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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. There’s a way to control the light for more nuanced effect because with continuous lighting, what you see is what you get. When the Spekular LED lights (affiliate) 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 and accessories from 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.


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5DayDeal – A bunch of photography goodies for a low, low price

Yes, it’s coming our way again – the 5DayDeal – where a bunch of photography related goodies are available for a heavily discounted price of $117

It’s a mixed bag of educational material and … well, just scroll down below to the screen captures of what is included. Or click through on the 5DayDeal link and have a look!

A portion of the proceeds go to various charities. Then there is an add-on that can be purchased for $24.97 which would increase the amount given to charity. For even more, there is the Pro Add-on for $12.47 with even more added. Details in that link.







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Which image resolution should you use? 72 dpi /ppi, or 300 ppi / dpi?

I feel that as modern photographers who shoot with digital cameras, there are a few basics which we absolutely need to know and understand. Some concepts that are so intrinsic to the digital format, that we have no excuse not to grasp the basic tenets. One of these things would be the resolution of images – the image size. Not in kilobytes or megabytes (since this is rooted in a more archaic form where images were scanned) – but image resolution as in pixel dimensions. Megapixel size. That kind of thing. The confudled question often then also hinges on which image resolution should you use? 72 dpi or 300 dpi?  (Or also, 72 ppi vs 300 ppi.)

It is a topic that has been discussed here before:
Image size & Resolution – 72 dpi or 300 dpi

But if that is something you don’t understand and you’d rather not deal with in your workflow … I’m offering a new service to photographers – I can change your images from 72dpi (or ppi) to 300dpi (or ppi). I can also change them back. Either direction. As often as you want.

This is for the low, low fee of 25c an image. There is a bulk rate of 10c an image.
After reading some threads in various photography groups on FB, I see there is an urgent need for this. I think this could be a real boost to your workflow if you’re stuck.

But before anyone showers me with easy money, let’s go over this 72 dpi / ppi thing …

The first thing we need to be aware of – ‘dpi’ is for ‘dots per inch’ which is a printer option. We will usually work with ‘ppi’, which is for ‘pixels per inch’. For our work, this is the definition we will most likely work with – how many pixels per inch we need.

When you export your RAW file to JPG (or TIFF), then the Save Options menu will give you an open choice as to what you want your resolution to be. How many pixels per inch. The reality is that you can just leave it at any default option in that box. It doesn’t matter … unless you start working with dimensions in inches or centimeters.

Let’s say you have a 24 megapixel image: 6000 x 4000 pixels.
If you multiply that, you will see you get 24,000,000 which is 24 million. In other words, 24 megapixels. So far, so good.

Now, whether you export that 24mpx RAW file as 72 ppi or 300 ppi (without resizing), you will end up with an image that has the same pixel dimensions. It will remain 24 mpx. Nothing lost, nothing gained. Try it. Have a look and see for yourself. You end up with exactly the same size image.

Ergo, the choice in ppi has no real bearing here. It does not matter. Your image remains the same size.

Now, if you should resize the photo as a specific size (in width and length) in inches or centimeters, then we need to know how large the image can print, or will appear on a website. Then we need to know how many ‘pixels per inch’ we need.

Largely though, the choice between various resolutions are immaterial.

This is also an instant give-away that someone is clueless about digital photography – when they request full-resolution images as “72 dpi” images. That measurement there has no relation to the digital image you have … until you start measuring image size in inches or centimeters.

Similarly, if you are requested to send someone images at 1200 px wide (at 72dpi), then you know they have no idea what they are asking for.

You could just as easily send them images at 999 ppi …

… because the image size in pixel dimensions will be exactly the same as any of the other ppi settings. (Unless of course there are actual inches and centimeters involved in defining image resolution.)

As mentioned at the start, this article also covers the topic: Image size & Resolution – 72 dpi or 300 dpi



Again, if you’re still not sure about all of this, do try it out on a test image. See for yourself. As a digital photographer, you owe it to yourself, your clients and the world, to understand this.

In the meantime, if you need to convert images from 72 ppi to 300 ppi, (or vice versa), then hit me up. I need the cash.



Camera gear (or equivalents), and lighting gear used in this photo session

The light was from a single Profoto D1 studio flash (500 Ws) (B&H / Amazon), but the important part of the lighting setup here is the Profoto 1’x6’ gridded strip-box (B&H / Amazon). A gridded sjtripbox gives an interesting light on any subject – soft, but directional. Dramatic, but not too contrasty. Also, this long (gridded) softbox gives a unique light fall-off when used close to a wall. I love how I can scallop the light, and either have some of the light fall on the wall … or not. On the right-hand side you can see the white V-flat that was used to reflect some of the light back as fill light.


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review: Nikon D850 camera

Cameras have become such complex and nuanced machines that it is difficult for one single review to encompass and test everything that a camera is capable of. With that, this review of the Nikon D850 (B&H / Amazon), is split into two parts. The first part – review: Nikon D850 high ISO test – is where you can see and download files shot on the Nikon D850, as well as the Nikon D5 and D810 and D750. You can download the files there and compare yourself – needs and requirements differ for everyone. In that vein, this (main) part of the review of the Nikon D850, is based more on my own user experience, and my expectations and need of certain functions in a camera.

Sports shooters and landscape photographers will have different requirements than an event or portrait & wedding photographer like myself. What do I need? A responsive camera that delivers files in the 20-24 megapixel range. A camera that gives superb, clean high ISO images. A camera with intuitive controls. At this point, the Nikon D5 (B&H / Amazon) is as close to a perfect camera as I have ever used … with a few minor annoyances and one major flaw.

There are a few things that bother me with the Nikon D5 – such as the ‘Quality’ button is right in the middle between the WB button and the Drive button. Barely any better than the D4 bodies where the ‘Quality’ button was right next to the ISO button – nicely placed for you to adjust your RAW file setting to small JPG, if you aren’t careful in adjusting your ISO! The Nikon D5 barely improved on that. Also annoying with the Nikon D5, you can’t change the Flash Exposure Compensation while there is an image on the LCD preview screen – the dedicated flash control button is gone.

The major flaw for me with the Nikon D5 – if you enable to silent shutter, you end up with a 7 megapixel JPG file. This is useless for my work. In fact, it is useless for my personal photography too. The feature that I had hoped would allow me to shoot silently at corporate events and weddings, turned out not to be possible with the Nikon D5.

And that’s what I need in a camera right now –  a responsive camera that delivers files in the 20-24 megapixel range, with superb high ISO images … and a silent shutter if needed. So I have been been increasingly tempted by the Sony A9 (B&H / Amazon), which offers exactly that. However, switching systems isn’t easy – I’ve done so twice before. It’s not just cameras, lenses and flashes – I have drawers-full of Nikon doodads and accessories. So there is strong inertia here.

Then Nikon announced the Nikon D850, and my interest was piqued – there was the possibility of shooting medium RAW (25 mpx) files, with silent shutter mode if necessary. Holding the camera in front of me like a tourist when in Live View mode … I could live with that, if it made my camera not sound like a Gatling gun. On top of the silent shutter feature, the literature says it offers the same AF abilities as the Nikon D5. While my demands for AF aren’t as tough as they would be for a News or Sports shooter, I do need that responsiveness to nail sharp images.

But how does the Nikon D850 stack up in all this?  On paper, the specifications of the Nikon D850 clearly makes it a class-leader, and possibly the best DSLR available on the market right now. By the way, there are links to various RAW files further down in this review article that you can download to check out and play with and compare.



A photo shoot with the Nikon D850

If you’re here, reading this, you are most likely familiar with the leading-edge specifications and features of the Nikon D850. If not, instead of me listing the long list of additional features and tweaks and improvements, you can find them on B&H’s website (affiliate link), or on the Nikon USA website. Instead, I would like to touch on the most noticeable points which would affect my photography and way of shooting. My first test run with the Nikon D850 was with a photo shoot with Lise Liu and Rafal, two models in New York.


  • 45.4 megapixel resolution: 8256 x 5504

The most prominent feature of the Nikon D850 is the sensor: 45 megapixels resolution, which is a massive amount of detail. Nikon also claims outstanding dynamic range for this sensor. For greater sharpness, Nikon omitted the conventional optical low-pass / anti-aliasing filter. Even though The Nikon D850 has no anti-alisising filter they say there is little risk of moiré. I didn’t notice any moiré patterns on Rafal’s waistcoat in the images we shot. That kind of fine pattern easily shows up that disturbing artifact, yet in this shoot at least, I didn’t notice any.

The photo shown here is a square crop of the larger, horizontal  composition, yet we still ended up here with a 21 megapixel image. Still a huge file that would make a huge 15″ square print at 300 dpi, without any need for resizing.

That is the obvious appeal of a camera with great resolution – it allows you great flexibility in cropping in afterwards, or making huge prints with superb detail.

Details for the photo above:

The pull-back shot to show the position of the off-camera lighting. Lise’s exact positioning with each jump wasn’t predictable, and since I needed a super-wide framing, I simply had the light nearly over-head from me.




Features & Camera body design

The feel and handling of the D850 are really good – the grip is ‘deeper’ than the D810, and similar to how the D750 is, but less small. For my hands, I need a large camera. The D5 type bodies feel good in my hands; the D750 felt too small. The D850 feels good. The weight of the camera by itself is 2.01 lbs / 915 g – this also helps in giving the camera a solid feel, but it’s not unduly heavy.

The layout of the buttons make sense if you are accustomed to Nikon cameras. The ISO button moved from the top left cluster (where it was on the D810), to the same position as on the D5. This makes it easier to change ISO without looking away from the viewfinder. Similar to the D5, the buttons on the camera are illuminated – invaluable for when you work in the dark and need to see your camera controls.

Just like the D750 and D5 now, you need to push one of the buttons to the side of the LCD preview … and this is a button that doubles up as the zoom button. This means you can’t change the FEC while an image displays. Mildly annoying when you expect a dedicated control for that.

Overall, if you love the D810 and the D750, this camera will feel very good in your hands.


  • 3.2″ 2.36m-dot LCD touchscreen 

The LCD screen is now a touchscreen for live view shooting, playback, and menu navigation – wonderful for scrolling through images fast, and to zoom in on an image. Another improvement from the D810 / D5 bodies – the LCD preview can be tilted. This makes viewing at odd angles more comfortable. It can’t swivel to the left or right though – just an up/down tilt. This ability to tilt is also a great boon if you shoot video, where you are especially less likely to shoot from eye level.

In Video mode, you can focus by touching any point on the screen.


  • Silent Shutter
    In Live-View mode, you can select the Silent option, and the shutter truly is silent. There is not even the slightest sound. Perfect for times when the sound of the mirror and shutter would be a huge distraction. You do have to hold the camera in front of your face, instead of comfortably looking through an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), but that’s a compromise I can live with if I get to keep all my Nikon lenses.
  • Viewfinder Coverage 100%
  • The view inside the viewfinder offers 0.75x magnification, and gives you a clear and realistic view of the scene you are photographing. The D850 has an optical viewfinder with 0.75x magnification (the highest among all Nikon DSLRs), 100% field of view coverage and a good 17mm eye point.
  • Card formats:  XQD + SD (SDHC / SDXC)
  • Focus Shift Mode benefits working with focus stacking techniques by automatically recording a series of images at up to 10 different focus steps. Up to 300 individual frames can be recorded within these 10 steps, with the D850 automatically shifting focus between each shot to achieve an extended depth of field. The sequential images will be saved within a unique folder on the memory card in order to keep each series of exposures segregated for a faster and easier post-production workflow.
  • 4K Ultra HD video recording,
  • Slow motion video up to 120 FPS, when shooting with 1080p resolution.



  • Flash

There is no built-in flash. For me, this is no great loss, especially if it helps with weather sealing. You also don’t need the pop-up flash to trigger a wireless flash, since you can add the optional WR-R10 Controller and WR-A10 Receiver, along with the SB-5000, for proper wireless flash shooting that doesn’t require line-of-sight like the optical system would.

The max flash sync speed is 1/250 which is standard for the pro-series Nikon bodies. Of course, the Nikon D850 allows high-speed flash sync with dedicated flash units.




Autofocus & Focus enhancements

The Nikon D850 offers several new features (for Nikon), as well as some improvements to the AF capabilities.

The D850 sports the same Multi-CAM 20K AF system as the Nikon D5, but I still felt the D5 was more responsive, especially in lower light. With a sequence like this, where the two models are jogging towards the camera, the D850 easily kept up. I did not get to test the D850 vs D5 under more demanding conditions. For the photography work I do, this is about the level of movement I regularly deal with.

Even though the D850 and D5 have the same AF hardware, this might be the same case as what I experienced with the D700 vs D3. Even though the D700 and D3 had the same AF hardware, the D3 had noticeably more robust auto-focus than the D700.

All that said, the D850’s auto-focus capabilities exceeded what I would need.

From the literature on the D850:
“Complementing the rendering capabilities and speed of the image sensor is the robust Multi-CAM 20K AF system, which features 153 total phase-detection points, including 99 cross-type sensors for improved subject recognition, and 55 of the points are selectable for greater compositional freedom.”
“Benefitting the sensor is the EXPEED 5 image processor, which affords a wealth of speed throughout the camera system, including the ability to shoot continuously at 7 fps for up to 51 consecutive 14-bit lossless compressed raw files in a single burst.”

So there is some serious hardware and software at work here.

Furthering the versatility of the focusing system, different AF-area modes can be selected to support varying types of subject matter:
– Single-Point AF: The camera uses a single point to find focus.
– Dynamic-Area AF: Available with 25, 72, or 153-point selections, this mode uses a primary single focus point to lock onto focus, and then makes use of the surrounding points for maintaining focus while tracking erratically-moving subjects.
– Group-Area AF: This mode treats smaller groups of AF points as a single point for a wider field of recognition, and is well-suited to tracking faces or other detailed subjects.
– 3D-Tracking: Using a subject’s color information, this mode utilizes all 153 points to maintain focus on a moving subject while half-pressing the shutter button.
– Auto-Area AF: This mode makes use of all 153 points to quickly identify the main subject, and then prioritizes recognized faces as portrait subjects in any AF servo mode.

There are also other features:

  • Auto AF fine-tune function

The AF fine-tune function can be used to ensure the best possible focus for every lens you use. Rather than relying on photographing distance charts, this function lets you achieve precise focus manually in live view, and then have the AF system calibrate itself to the fine-tuned focus position in order to alleviate front- and back-focusing issues.


  • Focus peaking

Focus Peaking can be used to benefit manual focus control and a Zebra Stripes option is also available to help detect over-exposed areas within the frame.If you need to focus accurately and fast with manual focus, and don’t have the time to zoom in to check focus accuracy, then Focus Peaking is something you’d love. A clearly visible red outline to everything that is in focus. You can of course change the color of that, but red really helps.




Nikon D850: large RAW vs medium RAW and small RAW files 

In offering three different RAW file sizes, it would make the D850 appear like a 3-in-1 camera. Select the resolution you need.

As stated before, I don’t need a 45 megapixel camera for 95% of my work. I need workhorse cameras in the 20-24 megapixel range. Or 25 megapixels. That’s what had me excited about the D850, along with the silent shutter. The improved auto-focus over the D810, as well as the improvements over the D810, make seem to make the D850 an unbeatable camera.

Then while doing Nikon D850 high ISO tests, I noticed that the medium RAW (mRAW) files looked a little too soft for my taste. There just wasn’t that crisp detail in the eye-lashes. For me, like many other wedding and portrait photographers, that’s where I notice resolution – the detail in the eye-lashes. That’s kinda my on-the-spot resolution chart.

For both sequences I used a light-weight tripod, and shot around 1/60th @ f/8 with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 … but you can see all that info in the EXIF data anyway. The first image has a lot of detail in the building facade. The second image might allow you a better idea of shadow detail and highlights.

Here is a 100% detail comparison between the 25 megapixel image, and the same scene with the 45 megapixel image, scaled down to 25 mpx.


I saw this result in every test I did. The medium RAW files are a touch too soft for my taste.

  • Similarly, I did several tests with the 20 megapixel Nikon D5 compared to the 25 megapixel mRAW of the D850 – download RAW files here.

The D5 files Are somewhat sharper than the D850 mRAW down-rezzed to 20 mpx. Similarly, the D5 is even sharper than the D850 mRAW if you uprez the D5 to 25 mpx. I’m conflicted. The difference is there, but it is small.

I think in practical terms, no one would really ever notice. If I delivered the processed JPGs from mRAW to a client, they would NEVER come back to me and complain about it.

For me, it is a confidence thing. The Nikon D5 fills me with confidence – the high ISO images are superb. The files look great. The autofocus is unbeatably fast and accurate. I can pull back details out of under-exposed high-ISO files like crazy. The Nikon D5 is a responsive beast that helps me overcome whatever is thrown at me in any situation. It fills me with confidence that whatever they throw at me, I can handle (with the Nikon 24-70VR), and Profoto lights.
So this mRAW thing is more a chink in that confidence armor.

I was hoping the Nikon D850 would be that camera, but with some extra juice that I need in my work. So this was disappointing.

For more info on how the Nikon D850 sensor works, and how the medium RAW file is processed, check out this authoritative article on the PhotographyLife website.







The Nikon D850 (affiliate), is a magnificent camera that is clearly in the top range of what is available right now. I would highly recommend it, with the caveat that you should make very sure that the medium RAW files are something you would either not need, or that the (mild) image softness is something that wouldn’t bother you.

Ultimately, the Nikon D850 is just not the camera that I needed it to be. I sold mine already, and I am looking at another D5, or perhaps, perhaps that Sony A9. Then again, Nikon is going to release a mirrorless camera in 2018. Maybe I should hold off for a while on any big decisions.


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review: Nikon D850 high ISO test

This article is an adjunct to the main review of the Nikon D850, and here we only look at how the Nikon D850 (B&H / Amazon) stacks up against other full-frame Nikon DSLRs in terms of high-ISO noise. How the camera performs at higher ISO settings might be of less interest to Nature photographers, but for event and wedding photographers, it is one of the essential factors in considering a camera. In this test, we’re going to look how the Nikon D850 compares specifically to the Nikon D5, D810 and D750. To make things interesting for everyone, there are RAW files you can download, at the different ISO settings, starting from 800 ISO onwards.

Of course, we are up against a challenge here in that all four these cameras have different resolutions, so we need to equalize for that.

If you are curious how some of these cameras compare at higher ISO setting with previous Nikon models, check out these links. There are downloadable RAW files there as well.

To keep this review fairly concise, we’re only going to look at 3200 ISO in the comparison photos shown here. For me, that’s about the most regularly used high ISO setting before we start working with the crazy-high ISO settings. We should be able to get a good idea of how the cameras compare when we look at that one specific value. Again, if you are interested in the other settings, and want to test for yourself, there are RAW files you can download. The file names should be obvious as to which camera and ISO setting (and resolution) they are.

Summary of the high-ISO comparisons

In short, the Nikon D5 (B&H / Amazon), shines in terms of the look of the high-ISO noise in the images – the grain is even, and not as distinct as in any of the equivalent ISO settings of the other cameras. That said, the Nikon D5 has an anti-aliasing filter, so the images are less crisp than those of the Nikon D810 or full-resolution Nikon D850. Still, the D5 falls well into the “plenty sharp” category for my professional and personal use.

The Nikon D850 (B&H / Amazon), might be marginally ahead of the Nikon D810 in terms of high-ISO noise. Or, said in another way, the D810 holds up surprisingly well, and will be a camera with fantastic capabilities for many years to come, compared to other cameras.

The Nikon D750 (B&H / Amazon), holds up remarkably well for high-ISO noise, as well as sharpness. So if you’ve been using a Nikon D750, I don’t think there is much motive to upgrade yet, unless you need specific features of the D850.

Now this is where disappointment set in for me with the Nikon D850 medium RAW files – while they have reasonably controlled noise (compared to the D750 for example), the mRAW files of the Nikon D850 are soft. This article on the PhotographyLife website explains the technology behind the D850 sensor and the different sizes of RAW files.

This softness of the medium RAW files are also discussed in the more full review: Nikon D850 camera. While every other aspect of the D850 is mouth-watering state-of-the-art image-making machine, the lack of a decently sharp medium RAW file is disappointing. Since the vast majority of my work doesn’t require more than the 20-24 megapixel range, that’s where I would use the D850 most of the time.

Again, please download the RAW files for yourself to test if you need to. Remember to resize the images for comparison. Don’t just compare a D5 file at 100% with a D850 file at 100% … they will look different. You have to equalize them in some way to give yourself a sense of how they might print or appear on a screen.





Here is an example where you can clearly see the 25 megapixel medium RAW file of the D850 is softer than the down-sized 45 megapixel file. The camera was on a tripod and set to manual focus.





The Nikon D750 holds its own!




The Nikon D5 file at 1600 ISO compared to the full-resolution D850 file, sized down to 20 megapixels. Once you resize the D850 files appropriately, they look remarkably good in terms of the high-ISO noise.








The Nikon D5 image has smoother high ISO than the D850 full-resolution file scaled down to 20 megapixels, but due to the anti-aliasing filter of the D5, the D5 image is less crisply sharp.  The D850 noise at this size looks pretty good for 6400 ISO though, even if the D5 beats it.



The lighting setup for this test sequence

I had to figure out a work-around for the very high ISO settings, since this would push the shutter speeds really high if I start at 800 ISO. I set up these two  Litepanels Astra EP Bi-Color LED Panels  (B&H / Amazon), to bounce against two white V-flats to give as soft light as I could. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like there were any (or much?) flicker present at these high shutter speeds. The Astras are meant to be flicker-free, but I am not sure the manufacturer meant that they would be used at very high shutter speeds. Still, the images looked consistent to me. Hopefully consistent enough for a valid test.

All images were shot at f/8 except for a few images at very high ISO settings, where I had to go to f/11 when the shutter speeds maxed out.



I hope these tests have value for you, and give you a better idea of how these cameras might perform in low light and high ISO settings. Let us know in the comments what you think.


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Helios 40-2 85mm f/1.5 lens

The quest to add an interesting, eye-catching element to a photograph, often leads us photographers to start working with lenses that have a distinctive bokeh. One of the more affordable vintage lenses that gives a distinctive bokeh and is also a perfect portrait focal length, is the Soviet made Helios 40-2 85mm f/1.5 lens (for Canon / for Nikon). The 85mm Helios is also is surprisingly affordable as photography gear goes. 

The swirly bokeh is fairly distinctive of the Helios optic. Adding this kind of effect in-camera to enhance a photograph, without resorting to Photoshop trickery, will help with a more streamlined workflow. The challenge then is to find that balance where the bokeh doesn’t distract from your subject, but enhances the image.

With this sequence of photos of Anelisa, I used the Sony a7ii (B&HAmazon) again. As I described in the article – Sony mirrorless cameras with vintage lenses – the way that Sony is able to implement manual focus due to the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF), sets it apart from DSLRs. Fuji does it in a similar way, but because the Fuji is a crop sensor, you lose much of the effect of using these vintage lenses. I discuss the Fuji cameras manual focus mode in this linked article.

This lens is all metal and glass, and is a heavy beast, especially on a smaller camera like the Sony.

You can purchase this lens via these affiliate links:

Here are a few tips on using this type of lens to best effect:


Tips on using the Helios 85mm lens to best effect

These lenses tend to be very soft towards the edges – not a problem in itself, but it does mean that a more central composition works best. A centered composition also helps in allowing the bokeh swirl to pull your eye in towards your subject. So both the lens sharpness and the bokeh forces a specific composition on you.

The best bokeh effect is achieved if there are highlights in the background that will defocus to elliptical spheres. In these photos of Anelisa, I had her stand in front of a tree through which the sunlight created dappled patterns on the leaves.

A more neutral background such as this alleyway shown below in this portrait of Anastasiya, still shows in an unusual bokeh, but the effect is much more muted. So, as a counterpoint, if the swirly bokeh shown in the photos of Anelisa is too much for your liking, then you could always use a more neutral background.

The specific bokeh of the lens is more pronounced at the wider apertures. Hence all the images here were shot at full aperture: f/1.5

It also means that I had to be extra careful with the focusing. Again, the Sony’s superb manual focus technique helps here.

These vintage lenses tend to flare easily, which can be used for additional effect. In trying to let the lens flare here, it did lead to a more pronounced highlight above her which might be distracting in the composition.

Shooting into the sun like that, will create a flat image. To make these images shine, you do need to adjust the RAW file slightly. So much for the grand-standing “getting it right in camera crowd” – there are many situations where that isn’t possible. You need to adjust the RAW file!

The adjustments I made to the SOOC file (shown below) – I pulled the Black Point way down. I pulled the Exposure slider down a bit as well. I bumped up the Contrast slightly. Then the final adjustment was a a tweak to the White Balance. Aside from a few minor skin blemished that I removed in Photoshop, these were the only adjustments I made to the images.



About the lens used during this photo shoot

Helios 85mm f/1.5 – for Canon  (Amazon)
Helios 85mm f/1.5 – for Nikon  (Amazon)



These lenses are both fun to use, and a challenge. And part of the challenge is to allow the bokeh to enhances your photos, and not become something that is an over-used gimmick. It’s a fine balance!


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review: Profoto A1 flash

Profoto has a very strong reputation in the industry for making gear that are reliable, easy to use, powerful, and, well … looks really good. When Profoto entered the market a few years ago with the portable Profoto B1 flash (affiliate), and then the Profoto B2 flash (affiliate), it was inevitable then that at some point they would make a grand entrance with a speedlight. With this review of the Profoto A1 flash (affiliate), I wanted to show more how I would use it, than just cover the specs of the flash.

I met up with Anastasiya to record this review video, but it ended up being partly a tutorial video as well. In the studio we go over how I would use this in a simple way as an on-camera bounce flash – and used properly, the results can be surprisingly  good. We then went out on location and used the Profoto A1 as a trigger for the B1 unit, as well as using the Profoto A1 as a single off-camera flash.

The results look really good – as they should when you use flash with careful consideration. That’s to be expected. What you can also expect with the Profoto A1 is an elegant lighting device. The designers really put a lot of thought into this speedlight.

You can pre-order the Profoto A1 through these affiliate links:
– Profoto A1 flash for Canon  (B&H)
– Profoto A1 flash for Nikon  (B&H)


Profoto A1 speedlight

Features of the Profoto A1 flash

Before we list the specifications (in a very dry way lower down in this review), I want to go over a few things that stood out for me with this flash:

  • The A1 has a neat system with how you can magnetically attach modifiers and gels. No need to strap things down – everything just smoothly clips into position.
  • There is also a clip-on white bounce card, and if you reverse the white bounce card to have the black side in front, you have a flag. For those of you who regularly follow the Tangents blog, you will immediately recognize how to use this flag on the flash – just like you would the Black Foamie Thing. The Profoto A1 just looks a lot more elegant.
  • The modeling light on the Profoto A1 changes zoom angle as you zoom the flash head!  So you can immediately see how much of your scene will be covered by how you zoom the flash head. Again, an elegant implementation.
  • The way that Profoto implements TTL and Manual flash by interlocking it, is beautiful. You can do a test shot in TTL, and if the exposure looks good, you just lock it as a manual exposure. This is a handy time-saver on a stressful shoot.
  • No need for AA batteries. The Profoto A1 has a proprietary battery that clips onto the front of the flash.
  • I have used the Profoto A1 on several weddings now, and what also impressed me is how fast the flash recycles, even when fired at full power. The battery really keeps up. The spec sheet has the recycling time as 0.05 to 1.2 Sec. That 1.2 seconds recycle time is really fast for a full dump.
  • The power rating for the flash is given as 76 Ws, instead of the usual Guide Number rating given for speedlights. In testing the flash in the studio, I’d say the Profoto A1 flash is about 1/2 stop brighter than the equivalent Nikon or Canon speedlights. Not a massive difference, but it does mean the A1 delivers a respectable output for a flash of this kind.
  • Profoto hasn’t mentioned yet which range the flash’s radio signal has, but in the video you can see that I specifically shot with a 300mm lens to get full-length photos of Anastasiya – this gave me a really long working distance, and there were no misfires!  Of course, Sport photographers would work over longer distances, but for my needs (weddings & portraits), the Profoto offers more than I need in terms of signal range.



Using the Profoto A1 for on-camera bounce flash

With this photo (as shown in the video), we had the black flag on the Profoto A1 to control how the light from the flash spilled. Working close enough to a surface we can bounce the flash off … and with careful posing, we can get short lighting! This looks like studio quality lighting from an on-camera flash.

This topic is covered thoroughly in the articles linked here: Black Foamie Thing

This technique is also discussed in depth in my book, On-Camera Flash  (revised edition)


Camera settings & photo gear used in this part of the video


On-Camera Flash Photography

On-Camera Flash Photography – revised edition

This book is explains a cohesive and thorough approach to getting the best from your on-camera speedlight.

Particular care was taken to present it all with a logical flow that will help any photographer attain a better understanding of flash photography.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle. Also check out the Amazon Kindle store.

Learn more about how the cover image was shot.



Using the Profoto A1 as a remote trigger, or as an off-camera flash

With this sequence of photos shot out on location (as shown in the video), I used the Profoto A1 initially as a trigger to fire the Profoto B1 flash. Then I reverted to using the Profoto A1 flash as the off-camera flash, triggered by a Profoto Air-TTL trigger. This makes the Profoto A1 more versatile than just being a speedlight. It doubles as a trigger for your other Profoto lights!

The lens that I used in this section is the remarkable Nikon 300mm f/4E VR  (B&H / Amazon). It is compact – less than 6″ long, and is light-weight. Combine this with the lens’ stabilization, and you have a long focal length lens that is very hand-holdable … and razor sharp!


Camera settings & photo gear used in this part of the video



Using the Profoto A1 in high-speed sync mode

There really is nothing to using the Profoto A1 flash in high-speed flash sync mode. With the Nikon, you simply ramp up the shutter speed to where you need it to be. Remember, that with all flashes, there is some loss of power when you go into HSS mode. This is discussed in my book, Off-Camera Flash, as well as the tutorial here on the Tangents blog:  High-speed flash sync (HSS)

During this part of the photo session, I used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG (affiliate) at f/1.4 for that specific shallow depth-of-field wide open. This then pushed the shutter speed up to 1/640 which is well into HSS territory. Because I worked with the flash fairly close to Anastasiya, I could get away with using the speedlight outside, while bounced into a small umbrella. If I had worked in stronger light conditions, I would’ve used bare off-camera flash.


Camera settings & photo gear used in this part of the video


Off-Camera Flash Photography

Off-Camera Flash Photography

With this book, I wanted the material in the book to flow as a truly accessible introduction to off-camera flash. The techniques here are within the reach of everyone.

As always, the aim was for those aha! moments when things become clear and just makes sense. And then, hopefully, inspire the readers of the book to see how easily off-camera flash lighting can expand our photographic repertoire.

You can either purchase a copy via Amazon USA or Amazon UK. The book is available on the Apple iBook Store, and Amazon Kindle.


Profoto A1 specifications

  • Built-In AirTTL, Use On or Off Camera
  • Recycling: 0.05 to 1.2 Sec
  • Li-Ion Battery: 350 Full Power Flashes
  • High Speed Sync, LED Modeling Light
  • 9 Stop Power Range, 76 Ws Output
  • Weighs 1.2 lb Including Battery
  • Optional Wireless TTL with Air Remote
  • Includes Bounce Card, Dome Diffuser
  • Also includes Wide Lens, Flash Stand, USB Cable



It is clear that I am impressed with the Profoto A1. It does come with a high price though – about double the equivalent speedlights from the camera makers. However, it fits so seamlessly into the Profoto ecosystem, that I do think there will be a strong demand for this well-designed unit.

You can pre-order the Profoto A1 through these affiliate links:
– Profoto A1 flash for Canon  (B&H)
– Profoto A1 flash for Nikon  (B&H)


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Fuji 56mm f/1.2 R

Lens review: Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R

For any photographer moving from zooms to using primes as well, with a strong interest in portraits, the 85mm lens is your best choice. If you’re a fan of Fuji, then the equivalent focal length would be the 56mm optic. And if you’re a fan of Fuji, then you will already know that their lenses are razor-sharp. To test the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R (B&H / Amazon), I photographed one of my favorite models, Anastasiya, using the flood of light from the billboards in Times Square. While not a thorough lens review of the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R, I did use this lens in a way that matches a way I often shoot – using higher ISO settings, and using the camera hand-held. If the results look great with these limitations, then I am sure the lens will perform even better when used with a more rigorous technique.

The camera I used is the little Fuji X-T20 (B&H / Amazon), a great travel camera when you don’t want to carry around a larger camera. The 56mm lens actually felt good on this small camera, and not front-heavy or out of proportion.

For this test, I only shot at f/1.2 with the idea that if you buy this lens, it is to be used mostly wide open like that.  So we will look briefly at the sharpness and the bokeh.


Here is the 100% crop from that frame. Keep in mind that this was shot hand-held, and that there could’ve been flare from all the lights. Even with those limitations, I love the amount of detail that is visible in her eyelashes. If it looks this good at f/1.2 then it will improve if you stop down just a little bit already.



The bokeh of the Fuji XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens

Using this lens at the widest aperture, the depth-of-field will be supremely shallow, giving your photographs a specific look. Now, keep in mind that smooth bokeh and shallow DoF are not quite the same thing – Bokeh vs shallow depth-of-field (DoF). Some lenses have a wiry or harsh look to the background, even when used wide open.  The Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 come to mind. It has a really busy bokeh.

Here are a few examples where you can see how smooth the bokeh is from the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens. In this photo below, the two people in the background become a pastel wash of colors! There are no hard or double edges to elements in the background.

So that you have an idea of where we shot – this is an iPhone photo of the scene in Times Square. It’s very busy with so many people and colors, but with a lens like this, it all melts away.


Another example of how you can get a pretty decent portrait with an interesting or complementary background, when you blur it all out. This was shot against the glass door of one of the buildings. The iPhone photo below will give you an exact idea of where we were.

In this way you can melt away the background with an 85mm portrait lens at wide aperture … or in this case, the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens.


Out of focus high-lights are pleasantly oval, without much of that crazy swirl you’d get with some of the vintage lenses.


A straight-forward portrait, where the wide aperture lets the background pleasantly blur.


This photo (and the one at the top) was shot against the overhang of the McD’s on 42nd Street – a familiar sight to any visitor to Times Square. The mild compression of the short telephoto lens was enough to capture just that part of the overhang as a striking background for a few portraits there.



if you are expanding your arsenal of Fuji lenses, the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 R (B&H / Amazon) should be high on your list of must-have lenses. Hopefully the few examples shown here are convincing enough of how easy it is to get striking portraits, especially with a wide aperture.


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Lighting styles in wedding photography

Two interesting questions came up in the Tangents FB group – both posted by Matthew Ciscart, one of the regulars: The first question was whether a client had ever asked for a specific lighting? Such, hard light, soft light, natural, or ocf?  The other question was whether any of the photographers had a specific go-to style of using lighting. That one thing they do. My reply to this, relating it to lighting styles in wedding photography, was I haven’t had a client ask for any specific lighting.

However, I do believe my website shows a consistent style. Therefore, when they book me, they do indirectly ask for that. So I need to be consistent in the look I give them, even if I use a variety of lighting sources and types. Similarly, I don’t think I have one specific way of using lighting. But for all the variety, the images need to mesh as a combination, without anything jarring about the specific lighting or look.

With that in mind, I would like to show these 6 images from the portrait session of a wedding – time that I had with the bride and groom – and show that even with a diversity in lighting that was used, these and all the other images, are still part of a coherent style. Of course, it has more to do than just the lighting – other things come into play as well – framing, composition and posing, as well as the post-processing. Still, just looking at the lighting and the color and skin tones – there is a consistency in the style.


This image and the one below are connected in that they both have the same camera settings, and were taken in more or less the same spot. In the image below, I let the sun flare out and this created a more ethereal look with muted contrast. It was just a small shift in position, I switched the flash off, and the resulting image looks congruent with the previous sequence (of which the photo above is one.)

In the image above, taken before the flared image, I took care to not have any flare from the late afternoon sun. But since this photo is more a portrait than the flared photo (which is all about the mood), I used off-camera lighting to show detail. I used the Profoto B1 flash (affiliate), with a white shoot-through umbrella, but at these camera settings, any speedlight with an umbrella would’ve given similar results.

Note the high ISO and wide aperture – this is so that the background exposure looks natural. Of course, the shallow depth-of-field helps defocus the background.

How much was added flash? I don’t quite know – it’s just enough. I let the Profoto give me an initial TTL exposure, and then locked it as a manual flash exposure for consistency. The pressure is on, there is no time to walk through the flash-to-ambient ratios in a technical way, so I will happily rely on the technology.

So there it is then – two photos, taken in the same scenario, but with a different approach to either, to give me variety in the final selection.



These two photos share the similarity of both having off-camera flash to make the colors and skin tones pop. In the photo above, the off-camera flash setup was behind the bushes, to camera left. This way I could light the couple, without lighting the foliage nearly as much. (In other words, the lighting is on the other side of the shrubbery.)

With the photo below, it was a similar line of thought – I didn’t want to over-light the flowers which were closer to me. My position was lower down on the grass bank so that I could make the flowers part of the composition. This was also so that I could lose much of the brick paving, which would have been a boring element in the photograph’s composition.

With the photo below, some back-lighting would have been ideal, but the families were already gathering for the family photos, so I had to move quickly – no time to set up a 2nd light behind her.


Direction & Quality Of Light

Direction & Quality of Light

I wanted 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.

The book is available on Amazon USA and Amazon UK, or can be ordered through Barnes & Nobles and other bookstores. The book is also available on the Apple iBook Store, as well as Amazon Kindle.


I was asked to take photos of the bride where they would be seated on the chair on the raised platform in the reception room. Since there was already somewhat enough light from the house lights, I wanted to just clean it all up with some bounce flash. The ceiling was high and uneven, and not white. Even then, I had enough light from the bounce flash to provide flattering light on her face. I bounced the flash up and behind me. No need for my usual BFT since there was no need to flag my flash. Also, note that I had no diffuser or white cup or some kind of plastic on my flash. Just the bare flash bounced up, and behind me. Simple. It works.

Finally, the photograph shown at the start of the article. In the room where the bride was getting ready, the huge mirror at the dresser had these light panels on every side. Beautiful soft light if you pose your subject into the light. It took careful note of how the light fell on her, to make sure the light was flattering. Using available light, or any other light source, for that matter, isn’t just an arbitrary decision. It is always best done with specific intent.



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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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Flash Photography workshops NJ NYC

Photography Workshops in NJ / NYC  (2017)

There are some interesting additions to the workshop dates for 2017. (The workshops for 2018 will be announced in the new year.)

I’ve added a workshop on studio lighting.
There will also be 2 of the regular workshops on flash photography with speedlights.
Then there are the 3 dates where we will do the Photo Walks in New York again.

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 workshops for 2017 will take place on:

  • May 28, 2017  (Sunday)  –  NJ  — sold out!
  • Sept 24, 2016  (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 and Canon wireless TTL triggers for the Profoto so that everyone can shoot individually.


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

  • June 04, 2017  (Sunday)  (4-6pm)  – Meatpacking District
  • July 16, 2017  (Sunday)  (4-6pm)  – Brooklyn Waterfront
  • October 29, 2017  (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, 2017  (Saturday)   —  sold out!

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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Positioning the light & posing

Before we even start, I want you to be aware that even though this photograph was taken in the studio with studio lighting, the principles here are exactly the same if we had used a large light source with a speedlight. Or of we had used a large window and the available light. So don’t tune out because this is a studio photograph – this is all about the direction and quality of light … and how positioning and posing your subject affects this. So let’s have a look and see how this relates to photographic opportunities you might encounter, for the principles remain on Posing and positioning the light in photography, remain fairly consistent. Repeatable.

This idea is the center-point of my book on that topic: Direction & Quality of Light (Amazon)

The idea explained in this article, has been covered before: Working with a large Octa Softbox. In moving our subject parallel to the large light source, and then perhaps also rotating our subject into the light a bit, completely changes how the lighting looks. The light can become more even, or more contrasty. It may seem self-evident when stated like that, yet it can still come as a surprise – that always welcome ‘aha!’ moment when we realize we can shape the light and light pattern by how we position our subject.

We simply have our subject moving parallel to the light source – and this affects how the light spreads and falls on our subject. Closer to the camera, there is a narrower width of light falling on our model, Heather Jay. With that, the light is more contrasty. When Heather steps back, further away from the camera, we have the full spread of light falling on her, and the light is a lot more even. You might even say the light was more flat.

The same would happen when you have your subject next to a big window. By how you place your subject, you have a wider light source … or a narrower light source. Simplicity itself.

Just in case you’re wondering about the colors on Heather Jay, she has make-up on with streaks of color on her face and arms.

Before we look at the sequence of photos to compare, here is the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup in the studio:

The Profoto 5.0 RFi Octa Softbox is the large light source to Heather’s left. It remained stationary. It is easier to ask her to move a little bit forward, than the move the large light-stand on rollers. The back-ground pattern is from a Light-Blaster with a gobo (affiliate). To the back you can see the Profoto B1 flash (affiliate),  with a turquoise gel. I used the B1 flash here, since it runs cooler than the Profoto B1 studio flashes, and this works better with the gels.


Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used

  • 1/200 @ f/4 @ 100 ISO


Using the Light Blaster for special effects

The pull-back shot above shows the lighting setup. Aside from the two studio lights, there is a Lightblaster was positioned behind her. I prefer the metal gobos with the Light Blaster, instead of the filter effects. Here I defocused the pattern by defocusing the lens that I use on the Light Blaster.

I used the Light Blaster here for just a bit of a splash of color as an accent, rather than a specifically obvious effect. I like this.



The lighting setup shown above isn’t all that complex – the difference comes in with how Heather was posed and positioned. For this shot, she was further from the camera, so there was more surface area of the softbox getting light on her. The lighting is good, but not overly contrasty. Note that turning her face a little more to the light would have given us short-lighting on her face.


With this image, I had Heather move much closer to the camera, and hence the surface area of the softbox that threw light on her, was smaller … hence, more contrast. You can see that with her body turned towards the light, the light is still fairly even on the top of her body, and well lit.

Watch what happens if she edges even closer to the camera, and rotates her body slightly away from the light:

In this way, we can get a near infinite variety in subtle changes to the lighting, simply by how we position our subject in relation to the light.

Again, this is true for any directional light source, whether in the studio or whether it is available light streaming through the window.


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Featured on PDN: How to shoot cinematic time-lapses

Just in case you’re not aware of what PDN is – Photo District News is one of the premier photography industry magazines in the USA. And of course, since we are in the 21st century, they maintain a web presence and a Facebook page. So as you can imagine then, it was a big honor that the team at PDN asked me about how I shoot time-lapse videos, and what equipment I use, as well as tips on camera settings and such. This led to a 2-part video, of which the first appeared today on PDN magazine’s website: How to shoot cinematic time-lapse videos.

In case the principles discussed in that video goes by too fast, much of that is covered in this article: Camera settings for Time-lapse photography.

Thank you to Greg and David for inviting me, and shooting the video.



This photo of one of my rigs, was shot by my friend Marco Leibetseder. It shows a Dynamic Perception Stage One Dolly with a Motion Controller (affiliate). This motion controllers gradually moves the camera along the rails. This creates that cinematic movement. Of course, the positioning of the tripods help too, in slowly elevating the camera as the progression unfolds.

All the camera settings are inter-locked for optimum results, as explained in the article mentioned at the top. It becomes essential to have an understanding of how shutter speed and the interval and the other settings correlate with one another.  A time-lapse calculator helps when you’re in a pinch and need to get things going.

The follow-up video tutorial will be up in a week or so on PDN’s website … and I will be sure to mention it here. Keep checking back.


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Solar Eclipse 2017 – New York

A time-lapse clip of … well, the clouds on the day of the 2017 solar eclipse, where we had 71% partial eclipse viewable from New York City. My initial intention with this time-lapse clip was to show how the environment became darker, but the continuous cloud cover made it something different.

I did have another camera for close-up photos of the solar eclipse. (The photos are shown lower down here.) There were short moments when the sun did peek out, so that we could see the progression of the eclipse. Even then, it was magical to see.

Here is my camera set-up for the time-lapse video – a Nikon D810 with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens (affiliate), and a  Lee 10-stop Neutral Density filter  (Amazon) to bring the exposure down to 4 seconds @ f/8 @ 64 ISO. The interval was 6 seconds, for reasons described in this article on the general camera settings for Time-lapse photography.

Camera settings & photo gear used with this Time-Lapse shoot

Because the time of the maximum eclipse (at 71% of totality), was at 2:44pm, the camera was at that steep angle to get some of the tall buildings at the bottom of the frame.

Unfortunately, you can’t see the sun being eclipsed in that video because my exposure settings (which was set for the sky and clouds), let the sun blow out to a blob. The camera settings for the time-lapse video, were a compromise to show something at least. If I had exposed for the sun, the rest would’ve been black.

You can see little lens / filter flare spots appear every now and then towards the bottom right of the frame, but that’s what will happen if you shoot directly into the sun.


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Solar Eclipse photos – New York

Originally, our plans were to make a trip out to Kentucky, to be in the path of the totality to see the full solar eclipse. However, my adventures in Italy scuppered those plans, so we decided that New York might be the more accessible and less strenuous place to see the solar eclipse from. At 71% of a complete eclipse (at 2:44pm), it would appear to still be an experience!

On the day itself – August 21, 2017 – there were continually clouds moving across the sky. This actually made for interesting photographs too, like the image below, shot at 2:05pm.

The sun at maximum eclipse, as seen from New York at 2:44pm … with clouds moving across.

For the magnificent images you’ve seen of the eclipse, you would definitely have to plan the place and position carefully. We are already making plans for the 2024 eclipse! I want to be there for the totality.



The camera setup I used for the close-up photos of the sun – my little travel camera, the Fuji X-T20 (affiliate), with this beast of a lens: Fuji XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens (affiliate). The long focal length – 400mm on a crop-sensor camera – was essential in getting a close-up view. Even then, the 24 megapixel image was cropped to 7.5 megapixel size to show here. You’re definitely going to need a long lens, or crop heavily.

The most important element in this setup though, is the 18 stop Solar Filter (B&H / Amazon). A solar filter blocks the infrared and ultra-violet rays that a Neutral Density filter doesn’t. This helps protect your eyes. However, I used a mirrorless camera, and the electronic display would protect your eyes from that kind of potential damage anyway, since it isn’t optical. Still, a proper solar filter made sense.

The reason for the Fuji lens and camera, is that I had a 77mm filter. So that guided my choice of lens.  I had bought the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF lens (B&H / Amazon) to use with a teleconverter, to have a compact, light-weight option that takes a 77mm thread solar filter.  That would have been mounted on a Nikon D810, allowing me freedom to crop the image.

In the end, I went with the Fuji because of the EVF and the tilt-able LCD screen. Imagine trying to continually monitor the LCD screen at that neck-breaking angle with a DSLR without a tilt-able screen!

One thing that I will definitely change for another time – I would use a geared tripod head for fine adjustments to the angle. The tripods I have are very sturdy, and the ball-heads easily adjustable … for specific needs. I use these heavy tripods for the time-lapse dollies that I use. The ball-heads make it really easy to single-handedly mount a dolly or other devices … but they were a pain for shooting the solar eclipse and adjusting the angle of the camera every so often. A geared tripod head would solve all that.

Photo gear used for the photos of the solar eclipse


I did some testing beforehand to make sure the setup would work. Here is the same setup in my driveway with a smaller tripod I keep at home.

To get the sun in the viewfinder with such a long focal length, was best done by zooming to 100mm and finding that spot of brightness in the black frame. Then I zoomed in steadily to finally have the sun centered as well as possible in the frame.

The exposure settings here for the full sun, was 1/250 @ f/11 @ 200 ISO. This gave me the ball-park camera settings for the actual event.



Hats off & much respect to those photographers who pulled off magical images of the solar eclipse that you see posted everywhere. It took effort and careful planning to get that.

I’m happy with the limited results I got, but I take this as a test run for 2024 … if the weather plays along. We’ll do this again!


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On-location headshots

With these on-location headshots of actor and TV presenter, Andy Peeke, there is a lot going on despite the apparent simplicity. The photos were done in a very short space of time – we rained out! So I had to work fast and still nail the images as intended. Also,
– I wanted that out-of-focus city scene behind Andy, and I wanted it to appear bright.
– The lighting, off-camera flash added to the ambient light, shouldn’t intrude and make itself obvious. I wanted the light on him perfectly balanced with the way I intended the background to appear.
– Unusual for me, I shot with a Sony mirrorless camera – the Sony A7ii  (B&H / Amazon). The lens that I used here was the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8  (B&H / Amazon).
– I used manual focus, even though the Zeiss Batis lens offers auto-focus. The Sony mirrorless cameras are ideally suited for this – fast and accurate manual focus. This allowed me the confidence to work at f/1.8 with precision.

Mainly, we had to work fast. In the photo below, you can see rain drops on his shirt. We rained out, but I grabbed a few last images before we dashed for cover.

The photos are part of an upcoming video that I shot with my friend, Tracy Bosworth Page, who is a busy headshot photographer based in Georgia. In the video we loosely compare our styles in headshot photography. We took turns photographing three different people in three different locations. For Andy’s session, Tracy used available light and a reflector. On the other hand, I defaulted to my usual way of working – balancing off-camera flash with the ambient light.

Camera settings & Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this shoot

For these photos I used a loaner copy of the stellar Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8  (B&H / Amazon). It’s razor-sharp, as you’d expect from any Zeiss optic. The Batis range of lenses by Zeiss are specifically designed to offer auto-focus with the Sony E-mount cameras. However, I used it in manual focus mode on my Sony A7ii camera (B&H / Amazon). The Sony and Zeiss combo generally nails the focus perfectly … but I didn’t want to risk it grabbing an eyebrow, for example. With such shallow depth-of-field you have to be careful if you want precise focusing every time.

There is a specific thought-process, or algorithm if you want to think of it that way, in approaching on-location portraits like these – Checklist for portrait photography on location (with Anastasiya).


Here are the first two test shots:

Using the Profoto B1 in TTL mode to establish exposure

I started with the background – I knew that I wanted that defocused city scene behind him. I also knew that I wanted it bright and ‘airy’. In other words, about a stop up on my camera’s exposure meter reading. Then a test shots to see how Andy would look at that exposure. As anticipated, he was under-exposed. With that, I switched on the off-camera lighting I had set up.

The Profoto B1 flash  with the Profoto OCF (24″) Octa Softbox. It is a relatively small softbox, but I had it close to me on my right to me, and fairly close to the camera axis.

This time I didn’t want dramatic light from my off-camera flash. I wanted as soft and even as I could, with such a small light source.

I purposely had the Profoto B1 set to TTL flash, so that I could get an establishing first exposure. Surprisingly, it was over-exposed. The Profoto B1 usually nails the TTL flash pretty close to correct for my tastes. But working this close, it was about 2 stops over, guessing by the preview image shown on the LCD – the right-hand image.

One of the things that I love about the Profoto B1, is that if you like the TTL exposure, you switch the Profoto remote to manual, and the exposure is locked. In this instance, I locked the exposure, and quickly tapped the exposure adjustment button to give me two stops less light … in manual. And the exposure was perfect, as you can see in the two main images.

That took care of the lighting.

About the posing – I only had to minimally adjust Andy’s pose since he is an experienced actor and TV presenter, with oodles of personality. (Here is his Instagram account.) So he needed little guiding or coaxing other than telling him where to stand, and how to turn towards the camera. Other than that, Andy knows how to switch it on!  I didn’t want him with his shoulders square to the camera. It works better with his shoulders at an angle to the camera.



Here I wanted to run through some of the thought-process with this specific sequence of photos. Of course, working in a different location with different requirements, and a different subject, the technique might well be different. There are countless ways of getting great portraits or headshots of someone. This is but one such occasion.


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Working on my New York bucket list

Today I had my photograph taken by the New York photography icon, Louis Mendes. This has been on my New York bucket list for a long while now.

I had to go in to B&H to return some gear, and when I saw Louis Mendes again on the corner of the street, I decided this is it – today! So I asked him to take a photo of me, and then had a friend take several photos with me with him.

If you’ve visited B&H, or the Photo Plus Expo, you’ve seen this guy. He has this monster hybrid vintage setup that he uses to shoot polaroids of anyone who wants one. Of course, it’ll cost you some $$ for the polaroid photo because living in New York is expensive.

What I’ve always found interesting is that he doesn’t hustle. He patiently waits for people to approach him. And if you do, you’ll find that he is engaging and has a lot of stories. Louis is a character! If you see him on your trip to New York, go strike up a conversation.


More info about Louis:

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