What can Sony do for me?

At this point we've all read or at least scrolled past opinion pieces and blogs about mirrorless cameras. And more specifically articles predicting, or even hoping for, the death of the DSLR at the hands of the camera worlds apparent new chosen one! The beaten-dead-horse narrative being the the sexy, thin mistress that is the mirrorless camera has arrived, so you should immediately dump your faithful, dependable, loving DSLR wife! In fact, the level of vitriol from these articles authors has always been the biggest takeaway for me. Far more telling than the point they are trying to make in the first place! 

Something I live by is to always consider the motivations of someone as much as I consider the base layer of what they are saying. It has never made sense to me why someone would be so determined to influence what camera a completely different person would be using. If I couldn't care less what camera the next photographer wants to use, why do they?

Answer: It's either financial or personal!

They're either financially gaining from their persistence, like for example, photographic "celebrities" such as Manny Ortiz, Jason Lanier, Scott Kelby & Zack Arias who misrepresent truths to pressure consumers in exchange for kickbacks, or they are acting in defence of their own purchase history or brand loyalty (these can be found in any comment section/photography forum/camera club). If you like a piece of gear, GREAT! And if you want to sing it's praises from the rooftops, GO FOR IT! But I question the motivation and maturity of someone determined to make you immediately feel shame & inadequacy, change your preferences and open your wallet! 

Now that I have that off my chest, I can move on with my main point...

I have been an avid, loyal Canon user for my entire photographic existence. Like most people I gravitated towards a camera system and with no real experience elsewhere & stuck with it. I have owned 20d's, 550D's, 7D's, 7D2's, 5D2's, 5D3's, 5DS' & 5D4's. All cameras I have enjoyed using to varying amounts, with the higher end cameras offering vastly improved features, but all sporting great menu systems, ease of use and an abundance of applicable lenses and accessories. All that being said, the lack of progress, apparent disinterest in what their own consumers want & the never-ending conveyor belt of unnecessary lower level products & underwhelming "updates" to their pro level gear has jaded me. Ignoring cries for things like EVF's to instead give us multiple incarnations of the same lens with almost no difference or point and possibly the worst arsenal of mirrorless crap that the camera world has to offer. Their lack of commitment to the mirrorless lens line in particular shows their utter disinterest in their consumers wants, outright punishing people that were daft enough to invest in the neglected system.

This has been the standard for the relationship between Canon and its shooters for years now, but like any relationship where one side feels neglected, patience has worn thin! The only sticking point in this abusive relationship being that I didn't see an option that I could transition to that had enough positives to justify the crazy expense. I have previously attempted a transition to Fujifilm. Enamoured with their ease of use & aesthetic, but bitterly unimpressed with the image quality, the XT-2 didn't last long. If Fuji gets their image quality on the same level as their usability they might have the perfect camera!

Sony has always been an interesting prospect to me, though littered with small, irritating drawbacks. The menu systems, battery life & non-existent lens choices being three off the top of my head. I first tried the original A7 a couple of years ago, but a misfiring metabones and the worst camera salesman in the history of anything ever put me well off.

Having been made aware of the fairly huge changes of the new A7R iii and upcoming A7 iii, I reopened my interest. The including of dual card slots, eye & face AF, overall improved AF and the well documented amazing low light performance all peaking my interest. Throw in the joystick and I was ready to take a seriously ambitious punt. But I was cautious and decided instead to pick up an A7 ii first. Try and feel out Sony's menu system, work on some portraits and generally get to grips with the prospect. At worst, it would be a decent full-frame travel camera. I picked up the Sigma MC-11 and off I went. It gave me a chance to compare it side by side with my war-tested 5D4. 

So what did I think?

Most importantly, the image quality is fantastic. Great rich files, pretty much on par with the Canon that costs £2k more. The only real difference I found was in the highlights, I just preferred the improved depth in the highlights of the Canon. Other positives included the face and eye AF, and of course the EVF, that really is a game-changer!  The downsides were the commonly discussed short battery life, the ridiculously over-complicated menu and the size. I actually found it to be too small without a battery grip. 

And finally the question I keep getting asked, will I switch?

Yes... and no. 

Do I like the A7 ii enough to invest in a more expensive updated version? Yes, I have just purchased an A7R iii. 

Will I get rid of all my Canon gear? No. The 5D4 is just too robust and workmanlike of a camera to discount it. But I think the Sony/Canon combination might be the best idea I have had yet! 

I will follow this up with a comprehensive review and some Raw samples of both systems for comparison. 

K

 

 

To seem or just to be

I genuinely debated internally for days as to whether the title of this should be "to be or just to seem", or simply "another rant about social media bullshit", but I think I landed in the right place.

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I recently upped and left the UK for a week all by myself and got lost in New York. This was my first time out of the country alone and something I have dreamed of for a long while. The purpose for this was pure and simple escapism. I wasn't coping well with downtime and loved the idea of seeing a place minus all the distraction of company. NYC is the best place to go if you want to become anonymous, feel insignificant and realise your lack of presence in the real world. New York is happening right now and it doesn't care about me or my nonsense. They have nonsense of their own and don't need the excess. The city didn't care when I arrived and it hasn't missed me since I left.

So why would I want to feel insignificant and be ignored and lonely? Because its the perfect chance for introspection. The ideal opportunity to assess my progress both professionally and personally, be left alone with my thoughts and make some mental headway with the little anxieties that have been impeding me for the last few months. 

See the problem nowadays is the complete one hundred and eighty degree shift in priorities social media has caused with people in their working and home lives. The never-ending, sleep-depriving, mind-numbing drive for some to create an entirely different persona, to pour money/mental energy/precious time into convincing people that they are important and successful instead of putting said commodities towards actually achieving these things. 

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Yes, people lie online and no, I am not saying anything particularly new! But I honestly believe we've reached terminal velocity with regards to the waterfall of lies and embellishments that stain instagram stories, facebook feeds and the determined six people still using snapchat. The photographer/model landscape is rife with white lies, exaggeration and just outright bullshit concerning big jobs, big money, international publications, media attention, followers and so on. 

The reason I am writing this and the reason I see this as a genuine problem sociologically is that we have developed this belief that we are all not only infinitely important, which we certainly aren't, but also that what we see on social media is real. The same people that create false narratives about their own successes fall blindly for the facade that others project. Everyone is doing it. 

And even more concerning and the point I would like to end on, it now takes an insane amount of additional effort to pretend you've done something than it would to actually reach for those goals. It's no longer the case that people are taking the easy track to seem successful, they are now dedicating their life to achieving nothing, all in the name of making other people who are doing nothing, jealous.

Stop working so hard, go and actually achieve something! 

Stitches

Something that has been a huge part of my workflow in the previous couple of years in both weddings and portraiture is stitched images. Whether they be panoramics, vertos or Brenizers, they have been an integral part of my method for shooting everything from natural light portraits to table decorations. I have been asked and wanted to discuss the how's, when's and most importantly the why's of stitching images!

What is a stitched image?

I am assuming most people will be aware of what I am referring to, but for those that don't, it is fairly simple. The premise of stitching images is simply to cover a greater area by taking multiple photos around or across a subject or scene, then joining them in either photoshop or lightroom. This can be shot from left>right or vice versa to create a panoramic, from top>bottom or vice versa to create a vertorama or (the way I shoot them) spiralling out from centre to create a Brenizer (named after Ryan Brenizer, brilliant photographer and interpreted inventor of the technique).

Why stitch portraits?

The vast majority of the people using any of these techniques are landscape shooters who want to either create a letterbox shaped crop to their image and/or to cover a greater area than can be pleasantly rendered by most focal length/sensor combinations. But there is more to it. 

I shall speak only for myself, but I honestly believe there is a look to shooting brenizers in a very particular way that creates an image that cannot be replicated. The way I view brenizers is as a substitute for medium format! Keeping in mind that with a consistent sensor size, the three factors that will affect depth of field will be distance to subject, focal length and aperture, I am able to create images that work in ways that couldn't be done with a single shot on full frame or smaller sensors. 

So let's say I am shooting with the intention of creating a nice 3/4 length portrait with a 135mm lens. Obviously this would mean I have to be a fair distance away from my subject, which will increase my depth of field. But by moving to say a tight headshots distance from my subject and shooting a series of images starting with this headshot but spiralling down and round to create the same 3/4 frame, I will have created a significantly narrower depth of field by keeping the focal length and aperture the same, just reducing my distance to the subject. In addition to the narrower depth of field, there is the added benefit of a much higher resolution final file due to the multiplication of the megapixel count. 

This technique is now allowing us to take much wider shots but with the far narrower depth of field than would be possible with a single shot. This means we are able to mimic the DOF of medium format and similar. Half body, 3/4 and full body images suddenly have the same cinematic depth of field as a headshot. You can now incorporate more scenery into the image without it becoming bland or distracting! To put it simply, I just LOVE the aesthetic it creates. Even shooting a half body in two images can create a really strong effect, as shown at the bottom of this blog! 

How do you shoot stitched portraits?

Its a lot simpler than you might think. I don't use a tripod or monopod or any silly gadgets, its just down to understanding the approach and practise. Now I know for a fact that because it isn't something you can just buy your way in to, many people will never give this technique a serious try!

Sad but true.

But let's leave them behind and create some really cool images! 

So to start, I strongly recommend using a prime lens somewhere between 85mm and 135mm. Can you use a zoom like a 70-200mm? Yes but there is a far larger margin for error and you miss out on the more interesting apertures to play with. Fixed focal length will definitely simplify the process! You want to plan the shot! Plan what you want the final crop to be. If you want a half body or a full body etc. Plan what is included in the frame from the surroundings. Explain the technique in base detail to your subject, informing them that they need to stay pretty still for the 3-4 second this takes. Then we get to the shooting...

You're going to want to be in Manual Mode. You technically can shoot in an automated mode by using the camera to freeze the exposure, but this is daft, hit and miss and can negatively affect the flow of the shoot. So you're in Manual Mode, fixed focal length and you have set your exposure. You will be shooting landscape orientation. With autofocus on, frame up and shoot your first shot. This should be the subjects face with their nearest eye in crisp focus. You can shoot a couple of these shots so you can guarantee a tack sharp shot, though as you progress with this, you'll become more confident! 

Having taken your first shot, holding the camera steady, turn off your auto focus being sure not to knock the focus ring or move dramatically. Now your focus is locked you can begin the sequence by tilting your camera down and taking a shot that cuts off the top of the frame about halfway down the face. This will mean you have something from the previous frame for your software to connect each frame to. Continue this sequence of tilting and shooting to include as much of the subject as you want to make the final frame with a tiny amount of overlap. Now that you have worked vertically down it is time to work up the (camera left) side of the person, again making sure to include some of the subject in the right of your frame for context for the software. Once that side is finished, work down the opposite side. You have now shot your first brenizer! Sounds very elaborate and complicated but it really isn't. Once you've done it two or three times it becomes second nature. A good little extra tip is to get in the habit of immediately turning your autofocus back on once you shoot the last frame as it can be easy to forget! 

How do you edit stitched portraits?

Thanks to Adobe, it's an absolute breeze to put these together. I do mine in Lightroom by simply selecting all of the images I want to be included and ctrl+clicking (right clicking) on them, scrolling up to "Photo Merge" and clicking "Panorama". This can also be done in Photoshop by clicking file>automate>photomerge. The reason I prefer Lightroom is that it doesn't disrupt my regular workflow and the end file is still a Raw file. 

With Lightroom you will be given three options for merging; "Perspective", "Cylindrical" & "Spherical". I have found that 99/100 times it will be "Perspective", but if not it will be "Cylindrical".

Below is a finished 2 image stitched portrait taken with a 135mm lens at F2. Please give this technique a go, and feel free to let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

I know this can be fairly daunting idea at first but it is so worth breaking through that wall and playing around with this technique. Have Fun.

K.

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2017 Favourites!

I want to wish a massive thanks to everyone I have worked with over the past 12 months, it has been a fun and crazy turbulent year! Below are a few of my favourite portraits from the past year. 

Happy holidays everyone!