Thoughts and Field Test: Leica X-U Underwater Camera

leica-x-u-underwater-camera-review

When it comes to waterproof cameras, you’re likely to think of GoPro or a similar action camera first. But what if you wanted a waterproof camera with full manual control? There aren’t many options on the market unless you’re willing to splurge for an underwater housing for a DSLR or mirrorless camera. But there’s a less-known option made by the venerable camera brand, Leica. In 2016, Leica introduced the Leica X-U – a rugged, waterproof compact camera. It didn’t seem to get much fanfare as it was completely unbeknownst to me until I browsed Borrowlenses.com in search of a camera for my upcoming whitewater rafting trip.

So how did it perform? Read on to find out!

Leica XU underwater camera

Technical specs

The Leica X-U is considered a point and shoot camera. It has a 16.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a fixed Summilux 23mm f/1.7 lens (equivalent to about 35mm in 35mm format). The camera can shoot both RAW and JPG photos and record full HD video (1080p).

Some dials allow you to take full manual control of the camera and set the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You can even manually focus the lens.

Taking into consideration all of these specs, this is essentially a pro-level camera that has the added benefit of being dustproof, shatterproof, waterproof (up to 15 meters for 60 minutes), and shockproof (from heights of up to 1.22 meters). It has a pro-grade camera price tag retailing at $2,999 USD.

Look and feel

There’s no escaping the fact that the Leica X-U is a chunky camera, especially when compared to other waterproof point-and-shoots on the market. It weighs in at 1.32 lbs and doesn’t float or come with a floating strap. Thus, you’ll want to make sure it is always strapped tight to you, or find a floating strap for it.

The camera exterior, made of anti-slip rubber, feels good in the hands. In front is a manual focus fixed lens with a built-in flash on top. There’s also a hot shoe on top of the camera for adding a larger flash or extra accessories.

Leica also includes a rubber lens cap with a small strap, but it fits very loosely and is prone to falling off. I recommend looping the lens cap strap to the camera for extra security.

Leica XU underwater camera

Ease of use

This was my first time using a Leica camera. Up until this point, all I knew about Leicas was that 1) they were expensive, 2) they’re very solid in construction, and 3) their user interface is relatively simple and straightforward. All of these assumptions are true in the Leica X-U, but it is the third point that I appreciated the most.

The bulk of the camera’s controls are in the top two knobs and the lens’ focus ring. If you’ve used a film camera or Fujifilm mirrorless camera, you’ll feel right at home. Any other camera settings are controlled using buttons on the rear end of the camera, where there is also a large, brightly-lit LCD screen. Buttons were decently responsive, and the LCD was fast and accurate.

The one thing I wish Leica included is a touchscreen LCD. Menus are laid out simply, and it was easy to adjust settings. A rechargeable battery powers the camera, and it easily lasted a full day of shooting.

Leica XU underwater camera

Performance in the field

I extensively researched this camera before renting it for my rafting trip. Unfortunately, most of the camera reviews swayed toward the negative. Many claim the Leica X-U’s autofocus is too slow, and its overall features fall behind when compared to what modern cameras (and smartphones) can achieve.

When shooting with this camera, I brushed off those negative reviews. Shooting with this camera was an absolute joy. I loved the ability to shoot in manual without having to worry about water splashes. And it is very easy to go from shooting still photos to video since the video record button is right next to the shutter.

Leica-X-U-underwater-camera

Best of all was the ability to shoot photos of the night stars, which was my main reason for wanting this camera. My rafting trip frowned upon bringing non-waterproof cameras, so I didn’t want to risk bringing my expensive mirrorless cameras.

However, we would be spending the night in the pitch-black forests of Southern Oregon with stars shining bright every night, and I wanted the ability to snap photos of them.

With its fast aperture and the ability to shoot in manual focus, the Leica X-U had the capability of pulling off star photography, and it did so pretty well.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

At the end of each day, I reviewed the photos and videos on the camera and marveled at what I was able to capture. Those negative reviews seemed completely wrong – that is until I reviewed everything on my computer.

Image and video quality

It’s a classic mistake to review media content on a tiny device screen and think that everything is working well. The real quality test is to review them on a big screen. Doing this showed that those reviewers were 100% right.

The Leica X-U’s image quality is quite good when shooting a static or slow-moving object. However, the camera absolutely blew the autofocus when shooting anything in movement.

This is an odd shortcoming for a camera that seems built for action, but it happened on a very consistent basis.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

For fast-paced scenarios, the autofocus simply wasn’t fast enough, leading to many unfocused shots like this.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

The video quality was downright atrocious, and I’m ashamed that I put so much trust in this camera when shooting videos. My Samsung Galaxy S10, in its waterproof case, took far better video.

So…should you use this camera?

Handling this camera was an absolute joy, but I can’t commend its photo or video quality.

If you’re seeking a waterproof camera with manual controls, this camera might work for you, but it depends on what you’re shooting. In fast-paced action scenarios, this camera’s autofocus performance won’t keep up. But if you’re shooting static landscapes or astrophotography, this camera will likely meet your needs.

For videography, don’t even bother.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera


Summary

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Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

creative-zoo-photography

Wildlife photographers are a dedicated bunch.  They spend money to travel to exotic places, brave miserable conditions, deal with whatever light conditions are present at the time and then sometimes don’t even see the animals they came to photograph.  Pandas in China, tigers in India, lions on the Serengeti, polar bears in the frozen Yukon or maybe gorillas in the Congo.  You could spend a lifetime photographing wild animals in their native lands.

creative-zoo-photography

Bengal Bath – Photographed in the wilds of India or in a zoo? You tell me.

Or, you could take a cue from Simon and Garfunkel –

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo”

                     – “At the Zoo” – Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

I’ll grant you, photographing a lion in the zoo doesn’t have the same thrill as being on safari. If you have the time and the money to do such things, by all means, go for it.  For many of us though, the zoo offers a chance to photograph animals we’d never see otherwise and, using the tips we’re about to cover, you can still make some very nice images.  You don’t have to tell your friends where you took them, right?

creative-zoo-photography

It’s hard to make a zoo photo look like it was taken in the wild with a chainlink fence in the background. Go with a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus if you can.

Challenges

In the bush, the challenges of photographing wildlife are likely finding the animal you’re seeking and, depending on the species, perhaps trying not to get eaten.  At the zoo, there are cages, glass or at least barriers designed to separate you and the creatures.  Safer, yes, but also a little frustrating when you’re trying to make a nice photo.

Let’s look at some workarounds for zoo photography.

Image: Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is ri...

Sometimes this is what you encounter when trying to do zoo photography. When the animal is right up against the wire, there’s not much you can do.

Image: Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large a...

Get a little separation between the animal and the cage, get close to the wire, use a large aperture, and you can do this. This could probably be cleaned up further with the cloning tool in post-production.

Cages

Zoos are getting better at designing structures so that the animals aren’t always behind bars or chainlink fences, but sometimes you will still have to deal with this.  If the animal is up close to the fence, you might have no choice but to include it in the shot.

But, if you can wait until the beast moves further away from the barrier, this trick can work.  Get close to the fence if you can, then use a wide aperture.  Zoom into and focus on the animal.  You may find that the limited depth of field pretty much renders the fence as a blur, barely showing up at all.  Often you can clean up what remains of the fence or bars when editing.

Image: Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some...

Having to work through the glass, the top image is straight out of the camera. But, with some editing, a pretty nice Panda Portrait results.

creative-zoo-photography

An aquarium is a zoo of sorts where all the animals will be behind glass. Note how I rescued the turtle image with editing and monochrome conversion.

Glass

Sometimes the barrier between you and the animal will be glass.  You’ll have to deal with grime, scratches, and reflections.  Carry a cloth in your bag when you go to the zoo and clean a spot on the glass where you’ll be shooting.  Get as close to the glass as you can, again with a wide aperture to help blur any scratches.  If reflections are a problem, consider throwing a jacket or cloth over your head or perhaps just the camera to help eliminate them.  Later in editing, the dehaze tool can be your friend with photos made through glass.

Using Creative Zoo Photography for Awesome Animal Photos

Distance

Many times I’m glad there’s some distance between the animal I’m photographing and I. (The Komodo dragon was a scary guy for sure!). The difficulty becomes making the animal in your photo more than just a speck in the shot.

You’ll have even more difficulty with this if you’re visiting a wild animal park where instead of the animals being in smaller cages or enclosures, they roam a wide area, and you drive through the park on a tour bus. There’s only one solution here – longer telephoto lenses.

More about lenses in a bit, just know that to get those nice portrait shots, you’re often going to need some bigger glass.

Image: Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you...

Frame tightly as you would with a human portrait, be sure the eyes are in focus and you’ll capture a more engaging image.

Backgrounds

Though you’ll be photographing animals at the zoo, you’d prefer to have your images look like they were taken in the wild.  Your story about photographing zebra on the Serengeti plains will fall apart if there’s an obvious chainlink fence in the background.  So, a couple of possible options here:

  • Fill the frame with the animal, including as little of the background as possible in the shot.
  • Zoom in and use a wide aperture so the background blurs.
  • Consider your vantage point when composing your shot.  Could you move a little to put natural vegetation, rocks, or something not manmade in the background to better simulate the animals’ natural habitat?
creative-zoo-photography

Watch, wait and be ready, and you can capture animals behaving as they do in the wild.

Capturing behavior

A photo of a lion just standing there might be okay, but a shot of a lion roaring…that’s the one you’d like.  Images that capture animal behavior are the prize winners.  The difference is waiting for the moment. Waiting, waiting, and perhaps waiting some more.

Perhaps you’re not up to being another Dian Fossey living with the mountain gorillas so you can get that unique photo.

Or there’s Guido Sterkendries, who spends weeks in the stifling heat of the Brazilian rainforest on a perch in the treetops to photograph poison dart frogs.

But, rather than just taking the minute or so the average zoo visitor views each exhibit, you might have to wait, watch, and be ready when the animal does something interesting.  Also, watch for animal interactions and make photos that tell a story.

creative-zoo-photography

Mamas and babies can make good photos. Look for animal interactions that tell a story.

Set up, be ready, and perhaps have continuous mode and servo-focus activated. Then, when it happens and the subject does that intriguing behavior, fire off a burst of shots to guarantee you’ve got that one really great shot.

After all, would you rather go home with a boring photo of every animal in the zoo or just one superb shot of one animal engaging in some really interesting behavior?

When to go

Sometimes you get to a particular animal exhibit at the zoo and the animal is nowhere to be seen. Or maybe he’s over in the corner, zonked out and sleeping – hardly a great photo subject.

Often the trick is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler, and the animals are apt to be more active.

Photographers are also quite familiar with the “golden hour.” Not only will the light be better during these times, but the animal’s up, about, and ready for their closeup. Feeding time can also provide some action.

If you can, talk with the zookeepers to find out the best time to come, especially if you have your sights set on shots of particular animals. They will be a great source of information.

Including people

Sometimes the action at the zoo can be on the other side of the cages, the antics of people reacting to or aping for the animals.  Keep an eye out for these kinds of behaviors too.  Sometimes people are the funniest animals.

Equipment

If you’re going to spend a day at the zoo, you may not want to bring your whole photo kit. Firstly, it’s not much fun schlepping it around. Secondly, while you’re intent on making a shot, an unscrupulous bandit could help themselves to some of your gear.  Thirdly, you really don’t need that much for zoo photography.

Here are some things you might want:

Camera

Something with the ability to go manual if necessary and, of course, shooting Raw is almost always better.

creative-zoo-photography

A Canon 100-400 zoom was a great lens to have to allow these bird portraits. Wildlife photographers use long lenses and at the zoo, they can help too.

Lenses

You might very well be able to get by with a good wide-range telephoto for zoo photography. Something like a 70-200mm, or if you have something longer like a 70-300 or 100-400, better still.

You’re not apt to need a wide-angle lens at all.

The only other possibility is for zoos that have a butterfly exhibit where a macro could be useful.  One or two lenses should have you covered.

Image: Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a mac...

Sometimes zoos will have a butterfly exhibit. If where you’re going has one, take a macro lens.

Tripod

You may find that some zoos prohibit tripods, so it would be a good idea to check before you go.  A monopod can be a good substitute.

Flash

Probably not.  Again, some zoos will prohibit them, they spook the animals, and you’re not apt to want a “flash look” anyway.

Polarizing filter

This can be a good idea.  The fur of many animals is shiny and a polarizer can help tame that, also giving you richer colors.

Cloth

Cloth is great for cleaning the glass on animal enclosures that use that.

Settings

You will encounter a variety of lighting situations at the zoo, from dark animals lying in the shade to light animals in the sun, to the dreaded speckled light situation.

Some animals may barely move while others may leap wildly about.

There’s no substitute for knowing your camera and how to deal with varied conditions.  Often going fully manual, both for exposure and focus will be your best option.

Fences or glass in the foreground can too easily fool the autofocus, so be careful there.

Image: Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photogra...

Some zoos will have a walk-in aviary. If so, it’s a great opportunity for bird photography. Again, have a long lens and if you’ll be handholding the camera, keep the shutter speed high.

In general, a wide aperture to blur the background, coupled with a fast shutter speed to freeze any animal movement, is good.  You may also be dealing with a long focal length, and having to handhold is a recipe for camera shake/blur.

Try to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible.  Also, keep the ISO low to minimize noise.  In varied lighting conditions, you may also want to consider Auto ISO if you understand how it works with your particular camera.

Continuous mode can be a good option so that when an animal does something interesting, you can fire a burst of shots, helping guarantee you capture the moment.

Composition

If there’s any mistake I see beginners making, it’s not filling the frame with their subject. Of course, not every shot needs to be a tightly cropped “portrait,” but the problem comes in when the subject in the image is so small it’s barely identifiable. Alternatively, the shot is so cluttered with other things that one questions what the real subject is. This is where a long lens can help with zoo photography.

Real wildlife photographers must sneak up on their subjects in places where enclosures don’t restrict the animals. So, often they will use – really – long, (and really expensive), glass. You need not go to that extreme, but you do want to make the animal in your shot the star, so frame accordingly.

Image: The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes nee...

The eyes have it. You can have parts of the animal out of focus if you must, but the eyes need to be sharp.

As when making portraits of people, when photographing animals, keep the eyes in sharp focus. Having other parts of the animal out of focus or a very limited depth-of-field is forgivable, but if the eyes are not in focus, the shot is probably a candidate for the delete button.

Use manual focus or learn you use your focus points to force focus on the animal’s eyes. Simply using the default center-focus point will likely fail you almost every time. Be the master of your camera’s focus.

This is a tricky one because enclosures, cages, and places where the animal will be won’t always allow this, but where possible, try to get on the same level as the animal.  Looking down on the subject just won’t be as impressive.  Perhaps you’ll have to put your camera on the ground or use something like a Gorillapod, (appropriate for the zoo, yes?) but do what’s needed to improve your shot.

Image: This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. The...

This could have been even better if I could have got down at the same level as the beast. Then again…

Editing

As with any photo editing, you want to use the tools and tricks in your editing program to improve your shot. Always consider whether a crop may help eliminate distractions or better highlight the animal. Use the exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders (if editing with Lightroom), to bring out the color and detail of the animal.

The Dehaze option may help, especially where you made a photo through a glass enclosure.

The new Texture slider can also work wonders, bringing out details in an animal’s fur.

Image: Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camo...

Monochrome can give a classy look and in the case of this cheetah, emphasize his spotted camouflage in his environment.

Don’t forget to take a look at going monochrome with some of your images.  Sometimes a black and white version of an animal image can be especially striking.

Go zoo it!

So grab your gear and get down to your nearest zoo.  You’ll have a great time, get some nice images, and if the song is right, “the animals will love it if you do.”

Do you have any other zoo photography tips? Share with us in the comments! Also, share with us your zoo photography photos.

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How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

Layering images experimentally in photoshop can be an exciting way to bring a fine art feel to your photography. It is spontaneous and unpredictable, with different outcomes each time.

The layering technique I talk about in this article is a way you can explore and get inspired by the work of Victorian art photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron. They would have used long exposures because of the limitation of their cameras, which added a dream-like quality to their images.

Instead of long exposures, I have used multiple images shot of the same subject, layering them and using Photoshop blending modes. It gives a different kind of ethereal feeling to the images which you can use on any subject, not just portraits.

Start with a portrait

Your portrait doesn’t have to be sophisticated, but it should be able to be repeated over a dozen shots or so. I opted for simple natural window light, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use flash instead.

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

The image I found worked best was one with strong colors and features with a simple background. I opted to take inspiration from Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography by using simple historical clothes, and an instantly recognizable prop.

You want to try to end up with a dozen or so slightly different images of your subject. Take far more images than you need so that you have lots of choices when it comes to selecting images for your layering effect.

Between each shot, ask your subject to move just a small amount – perhaps their head or their hands, but just a fraction. Try to avoid any dramatic pose changes.

Layering the images in Photoshop

When it comes to selecting images and editing them, there are many different software packages and options. I’m going to talk about how I use Lightroom Classic and Photoshop to achieve this effect. Even within these two software packages, there are other ways you can accomplish the same effect. As long as you end up with a photograph that you love, then you haven’t done anything wrong!

I start by importing my images into Lightroom Classic and then selecting the ten or so images that will make up the layers of my final image. At this point, I try to choose a ‘base’ image that will be at the bottom of the layer stack in Photoshop and will show through the strongest. Generally, this is my favorite image out of the set.

How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture

When you’ve got your images selected in Lightroom Classic in the Develop module, open the ‘Photo’ menu and select ‘Open as Layers in Photoshop.’

This will save you having to manually stack all of the images together. You’ll end up with a single file open in Photoshop with all of your selected images placed on layers.

How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture

The next stage is to place your ‘hero’ image (the one that you want to show through the most) at the bottom of the layer stack by dragging and dropping it. Then select all the layers above and reduce their opacity.

Playing with Photoshop Blending Modes

This is when it starts to get interesting. Playing with the different photoshop blending modes for the layers will give you all kinds of different results. Dark images will suit different blending modes to lighter images. You can check out a comprehensive guide to photoshop blending modes here!

You’ll want to turn down the opacity of the layers quite far so that the original ‘hero’ image shows though. The other layers should then become more of a fuzzy halo rather than a focal point for the shot.

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

Once you’ve found a blending mode and opacity that looks good, you can start to fine-tune the image.

Begin by identifying parts of the images that don’t really work, and work out which layer they’re on. Then create layer masks and use a black paintbrush to gently fade those unwanted parts away.

I decided to remove almost all of the layers from the face of my subject since it was a portrait, and I wanted to be able to see her clearly. I also took away some distracting echos of hands, which I felt made the final image stronger. Since you’re working using layer masks, you can always undo any of your choices at this stage – just simply paint over the bits you want to see again on the layer mask with a white paintbrush!

How to Use Photoshop Blending Modes for Fine Art Portraiture

As you can see from my layer masks, they don’t have to be neat. Just use a fairly large brush with soft edges and a low opacity and you won’t be able to see the brushstrokes of your mask in the final image.

Finishing your image

Once you’re happy with the basic image you’ve achieved through layering, I’d suggest saving a copy of your work. Then you can experiment further with different techniques.

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

Once I’d saved my image in Photoshop, I closed it and went back to Lightroom Classic to work on the shot further. Here, I simply changed the toning of the image slightly with a preset and applied some sharpening to key areas of the picture.

The result was a warmth that always makes me think of Old Masters paintings in galleries. Together with the effect of the layers, it creates a rather painterly fine art image.

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

But, of course, there’s absolutely no harm in processing the same image in a different way. This is one of the reasons I love Lightroom Classic – you can create virtual copies of a single shot and work on them all differently!

photoshop-blending-modes-for-fine-art-portraiture

This variation I processed in Nik Analog Efex Pro 2, which you can use straight from the Lightroom Classic interface in the same way that you can take photos to Photoshop. The software itself is very similar to Lightroom Classic with its adjustment panels on each side but instead specializes in replicating old film effects.

It is a great way to create an image that pays homage to the great Victorian art photographers.

You could get a similar effect by layering wet plate textures and dust and scratch layers in Photoshop before adding a black and white conversion.

There are many ways to get all these different effects – please try some and post your results in the comments. I’d love to see what you did with this technique and how you achieved it!

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Nikon Announces the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, it’s fastest lens ever!

Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct

Nikon has just announced its latest Z-mount lens:

The Nikkor Z 58mm S Noct lens, which includes a whopping f/0.95 maximum aperture. The lens is slated to hit the shelves on October 31st, and it will debut with considerable hype, having snagged the designation as the fastest Nikkor lens ever made.

For those of us who have been waiting for Nikon to make good on its claims that the Z-mount’s 55mm diameter allows for the production of better optics, this new lens should give us a hint of what’s to come. But while the f/0.95 maximum aperture is eye-catching, is it actually useful? And will photographers actually be interested in this lens?

Let’s take a closer look.

While lenses with ultra-wide apertures are rarely small, the Nikkor 58mm f/0.95 sits on the other extreme, with a weight of nearly 4.5 lbs (2 kg). This comes from its aperture, the 17 lens elements, and a magnesium alloy construction. Of course, there are real benefits to all these features, such as higher optical quality and increased ruggedness. But is it worth the cost? For many, a huge benefit of mirrorless setups is the decreased size and weight. Yet this lens won’t be at all convenient to carry around. Plus, all that glass takes up a lot of space, which is why it’s packed into a 6-inch (15.3 cm) body.

Note also that an f/0.95 aperture will provide a very small plane of focus. And given that this lens only focuses manually to begin with, you may struggle somewhat to lock onto your subjects with speed.

The lens is primarily designed for astrophotographers and other night shooters (hence the ‘Noct’ designation). And for astrophotographers, the shallow depth of field won’t be a problem, as they rarely need to think about depth of field anyway. But ambitious portrait photographers may find themselves frustrated by the combination of a shallow plane of focus at f/0.95 and a manual focus lens, and anyone who tries to lock on subjects other than the night sky may come away from shoots without much luck.

Now, don’t get me wrong:

The Nikon 58mm f/0.95 is most likely an incredible lens, optically speaking. Nikon is promising amazing sharpness, and I expect this will be borne out in tests. I’m also impressed by the wide aperture, which will allow for unprecedented shooting in low light and at night. Astrophotographers, in particular, will like this lens, regardless of its size.

But at the same time, it’s hard not to wonder whether many other photographers will be interested. Especially because Nikon’s MSRP for this new lens is an incredible $7999.95 USD.

So now I’d like to ask you:

What do you think? Would you be interested in this lens? Will anyone buy it? Is there anything you would’ve preferred Nikon scrap or modify?

Let me know in the comments!

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How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video]

In this video from Lindsay Adler Photography, Lindsay deconstructs an image that she has lit using colored gels to make it look as though she photographed it in a nightclub or bar.

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Inspired by a red velvet couch that she has in her studio, Lindsay decided to make her studio look like it was a nightclub or bar. She takes us through the process to teach us exactly how she achieved this look.

When choosing the color of her gels, Lindsay chose red to unify the subject with the color of the couch. She then used color wheel theory and used contrasting/complementary colors, so she went with a color close to green – teal.

Lindsay uses three strobes with fairly basic modifiers – bare bulbs and umbrellas.

Lindsay states that “The shot as lit overhead by a small white umbrella (no gel). The right-hand side of the frame was lit by a large deep umbrella with diffusion and a red gel to wrap around most of the frame. Finally, a bare bulb with a teal/green gel was used to light the shadows on the left of the frame. The colors selected helped create a sense of atmosphere to the otherwise static black environment.”

During the video, you’ll find out why these choices were made to combat particular issues that arose, including the wall being a slightly reflective surface.

You’ll also see some post-production choices that Lindsay makes with the image, as well as discovering why Lindsay chose to have the model posed in this particular way.

But more importantly, you’ll learn how to make a photo like hers!

What did you think of Lindsay’s video? Did you find it helpful? Let me know in the comments!

 

You may also find the following helpful:

Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography

5 Creative Portrait Lighting Tricks Using Only Phone Light

How to use Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images with Cross Lighting

5 Lighting Setups You Can Do Using an Octabox

How to do Clamshell Lighting: A Reliable Two Light Setup

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Weekly Photography Challenge – Patterns

This week’s photography challenge topic is PATTERNS!

Patterns – a repeated decorative design – are all around us in nature, architecture, technology, and human-made objects.

So go out and capture anything that has patterns. They can be color, black and white, moody or bright. Just so long as they have patterns! You can also manipulate them in your favorite post-processing software. You get the picture! Have fun, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Check out some of the articles below that give you tips on this week’s challenge.

Tips for Shooting PATTERNS

Tips for Photographing Patterns in Nature

How to Turn Your Images into Kaleidoscope Patterns

How to Create a Kaleidoscope and Make Unique Abstract Images

Master Repeating Patterns in Photoshop

Using Repetition and Patterns in Photography

33 Inspirational Images that Feature Patterns and Repetition

 

Weekly Photography Challenge – PATTERNS

Simply upload your shot into the comment field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see or if you’d prefer, upload them to your favorite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

If you tag your photos on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter or other sites – tag them as #DPSpatterns to help others find them. Linking back to this page might also help others know what you’re doing so that they can share in the fun.

 

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The Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings

beginners-guide-to-camera-settings

When you bought your fancy camera with all its buttons and dials, you began a journey that few can endure.

Most people who buy a DSLR, never figure out how to use it. But the fact that you’re reading an article like this means that you’re determined to learn.

One of the most difficult phases of photography you’ll pass through is figuring out how your camera works. But once you understand even a little bit, the world of photography opens its doors to you.

If you’re new to photography, then this Absolute Beginners Guide to Camera Settings is for you.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Start in auto mode

The Olympus Tough TG-6 comes with auto mode, more than a dozen scene modes, as well as aperture mode (one of the most used settings by photographers). This photo was taken by a child using a DSLR in auto mode.

Photographs are made with light

Buying paint and canvas does not guarantee that you will produce a nice painting, nor does buying a camera guarantee a good photo.

Your camera is a complicated piece of technology designed to capture the moment you see with your eye and make a picture. However, the main ingredient it uses is not ink or paint but light.

A poor photograph may be due to a lack of creativity. But many creative photos are ruined due to a wrong combination of camera settings used to make a picture. The most important camera settings are about what the camera does as it makes a picture out of light.

Using Auto Mode with Window Light

Small steps

Sure, cameras differ in their capability and quality, but it’s not really the camera that is ultimately responsible for how the photo turns out. You must have control over the camera to make it do what you want it to.

Every time you snap a picture, you need to make some decisions that are affected by camera settings:

  • Do I want my background to be in focus or not?
  • Should I freeze the action or capture motion blur?
  • Do I want my photo to be warm or cool-looking?
  • Is it best to capture a series of shots in burst mode or just one photo at a time?

These decisions, and many more, are represented by “camera settings.” You select certain settings so that the camera knows what to do when it takes a picture.

There are many settings and I want to walk you through some of the most important.

The best way to learn something is by taking small steps. Learn one step, and don’t move on until you understand it. Bookmark this and other articles so that you can come back to them as you grow in your understanding.

Confused about camera settings

This was my attempt to capture my son’s first steps with an advanced camera that I didn’t know how to use.

Auto mode

Let’s begin in Auto mode. Look for the dial on the top of your camera. You’ll either see the word auto or perhaps just a green box or icon.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Auto Mode

What does Auto mode do? It means that your camera will make all the decisions for you and choose all the settings. All you have to do is take the picture!

When you put your camera in Auto mode, you’re basically saying, “I don’t know how to work this thing!” There is no shame in not understanding how your camera works. If you are determined, you will learn over time.

It is possible to take nice photos in Auto mode. Part of the reason that auto mode can work so well is that it frees your mind from the technical aspects of photography that you don’t understand yet. Auto mode allows you to focus on the creative elements and use of light that you’re more likely drawn to.

Auto Mode Examples

Auto mode exercise

Go ahead and put your camera in Auto mode. Get out into the world and take lots of pictures. As you sort through your photos, make a list of the problems you run into. It’s easier to learn photography and grow when you’ve got specific problems that you can ask questions about.

Problems with Auto mode

You’re going to run into lots of problems in Auto mode, but how come? Shouldn’t your camera be smart enough to take a great picture on its own?

First, your camera has no idea what it’s looking at. So, it doesn’t know what you’re taking a picture of and it doesn’t know what you want the picture to look like.

All it’s trying to do is take a picture with the right exposure. Exposure refers to how bright or dark your photo is and it’s all the camera really cares about in auto mode.

You may see an inspiring scene in front of you, but the camera doesn’t. All it’s trying to do is expose your photo properly, and even that doesn’t work well many times.

Motion blur in auto mode.

Common problems in Auto mode include motion blur.

 

Blown highlights

Overexposed highlights are another major problem in Auto mode.

Over time, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you wish you could make your camera do. You’ll say, “I wish I could tell my camera to…”

The good news is, there is actually a way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of and how you wish it would look.

How to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of

If you tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of, you’ll increase the odds of getting a better photo.

The way to tell your camera what you’re taking a picture of is to use the scene mode option on your camera. Scene mode covers the most popular photography situations such as landscape, portrait, close-up, sports, etc.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Scene mode

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Scene modes

 

When you select the appropriate scene, you’re telling your camera what you’re photographing. Your camera will choose a combination of settings that are best suited to that situation. It’s going to choose roughly the same settings that an experienced photographer would use.

Sports Mode

You can use Sports mode when photographing quick moving kids, or when you’re photographing any action. There will still be imperfections in your photos, but you’re more likely to freeze the action.

 

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Freeze Action

Freeze quick-moving subjects with Sports mode.

 

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Portrait Mode

Portrait mode will help your camera achieve an out-of-focus background. That background blur is referred to as bokeh.

 

Landscape mode

Landscape mode will favor a greater depth of field in your photo. This will keep more of the foreground, midground, and background in focus. It tends to make colors more vibrant too.

 

Your camera will have all sorts of scene modes to explore. Consider the situation you’re in and see if your camera has a scene mode to help you out.

But still, your photos might not turn out great. Why? Because ultimately your camera is most obsessed with making your photo bright enough. And you might be pointing it at a scene that is really hard for the camera to capture properly.

Light and creativity

When you put your camera on Auto mode, it has to balance three main settings in order to make a picture out of light.

The three settings are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Each of these three settings contributes to the overall brightness or exposure of your photo. But aperture and shutter speed have creative effects as well.

Aperture contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help make your background out of focus, or keep it in focus.

Shutter speed contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo, but will also help freeze the action or make your photo blurry.

ISO contributes toward brightening or darkening your photo but doesn’t really have its own creative effect.

I’ll show you how to begin taking control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings so that you can get a predictably good photo. I mean a photo that is bright enough without being too bright, a photo where the action is captured as you wish and the background is in or out of focus as you desire.

A little more like the photo on the right than the photo on the left!

Good vs Bad Photo

Make one decision

The good news is, you can take some control of your camera without the burden of having to take full control. You can take control over one of the three main settings that are part of the exposure triangle. But how do you choose which one?

You can make this decision by asking yourself what’s more important; freezing the action, or blurring the background?

If you’re taking pictures of birds, sports, or other quick-moving subjects, you’re likely most concerned with freezing the action. If you’re taking a portrait, you’re most likely concerned with an out-of-focus background or, bokeh.

In order to achieve an out-of-focus background, we’ll begin with a setting called aperture.

Aperture Mode

If you’re most concerned with whether or not your background is in focus, choose Aperture mode (also known as Aperture Priority).

  • For Nikon and most other cameras, turn your dial to A.
  • For Canon, turn it to Av.
  • If you’re using a Fuji, you control the aperture with a ring on the lens.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Aperture Mode

When you put your camera on Aperture mode, you’re telling your camera that you want to control the aperture but you want the camera to control the shutter speed and ISO.

You use aperture to control whether or not your background is in focus, but what exactly is aperture?

To understand aperture, think about your kitchen sink. Picture turning the tap on full-blast. The water will come rushing out of the tap. But you could also turn the tap on gently so that there is a slow trickle of water.

That’s what aperture is, except with light.

Open your aperture up and get a strong flow of light coming through your lens. Close the aperture, and you’ll only have a trickle of light.

The creative effect of aperture

Open up your aperture and your background will be more out of focus (great for portraits). Close your aperture a bit and your background will be more in focus (great for landscapes).

The aperture is measured in numbers such as 1.8 or 3.5 or 5.6 or 8 or 11, etc. The smaller the number, the more open the aperture. The larger the number, the more closed.

Open aperture

This was an aperture of f/4. The background is out of focus. The more you bring your subject away from the background, the more out of focus the background will look.

 

In focus background

The aperture was set to f/11 for this photo so that the background is more in-focus.

 

The smaller the number and the more open the aperture, the more light that comes in and the more out of focus the background.

The larger the number and the more closed the background, the less light that comes in, and the more in-focus the background.

When you’re in Aperture mode, you use the scroller on your camera to open and close the aperture.

Choose Aperture mode when you’re most concerned about whether or not your background is in focus.

Image: If you close your aperture a bit, then you’ll have a greater depth of focus in your pho...

If you close your aperture a bit, then you’ll have a greater depth of focus in your photo. This photograph was made at f/5.6, but I would even recommend f/11 for landscape photos. Closing your aperture will help to keep both the foreground and background in focus.

 

beginners-guide-to-camera-settings-50mm lens

If you want your background to be blurred, then open your aperture as much as you can. That might be f/3.5 or f/5.6 on the lens that you’re using. If you have a 50mm lens then you can open all the way to f/1.8.

 

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-50mm bokeh

The other way to help your background to go blurry is to step closer toward your subject.

 

50mm close up

The closer you get to them, the more the background goes out of focus.

 

ISO

Remember, ISO doesn’t exactly have a creative effect.

So what is ISO and when do you use it?

ISO is a magical setting that helps your camera to see in the dark.

So you would set your ISO according to the lighting conditions that you’re in.

  • Is it a bright sunny day? Then set your ISO to 100 or 200.
  • Perhaps the sky is overcast? Set your ISO to 400 or 800.
  • Are you in dim indoor light? Set your ISO to 1600 or 3200. Maybe even 6400!

You have two main options when it comes to ISO:

  • Set it to Auto and let the camera figure it out.
  • Take control of it yourself.

I recommend playing in Aperture mode with your ISO set to auto. That way, you can experiment with aperture and let the camera figure out ISO and shutter speed for you. In a moment, we’ll look at shutter mode. In that case, I recommend leaving your ISO on auto as well. Take control of ISO when you feel comfortable with the other settings.

A word of caution about ISO

The higher you raise your ISO to help capture the light, the more noise or graininess will be introduced in your photo – especially in low light. The noise or grain is intensified all the more if you brighten your photos in post-processing (with a program such as Lightroom).

I don’t always mind a little noise or graininess in my photos. Noise and graininess are normally considered an imperfection in our photos. To me, it reflects the graininess or imperfection of everyday life and the moment by moment struggle that we have as photographers when we take pictures.

My photos are filled with imperfections, as am I in real life. If everything in my photo looks good except for the grain, then I am happy. I have an old iPhone that I keep around just for its nostalgic graininess.

High ISO Grain

The grain or digital noise is easily seen in this high ISO photo. Generally, the newer the camera and the larger the sensor, the less of a problem you’ll have with noise.

Shutter Mode

If your main concern is freezing the action, then you should choose Shutter mode (also known as Shutter Priority).

  • Nikon – set your dial to S.
  • Canon – set your dial to Tv.
  • Fuji – look for the dial with numbers like 125, 250, 500, etc.

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings-Shutter mode

If the aperture is how much flow of water is coming out of the tap, then shutter speed is how long the water comes out for.

Aperture controls how much flow of light comes into the camera, while shutter speed controls how long that flow comes in for.

The quicker the shutter speed, the less light that comes in.

The slower the shutter speed, the more light that comes in.

It’s generally the case that in bright light you should have a quicker shutter speed, and in dim light, you need a slower shutter speed. The danger with a slower shutter speed is that your photo may become blurry.

Why will your photo become blurry with a slow shutter speed?

Consider shutter speed being how long it takes for your camera to take a picture. A quick shutter speed means that the photo is taken so quickly that the action is frozen in the photo. But a slower shutter speed means that the camera takes longer to take the photo and any movement in the scene becomes smeared across the photo.

Two circumstances lead to a blurry photo. The first is that you have moved the camera while taking the picture – often referred to as camera shake. Maybe your hand shakes, or the camera vibrates as you take the photo.

Camera shake motion blur

You must hold the camera still and consider using a tripod when your photos turn out like this.

 

Another possibility is that your camera is perfectly still but your subject is moving. If the person you’re photographing is moving, they may be smeared across the photo.

Motion blur

But even if you put your camera on a tripod, a moving subject may cause motion blur.

So what does it take to freeze the action?

You’ll notice that shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. You’ll see numbers such as 1/125th or 1/2000th. Basically, the smaller the fraction, the more likely you are to freeze the action.

So 1/2000th will likely freeze the action, but 1/60th likely will not.

Slow shutter speed mtion blur.

Shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. The camera was held still so that the background was sharp, but the motion is blurred.

 

Absolute-Beginners-Guide-to-Camera-Settings - Freeze the action

A shutter speed of 1/500th of a second froze the motion of her hair as she turned.

 

Freezing the action.

A shutter speed of 1/2500th froze him as he bounced in the air.

 

Slow shutter speed creative effects

Silky waterfall shutter priority

These silky waterfalls were captured using a slow shutter speed. ISO 100, 1-second shutter speed

 

Slow shutter speed panning

The panning technique uses a combination of slow shutter speed and following the movement of your subject with the camera. The shutter speed was 1/20th of a second.

Other articles to explore

You now have enough knowledge to control the amount of background blur in your photo and to freeze or blur the action. You can also use ISO to help your camera see better in the dark.

Now it’s up to you to practice one little bit at a time until you’re comfortable and ready to move on.

Here are some more advanced concepts that may help you down the road.

Many people find it harder to master the introductory stage of camera settings than the advanced stages. Advanced techniques are easy to learn once you know the basics. Don’t be discouraged, and feel free to leave questions in the comment section below.

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Photoshop Elements 2020 Released With New AI Features and Guided Edits

adobe-photoshop-elements

Adobe has just released its latest iteration of Photoshop Elements: Photoshop Elements 2020, which debuts alongside Premiere Elements 2020.

Now, Photoshop Elements has always been geared toward beginner and amateur photographers, and this year’s release is no exception. Adobe has included new features that ensure it’s easier than ever to produce stunning edits.

Included among these exciting features is Adobe Sensei AI technology, which will drive Photoshop Elements automation. While Sensei AI technology isn’t new, this time it’ll be used to bring photographers options such as:

  • B&W Selection
  • Pattern Brush
  • Painterly
  • Depth of Field

In all four of these cases, Sensei AI is the driver behind easy-yet-powerful edits. B&W Selection allows you to quickly isolate elements from your photos and portray them in color, while giving the background a black and white look. Depth of Field takes a relatively sharp background and gives it a beautiful blur, making your main subjects pop.

And that’s not all. In addition to these new AI-powered options, Photoshop Elements promises a new black and white editing experience with its Colorization feature. Colorization takes a black and white photo and gives it realistic colors (or, as Adobe promises, you can use Colorization to “give new life to an existing color photo”).

Photoshop Elements also offers a one-click selection of your subjects for easy manipulation, as well as a skin-smoothing effect. And let’s not forget the two brand-new guided edits, which are designed to make post-processing accessible to everyone, as the software walks you through the process of creating patterns or making unwanted items vanish from the frame.

Adobe Photoshop Elements isn’t for everyone. Experienced photographers will likely prefer to work with Photoshop CC or Lightroom, both of which pack some real editing power. But for those who are just getting started with photo editing, Photoshop Elements offers a level of accessibility that its more serious counterparts lack. And the guided edits are a great feature for those wanting to learn while editing.

You can purchase Adobe Photoshop Elements as a standalone piece of software for $99.99 USD, or you can get it alongside Adobe Premiere for $149.99 USD.

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How to Choose Urban Landscapes for Portrait Photography

dps-urban-landscapes-for-portrait-photography

Are you bored of doing portrait shoots in the studio or the local park? Try mixing things up with an urban portrait shoot. The city streets, the buildings, the laneways – this is your cinematic backdrop. All you need is a little bit of planning and a lot of imagination. If you’ve never done a shoot like this before, you might be wondering how to choose locations. In this article, I will run you through my process of choosing urban landscapes for portrait photography. 

urban-landscapes-for-portrait-shoots

Bailey in a window, Brisbane. I took this shot with some off-camera flash outside my local library. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 23mm f1.4 lens.

An urban portrait shoot in my city? No way!

You may think that your city or your town has nothing of interest, but it does. You just have to look with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I’ll be on a photo walk with another photographer, and they don’t seem to see the potential that their town has to offer. “Wow, look at that doorway!” I’ll say. With a puzzled face, they reply, “It’s just a doorway!” 

No, it’s not just a doorway – it’s a potential scene in your next urban portrait shoot. 

Image: Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with...

Sasha, Brisbane. I used these old street lamps as an element in the shoot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Every town or city I’ve ever been to has its charms and a unique look: from modern glass and steel skyscrapers to historic buildings to run-down industrial areas. There are so many aspects of urban locations that you could include in your shoots: laneways, street art, doorways, neon signs, steel shutters, and traffic trails, just to name a few. 

There’s also the unique way that light falls in urban environments: harsh beams of light that fall between buildings, beautiful soft light that you find in doorways and under bridges, and in Brisbane, dazzling light reflecting off skyscrapers. The possibilities are endless.

The best time for an urban portrait shoot

The best time for an urban portrait shoot is whenever you and your client or model are both available. Regardless of the light, the weather, or the locations. The success of the photoshoot is ultimately in your hands. 

My favorite time for doing urban portrait shoots is just before dusk. This allows you to get a good mix of golden hour photos with sunlight, blue hour photos as the city lights come into play and nighttime shots with artificial light. 

urban-landscapes-for-portrait-shoots

Alyssa in an industrial alleyway, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 60mm f2.4 lens.

Location scouting

I usually run portrait shoots for around 90-minutes, allowing me to shoot in 6-8 locations. 

It’s best to do your location scouting at the same time of day that your shoot will take place. This is so you can look at the light, see how it falls, and plan accordingly. In practice, though, I usually end up doing my scouting during the day. 

Before I arrange the shoot, I take some time to wander about the city to find 8-10 locations close together. The reason I look for more places than I’ll need is to be flexible on the shoot. Cars or trucks can block alleyways, big crowds could move through the area at the time of the shoot, or the lighting could be all wrong. There’s a whole lot of things that could make the location unsuitable when you arrive at the scene.

Although it’s tempting to plan to shoot in two locations at opposite ends of town, unless you have easy access to transport on the day of the shoot, it will be impractical. Photoshoots can be tiring for everyone, so asking your client or model to walk several city blocks and back again to shoot in one location may not be the best idea. 

What to take during location scouting

When you’re scouting for locations, have a notepad and pen ready along with your smartphone. When you see somewhere that you like, take a photo on your phone for reference and jot down some notes. I always draw a map of the city streets in my notebook. Then I plot the locations on it and plan a direction for the shoot.

What I’m looking for during my walk is a cool urban location in which to place the client or model. Some locations will leap out at you, and you will know that you should take some photos there. Others may not reveal their charm until later when the lights are low. 

Image: Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. F...

Natasha, Brisbane. I like the very subtle reflection in the polished stone wall behind her. Fujifilm X-T3 with 56mm f1.2 lens

As you’re wandering around, there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind:

Imagination

What is this place going to look like at dusk or nighttime? Remember that for many shots, you will be shooting with a wide-open aperture, or close to wide open, so many of the details in the background will be blurred. 

Potential risks

It may look cool, but is this place dangerous in any way? Think of how you will place the model or client in this scene – are there any risks that you need to be mindful of? Is there a lot of traffic? Is it a dangerous neighborhood? You should consider all of this when you’re planning, as safety should be your top priority for these shoots.

Below are some of my go-to shots when I plan an urban photoshoot. I took all of these within a few blocks of each other in central Brisbane, Australia. 

Neon lights

Neon shots are a favorite with the Instagram crowd, and it’s easy to see why. They are so much fun and a great image idea to have up your sleeve.

Neon signs are something that, quite honestly, I never usually notice. However, as soon as you start looking for them, you’ll be amazed at how many your town has.

urban-landscapes-for-portrait-shoots

Alyssa, Brisbane. This neon light is outside a takeaway shop in central Brisbane. I was attracted to the three different colors the sign had.

Beer kegs outside a pub

As soon as I saw these beer kegs in a laneway outside a pub, I knew I wanted to incorporate them in a shoot. I’ve used them as both a background element and also as a prop for models to sit on.

In this shot of Anne, I struck gold. By chance, it was one of the busiest days for pubs in the year – Melbourne Cup Day. There were a few dozen kegs in a laneway all stacked on one another. I lit this shot with an LED video light.

urban-landscapes-for-portrait-shoots

Anne in front of beer kegs, Brisbane. I love the shape, color, and reflection of the kegs in the background. Fujifilm X-T3 with an 8-16mm f2.8 lens lit with an LED video light.

Laneways

Many Australian cities are blessed with alleyways. In many ways, they are the perfect place for photoshoots. Expect atmospheric lighting, an industrial look, street art – and best of all – little traffic. While Melbourne may be the laneways capital of Australia, Brisbane has many too.

Image: Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights p...

Natasha in a laneway, Brisbane. I like the color and bokeh that some tiny blue fairy lights provided in this shot. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Telephone booth

This is a really fun place to use for some shots – if you can still find one these days. You may also have to take some time to explain to younger clients or models on how to use a public payphone!

urban-landscapes-for-portrait-shoots

Alyssa in a phone booth in Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 35mm f1.4 lens.

Reflections

Reflections are a go-to image idea for urban portrait shoots. Many buildings provide you with glass or reflective surfaces.

Image: Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Anne looking into a mirrored surface, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T2 with a 56mm f1.2 lens.

Old signage

I love history and nostalgia, but sadly there isn’t much left in my city. One day I noticed this sign and thought I’d love to do some shots here.

Image: Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Sasha in front of a sign, Brisbane. Fujifilm X-T3 with a 16mm f1.4 lens.

Take your next portrait shoot to the streets

Urban portrait shoots can be a lot of fun. If you’ve never done one before, I hope that this guide has inspired you to look around your city for urban landscapes for portrait photography.

For your first time, you can always ask a friend to be your model if you want to try things out and see how the images look. Practice makes perfect.

Remember, safety is a very important factor in a shoot like this – both for your client or model and for yourself.

Urban shoots have helped me grow as a photographer. I feel more creative, I see possibilities for images in the mundane, and they’ve also helped me to think on my feet and improvise. ­­­­

So what are you waiting for? An endless array of scenes is right on your doorstep. Take your next portrait shoot to the streets.

Do you have any other tips for scouting urban landscapes for portrait photography? Share with us in the comments!

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Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Having just purchased the Sony A7r III earlier this year, I didn’t expect to add another camera to my collection so quickly. Until… the Sony A7r IV announced it was on pre-order. Typically, I will not invest in yet another body unless something truly monumental comes about, and this was such a situation. The A7r IV is a piece of machinery unlike any other – and I don’t regret a single dime spent. This Sony A7r IV review will explain why.

Mirrorless versus Digital 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

By now, 2019, many photographers are well aware of mirrorless cameras invading the digital photography market. Just to refresh on some of the key differences in technology between DSLRs/SLRs and mirrorless cameras… 

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, does not utilize a mirror to reflect the image to the viewfinder. The way that a digital camera works is that a mirror inside the camera reflects the light up to the optical viewfinder. This is also how you see the image before you take it.

In a mirrorless camera, the imaging sensor is exposed to light at all times. This gives you a digital preview of your image either on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder (EVF). This allows you to see exposure changes in real-time on a mirrorless camera. The lack of a mirror also aids in the camera’s size, allowing the mirrorless model to be smaller and lighter than a traditional DSLR.

DSLR aficionados don’t trust the digital viewfinder portrayal in mirrorless cameras as this is system-based, while the DSLR uses a practical application to show a true-to-life, through-the-lens optical viewfinder system. This uses a series of mirrors to reflect light to your eye. However, as a new mirrorless user, I can testify that the electronic viewfinder display is extremely accurate to the image I create when clicking the shutter button. 

In regards to quality, both can excel in optical quality, image sensors, technical aspects, and adeptness at shooting conditions. Both are equally spectacular, with each model having its own pros and cons (of course). It does come down a lot to personal choice.

Specifications

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to the drool-worthy A7r IV. The specifications of this newest member to the Alpha line is what made me fall out of my seat and need to order this model.

And it has not disappointed.

A true feat of modern technology, it includes the following specs:

  • A whopping 61 MP, 35 mm full-frame Exmor R™ CMOS and enhanced processing system. This produces an image sized at 9504 x 6336. For landscape and commercial photographers, the a7r IV features a 240MP pixel-shift mode.
  • ISO 100–32000 (ISO numbers up from ISO 50 to ISO 102400 can be set as expanded ISO range.)
  • Fast Hybrid AF with Wide (567-points (phase-detection AF), 425-points (contrast-detection AF))/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot/Tracking (Wide/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot) The focus modes include AF-A (Automatic AF), AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), Manual Focus.
  • Eye-start AF, Lock-on AF [Still] Human (Right/Left Eye Select)/Animal, [Movie] Human (Right/Left Eye Select), AF micro adjustment, and predictive AF control. 
  • High-speed continuous shooting of up to 10fps12 with AF/AE tracking.
  • 5-axis image stabilization with 5.5-stop exposure advantage20.
  • 4K video in full-width and crop modes.
  • Dual card slots with simultaneous or consecutive recording.
  • Silent Shooting Mode.
  • You can operate the camera via newly supported wireless PC Remote functions via Wi-Fi.

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Much like the other models in the Alpha line, this camera is an E-mount that only accepts E-mount lenses (unless you use an adapter). The awesome thing about E-mount, though, is that many brands (alongside Sony) make lenses for it, including Zeiss, Sigma, and Tamron.

Build 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

I did not expect a redesign of the A7r IV body. Silly me! I expected a perfect replica of the A7r III with more advanced technology. In fact, the A7r IV has improved upon its predecessor’s body and ergonomics. They have changed the design, proving that Sony listened to photographer complaints and suggestions when redesigning this camera.

Firstly, the grip is different. Sony modified the contour, and the grip has deepened – for lack of a better term. I found it to be much more comfortable, and my hand cramped less during prolonged use (photographers, you know what I’m talking about here).

The camera grip reminded me of my large DSLRs rather than a mirrorless, and I liked that a lot. While I have small, feminine hands, I am sure this new grip design will work nicely with larger hands too.

Sony has also redesigned the buttons. They’re softer and “squishier” to the touch. There is also a redesigned joystick and an amended exposure compensation dial that now includes a lock button (thankfully!).

Sony-A7r-IV-review

A big change is the card slot door. The new card door no longer needs a lock lever. Just pull straight back like Canon and Nikon. This provides a much tighter seal as well. Oh, and speaking of cards…Slot 1 is now on the top, not backward like the A7r III (which constantly confused me).

The Sony A7r IV is sized at 5.07 x 3.8 x 3.05″/128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm and 1.46 lb/665 g.

Ease of use 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

In my brain, Sony Alpha and ease-of-use are synonymous phrases. This camera is quick to set up, even simpler to use, and you can run off and play immediately when the battery is charged. The menu and settings are intended for professionals, but if you’ve been doing photography and understand how a camera works, figuring it out is quick.

I’ve heard complaints about the Sony menu, but I’ve personally not had any problems with it. I easily found everything I needed and do all of my adjustments within about 10 minutes.

This is coming from a Canon user that features an entirely different menu. 

I do wish the eye-tracking mode was an actual button on the camera as you can switch between Human subject or Animal subject. It would be convenient to have this as a button rather than having to dig into the menu to change this feature. I find myself continually changing it back and forth (being both a human and a pet photographer).

Autofocus, sharpness, and clarity 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Just one word: phenomenal. 

I could end the review with just that one word and be satisfied. However, to go into detail…the autofocus is lightning sharp. Definitely the fastest autofocus of all of my cameras – and I have a lot of them! I find the autofocus to be even faster and more accurate than the A7r III – and that’s saying a lot, as the A7r III is very fast as well. 

I’ve captured dogs running – high speed – directly at my camera without even losing focus on their eyes for a second. That is how superb the eye-tracking mode is. I see a lot of use for this camera in sports photography if you have large enough cards to accommodate the 61-megapixels, of course! You can bring the camera down to 24-megapixels if needed, but that’s no fun.

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The predictive AI focus has truly revolutionized the way you can photograph subjects moving erratically or quickly, and I am living for it. This has made my job much easier with pets, or little humans that love to run away from mom!

In regards to sharpness and clarity, (while much of the final quality and look comes from the lens), in this case, the camera plays a big role. This is where the Sony mirrorless cameras begin to stand out significantly. The images are extremely sharp and clear. To some, maybe even artificially so. The look is very distinct. Professional photographers can quite easily pick out a Sony mirrorless photograph from the rest. The 61-megapixels show an immense amount of detail, excellent for commercial and detail work. 

Buffering

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Despite the enormous amount of megapixels, the A7R IV can still fire up to 10 frames-per-second with autofocus and autoexposure active. That’s impressive! The camera can keep at this for up to 68 compressed raw images.

Color rendering

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

With vivid, vibrant, and deep colors, there is little editing I need to do with this camera. Even in low light, the colors tend to be quite true. The dynamic range is superb with 15-stops of dynamic range. I have been able to pull incredible details, colors, and information from darker images. 

Low light capability 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The only gripe I have with this model is the low light capability is not improved over its preceding version. That doesn’t mean that the low light capability is bad – it’s just not better. For a camera that has improved in so many ways, I would have liked to see an even better low light sensor in this particular model.

However, the larger megapixel count does allow for significantly more manipulation, and it hasn’t phased me to take care of noise through a quick flick of the Noise slider in Lightroom. Ideally, it would have been nice not to need to do this.

With that said, I have not personally noticed worse noise at the same ISO levels, as some photographers have reported. The autofocus in low light is superb. It’s great for my concert photography endeavors, and even better than the firmware update on my A7r III.

Battery life 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

For battery life, my original frame of reference is my many Canon DSLR cameras. The 5D Mark IV, 5D Mark III, 7D Mark II, and 1Dx Mark II are the models I use. In my experience, Sony batteries are not nearly as powerful or long-lasting as Canon batteries. However, this makes sense, as the power necessary to operate a mirrorless tends to be more draining than the DSLRs due to the mirrorless cameras using a digital viewfinder and LCD display. 

When I purchased my first Sony camera, I went ahead and bought a second battery. The battery is the same as the one that the Sony A7r IV uses, so now I have two additional batteries for it. I am glad that I did because the battery does not last me all day like Canon cameras. I seldom end up switching to a second Canon battery. Even after shooting a dog agility trial for eight hours without turning the body off. On the Sony, I found myself switching the battery mid-day on all-day shoots.

It is key to note I am not using a battery grip. With a battery grip, the power lasts significantly longer. 

However, when comparing to Sony itself, the battery in the newer Alpha series cameras are significantly better and far more superb than previous models. The Sony NPFZ100 Z-Series Rechargeable Battery is no joke – far more powerful than the previous batteries used by the company. 

Final thoughts

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Do you need the power of the Sony A7r IV? Generally, probably not. For specialty work? Absolutely. The specifications are very much overkill for the average photographer, but for those that have found a use for its tremendous amount of megapixels or the ease in which the AI focuses, this is absolutely a worthy investment.

It’s likely great enough to sell prior pieces of equipment in order to buy the A7r IV.

I work a lot in commercial photography, and this camera allows me to better produce commercial imagery for my corporate clients – something I couldn’t pass up. 

Would you like to own this camera? Why? Or are you lucky enough to have you tried the Sony A7r IV? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments! 

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