Archive for the ‘How to and tips’ category


Photo Tip. To use or not to use filters.

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Recently a client and friend asked me what filters should he buy for his new camera.  He and I started working together when I custom made my own filters to create special effects.  I had what I called the “star filter” which were, neutral density, gel filters, hand cut into stars and stacked together to create vignetting (in the lower right corner of the photo you can see a “star filter”).  I painted the corners of my UV filters with clear nail polish to create soft edges.  An 81D warming filter (I liked it warm!) was usually always in front of my lens and then I used my custom made additions to alter the image depending on what I wanted to do.  Some times I had three filters stacked together.  That is some serious amount of glass and plastic in front of my lens but I never cared for sharpness.  I still don’t and rarely ad sharpening to my images in post.  In digital age images are too sharp to start with and personally I am tired of seeing  those over sharpened images.  Anyone misses film?

Even though I had a filter filled past, my answer to “what filters should I get for my new camera” is NONE, if you can do without.  But there are a few filters you might need so stay tuned.  For color temperature and special effects I try to do everything in post production now.  With photoshop there is no reason to put a piece of glass or plastic in front of your lens unless you need to cut down light or get rid of reflections.  These are the only filters I still carry in my pack.  Polarizing and neutral density filters and I try to avoid them as much as I can.   The polarizing filter I use in very random situations.  For example, if I need to photograph a trout in the water shooting from a bank and there is too much reflection to see it well.  Problem with polarizing filters is that they add contrast.  Contrast is your enemy as you can’t truly reduce contrast in post.  Use polarizing only when you absolutely need to.  I use solid neutral density filters when I am shooting with my fast lenses and at f1.2 my shutter is not fast enough.  You can also use it to do slow exposures or if you are shooting video and need the right shutter speed.  I don’t use graduated filters, especially the cheesy ones to make fake sunsets.  Please don’t…  If you need to get a darker sky you can use a graduated neutral density filter but I prefer to just take another shot with a darker exposure and combine in post.  Is faster and more accurate.   B&H used to always convince me into buying a UV filter to protect my lens.  In theory is a good idea but in reality is just another piece of cheap glass in front of your $2,000 lens.  Two years ago I got rid of my last UV filter and where I see the difference is in backlit situations especially if the light is hitting the lens.  Flare is much more manageable without a filter, as the front element of the lens is designed to take the light.  Have I scratched lenses?  Yes!  Does it matter?  No.  You need some very serious scratches on your front element of the lens to make a difference.  If you are skeptic, try to put a toothpick right in front of your lens and take a picture.  Do the same without the toothpick and compare.  Now, the back element that goes into the camera, that’s a whole different story.  Treat it like a baby because a scratch on the back element is a bad deal.

So in short.  What filters do I use?  Neutral density and in very rare occasions polarizing filters.

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The Revolution of Compact Cameras. Why do you want to carry one in your pocket.

0614_FEA_SUP_rlsd 1I started my career in the late 90s as a photo assistant, working with a 3 megapixel, $40k, digital back we used on a medium format camera.  To shoot an image, that would appear full page on a magazine, we had to take several shots and stitch them together into one shot to have enough resolution.  Back in those days, that was a serious piece of technology and one of the first digital cameras in the Bay Area.  Since then, every year, digital cameras kept evolving.  More megapixels, smaller size, better quality, lower prices.  Now we have some very exciting technology that has changed the photo world forever.

3 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of shooting anything but a personal snapshots with a compact camera.  I don’t feel that way anymore, proof is my recent shoot for Outside Magazine.   I wanted a perspective that I could only get by rigging a camera on the front of a surfboard.  _DSC2968I was looking for an intimate, tight shot of longboard legend Robert (Wingut) Weaver in the moment of hanging 5.  It would have been very difficult, if not impossible to get the same shot with a regular camera housing shooting from the water.  Only with a camera the size of a GoPro on an outrigger, this could have been possible.  What I didn’t know at the time of taking the shots, was that Outside would be running the image as the opener of the article and as a double spread.  We did some tests and we felt the image had enough resolution and sharpness to hold a full double page spread so they moved forward and printed the piece.   When I held a printed magazine to my hand I was pretty stoked to see how good it looked.  (Check out my interview on GoPro website to find out more about this shoot).  I think a lot of photographers get caught up in how many megapixels the camera has, how sharp the image is, what kind of lens they use and they forget that sometimes there is no need to analyze the image with a microscope.  Is more important to take a good photo than what you use to take it.

For an Outdoor photographer like me, who lives the active lifestyles that I photograph, this is a revolution and a very welcome change.  Now I can carry in my pocket a camera that functions as a professional tool.  When I go surfing, I can tuck a GoPro in my suit and if there is that special moment I can still l get a shot.  If I go fly fishing, I carry a GoPro in my fishing vest.  It’s pretty amazing to have a camera so small and easy to shoot that I can use both above and below water.  It will not replace an underwater housing or a regular DSLR but there are places and times I can’t, or don’t want to carry a full on camera system.

The other camera I have been using, on a regular basis on my adventures, is a Sony Nex-6 with a 27-70mm f4.0 zeiss lens, a 35mm f1.8 and a 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 (this is not the best lens but is small and portable, I am hoping Sony will come out with a better lens on this range).  nexsystemAll this equipment fits into one small Pelican case or camera bag (check out my blog on the Nex-6 and mirrorless cameras).  If I want to be super compact then I carry the Nex-6 with the PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom lens or a GoPro if I want to shoot underwater or water sports.

There are some pretty amazing small cameras out there.   Check them out and test them.  Better to carry a small camera, than no camera, on your next adventure and you will be amazed by the pictures you’ll take home.

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How to build collapsible scrims or reflectors on location. Cheap and easy.

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Estrella Navarro on my shoot for Outside Magazine. Lit with home made scrims.

A couple of years back I was hired to do a shoot for Outside Magazine of Mexican free diving champion Estrella Navarro in La Paz (Baja California). I was wintering in my house in Todos Santos (also Baja California).  I had flown to Todos Santos and decided to leave my handy Scrim Jims in Montana since I already had too much to carry on my plane.  I figured I could rent or have my assistant bring the scrims on shoots.  In this case there was no budget to fly my assistant and there was no place to rent.  I use Scrims on 80% of my portraits shots, to either bounce or scrim light (both natural and strobes), I needed some scrims!  Living in a place like Mexico you learn to become resourceful and what I came up with is something that I now use all the time.  Especially when I don’t want to travel too loaded with gear or on personal projects where I might not have an assistant.  To build a scrim frame is easy, all you need is some 1 inch PVC pipe (2).  Four L shape PVC connectors for 1 inch PVC (3).  2  1 inch to 1 inch straight PVC connectors (1), 1 inch velcro (4), a hack saw (5), PVC glue (6) and about two hours of time.  Building the silks and reflectors (7-8) is a little more tricky.  You will need a good fabric store to find the fabric, velcro (10) or rubber band material (9) and a good seamstress to put it together.  Or you can purchase the fabric from Westcott and just build the frames.  Flying with a lot of stuff is a hassle these days and what I like about building PVC frames on location is that I can pack all the fabrics and then build the frames once I get there.  It only takes a couple of hours and you can find PVC almost anywhere in the world.

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How to build the frame

These are the tools you will need.  Can buy at any hardware store.  PVC Glue (6) and Hacksaw (5)

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A) Cut 4 pieces of PVC to desired size (Width and Length).  If you want the disassemble final frame to be smaller cut the long pieces in half.

B) Glue all the L shape pieces (3) for the corners.  Make sure to only glue one side so you can disassemble.

C) Glue the 1 inch to 1 inch connector (1).  Make sure to only glue one side so you can disassemble.

D) Put the frame together and glue velcro (4) on one side.  If you use the rubber band system (9) on the corners you don’t need the velcro.

DONE!