Photo Tip of the Month – Fill Light To Reduce Contrast in the Mid-Day Sun

You’d be surprised how many people will ask, “Why are you using a flash? There’s plenty of light!”  Here’s how flash can help your mid-day photos.

Wagon of the Old West

A photo of a Wild West wagon, using a fill light to minimize the harsh contrast of the mid-day sun. Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, 18mm ISO 200 F/6.3.

You can’t always shoot photos during the “golden hours” (early morning, just before sunset).  And you may not always want this. Sometimes, you want to capture the look of something at mid-day.  But as anyone who has shot knows, this can create harsh light and harsh contrasts, particularly with subjects that are in the shade, as shown below:

Wagon with no fill light as an example

Our Wild West wagon with no fill light as an example of how mid-day sun can create harsh light and harsh contrasts in photos, particularly with subjects that are partially in the shade. Compare this with the other photo which uses the fill light.

So, what to do?  Use a flash as a fill light.

For this photo, I used a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash in wireless mode.  I placed it down on the ground, just out of frame on the right side, facing up at the wagon, with a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce OM-600 Flash Diffuser Unit to diffuse the light.  I like to use off-camera flash because I have more control over what area of the subject my flash lights (and if shooting portraits, it’s a great way to avoid getting demonic red eyes!).  Here’s another look at the photo using fill flash:

Wagon of the Old West

Have another look at the photo of a Wild West wagon, using a fill light to minimize the harsh contrast of the mid-day sun.  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, 18mm ISO 200 F/6.3.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.

 

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Photo Tip of the Month – 5 Reasons Why Compact Cameras Rule

Five Reasons Why Compact Cameras Rule
I own a Leica DLux 4, although there’s a Panasonic equivalent, the Lumix DMC-LX3, which is considerably cheaper and has the same body and lens.  This camera does quite well in low light situations for a compact camera.  There’s also four thirds and interchangeable lens cameras, other high quality compacts, such as the Canon G11 or G12, and iPhones or other phone cameras which can take quality photos.  I always prefer to bring a compact camera when i travel.  And a lot of professional photographers will bring a compact camera with them when they are on assignment.  Here’s five reasons why:

1.  It Ain’t a Great Photo If You Don’t Take It.  If you don’t have your camera with you, you’re not going to get the shot.  But with a small camera that can fit in your pocket, you can always have it with you for those unexpected fantastic opportunities.

2.  Mobile and Spontaneous.  Clubs?  Hiking?  Street Photography?  Concerts?  It’s always with you.  Take it out, start shooting instantly, and even upload it to your Facebook page if your camera allows you to do so.

3.  Make People At Ease With Portraits.  People are often more at ease with smaller cameras than large SLRs.  They’ll relax more, perceiving the smaller camera as less “formal”.  And with most cameras being smaller than DSLRs, that can help quite a bit in getting your subject comfortable with your photography.

4.  “Macro” Photography.  A lot of smaller cameras can also focus on objects much closer.  This can be a lot of fun when doing quick photos of…well, just about anything, whether it’s flowers, animals, or every day objects, bringing a new perspective that your SLR may not be able to do unless it has macro lens.

5.  Safety.  With a small pocket camera, you are far less likely to attract attention.  You’re far less of a target for theft.  This quite possibly can save your life.

The Window

Good portraits can be taken with modest or small cameras, such as the one with a Brazilian girl, taken with a Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3 – see link below) compact camera.  I can keep this in my pocket, perfect for the photographer on the go.

Paulinho of the pandeiro

Paulinho of the Pandeiro, Brazil. This photo illustrates a close-up low-light photograph that many high-quality compact cameras can achieve. Photographed with the Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3 – see link below), which I kept in my pocket except for occasional photos, increasing my safety and people’s comfort level…perfect for the photographer on the go.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

Photo Tip of the Month: Cameras on the Cheap – Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

The Window

Good portraits can be taken with modest or small cameras, such as the one with a Brazilian girl, taken with a Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3) compact camera, which fits in a pocket. This allows us to take a camera anywhere. But unlike most camera phones, we can take fantastic looking photos suitable for magazines or gallery shows.

An amazing sunset.  Fascinating looking people.  Vibrant landscapes.  Whether traveling abroad or exploring our own neighborhood, we want to take great photos without busting the bank.  Is this possible?  I get asked for recommendations for good bang-for-the-buck cameras more often than any other question, so I’ll start here.

When film cameras were king, camera technology didn’t change that much.  Sure, cameras got smaller as they went along, but a good camera made in the 1960s wasn’t all that different from a good camera made twenty years later.  Not so with digital cameras, which are continuing to evolve at a breakneck pace.  What does this mean for us?  We can get great cameras that have features that didn’t exist at that price point – if at all – even a few years ago.  We have, for example, the Sony Alpha A55 or A75 interchangeable lens cameras, with their groundbreaking translucent mirror technology, allowing light to pass straight through to the sensor without needing to move the mirror away to allow exposure.  What does that mean?  Less bulk, and fast continuous shooting rates previously unthinkable at this price.  Mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic G2 also cut down on the size and weight, removing the optical viewfinder and the swinging mirror.  Cool.  Better cameras for less money.  I like it.  Oh, and it has a touch-screen.  Even among more “normal” DSLRs, you have major bang-for-the-buck cameras like the Canon T3i or even a Nikon D3100, which you can grab for under $600 with a kit lens.  Even these last two DSLRs are still lighter and smaller than professional DSLR cameras, such as the venerable Nikon D3s, an incredible full-frame camera which is amazing for low-light photography, although the $5000 you spend for it may lighten your wallet enough to compensate for its weight.

But, you say, that’s fantastic, but some of us still can’t afford the new Sonys or Canons or Nikons.  But these enormous leaps in new technology can often drive the price of cameras that are just a few years old down.  Buying used cameras such as the Nikon D50 DSLR for under $200 can get our foot in the door.  This is a camera that I owned for years, and I used it to take photos that appeared in books, encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, the Huffington Post, photo assignments for Jimmy Page and Jack White, and even winning photo contests.  While not state of the art, it’s good enough that you can’t really blame the camera if you aren’t getting great looking shots. And there’s always film cameras.  You can get amazing deals on film cameras that people are virtually giving away.

What kind of lens would you use with a DSLR?  Depends.  You need to start thinking about how you like to shoot.  What’s your photography personality?  Do you tend to prefer wide-angle?  Telephoto?  Portraits?  Something else? As I fell in love with photography more and more, I explored this with what I call a “walkabout lens”, an 18-200mm AF-S VR Nikkor telephoto, which is extremely flexible for many sorts of situations, which is why I love it for travel photography.  It’s not without its drawbacks, though.  It’s a little heavier than many fixed-length lens (prime), has lens creep, alters its aperture as you change the zoom, and isn’t quite as sharp as a prime lens.  For prime lens, a good choice is a high-speed 50mm lens, such as a the AF F/1.4D 50mm prime, or what must be one of the best bargains in DSLR photography, the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D from Nikon, which sells for under $125.  New.  Brand new.  They’re a good travel lens, and are outstanding for portraits and low-light photography.  And at 8 ounces, they’re light.

And there’s always compact cameras to consider.  Fuji X100 makes a good lightweight camera, although at about $1200, it’s not cheap.  The Panasonic Lumix LX3 is physically identical to the Leica D-Lux 4, a fantastic camera that does surprisingly well in low light situations, at a little over $500.  I own the D-Lux 4, and can assure you that it takes vibrant, sharp photos.  The Panasonic G2, Canon G11 or G12, and other compact cameras are quality cameras worth looking into.  They’re lightweight and small.  I like that. In a later post, I’ll discuss why I never leave on a trip without a compact camera.

-Ken