Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Oops to Acceptable!

Are you "that guy"?  The one who comes to family functions with your camera?  In our family it's usually me.  I just can't help it, and I've been at it for quite a while.  If it's you, you've probably heard the same moans and groans that I have.  But, you are also doing the family a great service!  Things change over time, especially kids and grandkids.  You may be capturing those fleeting moments that will never come again, and looking back at your photos most of your family will agree.

I found myself in a family function a couple of weeks ago.  For reasons I can't explain I got out my trusty old Canon 40D and 50mm F2.5 and new Tamron 70-200 f2.8.  All of this gear fit nicely into my Tamrac medium sized slinger bag.  I could have brought my much newer 60D or Sony NEX3, but just wanted to use the 40D that day.

It was fun sitting back and snapping a few frames without having to intrude in the grandkids play or interrupt conversations.  The faster lens that I had with me also allowed some indoor shooting without flash.  This was a great event to welcome back an out of town family member, an addition to the family, and bring four generations together (offering many photos ops)!  As the day wore on, I did end up popping the flash on, and setting it to fill rather than provide all of the illumination.

For this post, I want to share just one of those moments.  To start off, here's how my camera was set up:

  • F/5.6
  • 1/200 second
  • ISO 200
  • Auto white balance
  • Aperture priority
  • RAW
  • Fill flash (to soften any shadows caused by high midday sun).
Here's the original as it came out of the camera:

While it's not bad, it could also be a lot better.  To critique this, I'd have to say that I'm not pleased with the overall composition.  I like my subjects expression, it's not one of those kids mugging for the camera forced smiles.  And her hair is a little wind blown, very natural for a kid at play.

Leaning against a tree seems to work, and there's no look of discomfort here.  I think main problem area is how her hands are cut off.  Unfortunately it looks like she has two long stumps instead of arms.

There's another distracting element, and that's the exposure.  It was the middle of the day, no clouds in sight, and very bring out.  Not really the best time for photos, but sometimes you have no choice.  The background is on the verge of being completely blown out, and there are some hot spots on my subject.

Luckily, I had the camera set for RAW.  Shooting in RAW has it's advantages, and being able to adjust your original exposure by up to 2 stops is definitely one of them.

When I open the file in Photoshop, the 1st thing that happens is Camera Raw starts:
As you can see, there are quite a few adjustments that can be made, including Exposure.  In the next screen shot I made a couple of small tweaks.

You can see by the pointer/arrows where I made my adjustments.  To try and tame some of the bright areas I decreased the exposure by 3/4 of a stop, and increased my blacks by 10.  This seemed to add just enough contrast to the scene without going overboard.

Before opening the image in Photoshop, I'm going to crop it here.  No real reason to do it in Camera Raw rather than Photoshop, it's really your choice.  I did it because I wanted to see how this would look as just a head and shoulders shot, and I like it much better.  

Now that I've finally gotten the image in Photoshop, there's really only one thing I want to do.  I have a filter by Nik Colorefex for portraits called DarkenLighten Center.  Here's what it looks like:

The only adjustment I made using this filter is the placement of center.  For this photo, I put the center right on her nose.  Here's the result:

Personally I like this version much better.  Most of the distracting brightness of the background has been eliminated, and by focusing on a larger head and shoulders shot theres more personality and playfulness jumping out of the image.

For the critics, yes I agree with you, I could have done any number of things differently to make this the perfect image.  But this is what I had to work with and made the best of it.  This shot isn't going on the cover of a magazine or will probably not win any awards, but it makes me happy!  And I'm sure that the rest of the family and some friends will agree that this shot did capture this little girls personality perfectly in that moment in time!

My intent in sharing all of this is to encourage anyone reading to take your camera to family events.  Don't worry about the comments or any complaining.  Without being too much of a pain, grab some shots.   Some will be better than others, but that's ok.  Maybe some of the information above will help you tweak a couple of shots you didn't think worked into something worthy of your scrapbook or online album!

* Thanks to Andy for giving me permission to use this image, I appreciate it!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

More on my new toy!

I'm following up my previous post about my new toy, the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 Lens.  Since purchasing it almost 2 weeks ago, I've been able to take more than 300 shots with it.  Based on this experience I'm going to share some of my thoughts and impressions.

To get this started you need to see what I'm describing.  After I set up a quick backdrop and stand I took a couple of shots of the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8 and the Canon 70-200mm F4L.  Let's start with the Canon.
The 70-200mm F4L and it's telltale white finish look pretty good coupled to my Canon 40D.  This combination is great when there's enough light.  In fact this lens has been used for everything from lions in Africa to the Blue Angles in El Centro California (see my previous post "Finally, Some Action).  The combination begins to reach it's limitations though when faced with lower light situations such as those I encountered at Little League night games.  The lights on the field are just not bight enough to allow action stopping shutter speeds.

Next, my Canon 60D with Tamron 70-200mm F2.8
The 60D is slightly smaller in size than the 40D.  But the Tamron 70-200 F2.8 is larger than the Canon 70-200 F4L.  It's not really that much longer, but it is larger in diameter.  It's also heavier.  The Tamron definately adds some heft that is noticable right away.  For some, fatigue may set it when used for longer periods of time.  One way to counteract this would be to use a tripod or monopod.  Personally, I was able to use this lens for  a couple of hours of non-stop Little League action without too much trouble.

Finally, here are both cameras equipped with 70-200mm's side by side.

Now lets talk about performance!  Under normal lighting conditions, I have to give the nod to the Canon.  It seems to lock on faster, especially when the camera is set to AI Servo (contineous autofocus) and I'm tracking/panning quick moving subjects.  Since this lens is a little bit smaller and lighter there isn't quite the same fatigue factor as it's larger counterpart.

When the light starts to fade is when the Tamron starts to shine.  Having that F2.8 apeture when you need it can be huge.  It could be the difference between getting the shot, and just sitting on the bench watching the action.  Now I won't lie and say that having F2.8 available solved all of my problems.  I still had to kick the ISO up to 1600 to have any chance at a decent shutter speed.  And the other problem is this lens doesn't focus as fast as the Canon.  There were a couple of times that I missed a shot waiting for the lens to catch up.  For my next outing, I'll use another technique to combat this little issue, that being to pick my spot and set the lens to manual focus and have it prefocused and ready.  That way I'll just have to worry about my timing with the shutter button, and not hope that the lens has focused.

To sum this post up, I'm still very pleased with my purchase.  If I had to pick just one of these 70-200's to keep I'd have to give the nod to the Tamron.  Even though it can't focus as fast as the Canon, it's not bad and the picture quality is great (to my eyes).  While you can't go wrong with either lens, you should make your decision based on what you are going to do with it.

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Toy!

After spending some time shooting photo's for my friend's Little League Team, I had a chance to really test the low light capabilities of my equipment.  Specifically I put my Canon 60D and 70-200 F4L lens to work.

During day games this combination worked great.  The lens focuses quickly, and at 5.5 frames per second, I seldom had problems capturing the action.  There was another bonus, the look of the big white lens!  Compared to all of the point-n-shoot camera's in the stands my gear shouted Pro!  Not that I am, this has been a favor to my friend who's a coach for the team, and his son who plays on the team.  The advantage that I had by looking the part was access.  No one had a problem with me being on the field (respectfully along the sidelines).

While shooting day games presented no problems, night games were another story!  At a maximum aperture of F4, I had a heck of a time under the fields lights.  I had to kick my ISO up to 1600 to get a respectful shutter speed, and still had some trouble with action blurred shots.  So, squeezing everything I could out of my equipment, I pushed the ISO up to 3200.  While I was barely able to manage a decent shutter speed, I began to also worry about noise.  When the ISO goes up, so does the potential for noise.  In older camera's less advanced than my 60D, anything over ISO 800 would be so noisy that the images resembled old newspaper photos.  Luckily my 60D with its Digic 4 processor produced very acceptable images at ISO 1600 and 3200.

After downloading my photos to the computer for review and processing I began to think about how to improve my images in low light conditions.  That's when it hit me, get a faster lens!  In this case faster means something with a larger maximum aperture.  What's better than F4?  How about F2.8?  This would be 1 full stop faster than my current F4 lens, and allow faster, hopefully action stopping shutter speeds.  Unfortunately an F2.8 lens can be expensive.  So, the hunt was on and I began researching my options.

My requirements were pretty simple, F2.8 and 70-200mm.  The brands I considered were Canon, Sigma, and Tamron.  First up  - the Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS.  This is an awesome lens with many glowing reviews.  This lens does it all but at a cost, it's the most expensive of the bunch.  I ruled it out because of the price.  If I actually made some money with my Little League photography instead of giving it away I might have thought differently about it.

Second up - the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG, OS.  Again this seemed to be a great lens based on the reviews but still a little more than I wanted to spend.  While approximately $1000 less than the Canon, it was still over $1000.

Third up - the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8.  I was interested in this lens based on favorable reviews and the price point.  At just a little over $700 this lens was beginning to look more and more attractive.  While it lacked the IS/OS of the other 2, it still offered F2.8.

I made my decision, choice number 3, the Tamron 70-200mm!  My order was placed with Adorama, and my new toy arrived 5 days later.  Wow, it was impressive right out of the box.  This lens was larger than my Canon 70-200 F4L, and heavier.  It felt solid in my hand and when connected to my 60D.  The lens comes with a tripod mount that also serves as an additional grip.  I liked it right from the start!

When Saturday came around, I was able to try the lens out, but it was a day game.  Overall I was very pleased with the performance of my 60D with this lens attached.  It focused fairly quickly, and the photos came out very nice.  When shooting at F2.8 the background would melt away into a nice blurry splash of various color.  In other words, the bokeh effect was pleasant, not harsh.

If you are interested in this kind of lens, you can read some reviews here:
Canon 70-200 F4
Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX, DG, OS
Tamron 70-200 F2.8

It'll be a couple more days before I get a chance to test this lens under the lights.  Hopefully the results will be worth the expense of the lens.  After I get a chance to really use it under the low light conditions, I'll report back!  Until then, happy shooting!