Category Archives: Tips

Who Needs Bokeh?

I realized today that it’s been just over two weeks since I’ve posted something here.  I haven’t shot anything except for iPhone snapshots in the past two weeks!  I’ve been so busy between my writing job and preparing for our house move that I haven’t shot anything worth sharing.  I don’t expect the next week to be very different.  My next booking is one month away at this point so it could be awhile before I have some new images to share, but I wanted to let everyone know that I’m still very much here.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share someone else’s blog post, something that I ran across earlier that really made an impression on me.  It’s from the Sound Image Plus blog, written by David Taylor-Hughes, and it’s a piece entitled Limited Depth of Field – What Use Is It?  Here’s an excerpt:

 I can’t remember ever talking to a single photographer, amateur or professional, who went on about what great results they could get at f/1.2. I have never known anyone who shoots other than a few test pictures at apertures like that, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use a lens with a ridiculously wide aperture wide open without a sense of foreboding. But wedding photographers use it all the time don’t they? Well some might put a few pictures on their website but I’ve never met the bride who wanted a portrait of herself with only her left eye in focus, or with a picture of just a part of the ring on her finger in focus with some blurred things in the background that might possibly be her fingers.

Looked through a (non-photographic) magazine recently? Looked at the commercial, commissioned, editorial and advertising shots. Not many with limited depth of field and “creamy bokeh” are there? And for me that is the whole point. Just what use is limited depth of field other than to be posted on internet forums, published in photographic magazines and discussed down the camera club. “Look at the bokeh on that” “Fantastic, but what is it a picture of ?”

I have seen so many reviews of cameras and lenses screaming to the heavens about “creamy bokeh.”  It’s a phrase that drives me nuts – in part because I have no idea how bokeh could be “creamy” and in even larger part because many of these so-called review sites then offer examples that merely show out-of-focus areas and are pretty much terrible pictures no matter how you look at them.

Me, I love bokeh – when it’s called for.  And there certainly are times it is desirable.  But mostly it isn’t.  Most of the stuff I shoot professionally has no call for bokeh whatsoever.  Yes, when I’m shooting a band on stage, I’m going to have limited depth of field because I’m using the lowest possible ISO and the fastest possible shutter speed, so I have to compromise on the aperture setting.  But trust me, I only shoot at F2.8 when I have no other choice.

So thanks David Taylor-Hughes for raising your voice and saying that the emperor has no clothes.  I agree with you.






Studio Lighting Set-Ups

I have to confess that I know very little about using studio lighting.  Whenever I’ve shot at PASM, I’ve had to rely on my colleagues to set up the lights for me.  (Luckily we’ve got a lot of great people at PASM as well as great equipment.)  I recognize that one of these days I’m going to have to hunker down and learn this stuff.  How many lights to use?  Which ones?  Which settings on them?  How to place them?

I came across this over on the Strobist blog a couple of days ago and thought some people might find this interesting. Here’s a shot of Beyonce done by George Holz for Spin Magazine.

Nice shot, right?  She’s not only beautiful, she knows how to pose.  But that’s just half the battle, isn’t it?  The other half is capturing the magic.

How many lights do you think that Holz used for that shot?  Try eight. Here’s his lighting diagram:

If this is the kind of thing that interests you, then hit the link for Strobist where they also have a video of Holz talking you through the set-up.


How Do You Shoot?

By which I mean, which mode do you use most frequently?  Are you still stuck on “P” or are you a hardcore “M” person?

Digital Photograph School conducted a poll on this topic and had more than 72,000 responses.  Here’s the inevitable pie chart:

So #1 is Aperture Priority – choosing the lens opening and letting the camera decide on the shutter speed. Manual comes in a relatively close second.

So clearly people are placing a “priority” over having control over depth of field.  I find myself shooting last-place shutter priority almost as often as aperture.  Most often I’ll do this when I’m shooting a band – I want to make sure the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action.  On those (increasingly rare) occasions when I’m shooting models in the studio, I’ll go to full manual.  I think in part I’m comfortable doing that because I’m shooting in a very controlled environment and not concerned that the light is going to change from one minute to the next.

So what’s your favorite mode?


Shoot It RAW!

As far as I know, there are only two reasons why you wouldn’t use RAW when shooting pictures.  RAW photos take longer to save to the memory card so people who are shooting in burst mode or to capture fast action (such as sports) tend to use JPEG only.  And RAW files are much larger than JPEGs so they can fill up your memory card faster.  Actually, I can think of a third reason – if you have a camera that doesn’t offer RAW mode.

I shoot RAW all the time.  I think in the past few years the only time I didn’t was the year I was lucky enough to be down on the field for the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s and I was trying my hand at sports photography.  RAW just gives you the ability to do so much more with your photos once you get them into your “digital darkroom.”

Rather than go on and on about it, here’s a great chart from the folks at Pixiq that illustrates the difference.

In other words, shooting in RAW preserves the information captured by your camera’s sensor.  Shooting JPEG-only throws away a lot of data that might be useful later on.

Check the full post over at Pixiq where they go into more detail on this.


Backups 101

I apologize for the lack of new content here recently.  As much as I want to get out and shoot, I’ve been busy with several other kinds of projects lately, some things that friends and I are trying to start up, a new project at the office, preparing to move to a new apartment.  So in lieu of any new photos to share, a hopefully useful tip or two around backing up your photos.

I’m often surprised by how little beginning photographers, even professionals, know about this subject.  What happens if the unthinkable occurs?  If you lose your photos, if you lose the disk that they’re on, what happens?  The computer hard disk is a frequent point of failure and if you don’t do anything until that failure occurs, a partial recovery can cost you thousands of dollars.  A full recovery may be impossible.  As an MIS professional, I learned my lesson about back-ups more than 20 years ago and I apply that lesson to the way I handle my digital assets.

Professionals working in the field generally have their laptop with them and during and after a shoot they will immediately copy the contents of their digital memory cards to the laptop.  This not only allows them to see what they’ve got on a large screen, it provides an immediate back-up for the relatively fragile memory cards.

Aside – never cheap out on memory cards.  You’ve spent hundreds, perhaps thousands on your photo equipment and you’re looking to save $10 on a memory card?  It makes no sense.  I’ve tried a few of the el cheapo memory cards from Shenzhen and I’ve never bought one that doesn’t have problems.

Once you get home, that’s where the real work begins.  Most people just copy their memory cards over to their computer’s hard disk and then delete the contents of the card.  (Note, never delete the files on the card.  Reformat the card in your camera.  It prevents file fragmentation which can slow a card down and possibly introduce other issues.)

I do that as well, but I don’t copy the files to a single disk.  I have an external hard disk – two disks actually set up as RAID 1.  RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks and there are several different levels of RAID, well explained over at Wikipedia.  It sounds expensive but it doesn’t have to be.  Almost every hard disk company is now offering external boxes with two physical disks inside that connect to your computer via USB or Firewire or eSATA.  Depending on the size of the drives in the box you get, the price can be as low as US$100.

I actually have 5 RAID boxes at home because I have a lot of data of different types that I want to protect.  I’ve got two boxes from Western Digital, one from LaCie and two from a Japanese company called Century (they just make the RAID boxes, then I buy two drives separately and put them into the drive bays, so far they’ve been quite reliable).

What this means is that every time you copy a photo (or any file really) to the drive in the box, it is simultaneously being copied to two disks.  With RAID 1, each disk acts as a mirror for the other disk.  If one disk has a problem, the file still exists on the other disk.  Basically it means you don’t have to think about backing up a file, it’s already done for you.  Besides, if you copy over files at 1 PM and you have an automated back-up running every night after you go to sleep, what happens if there’s a disk failure before the back-up runs?  Yes, with hard disks, you have to think this way.

So now you’ve got your RAID disk, each file exists twice, you’re done, right?  Not so much.

Because RAID boxes aren’t perfect.  The hardware RAID controller built into each of these boxes is also a potential point of failure.  If the controller goes, it can corrupt the file in both locations.  (It’s happened to me once.)  I’m told by people who should know that software RAID controllers are more dependable than hardware ones.

Even so, what happens if your house is robbed?  If there’s a fire?  If you have a fight with your spouse who then decides to damage what he/she thinks will hurt you the most?  That’s right, you need yet another copy of your files, stored off-site.  Today, the solution for that is The Cloud.

For this, I use a company called Backblaze.  Backblaze works on both PC and Mac by installing a small application on your computer.  It runs in the background, copying your files up to their data center, generally only working when your internet connection is otherwise idle.  It’s highly configurable, so you can exclude drives, directories or file types from the back-up.  It’s also cheap.  After a 30 day trial period, they charge just US$5 per month or $50 per year for unlimited data storage.  And they do mean unlimited – I’ve got 127 gigs backed up with them.  (Yes, it took months for the first back-up to complete.)  I think that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

So that’s what I do.  What about you?  If you have a different approach, please share it with us!

Last but not least, if you want to know how the pros do it, photographer Chase Jarvis shares his methods with us on his blog and in a YouTube video.  Few people out there have the kind of budget he’s got for this.  Even so, it’s a fascinating lesson.