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review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens

This review of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens (B&H), is split into two parts: In this review article we will look at lens sharpness and other important factors. The accompanying review article specifically looks at the bokeh of this lens compared to other 85mm lenses in its class. This is an important update of their 85mm lens, since it includes stabilization. The legendary Canon 85mm f/1.2L II  (B&H) (in both incarnations), is much loved by photographers, even to the point where some ascribe some near-mythical quality to the look of the images it can produce. Can this new lens match, or even surpass that? I think so. I do believe a new legend was born.

There is a combination of  things I look for in a lens – central sharpness, edge-to-edge sharpness, bokeh, speed of AF, repeatability of focus. Some of these factors might outweigh others, but the overall balance of how the lens performs on all fronts, will determine its value for me. For this review, I compared these three lenses which are all in the same price bracket, and max aperture bracket.

In my opinion this new  Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS (B&H) stabilized lens is the clear winner. The Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS definitely focuses faster than the classic Canon 85mm f/1.2 II. The stabilization is incredible, and really extends the usefulness of this lens. Scroll down to see an example of how sharp a 1/4 second handheld image is. This lens is sharp, appears to be very well constructed. It feels solid, yet weighs less than the other comparable lenses.

In summary, this new Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens easily outperforms the older Canon 85mm f/1.2 with speed and accuracy of focus, but most importantly, sharpness! This new lens wipes the floor with the legend. It’s that good. The Sigma 85mm ART lens performed well, but focusing was inconsistent with the Sigma – when it was on, it was sharp, but then there were too many slightly mis-focused images.

A few things to note about this review:  I shot everything with the Canon 6D. I shot multiple sequences at apertures ranging from f/1.2 to f/4 but in the end we are mostly just interested in what these type of lenses do when used wide open. In other words, here we are only going to look at f/1.2 and f/1.4 apertures.

Another caveat: I have to admit that I have a bias against Canon. I am not a particularly big fan of Canon. I have been burnt in the past by poor quality control of Canon gear, as explained in more detail in the Canon vs Nikon article. The subsequent implication then is that if I think a piece of Canon gear is really good, then it really is really good! And the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens (B&H) is spectacular. And I can back this up with images shot specifically for this review, over several photo sessions.

Let’s have a look at some images:



Specifications of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens

  • The fast aperture makes the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 IS, well suited for portraits. Especially with the stabilization capabilities, it extends the use of the lens in low light.
  • As an L-series lens, it is characterized by a sophisticated optical layout that includes one glass-molded aspherical element to greatly reduce spherical aberrations and distortion for improved sharpness and clarity. Individual elements also feature an Air Sphere coating (ASC) to suppress lens flare and ghosting for greater contrast and color fidelity in backlit situations.
  • As with all L-series lenses, this 85mm f/1.4 has a dust- and weather-resistant construction, as well as a fluorine coating on exposed elements, to benefit its use in harsh environmental conditions.
  • A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM), along with optimized AF algorithms, is employed to deliver fast, precise, and near-silent autofocus performance.
  • Optical image stabilization minimizes the effects of camera shake by compensating for up to four stops of shutter speed.
  • A weather-resistant design protects the lens from dust and moisture to enable its use in inclement conditions.
  • Nine rounded diaphragm blades contribute to a pleasing out of focus quality that benefits the use of shallow depth of field and selective focus techniques.




The bokeh of the legendary Canon 85mm f/1.2 II is very much part of its appeal, so with this review it should be something we look at more closely. For that please follow the link to this accompanying review article



Image sharpness

We’ll look specifically at edge-to-edge sharpness in the next section – here we are going to look at the central sharpness. With the sharpness comparison, the  Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS (B&H), stood out. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART  (B&H) was sharp … when it nailed focus. There were too many focusing inconsistencies though with the Sigma lens on the Canon 6D that I was using. The Canon 85mm f/1.2L II  (B&H) has its own look, whether at f/1.2 or f/1.4 but it was noticeably softer compared to new the new f/1.4 optic.

And yes, it was a cold and windy day. But you’ll get the idea. This was typical of the sharpness that I got with these lenses.



Edge-to-edge sharpness

There is this little eatery close to where I live which I thought would be ideal for a test to check lens sharpness from edge to edge. I thought this would be ideal – I can stand across the road, and shoot on a tripod, and then we can see how the lettering appears at various apertures for these lenses. I went inside and just checked with the owner that it would be okay, and he agreed. I set up the tripod … and then someone parked right in front and walked in to sit down for breakfast. Oh well, we can still see the edges of the frame. But I had to mention this in case you were wondering why there is a pick-up trick in the middle of this non-photograph.

With this quick test, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens  (B&H) wipes out the older Canon 85mm f/1/2 II  – it is clearly more sharp from edge to edge. The Sigma and the new Canon are close, but I would still give it to the new Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS. You may well argue that edge sharpness isn’t too important with this kind of lens – and it is something I mention specifically in my review of the Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95  lens, where there is so much optical aberrations to the edges of the Mitakon, that you are forced to shoot photos which are centrally composed. In that case, I am okay working around the limitations of the usual f/0.95 optic. However, when you are dealing with a more expensive lens that you want to use for serious or professional work, then it has bearing on the matter – I want a lens that is as sharp as possible, from edge to edge, even at widest aperture.

With these examples, I am only showing the results at f/1.2 and f/1.4 even though I shot a number of repetitive sequences all the way down to f/4 for all three lenses. I picked the sharpest of the images out of any particular sequence, just in case there were slight mis-focusing, or error in my technique. I’m pretty confident that what is shown here, is representative of the three lenses I had for testing.





The stabilization works! And it works surprisingly well. Even better in my experience than mentioned on the specifications list where it is stated that the IS improves hand-holdabilty by up to 4 stops of shutter speed.

I took numerous sequences of this early-evening view of Manhattan. I was mostly getting sharp images even down to ridiculously slow shutter speeds of 1/4 second handheld!  Even down to 1/2 second handheld, I got a few sharp-enough images, but the success rate did start to fall at that crazy slow shutter speed. I handheld this shot, and didn’t brace myself against a railing or anything. Just handheld. And even at 1/4 second, most of the sequences I shot ranged from ‘sharp’ to ‘pretty sharp’. This is incredible performance!

Read that again. Handheld at 1/4 second. One of several sharp shots! My success ratio dropped at 1/2 second … only a few were sharp. Above 1/4 second, consistently sharp (although I did obviously lose a few shots.)

Oh, and if you want to quibble the sharpness of this image, keep in mind that there will be some haze in the air – I am shooting across the river, and this is a busy city with turbulent air.



Of course the lens vignettes at the widest aperture – nothing unexpected there. For me, I don’t mind the vignetting at full aperture for portraits – I think it helps for portraits. (The image below is uncorrected.) When you stop down, it disappears, as you’d expect.



I am wildly impressed with this lens – it focuses fast. Definitely faster than the classic Canon 85mm f/1.2 II.

The stabilization is incredible, and really extends the usefulness of this lens.

This lens is sharp, appears to be very well constructed. It feels solid, yet weighs less than the other comparable lenses.

You can buy a copy of this lens via B&W: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens  (B&H)


Related links


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review: Bokeh of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens

In the accompanying review article, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS, it really stood out in terms of image sharpness. I want to linger a bit on the bokeh of this lens, especially as compared to the much-loved Canon 85mm f/1.2L II  (B&H). We’ll also look fat how it compares to another equivalent lens, the

The comparison includes these three lenses, since they are in the same league:

Please also check out the review: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens.

Now, before we progress any further, we need to be distinguish between Bokeh, and Shallow depth-of-field. While DoF affects the bokeh of a lens, those two terms are not interchangeable: Bokeh vs Shallow depth-of-field (DoF). Bokeh is the quality of the background blur. In other words, the aesthetic appeal of the blur. Bokeh is not another word for blur, but a descriptor of the blur of (usually) the background. It can be smooth, it can be harsh. It can be pleasant, it can be jittery. It can be appealing and enhance the photograph, but we can’t have “more bokeh”. That makes no sense. Okay, with all that behind us, let’s go on.

For this review, I photographed various models during various photo sessions. All the images were shot with the Canon 6D, and I used a light-weight tripod. While I did use the tripod to keep my angle the same, our models aren’t statues, and they will move slightly between frames.  This meant I had to adjust the camera slightly on the tripod. The light did change subtly over time as I did the sequence. And each lens will have a different rendition of the colors anyway. Some lenses appear ‘warmer’ in how they render the scene. So there will be some slight change between the images, but I do believe the images are close enough that we can form a valid opinion about what we prefer.

In summary: The difference in the blur is … well, you can make your own mind up, but to my eye they all look pretty similar with a smooth rendition of the background blur. The new Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens holds up very well against the classic Canon 85mm f/1.2 II. I don’t think anyone who upgrades to the new lens will lose any of the “magic” of the older 85mm lens.

Let’s have a look at some of these comparative sequences:

Please note, I cropped these images to a 4×5 ratio to make them viable on desktop computers when I resized them for 900px width. This means that a little bit off the top, and a little bit off the bottom of each image was cropped off to make viewing easier within this blog format.

With the comparison photos, I didn’t bother with the f/1.4 images of the Canon 85mm f/1.2 II, since the differences between f1/2 and f/1.4 were marginal, and barely discernible.









Bokeh and ‘real world’ importance

With the next few images, the background changes as the people on this 6th Avenue (New York) sidewalk swirl around. So we can see the bokeh is wonderful but we can’t really compare in any useful way between the lenses. Still, they look good. In that sense, if we were to do a photo shoot or a wedding or such with any of these lenses, it would be difficult to pick which lens was used with any particular image.

The bokeh of a lens is important, but not when the differences are marginal. Then other aspects of a lens’ abilities and qualities are more what we should consider.




As mentioned in the review  of the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS, I am hugely impressed. The lens is crazy-sharp! Not only does it focus much faster than the legendary Canon 85mm f/1.2 II, the bokeh in my opinion also holds up very well in comparison. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART lens is also very sharp, and the bokeh is comparable to at least the Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens, but it does lack the stabilization of the new Canon lens.

All around, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 IS lens stands out above the other two lenses.

You can buy a copy of this lens via B&W: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS lens  (B&H)


Related links


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review: Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens

I’m a bit of snob when it comes to the sharpness of lenses. Vintage lenses and lenses such as the Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 are the exceptions – they have a different character. Modern lenses though – I want them sharp. As a friend once said, there’s sharp, and then there’s stuff you can shave with. Until now, I’ve had no native Sony lenses – just a drawer full of vintage lenses for the Sony – I had to go out and buy a Sony lens to try with the review loaner Sony A7Riii that I have on hand for a few weeks. Since I use Nikon cameras for the serious work, I couldn’t justify the purchase of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens  (affiliate) yet. The ego wanted the 85mm f/1.4 GM, but instead I bought the more affordable Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens (B&H / Amazon) …. and holy smackeroni! Wide open it is crazy-sharp! Further down in this review of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8, I show a 100% of the eyelashes of one of the models – and this is as sharp as I would ever need.

In summary, the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens is small, light-weight and best of all, affordable. And razor sharp! Focusing is fast. There is honestly no down-side that I could find in this lens.

As an aside, here is my review of the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens – it might very well be the best 85mm lens I have ever tried..

But back to the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens (B&H / Amazon). All images shot at f/1.8 – all the images shown here were shot at f/1.8 and you will see that the bokeh is smooth. There is no “jittery” edge to the background details – just a smooth out-of-focus blur. The bokeh of this lens is superb!


Specifications for the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8

  • This is an E-Mount Lens and is for full-frame cameras. It will work on crop-sensor cameras too of course.
  • There is a Focus Hold Button on the side of the lens – perfectly placed for your thumb if you should need to hold focus. No need to fumble for a button on the camera body.
  • The diaphragm of the lens has nine blades and is circular – this will help explain the smooth rendering of the background – i.e., the bokeh of this lens.
  • One extra-low dispersion element is featured in the optical design and helps to limit color fringing and chromatic aberrations for heightened image clarity and color accuracy.
  • Double linear autofocus motor delivers smooth, precise, and near silent focusing performance to benefit both stills and video applications.



The shallow depths of field of the f/1.8 aperture, combined with the smooth rendering of the backgrounds, makes this an ideal compact short telephoto lens for portraits. With selective focusing you can isolate your subject.


The background here is again rendered in a beautiful pastel-like way – partly because the background is brighter, but also because of this lens’ smooth bokeh. Working in the shadow side of this building, I wanted more light on our model, Allira. To pop more light on her, I had my assistant hold up a Profoto A1 flash (affiliate) for off-camera lighting. Even though my copy of the Profoto A1 is a Nikon mount flash, I could control it in the usual way with the Profoto transmitter that was on my Sony A7R III (affiliate).


The detail at f/1.8 – every sharply focused image had this level of detail! Combined with the 42 megapixels of the Sony A7R III (affiliate), there was more detail than you probably comfortably need for portraits.

With Anelisa in a coffee shop, hiding out from the cold. Below is the iPhone shot, to again show you the wider context. Again you will see how easily the 85mm lens helps isolate your subject for a portrait anywhere.


Similarly with the image shown at the top – here is the wider shot, (taken with my iPhone) so that you can see the context. By using the tighter focal length, I could include only what I needed in that composition.

Then the wide aperture threw the lights, and any other detail, completely out of focus.


Random detail in the background here in Bryant Park in New York – and it is all a smooth blur. The areas that are sharply in focus- such as Anna’s eyes, are breathtakingly sharp.

The lighting here on Anna’s face is from sunlight reflected off a nearby building – this gives the impression that we used off-camera lighting. The busy city scene behind her is a non-intrusive blur.



It should be obvious that I am hugely impressed with this lens. It is compact, super-sharp … and quite affordable. If you shoot with Sony, I would heartily recommend this lens as a superb alternative to the f/1.4 GM, if that is out of your reach. You’ll love this little gem!

You can purchase this lens through these affiliate links:   Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens (B&H / Amazon).


Related articles


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review: Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95  lens

The Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95  (B&H / Amazon), is an immediately impressive lens – it has that unusually wide aperture. Zero point nine five. Just how good is it then, you may well ask. Lenses with super-wide apertures tend to show some softness and optical aberrations when used wide open. Similarly then with the Mitakon Zhyongi – there are definite optical flaws, but this also adds to the character of the images you get with this lens. It’s not just the super-shallow depth-field that defines what photographs taken with this lens might look like – the optical flaws help give a painterly quality to the photographs. I photographed several models with this lens and the images in this review should give you a clear idea of what you can expect from this lens. All the images here were shot at f/0.95

This lens is a Sony mount lens, and is manual focus only. Fortunately, the Sony A series cameras are ideal for using with manual focus lenses in the way that the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) implements being able to see the focus details in the viewfinder. It also helps that the Sony bodies are stabilized – this is invaluable in clearly seeing the highly magnified image without camera shake.

You’re going to need that magnified view to accurately focus this lens. With that narrow depth-of-field, your margin for error is really small.

How sharp is this lens?  Sharp enough … at the center. The edges go really soft, and there’s a gentle haziness to the edges at full aperture. This helps give images that dream-like painterly quality. However, you will find your compositions will have to mostly centered. Portraits that are composed off-center don’t fare well – they are just too soft with the critical details of the person’s face. There are two examples in this review which show the sharpness at 100% at the widest aperture. As you’ll see, it is “sharp enough” at that aperture (in the center portion of the photo. I did a few tests at medium apertures, and then this lens is really sharp edge-to-edge, but this isn’t why you’d buy this lens or use this lens. You want that f/0.95 aperture.


It was during this photo session – Portraits with vintage lenses – with my friend Pakrer J Pfister, that I fell in love with this lens.


Leaning over the balcony of a New York hotel to get this diffused cityscape background. I just love how the distant buildings melt away here.


  • model: Anna Bogun

A busier background on 6th Avenue in New York. The lighting on our model is from sunlight reflecting off one of the many tall buildings surrounding Bryant Park.

I’ve done similar photos which look like off-camera flash, but really is light reflected off buildings.
Other examples of using available light like this, are described in these articles:
– Available light portrait photography
– Observing and using the available light



Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95

The Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95 (B&H / Amazon) is a manual-focus lens available in the Sony E-mount. The super-wide maximum aperture of f/0.95 is unusual, and obviously creates a razor thin depth-of-field. More than that, the optical quality is such that it renders the scene with a somewhat dream-like quality in how the out-of-focus areas look.

  • 9 aperture blades
  • Four Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
  • One Ultra High Refraction Element
  • Stepless, Silent Aperture Control  (ideal for use in video)


Here again you can see the pastel-like background – in part because of the shallow DoF, but also because of the over-exposure of the background. The city scenery behind Allira is that of 42nd Street in New York. Since the background is much brighter than the light from the shadow side of the library, I needed just a little more light on her. I  had my assistant hold up a Profoto A1 flash (affiliate) for off-camera lighting. Even though my copy of the Profoto A1 is a Nikon mount flash, I could control it in the usual way with the Profoto transmitter for Sony that was on my camera.

This pull-back shot also reveals something else of importance – this lens has a pretty harsh bokeh. It isn’t “creamy” or smooth. There is a certain jittery quality to the bokeh which you can see in how the trees are rendered. Most times this bokeh is masked by the shallow depth-of-field, but it can be an intrusive element with some backgrounds.

It is important that we distinguish between the bokeh of a lens, and shallow depth-of-field. Those two terms aren’t interchangeable! More about that topic: Bokeh vs shallow depth-of-field (DoF)

Similarly here, I needed more light on Allira to help balance the exposure for the background. Here the flash was a little more dominant, since I didn’t want to entirely blow out the Chrysler Building in the background.

This 100% crop at full aperture will give you an idea of the center sharpness of this lens. It is definitely sharp enough!


With this sequence, I wanted Allira to pop out from the more neutral wintery tones. I therefore under-exposed the scene somewhat, and popped some light on her with an off-camera flash – the handheld  a Profoto A1 flash (affiliate). Again, even though this is a Nikon mount flash, I could control it with the Profoto transmitter for Sony.



Hiding in a coffee shop from the cold weather, we used the window light for this portrait.

This 100% crop will again give you an idea of the sharpness, and the crazy shallow DoF. You will see that even though the detail in her eyelashes are there, there is also an optical haziness of some kind. This is not necessarily a negative about this lens for it helps impart that dreamlike quality to the photos shot wide open. This optical aberration disappears as you stop the lens down to medium apertures – but you know, I like it. This is part of the character of this lens!


This doorway of this shop  was a bit of a find. They had Christmas lights, but the brushed metal side of the door reflected the lights with a delicious smear. So that effect you see there is not the lens. It was as we found it.




The examples shown here of the Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95  (B&H / Amazon), will give you an idea of the look that this lens imparts to photographs. It has a distinctive character, and the optical flaws it might have, is exactly what makes this lens so attractive to use. Highly recommended … for specific reasons and use.



Related articles


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Dramatic portraits: Hollywood Portrait Lighting

Shooting for my portfolio in the studio with a model, Kimberly Jay, I wanted to create sets of feminine portraits that looked dramatic, and straddled the boudoir photography genre and had a Film Noir look to them. The classic look of Hollywood portrait lighting has long drawn me, and with a set of  Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights  (B&H / Amazon), it is a look that I am still trying to finesse.

Other photo sessions where I have drawn on the Hollywood look:

This sequence of images that I shot with Kimberly, was with more dramatic intent than the other more ‘light & airy’ style boudoir photographs we took. With a cigar as a prop, I aimed for that Noir look. These Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights (affiliate) are daylight balanced. However, the main light on her was gelled with an amber colored gel. This meant the light from behind her turned blue in relation. This rim-light was gentle, and was intended to give a subtle light on her, but specifically light up the smoke from behind.

For this session I used two different cameras & lens combinations:
– My current workhorse combo – the Nikon D5 (affiliate), with the versatile Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR  (affiliate).
– The Sony a7ii (affiliate) with the incredibly fast aperture Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95  (B&H / Amazon) lens.

The photo here at the top was shot with that Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95  (B&H / Amazon). It is slow to use, because of the demands of the super-shallow DoF, but the lens does give a specific look, as shown in this previous article: re: Portraits with vintage lenses. However, without a specific background (or foreground) to play with, the lens’ qualities didn’t quite shine. Still, you can see the shallow DoF giving a rapid drop-off in sharpness here.

The rest of the images shown here are divided into two groups – those shot with the Nikon, and those shot with the Mitakon. The lighting remained consistent.


Books on Hollywood portrait lighting






These two pull-back shots will show the placement of the two Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights  (B&H / Amazon). Because the lights are relatively small light sources, it did restrict how Kimberly could move. This makes posing with smaller (more dramatic) light sources more critical.

As mentioned above, these LED fresnel lights are daylight balanced. Since the main light was gelled with an Amber colored gel, it meant the light in the background shifted to blue in relation. This is because the camera’s WB set to that of the main light, for a neutral WB where the skin tones look good. Hence, the background light shifted to blue.

The backdrop is by Oliphant Studios.

My studio is available as a rental studio, and these and other lighting kits (and the backdrop) are available for use.




This next image, showing the backdrop and setup, was shot with the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 and you can clearly see the quick fall-off in sharpness.



Related articles


Books on Boudoir Photography


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Photography composition: Tilted horizons in photographs

A disconcerting angle perhaps with this photograph’s composition – still, there is a dynamic balance of sorts. Because Anelisa is ‘upright’ / vertical in the photo, it matches our sense that vertical and horizontal lines should be just that. Still, everything else is at a dizzying angle. While the horizon is at a slant, I placed her vertically in the composition, which hopefully creates a balance when we look at the photo.

I am not particularly fond of tilted horizons or tilted photos (also known as the “Dutch angle” or “Dutch tilt”), but I do think it can be used sparingly for effect. It is a topic we’ve discussed in a previous article on photographic composition: Tilted compositions / Dutch angle.

That said, what do you think – does the tilt work here, or is it too unsettling?

I do find that too often I inadvertently tilt my camera slighty. So if I could have just one photographer super-power, I would like it to be the ability to *always* keep my freaking horizons level. It drives me nuts when I edit and I have to continually straighten the horizon.
I really try to keep the camera level when I shoot, but somehow there’s a slight tilt to many shots. Like I maybe tuck my one elbow too much. Or something. This is even *with* the grid lines enabled in the camera’s viewfinder.

Maybe I should just accept it and call it a style – The Ever So Slightly Annoying Slight Tilt ™

This photo of Anelisa was taken during one of the occasional Photo Walks in New York. With a photo walk, we have a maximum of 4 people, each supplied with a Profoto transmitter to control the Profoto B1 flash that I bring along. The Profoto B1 is powerful enough to allow us to use a softbox with high-speed flash sync. That’s something you can’t do with a speedlight! This allows us more flattering light from our flash.

Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used



Books on photographic composition


One more example where a purposeful tilt to the camera creates a disconcerting image. Here the sidewalk was at a slant, and I oriented the camera to the sidewalk’s angle … which rendered the building and passerby at this unusual angle. Incongruously enough, the shop’s name was ‘even’. With this image, the purposeful tilt has less to do with the overall balance of the image, and is meant to be whimsical.


Related articles


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Flash Photography workshops NJ NYC

Photography Workshops in NJ / NYC  (2018)

Here are the dates for the group photography workshops for 2018.
There is the regular workshop on flash photography with speedlights, and a a workshop on studio lighting.
Then there are the 2 dates where we will do the Photo Walks in New York again.

As always, there is the possibility for personal workshops and tutoring sessions which can be tailored to your needs and to your schedule.

Flash Photography Workshop with Speedlites

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 limited to 6 people, so that I will be able to attend to everyone. There will be two models with us. The workshops will be held at my studio in Little Falls, NJ. The tempo is relaxed – I want to make sure everyone benefits, and will be a stronger photographer at the end of the day.

The flash photography workshop for 2018 will take place on:

  • July 22, 2018  (Sunday)  –  NJ

For more details and to book a spot: Flash Photography Workshops.


Photo Walks in NYC

With the NYC Photo Walks, we will photograph a model around a colorful, interesting parts of New York City. The group will be limited to just 4 photographers, so it won’t be crowded. We will also work at a relaxed tempo, so that I can attend to everyone and help everyone get amazing images. There will be an assistant to carry and hold the light for us. We just get to shoot and have fun! Here is a recap of a previous photo walk which took place along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront.

I will provide the Profoto B1 flash, and will have enough Nikon, Canon and Sony wireless TTL triggers for the Profoto flash so that everyone can shoot individually.

The $200 fee for the 2-hour photo walk is due at the time of registration.

  • May 27, 2018  (Sunday)  4-6pm  – Brooklyn Waterfront
  • August 26, 2018  (Sunday)  4-6pm – Brooklyn Waterfront
  • October 28, 2018  (Sunday)  4-6pm  –  Brooklyn Waterfront

For more details and to book a spot: Photo walks in NYC 


Studio Lighting Workshop

If you’ve been curious about getting to know more about studio lighting for portraits, but it all seems too daunting or technical, then this Studio Lighting Workshop is for you. The program is aimed at being is a learning experience where you get to use studio lights and light modifiers. After this workshop, I want you to feel comfortable next time you step into a studio, knowing you have a solid place to start from, and have the confidence to experiment further.

This workshop will be held at my studio space in NJ, and it has a wide range of studio lighting gear! It is easily accessible from New York as well, and we can fetch you from the local bus terminal. There is also free parking at the studio.

  • April 22, 2018  (Sunday)

For more details and to book a spot: Studio Lighting Workshops.


Personal workshops & tutoring sessions

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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Three different links to all kinds of specials and rebates available on cameras and lenses and other goodies:


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Portraits with vintage lenses

That crazy bokeh there is via the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95  (B&H / Amazon), taken at widest aperture, giving this wafer-thin depth of field. Even though this is a new lens, I would classify it as a classic or vintage lens. It is manual focus, and gives that delicious look to images exactly because of that DoF and bokeh. In terms of the composition, I like how the blue lights in the foreground is echoed by the same lights in the background.

How this photo session with Anastasiya came about …
My friend, Parker J Pfister was in New York for a few days, and asked if I wanted to meet up for lunch. Via a few text messages this soon became, “We should find a model and play!”

I texted Anastasiya, and she was available to meet up with us.

I then asked Parker what camera he was using – Sony A9 and A7Rii.
Good, I wanted to try out a recently purchased vintage lens, to be used on my Sony A7ii.

I then asked him if he has or needed lighting of some kind.
“Nope. I’m fine without. I am super low tech”, came the reply.

So there we had it – a near-impromptu photo session with Anastasiya out on the streets of New York, using available light, and shooting with some classic lenses. I should tell you then that Parker has given me some advice over time regarding which vintage lenses I should seek out. So there’s that common point.

I love working with, or observing other photographers. There’s often something that you can pick up and learn from them. Have a look at Parker’s website, and you’ll see work with a distinctive artistic style. So more than just hanging out with a friend over lunch, and taking a few photos for fun, I was excited at the idea of seeing him work with a model that I’ve often photographed.

This for example is where the photo above came from. It was a cold, grey afternoon. My first instinct would be to fall back on my usual approach – using off-camera lighting to punch up the portrait, as shown in this previous example with Anastasiya: Checklist for portrait photography on location.  It becomes a familiar fall-back. On the one hand it can be seen as a style, however, it can also be limiting in that it is “the same old thing” after a while.

With this photo above, I followed Parker’s idea of shooting with layers in mind – foreground and background layers. He stood close-up to some small blue lights wrapped around the tree trunks on that street, forcing these lights to appear as large defocused bulbs of light … which are then echoed in the background.

And you may well think this idea of using layers isn’t unusual, and it’s not. What I want to underline here is that most of us go along with our habits – a usual way of working. So this was just a good nudge again to be more aware, and look for more interesting opportunities than just relying on a default way of working. I need to be more aware again of the less ordinary, such as this in this example – using interesting available light – where I photographed Olena who was lit by the sun reflecting off the back of a stop sign. I need to be more alert again.

The photo at the top and this one below, were both shot at f/0.95 – an aperture where you have to be super careful about focusing. The way that the Sony mirrorless cameras implement manual focusing, make them really ideal for this.

Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95

The Mitakon Zhongyi 50mm f/0.95 (B&H / Amazon) is a manual-focus lens available in the Sony E-mount. The super-wide maximum aperture of f/0.95 is unusual, and obviously creates a razor thin depth-of-field. More than that, the optical quality is such that it renders the scene with a somewhat dream-like quality in how the out-of-focus areas look.

  • 9 aperture blades
  • Four Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
  • One Ultra High Refraction Element
  • Stepless, Silent Aperture Control  (ideal for use in video)


One of Parker’s images shot with the Mitakon 50mm lens.



MOG Orestor 135mm f/2.8

Anastasiya, photographed with the Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestor 135mm f/2.8

I was hoping that the background would have more of the bubble bokeh as some of the Meyer-Optik Görlitz lenses are famed for, but the lights in the background were elliptical. Still a cool lens, but I will have to actually get the legendary Trioplan 100mm at some point.

Here we were still playing with out-of-focus elements in the foreground to create layers.



Minolta 58mm f/1.2

This lens is another that has an interesting bokeh, giving the background a painterly quality. At f/1.2 there is a soft hazy fuzziness to the photographs, which is something that could work for you. However, I prefer it at f/2 where the sharpness kicks in a little bit better. These three images of Anastasiya at the Flatiron building, were all shot at f/2



Pentax-SMC 28mm f/2

Still shooting near the Flatiron building, Parker set Anastasiya up on this table. He was shooting with a Sony 16-35mm lens, and I had my Pentax-SMC 28mm f/2 lens on. It was one of the very first vintage lenses that I went after, since it is a rare Zeiss-designed optic that only occasionally appears on eBay. I wrote about it in a previous article as well: Sony mirrorless cameras with vintage lenses.



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review: Spekular LED lighting kit

The most adaptable and versatile continuous lighting setup currently might well be the Spekular LED lights (B&H / Amazon). They come as a set of four LED sections (11.8″ x 1.57″) that can be connected in different ways – as panels or strips or geometric shapes. You decide. The Spekular website shows some of the options. The specifications of the Spekular LED kit only gives a dry idea of what these are capable of.  Therefore, with this video review of the Spekular, I wanted to show some of that adaptability, and how these lights might be used. Similar then to my review of the Profoto A1 flash, hopefully there is something of interest to everyone in seeing more of the photo session with the models.

We had a first look at these lights in this previous article, Spekular – versatile continuous lighting kit, and this video review takes it further.

Spekular LED lighting kit


A little about the video: 
   There’s a “typo” in my phrasing during the intro. Where I said, “if you create a large hexagon or octagon, you get a larger light pattern“, I meant you create a larger light source.
   Inexplicably, I somehow had problems pronouncing “hexagon” and even “octagon” on that day.
   You will notice that I shot fairly fast during parts of the photo session. Since there wasn’t a flash burst popping every time I took the shot, I could shoot faster without it looking like a lightning storm in the studio. Continuous lighting allow you to do that. Also, with continuous lighting you don’t have the benefit of flash freezing movement or let you avoid camera shake. So I had to shoot more frames than I normally might.


Spekular LED lighting kit

You can purchase the Spekular kit via these affiliate links


These lights are Daylight Balanced: 5600K,
Beam Angle: 120-Degrees
Dimming 10-100%
They have superb light purity with a CRI of 94+
A high CRI is one of the  factors mentioned in the article on choosing a video light for Photography & Video that we should be looking at when deciding on continuous lights.


Camera settings & photo gear used during this photo session


You can purchase the Spekular kit via these affiliate links



The video should give you an idea of the flexibility of the Spekular LED light (B&H / Amazon), as a system. As mentioned in the video, you can connect up to 8 of these sections together in various ways. The most obvious would be as a panel of 8×1 sections, or a longer panel of 4×2 sections. Then there are the geometric patterns. With the expansion kit  (affiliate) you can even separate them. With that kind of flexibility, and with the capability of using them on location with a battery (affiliate), and with the high CRI, these lights are definitely worth checking out if you are in the market for a continuous lighting kit.


Related articles


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Flash with small softbox – vs – Video light

There are advantages to using a video light for photography, compared to using flash with a softbox or umbrella. The spread of light with a video light tend to be more contained, and hence more dramatic. However, if you use a small softbox with a speedlight, especially if it has a grid, you can get a similar tight spread of light.

With this session we had our model, Madison, laying down on this glass floor of the old Union Station. It is lit from underneath, creating these repetitive pools of light. Just beautiful.

Details & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this session

I love this LED video light because it allows you to continuously change the color balance from Incandescent to Daylight.  This is a really nice feature because you can now more closely match the additional light to the existing ambient light.

Compare the look of the light on her face in the photos above, with the light from a 10″ x 24″ strip box, as shown below.

Details & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this session

I used the same camera settings here as the image above – simply to have the same glow of light from the floor below her. Any change to a smaller aperture or lower ISO, would’ve darkened the lights below.

I really love video light for stills photography, and loved the images we got with Madison (shown at the top) while posing on this floor at the Union Station hotel. I then wanted to see if we could get a similar effect as the video light – with the light contained to a small area – by using a small softbox. I tried out this Westcott Rapid Box Strip 10″ x 24″ (affiliate), without a grid.

By scooping the light away from her, i.e., feathering the light upwards, and working very closely, we were able to get more dramatic light than a larger softbox would’ve given. So while it isn’t as dramatic as the video light, the light from the small softbox was soft, but contained to a small area. In other words, by feathering the light, instead of being pointed directly at our model, we have just the edge of light hit her, effectively creating a smaller light source.


To get the same kind of look as the video light, we would’ve had to use an even smaller softbox, and preferably with a grid. With that said, there is no wrong / right look here – it really is up to personal preference.


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promotion: Lighting & Posing Guides for Boudoir

Ed Verosky has compiled 6 guides to help you with lighting and posing for boudoir.The Lighting & Posing series currently contains six guides, each featuring more than 50 reference images, shoot notes, and a bonus behind-the-scenes video. These short and to-the-point guides are a perfect introduction for someone just starting out in this genre of photography.

The individual topics are:
– Boudoir Photography
– Alt Sexy
– Artistic Nudes
– Editorial Boudoir
– Nudes & Bodyscapes
– Valentines Theme

Click here to view more details

Each Lighting & Posing Set includes 50+ photos in a handy PDF (ebook format), camera settings, lighting setup information, and a bonus behind-the-scenes video. Get an insider’s look into how it’s all done. You’ll learn something new with each set!

Ed’s been producing a wide range of photography tutorials in his unique style for over a decade, but his Lighting & Posing series takes a different approach.

“Years ago, I decided I wanted to offer boudoir photography as part of my professional services,” Ed explains. “The problem was, I didn’t know where to begin. I eventually got there, through lots of trial and error, and expense. But it would’ve been a lot easier with simple guides to show me how. I created these guides with that in mind.”

Check out Ed Verosky’s Lighting & Posing series for all the details about what’s included in each of the sets.

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Headshot photography lighting setups in the studio

As with most photography, lighting setups and diagrams are more suggestions than absolutes. There are ‘best practices’ that will help you get constantly good results – such as getting enough light on the eyes so there is a twinkle. Okay, call it a catchlight then. Other than a few guidelines, there is a lot of flexibility in the style of lighting, and also the gear used. In the accompanying article, headshot photography lighting on location, I showed a few examples of how I varied the lighting while out on location. This depended on limitations of the location, as well as requirements of my clients. Similarly, in the studio, I change the lighting configuration, depending on what my client would need.

With this article, I want to show one of the setups I use regularly, and then show an example of where I changed it up for more dramatic results with a client that wanted a more moody look. The point is, we should not be locked in one way of doing it, but be able to improvise a little bit. Similarly, you will notice that the main photo isn’t merely a tight headshot – I included the hands. I don’t particularly like the idea that headshots should just be tightly framed, and that including the hands are a no-no for headshots, and that makes them more a portrait. It’s too sharp a definition for me. If a client wants a half-length shot as well, am I going to refuse?



Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session

  • 1/160  @  f/8  @  100 ISO

This is one of my go-to setups in the studio, based on clam-shell lighting. There is the main light – a gridded Profoto 3′ RFI Octa Softbox  (B&H / Amazon) in the front. I usually have a larger, ungridded softbox for the main light, but this time I wanted that dramatic light fall-off to her hands. Below, you can see the Westcott Eyelighter (affiliate) for fill-light.

I didn’t add a light to the backdrop with this session, but as you can see in the other session shown below, I added an accent on the backdrop for that one. We have choices, as long as the results look good.



The lighting setup used here is something I saw in one of the tutorials in the Profoto newsletter. Different lighting gear that I normally use, but I had the same items, so I thought I would set it up the same way.

This is another instance where the exact gear isn’t necessarily of any consequence – you could use any large light source close to your subject, with a reflector to the other side.

Keeping to the same setup though, I used a Profoto B1 flash with a Profoto Deep Silver Umbrella Large (51″)  (B&H / Amazon), softened with a Profoto Umbrella Diffuser Large  (B&H / Amazon). As a fill-light, I moved the white V-flat in.

For an accent on the painted backdrop, I positioned a gridded Profoto 3′ RFI Octa Softbox  (B&H / Amazon), to create a gradient with fall-off.

Here is the pullback shot to show the exact lighting setup:

Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session

  • 1/200  @  f/8  @  100 ISO

If you want consistency in lighting from shot to shot, then the best option would be to use a tripod. Even a slight shift in my position, subtly changed the way the lighting appears on his face and the background. Remember, it’s the shape of that triangle between your main light, your subject, and yourself, that will (amongst other things), help determine how much contrast you have – or how soft your light will appear.



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Headshot photography lighting on location

Shooting headshots on location needs a different tack than working in the studio. Here I want to show some examples of lighting setups that I have used while shooting headshots indoors, on location. Since these examples are all from indoor sessions, the gear used might be different than when the session is outdoors. The logistics will also likely be different. So this discussion is contained within that framework – the lighting used when shooting headshots on location, indoors. There is a companion article that discusses some lighting setups in the studio.

The lighting setups I use might change depending on the specific scenario, but the workflow and shooting logistics remain fairly similar. Most importantly, I shoot tethered. That’s an essential part of the workflow. My client and the people I photograph, need to see the results immediately. I will shoot a sequence of 8-10 photos, and then show them. I do want my subjects to be happy about how they are portrayed, and their expressions and any other minute detail.

They then also select their favorite image (or two or three, depending on the arrangement with my client). This side-steps potential hiccups afterwards where someone isn’t happy about the photographs when they see them later on in an online gallery.

While that part of the photo sessions’s workflow remains a constant, the lighting configuration will change depending on where I am shooting. How much space I have for the flashes, will dictate the lighting setup.

Another important aspect here – I often have to mimic existing headshots that the company may have on their website. Then I have to reverse-engineer the lighting, and come up with something that would give the company new headshots that remain consistent with the previous look, and consistent with their branding.

I have used speedlights for headshots, such as in this example: On-location corporate headshots – Efficiency and speed. Also check out the article on a home-studio setup with speedlites. However, with the ease of use and power that the Profoto B1 flashes (B&H / Amazon) have, they are now make up my main lights that I use for headshots and business portraits.

Let’s look at a few setups. And of course, they all are centered around Profoto flashes – the Profoto B1 and sometimes the Profoto D1 studio flashes. Please note, with these I don’t want to show any client images, so you can see results with only a few of these setups.


Here I had to do about 16 headshots during a team’s lunch break during a conference in a hotel. There wasn’t much space to set up multiple lights, and I had to make sure that my setup didn’t expand into the main areas where people passed by. So I set up behind these glass doors behind which the hotel hid some extra chair and tables. I used two lights – one to light up the grey background to the extent they liked.  And then a single large main light source – the Profoto B1 flash (affiliate) and the massive  Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella  (B&H / Amazon).

A simple, yet effective setup. My client loved the photos. This was quick and easy to setup, even as the solo photographer. I rolled everything in via the two roller cases shown in the photo. They are also shown in more detail here: Photo gear & logistics: Corporate headshots. It is essential to set up fast without struggling, and shoot efficiently.

Lighting gear used during this photo session



Still busy setting up 5 identical stations for 5 photographers to shoot groups photos within an hour during a huge medical conference. While not headshot specific, I thought it might be of interest here. Ten nightstands, and ten lights. Three of the stations were my lighting gear that I brought in – (2x) Profoto B1 flashes (affiliate) that are my usual portable lighting setup; and (4x) Profoto D1 studio flash (500 Ws)  (affiliate) that I brought in from my studio.

Straight-forward and efficient. And also importantly, the results from ll 5 stations needed to look very similar, shot at the same settings.

Lighting gear used during this photo session



This specific setup has already appeared here on the Tangents blog – Headshot photography lighting setup – along with a photo of me to show what the lighting looked like. as mentioned above, with these lighting setups, I don’t want to show any client images.

This was specifically set up to mimic the lighting that they had on existing headshots on their website. Here I used 4 lights. One light for the background. One light as rim-light from above, slightly to the right. The light on the left is just fill light that I bounced into the office. The main light source was again the large  Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella  (B&H / Amazon) that I scooped a little bit to the side to feather the light.

Again, as the solo photographer, I rolled in everything in the two large roller cases. I set everything up as quickly and quietly as I could, and then had people in the office just step in for their headshots. You can see the marker on the floor there – the roll of gaffer tape. That’s where they had to place their toes for me to be sure to have consistent light and exposure.

For more detail about this setup:  Headshot photography lighting setup.

Lighting gear used during this photo session



Another straight-forward setup, and this time also to reverse-engineer the look they have with existing headshots on their website.

Two Profoto B1 flashes (affiliate) – the main light with the Westcott Rapid Box 36 XL (affiliate), and the other with the Profoto Umbrella 41? Shallow Translucent  (affiliate), as a fill light. I had to set this up in  senior partner’s office, because that’s the only space they had available that day. The light on the background was pushed closer to the backdrop so that it created more of a halo, instead of a flat grey background.

Lighting gear used during this photo session



This setup has been described previously: Photo gear & logistics: Corporate headshots. Four lights again – two on the background, (via the two bounce umbrellas), and a hair light. As you can see, this one is a bit of a squeeze in terms of ceiling height.

In this photo the main light is diffused with a Westcott Rapid Box 36 XL (affiliate), but because of the low ceiling height, with subsequent headshot sessions here (after this photo was taken), I used a rectangular umbrella in this location: Angler Parsail 60? Umbrella (affiliate). More info here: Best photo umbrella for a home-studio & indoor headshots.

The reflector in the foreground is the  Eye-lighter (B&H / Amazon).


Lighting gear used during this photo session




As you can see, my approach varies. I do bring more gear than I would use, just in case. And it just makes sense to have backup lights, and flexible options. Ultimately, the end results matter the most … along with looking professional because everything runs smoothly.


Related articles


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Spekular – versatile continuous lighting kit

I use a range of continuous lighting in the studio – it is essential for video of course, but even for stills, it is sometimes easier to work with continuous lighting than flash. When the Spekular LED lights (B&H / Amazon) hit the market, they caught my eye. What makes them unusual is that the kit comes as 4 LED bars which can be hooked up as a panel, or in any number of shapes up to 8 bars. The Spekular website shows some of the options. This kind of flexibility makes it a versatile continuous lighting kit.

I have other LED panels that I have been using on location and in the studio, and I love them. But for a larger light source, I have to rely on the Spiderlite continuous lights, which aren’t as powerful as I sometimes need them to be. That diffuser panel eats up a lot of light. Hence my interest in this new Spekular set – it is very bright! Now, all this versatility in how you can configure the strips, and the power of the light, don’t mean much unless the lights have a high quality of light, i.e., can deliver a pure white. The Spekular is guaranteed to be 94+ CRI and 96+ TLCI. This is also discussed in a previous article on buying a video light for Photography & Video.

For a first test in the studio, I set three of the kits up as large hexagonal lights:

Camera settings & photo gear used during this photo session

Being spread out as hexagons turned these into relatively large light sources, even though they aren’t a singular panel of light. Consider this as if the light comes from a larger area now, instead of a narrower strip.

Using this as a ring-light, you can imagine already that the catch-light in the eye would be hexagonal. Interesting.


You can purchase the Spekular kit via these affiliate links



So far I am impressed with these lights, and the concept behind them – the multiple ways you can configure them in. Ultimately, I think that using them as a panel, or as a ring light would be the most useful (and common) ways of setting these up. More to come – I hope to have a longer review up shortly.


Related articles


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