Okay, I know, I know... you've probably heard all about these things in the past. Or you've watched any number of videos by photogs with their favourite things that they use every day and suggest that you need them too.
My list is the same, but different. Every item in my list gets used each and every time I shoot, whether in studio or on location. Some get used when photographing people and when shooting table-top or other still-life items. They are just that important. I'll post the details here and let you decide what appeals to you. Hopefully you get some value here, and maybe, just maybe, your life will be 1 to 3% more rewarding because of it.
Okay, so here goes.
Clamps come in many different sizes and strengths. I use two sizes, one about 3 inches and the other about 6.
They are invaluable for holding cards, fabric, cables, props and sometimes even clothing in position.
I use them to hold up my background cloth on to a horizontal pole. I use them to position tiny reflectors on tables for shooting product.
I even use one to hold a dark card over my monitor to keep glare off of the screen from the ceiling light. It's pretty ghetto, but much cheaper than a store-bought version. $8 vs $200.
Specifically, lighting gels that are mounted on lights in order to change the light colour or quantity.
They come in a myriad of different colours, and strength of colours. I bought a small pack that fits in a pocket, to mount on my speedlights this year. Amazing move on my part as it gives me more opportunity for creative results.
I also have large sheets that I can mount on larger lights or even cut down with scissors to fit specific lights more precisely.
If I want to control light without changing the colour, I can use neutral density filtering gels, or polarizing gels on the lights. The former reduces light reaching the subject, while the latter polarizes the light to help remove reflections from shiny surfaces. Specifically oil paintings. Used in conjunction with a circular polarizer on my lens, I have much needed control when photographing artwork.
I would highly recommend learning about gels and grab a set for your lights, at least to experiment with.
I have 5 stands that I use both here in studio, and while out in the big wild world. Since I only use speedlights currently, my stands are mostly light-weight stands that reach to about 6-7 feet.
I will use the stands to hold lights as I said, and a background kit in addition to holding cards or reflectors.
My biggest stand, which I grabbed this year, is a heavy-duty and fairly hefty beast that has a tilting extension arm. This give me the versatility to be able to put light up and over my subject when the need arises. This year I bought it to enable me to use a large softbox over top of motorcycles for a personal project I am involved with. I was lucky to be able to source this stand from an importer and saved almost 50% off of retail. The deals are out there if you take the time to look.
4. Gaffer Tape
When you see the credits at the end of a movie, you may notice a job title that is "Gaffer". It's this person who is responsible for controlling a large amount of the grip equipment for the lights etc. They always have rolls and rolls of gaffer tape on their belts and in their vehicles.
This tape is strong, sticky and really imperative for holding things when a clamp will not be suitable. The great part is that it doesn't leave a residue when being removed. It comes in different roll sizes and widths. I would suggest wrapping a few inches on your tripod leg just to have it available. It's great for controlling cables, positioning small objects on tables (mirrors, reflectors) and all sorts of other uses. The large rolls go for about $25 and will last at least a few years. Black is the standard as it doesn't reflect light, but blue and red come in handy too.
5. White and black card
On more than one occasion I have had to use a 18x24" white card (foamcore) to bounce light into my scene as it gave a more flattering light than a straight flash. I even used this technique for the cover of a magazine shoot a while ago.
Black cards are ideal for controlling light that is bouncing into your scene as they absorb light. They also can be great for blocking light from striking your lens and ruining the shot. In this case they are called a "flag".
I've also used cards to change the light by cutting random pockets or shapes in then and shining light through them in order to give variety to my background when a dull background needed spicing up.
So remember this, white cards bounce light and black ones block it. You can find them at Dollar stores, some office supply stores and they are really inexpensive. Buy a bunch.
Reflectors do exactly as the name implies. They reflect light.
These can be something simple such as a small white piece of paper, or a folding commercially made reflector that zips up into a pouch.
In fact your hand can be a reflector, as can a white shirt or a small hand mirror.
Ideally, a reflector is exactly what works for the job at hand.
Small objects sometimes need tiny mirrors to achieve the goal, large objects, such as cars, obviously need large reflectors in order to bounce light in a useful way.
Different colour of reflectors will give you different results. A purple reflector will produce a purple result on your subject. It's a fact that light takes on the colour of the object it hit. That's basically how we can perceive colour. If you wanted to show that a white egg is actually green, and you didn't have a green lighting gel, grab a green reflective card from the dollar store and shine a daylight balanced light on it. It will bounce onto the egg as a green light. You're welcome.
These simple items are always getting used in my work.
If you find value in this little bit of info, please consider sharing with your crew. Knowledge is power.
Are polarizers just for landscape pictures?
When I am out on a sunny day, shooting an interesting scene, I always have my polarizer and my ND (neutral density) filters packed in my kit.
Having these small filters gives me the opportunity to reproduce the image of what I am seeing, so accurately for the viewers that they feel like they were with me too.
Sure, much can be done in post-production, using the wonders of accurate modern software (just like one did in the darkroom), but for me, getting it perfect in camera is part of the process. It gives me the satisfaction that I've used the tools at hand to get a better image with minimal manipulation of those tiny little pixels.
Shooting landscapes that include water, bright snow, a colour-rich sky, can all be made better and more intense by using your polarizer. There are many instructional videos, books and blog posts that cover the how-to of polarizer use. So finding the best information can be a bit daunting, and sometimes completely incorrect. Tread lightly and be sure to consult worthy resources. For example, the makers of polarizers, or scientific studies that deal with them is probably the best bet. After that, I would consult the words of seasoned photographers who routinely use them.
Other than shooting landscapes, another great and sometimes essential use of these tools is when photographing paintings and other shiny artworks. The reason being is that some paintings, primarily oils, are finished with a varnish which preserves the paint and keeps the vitality of the colours strong and impressive. The varnish is highly reflective. This can be detrimental when trying to record the art using lights of any variety.
Attaching a circular polarizer on the camera lens, and adding polarizing sheets on the lights, will reduce or remove completely the glare that lights produce as it skims off the shiny varnished surface. By turning the polarizer while previewing the image in the camera, the photographer can see the glare being reduced. It would be important also to note that polarizers will absorb a portion of the light, and may also alter the colour slightly. Accommodations will have to be made with respect to these conditions.
In my work, I always use a Color Checker Passport to make sure my colour and exposure are accurate. Since each camera colour bias is unique, it is important to do this for each camera body you may use, and for each lighting condition. If you are shooting with LED lights, be sure to do a colour profile for your LED lights from month to month as bulbs change colour over time. The same goes for incandescent, fluorescent, flash etc. Each bulb has its own colour temperature. I would avoid mixing lights to photograph art because of this sort of thing.
While these filters can be expensive, if you are using them repeatedly and take care of them, it would be a worthy investment as it will save you time in post-production. A circular filter should average about $80 depending on size, and the sheets for lighting run about $70 for a 17x20 inch sheet. If you are shooting with flash, this is much more than required. You could cut pieces of polarizing film to fit your flashes, and sell the remainder to make a profit. I'll leave that up to you though. At the end of the day, quality polarizers make for better pictures and saved time.
Which do I change to get the desired effect on my image?
Well, that depends on your situation and what you are trying to do.
First, let's look at what each of these changes actually do. Aperture. The aperture, or the opening in the lens through which the light travels from your scene to the light-sensitive surface (film or sensor) can be widened or narrowed using the dial indicated in the image above. In this case it is a Nikon D800 camera.
By making the aperture (opening) wider, you are letting in more light from all sources. That includes flash units, sunshine, manmade lights etc. Alternatively, by making the aperture smaller, you are reducing the amount of light that reaches the sensor or film.
Pretty simple. Now lets look at the Shutter speed.
The shutter speed is essentially the length of time the shutter stays open once you press down on the shutter release button. It can be measured in fractions of a second, all the way to minutes and even hours depending on the situation and camera.
Combining these two adjustments will determine how bright your subject will be and to a point, how bright the background will be. It can also determine if a moving subject is frozen still in the scene or if it appears blurry.
Let's say for example that you are photographing a 3 year old child playing in the park, and that you want to freeze the action, keeping the facial features sharp and recognizable. By using a fairly open aperture you can keep the child in focus and blur the background. Something around f5.6-f8 would be a good starting point. Combine this with a shutter speed of around 1/250 second will give you an image that stops the moving child, making them the centre of attention.
One caveat of this technique is that as the lens becomes longer, the depth of sharpness decreases. For example, if I use a 200mm lens at f5.6 my depth of sharpness (depth of field) will be less than if I use a 50mm lens. If I use a wide angle lens, such as 24mm at f5.6, the majority of my scene will be in focus. Keep this in mind when you choose a lens for shooting portraits. The best thing to do in deciding which lens to pick, is to practice before you need to.
Are you shooting landscapes? Do you want all the scene to be in focus from near your location to the distant hills? In this case, a wide angle lens in combination with a small aperture will serve you well. For example, a 15 to 24mm lens could be perfect depending on the composition you are going for. Set that to f11 or so, and your depth of sharpness (depth of field) will be the greatest. When you start shooting at apertures in the area of f16 to f32, the lens may introduce distortion because of how light is diffracted through the tiny opening. This is a good time to do some testing in order to judge the ideal aperture for your situation.
Using a flash to illuminate your subject?
In cases such as these, your aperture is even more important. Read about what to do in these situations in the next blog post.
Feel free to ask questions if you need to clear up anything that confuses you. I'm here to help.
Get more stuff!
That's what this tiny person in my mind keeps telling me. This little guy is convinced that in order to be a better photographer, I need to have new newest and most amazing new Nikon lenses, DSLR bodies, filters, flashes or whatever the press is promoting.
But then the sensible creature in me has the opinion that a basic camera kit, coupled with the ability to think creatively will be sufficient to get me through any photographic challenge I come across.
Which one is right, and which voice should I listen to?
Who's to say, but I do know that both voices have valid arguements.
Yes, I like to put my hands on the latest and greatest that Nikon has to offer but in the same respect I have a few lenses from Nikon that are vintage from the early 1980's and perform flawlessly. There's really now reason to change them.
It can be a difficult choice, especially for a person who appreciates tools for what they are. Tools. The means to an end; a great photo.
Maybe you have the same problem in that you never know if it is a good idea to spend money on the new shiny bauble when last year' bauble is perfectly usable. Do you go get the new Nikon 750 while you still have a Nikon D7000? Maybe if you sell the D7000 it will justify upgrading to the D750?
Pehaps if you decide you want to shoot night scenes now it will justify the need for the D750 and its increased ISO range. To justify or not. To spend the cash or not. Never an easy decision to be sure.
I know that for myself that if can find more than 2 excellent reasons to make a new camera kit purchase, I will probably do it. I'll find the cash. I'll get it done, but not without a whole whack of research first. I read the reviews, do the comparisons, and if I can put my hands on that shiny new Nikon lens before completely convincing myself to buy then I will.
I don't shoot sports so I don't need a camera that shoots 6 frames a second. I don't shoot water buffalo on the Serengeti so I don't need a 500 mm f4 lens. If I wanted to shoot those subjects, well more than likely the desire would be brief and I would simply go out and rent the needed equipment. A means to an end.
Try to remember that. For the most part this stuff is simply a bunch of tools that are designed to get you to the end. That amazing photo.
What will you NEED to get to your next amazing photo?
Photo-Artist working a personal vision.
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