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What should I meter off with the in-camera light meter?

What (or where) should I meter when using my camera’s built-in meter? It’s a question that mystifies many photographers when they start out, and first realize you can’t just point your camera at the scene and hope for correct exposure. The incredible metering systems in modern cameras notwithstanding, it is essential to our growth as photographers to have a working grasp on metering techniques. Of course, an incident light-meter is always a great idea, but has become less necessary with digital photography when shooting outdoors. We can interpret our camera’s meter reading, or use the histogram … or (an outrageous idea to some), just look at the camera’s preview.

With mirrorless cameras you can set the camera to show the actual exposure that you’d get for your chosen settings. That works too … but I still feel like this is a shortcut that we can’t summarily rely on forever if we want to develop a deeper understanding of how to use our cameras wisely.

This photograph of Anelisa is an anchor image in the explanation of metering techniques as explained in my book, Direction & Quality of Light (Amazon). I want to use this and embroider a bit more on it, and taking a different route in this discussion on using the camera’s built-in meter.

This article was motivated by a few questions that subscribers to the Craftsy video tutorials posted on the Craftsy platform, asking specifically about metering techniques. While I diligently reply to all the questions there, this topic is wider than I can cover in a paragraph or two. Hence, this article where we explore the topic further.

However, before we get there, also take time to familiarize yourself with the Exposure metering tutorials, where the same topic is also discussed.



Direction & Quality Of Light

Direction & Quality of Light

I tried to distill the essence of what we, as photographers, work with – light! Before we can truly grasp on-camera flash and off-camera flash, and really, any kind of photography, we have to be aware of the direction and quality of light. We need to observe the light that we have, and then decide how best to use it, or enhance it.

With this book, I try my best to share those “aha!” moments with you, and I do believe this book can make a difference to your photography.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA or Amazon UK. The book will also available on the Apple iBook Store. Also check for the Amazon Kindle version.


Tonal placement and Exposure metering

We have discussed in previous articles how we can use the Histogram as an accurate method to see if our exposure metering is correct,

and as explained there, we can use the brightest relevant part of our subject (i.e., white areas) to determine if our exposure is correct.

The inevitable question then comes up – what if there isn’t anything white to meter off, or use via our histogram?

A possible solution is then offered with the question, can we meter off someone’s face? The answer is … we can, but we have to take into account how light or dark the skin tone is.

So let’s walk this back a bit and consider tonal placement. Whatever area we meter off – whether skin tones or any other area of our subject or scene, we have to keep in mind what tone it is – is it a middle tone (i.e., kinda “average”) or is it darker or lighter. We have to be able to place that tone in relation to an average tone – the classic “middle grey”.

The classic explanation of the Zone System revolves around the “scale” of tones from black to white and assigned each one a number, with ‘0’ (or oftentimes ‘1’) being almost pure black and ‘9’ or ’10’ being nearly completely white. Zone 5 is the middle tone, also known as middle-gray. Caucasian skin is placed at Zone 6. All these tones are 1 stop apart in the traditional application of it in B&W photography. We can’t quite do that with digital. Two stops up from a middle tone is pure white, and most likely blown out. We don’t quite have that latitude from the middle tone to the brightest tone. However, an understanding of the Zone System is fundamental to understanding exposure metering.

So while that tonal scale can’t be applied to digital in the same way we might have if we processed our own B&W images (from developing the film to printing the images), it does help us understand one thing – we have to be aware that there is a range of tones, and we have to place them accordingly.

With that, we can meter off an equivalent tone which is “average”. Or, if we meter off skin tone, we have to adjust our interpretation of our meter reading accordingly. For example, caucasian skin tone which is seen as Zone 6 (and one stop up from average), will be too bright if we metered off lighter skin and opened up by a stop. We might open up by just 2/3rd of a stop. A slight difference perhaps, but this is how we need to interpret our meter readings and the tones we meter off. Similarly, if you want to meter off a skin tone, you have to figure out relatively how dark the skin tone is from “average”. Then you adjust your exposure accordingly.

This explanation is triggered by a question asked by one of the students on the Craftsy platform:

Spot metering on the face or the lightest part of the subject or the whole scene or do it with matrix metering ?
The same for outdoor. Fill flash with -3 FEC but where to measure (the face, the dress) ?

So back to using the white area of our subject (e.g., clothing) as the tonal value we can most accurately place on our histogram:

With my camera in manual metered mode, I can then either,
– zoom in tight (which is what I normally do), and exclude EVERYTHING that isn’t the white dress; or
– use the camera’s spot-meter.

Then I place that tone on the edge of my histogram.

Let’s go back to the image at the top again, and go over this step-by-step again:


Exposure metering and the histogram

This photograph was taken using available light only. The wider shot below will show the scene – there are sunlit areas which are completely blowing out.  We can not let this influence my meter reading. We have to meter only for our subject.

If were to use a hand-held incident light meter, it would be very straight-forward – we simply meter the light falling on our subject. This would entirely disregard the brighter background. We would be metering only for the light falling on our subject. Dead simple.

Using the camera’s built-in meter, we have a few possible options:

A: We can meter off a tone that is equivalent to the middle tone – but most relevant tones here are relatively bright – her dress and her skin tone. But we might get to an “average tone” if we metered with our lens seeing only part of her skin tone, and partly her hair – thereby averaging out two tones. The one tone (skin) would be lighter than average, and the other, darker than average. So if we selectively metered, with a bit of each tone adding to the final evaluation of our exposure, we might get there. This is slightly laborious – there should be an easier way.

B: We can meter off her skin tone, and guess that it is about 2/3rd of a stop above “average”, and in Manual Exposure mode, open up our exposure a bit accordingly. A test shot or two should confirm if we are on track. However, in that kind of bright back-lighting it might be difficult to judge our exposure from the camera’s preview screen.

C: We can use the histogram, going by her white dress! Zooming in so that we only see her dress in th viewfinder, we can take our exposure reading up by (about) 1.7 stops from average. Then with a test shot we can see if the histogram shows that the white tone is just short of the edge of the histogram.

Why +1.7 stops? This is what I’ve found to work for most Canon DSLRs. For Nikon it varies from 1.3 stops to 2 stops. This is something you have to find out for yourself – where your camera places a white tone on the histogram, if you take the exposure up from the meter reading being centered. i.e., we need to take the exposure up from where the metering reading being zero for white.

We can’t just zero our camera’s meter reading for white – that would turn the white into an “average” grey tone. We need to place that tonal value by adjusting our camera settings!



With this tutorial, I wanted to explain Tonal Placement, and how we converge some of the important concepts in Exposure Metering in a practical way. Easy to use on location!

If there is anything which isn’t clear, and needs clarity, please post your question.


Related articles


Recommended books

Exposure metering technique is a topic too complex to cover completely in a single blog post. Besides, the definitive introductory book on this is readily available: Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera. If you struggle with exposure metering, then I strongly suggest his book.

The post What should I meter off with the in-camera light meter? appeared first on Tangents.

Photo gear for sale

I have various pieces of photo gear (and other items) available that I am selling. Cameras, lenses, flashes and a bunch of random stuff that I need to clear out of the studio. Have a look around.

I’m only selling in the continental USA, and the shipping will be via UPS ground.




Profoto 36″ Octa softbox

This softbox is brand new, unused.

Profoto RFi 3′ Octa (B&H)

B&H price: $257
My price: $195   (including shipping via UPS ground to CONUS.)



Profoto RFi 2×3 softbox softgrid

Profoto 50 Degree Softgrid for 2.0 x 3.0′ RFi Softbox  (B&H)

B&H price: $129
My price: $85   (including shipping via USPS ground to CONUS.)



Profoto umbrellas

These umbrellas are like-new. Barely used.

Profoto Deep Silver L  +  Profoto Umbrella L Diffusor  (B&H)
B&H price: $266  + $92  =  $354
My price: $180 + $60  + $240   (shipping not included)

Profoto Deep Medium umbrella  (B&H)
B&H price: $213
My price: $165    (shipping not included)

Profoto Umbrella Shallow Translucent M  (B&H)
B&H price: $85
My price: $50    (shipping not included)

Re shipping: 
These items are long, so will cost a fair amount via UPS ground … so ideally, local pickup at my studio in northern NJ?


Sunbounce mini white / gold  3′ x 4′

Sunbounce mini bounce kit (white / gold) with shoulder bag  (B&H)

B&H price: $215
My price: $150  (shipping not included)

Re shipping: 
This item is long, so will cost a fair amount via UPS ground … so ideally, local pickup at my studio in northern NJ?




Lowel i-D light

You know how much I love using video lights, but now with me using the modeling light of the Profoto B1 as my video light, it is time to let this beastie go – the Lowel ID-light.

The light itself sells for $229 on B&H, and the accessories of course add to it – the big battery, the handle, and the barn doors set. You need all of that!


My price:  $230 (or best offer) for the set  + $25 to ship via UPS ground to CONUS.
If you want, then I can add this Lowepro bag with it for a total of $250.

But I am open to negotiation on this one.



Nikon D4 


I am selling one (perhaps both) of my workhorse Nikon D4 bodies.
This is for the D4 with serial number 2017505
It has 262,000 shots on the clock.
I just had this camera serviced and cleaned by NPS, so it is good to go.
You can see close-up shots of the camera at this link.
$1,950  (including shipping via UPS ground to CONUS)

If you want a second body, let me know … I am possibly selling my other D4 as well.



Yongnuo YN-622N-TX i-TTL Wireless Flash Controller for Nikon

I have two of these puppies for sale – both have seen use only once. So they are in really good condition. Hence, I didn’t even bother to take them out of the boxes for this. They look like new.

They sell for $45 each on B&H.  I would like $50 for the set, with an additional $10 for UPS ground. You really do want both because you have two cameras.



Pentax stereo adapter set (52mm)


A bit gimmicky, but I had fun with it when I still shot slide film. It lets you shoot stereo images on a 35mm area. It works best with slide film, but might be more of a collectible now. It is in superb condition.

$100 OBO  (incl shipping.)



 Canon EW-88 Lens Hood for 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM  (B&H)

B&H price is $60 …. I’d like $20



Novoflex adapter – Nikon to Canon EOS mount

Novoflex adapter – Nikon to Canon EOS mount  – $100
This adapts Nikon lens mount for Canon bodies.
It sells for $227 on Amazon.  I would like $80 for this.



Nikon 5th battery cover for SB-800

Nikon 5th battery cover for SB-800 – $10 for the envelope and shipping



Profoto charger 2-A

Profoto charger 2-A

I’d like $195 for this item, or best offer.



Pico table-top dolly kit

Pico table-top dolly kit

This sells for $99 on Amazon.  I would like $60 for it. It’s cute. It works.




Kirk BL-D3 Compact L-Bracket for Nikon D3 Series

Kirk BL-D3 Compact L-Bracket for Nikon D3 Series Camera Body  (B&H)
B&H price is $180 … I’d like $90



Elinchrom deflector set

Elinchrom deflector set  – it sells for $36 at B&H, and I would like $20 for it.
It is unused, except for the once I tried it out in the studio. Someone told me it would work well with the Profoto heads, and help with diffusion … but, yeah, not really.

(If you use Elinchrom, and live close to me in Wayne, NJ, then come pick it up for free. You can bring me a Starbucks coffee if you want.)



Quantum charger for 2×2 batteries – $50




Items that have been sold are listed here for reference:

Photo gear sold

password:  NvN


The post Photo gear for sale appeared first on Tangents.

A few years ago many people were trashing new cameras if they did not come equipped with GPS. I never understood why and I still don't today. Very, very few people really need to have ancillary crap like GPS in their cameras.  People have rushed to explain the benefits of location tagging their images but I file that into the same folder as people who keep a meticulous record of every penny they spend in a day, or people who keep notebooks about the calories they've consumed. Meaningless informational crap. Might as well tell me how important it is to keep an Excel spreadsheet of your daily breathing patterns. You know, just for reference....

But this must be how they sell FitBits and "smart" watches that record one's workouts.

Well, the same compulsive and scary people have now decided on a new metric for all new cameras. They've decided that all cameras must now come with dual memory card slots or risk being labelled as major failures. The overwhelming rationale is that they MUST have an in-camera back up files for everything they shoot. Really? Most people who feel this way seem to be the same people who actually use their cameras to photograph their own lunches, their friends drinking coffee, selfies and bad landscapes. Hardly earth shattering reportage that would diminish the quality of life for anyone if the images were lost due to technical glitches...  And I can't for the life of me remember which film cameras we had that took double film just in case of lab accidents or mis-loads....

The cold, hard reality is that most memory cards don't experience failures on their own these days. If you follow the best practices of formatting your memory card, in camera, and never erasing images in cameras or when the card is connected to your computer, you will probably never experience a fault with your memory card. The other instances that might lead to failure are: the act of removing your card from the camera without first turning off the camera, or from a card reader without first ejecting the card from your computer.

Simple rules, and easy to follow. But no longer enough for a contingent of people who would rather try to buy their way out of incompetence and poor workflow protocols. They now demand that all cameras be equipped with additional "training wheels"  in order to be considered professional,  or even proficient. This is the same cohort that must have raw processing built into the camera as well as HDR settings and panorama settings. And all other manner of gimmicky things made possible (cheaply) by excess space on camera microprocessors.

But the very same people who demand all many of glitzy operational crap and unneeded redundancy will bitch and moan about the inclusion of first rate video on the same camera. Go figure.

We had a cold front move through this morning. It dropped the temperature to 61 degrees. There was a slight breeze and the sky was overcast. Not gloomy grey but a sky bordering on a bald white. I drank a cup of hot tea with a half teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of milk in it, grabbed a towel, and headed to the Western Hills Athletic Club pool to join 25 or so like-minded swimmers for our usual Saturday morning masters workout. (For more information about Masters Swimming see the USMS website).

Most of us swim five or six days a week but some of the members alternate running days, biking day and swimming days. Whatever their schedule Saturday mornings are usually a priority. On Saturday and Sunday the workouts are an hour and a half and we try to get in a lot of good, hard yards. There's an early workout of the truly dedicated swimmers and they were exiting as I trudged up to the pool deck with my swim gear in hand. They looked tired, beat up and happy.

I've been trying to get back to a regular five day a week schedule lately and I can see the rewards; I'm swimming better and faster and the waists on my collection of pants feels looser... The benefit is being able to eat almost anything without tipping the bathroom scale in the wrong direction.

I swam in lane four today with Ed and Shannon. They are both a little bit faster than me but I'm able to hang with them on anything shorter than 400 yards. After a bunch of warm up sets our coach, Cheryl, concocted a brutal little set for us as the main entree. The set consisted of three X 50 yards on a forty second interval followed immediately by 4 x 25 yard sprints; halfway under water in each direction. We repeated that set four times. It's basically three fast sprints in a row with little to no rest. We call them, "touch and goes" because, unless you are really fast, you are hitting the wall at the 50, looking at the clock and then going again.

As a warm down after that fun set we did: 2x200's, 2x150s, 2x100's freestyle before starting the next set. It was an ambitious day in the pool. We did a bit more than 4,000 yards in our hour and a half and that seemed to satisfy even the most masochistic and compulsive exercisers in the group.

Following the workout a group of us did what we have done on most Saturdays for the last twenty years. We headed to a local coffee shop to drink coffee, talk about the workout, talk about swimming and just catch up in general. There is a core of swimmers who've been at coffee since the beginning and new ones who cycle in and out. But it's so good to have time to maintain the bonds. As we all grow older we have to make concessions in our training but if we are growing older together it's not as obvious, or as emotionally painful to deal with the toll of time.

I've been swimming with the same masters team five or six days a week since 1996. I love being in the water and have often thought that the five or six seconds after a swimmer pushes off the wall, in a good streamline position, is the closest most humans will ever come to flying without an aircraft. The aerobic fitness that a disciplined group workout conveys is vital to me as a working photographer. With the combination of swimming, walking, running and resistance training I've been able to work at the same physical levels I did in my 30's; with no back or shoulder issues. Staying in good physical shape may, in fact, be the most valuable investment I've made in my career as a working artist.

The wonderful thing about playing within a group of swimmers is the example set by everyone around you. They may be recovering from something dire, like cancer; they may have lost a loved one or had a misfire in their career, but they show up, put on their goggles and push aside the worries of life for an hour spent relishing their fitness and their ability to apply discipline to this part of their lives. And everyone in the pool is there to support them and push them forward.

In every set back I've had in my own life the medicine that worked best to get me back on track was the time I've spent in the water. I think I've always known that using a particular camera is far less important than having the fitness and discipline to use whatever camera you have with you to make your work.

We caught up with the group news while we swilled coffee. One of our group brought along a bag of hazelnuts. the chef in our ranks brought along some banana-chocolate bundt cake, we snacked and re-energized ourselves. An hour later we headed our separate ways. Some heading home to do chores, others heading in to tend to the businesses they own, and still others heading home for a quick nap or lunch with family. We only have coffee together once a week but it's a good bet we'll see most of the same characters at tomorrow morning's swim.

(I write this somewhat tongue in cheek. Try not to get too bent out of shape if you are in the wrong camp...).

"I'm sure I would have been a sports photographer and, perhaps a very good one, but I just couldn't bear to grapple with one of the significant shortcomings of the modern DSLR. I'm sure you've experienced it if you've tried tracking a football player with a mirror-encumbered camera. Or perhaps you've lived with the mechanical menace of the DSLR when trying to keep a fast runner well composed.... We all know what the Achille's Heel of generations and generations of DSLR camera is but for some reason we've all chosen to ignore it, or to sweep it under the carpet and make our excuses. 

It's the dreaded MIRROR BLACK OUT. Each time we actuate the shutter the mirror leaps up (alarmingly) and blocks our view of the image we are so intent on capturing. Visualus Interruptus.
The image is there, in front of our eye, and then it's gone and replaced with a visual fluttering of blackness, accompanied by some raucous noise and then a decidedly unsettling vibration. Thwack! Bam! Kapow! Oh sure, it's only a few (or a dozen or a hundred) milliseconds but it interrupts our continuous observation of the objects of our (momentary) desire. The faster the frame rate the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. The slower the shutter speed the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. 

It's been there since we gave up our Leica rangefinders in order to use longer telephoto lenses. It's always been a grave compromise as well as a source of indiscreet noise and interrupted concentration. And anyone who ever shot with a Pentax 6x7 camera (the most egregious of the breed) probably deserves restitution for partial hearing loss from the loud shutter/mirror cacophony and for the sheer amount of time spent waiting for the massive mirror to rise and then smash itself back down again. 

I can hear the cheers already from legions of sports photographers, who felt they had no choice but to use Canon 1D series cameras and Nikon Fsomething cameras to capture sports photographs, as the new Sony a9 makes it initial appearance on the market. Imagine, at speeds above 1/125th of a second (the general realm of sports shooters) there is absolutely NO FINDER BLACK OUT AT ALL. NONE. Even at 20 frames per second. 

The EVF shows the image continuously, refreshing the finder image 60 times per second (about twice the speed of human perception). Never again will these beleaguered pros face the humiliation of finder blackout. Never again will they feel the ravaging vibration of the slamming mirror assembly thrashing around in their hands. And, if they choose, then never again will they spook a golfer or diver with their klaxon-like shutter noise. In one low key product introduction Sony has saved the hordes of sports shooters from their own self-inflicted mechanical hell. Oh happy days. "

Ah, but just now I am learning that the new a9 is too small and light to be a serious professional sports shooting tool. Too many chiropractors would be forced out of business...
Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.

In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »

After having to wade through all the nonsense about my latest fascination with video I thought I'd give my readers a break and write about a more traditional photographic function = shooting an event for a conventional client. With a photography camera and even a flash!!!

I've shot events many, many times over the last few decades. I started out shooting events at conferences and galas in hotel ballrooms with a Hasselblad 500 C/M camera, a trusty 80mm lens and a big-ass, potato masher flash, complete with a lead-acid battery pack that must have weighed ten pounds and a lot of shoe leather zooming. Over the ensuing years the camera and flash have changed but very little else about events has. 

Yesterday evening saw me covering a corporate event for a non-profit. They were having a poster sale as a fund raiser at a trendy new venue on Congress Ave. Right in the middle of downtown, just a block or two from the state capitol building. The invitation list included a motley mix of attorneys, advertising agency people and, or course, artists. Mostly the artists who did the commissioned posters and their friends. In all about 350 people showed up to see the art, buy the art, and support my client. 
The event was beautifully done, with open bars and
Read more »

Sony mirrorless cameras with vintage lenses

Yes, that’s a Sony mirrorless camera – the Sony a7ii (B&HAmazon). It’s mine. No, I didn’t switch to Sony. I still use Nikon DSLRs as my main camera system, and I can’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. But I did buy this Sony A7ii. (I also bought a Fuji X-T20 as my walk-about camera.) But this Sony will be my “project” camera. I have a specific intent with it – to use any of the huge array of interesting vintage lenses. Some of these older lenses distinctive optical qualities – most often in how they render the out-of-focus areas in the background – i.e. the bokeh of these lenses are often quite unique. With that in mind, the Sony a7ii will be my ‘project’ camera.

You may wonder why I chose the Sony a7ii over the a7Sii or the a7Rii. My singular intent with the Sony mirrorless camera at this point, is to use various vintage lenses that have caught my fancy. I don’t need the video capabilities of the Sony a7Sii (affiliate), or the 42 megapixels of the Sony a7Rii (affiliate). I also don’t need the abundant mouth-watering spec of the new Sony A9 (affiliate). But I do need the in-camera stabilization, and the Sony’s ability to be adapted to vintage lenses. And 24 megapixels are more than enough for the vast majority of anyone’s photography needs. So the Sony a7ii was my choice.


Why Sony mirrorless are the perfect choice when vintage lenses:

  • The Sony A7 series can take adapters to any lens mount. So you can use Minolta MD lenses. Canon FD lenses.  Any of the M42 lenses. Pentax. Nikon. You name it – they are all adaptable to the Sony Alpha lens mount. z

Since there is no mirror-box, you have that entire length that’s missing, that can be taken up by the adapter. Which means any lens can focus to infinity. Any lens can fit, regardless of the camera’s throat diameter.

You might think the Fuji would be perfect for this as well. However, since the Fuji cameras are crop-sensor cameras, you lose much of the goodness of the vintage lenses. That crazy bokeh swirl or any distinctive optical quality of a lens, is now likely diminished. You really want that full-frame goodness with these older lenses.

  • Focusing with the Sony A7+ series is perfectly suited for manual focus lenses. Much more so than Nikon or Canon DSLRs.

You can move the focusing sensor where you want to focus on, and then tap a button to zoom in immediately to fine-tune focus. Doing this via the Live-view on a DSLR is awkward and slow in comparison to how the Sony (and Fuji) cameras handle it. This is also explained in an earlier article here: Fuji x100s – manual focus mode.

  • Built-in stabilization from the A7ii / A7Sii / A7Rii series onwards. That means any lens will now benefit from stabilization.



Pentax-SMC 28mm f/2

I have the Pentax-SMC 28mm /f2 mounted to the Sony body in the photo at the top. It is quite a rare lens , and has an interesting back-story to its origins. In the early 70’s Zeiss reached out to the Japanese manufacturers to make use of the lower manufacturing costs. The Zeiss 28mm ‘Hollywood’ Distagon was designed by a Zeiss legend, Dr Erhard Glatzel. The design involved a floating element that allowed the lens to focus really close. Distortion was also kept to a minimum.During the year they collaborated with Pentax, the Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon also appeared as this Pentax lens!

The story is told in this article – $60 Pentax that’s actually a $800 Zeiss by designer of Stanley Kubrick’s NASA glass – except that this Pentax lens now fetches 10x more than just $60, more or less matching the price you’d pay for the actual Zeiss lens.

I had my eye on this lens for a long while, and finally managed to snag a mint copy on eBay. I was curious how this lens would perform, and then I also wanted the lens as a collectible.



This is the lens that I took with an a first outing with the Sony a7 II to New York. I wandered around, including a visit to the area around One World Trade Center. Most of the images were shot at f/2 and a few at f/2.8 … and then at f/8 for the last image shown here, for which I needed the added depth-of-field.

What intrigued me was that I could see a difference in how the background was rendered when I focused on something really close to me in the foreground at an f/2 aperture. There was a painterly quality to the photographs. This lens was also superbly sharp at the widest aperture! Kinda what you’d expect from a Zeiss design.

(Click on the images for a larger version.)



I love that this camera is allowing me a new adventure in photography that was previously difficult to access. I feel like playing with vintage lenses will help sustain the fun element of photography.


Related links


The post Sony mirrorless cameras with vintage lenses appeared first on Tangents.

Lou. Studio. One frame at a Time.

When I read about new cameras I  usually get caught up in the excitement about all the new features. 

I wonder what I could do with a camera that could shoot 200 images in a row at
20 frames per second.  Then I wonder which unfortunate photographer  will be required to sit down and edit through 200 nearly identical images in the search for one that may (or may not) have all the right stuff. 

I read about auto focusing sensors that range, densely, almost to the edge of the sensor  and I imagine what it  would be like to just point the camera at a scene and let it decide just where that point of sharpness needed to live. 

I 've been using  cameras with many focusing  points for many years and  I usually disagree with my camera when it decides to pick a point for me. That's why my cameras and I have agreed to mostly stick to using the center AF frame. It's a simple solution but in a way it's very elegant in that I rarely have issues getting important stuff in focus. And I rarely spend time looking at useless frames filled with perfectly sharp backgrounds and oozy foreground subjects. 

I certainly can't fault a camera for having a very high resolution EVF that also refreshes fast enough to seem....seamless. Nothing wrong with that  and certainly something I would like to have on all my cameras. I also like the idea of more external switches; like the little dial that surrounds the dial to the upper leftmost control  as I  hold the camera. I let's me choose the focusing mode. Will I use manual focus? Will I use continuous auto focus? It's easier now to go in either direction because I won't have to dive into the menus and scout around for the right column to find the switch.

Will I enjoy my new found freedom and become empowered by having a battery with twice the mph? Yes, but I'll miss the uniform battery size (and type of battery charger) across the whole Sony camera product line that I own. I'm not a manic shooter so I'm pretty happy glancing, from time to time, at the battery life indicator in the existing cameras and then pulling a battery out of my pocket , as required. Comforting too, to know that I can pull batteries from one camera and put them in another in those moments where necessity steps in and demands a quick solution. 

Who is the new Sony a9 really for? Is it aimed at a portrait shooter like myself? Is it aimed at the casual user who likes to range across cities and look for magic compositions in everyday life? I just don't think so. I'm presuming that this is really a "halo" product that won't sell in great numbers but will start to cement Sony's position in the professional camera neighborhood. By price point and spec it's obviously aimed at sports photographers and ...... well..... sports photographers. I may shoot a swim meet from time to time but I'm quick enough to catch the photos at the point of high action and not nearly patient enough to wade through tens of thousands of images taken in hopes that superior numbers will yield the frame I want. 

The one area of interest for me is video, but even there I don't see any real improvements over what is currently available in the Sony line up. The a6500 also samples the full 6k frame and beautifully downsamples to 4K and other than that and a new finder there isn't much to lure videographers in....especially at such an ambitious price point. 
Perhaps if they'd done one or two more things to the body video would be a consideration but I looked with distress at that same small and fragile micro-HDMI port and just shook my head. 
The Panasonic GH5 might not be having  the smoothest intro right  now (hello focus issues) but it's set the bar for video interfaces just by including a full size HDMI port under the flap. 

For the kind of work I do....that most of us do....I just can't see much advantage over the A7Rii. But the camera I am waiting for from Sony would be the replacement to the A7ii. And all I'd really like to see is 4K video (internal) and the option for a silent shutter. Not to much to ask and I have a piggy bank with about $1995 sitting on the floor next to my desk, just waiting. 

The Sony announcement of the a9 is exciting and fun. The camera looks really good. I'd do an even trade for my A7Rii in a heartbeat. But only because I like that 24 megapixel resolution region. It's nice to make files that don't clog up the processing pipeline or make me a prime customer for Western Digital or Seagate.

If you are a Sony shooter you'll have to make up your own mind. It's a shiny new toy. But is it "my" shiny new toy?

Michael Rader directs "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" at ZACH Theatre from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Please click through to Vimeo to see the video in a higher quality format.

This is my second video for the show at ZACH Theatre. The first was the interview of Chanel that I put up earlier this week. This video is an interview with the play's director. The same hardware was used to produce it.

I shot with the Panasonic fz2500 in the 4K mode and edited on a 1080p timeline in Final Cut Pro X. The lighting was a combination of LED panels from Aputure; both the Amaran and the LightStorm lines. The audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety microphone (and I was delighted with the sound on Michael's interview...).

While some of the still images may look familiar I tried my best to find photographs that I had not used before.

The extensive crew for this production consisted of: me.

I worked hard to get my video to look just right on my precisely calibrated monitor the other day and once I had it just the way I wanted it I rendered it and uploaded it to Vimeo. My client got a clean H.264 file and uploaded that one to YouTube. Oh Dear God! How depressing. While the Vimeo version looked crappy compared to what I was seeing on my monitor the YouTube version was even worse. All the shadows looked muddy and the fine detail had just vanished. I thought I was looking at SD video on a CRT. I guess that if one wants to see their video displayed the way it was intended you just have to bite the bullet and host it on your own server. Which would be a recipe for financial disaster; depending on how many loyal viewers you have looking at your work.

I've gotten into a horrible cycle of uploading to Vimeo and they, after the file is processed on their site, going to review it there and then come back and make changes to every clip (color, contrast, density) and then render and upload again. It's a time consuming process. 

On another note, the Panasonic fz2500 still has a few glitches when it comes to stably keeping the AF sensor where I want it; even with the touch screen turned off, but it's rare enough that I consider the camera usable and have gotten some really great images from it. Where it shines is in shooting video.

Personal note: If I seem a bit removed from the blog this week it's probably because my son is doing a semester abroad at a university in Seoul, S. Korea and the war posturing of the U.S. and N. Korea is a bit unsettling for an already anxious parent. Seems things are quieting down now and I'll focus a bit more on the writing and photography. I'll take that bottle of Xanax back off the desk.....

These images were all done handheld, at ISO 800 and 1600 with the Panasonic fz2500. I like them a  lot.

A still of CHANEL from the tech reshearsal of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. 
Zach Theatre. ©2017 by Kirk Tuck

Stills and video from the fz2500 camera. 
Amazing performance for the price. 
Oh heck, it's just amazing performance!

I initially had many photos that weren't quite sharp enough when I viewed them at larger sizes. I shot with the camera at a technical rehearsal at Zach Theatre, a few weeks ago, and found that with manual focusing and pin point focusing I was able to get a high percent of medium and long focal length shots in perfect focus. Count the eyelashes focus. 

Since then I've been trying to fine tune my camera settings in order to get highly repeatable results. Today was my day to mess with noise reduction settings. I shot raw and used the Standard profile as my base. I went into the profile parameters and turned the noise control all the way down. I boosted contrast by one notch and then I spent the day shooting. I am using the pin point focus setting with the sensor in the middle selected. I also have the focusing speed set to one notch down.

I spent a couple hours walking around town, shooting everything at ISO 125 and I am happy to report that every frame was perfectly focused and convincingly sharp. No misfires and no misplaced measurements. Now I am happy with the camera as a photography tool. I'm already very happy with it as a 4K video camera. It's nearly perfect in that use. 

The images of the old Cadillac are from the Rainey Street neighborhood. The votive candles are from Mexicarte and the deck plate live somewhere on West Fifth St. All the files sharpen up well and there's very little noise to be seen in spite of the minimal noise reduction setting. 

Chanel's Interview at Zach Theatre. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I recorded this interview at Zach Theatre on April 5th. The still images I used as b-roll as from our dress rehearsal documentation on April 4th. The video footage of rehearsal was recorded on April 2nd. 

Tech notes: The still photographs were taken with a Sony RX10iii camera while all the video content was recorded with the Panasonic FZ2500 camera using its 4K video setting. I lit Chanel's interview with two large, Aputure Amaran 672W LED panels plus two smaller panels from the same company. 

Audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety shotgun microphone. 

My next video is an interview of the production's director. 

(please click through to Vimeo and choose the 1080p, HD version of the video for best quality). 

I decided to film Chanel's interview at Zach Theatre with the fz2500 because my early tests showed me that the color in video was rich and accurate, with little of the overly sharp renditions I'd seen in other, similar cameras. It's incumbent on a videographer to take the time to test the equipment ahead of time to see, personally, how the settings on the camera affect the final results. I was able to see a kinder skin tone rendition with the Panasonic.

I set the camera up to shoot UHD 4K with the idea of downsampling. But, rather than downsample by transcoding on the import of the material I decided to actually work with the original 4K footage in the edit and only apply the transcoding when making the output version into h.264. I thought I would see improvements in overall quality when done in this fashion. When I output the video to the h.264 codec I saw two things: The compression of h.264 exacerbates the noise by a bit (not too troublesome) and it also compresses the tonal range of the middle tones enough to make the overall files slightly darker than they are in Final Cut Pro X, or when played in their native format via QuickTime Pro.

Just to test a bit further and to see where the limitations really hit I also output the file to a Pro Res 422 HQ file. This file had 10 times less compression. The h.264 files weighed in at 695 megabytes while the HQ files tipped the scales at 10 gigabytes. Viewing them side by side makes on more aware of the destruction wrought by compression. The bigger file is much more tonally detailed; the tones are well separated and the tonal transitions are as smooth as they seem in real life. The bigger file also shows less noise in comparison. It's really a moot point for a project like this one which will be used on YouTube by my client. The amount of compression in YouTube's process is at least a whole order of magnitude more destructive than the conversion to h.264 out of Final Cut Pro X. I wish I could show clients, family and friends (and Chanel) just how good the high quality file looks on a calibrated screen in a viewing appropriate room.

I think the secret to getting good video from an $1100 cameras is to pay strict attention to fundamentals. There can be no slop in exposure calculation. If you need to bring up exposure from an underexposed file you'll end up losing precious detail and it will degrade image quality. Don't plan on boosting shadows after the fact; take the time (and light) to fill the shadows to the level you'll want them in the edit before you push the record button. Controlling the range of tones, and the overall dynamic range, is an artistic step as well as a technical process. They are intertwined.

The same applies to color correction. If you've worked with smaller Jpeg files in photography you'll know that they can't be totally corrected if you didn't get it right in camera. Push the blues and you kill the yellows; push the magenta and kill the greens. It's all as interrelated as the Buddhist view of the universe. If you are working with an inexpensive camera you don't have the luxury of endless latitude but, guess what? the DPs I talk to don't believe that their twenty and thirty thousand dollar cameras have latitude to spare either. They get color balance correct in camera. A quick custom white balance at the head of the interview prevents hours of slider jockeying and teeth gnashing later in the process.

If you have the color and exposure nailed into place then the next thing to worry about is shadow and highlight mapping. I use the shadow/highlight tool in FCPX a lot. For this I had a one notch increase in shadow exposure and a one notch decrease in shadow exposure (on an S curve) which helped to open up the shadows and keep highlights from burning out. In the CineLike D profile I used I changed several parameters. I upped the contrast by one notch, upped the sharpness control by one notch and decreased the noise reduced by three notches. In retrospect I should have also reduced saturation by a small amount.

I took the time to light everything. There is a big, soft main light and a big, soft counter-balancing fill light on the opposite side. I have lights on the background and a weak backlight on Chanel. The lights establish the highlight and shadow range and are critical to the way I see video.

The one place I wish I had more control was over the ambient noise in the theater. The theater is a large space and we were just a couple hours away from a full audience show. In Texas it is critical to keep the house at the right temperature and we were unable to turn off the air conditioning. You can hear as a low frequency noise bed. I was torn because a lavaliere microphone might have gotten me a bit less noise but the lower noise would have come at the price of really clean high frequency response and also clarity in the mid-tones. I made the choice and I'll have to live with it when I listen to the final result in a quiet room.

I hope you enjoy the interview. Chanel is a world class singer and actor and, I find, an interview subject who makes her interviewers look more competent. I appreciate the time and expertise she put into helping me tell this story about the her show; and about Billie Holiday.

Read this book and save your creative life.

Easy lighting setup for headshot photography

For headshot photography in the studio, I have a (flexible) default lighting setup – clam-shell lighting setup.  On location (but still working indoors), I have another setup –  studio  lighting setup for headshots. Nothing is really specific – as long as the final results look flattering and your client loves the images. Your lighting setup should match what your client expects. Then there is also the question of logistics. I’m often asked if all that equipment is a necessity. It’s not. Here is my favorite, most simple setup …. bounce light with an off-camera flash.

Even on-camera bounce flash can give you surprisingly good results that are indistinguishable from off-camera light or available light. This is explained in great detail in my On-Camera Flash Photography. It really is an easy lighting technique that is accessible to any photographer.

When my friend, Cate and I worked on the intimate male portraiture photo session, I started off the photo session with a series of headshots for Nick, as requested by his agency. Not boudoir at all, but this was an easy ice-breaker – straight-up headshots.

The lighting was superbly simple as well – one Profoto B1 flash (affiliate) bounced behind me against one of the studio walls. I controlled the light’s direction a little bit with the Profoto Magnum reflector (affiliate) that I added to the flash. Dead simple to do, and gives great results with nice flattering light. For some of this sequence, I had Nick lean against the wall, and for the rest of the sequence separated from the wall.

Camera settings & photo gear used during this part of the photo session

  • 1/200  @  f/4.5  @  400 ISO


This truly is the simplest lighting setup that could be used for portraits and headshots – one light bounced against a large white wall and ceiling area. If this isn’t feasible, then a large umbrella does the trick. One step up, but still superbly simple. You don’t need the Profoto B1 or a similarly powerful flash. You could do similar with a speedlight!

If you want an inexpensive big light modifier, the Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (affiliate), is a good choice. Here’s the review: Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella.

That’s the motif with this article – the techniques are simple, and the great results are accessible to anyone.

PS: I know there are purists who insist headshots should be exactly that – just the person’s face. Perhaps, perhaps. And yes, I did shoot tighter for just the specific headshots, but I prefer the look of these.


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Video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.


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