Hello there everyone!
I have always considered doing some form of gear blog. Whether it be reviewing lenses or bodies, or just to talk about trends in technology, new designs, and even new software options. But where to start with it is the question I have always stumbled upon. What with 2 camera bodies and 3 lenses - yikes, which do I favor the most!!! Oh boy! Then there's the stuff I don't even own - like the new mirror-less systems (I have been kind of tempted to grab one of those Sony full frame mirror-less bodies!), or the age old comparison between Canon and Nikon. Well, to start this ball rolling I think I am gonna talk about a few of the new things I have recently purchased!
Over the past 3 seasons I have been building the foundations of my kit. I started on a Canon rebel, then upgraded to the 7D, and then following the advice of many of my mentors I invested in glass (lenses) - which got me through until I could step up to full frame camera bodies. This path was somewhat slow because of the cost of these items. Now my collection of lenses is near complete (as if it's ever complete!!!), there is one for sure purchase on my list, but it’s not a new focal length, it’s an upgrade to my 70-200 (I’m using the now discontinued older 2.8L, this year I will move to the new 2.8LII IS).
So what is this new gear for a new year you may ask? This so far has been the year of finding those little things that will make a big impact on how I shoot, and, some things I had already owned but not thought to use for weddings and portraits!
Enter item 1 – Neutral Density filters (ND). What does that mean you may ask – an ND filter is basically like putting some sunglasses on your lens – it blocks out light. There are several grades of ND from the light one I originally bought to my big mean nasty 10 stop big stopper. The little guy just wasn’t enough for my landscape needs, so I bought the big stopper – which is perfect for that!
Those are for landscape style shooting right? Well that’s what I thought too, until I started playing around! Photography is all about light, using it as it naturally occurs and molding it to your needs. I have been making strides to master the art of using flashes to help mold that light. But I kept running into the problem of too much light. Most weddings take place during the day, in the high sun. So you’re in a position of making compromises. Use it all natural and you blow out the highlights. Toss in some off camera light and your limited by your camera’s shutter sync speed (or using high speed sync which is less desirable). Of course you can fix that by stopping down your aperture, but what if you want the sky looking nice and you want the subject lit and you want a shallow Depth of Field (DOF)? Many pros use reflectors in this kind of situation, but, the problem with that is it’s not easy to set up on your own, you pretty much need an assistant for that. So how do you get around that? Limit the light coming through the lens with ND filters!
I have just started to scratch the surface of using this technique. As it’s new, most of my work using it has been experimental (selfies), or tracking the progress of my wife’s pregnancy (29 weeks!!!!), and at a few events for buffalo.com – which is in the end what lead me to buy a variable ND filter!
After shooting 3 events this week it became very clear to me how awesome this new technique could be. Wednesday night I shot at Artpark using the old technique of compensating via aperture alone, using f8-f11. Yes, I exposed the sky just right, but, the background was too in focus. You want your subject to stand out from the background. The next afternoon I found myself shooting at the Worldcup viewing party at Canalside. This time I used the light grade ND filter – and yeah, the difference was quite noticeable – the subject stood out a lot more. Halfway through editing that event I said I need more ND! So I ordered the variable ND filter, came in today! Later on that day I shot another event at canalside using the same new technique. Below are images from each event, these aren’t the ohhh wow shots, just a casual smile for the camera – but seeing the results – yes it does get my mind rolling – the potential for this is just off the charts.
Having just received the filter, I have not as of yet had a chance to put it to real use, but, the ability to dial in how dark I want the filter to be is going be real fun! Here’s a couple silly test shots:
Yeah, I know, these aren’t the most glamorous shots (I probably should have shaved!), but I do believe it gets the point across. These test shots were taken just after noon on a sunny summer day. First one is in the open sun, second in the driveway where there was shade. First example just shows how juicy I can make the sky look now – the second shows how you can add some serious drama to images by having greater ability to control DOF and the darkening effect on everything my flash isn’t touching. These were simple, on camera flash shots too, so think of the potential once you start mixing it up with off camera light, and of course, a non-selfie perspective!
The second piece of equipment which I have used on a few shoots now is a quad mount bar for my light stand! What does that do? Well, it allows me to mount up to 4 flashes to 1 light stand! There are quite a few uses for this – most notably when you need to add a little light during midday shoots. The sun is a very powerful lightsource, 1 flash at full power often doesn’t cut it. But 2-4 flashes will! A nice side effect to ganging up multiple flashes is that it turns one small point of light into one large light source, which generally softens the light on the subject.
With the combination of the quad mount and the ND filters at my disposal, this gives me so much more control over light it’s not even funny! It opens up the potential for EPIC shots because there will be less compromising!
The third little purchase is a video light. No, this does not mean I am doing video now! A video light is handy to have because what you see is what you get, which is handy for many things like portraits, detail shots, and, if you’re shooting at night. It can also be handy for receptions, and, probably a bunch of other things that I have not yet considered/discovered. I’ve only had the vid light for about a week as well, where it did get a bunch of use at a wedding. I am positive that each of these items will be used quite a bit, and, each of them will work in tandem as I will be using multiple flashes on one stand (and yeah I can have the vid light on that stand too, acting as a modeling light).
I am also sure that there will be a few more low cost high impact purchase – smaller umbrella mount maybe, low contrast filters, new modifiers for flashes.. Not sure what yet, but my eye is keenly searching for this stuff now as the major purchases are pretty much done.
I hope you enjoyed this article, feel free to browse my images! As my wife would say, chow for now!
I shot a wedding yesterday and there was a series of shots on a hilltop, open sun, mid-day - so 2 of the 3 new items were used to make wow EPIC images - the variable ND filter and the quad-flash bar.
That sky has so much vibrance! It worked exactly as I hoped it would!
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