Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore » Blog

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    January 28th, 2011

    Shooting at the Tumbledown Party

     (David Moore)

    I don’t normally shoot events, as children and family portrait sessions are my main work, but when my friend Elisa Dry from asked me to take photos at their recent party, I had to say yes.

    My daughter started going there when she was 2 and it really boosted her physical confidence as well as being a lot of fun. I also did some shoots of their classes a little while ago (some of the images on their website are mine).

    Elisa was throwing an appreciation party for all the coaches, volunteers and staff that make Tumbledown such a great place. It was a good opportunity to get some individual images for the studio wall, but also get some family and kids’ photos at the same time.

    The party was at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame here in Santa Fe, in their Western-themed private room, complete with wood-clad walls and low ceilings. There were no quiet corners to set up in, and it was all a bit tight on space.

     (David Moore)

    I ended up setting up in front of the fire, and there being no room for a backdrop, we used the fireplace stonework instead. The room was pretty dark and there wasn’t really any space for two lights, so I shot with a single flash off-camera on a light-stand with a shoot-through umbrella.

    The flash was triggered with my Alien Bee remotes, and the setup worked pretty well considering the constraints.
     (David Moore)

    A fill light from the left and a hair light from behind would have made everyone stand out a little more, but this wasn’t a studio shoot.

    The main thing was that everyone was friendly and happy in their shots – it’s a little like being a stand-up comedian corralling people and putting them at their ease in an unusual situation.

    Being in front of a stranger with a big camera and a funny accent must seem peculiar, especially in a room full of your friends and family.

    We got through all the coaches’ individual shots, the groups and some individual shots of the kids before I left them to the rest of their night.

    And I got a big old plate of barbecue with all the fixings to take with me – a nice bonus.

    Thanks to Elisa for thinking of me, and thanks to all the great folks from Tumbledown for making it all run smoothly.

    Posted on 1/28/11 | 1 comment | Filed Under: Children's portraits, Santa Fe | read on
    January 18th, 2011

    Big and Bad: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L vs Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM lens review

    UPDATE Jan 2012: I reviewed a different copy of the Sigma 24-70mm over here, and liked it much more. For balance, you should probably read that review too.

    I’m a big fan of prime lenses, and my ideal set up might be something like 2 Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs each paired with one of the following: 35mm f/1.4L, 50mm f/1.2 L, 85mm f/1.2 L or 135mm f/2 L, depending on circumstances. Shooting with 2 cameras would give me wider and close-up options without changing lenses while keeping the speed and quality I like about primes. But since that’s a $10,000 ideal world I’ve just described, I’ve also been looking for a replacement for my Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens that would allow me some flexibility in framing while doing portrait sessions.

    The 24-105mm f/4L is a great walk around lens, but I don’t make any money walking around, and it’s not a very good portrait lens. I live in the area between f/1.4 and f/3.2 – partly to freeze movement during indoor shoots, but mainly for the bokeh (the background blur).

    All the image stabilisation in the world won’t help when a three year-old is running at you along a dark corridor, especially if you want to blur out the distracting pictures on the wall behind him. So the 24-105mm is off to eBay (drop me a line if you might be interested in buying it).

    I’ve had the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM on loan from for a 3-week test, and I also got my hands on the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM for a comparison.

    A few points before we start on the details. I was doing a subjective comparison, not a scientific one. I didn’t go looking for pincushion or barrel distortion, or measuring center and edge sharpness at different apertures and focal lengths. So don’t shout at me because there are no MTF charts.

    Instead I shot real life things in the real life way I actually would.

    The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 – the heavy good news

    First up, it’s huge. Heavy and unwieldy with a lens hood that looks like a bucket (and which you can’t turn round and then put the camera down anywhere). For some people this won’t be a problem, because they’ve got stronger hands and wrists than me, or they never ever shoot one-handed, or they want to bang in nails with their equipment.

    But for me it’s an issue because I don’t want my gear to look super intimidating to children, I do shoot one-handed sometimes (with the camera away from my face so I can keep the interaction with the kid), and because my arm ached when I used it a lot.

    But it’s also really good – definitely sharp enough for me at f.2.8, contrasty and with lovely colors. Auto-focus seemed acceptable even on my ageing 5D which is not very speedy.

    The laws of physics mean that you get much more background blur at the 70mm end than the 24mm end (for the same aperture and distance from subject), so bear that in mind when setting up your shot.

    The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 – the lighter bad news

    I really wanted to like the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 for a number of reasons. One of them was the price – at $900 it’s $400 or so less than the Canon. Another was the size and weight – it’s by no means svelte, but it’s decidedly lighter and shorter than the Canon – aka’ the brick’. It definitely makes for a more comfortable shooting experience, and it’s a bit less daunting to be on the other end of (although the 82mm filter diameter is as large as I’ve seen, and means filters are expensive).

    I’d heard good things about it, and I also liked the idea of not automatically going for the red-lined L lens without looking around at other options.

    Which is all fine, but sadly the copy I got front-focused horribly. I’d read that this problem had afflicted some people, and it shows how much I’d come to depend on Canon reliabilty that I didn’t really think it would happen to me. I’ve probably shot with nearly a dozen different lenses (including one Sigma, the estimable 10-20mm for crop sensor bodies) and not had a single problem.

    But it was when I was taking photos of Christmas tree decorations I saw how dispiriting a problem this is. You focus, you shoot and then the images look nothing like what you thought you got. Here’s an example grab from Aperture (which has a fancy overlay showing where the focus was) –  the focus point is market with the bold square. As you can see, where the camera actually focused was in front of that.

    It seemed to do better when the subject was further away from the camera, and some of the shots it produced were very very sharp (see the individual hairs on our cat’s ridiculous white and pink nose below), but if you can’t trust the lens to focus where you want it too (especially when you’re using a deliberately narrow depth of field), then it’s not any good to you.

    100% grab with no sharpening of a very white cat nose.

    I’d read that sending the lens to Sigma to calibration often helped, and I actually called them to see about sending it in. But the uninterested guy on the phone told me I should send my camera too, and that because of where I lived, it was actually going to a repair shop in Arizona, not to Sigma USA itself. They also wanted me to tell them by how many inches I wanted it adjusted.

    I had a few problems with this scenario. The first is that if I spend $900 on a lens, I’d like it to work out of the box. The second is that I’m not sending my main camera body anywhere if I can help it, and the third is I think it’s a reasonable expectation that I can use any of my lenses on any of the bodies I might have now and in the future – I don’t want it tied to one body. A further point is that asking me by how many inches I want it adjusted is a completely ridiculous question – it was clear that the distance the lens front-focused (or was accurate) depended on how far away the subject was from me. A single adjustment might cause more harm than good.

    All this shook my confidence in Sigma’s ability to make a good lens in the first place, and in their ability to fix a defective lens. If calibrating is required, shouldn’t the QC in the factory have spotted this in the first place? So I returned it to Amazon for a refund (great returns policy, by the way).

    The upshot

    So the copy of the Canon 24-70mm I got was definitely way better than the copy of the Sigma 24-70mm I got. Would Sigma have been able to fix the lens? Quite possibly, but I’ll never know, because I didn’t chance it. And I know other people have nothing but good things to say about their copy, so I can’t dismiss the whole idea of it.

    But I still don’t completely love the Canon, partly because of its substantial bulk. There are rumours of a new version of the 24-70mm being in the works (possibly to be announced at or before the WPPI convention next month), so the prudent thing right now seems to be to wait and see.

    Part of my underlying problem is the feeling of compromise I always get with shooting with a zoom. Sure it’s convenient, but that’s all it’s got going for it.

    The Canon EF 50mm f1.4 and Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 are my bread and butter lenses – almost all the shots I take for clients are with these, and even though they’re not L-class, I seldom feel like I’m short-changing myself or the image with them.

    I’d thought that the flexibility of the zoom would be liberating, but instead it feels like I’m getting pretty good versions of shots that I couldn’t get with the primes, but no fantastic images. Maybe I’d rather miss some OK shots to get more great shots.

    If you’re a newspaper shooter (any of those left?) or you shoot weddings, then getting a pretty good version of a shot is often all you can do, given the rapidly changing circumstances. It’s a little like that shooting kids’ portraits, but things are often a bit more under your control. So you’ve got the chance to get the great shot that the prime will give you.

    Which of course, brings me back to the ideal world setup with matching 5D IIs and a quiver of L prime lenses. Where’s that lottery ticket, again?

    Posted on 1/18/11 | 5 comments | Filed Under: Reviews | read on
    January 16th, 2011

    Ski Trip (and fall)

    It’s Sunday evening and we’re all tired, but happily home from our quick trip up to Red River, NM for some cross-country ski-ing.

    The main aim was for herself (pictured above) to enjoy the experience enough that we could go again, and I’m pleased to say it worked out well.

    This was her first time, and I’m only a couple of sessions ahead of her. So I’m stiff and sore – I somehow managed a pretty spectacular wipe-out on a slope so slight you’d have needed a spirit level to be sure it wasn’t actually flat – but I’m looking forward to the next trip too.

    Posted on 1/16/11 | no comments; | Filed Under: Personal | read on
    January 12th, 2011

    New guest Post for DPS: 10 Tips to Help You get the Most out of Your New DSLR

    The nice folks at Digital Photography School have posted another of my guest posts for them: 10 tips to help you get the most out of your new DSLR.

    It’s aimed at people who might have just got a new camera over the holidays, and are wondering where to start.

    And if you’ve just arrived on my site from reading the DPS article, it’s great to see you, and please think about following me on Facebook or Twitter, or subscribing to the email newsletter for the site.

    Posted on 1/12/11 | no comments; | Filed Under: Children's portraits, Tips/Tutorials | read on
    January 5th, 2011

    What my dog taught me about how to use reflectors

    I don’t do pet photography professionally very often, but I find myself taking photographs of our own pets a lot.

    Our big sweet Aussie shepherd/Great Pyrenees dog Corrie presents some particular problems when I have a camera in my hand. She’s mainly white with some black on her face, and has deep brown soft eyes.

    The dynamic range (from the darkest part of the image to the lightest) is so broad from her white back to her black head that it’s very hard to get a good exposure of her. Unless the lighting is just right, either I expose for the face and her back is blown out, or I expose for her back and her face and eyes are too dark.

    The other night when she and the cat (named Colin Feral) were curled up together, I grabbed the camera and tried to get some shots. The pets were lit predominantly from a light behind and above them, with only a little fill coming from a more distant light in front.

    There wasn’t enough illumination from the front to light the dog’s face properly. Her eyes were black pits with no detail in them, even though the exposure on her back was borderline too hot. What I needed was some way to even out the lighting while not making it too harsh.

    Not too bad, but Corrie's eyes are dark.

    Fortunately we’re in the middle of putting up a new picture rail so there were some framed images to hand which had white foam core on the back of them – a pretty good reflector.

    I propped one picture up up below the dog to bounce some of the light from behind her up into her face, giving more even light and a much more attractive photograph.

    Much better - we can see her sweet sad eyes.

    While I was watching Tamara Lackey’s great Creative Live workshop of children’s portrait photography, I was struck when she said that she uses a reflector (probably not the back of a framed picture) on pretty much all her shoots.

    I’ve used my real one a bit, mainly for more considered portraits of older kids, but her technique of shooting round it one-handed while chasing smaller beings around was pretty impressive. This sort of flexibility means you can use it in a lot more situations, but you have to get good at balancing camera and reflector.

    Waving it around loosely won’t help you unless it really is bouncing the light the way you want it to. So I’ll be getting in more practice with the dog.

    Posted on 1/5/11 | no comments; | Filed Under: Tips/Tutorials | read on
    December 29th, 2010

    Client Favourites from 2010

    The second part of my end of year round-up (see the first part here), this time featuring the work I’ve done for clients this year. From children’s shoots to work at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

    Happy New Year to everyone, and here’s to a great 2011 with better children’s photographs for everyone!

    Posted on 12/29/10 | 2 comments | Filed Under: Children's portraits, News | read on
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