First SLR?

I got a question from a friend about choosing a first DSLR camera. This is what I said.

Entry level cameras do lack features and more expensive cameras. But if you are looking at buying a cheaper camera and 2 or 3 lenses, or a more expensive one with only 1 lens, you’ll get more benefit out of more lenses.

For landscapes you’ll want an 18-55 (typical kit lens). About R1000.
landscapes and portraits 18-105mm R1500
portraits, sport, wildlife 55-200mm. R1800

Some of the Nikon cameras like the D90 or D7000 have a 18-105mm as a kit lens (of course you could buy a D3100 and instead of an 18-55mm, you could get camera body only and 18-105mm separately).

Also, if you want more freedom, the 18-200mm is a great range for about R3500. It’s a wide angle that zooms in over 10x, good for sport etc.

You can check prices on http://www.Orms.co.za as an indication
The latest range of cameras are as follows

Nikon
D3100 (entry level)
D5100
D7000 (semi-pro. replaces older D90)

Canon
1100d (entry level)
600d (very similar to slightly older 550d)
60d (semi-pro, replaces 50d)

Those are in the R4000 to R13000 price range approximately, body only.

A similar article of advice I did for someone else How to Choose your First DSLR

 

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Fridays at Fez 2011-08-19

Interview for Rands & Sense magazine

For the Rands & Sense magazine of 2011, I was interviewed by Stephanie Craig of the Commerce Students Council (University of Cape Town) about my photography experience.

Knysna harbour

Knynsa harbour large version

1) How did you get started with photography?

I worked with Sony compact cameras since 2008. I decided around the start of 2010 to upgrade to a bigger DSLR to take photos of dark situations like live bands. After a few months, I began taking photos for Big Concerts of bands backstage and I got to do my first fashion shoot. I started to get a lot of requests to cover events and parties and did a few band shoots with local bands like Captain Stu. My involvement in journalism came towards the end of 2010, when I joined the Varsity newspaper, UCT Thursdays and the Ikey Rugby magazine.

2) Who taught you to take photos professionally?

I am self-taught, as are many professionals. When I am stuck, I read online lessons or the manuals. When I need inspiration, I look at other artists on website DeviantArt. I like to tell people that I think I get bit better with each photo and I take a lotof photos, so that adds up to plenty of experience in all kinds of situations.

3) What are your future plans? Is this just a hobby or are you going to turn it into a career?

I am studying Marketing at UCT and finish in 2012, so I still have time to decide. Photography is very competitive since there are many people trying to get known and be successful. Photography is my way of having fun and meeting people. I’d rather not turn it into a career, since I would end up choosing the assingments that pay the most (like weddings) rather than what I want to do.

4) Who would you say is the guy behind the lens?

I develop myself as I discover how the industry works. I strive to be an excellent photographer by visualising scenes before they happen while at the same time always being open to spontaneous moments, spectular shapes, unusual angles and beautiful lighting. I spend time learning how to market myself and how to co-operate and network with people. When doing band or model shoots, I find it is very important to direct the subjects politely and make them feel confident and comfortable. Forced expressions and poses tend to look unnatural – the best pose is often during the transition between poses, when I will say “Stop, hold that pose! Please.”

5). Why do you like photography? What attracts you to it?

I spend a lot of time working on pictures that may never get viewed much, but I do it to improve myself and to relax. When I have my camera with me at an event or party, I enjoy seeing the reactions of friends and strangers… when they see a photo that carries a lot of feeling or beauty, or when they laugh at photos I took of them and their friends.
Photography is also my escape. In Knysna over the mid-year vac, I went off by myself the one day to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon and again at sunset taking photos of boats in the harbour.

6) What is your favourite thing to photograph?

I get the most satisfaction from taking photos within in a challenging genre. Bands were my favourite for a long time, now my favourite thing to do is organise model portfolio shoots at beautiful locations such as a forest, field or train station.

Studio shoot

Studio shoot

7) What inspires you?

I don’t learn the names of famous photographers, but I feel inspired by certain unique or emotional styles of photography. I disect their technique and I apply to my own work such that I aborb as part of my style, then I take it further with my creative.
I try to assess the techniques and ideas used in music videos and films, so that I can incorporate into my own style to create something suitably epic.

8) What’s the worst part about being a photographer?

It’s very easy to get stressed by deadlines and when my photos are in demand, and sometimes feeling lost when I don’t know why or for who I am taking photos for. To cope, I try to focus on the things that make me happy and that keep me inspired.

9) What’s your biggest achievement to date with photography?

Getting to be the regular photographer for Big Concerts for over year is definitely the best thing that has happened. I get to take live and backstage photos of most of the bands that come from overseas to play at GrandWest to huge crowds.

10). What has been the best/worst/funniest thing you have shot?

Earlier this year, I took an action photo of a guy stage-diving into the crowd at the Mercury – with his pants around his legs.

11) What events did you photograph on campus that stood out for you?

Memorable events include seeing the RainbowUCT march, the DA talk in a lecture theatre before elections and RAG beach day which meant inflatable pools on Jammie Plaza.

12) Can people hire you or are you merely doing this for fun?

Most of the paid gigs I get are doing events like formals and birthdays, with the occasional band shoot on location around Cape Town. I enjoy doing portfolio shoots, but I prefer to work with experienced models rather than someone who is doing their first shoot.

13) What are your contact details? Where can people view your work?

My online gallery can be seen at www.michael.currin.co.za and my e-mail address is there.

14) Any advice to people just starting up with photography?

Learn your camera inside and out as well as the basics of photography. Once you know how to get things like the correct exposure, technically good and a sharp picture, look for appropriate times to be creative and go against those rules. Choose a striking composition or choose something unexpected to focus on and your pictures can stand out from everyone else to photographed the same thing.

Lightroom 3 lesson – The Golden Spiral

The golden spiral is a mathematical concept and is a composition tool. A lot of the time, if you compose a photo into thirds (intentionally or instintively or by accident), I think there is a good chance of finding a golden spiral in there somewhere, since the two concepts are closely related. This is explained here and here.

In crop view in Lightroom 3, press O to cycle through overlays other than the grid. Shift + O will rotate the spiral. It use it to make minor or major adjustments to cropping a photo. For me, the spiral often fits more neatly in the photo at 4:3 ratio rather than 3:2.

Beow are examples from my photos.

Uriah Heep 2010

Roger Goode 2011

Black Market Riots

college students - UCT Radio

college students

Lightroom 3 lesson – lesser known tips

Black and white filter

Below is a photo taken at a club with flash and a long exposure, close to a second. When you choose Black and White in the top right near Basic develop settings, a filter is applied based on the strength of certain colours in the photo. In this situation, a straight colour conversion to -100 saturation seems to darken or hide the blue ambient light, while the auto B&W filter brightens the blue/purple channel.

Colour, saturation zero.

Colour, saturation -100 (or Black & White with filter zeroed).

Black & White with filter on auto.

Another way to change the brightness of certain areas is to leave saturation at -100 and then change the white balance. Skin tones become dark and unnatural at cold white balance settings. For photos of a band on stage, changing the white balance in black and white can even seem to change the direction of the lighting, such as having red lights from the left brightened and blue lights from the right darkened at a warm white balance, then the opposite at a cool white balance.

Shortcuts

  • Press F twice for full screen view.
  • Control + Tab to hide or show side bars.
  • Press J to show clipping.
  • Right click on the background past the edges of a photo and change the colour from white through black. I leave it on black with pinstripes.
  • Control + Shift + Alt + E: exports the selected photo(s) with the same settings (size, folder, output sharpening etc.) as the previous export.
  • Confirm cropping by pressing Enter on the keyboard. instead of clicking Done.
  • Press X to rotate the cropping outline by 90 degrees.
  • Press O to cycle through overlay modes. The default is the a big grid. The rule of thirds is very useful and there is a variation on the rule of thirds which can centre and strengthen compositions. The Golden Spiral is also great and I find it often more suitable when cropping 4:3 rather than 3:2 ratios.
  • Press Shift O to rotate the overlay (there are many ways to display the Golden Spiral.

If you have tagged a photo, cropped it and edited it, then the picture and the bottom will look something like this, which each icon indicating the step was performed.

The bar at the bottom of the screen

If you are in Develop mode and click on the tag icon, you will be taken to Libary view and the tag section. Similarly, clicking the +/- button will take you back to Develop mode and the middle one goes to crop view.

A full list of keyboard shortcuts is viewable on the Lightroom 3 help website here.

Check out the lesson I wrote for automating lens corrections on import: here.

Lightroom 3 lesson – automating lens corrections on import

I take photos in RAW format almost all the time, which allows lens correction profiles to be applied in Lightroom 3. (If you apply it to a JPG, the profiles are very limited and apparently Nikon JPGs have CA corrected already).

Once I have imported a batch of RAW photos from my camera, I would filter view by the 18-105mm lens and apply my lens correction preset with the corresponding slider values, then do the same for the each lens that I used. This got tiring as I wanted this to happen automatically every time I import photos, so I figured something out.

[STEP 1] Under Library view, filter by a certain lens.

[STEP 2] Choose a file RAW that you have imported and not edited. Or make a virtual copy of an edited photo (right click, create virtual copy) and then under the Develop Tap, click Reset to put all the settings back on the photo back their defaults, typically with Lens Correction off.

[STEP 3] Go to Develop tab \ Correction \ Profile. Put a tick in the box for Lens Correction. Leave the Setup with the default slider values.

[STEP 4] Hold down Alt on the keyboard Рthe Reset button in the bottom right becomes Set Default. Click on it.

Click Update to Current Settings.

What we are doing now, is using the current settings for Lens Correction – On and Default – as the new settings for any new photos that are imported or have their settings reset (default will automatically recognise the lens from the metadata). We are also setting the defaults for other develop settings like White Balance (As Shot is fine), Exposure (zero), Clarity, Sharpening, etc. Under Camera Calibration, I set Camera Standard as a default since it usually yields better colours than Adobe Standard.

(Note: In Lightroom 3, Set Default is specific to a camera, so I had to do this process twice for Lens Corrections on both cameras, once on a photo taken by my D7000 and again for a photo from my D90. This gives the potential of setting something like my D7000 photos have a strong contrast curve and D90 photos to have stronger sharpening, but I choose to keep them the same overall.)

[STEP 5] Set the sliders under the lens profile. For my 18-105mm, I set it to (70, 100, 60), which becomes a Custom setup. Then click Save New Lens Profile Defaults from the dropdown menu.

[STEP 6] Reset an edited photo or import a new photo from your camera. Notice that Lens Correction is now On, the correct lens has been chosen and the Setup is Default, but includes the custom set of 3 numbers for that lens have been chosen by you for that lens.

[STEP 7] If you have another lens, repeat the process in Step 5. I changed the Library filter view to find a photo taken with my Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8, then set the numbers to (71, 100, 0) and saved it as the new default for that lens. I repeated for my other two lenses.

  • You can’t cheat by staying on one photo and changing the Lens Profile to a different lens. For a photo taken with the 18-105mm, if I set the lens profile to 24-70mm f/2.8 under corrections, then specified the numbers and saved as a default, then the default for all photos taken with my 18-105mm would now be corrected based on the 24-70mm f/2.8 profile, which doesn’t make sense as each lens has different directions and strengths of the problems, depending on their build quality. Also, the 24-70mm would not know how to correct problems at focal lengths below 24mm or above 70mm.
  • It seems I only had to save a new default of sliders for the 24-70mm f/2.8 on one photo from the D7000 camera and then it also applies to the D90 photos taken with the same lens.

– – –

Typical settings I use:

  • Distortion: Choosing 100% is useful for correcting barrel distortion at 18mm, when you have straight lines in architecture, but in general Io keep it at 70% for the 18-105mm to avoid overly stretching objects and faces which are near the edge of the photo. Note that for photos at 105mm, the distortion is in the opposite direction (pincushion distortion) – manual distortion correction would be cumbersome for each focal length but the profile corrects appropriately. I set the distortion corrcetion to 90% for my 70-300m as it is hardly noticeable when turning it on and off, so I don’t worry about unnatural stretching.
    • For panoramas, I find distortion control at zero is better.
    • For perspective control tall buildings etc. set the profile control first and then correct perspective (Vertical, Horizontal) under Manual.
  • C. Abberation: I haved checked at 1:1 view and foundthat the lens profiles are very good at correcting CA when set to 100%. Each lens has different colours, directions and strengths of the abberations and also at each focal length, so a profile takes pain out of doing this manually.

    CA uncorrected in photo taken at 18mm. Zoomed to 2:1 on screen.

    CA corrected by setting profile slider to 100.

  • Vignetting: I often enjoy the natural vignetting effect (darkening around corners, sometimes I apply it myself in Effects. But with my 18-105mm I tend to take a lot of photosof landscapes or people where I want the lighting to be even rather than artistic, so I turn vignetting correction to 70%. Vignetting is particularly an issue for the 18-105mm at 18mm and at 105mm (you can even see it in the viewfinder at 105mm). Lens tests for it show that the problem is reduced by stopping down to around f/8. For some of my lenses, I leave vignette correction off at zero, as a matter of build quality and my taste for suitability at those apertures and focal lengths.

You can view a list of my lenses and other equipment here.

A lesson I wrote on lesser known tips and shortcuts in Lightroom 3 – here.