This year at WPPI, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Sony booth and see firsthand the technologies that I have been hearing so much about. While talking with a Tech rep, I overheard that there was an opportunity to sign out a camera and lens for a night to shoot with. I was put on the waiting list and was able to get a Sony A7s with the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens for one night of shooting. I tried my best to familiarize myself with the camera while taking a few afternoon classes (it was WPPI) and like a kid waiting for recess, I ran out of the MGM for a full night of shooting. Normally I shoot nightlife and concerts, and that is just what the A7s was supposed to be the best at. I did not have any shows lined up as I was supposed to be attending WPPI all week, so I headed down to Fremont Street where I know the stages always have free entertainment to test the camera out with. The Sony rep. gave me 2 batteries and it was my intention to shoot until both were completely drained. I started with a show called the “Hardwood Hotties” – a themed song and dance on the 3rd street stage for March Madness. I ended up staying for 2 hours worth of the show and then went on my quest for neon and then finally a walk on the Strip. The next morning, before returning the camera, I went to the IceLight booth and captured a few images of their models. All images in this post are completely unedited. I wish I knew more about the camera features and settings, but using a camera for one night was fun and the basic settings were easy enough to figure out for a night on the town.
Here are my thoughts and observations of this camera and lens: First off, it is much smaller than the Canon 6D with a battery grip that I am used to holding! I am also not used to using an electronic viewfinder.The controls and dials almost came naturally to me (but I have been around cameras since the early 80’s). The focusing system was also very fast to respond. When you take the lens off of the camera, the sensor looks huge and is visible, right inside the body opening. There are tons of controls and lots of menus to figure out, and if given another opportunity, I will do my best to do just that. From looking at the images that I captured, I can say that they are sharp, the color is very accurate and the low noise at higher ISO settings is amazing! For my shooting, I had the camera on the manual setting, with the exposure at 1/200th f/4 and on automatic ISO as I wanted to see what the low-light capabilities were and I had no tripod, so everything was handheld. I loved this experience and hope I get to shoot with a Sony again in the near future! Oh, one last thing… the batteries outlasted me, I was worn out and quit shooting with over 50% of the second battery left. 🙂
The story behind the image.
When out to capture an image there are two distinct ways of thinking for me. The technical side of things and the creative vision. On Saturday night, I decided to travel to a location I haven’t been to in a few years – Cima, California. I had a few ideas of combining some new techniques with some desert scenes. When I arrived in Cima, four of the five locations I had envisioned were still in tact, but a shack that had been withering away in the desert for years, had collapsed. I still had four locations to work with, and a beautiful clear night to enjoy.
I started at an abandoned corral. I brought two cameras with me – one for star trails and one for shorter exposures to capture the Milky Way. After that, I continued on to a train track vignette for a capture of the Milky Way and an idea to simulate a ghost train that I need to go back and improve upon one day in the future.
My third location is what this blog is really about; a phone booth along Kelso Cima road. The original idea for this location was to capture the Milky Way dropping down behind the phone booth. When I thought back to previous visits to the phone booth, I envisioned a small booth along the roadside. What I did not remember was that there were metal mailboxes that were too close to the phone booth for the composure I was wanting to achieve. In order to capture the phone booth and not have the mailboxes in the frame, I had to have my camera really low and lay on the ground to see what the framing would look like. The composure was still skewed by the lens distortion and the angle of the lens to the phone booth. I tried a few different exposures and attempted to paint the phone booth with light using several techniques and finally saw in the back of the camera roughly what I had envisioned it. I was able to correct some of the distortion in post, but I may return to the scene and capture this vignette in the summer months, when the Milky Way is more prominent in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere.
The fourth and final location and idea had me among some of the tallest Joshua trees I have ever seen. The composition was to be a panorama of the Milky Way arching across the sky with silhouettes of Joshua trees in the foreground. I ended up photographing a 10-image pano and later combined it in Photoshop. While shooting the Joshua trees, I also captured a handful of images to create a star trail. Here are a few images from this adventure on Valentines Day.
Almost forgot the technical details of the image: Canon 70D, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens, 15 seconds, ISO 1600, 18mm.
Here are some other images from the adventure.
Here are the details:
Sessions are from 6pm, Monday the 24th of November until 10am, Wednesday the 26th of November. Availability is based on bookings. It is a marathon so if you do not get out of work until 1am, there is still a possibility to shoot at 2am. (This is Vegas!)
To book your session, please call: (702) 366-5636 or email me: email@example.com
Here are some sample images (used with clients permission):
Recently, I flew back home to Pennsylvania to visit family and capture the fall foliage. The area I grew up in bases around a small town in the Northeastern part of the state. While in the area, I always love revisiting places that provoke memories of my youth and spending time with my family and friends. It is great getting back those feelings and memories from a time that seems forever ago.
I also was on a mission to get some images of some of my favorite locations from the area during the peak of the fall foliage. This year I timed it perfectly as the colors were spectacular and the weather was perfect for shooting (usually overcast with very little wind and an occasional mist or rain to keep the colors vibrant). Also on this trip, I had the opportunity to play tour guide to one of my friends, a fellow photographer from Las Vegas. Showing someone new around opened my eyes to a different way of seeing some locations that I have shot again and again in the past.
It also had me want to get to my core basics in photography, where it all started for me. I have been shooting as long as I can remember and learned as a young shutterbug through trial and error how to make adjustments manually – back in the film days before the instant feedback, looking at the back of the camera. I made the commitment to shoot all images this trip in the M-mode on my camera. Adjusting ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for every image while focusing manually. For those that know me, I am usually an AV-shooter, letting the camera choose my shutter speed based on my selection of the aperture because I find this method works with concerts and low light.
Tooling around the backwoods of PA, hiking through Ricketts Glen, spending a day in New York City, and capturing a few portraits manually for three weeks, all while rarely looking at my camera back, brought back some of my first memories with photography. Now on a flight back to Las Vegas looking at the images I have captured, I am more than pleased with my results and cannot wait to share. I have been posting teaser images captured with my phone during my trip, but they definitely pale in comparison to what my cameras and I have created… all while getting back to my roots.
Posted from my Samsung Galaxy S5 using WordPress for Android
Many people have asked what gear I carry with me in different situations so I decided to start a series of blogs to share what I use and a brief explanation of why. In this edition, I will share what equipment I use with Concert Photography.
Concert Photography is a different beast in the photography world. The venues are dark, the photo pits are especially cozy, and there are security, rules, and policies in place for the safety of everyone. I carry specific equipment for these situations that help me maximize my imaging potential during the usual 3-song limit (some grant more generous parameters, some even less) that I have to get “The Shot.”
Here is a list of what I carry (to see info, I have made each a link to the item, when possible):
Canon 6D (full frame) camera body (with Battery Grip) – Used with all lenses below, INCLUDING the Sigma 18-35mm lens using a Kenko 1.5x extender to remove all vignetting.
Canon 70D (crop sensor) camera body (with Battery Grip) – Used with all lenses below, but usually will have the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 mounted to start the night.
Sigma 15mm f/2.8 lens – Can be used as a true fish-eye on the full frame body and as a 24mm on the crop body. Great for up-close shots from the photo pit!
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens – The fastest zoom lens on the market with an f-stop of 1.8 through the entire zoom range. Primarily used on the crop body camera, but I will, if needed, use the Kenko 1.5x extender on the full frame camera for an effective 27-52.5 f/2.8 lens.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens – I love this lens from the pit or from the sound board. All around top lens used on both camera bodies. Some people shy away from a prime lens, but this is my favorite of this list.
Sigma 120-300mm lens – When shooting from back of the room or soundboard, this lens is a MUST.
Kenko 1.5x extender (not listed as an active product) – Used with Sigma 18-35mm lens on a full frame body. This is small, thin, and only adds one stop to a lens but gives 1.5x the distance of a lens! Using this with the crop body and a long lens from the back of a big room is a lifesaver for me!
Manfrotto 695 Carbon Fiber Monopod – I only use the Monopod when I am using the Sigma 120-300 mm lens because it is very heavy.
Arcatech Ballhead – The best head I’ve found to mount my camera/lens to the Monopod.
PNY Elite Performance 64gb SDXC cards Fast and have not failed me yet!
Q-Strap – Camera strap (Yes, I prefer this over the BlackRapid products)! I use this with the heavier of the 2 cameras I carry (based on which lens is mounted).
Spider Holster This is used with the lighter of the 2 cameras that I carry (based on which lens is mounted).
ProDot – Shutter Button Upgrade (Yes, they work!) Helps with shutter control.
EarPeace Ear Plugs – High Fidelity Hearing Protection.
B&R Folding Step Stool – Gives a height boost when shooting from behind or in crowd only (not for use in pit)! I painted the non-textured areas of this with glow-in-the-dark paint for my UV flashlight.
Sigma branded lens Cloth – Performers love to throw water (and drinks) into the crowd. This is a necessity!
Inova UV Microlight – A flashlight is helpful, but the bonus of UV comes into play with the painted step stool above. The UV light is not overpowering bright (that can get you yelled at by security), and the UV reacts with the glow-paint on the stool to eliminate tripping issues as people try to find their way in the dark.
Credential Carabiner – This attaches to my belt loop. On it is a clear pouch for my photo credential, the UV flashlight, lens cloth, and EarPeace hearing protection case (see photo below).
Many people have questioned my Camera body choices recently, quoting shutters-per-second and many other arguments, but my reasoning for the 6D and the 70D are a personal preference. Both bodies have WiFi built in, which makes sending instant proofs a major advantage ( I have to do something while waiting between bands anyways). The 6D is Full Frame, and therefore gives me a wider perspective with many standard lenses. The 70D is a crop body that is used mostly with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens (which is the fastest zooming lens on the market currently). The controls on both cameras are very similar, which makes it easy to switch between the two seamlessly in the darkness.
So there you have it, my gear essentials when shooting a concert. Maybe one day I will give details about how I shoot concerts and handle low light settings.
Here are the details:
Sessions are from 6pm, Sunday the 7th of September until 3am, Wednesday the 10th of September. Availability is based on bookings. It is a marathon so if you do not get out of work until 1am, there is still a possibility to shoot at 2am. (This is Vegas!)
To book your session, please call: (702) 366-5636 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
A New Lens, a Concert, the Milky Way, and the Perseid Meteor Shower:
I shoot an average of 3-5 concerts a week here in Las Vegas at many venues with a wide array of lighting and logistical challenges. When I First heard about the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens I immediately thought about how it could help with my concert photography. The two main reasons I thought this were the speed of the lens and the fact that it is not a fisheye (not that there is anything wrong with a fisheye lens, but I try to stand out from my peers and lately all I see in the photo pits of concerts are fisheye lenses). For a rundown of the technical specs please click here: Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
I ordered the new lens and received it on a Saturday afternoon just hours before a concert I was commissioned to cover in Las Vegas. I made the decision to only take the new lens so I could test it and see what it could do (normally my camera bag would have the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 lens and the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 lens for concerts). The lens was amazing in the low light, fast to focus, and very sharp. The focal length on the Canon APS-C sensor (1.6x crop factor = 28.8-56mm) was perfect for capturing both wide stage shots as well as zooming in to each band member without lens distortion. The weight of the lens complimented my camera that has a battery grip and extra battery. I have a specific formula of settings I use for concert photography and this lens worked within those settings perfectly. The show had it’s challenges with lighting and stage/photo pit layout, among other things, but using the new lens felt comfortable and I felt instantly confident in my decision to only take it to this show.
The following week was a new moon and the landscape photographer in me decided to get out of the Las Vegas valley and lights and try to capture the Milky Way. I was packing my gear and decided to take the Sigma 18-35mm with me along with my Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 and my Russian 16mm f/2.8 lenses on my Canon 60D body with battery grip. Originally I had planned on going to Bonnie Springs (just outside of Las Vegas by Redrock Canyon), but when I got there and set up to shoot the Milky Way with a Joshua tree in the foreground, I noticed that there was still some serious light pollution coming from the valley casting onto the surrounding mountains. I packed up my gear and headed South to Sandy Valley road, near Pahrump, Nevada and scouted for a location to shoot. I chose the Sigma 18-35mm lens and was amazed at what settings I was able to use for the Milky Way. I was taking advantage of the f/1.8 aperture and able to capture what I wanted using a 10 second exposure at ISO-1600! This was amazing as it helped me to keep the noise down to a very controllable level and allowed me more time throughout the evening to capture my subject! Note: I do not use the built in “noise reduction” setting in the camera and usually deal with noise using Nik dFine or Topaz DeNoise along with settings in Adobe Lightroom. One quick observation that I noticed is that the sky did not look distorted as many image I have seen tend to do. The reason, I think, is the fact that this lens is not a fisheye. Many of my night sky photographer friends, especially in Alaska, use the Tokina 11-16mm or the Sigma 10-20mm lens for Aurora shots, but to me, the resulting images always look too distorted (for the record, I own the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 and rarely carry it in my bag; although it is a great lens, it is just not my style).
My most recent opportunity to use my new Sigma 18-35mm lens came on Sunday night for the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. I did enough research to lean that the originating point of the shower would be in the Northeast sky, so I headed a few hours North to Cathedral Gorge State Park. The weather there is quite different than that of Las Vegas due to the higher elevation and when I first got out of the car it seemed cloudy. Then I realized the “clouds” were actually the Milky Way and the entire arc from North to South was visible from this location! I set up two cameras: my Canon 7D with the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 lens facing south with the Milky Way (and no foreground other than the horizon) and my Canon 60D with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens facing North-Northeast with a formation from Cathedral Gorge in the foreground that I lit using my Android-based phone and an app called “Color Flashlight“. For the exposures in capturing meteors, my settings with the Canon 7D and the Sigma 17-70mm lens were: ISO-6400, 17mm, f/2.8, 22sec. and for the Canon 60D with the Sigma 18-35mm lens were: ISO-2000, 18mm, f/1.8, 25sec. which would allow me more time for magic to happen: a meteor to streak across the sky in my frame. I saw quite a few meteors and was lucky enough to get a few on “film”.
So far this lens has met and exceeded my expectations and I look forward to many more photo adventures with it not only in my bag, but mounted to my camera. If I could change anything about this lens, it would only be the direction of zoom on the barrel. As a manufacturer of lenses for multiple brands, it would be nice to keep the zoom/focus the same as the brand the mount is for to keep consistency. This comes in to play when shooting video especially, and I cannot wait to capture some through this lens!