Getting up to speed. Practice makes less awkward. New cameras need to be taken out for test drives.

I got a new camera to play with. I'm taking it to Berlin on Monday. I'm very excited about the whole process. But at the core I am a very anxious person who likes to leave little, if any, to chance. So there's no way I'll go anywhere with brand new gear unless I've had time to take it our for a spin and figure out how things work and how to work around the things I don't like...

It was a lovely, clear day in Austin. The temperature was scheduled to do a long peak at 104 degrees for three or four hours this afternoon. What does a photographer with a new camera do? Well, I went to swim practice and knocked through about 4500 yards and then I went out to lunch, got a prescription filled, bought some batteries at Costco and then, when the temperature had climbed into the triple digits I headed down town with a camera and one lens and got started breaking in the newbie.

I decided to take a counter-intuitive lens. I grabbed the Samsung 18-200mm lens. It's got built in optical image stabilization and a monster zoom range. It's a fatty but it seems really sound. Maybe not quite as sharp as the primes but a good performer one stop down from wide open. 

I'm on a new diet. I'm trying my best to cut out all sugars, sweetners and refined foods from my regular repertoire but that doesn't mean I don't want them. I settled by stopping by the Whole Foods bakery to photograph my abandoned friends before hitting the scorching sidewalks in search of scintillating scenes and vignettes. The camera and lens handled the cupcakes and truffles well. They hit the white balance nearly perfectly even though the Whole Foods HQ is a Jackson Pollack hodge-podge of mixed lighting.

Out of caloric imaging guilt I decided I should also represent some healthier foods to subconsciously persuade my readers to indulge in fresh, whole food choices....

I personally think the combination of the 18-200mm lens and the 20+ megapixel sensor of the Samsung Galaxy NX did an incredibly nice job on the little cherry tomatoes...

And the melons....

Can you hear the soles of my sandals hissing in the pavement?

Give a photographer a long zoom and he'll shoot long every time. 
Wide angles. Those are for people who can't back up.
Or for people who can't make up their minds about what they want in a scene... (kidding, don't write the nasty rebuttal...).

I walked through downtown from three until six p.m. Though my iPhone told me it was consistently 104 degrees (f) it sure didn't feel that hot. Must have been lower humidity than we've gotten used to. I spent an afternoon with the new camera (Samsung Galaxy NX Android) and I came away with a bunch of images that I'm  happy with, technically. The camera is set up a lot like the NX300 and that's a good thing. There's stuff I'll have to get used to but most of it is on the Android side and not on the shooting/camera side.

The files are crisp and clean and full of neutral colors. 

Tomorrow I'll spend a lot of time packing for my trip. I'm trying to be a minimalist in every sense. A couple shirts, a couple pairs of jeans.  Only one tuxedo (black, as it will be after Labor Day). I'm going light on electronics. I'm taking an iPad, a phone and the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. No laptop this time.

I'm still trying to decide on lenses but right now I'm thinking 16mm, 30mm, the 18-55mm kit lens, and the 60mm macro. The juggling part is between the 60mm macro and the 85mm 1.4. The 85 is the sexy choice but the 60 is the practical choice. We'll see which part of my brain wins out tomorrow.

I'm taking the new camera and I'm backing it up with the NX 300. Same mount, same mentality.

My goal is to hit the ground in Berlin on Tues. morning and to have the maximum amount of fun possible shooting and exploring the city with a bunch of like-minded photographers from around the world. It's good to have goals, especially when they are all about having fun.

I'll keep writing missives for the blog during the week but you'll have to forgive me if they are long on photos and short on type. I'll be using the virtual keyboard on the camera or the (interesting) keyboard on the iPad and neither is conducive to writing novel length blogs quickly.....

If you are a client with a thick wad of big cash to drop on me please be patient and we'll meet on Monday the 9th. 

That's all for today.....

Studio Portrait Lighting

I'm a Craftsy Instructor


Do you currently make your living taking photographs? This will be interesting or scary for you, depending on your mindset....


We're shooting video every week. Not just as an adjunct to photography but in 
many cases instead of still photography.

Sony pulls an interesting "end run" on the industry. Our perceptions versus the market reality.

Sony's category killer.

You could by a Canon G16 for your bang around, all purpose beater camera. You'd get a nicely built little brick with a smaller than average imaging sensor, a claustrophobic .85% optical finder and a pretty decent non-removeable lens. You'll spend about $600. Or you can see what Sony just tossed into the ring. Looks like they took the brilliant APS-C sensor from the a58 (great color, nice DR and lots of resolution), put it in a body with hand hold ability, dropped in a useable (not spectacular, judging by the specs) EVF and finished it off with a Nex lens mount and a decent (but not exceptional), small and light 18-55mm kit lens that also has a very decent optical image stabilizer. Just for grins they added a good movie mode and then priced the whole package at about 2/3rds the cost of the Canon.

No, I don't think the Sony a3000 is waterproof or able to fire at 12 fps or able to lock onto fast moving soccer players in low light. But I do think it will provide a big step up in image quality for a huge number of consumers who would have been targets for point and shoot cameras or who may have defaulted to cellphone cameras. And for a legion of students and people with limited  budgets who are just starting out it gives good access to a sensor that should be competitive with the sensors in APS-C Canons and Nikons. If all that really matters is the imaging quality of the sensor and access to decent lenses then this camera is an entry level no-brainer.

I read, with no little amusement, a sampling of the hundreds and hundreds of baffled comments on one of the forae that predicted this camera would cause a Sony "face plant." That no rational human would want to buy a camera that didn't have state of the art screens or throughput. I laughed when they suggested that no reasonable photographer would want one as I placed my pre-order on Amazon. Who wouldn't want a functional (and potentially great image producer) that is also a beater and available new at such a low price point that one could, in some situations, consider the camera an "expendable?"

To make a tired car analogy: Yes, we mostly all would love to drive "aspirational" cars like M-series BMW's and turbo-charged Audi's. Yes, we'd all love to drive fast all day on the AutoBahn. Ahhh, the smell of rich Corinthian leather.....

Well, I don't know about you but I've got a Toyota Corolla and a Honda CRV parked out in front of my house and they are functional and dependable everyday users. And I think that's what Sony had in mind here.

You may not remember when the SLR market matured in the old days of film but if you didn't need the special build or features of a Nikon F3 or Canon EOS-1 you could always buy an economy DLSR with fewer features for a fraction of the cost of the big boys. Given that you could use the same lenses and the same film, the image quality differences straight through were nil. We have now hit back to that same paradigm where a camera maker gives you the option of having a great sensor and a lens mount that can be used with lots of lenses at a price even a student can afford.

The scary thing for camera enthusiasts is that when you equalize the quality of the imaging chain and offer that quality at a tiny price point the difference between a bright eyed, poor student's photo and the well equipped hobbyist's photo is now reduced to the quality of the idea and the polish of the execution.
It's always humbling when someone can make really nice art with tools that cost a itsy-bitsy bit more than that Billingham camera bag you bought......

Sony may have a tremendous holiday hit on their hands. What's not to like for the vast majority of intended users?

Don't like it? Don't buy it. Take a look at the Leica Vario X instead...


I wanted to do one of those unboxing videos for the Samsung Galaxy NX but....

.....mine came today without a box.  I'm getting up to speed on the menus and whatnot so I can shoot fun stuff on my trip to Berlin.


The camera is much smaller than it looks in most of the product photos.

The rear screen is beautiful. Big and sharp and exciting to compose on. Perfect for studio work.

It's thinner and lighter than I thought it would be.

I've already signed up for my free 50 gigabytes of Drop Box storage that comes with the camera. I'll have that filled up in a month or so......

The lack of buttons and dials is frightening at first. Then, over time, less so.

I took it along with me to lunch at Whole Foods today. Paul and Chris liked the rear display but dismissed the camera out of hand. I expected no less from two very serious shooters who are: over 35 years old, shoot with medium format digital cameras such as the Leica S2 and who are not at all into cellphone tech.

How do I like it? I don't know yet. I haven't had time to walk around and shoot with it. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Final observation: I've been messing around with the menus and the Android apps since around 11 am today. That's twelve hours. I still haven't run down the first battery. Not even close.

I'm looking forward to shooting all around Berlin. I'll try to do daily updates with photos and small observations.

A guest post about LED lighting by VSL reader, Joe Gilbert.

(Kirk's note: Joe sent along several of his images to me after he started working with a Fiilex P360 LED light and I really liked them. I asked him if he would pen a blog for me about his use of the LEDs and his journey into a new type of lighting. I'm delighted to present his first blog on VSL! We have some talented readers.)

All images ©Joe Gilbert, All rights reserved.

My name is Joe Gilbert; I live in Baton Rouge and have been a VSL reader for a long time. Kirk recently asked if I would be interested in sharing some of my work and techniques, so a brief introduction and look at how this came to be is in order. My interests lie on a fine edge between professional work, and photography as an avocation.  I’m self-employed, and work on behalf of several insurance companies. When a “red flag” prompts them to dig a little deeper into a routine claim, or when defense counsel needs assistance defending a large liability claim, they call me.  My two priorities are garnering cooperation, and accurately documenting my findings. Kirk does this and creates art, I do it and create a body of evidence; both tell a story.  From photographing scrapes under an 18-wheeler that ran over a go-kart, to photographing an industrial fish-skinning machine that was used with catastrophic consequences; proper lighting and an accurate perspective are critical.  

I closed my small portrait studio about 10 years; however, I kept a couple of Photogenic PL1250 monolights and on occasion would set them up for fun.  I sold them about two years ago and had been shooting a lot of natural light portraits for fun.  Even on their lowest setting, 500ws moonlights are too powerful for shooting with a large aperture in confined spaces. I became interested in LED lighting while watching Kirk artfully exploit the technology and his subsequent sharing of what worked, and what didn’t. Eventually, I realized the technology was a fit for me professionally and artistically.  Other than a slight green color cast from the Fotodiox Pro LED 312AS, I really can’t think of a downside to that light. I don’t consider the lack of power to be a downside.  I purchased the Fotodiox 312AS several months ago, and the Fiilex P360 in July.  The Fiilex P360 was a game changer for me; it consumes very little power, and provides a nice hard light for dramatic portraiture.  With the addition an umbrella, soft box or other diffusion device, it creates a wonderfully soft light. The quality of light from the Fiilex is beyond beautiful and is noticeably cleaner than other LED lights I’ve seen. The adjustable color temperature of both lights makes them a perfect fit for blending with available light, whether natural or artificial. 

I Put together a small lighting travel pack consisting of the two LED lights, a Sony HVL-F58 flash, white balance card, an incident & flash light meter, extra batteries, and a Fresnel lens and barn door rig. A couple of light stands and an umbrella stuffed in the carry bag that came with a cheap camping chair from Wal-Mart, and a 5 in 1 reflector & stand round out a kit that can handle most of my challenges. 

Lighting Kit.

I met Kirk in April of this year at the Blanton Museum of Art. We chatted and enjoyed inexpensive wine before listening to an inspiring lecture by Sylvia Plachy.  After meeting Kirk in person, I’ve become an even greater fan and have since shared an occasional thought and a few photos with him.  I enrolled in his online Portrait Studio Class as soon as I saw the announcement, and am extremely happy that I did. I think most everyone would enjoy his amiable personality, and even experienced photographers are bound to learn something valuable. Not only did I learn a lot; the course inspired me to do better. I was genuinely excited to put together a shoot and see the results!

Kirk often emphasizes the importance of interacting with the model, and speaks about color accuracy and doing a custom camera calibration in the online course.  Both points are super-important, and critically linked for me.  I make a point to patronize local stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. This is how I find my models. Most people are lost when it comes to sitting in front of a camera, so I hand the model a WhiBal grey card and a Gossen Digipro F incident & flash meter to involve them in the process.  The simple act of involving them in the process, explaining the color of light, and the importance of measuring the light falling on them creates dialogue with even the shyest of subjects. The Digipro F can be operated with one hand and is so simple that it only takes a few seconds to explain the process and show the model how to operate the meter. 

I am having great personal success blending the LED light with lamps, natural light, and even light from computer monitors. Setting the color temperature on the Fotodiox 312 to match the ambient color resulted in nice clean photographs, but lacked the punch I wanted. I’d like to share some of my recent portraits taken with the addition of the Fiilex, and a few done after completing Kirk’s Portrait Studio Course. 

One of my first portraits with the Fiilex was accomplished with the Fotodiox 312 providing a little background and separation light. I used the Fiilex with the Fresnel and barn doors as key light. The key light was between 2 and 3 stops brighter than the rest of the room and created a very nice dramatic portrait. I think the lighting fit well with the strength of the model, Origin. This was shot in aperture priority as I experimented. (ISO 1000 f1.4 1/70th)


Although I shoot aperture priority and dial in appropriate exposure compensation while out and about, I generally like to meter and expose for the highlights when working with a model. I let the shadows fall as they may. Conversely, there are times when I need to meter on a specific area for evidentiary use and I don’t care if other parts of the photo are blown or blocked. When setting up my lighting I’ve found that squinting drops the shadows and highlights to a point that pretty accurately reflects what the camera will capture.  This helps me visualize the end result and adjust the light as needed. I also use several different cameras with EVFs and that also makes it a little easier to visualize. 

Seeing how well the Fiilex places light in a focused beam with the Fresnel, I asked a model friend, Victoria Grace, to be my next test subject. We traveled to a private pool that was covered with a large green parachute. The afternoon light was nicely defused; however, it did cast a green tint on the image. The Fiilex light provided nice modeling to her face, yet appeared very natural. In Kirk’s online Portrait Class, he recommends using a tripod to maintain good composition. I wish I’d had that tip prior to shooting the photograph of Victoria. I love her expression; however, the background is tilted. This is major pet peeve of mine, but I liked the photograph enough to suck it up.  I’ve seen a lot of advice on the web from photographers telling you to tilt the image to give it some interest, but to me it’s a turnoff.  (ISO 200, f2.8 1/250th )

Victoria under parachute
When the sun dropped, I setup the Fiilex at the edge of the pool and aimed the light at about a 45-degree angle into the water. I then hopped in, carefully, and moved around with Victoria until I saw the light I wanted.  (ISO 400 F2, 1/60th )

Victoria in pool

We then moved inside a cabin on the same property and utilized the Fiilex with an umbrella as key light, and the Fotodiox 312 for some separation. I experimented shooting through, and bouncing off a Photoflex 45” convertible umbrella. I can’t remember what I ended up doing with this photograph of Victoria in the cabin. 

Victoria in cabin
Fast-forward a few weeks. Having now completed the Portrait Studio Class; I couldn’t wait to shoot again.  I wanted to do something creative and as fortune would have it, a good friend and makeup artist, Stella Amore, was coming to town to visit with her boyfriend and asked if I would photograph her.  I mentioned this to a friend, Brooke, and she wanted to participate.  Almost instantly I had two models, a makeup artist and an assistant.  I should have bought a few Lotto tickets!  My wife thought I was a bit off my rocker when I told her I wanted to buy an inflatable kiddy pool and toss a full grown woman or two in it for a photography project, but I pressed on. I found a 6’ by 10’ inflatable pool at Target, purchased a couple of yards each of very sheer fabric in five bold colors, an assortment of silk flowers, and two bags of shiny stones from Wal-Mart. Lastly I found a large bolt of black fabric to line the bottom of the pool for a total investment of less than $100.00.  (Not including the good wine.)

Remember me saying that I did not consider the low power of LED lighting to be a downside?  The limited power, comparatively speaking, of the LED lighting and an understanding of the inverse square law gives us the opportunity to get very close to the subject. As Kirk reminds us in the course, the closer light is to a subject, the larger and softer the light appears. Working with light so close to the model, the light drops three stops a very short distance past the model, allowing for virtually unlimited creativity in a small space.  

I inflated the bottom half of the pool on the rear porch, covered the bottom with black cloth, and tossed in a few silk flowers and shiny rocks. (Next time I will use black plastic, as I had to skim a lot of lint from the water surface.) We filled the pool with about 6” of water, and setup the lighting.  Kirk mentions that 45 degrees up, and 45 degrees to the side is a great starting point for your key light, and I find it to be very true. I used the Fiilex P360 as key light, and placed it to the model’s left side. I found the unmodified light too hard for what I had envisioned, and found that bouncing the light from a Photoflex 45” convertible umbrella created a very nice light. (Take note that placing the Fresnel over the Fiilex actually reduces the output reflected from the umbrella.) The umbrella was approximately five feet from the models face, and I was able to shoot at ISO 800 f2 1/60th.  A perfectly fine amount of light for a portrait with the Sony Alpha 900, Zeiss 85mm lens and Image stabilization on. I set the Fotodiox 312 at the models feet on her right side and kept the exposure value the same to create some depth to the portrait.  An assistant handled the Interfit 5 in 1 reflector. Using the silver side, he moved in and out as Brooke posed to provide fill for her right side.


The full-length photo of Stella was lighted in much the same way; however, I moved the key light almost directly in front of her, and an assistant used the reflector to block light from the edge of pool on her right side. I stood in the water just to the right of Stella and shot from above with the Fuji Xpro-1 and 18mm lens. ISO 800 f2.0 1/60

Stella Full-length

This final shot of Stella seated in the pool was done with her looking toward the key light, and again an assistant was using the silver reflector to provide fill for her left side, camera right. Shot with the Sony Alpha 900 and Zeiss 85mm at ISO 400 f1.4 1/60th.  The Fotodiox 312 was two stops brighter, at f2.8 to give some bang to a very sweet feeling pose.  

Overall my experience with LED lighting has been positive, and the Portrait Studio Class was both enjoyable and educational.  Highly recommended!

Studio Portrait Lighting