range of places way the route to check for tidy backgrounds, and to see where the light would be at that time in the afternoon.
Jackson was in good form, and very willing to run around and throw snowballs as requested.
I love showing people around my adopted hometown. As we walked, we talked a little about the town’s history, and life in Santa Fe now. Before we’d met up, I’d also made some recommendations on places to eat and sights to check out during their visit.
We concluded the stroll in Ecco on Marcy Street with some reviving hot drinks.
Planning a visit to Santa Fe?
A vacation can be a great time to get photographs taken, whether you want to remember your trip to New Mexico, or just take the opportunity of having everyone all together to update your family photos. For keen photographers, I also offer custom photowalks, which combine some history and sightseeing with as much technical coaching and advice as you’d like.
> See more information on both these services here.
January 30th, 2012
It gets a bit neglected, but this affordable fast prime can do a good job for you, whether you’re on full frame or a cropped sensor body. In this video, I take a look in more detail at the Canon EF 35mm f/2.
Note, this is a review of the older Canon 35mm f/2 lens. Canon have recently (late 2012) released an new version with USM focus and image stabilisation – the Canon EF35mm f/2 IS USM. Which is great, but it’s $849. If you’re spending that much money, you might want to look at the well-reviewed Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM. But at least for now, this cheaper (if noisier) Canon offering is still available.
January 26th, 2012
Are the days of the SLR numbered?
Posts from Scott Bourne and Trey Ratcliff singing the praises of these next-generation cameras coincided with the recent announcement of the Fuji X-Pro 1 system, and showed that the exciting action in the camera world at the moment is not happening with DSLRs.
Even Nikon’s release of the scary-good D4 hasn’t attracted that much attention (at least partly due to the scary-high price).
The Fuji system is carefully aimed at all the serious photogs who would love a Leica M9 but can’t or won’t pay the money for it (and the very spendy lenses). Fast primes mated to a small discrete body with a big sensor inside is the sort of stuff that gets our attention very quickly.
But with the Sony NEX series, the Olympus/Panasonic Micro 4/3rds environment, the NIkon 1 series and the new Fujis we’re now looking at 4 different standards. Steve Huff, who definitely know what he’s talking about, maintains that none of them are the perfect choice right now, and that sounds about right.
January 17th, 2012
We take photographs of our children for one main reason – to capture memories of the people we love. Images help us remember what they were like when they’re all grown up and living half a world away (like me – sorry, Mum).
Most of our memories get spun into stories – “Remember the time, when . . .?’ we ask each other, and the story we tell puts our loved one in context, as their actions reveal more about them.
And so while photos are a great way to trigger these stories, there are other techniques that can incorporate photos and also deepen the experience as well. Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about different types of digital storytelling.
Just looking at individual photographs on our screens doesn’t fulfill all the potential current technology offers, and we don’t get a narrative flow that adds up to more of a story. Printed albums work because the images build on each other, and have a rhythm that is more rewarding for the person looking at them.
January 3rd, 2012
Attentive readers (hi, Mum), will perhaps recall that around this time last year, I tried out a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM as a replacement for my able but unloved Canon 24-105 f/4 L.
The copy of the Sigma I received front-focussed badly, and since I had only the Canon 5D at the time as my main camera, I couldn’t use any micro-adjustments (even if that would have worked).
Sigma offered to calibrate the lens with that body, but I declined, as I wanted to it work on all the cameras I might potentially have, not just one. The lens went back.
With some regret, I must say, as I liked the feel and size of it (especially compared to the larger Canon 24-70 f/2.8 aka ‘the brick’), and liked some of the images I shot with it.
A year later, and I still had the 24-105mm largely gathering dust on the shelf, but now I also had a 5D Mk II to complement the older 5D. B & H had a (temporarily) good price on the Sigma ($799 instead of the usual $899 in the US), so I took the plunge again. And as this review shows, I’m glad I did.
This copy out of the box just worked. Sharp and fast, with none of the front focussing issues of the other copy. So why did I get it, when I’m normally such a proponent of prime lenses?
Given my two-camera approach for paid sessions on location (a 35mm f/2 on one camera and and 85mm f/1.8 on the other), I wasn’t thinking of using this much on regular shoots.
But I might try it in place of the 35mm f/2, so I can go wider still – there’s a big difference between 24mm and 35mm (much more obvious than, say, the difference between 70mm and 81mm).
I can also see other professional uses for the lens, mainly in studio-type shooting. The times I have used the 24-105mm professionally have been school class photos (where I was shooting at f/8 and on a tripod), and the indoor portrait sessions, where I used off-camera flash. In other words, work in a controlled environment where the flexibility of the zoom was more important than narrow depth of field, and the lens was in its sweet spot as far as sharpness was concerned.
Soon after the Sigma arrived, I volunteered my time (with fellow photographers Minesh Bacrania, Charles Kiyanda and Henrik Sandin) to work on Santa Fe’s Help Portrait – we shot portraits for the growers, farm workers and vendors at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. We shot hundreds and hundreds of frames using the 24-70 in a studio-type setup with backfrops and off-camera flashes and it did really well.
To me, wider aperture offered by the Sigma at f/2.8 was the single biggest reason for replacing the 24-105mm f/4 – to create the most useful walkaround lens when I’m only using one body. Unless I’m under the sort of circumstances described above, I live under f/4, partly for the narrow depth of field and partly for manageable shutter speeds indoors.
On a full-frame camera, the Sigma vignettes a little wide at f/2.8, but that’s easily correctable if you don’t like it, but otherwise it’s sharp, contrasty and fast to focus. I’ve not tested it myself, but from reviews the vignetting understandably isn’t such an issue on smaller sensor cameras.
See the vignette against the white wall on the left? Canon 5D II w. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM at 55mm. f/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 800. Some levels and contrast adjustments - so the vignette wouldn't be so noticeable straight out of camera.
If I’m carrying one camera around, and want it to be more flexible than the Olympus EPL-2 and Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 duo that’s almost always with me, then the 5dII with the Sigma 24-70mm is now my go-to choice.
Early (very early) on Christmas morning, that was the setup I grabbed to photograph Miss F opening her presents. I still adhere to the idea that if you’ve got 2 cameras to hand, a wide prime and a tighter prime offer the best combination for ultimate quality. But when you’re bleary-eyed and only want to have one camera around your neck, then this fast zoom really shines.
I could get the wide establishing shots, and the capture-the-details tighter images without any bother, all while blurring the background and keeping the shutter speed fast without jacking up the ISO too much.
- While it’s lighter and shorter than the Canon 24-70 and has a lens hood you can turn round on the lens and still put the camera down, it’s still pretty chunky. To me, its size and weight are an advantage compared to its competitors, but it’s a lot more substantial than most primes.
- It’s not weather-sealed like the Canon L lenses, and it takes crazy wide 82mm filters, which you probably won’t have to hand from your other lenses.
- I got a good copy this time, but had a dodgy one before. For this much money, you’d like Sigma to get the quality control right, so there’s no messing. So I’d recommend buying it locally or from someone with good returns policy so you can check it out well.
- Great image quality – sharp, with good contrast
- F/2.8 for good low light and narrow depth of field options
- Cheaper than the Canon alternatives
- Built like a tank (except for the weather sealing). So it will take a beating, just don’t take it out in a downpour or sandstorm.
I like this copy of the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM . To the point where the Canon 24-105mm went off to eBay, and if you offered me the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM in its place, I don’t think I’d take it. Just make sure you get a good one.