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Autumn, and Retouches

As part of my gear test over the last few months I shot with Autumn at her place in Lincoln. She, co-incidentally shot me as well as part of her gear test of a new SB-900. We went through off camera flash techniques, modifiers and a few other things together. 

Sadly I was the only model available, but I’m really happy with the shot I got back from her, so much so that it’s been on my Facebook profile picture ever since!

I also shot Autumn for an hour - I really wanted a new headshot for my portfolio that was a little darker than my usual stuff. I seem to be in a phase of over exposing, especially with my processing. It’s fairly intentional, and something that I quite like doing. But variety is the spice of life as they say.

I retouch a lot of my own work, but occasionally I send photos out. It’s good for me as it helps me see what others are doing, and also frees me up for other things. For the shots with Autumn, I roped in the more than capable Catherine Day to retouch 2 headshots. Anyone not already familiar with her work, please do check out her website. It’s inspirational photography and really high quality retouching! 

Catherine’s an insomniac by all accounts, and sent me these through at 1.50 this morning!

Autumn1

Autumn2

What I really like with a good retouch is how natural skin can be made to look, and how that works with the overall image. Autumn has great skin to begin with, which always helps, so hopefully Catherine’s job was made that bit easier.

Nothing’s been overworked or overcooked, it’s just a really good retouch - it’s one that I’m really pleased with.

Nothing fancy on my part either, I wanted simple and this was 1 head setup with a silver brolly. 

If anyone wants to hire Catherine for retouching work, I believe she’s currently doing a timed sales promo. Stop by her website or email her for more info; info@catherine-day.com 

Thanks to Catherine and Autumn for giving me such great shots :) 

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Big Gear Test!

Over the last few weeks I’ve replaced and refreshed some of my kit. Some of this has come about from requirement and also from wanting shiny new things to play with! I’m not a massive gear head as such, but I always have ideas I want to try. Some of them come to fruition, some are a complete waste of time and effort. But I’d rather my kit be available and ready instead of being the limiting factor in whats achievable. I find it lets me do what I want when I want to.

First up was a set of Lencarta heads. I bought a ring flash kit from these guys around 3 months ago, and had a load of fun with it. I already have a set of Bowens heads, little 250W ones, and portability was nibbling away at me. I couldnt afford the TravelPak and felt that the existing heads might not be that powerful when faced with some bright sunshine. So it kinda made sense to add a couple of heads to the Lencarta kit giving the ability to set up anywhere without electrickery or Worlds Longest extension leads. What I liked about this was that on it’s own, you’ve got a 600W head, but stick a pair of heads in and you’ve got a nice 2 x 300W lighting kit that you can take anywhere fairly easily. 

The Safari heads are pretty lightweight, enough that I could throw them into a holdall and walk around with them and the battery pack without too much hassle.

In terms of modifiers, I’ve been looking for a largish Octa, as all my soft boxes were fairly small in comparison. Lencarta offer a 120cm folding (like an umbrella) Octa that I thought would be perfect for a bit of fill or as a main big soft light source for some beauty stuff I’m planning. All their modifiers are S Fit, as are mine, so I can mix and match a bit on my existing kit if I need to.

Lencarta 120cm folding Octa

Using this in the house was fun! Because all my walls are white (read; off-white) and ceilings fairly low in comparison to say, a studio, this thing lit up everything, but really nicely. I’ve tried it with and without the additional inserts, and I’m unsure which I like best. But thats the nice thing about it; options :) 

Here’s a shot of Jameela shot with ring flash as the main and the Lencarta Octa as fill

So pretty happy with that so far.

Second new shiny thing was a D7000, and a thanks to Andrew Appleton for the recommendation. I’d been looking at Nikon’s recent offerings in regards to their HD/Video capabilities. It’s not something that I’m massively focussed on as I’m more a stills guy, but again…abiity to create was in my mind.

I also wanted something to use as a backup to the D700 that still had some kind of idiot mode for nights out/handing to someone else who wasn’t an SLR nut. The D300 that previously had that job needed to be sold (and sold it did on ebay over the weekend) before it’s value went much lower. It’s a real shame as I liked using that camera, but compare it to the D7000 and it was just clattery and slow. Perfectly adequate for 95% of scenarios, and served me well on a lot of shoots. But, things move on.

The D7000 has, so far, the largest resolution sensor of any recent Nikon, save for the D3X. Meaning, don’t put crap glass on it! It really didn’t like the £160 55-200 I got for my D40, though the photos themselves were OK, the colours and overall IQ wasnt anything special. Things faired better on an 85mm 1.8, and the Sigma 24-70. The 70-300 VR I have has always been a sharp lens (I’ve done loads of headshots with that and an 80-200) and the D7000 seemed to get on with it.

What I like about the D7000 is that it’s quick to focus, light, easy to use and easy to change things when you need to. I had an initial bugbear about some of the buttons doubling up for other things (ISO and WB), but it’s a consumer dSLR at the end of the day, and comparing it’s usability to the D700 isn’t fair. What is fair though is like for like shots using both. They’re nigh on identical, in some cases with the DX sensor, they’re crisper. The FX feels cleaner. I’ll be using them both side by side soon on a shoot rather than for snaps, and looking forward to seeing the results! It’s never going to replace the D700 I use as a main, but with the addition of video and feeling just that bit more portable I took the D7000 to the Tramlines festival in Sheffield over the weekend, and was blown away with it’s ability at high ISO’s.

Here’s a photo of The MotherFolkers (they’re really cool!) taken on a Sigma 18-50 2.8. Settings were….1/80, f/2.8, ISO3200 @ 22mm

MotherFolkers

Pixel peeping was fairly impressive. It needed a bit of noise reduction in Lightroom, and a bit of brightening in Photoshop, but I was pretty happy with that sort of performance (and the band were great too….: http://www.myspace.com/motherfolkersmusic )

Last up in the New Stuff was a 28-300 lens. I’ve never really been a fan of SuperZooms, on the basis that Primes are King. But to be honest, with the differences in IQ I’m seeing on good glass, the zoom length isn’t my main concern anymore with quality. Sure, I have a 50mm 1.4 and love what it can do, but it’s not always the most practical lens I have. 

I looked at the 24-120 F4, read rave reviews about it, but felt it wasn’t quite as far-reaching as what I was looking for, and I already covered 70% of it with a 24-70 2.8. The 18-200 II would have been great on DX, but no use on the D700. After wandering around Jessops and Jacobs while in Sheffield I decided to try it and see. I only had the D7000 with me at the time, so trusting that the images would be as good if not better on the D700 I popped the lens on, went for a Costa to overcome the Whim Purchase Guilt and wandered around Tramlines snapping away. 

First thing I noticed was how much in agreement the body AF system and lens were. It just focussed and fired, no problem, no hunting. Even going from 50’ish to 300mm quickly, both body and lens were talking well to each other. The VR works well too, it’s the same setup as the 70-300mm I have already (and that lens will probably be hitting ebay soon!)

Yes, it distorts! But thats to be expected really. I was more concerned about fringing than anything, but there’s nothing there. Even in high contrast areas, it’s given excellent results

From around 15 feet away I took this shot. It’s handheld at 300mm with the VR on, uncropped and largely untouched. Sharpness etc are all as per RAW Converter defaults other than a slight cross process in Photoshop

tramlines nandos tent

Now I’m in 2 minds whether to ebay a load of other kit (18-50, 50mm 1.8, 80-200, 70-300) as well - it’s that good.

I’ll be adding more to the band/crowd photos from the day later this week, so thats about all for now. If anyone’s reading and thinking of purchasing any of the kit I’ve mentioned, feel free to fire me an email and talk in more detail

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