Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Big Easy Afternoon"

Big Easy Afternoon

"Big Easy Afternoon"
© David A. Ziser

I love this image of our bride photographed in the hotel lobby.  The large lobby offered a great space for this very elegant bridal portrait.  The challenge was with the lighting.  I wanted to still pick up some of the color in the sky you see in the distant window and had to be careful to select the exposure settings that would not blow out the detail in the sky.

I also knew I had some software solutions up my sleeve that might help achieve my goal. Yep, Lightroom 4 could be called upon to help save the day so I made the exposure knowing I had LR4 in my back pocket to help me get to my finished result.

The initial exposure showed a way too dark background.  I decided to add an accent light coming in from camera right and slightly behind the subject. The added light and slowing down the shutter speed helped opened up the background.

The lighting on the bride coming in from camera left and the other lighting considerations above gave me a very simple, yet elegantly portrait of our beautiful bride.

Camera specs: Canon 5D Mark lll fitted with Sigma 12-24mm lens at 24mm, F10 @ 1/50 second, ISO 200.  Enjoy!  David

Bonus Post: Canon 600EX-RT Works Great For Reception Photography

Good Afternoon Everybody,

We are kicking off our sixth day in the Big Easy, that is New Orleans, Louisiana.  Today is an extra special day for LaDawn and I too.  Today we celebrate our wedding anniversary and what better place to spend it than right here in New Orleans!  So that being said, I am making today's post short and sweet - heck it's our anniversary ;~)

I was pretty fired up about the big convention party last night at the Southern Pro Exposure photography convention. I really wanted to see how my new Canon 600EX-RT speedlights would handle the lighting chores for a wedding reception.  The convention party served as a perfect place to give them a try.


I set up two Canon 600EX-RT speedlights at opposite corners of the large dance floor.  Would they be powerful enough to give me the coverage I needed and do the job? I was going to find out during the party for sure.

After tweaking the light output and utilizing a little set up trick I picked up from my Canon buddy, Jerry Ward who was in the trade show, I was ready to go.  Here are three images from last night's party. What do you think?  I think they look great - the lighting is gorgeous! 


I was sold.  the lighting you see in these images was exactly what I was hoping for - easy, directional, and tantalizingly dimensional from these three tiny speedlights!  Wow!!!  Such an easy set up with such lightweight gear - what a great way to go for shooting weddings.


The bottom line is that is was a great first experience and I'm super encouraged by last night's shooting experience. Yep, we were all having a great time – my buddy, Ralph Romaguera took this photo. Don’t look at me and the girls – look at the light ;~) 

I've got many more images to show you and I really want to go through all the details of the setup and share the images from the party with you but don't have time today.  Let me gather all my thoughts on last night’s shooting experience and I'll share all the details in an upcoming post - stay tuned.


p.s. Look for this week’s Technique Tuesday to land on Wednesday.  Like I said, it’s the last day of the convention with several great not-to-be-missed speakers and it’s our anniversary ;~)  -David

Photographing with Limitations

Copyright Jared RL
A couple of weeks ago, I held the first Chasing the Light workshop in Downtown Los Angeles at the Hatakeyama Gallery. It was a small, but passionate group of photographers, each of whom in a very short time discovered a different way of seeing and shooting, based on being aware of the light.

The most interesting part of teaching is having the opportunity to encourage and witness a change in a photographer's work as a result of what I shared. It was no less the case on this day, which started with an exercise in which the students go out and look for subjects which possess 1 or more of the elements: color, contrast or pattern. The limitations where:

1. You only have twenty minutes
2. No chimping - You can't review the image even for the purposes of checking your exposure
3. You can only shoot up to 7 images.

Those limits can be jarring and even uncomfortable, but that's the point. We all have our way of shooting, some of which may include some really bad habits. Working with limitations forces you not only to pay more attention to what you choose to photograph, but also makes you confront some of those bad habits such as being to preoccupied with what the camera is doing or not doing, making judgements on the worth of an image while you are shooting and worst of all...rushing.

The exercise forced everyone to slow down and to really pay attention not only to the subjects they were considering photographing, but also to observe their process and how they "felt" while shooting.

copyright Larry Marotta
It was after demonstrating to them how I wanted them to respond and photograph that I was able to introduce them to the concept of looking for subjects based on observing the light. It was then that I could begin to reveal to them  how the light can and does make a huge difference in their photography.

A big part of this was critiquing their 7 images and pointing out how they were already responding to the light. With many of their photographs, I could see that they were often reacting to the light, though they weren't always aware of it. With each image, I was able to tap into each of them was already seeing and helped them to consider how to be more in-tune with that when they were out shooting, especially when it came to staying aware of the quality of the light.

Most importantly, I repeated the concept of "owning the frame", being completely responsible for every single element they chose to include in the composition. This was important, because it not only eliminated distractions, but allowed them to build compositions that really took advantage of how they were seeing and responding to the light.

So, when they went out for their second round of shooting, their images were not only better, but also more thoughtful. Where the earlier images felt unsure and tentative, these second round of images not only reflected a greater awareness of light, but more importantly, greater consitency.

Copyright Jared RL

It was particularly interesting to see photographers who revisited subject matter they had photographed in the morning. These new images revealed the color, contrast and pattern of the subject or scene all informed by their observations of how the light shaped their perception. You could often feel and here the difference as the students reacted to the new set of images that popped on the screen.

I can't help but feel that working with the limitations of the first exercise really set the foundation for images they produced in the afternoon. Though, they were freshly pollinated by the information I shared about light, it was also about how they were more aware of not only how they photographed, but how they were feeling when they were doing so.

There is nothing better than being completely in the moment when photographing. You are observing, reacting and shooting, hopefully in a seamless and interrupted flow. Though they were still a bit self-conscious, the image reflected a shift in their perception and technique that was really gratifying to see.

Copyright Paul Edward

Assisting Moira West

If I've spoken to you recently I probably mentioned this beautiful winter wedding. The atmosphere was intimate an magical and it took place in the most beautiful location. I was only assisting Moira but took a few abstract shots for myself, I wanted to experiment with my 5D Mark II camera and natural light.  
And if you don't know it yet, Moira got engaged yesterday! I'm so excited to hear the good news, congrats Moira! Can't wait to see who is going to photograph her wedding :)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Surf's Up: Hands on with the Olympus OM-D E-M5

You would think that living in Southern California during the summer, I wouldn't need much reason to head out to the beach and  enjoy all that it has to offer. The weather combined with the energy of the crowds can make for a great time outdoors, especially for the photographer. 

The reality is that I've not hit the shores, much less the water this season, which is why I was excited about an invitation from Olympus to use some their latest cameras during the Surf City competition in Huntington Beach. 

I had about three hours to go out shooting with the OM-D E-M5 as well as  the TG-1 iHS, their waterproof compact camera. So, this isn't an exhaustive and detailed review. That's something for another day if and when I can use the camera for a longer period of time. But for those curious about this model, I thought it would be interesting to share my experience with it and some of the images that I produced that day. 

Now, I have been a big fan of the Olympus Pen-series of camera, particularly the Olympus PEN EP-3, which is the first digital camera in my experience with fast enough autofocus to make it viable as a definitive street photography camera. The shutter lag/ focus delay in many cameras even the highest end DSLR made spontaneous and instantaneous street shooting a challenge, if not frustrating. So, when I heard that the the OM-D E-M5 had improved on that autofocus system, but in a design more in line with a DSLR, my curiosity was peaked. 
Within moments of getting the camera in my hand, I knew that the autofocus response that I had come to enjoy with the EP-3 was being delivered here. My ability to recognize the potential of a scene, compose my shot and make the photograph was not hampered in the least by the camera hunting for focus or even the slightest lag. I didn't have to slightly depress the shutter button halfway to detect focus before hand as I often have to do with many other cameras in order to ensure I capture that critical moment and produce a sharp, in-focus photograph. 

Unlike many of the current breed of mirror-less cameras, the OM-D E-M5 features an OLED viewfinder as well a LCD display. Now, I'm never been a fan of these, having a been so accustomed to a traditional optical viewfinder. But I have to admit, I really liked that image I saw looking through the viewfinder. It's as close to the "real thing" as anything I've seen thus far in the form of an EVF. 

After a short time getting familiar with the controls of the camera including how to toggle back and forth between the EVF and the LCD, I got to shooting, focusing on a variety of subject primarily the people that were enjoying the venues at the Surf City event. For me, it was opportunity to shoot street, but with a lot more sand and less clothing that I am usually accustomed to seeing on the streets of Los Angeles. 

The compact size of the camera particularly with the Olympus 12mm f/2 lens (24mm equivalent) made it a stealthy and compact alternative to the what now seems like a beast of a DSLR. This afforded me the ability to get in closer to my subject than I normally would feel comfortable when using a bigger camera, but which is especially important when using a wide angle. 

I found myself quickly winding through the crowds capturing the ever-changing scenes around me. Despite the high contrast lighting , the camera's metering handled exposure well, which was particularly important because I was recording jpegs rather than raw files to get a real sense of what this camera was capable of. 

The camera also delivered when it came to capturing action in the form of skateboarders doing acrobatics that made my body ache just watching it. It was also the right tool when it came time to make a portrait. In each shooting situation, I didn't find myself wanting for my DSLR with respect to certain features or controls. 

The camera features a set of art filters, which some people find gimmicky, but which I have come to really enjoy, particularly the Dramatic Tone filter which provides a grungy HDR look. But when I was shown that I  could now combine filters, I quickly discovered the Pinhole and the Dramatic Tone filter in combination produced some wonderfully unexpected results. 

You have to know that when it comes to Photoshop, I am not the kind of photographer who works on achieving this look using software. I'm often pretty conservative with the degree of image manipulation I use. So, the use of these filters allowed me the opportunity to play and experiment in a way that I don't think I'd ever consider in front of my computer. So, I actively shot with the Art Filter bracketing feature enabled which allowed me to not only capture my "straight" image, but also images that received the benefit of these special looks. 

Though I wish I'd had more time to spend the day shooting, I found that the OM-D E-M5 was a mirror-less camera that really delivered on the promise of a compact, stylish design that didn't sacrifice in terms of performance. Though I'm sure that a more exhaustive review might reveal some things that I might dislike, none such issues were immediately revealed to me as I was shooting and producing these images. 

When reading other reviews, there is such a focus on what feature or control a camera doesn't have in comparison to another and while I can understand the importance of that for certain types of photography or a photographer, I am primarily concerned with whether camera will allow me to make the kinds of images I'm striving to get. I'm pleased to say that not only did the OM-D E-M5 allow me to do that, but that the resulting images were shots that I was very pleased with. It certainly made my photography that morning very, very fun. 

"Stairway To Happiness"

Stairway To Happiness

"Stairway To Happiness"
© David A. Ziser

Here is one of my favorite images from my Friday Wedding Shoot down here in New Orleans.  We were working in the Westin Hotel on Canal Street, a very busy hotel – it was booked at 100% – but still we managed to pull off this very cool wedding image.

Obviously the staircase works as a great background for this wedding portrait.  In fact on Saturday, we saw a photographer also “working the steps”.  I liked the stairs from ground level but after heading up the stairs and viewing the composition from the second floor, I liked this view even more.  Look how the stairs just sweep your eyes right down to the bride. The stairs also offer the perfect framing elements for this beautiful bridal portrait.

Lighting was a “piece of cake”. I had one of the class members holding one of my Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites about 12-15 feet coming in from camera left.  I was also using my 42” Zumbrella to soften the light on my bride.  Be sure to catch the discussion below about I I used the Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites for this shoot.

I then asked LaDawn to grab a second speedlite and place it behind the bride to highlight the veil.  I need to mention that both Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites were flying on totally “automatic” mode – no power settings to worry about at all.  That fact made it exceedingly easy for me to work quickly in the very crowded hotel.  Not having to worry about the lighting gear and its settings will make any photography job super fast and efficient.

Look at the photograph – lighting is perfect!  Like I say below, I was really impressed with Canon’s new 600 EX-RT speedlites.

Camera specs: Canon 5D Mark III fitted with Canon 24-105 IS lens at 55mm, F5.6 @ 1/80 second, ISO 1250.  Enjoy!  David

Quick Hit Monday: My First Day With Canon 600EX-RT Speedlights–WOW!

Good Morning Everybody,

I can't believe it, we been in New Orleans for three days and I think I've already put on 5 pounds and that's even trying to avoid some of the fabulous, rich food that is so delicious. So much for the diet when you're in New Orleans – that's for sure!

We landed in NOLA late Thursday morning, got settled and began walking the French Quarter to just get the lay of the land. The rain was looking to wash out our walk so we took cover under the waiting area for the Natchez Riverboat Cruise.  We saw 5 young kids take cover as well.  It turns out that were aspiring jazz musicians and before long were jamming for the crowd. A fellow who was a cook for one of the restaurants was on his way to work but stopped long enough to join the musicians and before long had the entire assembled crowd sing “When The Saints Come Marching In.”  Check out my video below.  It was a way cool experience!

New Orleans has always been one of our favorite cities to visit – the people, the culture, the colors, the smells, the food, the history, friends in the area and so many other great things about this wonderful city is why we enjoy it so much.

Friday I was up bright and early, did a quick 5 mile walk up the Riverwalk and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the mighty Mississippi. Then it was back to the room to get ready for my wedding shootout class.

Thanks To The Rain, My Wedding Shootout Was Pretty Exciting

Canon 600EX-RT2I was excited about the class because, because B&H had just sent me three brand-new Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites to play with. I was planning to give them a good workout during my class. Confidentially, after just a few minutes shooting with them, I have to tell you, they were wonderful! But more on that later.

Strormy NOLAWe spent the morning portion of the class going over the lighting and compositional concepts I like to review and discuss before we actually head-out on a shoot. Think of it as sort of a warm-up for our location session. My good friend Ralph Romaguera, lined up a gorgeous church for us for our afternoon session but, as luck would have it, the bad weather rolled in and it looked like it was going to be far too difficult to keep the bride and all of us dry in trying to relocate to the church location.

We quickly switched to Plan B and decided to stay inside and shoot around the hotel instead. Don't get me wrong - the hotel turned out to be a great place to shoot . It had a fabulous staircase, wonderful second floor balcony area, and large, beautiful windows overlooking the Mississippi River.

We made great use of all the locations within the hotel and captured some fabulous images for our bride. It turns out my model was actually a beautiful young lady who is going to be an actual bride in just about four weeks. She was wearing her actual wedding gown, had her wedding day hairstyle created by her beautician and even asked her florist to make a duplicate bouquet like the one she would be carrying on her wedding day in August. So, the bottom line was this. With our beautiful bride in a great location, we captured some fabulous photographs for her.

Flash Photography Just Got A Whole Lot Easier!

Easy ButtonThat's right, after my experience with the brand-new radio controlled Canon 600 EX-RT speedlite units, flash photography and off-camera flash has now become the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. Anyone reading this blog knows I am a HUGE proponent of off-camera flash – that is putting a directional light on the scene and the subject to capture detail and dimension in every photograph.

Unfortunately, I think most photographers seem to be put off by this concept. Many photographers are happy enough just to be shooting with on camera, non-directional flashes.  Maybe they think off-camera flash is either too difficult or too hard to do . The fact of the matter is that the new Canon flash units make off-camera flash technique almost automatic.  No,  not almost automatic - they make the use of off-camera flash absolutely automatic!

I was a bit hesitant not knowing what to expect in using the new flashes. And, as with anything new, getting started, learning the equipment, adjusting to a new routine, (especially in front of a class) at first may seem quite daunting. But, I have to admit, after grabbing the manual, reading and reviewing the settings for approximately thirty minutes, I was off and running and very surprised to see just how reliable and consistent those early results were.

So, here we are on my wedding shoot in New Orleans. How are the Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites going to handle?  Were they going to be difficult to adjust to obtain the correct exposure?  Would they be easier or more difficult to use than my off-camera Quantum flash I’ve been using for so many years?  My initial “out of the box” experience answered all of those questions and more.  The new Canon flashes are the easiest strobe units to use that I've ever experienced in my life. It simply is a matter of turning them on, setting the on-camera flash to Master mode and the off-camera flash to Slave mode and start shooting away.

The strobe units, when “talking” with the camera, produced images that were exposed beautifully – the entire process was effortless and uncomplicated. I was never a big fan of the optical system of the 580EX II strobe units.  They were great as regular strobes but I never found them to be as reliable or practical as I needed when photographing my weddings. The new radio controlled Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites are a completely different animal and, after my experience on Friday, offer a brand new, very compact, easy and efficient way of photographing my weddings.

OK, Time To Give Them A Try

Off-Camera 600EX-RT Flash Bare

600EX-RT MasterOn my first try I wanted to see how the off-camera strobe would perform under my normal shooting conditions.  I set my Canon on-camera flash as the MASTER strobe but did NOT want it to fire. It’s purpose was to only fire the off-camera strobe.  I wanted to see just how accurate the off-camera strobe would be on it’s own. 

I had one class member hold the strobe, while mounted on a mono-pod, off-camera creating the loop lighting pattern on my subject's face that I'm always looking for. I made my first exposure and it was perfect. I was surprised that is worked so easily! Notice the sharp edged shadows on the back wall – that’s because of the small light source used for this image.

600EX Fig1NOLA Bride 1

Off-Camera 600EX-RT Flash Through Zumbrella

The next setup was to shoot the Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites through my Zumbrella and see if I could obtain the same result.  We attached to the mono-pod my umbrella adapter and threaded the Zumbrella in place.  I also positioned the 600 EX-RT wide-angle diffuser over the front of the flash to get the maximum spread of light from the flash through my Zumbrella, and then fired away. Once again the exposure was perfect. Also notice how my Zumbrella softened the background shadows very effectively too.

600EX Fig2

NOLA Bride2

Off-Camera 600EX-RT Flash Through 84” Westcott Translucent Umbrella

After that quick opening volley of lighting success, I decided to add the Westcott 84” Translucent Umbrella in front of the 600EX-RT.  Could I still get a consistently accurate exposure? I had to have LaDawn hold the large umbrella about 5 feet from the umbrella to get the small strobe to fully illuminate the umbrella.  Creating a photograph with such a large light source really gives you a very soft light on the subject.  Not only was the light very soft – no shadows at all, the exposure was just right too.  Amazing!

600EX Fig3NOLA Bride3

An Unlikely Soft Box

We spent the rest of the afternoon working our way throughout the hotel finding the best locations and capturing some amazing images.  I’ll follow up with another post showing more those results. You will definitely want to tune in ;~)

OK, fast forward to last evening.  I was one of five photographers at the convention conducting a small workshop with the convention attendees. In my relaxed workshop we discussed all things concerning wedding photography.  During the two hour program I made a comment about how technology is constantly making our job easier.  I decided to further demonstrate my point with my Canon 600 EX-RT speedlites.

I asked LaDawn to place one of the 600EX-RT’s into a small shopping bag she had with her. The flash was set up exactly as it was the previous day for my wedding shoot.  I figured after my Friday flash success, I could place the strobe into anything even slightly translucent and turn it into a soft box – why not a white paper shopping bag?

I then had LaDawn position the bag containing the radio slaved Canon flash next to Ronnie, one of the class members.  I wanted it’s placement to give me my standard loop lighting pattern on my subject.  Once everything was in place I fired away.  So what do you think of my new paper bag soft box?  Heck, maybe I should call it a bag box ;~)  Anyway, you get the idea just how easy it NOW is to use off-camera flash thanks to Canon’s introduction of their brand new 600EX-RT radio controlled strobes.

BAg ShotRonnie with Bag Box2

Links to:

Canon 600 EX-RT speedlite info: [link] 

David Ziser’s 42” Zumbrella: [link]


Hey gang, that’s it for me today.  We’re out the door early to catch a program or two and then hit the trade show.  Then it’s off to see some of the New Orleans sites and sounds and probably partake of the over abundant edible goodies here in the Crescent City.

Have a great rest of the day and I’ll see you soon,