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New Lighting Equipment

Lighting equipment is expensive and so I spend a reasonable amount of time searching out used equipment on Ebay.  Craigslist tends to be too small of a market even in the SF Bay Area to get a good selection of equipment on a regular basis.   I got my favorite lens, the Sony 135mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss, on Ebay for 1/3rd off the nominal price.

About the same time I got the lens, I found a Dyna-Lite set that picked up for $217.  New Dyna-Lite kits are about $2k, but lighting equipment hasn’t dramatically advanced in a long time, so used sets have great potential.  I wasn’t a complete expert on the different makes and models of Dyna-Lites, but it is one of the best brands in the lighting industry and they are made to last forever.

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When I got the kit, it was in great shape but perhaps a bit older than I’d imagined.  This became apparent because there wasn’t power cord.  I thought I’d go grab one from the garage, but three seconds of examination led me to the discover the power cords were more custom long ago and this plug required a special one.  I went to the local lighting store and they stared at it for a bit and said “hmmm, I think this is a 1958 model and I don’t know where you’ll find a plug like that.”

Needless to say that this became a journey.  After visiting about 20 stores, I finally found out what type the plug was called — a twist-lock and if you have seen the bestiary of plugs, it’s worth examining at NEMA.  Of course no one had one of these plugs in-town but  I eventually traced one plug to an electrical supply store in Maine which got it to me for $20.    Then I found that a couple of bulbs were burnt out and Keeble & Shuchat which replaced then for about $30.   Low and behold the lights worked great – immensely bright.

Now I needed light diffusers and finding the right speed ring was a trick, but Keeble & Shuchat gladly helped me at locating the right speed ring and getting me a beautiful Westcott soft box for it.   This entire process took about a year, as it wasn’t high priority and today I did the first quick shoot of my daughter with the new setup.

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It was a two light set up with soft boxes.  The bright one is the new 2’x3′ soft box that I got on the Dyna-Lite and the dimmer one is the old Westcott moonlight  on a 2’x2′ soft box.   I liked the results with the new bright light and can’t wait to use them more.  The long story short is that Dyna-Lites last forever and you can recover these old beautiful systems.

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Outdoor Lighting Juggling Shot

I recently did a photoshoot to get some new head shots.  Ultimately, for social media websites, which are universally 1×1 crops.  We’ve noticed recently that the crops of photos are wider than in the recent past, showing shoulders and more of the back ground.


Jay Wacker Juggling

I started with my husband who wanted a new profile picture for Quora, his new job. He wanted something appropriately casual and quirky.  He’s doing work as Quora’s “Ontology Architect,” organizing topics, which are building blocks of ideas.  So we decided to have him throw blocks up in the air.  After a dozen or so shots trying, we realized that he wasn’t going to be able keep his chin down and toss the blocks at the same time.  Of course we could always photoshop them in, but that is really cheating.   So instead, we decided to have Larry Liu throw up the blocks from underneath while I took the photo.

I usually like narrow depth of field for head shots, usually f/4.0 to f/5.6.  Sometimes we even like to go down to f/2.0.  We also usually like a mid-telephoto lens with a focal length of 135mm to 200mm.  But for this shot, we decided that we needed a wider field of view and we also wanted to have the blocks in reasonable focus, even if they were going to be blurred by motion, so we chose f/8.0.

There are additional challenges to shooting outside with lighting.  We usually simply connect one of the strobe lights and trigger the other view for the bounce light.  Outside this doesn’t work because there isn’t enough bounce light to trigger.  So we switched to pocket wizards (actually Yangnuo knockoffs).

It was a simple two light setup with the background lit by late afternoon sun.  Jay was in the shade so he could look at the camera without being blinded by the sun.  The key light was a soft box that was fairly straight-on and exposed to f/8.0.  The fill-light was a speed light in a strip box exposed to f/5.6.   The strip box was pretty close to the subject, giving a slightly more dramatic fill light.

The diagram of the setup is below with the resulting shot.  You can see the lighting in the catch-lights.Outdoor juggle lighting setup

Fisheyes at Events

Fisheyes at Events

Fisheye lens provide point of views on events that are striking because they are images that aren’t seen very often. I like to bring my 16mm f/2.8 to events because they spice up albums. Fisheyes aren’t common in many photographers repertoires, yet they are usually very affordable and give something that viewers don’t see often.

The 16mm on a full frame camera gives about 144 degrees and lets you see the full periphery. They obviously don’t work well for portraits, but can show action or drama very well.

This photo is of the recent Food Eating Contest that Yishan Wong held.  This is during the intense hot wing eating contest.

Head Shot For Young Professionals

Head Shot Set Shoot

I had a head shot booked Saturday morning with two young, professional twins looking for photos for their workplace websites. I set up the home studio with a simple white backdrop.

I wanted to do a four light set up, a key and fill plus two hair lights to give a symmetric feel for any joint shots with the two twins. I first exposed the hair lights and set the exposure to f/2.8. The hair lights were in strip boxes with speedlites aimed down. I then set up the fill light to f/4.0 with a monolight with a shoot-through umbrella. Finally, I set up a softbox monolight as the key light exposed to f/5.6.

I set the lighting expose on the low side because my home studio has a low ceiling with white paint, which thankfully isn’t gloss. In the past, brighter exposures have had problems with bleed over from light bouncing off the walls and ceilings. I sometimes set up black backdrops on the sides and even the ceiling to control the bounces. But I didn’t want to set up these control measures because they look a bit ghetto, particularly the backdrop covering the ceiling.

After the shoot began, it went pretty fast, we knocked about 200 shots off divided evenly between Ashley, Dana and the pair together.  Throughout the shoot I used an 85mm f/1.4 on a full-frame camera shooting without a tripod and a 135mm f/1.8 on a APS-C crop sensor for an effective focal length of 202.5mm mounted on a tripod. The 85mm came out very well and provided more unique shots because of the free form, but the best shots in the lot were on the 135mm, which is better length for portraits.

I included a crop of the catch-lights. I’d be a bit happier with the catchlights being more symmetric and a bit wider. I am thinking about getting a second softbox and white shoot-through umbrella to be able to get symmetric catchlights.  I like the look when catchlights frame the pupils.  I wasn’t gong for that look here, but I think angling both catchlights wider would have given a better result.

Two shoot day


Since I’m an amateur, I usually only do at most one shoot a day, but today I ended up being double booked with one shoot in the home studio and the other on location.  I don’t have a dedicated space for my home studio, so I have to put it up and take it down whenever I do a shoot.   It ends up being quite a bit of work, but it does produce reasonable results.  Location shoots are fun, though they present their own challenges getting enough shots.

I did a headshot shoot in the home studio for some twins.  They’re young professionals and needed some professional shots for their school and and internships.   I set up a four light shoot with a simple white backdrop with a soft box key light, a shoot-through umbrella as a fill and a pair of strip boxes shooting down as hair lights.  we knocked out a couple outfit changes for each and a couple of candid photos of them as a pair.    I used a 135mm f/1.8 and a 85mm f/1.4.  Both work great for studio work.  Today I had the 135 on the APS-C sensor bringing the range to an effective 202.5mm, which is great for portraits.  I had the 85 on the full-frame.

In the afternoon, I went over with my husband to an eating contest.  It was held outdoors with beautiful Bay Area weather.  We set up a two-light photobooth to take photos of the victors and then had another camera doing candids.  For the photobooth, we used an APS-C camera with a 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.  For the candids we used a 24-70mm f/2.8, 16mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8.  The 135mm f/1.8 is a relatively new lens for us, but it is has quickly become one of our favorites.  It’s a Zeiss Sonnar lens design and produces crisp images with beautiful colors.  It’s amazing when we switch over the 24-70 to the 135, the change in image quality is stunning.  If it wasn’t for the lack of range, I might stick with it for entire candid shoots.

The eating contest produced a lot of great shots and had a lot of scenes.  The best scenes were the pie eating contest, the Odwalla drinking contest and the hot wing eating contest.  We got to meet some great people, I also got to meet some of my husband’s acquaintances.

First Tilt-Shift Lens is coming

I’ve been fascinated by tilt-shift lenses since I got acquainted with their unique style.  It took my husband a long time to figure out how the tilting and shifting works to produce those fascinating images.

Sony doesn’t have any high quality tilt-shift lenses yet, so we grabbed a third party manufacturer, Arsat.  They’re based out of Ukraine, and though I was initially skeptical, the reviews were good enough to decide to give the 80mm lens a try.   Here is what it looks like


The cool thing about tilt shift, is that they can lens can tilt and shift as shown below

Tilting and Shifting

The tilting allows the focal plane to be tilted forward or backward.  This can create for very narrow depth of field, or in the case when the image is tilting away, allows for an image with a narrow depth of field to keep a tilted subject in focus for a longer distance.

The shifting is a bit more subtle. The field of view of usually symmetric above and below the image.  So that, for instance, an 80mm focal length lens on a 35mm camera, will capture 9 degrees above and 9 degrees below center to fall into the field of view.  Shifting allows this to be offset, so that 17 degrees above center and 1 degree below center fall into the field of view.  It essentially allows the camera to behave as if it is a medium format camera, where you’ve selectively cropped down to a full frame (35mm) image.

So we’re getting our tilt-shift tomorrow and we’ll see if we can get the unique images that only a tilt-shift can capture.