photography workshops for 2014 & 2015

The group photography workshops are full-day events – and are a mixture of seminar presentation and practical shooting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ. There is free parking, and it is easily reached from the main highways in the area. There is also regular bus transport from NYC. (We can fetch you from the bus terminal.)

The fee for the full-day workshop is $600 and the workshop is from 9am to 8pm. Lunch and refreshments are included!

The workshops are now limited to 6 people – and working within my own studio with more equipment readily at hand, gave the workshop a relaxed tempo. The material is always streamlined a little bit more, from workshop to workshop.

More info about the photography workshops.

There will be one last workshop in 2014, which will take place this coming weekend

  • Oct 26, 2014  (Sunday)

The three workshops for 2015 will take place on:

  • May 17, 2015  (Sunday)
  • July 19, 2015  (Sunday)
  • Sept 20, 2015  (Sunday)

Book a spot at one of the workshops.  Each class will be limited to 6 people.

If you would like an individual workshop, or a personal tutoring session, those are available as well throughout the year, depending on both of our schedules. The studio is only 17 miles from Manhattan. Just a short hop from New York and quite accessible by bus. Oh, and there’s parking at the studio. Free parking.

If you are limited in how far you can travel, there are Skype sessions and also video tutorials to help you get a much better understanding of photography and lighting techniques.

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5 Day Deal – huge savings on photography tutorials & workflow material

Starting today, Oct 16th and ending on Oct 20th – yes, 5 days! – there is a special deal on a bundle of photography related material. Video tutorials and ebooks. Info on digital workflow. Photoshop plugins. Textures. And so on. A mixed bag of all kinds of interesting goodies.

More than 20 contributors by renowned instructors, offering more than 40 products.

A huge bundle, available for only $89

Think about it this way: For example, Zach Arias’ video tutorial One Light 2.0 is usually available for $75. Now chip in a few dollars more, and you have MUCH more. Similarly, there is material by Lindsay Adler, Trey Ratcliff, Joel Grimes, David duChemin and a host of other photographers. Same reasoning why $89 is incredible value.

Have a look at what is available ….

Leaderboard – 728 x 90

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comparing power: studio lights vs. speedlites / speed lights

Speedlights pack a huge amount of light for the size. Very portable, and loaded with sophisticated features, owning a speedlight is a must. A simple choice.

Studio lights and the larger portable flashes such as the Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor), offer a lot more power than speedlights. Exactly how much more powerful isn’t all that easy to find out. There’s very little available as direct comparison. Even the specs aren’t directly comparable. Speedlights’ power is given as a Guide Number (GN), and studio lights’ power is usually given in Watt-seconds. Not an obvious translation between the two of them.

The Profoto B1 500 W/s battery powered flash (vendor) is quite powerful, offering 500 W/s as a maximum. It also features TTL capability, and can be wirelessly controlled. All this gives the B1 a flexibility approaching that of speedlights. The question then inevitably comes up just how much stronger the Profoto B1 is than a speedlight. In other words, how many speedlights would you have to gang up to match 500W/s of studio light output?

This is then what we’re going to look at here – how do studio lights compare to speedlights / speedlites in terms of output.

I had a model, Melanie in the studio, to do a series of test photos. I used a Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) vs a Profoto D1 Air 500 W/s studio light (vendor). The studio-bound D1 is similar to the portable B1, aside from not running off a battery. It also has a typical power rating of this kind of studio light. Also keep in mind that the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight (vendor) has the same output as the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite (vendor)

1.) direct flash

Comparing the Nikon SB910 set to 50mm zoom, and 1/1 manual output … vs the Profoto D1 at full output.

I had both flashes at 10 ft away from Melanie, who stood a few feet from the studio wall. The speedlight offered a surprisingly small aperture value for that central spot. About 1 stop under the much more powerful D1 / B1. Yet we can clearly see just how wide the Profoto D1 throws its light. So there is obviously a lot more light coming from the Profoto head than just what would give correct exposure for a small central area.

Notice that the shadow behind Melanie is less pronounced with the Profoto D1 head, because of the amount of light being bounced around the place.

As an aside: the exposure values for the SB-910 very closely matches what we’d expect from the guide number. Check this tutorial on how to use the guide number of your flash.

The next step would be then to use a light modifier for both flashes, and see where we end up.


2.) with a flash modifier

Adding the huge Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (vendor), equalized the comparison between the studio light and the more compact speedlight.

This light modifier is massive and would spread the light quite widely. (Here is the review of the Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella.) I added the inset photo to show ow the light spread in the umbrella. This didn’t appear to have an obvious effect on how the light spread.

Both flashes spread the light quite evenly with the parabolic umbrella. But now we get a better sense of the actual output of the respective flashes. The 500 Ws juice from the Profoto D1 gave us nearly 3 stops difference in output. Actually closer to 2.7 stops judging by the light-meter and the photos.

This means that to get the same exposure (with the same light modifier), we’d have to gang up around 6-8 speedlights to match 500W/s.



This might seem like an unequal comparison, but a speedlight will most likely always be your best option for portable lighting. Small and powerful. A top-of-the-line speedlight is very sophisticated, with TTL capability and high-speed flash sync. Every photographer should own a few.

For sheer brute power though, it can’t match a studio-type light. And this is where the Profoto B1 battery powered flash (vendor) shines. True wireless control and with TTL capability, it becomes very easy to use and set up on location.

This also takes us in an interesting direction. It is quite often mentioned that portable studio lights such as the Profoto B1 are quite expensive. But if you break it down into a comparable number of speedlights and wireless transmitters (and possibly battery packs), then the all-speedlight option becomes quite expensive. An interesting consideration.


related articles


a little bit of homework

  • Why would a 3-stop difference in output equate to having to use 8 speedlights to match the studio light?
  • Adding up all the accessories you’d need with multiple speedlights (and wireless triggers and battery packs) and a clamp to hold multiple speedlights – how would this compare price-wise to a single Profoto B1 ? (And yes we all have a few speedlights already anyway, it does help equal out the final figures.)

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I write about how I make portraits here on the blog all the time but I wanted to remind you that I also did a class on studio portrait lighting for My approach to the class is a bit eccentric but filled with step by step learning. We play with lights. We play with cameras. We pose and interact with Victoria. And the cool thing about the Craftsy classes is that if you pay once you can come back to the class again and again. No limits. The format is also interactive so you can post questions and I answer them as quick as I can. 

A lot of the class is done with hot lights and some LEDs along with studio flash. Back then I was shooting with a Sony a99 but the information is transferrable across all camera types. I'd love to have more of my VSL readers give the class a spin. If it's not your cup of tea Craftsy has a great money back guarantee. You're not really taking much of a chance. When you get snowed in you know you'll want something fun and photographic to watch.....

Besides, how often do you get a chance to see me look nervous live?

Every once in a while the scheduling demons conspire to make life difficult. A classic case is the one I'll deal with tomorrow. I am working with one of my favorite assistants and I'm not making many brownie points with her by asking that she be at the studio door at 5:45 in the morning. I hate getting up that early but here's the way it all turned out. I have one client who booked me to shoot portraits of a board of directors in Johnson City, Texas. They wanted to get the photographic work done before the board goes into their session at 9:30 am. 

We're shooting at a remote location and just to make it challenging we're doing seven environmental portraits outside, starting at 7:45 am. We'll photograph each person outside and then lead them into the interior location where we'll also shoot their conventional portraits against gray seamless paper.
Sunrise is at 7:31 so 7:45 is pretty much a start time mandated by nature....

When we get to the location Amy and I will set up the background and Elinchrom moonlights in our interior location, test and measure everything and then head outside to find an appropriate location close by for the environmental stuff. We'll be using three lights and several reflector panels for the interior shots and we'll use two heads plugged into the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system for the exterior location. The two heads will have diffused beauty dishes on them. I like to use big beauty dishes outside because they are less effected by winds.

The interior set up will require five light stands and a set of background stands. The location gets its own tripod and camera so we don't make mistakes by trying to constantly adjust one camera between the two locations (which will have totally different exposure and color balance parameters). Much easier and safer to just bring along two tripods and two camera systems, set them for their dedicated environments and be done with it. 

The exterior location requires three heavy duty light stands, a Chimera panel with subtractive (black) surface and three big sandbags. I never want to set up a stand in an exterior location without firmly anchoring it to the ground. I would rather have gravity as an ally instead of a foe. Go sandbags!

We'll be going back and forth from one set up to the other for each board member. We staged it this way so that each person could come at their appointed time and not have to wait for me or wait between the interior and exterior sets. 

Once we finish with our last individual portraits we'll have five or ten minutes to reset for a group shot of all seven people in an exterior location. At that point we release the clients back into the wild and start high speed re-packing maneuvers, break everything down and get it back into the Honda CRV in some semblance of order.  Essentially we'll have produced two shoots in the space of about two hours in Johnson City. I hope we are as efficient as I think we can be....  Because.....

We hope into the car and rocket back up through Austin and on to Round Rock, Texas. Our goal is to be at the next client's location by 11:15am or 11:30 at the latest. Once we're there we'll load in and set up a totally different feeling light set up with a long roll of white seamless paper and several big light blockers. Once this is set up and tested we'll send a test image to an art director in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area who will lead me through any aesthetic or technical changes we need to make to the lighting design. 

After we get approval we'll spend the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday making portraits of 96 people. Then we pack down again and head back to Austin to unload in the studio and start creating web galleries for each of our clients. 

So, how do I keep organized for essentially three different lighting set ups on three different locations? I actually sit down with a piece of paper for each shoot and sketch out the basic lighting diagram I'll be using. It's a lot like the lighting diagrams that we've done for my lighting books but with more details. In fact I try to draw everything I think I'll be using. This helps jog my memory about clamps, connectors, baby light stands and other stuff. Once I've done my diagram I picture myself setting up each piece in the diagram. If I'm setting up a background I need to remember the stands and crossbar but also some clamps to keep the paper from unraveling. I might also need white tape to tape the leading edge of the background to the floor. 

When I envision myself setting up a background light I envision the small stand, the actual light, which reflector I need for the spot grid I'll be using and even the cord, junction box and extension I'll need. When I look at the quick line drawing of the subject it reminds me to bring clothespins to pin baggy outfits and a make up case to kill some shine.

In case of exterior diagrams seeing the "picture" in advance reminds me to bring along the light stand with the one adjustable leg so I can get the stand straight on sloping ground. I am also reminded to bring along a flash light since a good part of our set up will be outside before sunrise...

The diagrams help. On the other side of each sheet of paper I do a check list of gear and I check it off as I pile the gear near the door. Believe me, it helps. I can remember everything I need for one set up but three or four set-ups with different lights and different cameras is a whole different animal. 

One thing I'm trying out today is putting tags on each stand bag with an inventory of what is in each of the stand bags and rolling stand cases. That way Amy can find stuff quicker and repack in a way that will help us on the next location. Am I overthinking all this? Well, I'd say if you've ever found yourself on a remote location unable to shoot because you over looked one small and inexpensive (but critical) item you'd know my answer. 

Diagramming your shots also helps you to focus on what you're trying to get from each one. There's nothing worse than showing up and winging a shoot only to discover after the fact that your impromptu genius doesn't stand up to the more leisurely scrutiny of post production. And there's no way to fix most stuff after the fact no matter how good you fancy yourself to be in PhotoShop. 

Now we'll see if we can get all this stuff into the vehicle...

A small by-law of Murphy's Law: If you don't bring a posing stool the place you end up will only have bulky, high backed leather chairs which will be no damn good for making portraits.

After these two shoots I'll get back to work on the sequel to The Lisbon Portfolio. 

progression of an idea in a photo session – cosplayer, Ger Tysk

For me, there’s always some anxiety before a photo session – especially when you have the opportunity to photograph someone quite unusual and photogenic like Ger Tysk, a cosplayer. (She also creates cosplay outfits for others, and has published a book on Cosplay.) Her latest outfit is Black Widow (from Marvel.) Now, the stressful part before a photo session like this, is that there is the pressure of having a great opportunity, and then having to create a photo series that is worthy of the moment. Even if you don’t quite reach the peak of the Epic scale, you still want to have photos that look inspired and interesting. You know, something worthy of the effort and time and opportunity.

I can pretty much guarantee you now that when you see an interesting or striking photograph that someone created (as opposed to a pure  photojournalistic moment), it’s usually not success on a first try. Very often there is a series of images and attempts before an idea comes together.

I was armed with some serious gear – Nikon D810 (vendor) and Profoto B1 portable studio light (vendor). So really, if there is any limitation here, it would be myself. Everything was in place – a supremely photogenic subject, an interesting location a friend showed me, as well as some serious gear. Now it is up to me, as the photographer to pull something out of this mix that looks stunning. And that is where the pressure comes in. Time to look around, explore ideas and figure something out.

I’m quite proud of the final photograph from this part of the location, but it didn’t just immediately come together. There was a thought-process and various attempts and dead-ends before it looked like yes! this is it!

So I want to step you through parts of this photo session to show how fell into place.

Three of the various test shots:
– The first was shot deeper inside this vacant place. Exposing for the outside left the interior too dark.
– Moving closer to the doorway and using the available light, looked too bland. Not that exceptional. I still didn’t *use* the location.
– In using some of the (cosmic) graffiti, it still was about the graffiti. Nothing really happening there.

In the photo below, adding off-camera flash to add more dynamic light, didn’t improve things either.

So I went back to the doorway.

Now it started to look more interesting, but the graffiti was still too distracting.

Going for a lower viewpoint with the zoom set to 24mm, made the composition more simple and more dynamic. And there we have one of the images I was happy with, as shown at the top. Eye-catching!


camera settings

1/250 @ f/3.5 @ 100 ISO … manual off-camera flash.

One thing that should immediately jump out is that the aperture was quite wide. Unusual for a bright day outside, especially when it is obvious that I exposed for the sky, and used flash to expose correctly for Ger Tysk.

The obvious way of doing this is to use a neutral density (ND) filter. In this case, I used the B+W 3-stop ND Filter (vendor). This dropped the ambient light and flash by 3 stops, and gave me much more shallow depth-of-field. It defocused the background just enough to help pull attention to our subject.

I used the Profoto B1 battery powered flash (vendor) in a Profoto RFi 1’×3′ softbox (vendor). I find this narrow stripbox invaluable on location when shooting single subjects or couples. It is easy to carry around, but slender enough to put in a car’s trunk or carry through doorways and windows.

I set the Profoto B1 to maximum output for this series, to work with the flash at this distance.

I had to change the monopod I use because of the Profoto being heavier than a speedlight. I wanted my assistant to be able to just hold the monopod upright, without having to continually hoist it up high. Less fatiguing for them, and it also gives me more consistent light from shot to shot without the light wavering around a bit.  The tallest monopod I could find, was the 75″ tall Gitzo GM3551 monopod (vendor). Tall enough to have the light at a proper height, and being a monopod, simple enough to carry around.

And that, kids, is how I met your … how it all came together for this part of the photo session.


photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session


related articles

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This is Dr. Cunningham, oral surgeon and world class rodeo rider. We did an ad campaign for one of Austin's premier oral surgery practices two years ago and he was one of our twelve individual subjects. The whole idea for the marketing campaign was to give a personal face to the doctors in the practice. Each doctor was photographed in a way that told a short story about his "other" life.

Ben and I loaded up the old Honda Element and drove out to a ranch to make the image above. We used a large, battery powered flash (Profoto) firing into a large soft box. It was a windy day so we anchored the light and modifier with two 30 pound sand bags as well as with the weight of the flash battery/generator. Sand bags are wonderful but often overlooked accessories. It's rare for them to become obsolete....

We used the soft box as close was we could to the subjects so the fall off would be quicker toward the back of the frame in shadow. Our only challenge, beyond anchoring the large soft box, was to position the horse correctly. Once we got everyone in the right place we shot twenty shots or so shots and headed back towards town.

Multiple Fresnel Continuous Lights.

I was thinking about lighting this morning because I was playing around with some flash in the studio and then I switched over to HMIs. But I wasn't just playing around because I was bored I was playing around because on Monday and Tuesday of next week I'll be making stylized portraits of about 96 people. The art director at the agency I'm working with has a very specific post production technique she'd like to use and I wanted to make sure we would be delivering exactly what she needed to make it all work. 

I talked the project over with the account manager and she sent me along to the production specialist who would be doing the actual post production on the files. This is always good. When you go to the source you get the best information and it's the kind of information you can really use. 

The entire conversation was about light. We talked specifically about the backgrounds and we talked about getting very little variation in the white seamless we'd be using. The specialist wanted the exposure on the white to "just tip over" into 255 but not be so bright as to throw bounced light forward onto the subject. Why? We are trying to hit a perfect level of deep, contrasty shadowing along with bright areas of flesh tone. It's pretty critical to the look we're trying to achieve. 

We're going to end up doing the shoot with four lights in silver umbrellas with black backing on the background. We'll flag those lights with black, 4x4 foot panels to kill lens flare which would lower the contrast. While we're at it we'll "fly" a black flag over each subject's head for the same reason. 

We played around in the studio with a number of versions of the main light but ended up with the 28 inch raw beauty dish at a specific angle. We'll use a two stop net to modify the bottom of the light so it falls off a bit quicker from the subjects' faces. We'll also use two black 2x3 foot flags to barn door the beauty dish so we don't have a lot of spill to the side walls in the shooting space. That helps us control contrast as well. You really only want the light to go exactly where you intend it to go! Anything else is just not cool. 

I shot a bunch of samples, zipped them and e-mailed them to my collaborator in Dallas. We talked through the look and feel on the phone and he gave me his feedback (which was good and good). 

I was about to say, "What was missing from this very serious discussion with a very important client?" I was about to say, "Any discussion whatsoever about cameras or lenses or gear brands of anything." But that's not 100% true. There was no discussion of lenses at all. But the specialist did ask me what type of camera I was planning on using. I told him he had his choice between Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic or Samsung but that's not what he was getting at. He didn't particularly care which camera we used but we'd need to send him the raw files for the kind of post production he has planned and wanted to make sure that whatever camera we used was represented in the raw converters in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Seems someone had handed him some Phase One files that he couldn't convert in his usual programs. No one wants to stop, buy a new piece of software and learn to use it well in the middle of a project.

Once we discussed the fact that all the cameras I'd consider using have been mainstreamed into the Adobe workflows many months or years ago all discussion of cameras immediately stopped and we moved back to important considerations like the look, feel and posing of the images. You know, the stuff that makes a difference to the audience. 

What do professionals colleagues talk about when they discuss most upcoming photo shoots? Just about everything but cameras. And that's just the way it should be.

I've been playing with the 5600K Lighting Evo kit (two cool, HMI fixtures and accessories) for over a month now and having a blast. Continuous daylight capable lights are the sweet spot I enjoy most because they enhance the advantages of the "always on" live view of EVF enabled cameras and, well, the light just looks so good. I'd been putting off sending them back to the folks who own em because once you've had great light it's hard to go back to good light. I wrote about them here but I made a big mistake. I put the price tag of the kit, with two fixtures, two electronic ballasts, a bunch of modifying lenses and a case at about $6,000. I got my numbers wrong. The actual price of the kit is a little under $4,000. Seems much more reachable to me. While they are not cheap they are pretty darn incredible and put out quite a bit more lumens than the higher end LED panels along with the benefit of being able to supply a never ending stream of sharp, hard light when you need it. 

So, there's my correction. Not $6,000 but under $4,000. Look for an article about a full on shoot with the lights coming soon. Including behind the scenes set up images. Too much fun. And, if you shoot video for a living these puppies will make your knees weak....

full-frame vs crop-sensor comparison :  depth-of-field & perspective

When the differences between full-frame and crop-sensor cameras are discussed, there is an inevitable question about whether the crop sensor multiplies the focal length. Whether a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor acts like a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor) or 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor).

The answers given on the photography forums are confusing – yes, the focal length effectively increases. No, it doesn’t. Two polar opposite answers. The discussion (which tend to devolve into arguments) are convincingly made for both sides. The reason is because the topic is a complex one … and therefore the answer is (kinda) complex too.

One argument goes along the lines that the crop sensor is just that, a crop. An enlargement. That nothing changes – you just get less of the scene. And that there is no “equivalent focal length” when you go to a crop sensor camera. But what really happens is more complex than that.

With this article, I want to help analyze what happens when you change lenses between a full-frame camera and a crop-sensor camera. And we’ll analyze whether there is actually an equivalency between certain focal lengths, when using a crop-sensor camera. In other words, whether your 50mm lens becomes “equivalent to” a 75mm or 80mm lens when used on a crop-sensor camera.

Since this article ended up being a long meandering discussion, I thought it best that we start with the final summary. Just to save the impatient people some work.


Yes, a 50mm lens does indeed behave like an equivalent focal length of a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor), or an 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor) … however, the depth-of-field increases by about a stop.

Yes, a 100mm lens on a crop-sensor camera will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens (on a full-frame camera), if you don’t change position … however, the DoF increases. (i.e., less shallow DoF)

But let’s discuss this with some images:

notes on depth-of-field / DoF

Before we can go much further, we need to recap on Depth-of-Field

  • shallow depth of field is NOT the same as bokeh.
    The image above certainly has nice, smooth bokeh. But it also has shallow-depth-of-field. Two things which seemingly are the same, but aren’t. So on that note, if you are one of those who say things like “give it some bokeh”, then you need to stop. It is meaningless.
  • You can not “zoom with your feet”, because if you change your position, your perspective changes.
    With a zoom, the perspective does not change – you are merely enlarging the image. This distinction becomes an important point. If you put a 100mm lens on a full-frame body, and a 100mm lens on a crop body, and you want the same size for your subject in the frame, then you are going to have to move much further back to get the same image size with the crop sensor camera. And then your perspective has changed. And yes, then it will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens on a full-frame body when shooting at that new further distance.
  • A tutorial on Depth-of-Field 
    Our friends at Cambridge In Color have written one of the clearest explanations on DoF that I’ve ever read. Spend some time there. The concept of “circles of confusion” is an important one. It is on this that everything that you need to know about DoF, hinges upon. An important note there – DoF is defined via circles of confusion, which is specified for a certain print size, at specific distance.
  • The way that DoF is defined (via circles of confusion), means that viewing distance, and the size of the final image, affects how DoF is perceived. This then implies if you are comparing a 12 megapixel image and a 36 megapixel image, then you can’t judge the DoF of the image at 100% resolution. You are better off going to “full screen” on both those images, and comparing at an equal size. You have to “equalize” this for comparison, because if you view a 36 megapixel image at 100%, the DoF will seemingly be shallower than a sensor with lesser resolution.
  • DoF changes incrementally.  In other words, the only point at which something is most definitely *in* focus, is the actual plane of focus. From there it is an incremental change in sharpness to the foreground and background. If you are using a small aperture, then the change isn’t gradual.


figuring out a reasonable comparison method:

To take this tutorial away from the armchair to an actual shoot with comparison examples, the ideal would’ve been to have a full-frame camera that has exactly the same resolution as the crop-sensor camera. Just to keep things simple. And I’d have to have two lenses which are exact 1.5x versions of each other. For example 50mm and 75mm. Or 100mm and 150mm. Just to keep things even.

This doesn’t exist (that I know of), I tried a few ways of reasonably comparing the full-frame sensor and crop-sensor effect.

Then I had this brainwave – I could use these two Nikon lenses:
Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens (vendor) on a full-frame camera,
Nikon 58mm f/1.4 lens (vendor) on a 1.4x crop sensor.
The 58mm focal length effectively acts like an 87mm lens on a 1.5x crop sensor camera. Close enough!

One obstacle here is that the two lenses display different optical qualities. For example, a harsh bokeh might make the background look sharper or crisper than a lens with smooth bokeh. And this might affect our perception of the DoF!

Then, if I use the 85mm lens on the Nikon D4 (vendor) which has 16,16 megapixels,
and the 58mm lens on the Nikon D810 (vendor) in crop mode  (15,36 megapixels),
then I have two cameras which give me very similar resolution.

Two things which are affected (or not) when switching a lens between a full-frame camera body and a crop-sensor body, are:
– angle of view, and
– depth-of-field.

And if you move your position, your perspective changes too. That makes a direct comparison difficult too.

I used these lenses and cameras in two different ways to visually try and explain:

  • 1. D810 at full-frame (FX) and then set to 1.5x crop (DX crop), which effectively enlarges the image, but at a huge reduction in resolution.
  • 2. Using a D4 (at 16 megapxiels), against a D810 (36 megapixels) at 1.5x crop, i.e., 15,36 megapixels, with “equivalent” lenses.

And then, finally, we’ll have a look at what a Depth-of-Field Calculator says, and whether this corroborates what we see.


1. full-frame vs 1.5x crop, using a single camera and “equivalent” lenses

Both these images were shot with the Nikon D810 (vendor), but with the two different lenses. I had the camera on a tripod, and didn’t move it at all. I just changed lenses, and the crop in the camera.

Click on the image to bring up larger versions.

On the left, the full-frame (36 megapixel) image with the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens.
On the right, the 1.5x crop image (15,4 megapixels) with the Nikon 58mm f/1.4 lens.

Both lenses were used at f/2.8

Notice how the FF image on the left has shallower depth-of-field in the background. The city appears more blurred than the image on the right.

Keep in mind that the 58mm lens’ bokeh might have had a slight effect here, if the lens’ bokeh itself is less smooth. However, the background does look sharper.

I did have to really reduce the 36 megapixel image on the left to bring it to the same size as the lower resolution image on the right.

Just to give you an idea, here is how the actual sizes would’ve compared, if I made this composite’s size the same as the height of the full-resolution image:

The different sizes here are largely not relevant. Remember, the circles of confusion is defined for a specific print size when viewed at a certain distance. So if we bring the two images to the same size, then we see the way the DoF actually appears in the photo.

Now, if this does not seem all that convincing since we had to play with the image size, let’s look at how the DoF appears when used with two cameras with similar resolution:


2. full-frame camera vs 1.5x crop camera, using “equivalent” lenses

This is where I used two cameras with nearly the same resolution, and two lenses who were very nearly “equivalent” to each other for the sensor size.

Top image: the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens on the Nikon D4. The D4 has 16,2 megapixels.
Second image: the Nikon 58mm f/1.4 lens which gives an equivalent of 87mm on the Nikon D810 when it is set to 1.5x crop in the camera. The D810 then has 15,4 megapixels.

I wanted to use the cameras on a tripod, but the cameras are at different height, so this made the tripod very clumsy when I tried to match the exact framing and composition. In the end, I hand-held the cameras, and tried for compositions as close as I could. I tried to keep our model, Olive, the same size in the frame. So there is some difference to the images in that sense – the perspective is slightly different – yet, the DoF is noticeably shallower in the full-frame image.


Now, after all this, you may still not be entirely convinced that there is an “equivalency” in the focal lengths if you simply multiply the focal lengths by the crop factor. There were uncertainties perhaps in both the ways I set these comparisons. You might still wonder what happened to the argument that a crop sensor just gives you an “enlargement” of the full-frame image.

So let’s go back to the “armchair method”, and look at what a Depth-of-Field calculator says.


3. depth-of-field calculator

For these, I used the Simple DoF Calculator app on my iPhone. I like it. But there are others available too. In any case, you should have a DoF calculator on your phone. It just makes sense.

For the same focused distance, 12 ft, the crop-sensor (left) has more DoF than the FF camera (right), with an equivalent focal length.


Different focal length, same behavior. Shooting from the same spot, the full-frame camera gives us less DoF than the crop sensor, for an “equivalent” focal length.


Going slightly wider than a stop, we get about the same DoF now, for the same subject distance.

This is an exercise that you can play with on your own, using DoF tables, or a DoF calculator.

It works this way every time – the full-frame camera gives us shallower DoF, for the same field of view, than the crop-sensor camera does.


final summary

We bring it right back to where we started:

  • Yes, a 50mm lens does indeed behaves like an equivalent focal length of a 75mm lens (on a 1.5x crop sensor), or an 80mm lens (on a 1.6x crop sensor) … but, the depth-of-field increases by about a stop.
  • Yes, a 100mm lens will give you the same perspective as a 150mm / 160mm lens, if you don’t change position … but, the DoF increases. (i.e., less shallow DoF)

So, yes, a 50mm does (kinda) act like a 75mm / 80mm when used on a crop-sensor camera. The focal length is effectively increased on a crop-sensor camera. But at the loss of the shallow DoF that a larger sensor gives you.

How important that change in depth-of-field is to you, is something you need to decide for yourself. For me, I like that extra control that shallow DoF gives me in creating a specific look to photographs. While the change in DoF might seem incremental when compared in a final image, it is an element that I do want to be available to me – the shallower depth-of-field that full-frame cameras allow.


related links


a little bit of homework

Let’s change it around now. What would the effect be on:
– the field of view
– the composition of your image
– the depth-of-field
if you used the same lens on a FF camera and a crop-sensor camera, but you moved your position to keep your subject the same size in your viewfinder?

The post full-frame vs crop-sensor comparison : depth-of-field & perspective appeared first on Tangents.

I have the world's least efficient hobby. I like to take photographs of people and of things I find interesting, cool, funny, beautiful, bittersweet, bizarre, sensual, or even nostalgic. I practice my hobby by  choosing a camera and a lens and then driving or walking to an area that I think holds the promise or potential of providing any subset of these thing. Then I walk around all day long just casually looking. Sometimes I'll go to San Antonio and walk around the downtown area from early morning on a Saturday until sundown. Sometimes I feel like I'm coming home with little treasures captured in my camera and other times I'll be frustrated and feel as though I'm wasting my time.

As cities become more and more homogenized there are fewer interesting anomalies to look at and enjoy. When I come home empty handed I start to feel as though I should have worked on something commercial. Instead of roaming around in old clothes and tennis shoes with a jewel like camera in my hands I should be concocting some sort of marketing piece or spend a warm and viscous afternoon calling clients and potential clients on the phone, trying to set up an appointment to show them other commercial work that I've done. 

If it's been a particularly fallow trip I consider that I may as well get a real job and spend eight hours a day in a building somewhere with canned air, sitting behind an industrial desk, working on templated software, getting up every once in a while to fetch and drink a diet Coke, all the while feeling the back of my eyes burning from the almost undetectable flicker of the sixty cycle fluorescent lights. Occasionally heading down the hall to ask Doreen in accounting if we can budget money to do something meaningless and mundane. I try to weigh the advantages of working for someone else and I always imagine that it would be in some company whose offices are in North Austin. I also imagine that the hours will be strictly enforced. I'll be on the Mopac Expressway in my little car sitting motionless or near motionless for forty-five minutes to an hour. In each direction. I'll listen to the same stories (at least they seem like the same stories) over and over again on NPR. Or I'll listen to the worshipful gun nuts on one of the other stations talk about which automatic weapon Jesus would have owned and how vaccines are turning us all into communist leeches.

But some days I go out into a city with my camera in my hand and twenty dollars in my pocket and everything is fun. Fun and strange images and juxtapositions erupt merrily with every few steps. I meet people who are a bit insane and generally far more interesting than most people you will ever meet in the sort of antiseptic, middle class existence that we create in the hopes that our isolation will ensure our personal safety. Is that scruffy guy with the old digital Rebel the next Robert Frank? Is the woman behind the counter of the donut shop really engaged in selling donuts or is she an actor playing the part of a woman selling donuts?

I'll bet I walked fifteen miles the last time I was in San Antonio pursuing my lonely hobby. I must have looked at more street level windows and doors than I could keep count of. I drank coffee at the Apache dinner but it wasn't very good. I found a Starbucks and the coffee was much better. Old men stopped to ask me if my camera was digital. Young people avoided me so I couldn't get a toehold and start off on a never ending story like their uncles or their parents. 

My uniform was inconsistent. I could see that in the eyes of the policemen I walked past. The shorts were a green that was becoming so washed out that they are starting to look tan. I've lost weight and the shorts are just a bit too baggy. I was wearing ankle high, white sports socks. The nondescript gray pullover shirt was vague but it came from Barney's. And my new walking shoes were totally out of the consistent uniform pattern. They were a brand called Ahnu and they cost $125.

The camera of the day was something equally vague. A mid level Nikon digital or an early mirror less. My watch was a $15 Casio that is more accurate than my $1200 Fortis which sits on my night table running down, automatically.

In days past a camera was an invitation to learn more and lean in. To strangers it was a fun momentary connection. Some were happy to have been considered interesting while some just acquiesced for no real reason other than it was the stream of least resistance. In days past having a camera pointed at a person tended to validate their own idea of their own image. If you pointed it at a woman she may have assumed that you were validating her beauty. If you pointed it at a person in a military uniform it validated the idea that you appreciated their service. The bottom line was that having a camera pointed at a person made them realize that they were interesting. At least to one person and at least right now, at that moment. 

Now the world is different. The mood has changed and the innocence of creating images just for the sake of creation is gone. It's been replaced by suspicion and the idea that photographers are participating in a mercantile skim in which the images, stolen from the subject, becomes so much irretrievable raw material for a giant stock photography site where everyone is getting rich but the subject. Now they want to be cut into the deal. Photograph someone of the other gender and you are suspected of devious intentions. Photograph a person in uniform and you are a de facto terrorist.

And in spite of everything I've said I still love it. I love the vagaries and uncertainty of just walking and looking. I love the challenge of winning over people to my fleeting and mostly ephemeral cause. I like the feeling of driving back up the highway with a card full of latent images just waiting their turn to promenade across my monitor and remind me of how the air smelled and how the heat played across my skin in the afternoon. I love to sift through the images of random people and piece together my fictional version of their story just from the images and from the bits and pieces we shared in our brief and shallow encounters. 

And I am reminded that, in a sense, the real value of walking around the streets with a camera is the hard-to-describe but authentic and joyous immersion in actual, real life. Not a life of trading time for money or trading blunted curiosity for safety. In some sense the walk through other people's lives is a never ending search for some sense of universal belonging and understanding that I can interpret and weave into my own existence. The images are tiny, encapsulated visual novels. I can read and re-read them into my memory at any time. And every time I engage them their story seems to change. And I know that I've changed and even though I'm looking straight ahead at the same images I know I'm looking through them at a different angle. 

There are two different sets of kids who perform in "The King and I" at Zach Theatre. They alternate during the week so that no child misses too much school, homework and sleep. The marketing folks at the theater asked me if I'd come back and do a second set of images for the kids. My goal yesterday evening was to shoot as many images of the kids as I could instead of shooting the big, dramatic, adult actor moments. 

I met Belinda for dinner and we both went. I wasn't settled on which camera system I'd end up using so I brought along a couple. We'd be seated on a "walk-through" row, middle of the house in both axis. That meant an aisle in front of us and more elevated seating behind us. Still, I'd be shooting during an actual performance with a full, paying audience, so my choice of camera system was a bit more important than it would have been on a dress rehearsal night.

Originally I wanted to shoot with the Nikon D7100. On paper the 7100 has the best high ISO performance of my current cameras and I also wanted to use the CX crop mode (1.3 crop gets the camera to about an m4:3 sensor size with 15 megapixels and a commensurately smaller raw file size. Belinda and I got into the theater early to do a little sonic testing. Even in its quiet mode the D7100 was much too loud. I even tried swaddling it in neoprene but that wasn't enough to squelch the shutter and mirror noise. Back in the bag it goes. Pity since the 85mm lens with the CX crop would have given me the equivalent of a 170mm f1.8...

Next up was the Samsung NX30. I figured that it has an electronic shutter setting and if it works as the Panasonic e-shutter works it should be silent. Well, turns out the first "curtain" is electronic but there's still a loud capping noise somewhere in the process so that one headed back into the bag as well. I finally grabbed the Panasonic GH4 and put it into the silent mode----where it was absolutely silent. The only noise was my exhale as I gently squeezed the shutter button. 

I shot most of the show with the 35-100mm f2.8 and truth be told I could have used another 100mm of reach from time to time but there's always more that I'd like no matter which set up I'm shooting. 
For the dance scene above, with no kiddos on stage, I decided to try out the ancient Olympus Pen 60mm f1.5. in combination with the GH4's focus peaking (the lens is strictly manual in every sense!).

The EVF indicated exposure was perfect and, considering that I was being brave and using the lens wide open for the most part, the focus peaking was pretty darn good. Especially when one considers the lower light levels, the constant subject movement and scene contrast. The camera's focus peaking worked well and I was able to get satisfactory focusing on 95% of the frames attempted. 

I figure if you can shoot an ancient lens in manual, focus it manually and do manual exposure as well as a bit of white balance adjustment on the fly still and come away with decent images you are probably zeroed in on your technical game. It was fun to pull out and work with a classic optic. It was even more fun when the old lens is given an "assist" from a new camera.

added in the afternoon: I forgot to mention that the play was wonderful. Mel as "the King" was phenomenal while Jill Blackwood is always just perfect. Another treat for me were the huge backgrounds "outside" the palace windows. They absolutely glowed at "twilight." I'll go back a third time just so I can enjoy the whole spectacle without a camera pressed against my face.

Canon's ad agency bought a time machine and 
made a website from the 1980's. 

After a week of build up and a double truck ad in the New York Times all of the hoopla from Canon was for the introduction of a badly designed "interactive" website that tried to tell too many (poorly crafted) stories to too many disparate audiences. You can go and see it for yourself:

But be forewarned that the site took over a minute to load on my broadband connection.

And this on the heels of a lavishly produced but sparsely attended show here in Austin from their consumer printer division in which they showed maybe 100 framed and matted prints to an invited audience of maybe 35 people at the Austin Music Hall. They seemed desperate to fill the space even with complimentary alcohol and nice catering.

While I will make no judgement on the content or style of the images shown it was sad to hear that Canon printed all of the files themselves because the actual printing was the weak part of the show. That, and the fact that all the prints were printed in the same palette at the same exact size and format.

Homogenous. Flat. All printed on the same Lustre paper.  If these two incidents are examples of their advertising agency's best work it's high time they shopped around... maybe find some college kids in an apartment who haven't lost all of their mojo and still have some enthusiasm for stuff that's new and different.

I'm sure someone will suggest that I don't like Canon cameras and that's not the point here. The point is that maybe part of the problem in camera sales is that the damn ad agencies handling the accounts don't have a clue how to talk to photographers. That's a big hurdle. And I'm not just singling out Canon. At this point, if I was on the Canon internal marketing team, I'd just bag the traditional ad agencies and start crowdsourcing the creative. It couldn't be worse and it would be a hell of a lot cheaper.....

On a recent blog I wrote about using three cameras with various lenses on them to shoot in a style that used to be common in the days before pro level cameras became so expensive. A reader asked in a comment how I wore the cameras as I was shooting. The above image is from a math conference I did this Summer. Two of the cameras are GH3's and one of the cameras is a GH4. In the blog I talked about using all three cameras with prime lenses but two of the cameras above are fitted with zooms. I wouldn't want to be too consistent...

And I do owe an apology to reader, Aaron. I misread his comment about there being no difference in changing lenses to other focal lengths or zooming. I presumed we were talking about staying in one place and zooming versus changing positions and "zooming with one's feet." He is, of course, absolutely correct. Sorry about that!

I have been doing variations of the three camera shoot for about a year now and I find it a fun way to shoot. I'm down to two Panasonic cameras now so my "three camera" system is now only being practiced with the three Olympus EM5 bodies. This week I am experimenting with using the 3 Sigma DN Art lenses for m4:3 as my trio of glass. The 19mm, 30mm and 60mm. While the wide end is not very wide neither is my vision... I absolutely love the 60, and I love the smooth black lens barrels.

On a totally different note I showed up for jury duty yesterday fully expecting a painful three days in the service of democracy and the rule of law only to find out, from the judge, that both defendants in the cases copped a plea just before the empaneling which gave me back three uncluttered, unencumbered days. I spent this morning swimming, sipping a latte and eating warm chocolate croissants. This afternoon Studio Dog and I are going out for a run. Should be lovely. A nice gift from the scheduling universe.

To some a foot bridge abutment, to others a studio.

I've long kept a picture file of versatile nearby locations for photographing people. This foot bridge abutment on Columbia Road about two miles from my house is a great example, and it actually gets used a lot.

Above it's seen in normal daylight. But with the right light it offers so many different looks.
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