Category Archives: advice for new photographers

How to Avoid Wedding Scammers

Wedding Upwaltham Barns

It’s a favourite news article. Every wedding season there are the same stories. Terrible wedding photographers, laughable wedding cakes, half-dead wedding bouquets. Although these stories may seem funny when you see them on Facebook, the reality is that these scammers ruin what is supposed to be the happiest day of someone’s life. The sad fact is wedding scammers are on the rise. Attracted by easy money and the fact that most suppliers require payment in advance, scammers target bargain conscious and unwary couples. It is all too easy to create a website with stock photography and wait for the unsuspecting to contact you.  Couples end up with something much worse than what they paid for, or in some cases the supplier doesn’t show up at all.

How do you spot a genuine photographer from a fake or inexperienced one?

 

If the price is too good to be true there’s probably a catch.

While there are bargains at all levels of wedding pricing, when the price gets too low you should really wonder about the viability of that business, especially if you are booking a year or more in advance. To prove it, just do some simple maths. The peak wedding months are April-September and December. That’s only 28 Saturdays and 28 Fridays in wedding peak time. Taking in to account diary clashes (you can only take one wedding a day) and workload (most weddings are probably 3 days work for a decent photographer) it’s unlikely that most wedding photographers shoot that much. 30-35 weddings (including off peak ones) is probably a reasonable target for a wedding photographer to be doing ‘okay’. Not super busy, but not starving either. 

Now if you come across a photographer who charges £500 for a wedding, their turnover would be £15,000 to £17,500 based on those estimates. Even if they booked every peak Friday and Saturday in the whole year their turnover would only be £28,000 and their costs would take up most of that figure.

So ask yourself the question. “How can my photographer be in business if his prices are so low?” or better still ask him or her. There are legitimate reasons why a photographer might not charge much. It might not be their main source of income, or they may be starting out and portfolio building. If that is the case they should tell you honestly.

Does their website list a business address and phone number – and can you verify it?

Google is your friend when it comes to checking addresses and phone numbers. Most established busness will have verified their address and phone number with Google. You can spot this by looking for the little shield with a tick on it on their Google Business page. They should also appear on Google maps if you look them up.

Social Media and Blogging

Reputable photographers will generally use social media or blog regularly. Annie Leibovitz might be able to get away without having a website, but the rest of us have to hustle online to get work. If you research a photographer, and they have little in the way of regular blogs or social media posts, that should at least give you pause. If a photographers website is fake, it might be more obvious if you look at social media. Does their profile contain memes and very random photos, or is it a selection of work that is in the same style? Do see pictures from venues and locations that you recognise and are local to you and the photographer?

Can you Meet your Photographer before the Wedding?

The easiest way to find out if your photographer is bona fide is to arrange to meet them in person before booking. Anyone who is not genuine will go out of their way to avoid meeting you. I almost always meet every client a couple of times before the wedding, and if I don’t it’s usually because they live overseas and are flying back for their wedding. Even then I’ve met with parents or talked via skype. There really is no excuse for a photographer to keep you at arms length if they are trying to get you business. 

Check their website

There are things you should look for when you check a photographer’s website. Firstly, you really need to see sets of pictures from one wedding, not lots of galleries cobbled together from a lot of wedding. Wedding photography is  about consistency, a photographer needs to be able produce a high standard of work across a whole wedding day, not be great at one part but terrible at another. Secondly, their galleries should mention names and locations. If a scammer is trying to trick you, one of the ways to do it is to lift someone else’s work and pass it off as their own. Generally, if they do this they won’t steal work that was shot close to them as the chances of getting caught are too high. So they’ll steal work from photographers away from their local market, in other parts of the country or abroad.

If you want to see just how common this is go to Photo Stealers and see page after page of ‘photographers’ trying to trick the unwary.

In Conclusion

Generally speaking, you still have to be very unlucky to be caught out by a scammer. Most are found out pretty quickly and vanish as swiftly as they arrived. Simple common sense checks should prevent you making a mistake that will ruin an otherwise perfect day.

Don’t have nightmares!

Toby

Wedding Photographer in Chichester, West Sussex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Advice for Clients, Chichester photographer, Chichester wedding photographer

Zooms vs. Primes for Wedding Photography

Photographer Chichester

Zooms versus Primes is one of those topics that seems to really divide photographers. Some people swear by prime lenses and would never use anything else, others say they couldn’t do without the flexibilty that a zoom offers. So what should you choose to ensure you can do the best possible job for your clients on their wedding day? Rather than stick slavishly to one type of lens, I have found that certain types of lens are best used in particular situations.

Consider your own circumstances.

Nobody knows what challenges you face day to day better than you do. A Californian photographer who shoots in beautiful sun drenched vinyards has very different circumstances to a British wedding photographer who works mainly in gloomy old churches. Likewise, venues and officiants vary as to how strict they are with photographers. In my area I know that registry offices are usually very relaxed about you moving around. Clergy can be very strict, putting you at the back of the church and not letting you shoot for large parts of the ceremony.

Over the years I have built up a collection of zooms and primes. I switch what I carry in my primary bag depending on where I am shooting and the weather on the day. I keep another bag with everything else in the car. So you shouldn’t lured into copying photographers you admire whose shooting environments don’t match yours.

A Short Note about Fatigue.

A really important thing to consider and rarely talked about. When choosing what to put in your camera bag think about its weight. How easy it is going to be to carry that bag around all day? Putting too much into your bag will mean you start to flag after a few hours. Managing fatigue is an essential part of succesful wedding photography. Carrying a heavy bag also means you run the risk of a chronic back injury. It takes a second to lift something awkwardly and injure your back. Recovery can take weeks and there are few things less fun than shooting a wedding with a bad back. So when picking what lenses you need, always remember there is a limit to what you can carry.

Zoom vs Primes Round 1 – when is a zoom lens best?

When you are stuck in one place.

Wedding Photographer Sussex

The one time I find really can’t do without a zoom is if I am shooting a smaller civil ceremony. These are usually in a town hall or similar venue. Invariably with these types of wedding you are stuck behind the registrar, and there isn’t space to move around. The ceremony is short and all the key moments happen in about 5 minutes. To get any kind of variation in the shots you have to have a zoom. I prefer a 24-105mm as I feel that a 24-70 doesn’t have enough reach for ring shots or close ups on faces. It also opens up the possiblity of shooting the kiss on about a 50mm and then quickly zooming out to show the room while they are still kissing. These quick changes won’t work with primes, even with two cameras. 

When you need to be fast and flexible.

Chichester Photographer

There are large parts of a wedding where events are unpredictable. You have lots of shots to capture in a short amount of time. You can move around, but things happen so quickly that you can’t necessarily get to where you’d like to be in time. These sort of situations are all about framing and reacting fast. It’s not so much about bokeh and lighting. I work quickly and try to keep myself aware of as much as possible as events unfold.

Zooms vs. Primes Part 2 -When is a Prime Best?

 

Chichester Photographer

Low Light

Shooting in low light is the number one reason why I wouldn’t leave the house without a prime lens. There are so many situations in the average wedding day where light isn’t ideal. You want to get the shot without sending your camera’s ISO into the stratosphere. There are occasionally shots that you just can’t get unless you are shooting at f1.4 AND sending your camera’s ISO into the stratosphere. Ultimately you never want to get into a situation where you just can’t get the shot with the equipment you have in your hand.

You could counter that when it get too dark it’s probably best to start using flash. Any wedding photographer who has been around a while will tell you not everywhere permits flash. If that happens in the wrong venue on a gloomy day could find yourself in serious trouble if you don’t have a fast prime.

A note about image stabilisation.

In theory, image stabilisation should give you the ability to handhold a zoom in similar levels of light to a prime lens of much wider aperture. There is of course one drawback – people move. So even if you can handhold your zoom at 1/15th of a second, any movements from your couple will be blurred. You can counter this by waiting for still moments. However, this isn’t going to help you when the bride walks up the aisle. As a general rule I don’t like to go below 1/125 when shooting people.

Adding a bit of Magic

Sussex Wedding Photographer

Although modern zooms and primes are very close in overall quality, good primes can have that extra bit of magic that really makes a picture. This can make a real difference to your most important photos. From couple shots to the first dance, I rely on primes to give me that extra something special. I tend to use primes for all of my more set up shots. Not only does it give me that extra little bit of quality, it makes me think in that focal length. I can visualise 50mm shots or 135mm shots and that helps me pick out locations.

When you need to Tidy up the Background.Sussex Photographer

There are a lot of situations where the backgrounds to your photos will be less than ideal. Cluttered hotel rooms or tables covered in plates and glasses are recurring challenges. While it’s always best to tidy things if you can, sometimes it’s not possible or there is no time. In these situations, being able to blur your background is a godsend. The wider the aperture of your lens, the more you can get away with.

Conclusion – Why you should have Zooms and Primes in Your Arsenal.

There are certainly situations in a wedding day that are better suited to either a prime or a zoom. Another compelling reason to have both is that you can back up you most important lenses with a different lens that can do the same job. So your 50mm prime can back up your standard zoom, or you 135mm prime could back up your 70-200. This way you can back up your lenses without actually having to buy two of anything. It also offers more creative options and flexibility. I tend to work with two cameras. Often with a zoom on one body and a prime on the other. In critical portions of the wedding, my back up is on my shoulder, ready to shoot. There is no point having a back up in the back of your car during the ceremony!

More important still you should priortise your lenses to suit your style. I don’t own a wide angle prime as I am not a huge fan of shooting people with anything wider than 50mm. I do have 16-35mm zoom that covers part of my standard zoom in case of failure though. If you favour zooms, you might feel that buying cheaper primes gives you cover without breaking the bank.

And Finally.

Remember the golden rule. Never get into a situation where you can’t take a useable picture of what’s in front of you. I have had a few equipment breakdowns over the years. I don’t think my clients ever knew. Put together a kit that ensures you can do the same.

Toby

I am a Wedding Photographer in Sussex, UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Equipment Reviews, Hints and Tips, Lens Reviews, Wedding Photographer Chichester, West Sussex Wedding Photographer Tagged , , , |

Canon 135mm F2L Lens Review – A Wedding Photography Favourite.

Canon 135mm F2L

A shot the really shows where the Canon 135mm F2 shines. Smooth bokeh, fantastic colour and a wonderful depth to the photograph.

The Canon 135mm F2L is one of the older lenses in Canon’s line up, but is still an excellent performer.

I had come to that time, usually at the end of a busy summer wedding season, when it’s time to decide what gear is due for replacement.  My 85mm had been in my bag for a good few years now, and while it was still working perfectly, it had seen a LOT of use. So, I decided to put it into semi-retirement. I was generally happy with it and used it for most of my formal couple shots. However, one frustration was it was not long enough to shoot from the back of a very dim church. My mind turned to the 135mm F2L. Could this lens work for my couples shots and work for inside the church?

Image Stabilisation vs. Large Aperture.

There are two ways of approaching low light photography. Once you have gone as far as you want to in raising the ISO, you can either open the aperture up, or drop the shutter speed. Both have their downsides. If you open the aperture up you risk having too shallow depth of field to keep everything you need in focus. If you drop the shutter speed too far you lose the ability to freeze movement. Canon users generally have the choice of fast unstabilised lenses, or stabilised ones that are generally one stop slower.

Personally, I don’t like to use shutter speeds slower the 1/125 when I am shooting people. I find that you can’t freeze spontaneous gestures at slower speeds, so I would always favour a wider aperture over image stabilsation. I also thought that a Canon 135mm could replace BOTH my 85mm and 70-200 in many situations. These could be demoted to my stand-by bag I keep in the boot of my car and save some weight. I am not fanatical about weight saving, but weddings are always long days, and anything you can do avoid fatigue is worthwhile. So I took a deep breath, got out my debit card, and bought the Canon 135mm F2L.

Zooms vs. Primes for Weddings.

While there are photographers who will argue strongly for either primes or zooms, the reality is you need to have both. Personally I favour primes, but in the day to day reality of a pro’s life you will find yourself in situations where you can’t move around and zooming is the only way to control composition. On the other hand, primes have that bit more character that can just make a shot special. So I have found myself with zooms and primes to cover all my favourite focal lengths. 

The Canon 135mm has been my go to lens when I want a telephoto lens that has a bit of magic, and it has always provided it in spades. It has a certain look that is very individual. I can easily pick out shots made with this lens in my own work, but it is isn’t a gimmicky look.

I’ve found it to be fast and accurate to focus, very flare resistant, and built to Canon’s normal good standards. The focus ring is large and nicely dampened. It is small and light compared to its zoom cousins. It just churns out fantastic photos and never gets in the way. One of Canon’s all time classic lenses.

 

Toby

Wedding Photographer Sussex and Hampshire

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Also posted in Chichester photographer, Chichester wedding photographer, Equipment Reviews, Hints and Tips, Lens Reviews, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Beginners Guide for Shooting Portraits on 4×5 Film.

 

 

I love shooting portraits on sheet film. They have a lovely smooth tonality and uncanny depth to them. A classic style that makes anyone look fantastic.

 

Large format cameras can seem intimidating . In reality, a view camera is actually a very straightforward device. It has same basic controls as any other camera, focus, aperture and shutter. The camera came seem old fashioned compared to a modern DLSR, but it can produce results that can’t easily be copied by a digital camera. Large format cameras have many controls that a standard digital camera doesn’t. Develop you skills and you can use these to your benefit. These are my tips for making great large format portraits.

Lens Selection

Lens selection for large format is not quite as straightforward as it is with other formats. Although you can fit almost any lens on to almost any camera in theory, the reality can often be more complicated.  Longer lenses  (240mm +) can often be big and heavy and require a lot of bellows extension for portraits. On top of that, they generally come in large No.3 shutters which only have a fastest shutter speed of 1/125, and because they work on 8×10 cameras, they often are more expensive too. 

For all of these reasons I would recommend a 210mm 5.6 lens as your first portrait lens. They are relatively cheap, plentiful and easy to use. They can be focused to portrait distances with any camera that has 300mm of bellows extension (which is the vast majority of view cameras) and are not so heavy as to make lighter field cameras unstable. Any modern lens from the major manufacturers (Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji or Nikon) will be an excellent performer.

Have a Shot List and shoot your film sensibly.

Using a view camera is a deliberate process, and there is less room for spontaneity than if you were shooting a smaller format. Portraits tend to be more formal. Personally, I prefer to work from a plan. I have a list of poses I want to shoot. I work on getting my sitter into the pose I want and then I make two negatives of that picture.

Large format portraiture is a medium that favours photographers who direct their sitters well. Film costs can soon mount up if you don’t have a plan. You can’t shoot away hoping for a bit of magic or that lucky shot. You have to make your own magic. Having a shot list is a great way to make sure you don’t overshoot or repeat things you don’t need to. I find the one set up/two shots works well for me and allows me to cover a lot of ground without spending £100’s on film and processing every shoot.

Make Conversation as you make your portraits.

Making large format portraits is a leisurely process. Setting up can be slow, so it’s really important that you keep your subject at their ease, and being a able to chat away while you set up the camera is an important and underrated skill. Using a view camera can help as it is a real conversation piece. When I have approached people to take their photo I find that the vast majority are interested in the camera, and interested to know about the process. So it’s easy to keep them engaged, and to prepare the camera at the same time. 

Use a  Posing Stool for Headshots.

Slim depth of field is your greatest enemy and your greatest ally in large format photography. For any type of close up portrait, it is imperative that your subject stays in the same plane of focus, from composing on the ground glass to loading the darkslide and tripping the shutter. I have found that a tall stool is the simplest way of keeping things steady. People sway when they are standing, and it only takes a movement of a few centimetres to ruin your shot. A stool solves this problem easily, and makes life more comfortable for your sitter.

Stop down your lens.

As mentioned above, large format lenses wide open have razor thin depth of field. F5.6 equates to f1.2 in full-frame digital. While portraits shot wide open can look stunning, they can be very hard to pull off consistently when you start out. They can also be very tough on your sitter. It makes more sense to start out at more conservative apertures and build you skill level.

For environmental portraits widest aperture I will shoot at is F11, and given the choice I’ll shoot at F22. There are several reasons why I do this. The main one is that people can move slightly between when when you focus on the ground glass, and when you load the film and take the shot. There is no way to check focus once the film is loaded, so you have to either give yourself a bit of leeway, or accept a certain number of not *quite* in focus shots.

Even at f22 depth of field at head shot distances is 8cm. The background will still be blurred. Moreover, most large format lenses were optimised for f16-22 so by stopping down you will be using your lens as it was designed to be.

Use a fast film.

Stopping down has its side effects. We get more depth of field and lenses working at their best, but the flipside is we get slow shutter speeds and if we are using flash, we need more output. Using 400 iso film helps minimise these problems. The best fast films like HP5, Portra 400 or Tmax 400 still have minimal grain in sheet sizes, and means that you only need a quarter of light you would need shooting 100 speed film.

Take Notes.

There is no EXIF data or LCD screens with film. For that reason it is vital that you keep notes so you know what works and what doesn’t. the shutter speed and f-stop you used is the bare minimum but it is also incredibly useful to number your holders and assign them to each set up. That way you can trace what’s on your negatives for the tip below!

Shoot two copies of each shot and develop them separately.

One of the great benefits of large format is that you can process each sheet separately. When I shoot portraits I use each film holder to shoot one set up. I always try to shoot two near identical shots. I then split the shots in processing so both go into different batches. That way if there is an exposure issue I can changes the development for the second sheet, and if I make a mistake in processing I still have another go to get it right! 

Invest in a good quality Loupe.

Although it is definitely possible to start with a cheap plastic loupe, you will save money in the long run (not to mention avoid a lot of heartache) if you invest in a good quality loupe. I use an 8x nikon loupe that I bought cheaply second hand. Originally, I used a 4x Schneider loupe, but I found his wasn’t quite strong enough for critical focusing at closer distances. Cheaper plastic loupes make the whole focusing process very uncertain. I doesn’t take long for wasted film to far outstrip the cost of a decent loupe.

Be Prepared to Break these Rules.

These tips are just a starting point. Things I wish I had known when I started shooting portraits with my view camera. As you gain experience, I hope you develop the confidence to create your own rule book and you own methods. So that you can express yourself through the magical medium that is film.

Tobias Key is a professional Wedding, Portrait and Commercial Photographer working in West Sussex. 

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Also posted in Analogue Photography, Brighton portrait photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, Editorial Photography, Film Photography, Large Format Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Portrait Photography Tips – Stop down for the close up!

If you are shooting a full length portrait, you can afford to open up the aperture, as the distance from your sitter will mean you still have reasonable depth of field

Portrait photography is probably the most practised photographic discipline. One of the most common portrait photograhy tips given to beginners in portrait photography is to shoot with a long lens and shoot it wide open, or at least close to wide open. You only have to look at the growth in choice of fast prime lenses to realise that this advice has well and truly taken hold in the digital era.

portrait photographer West Sussex

This portrait was shot at f22 on a large format camera, which is equivalent to f8 with full frame digital. The extra depth of field allows both eyes to be in focus, but the background is still blurred. As the lens is also close to it’s optimum aperture the image really pops and comes to life.

Headshots – the agony of the near miss!

Like almost every photographer, I went through a phase of shooting wide open or very close to it. Although I used to get very nice shots, I also got a lot of near misses. Close up at f2.8 with a portrait lens, depth of field is razor thin. If the eyeball is in focus, the tips of the eyelashes would be blurred. There are few things more frustrating in photography than thinking you have the perfect shot just to find it is just a touch off when you review it on the monitor at home.

We don’t think of portraits as action shots, but no sitter is ever really still, and if you are hand-holding the camera neither are you. People sway slightly when they are standing and it is there relatively tiny movements that can wreck a shot if you shoot close-up and wide open.

If you are shooting a head shot, even a quite a conservative aperture has little depth of field. If you shoot a 85mm at 1.5 metres (a generous head and shoulders framing) at F5.6 the depth of field is is 10cm. Enough for the nose, the eyes and the ears to be in focus, but no more than that. The background will still be blurred, but you have a bit of leeway if the subject moves a little. You can also afford to be a bit more spontaneous, as you don’t have to refocus with every tiny movement.

It is a lot easier to get the shot, but the overall effect is not hugely different.

Close down as you close up.

Distance to subject and aperture are the two major factors that control depth of field.  If you were on a shoot and were shooting half body shots at F2.8 (85mm lens) and then closed in to shoot heads without adjusting your aperture, your depth of field would drop from 20cm to 2cm!! Generally speaking it always makes sense to close down your aperture as you get closer unless you are going for a specific look. Think of distance and f-stop in the same way as you think of  shutter speed and aperture for exposure, change one and you should at least consider changing the other.

 

Also posted in Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, Hints and Tips Tagged , , |

A Step by Step Guide to Using your Large Format Camera for the First Time.

Large Format Camera

It might look archaic, but a large format camera can produce fantastic images with the equivalent of over 100 mp.

 

Learning how to use a large format camera can seem a bit daunting if you are used to using a DSLR. There is no automation, and the camera is literally little more than a light tight box. In reality, there is nothing inherently difficult about making a photograph with a large format camera. You just have to be a bit more patient and a bit more methodical. The main differences are ergonomics and speed of operation, the principles of photography stay the same. Large format photography is much slower than digital photography, or even film photography with roll film or 35mm cameras. Some would argue that it is almost a different art form, because of the way it forces you to work.

Before you Start

Large format requires quite a lot of equipment in addition to the camera, so it’s a good idea to have a checklist of all things you need, especially if like me, you share some of that equipment with other set ups. It’s easy to forget something like your loupe or rocket blower, and it’s a real pain if you do.

I have also written a guide to loading large format film holders

My Basic Large Format Checklist

  • Camera
  • Lenses as Required
  • Tripod
  • Light Meter
  • Magnifying Loupe
  • Cable Release
  • Film Holders
  • Dark Cloth
  • Blower and Lens Cloth
  • Notepad and Pen
  • Multi Tool (for loose screws or allen keys)

You can keep your list in your camera bag so you can get into the habit of checking everything before you go. I keep mine on my smartphone, along with an app for depth of field calculation, and one that works as a light meter. A handy back up in case I forget my incident meter.

Camera Controls

 

Large Format Lens

A Copal Shutter with a 210mm lens fitted. Nothing here is very complicated. There are no fancy modes, just a clockwork shutter and a fully manual aperture.

 Your main camera controls are all on the shutter that the lens is fitted to. This is a modern Copal No.1 shutter, but most shutters made over the last 50+ years have a similar layout. Never adjust the shutter speed after cocking the shutter!!

Your only two exposure controls are shutter speed and aperture, ISO is governed by your film choice, and set on your light meter. Your film holders should be labelled by film type and speed for reference.

Making your First Large Format Photograph – Step by Step.

Step 1. Setting up your tripod

Manfrotto Tripod

Before Setting up your camera, make sure that your tripod legs are properly locked. Large Format cameras are heavy and well made, but very likely to break if they are dropped! Periodically check that any nuts and bolts on your tripod clamps haven’t come loose.

Set up your tripod, making sure all the legs are locked in place. Fix your camera to the tripod, and attach a lens. Fully open up the aperture on the lens. Screw in your cable release to the shutter.

Large format photography is all about detail and resolution so make sure that you have a stable tripod to shoot with. Nothing is more frustrating than having sharpness-robbing vibration ruin your shots.

 

Step 2. Level your Camera

large format camera spirit levels

When you first set up your camera, use the spirit levels to make sure it is straight and level. This makes it much easier to adjust things later.

 Using the spirit levels on the camera to make sure it is perfectly level – vertically and horizontally.

It’s best to start off with a straight and level camera, making sure that all tilts, swings and shifts are also zeroed. Most cameras will have detents on the main camera controls so the zeroed settings will just gently click into place. 4×5 has very shallow depth of field, so an inadvertently tilted or swung standard, or a camera that is not level can give you strange focus issues. It’s much easier to start with everything parallel and perpendicular. Also make sure that once you’ve zeroed the camera you lock off all the controls. That way you won’t get tilts or swings moving while you focus or vice-versa.

Step 3. Initial Focus and Composition.

Large Format Camera Focusing

These controls are not the same for all cameras. Field cameras in particular may not have both front and rear focus controls.

Use your dark cloth and focus the camera by eye. You don’t have to use a magnifier until later. Then begin to compose the picture using the ground glass. Remember you can use shifts to recompose the picture, you don’t have to move the tripod unless you need to change your point of view drastically. Once you have done this, try to work out what aperture you think you will need. Take a light meter reading to see how much light you have to play with, and try to figure out how much depth of field you think you need. There are smart phone apps that will help you with this, and make the process much easier. Generally, large format photographers shoot at around F11- F32. It’s not a rule, but most lenses are optimised for F22. The widest apertures are mainly there for ease of focusing.  Try and use either F16 or F22 when you are starting off, it will be more forgiving of a beginner’s focusing technique. You can always experiment with shallow depth of field later.

Step 4: Refine Focus and Composition

Using a Focusing Loupe

Press you loupe against the ground glass to focus. Remember depth of field is thin so check everywhere you think you need to. Don’t assume that things you THINK are on the same focusing plane are actually in focus.

Use your loupe to check that the image on the ground glass is sharp in all the places you want it to be. It is usually best to focus wide open then stop down to your working aperture to check you have enough depth of field. It is as this point you would use tilts and swings to maximise depth of field. Tilts and swings are not that difficult, but would take up too much space to deal with them here. So for now let’s assume you don’t have to use them. Once you are happy with focus check the corners of your image to make sure there is nothing creeping into the edge of frame. One of the beauties of a large format camera is you can compose your images very precisely, so make sure you take advantage of it.

Step 5. Lock Down the Camera

Shift Tilt Camera controls

These controls are typical of the type you get on monorails.

 

Once you are happy with your focus and composition, lock down all the controls on your camera. Ideally, you should lock each control after you have finished adjusting it. That way you don’t inadvertently move any controls while adjusting something else. In reality, you may find yourself adjusting a couple of things at once, like tilt and focus, and will lock both down together once you have finished.

Step 6. Final Meter Reading. Set Aperture and Shutter. Close Lens.

Incident Light Meter

A light meter is the easiest way to calculate exposure. A DSLR is also good but is another heavy thing to carry.

Take a meter reading and make your final shutter speed and aperture selection. I tend to do this quite late on because I live in the UK and the light can vary quite a lot with shifting cloud cover. Remember you can damage the shutter if you change the shutter speed when it is wound on, so always check before selecting your shutter speed. Once you have done this close the lens so the camera is light tight and ready to receive a film holder.

7. Insert Film Holder. Remove Dark Slide. Trip the Shutter.

Large Format camera with Film Loaded.

The camera with film loaded ready to shoot. It is good practice to leave your dark cloth over your bellows in case of pinholes. Remember to periodically check your bellows for faults, especially before important shoots.

 

Take out you film holder and remove any surface dust with your blower. You can also tap the holder onto the palm of your hand to dislodge any dust on the film. It should fall to the bottom of the holder. Insert your film holder gently. Your camera should be locked down but it’s best to err on the side of caution in case something moves. Double check that the lens is closed and the camera is light tight. Remove the dark slide. You are now ready to expose the film. Use the cable release to trip the shutter in one smooth stroke. As an extra precaution some photographers stand slightly away from the camera to avoid causing any vibrations. If you are a portrait photographer sometimes standing behind the camera can help you judge the correct moment of exposure. Once you have tripped the shutter carefully reinsert the dark slide with the black (exposed) tab facing out. Put the holder somewhere safe and then check the ground glass to see that focus hasn’t shifted. At this point many photographers make another duplicate exposure for safety. That of course is up to you.

Congratulations, you have just made your first large format photograph!

If you have found this tutorial useful please share it and help keep film alive.

Look at some of my large format photography

Also posted in Analogue Photography, Brighon portrait photographer, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography

Aperture Priority – The Best Shooting Mode for Wedding Photography

 

Aperture Priority Example

Control of Aperture is essential for making an image like this successful

“Real Professionals Shoot Manual”

If I had a penny for every time I had heard this in a photography forum, I could have given up wedding photography years ago and bought my own island. The sad fact is that photography forums are not really a great place to learn about photography. More often than not one or two ‘strong characters’ will voice an opinion and then their acolytes will repeat it until all opposition is crushed. Forums are more about clashes of egos than real photography advice, with one or two notable exceptions.

Often the best real world choice is worked out by photographers in the field, not armchair enthusiasts with an axe to grind. I have shot in manual mode only for prolonged stretches and I do still use it if that is the best option, but for wedding photography or anything where things can unfold quickly, I find aperture priority the best choice.

My Journey away from Manual Mode

Like most young photographers who started shooting film, I was taught to shoot in manual mode and a separate light meter. I used black and white film and slide film. Slide film has a very low tolerance for exposure error so measuring light with an incident meter was a must. If you don’t know, an incident light meter measures the light falling on a subject and disregards its tone, so the reading is always accurate. In an ideal world this is the best choice, trouble is, this isn’t an ideal world!

I have always loved street photography, and it is something I have done for pleasure for many years, but more often than not the lighting conditions are not ideal. In many ways this was my training for becoming a wedding photographer. For years I shot in manual, mainly because I used a rangefinder (a Voightlander Bessa R) and it only had a manual mode. This was fine when the light was consistent but a total pain if it wasn’t. I would meter and set my camera up for sunlight only to miss shots in the shade or vice versa. On days with broken sunshine the light would be a constant frustration and I would have to constantly refer back to my meter. In the end I spent more time checking my light meter than I did shooting pictures and I knew something had to change.

Switching to Digital

When I switched to digital for my 35mm work I started to play around with my technique to suit the new equipment I was using. I found that the in camera metering was good enough. Most of the time, I could let it do its own thing and the exposures would dead on. I had enough experience to know when they wouldn’t be, and in those situations I would override the camera. I found that using aperture priority mode meant I spent more time looking for pictures and less time worrying about camera settings.

Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority (or Av Mode) – The Speed Of Auto, The control of Manual.

When I started shooting weddings, I found that my aperture setting was one of the main weapons in helping me turn the chaos of a wedding into beautiful images. Aperture choice is one of the main determining factors towards the look of a photograph. I use it to blur out the busy backgrounds that can ruin wedding shots. Weddings move fast. Too fast for for fiddling around with your camera if the light changes, so a degree of automation is a real necessity. Here are the reasons why I prefer aperture priority over manual in a wedding environment.

Most of the time it’s just not possible to use a separate meter.

Imagine you are positioned at the back of the church during the ceremony and the light changes You can hardly walk up the aisle, take a quick incident reading off the bride’s face, and retire back to your station. If you are using the camera’s built in meter there is very little point in setting the camera manually when the camera would set itself to the same way automatically. If I feel that the camera has got it wrong I use exposure compensation. That way if the light levels change, the exposure will still be correct.

Aperture Priority gives me my main control over the look of an image.

Depth of field can have a decisive effect on the look of an image. F2.8 will look very different to F11. Once the shutter is fast enough to freeze motion you can’t tell the difference between 1/500th and 1/2000th so Shutter Priority mode does not offer the same aesthetic control especially as your aperture will change in variable light and change the look of the images.

Modern Camera Meters Are Good Enough (Most of the Time).

Modern camera meters will get exposure right 95% of the time. Often not using them can almost feel like an affectation. Weddings are hard work and it makes sense to let technology help you where appropriate.

I Can Concentrate on Image Making not Technicalities.

The less I have to worry about technical concerns, the more I concentrate on creativity. Ultimately creativity is what people are hiring me for. So I make sure I’m not getting to bogged down in the technical side of things. I’ve come up with a simple way of working that I can rely on and I stick to that.

Events move Quickly, and I Need to Capture them.

I’m not a fan of making the bride and groom repeat anything. I think you can tell when something is fake so I treat every event at a wedding as a one shot deal. That means I have to think fast, be flexible and react to things as they happen. I don’t have time to keep fiddling with my camera.  Aperture priority gives me the perfect balance of control and automation.

It’s better in low light.

I can often find myself at the ragged edge of low light capability at weddings. If things are getting tricky, I use aperture priority to decide what needs to be in focus in the frame. Then I adjust ISO to get a usable shutter speed. This way I’m always at the best ISO I can get away with.

 

In Conclusion (and some Caveats)

I have stopped using manual mode for fast paced situations. I can use aperture priority successfully because I have enough experience to know when the camera is likely to be caught out. If you are a beginner or intermediate who wants to take their photography more seriously, learn your craft. Use manual mode on your camera until you fully understand shutter speed and aperture.

Online tutorials often try to persuade you that photography is easy. That you don’t have to know the technical stuff. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You still need a good grounding in the technical craft of image making. Aperture priority is a great tool but it is not a replacement for a good photographic brain. The real skill in photography is learning what to do in a myriad of circumstances. From experience, you can then make the best choice to suit the situation.

 

Happy Shooting!

Toby

I am a Sussex Wedding Photographer and Commercial Photographer

I try to update my blog every week with useful advice for photographers and clients. If you would like to be kept up to date, like my Facebook Page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Chichester photographer, Hints and Tips

How to Load a Large Format Film Holder.

The need to load film in complete darkness is something that puts many photographers off large format photography. But it doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting and you don’t need a darkroom. Like most things photography related, being methodical and having a well practiced routine will make sure that before long, loading film holders is second nature.

Toyo Film Holder

Get to know your film holder

Like most things in large format photography, a film holder is not complicated, and the basic design is well over 100 years old. It consists of a flat, light tight box with two dark slides, covering compartments for two sheets of film. The top of the dark slide is colour coded so you can tell whether the film inside is exposed or unexposed. Most people use the white or silver side to indicate the film is unexposed and the black side to indicate exposed film.

_MG_8006

Pull back the dark slide and look inside and you will see two slots running the length of the holder. The lower one holds the film in place, the top one is for the dark slide.

Get to know a sheet of Film

Next become familiar with a sheet of film. Unfortunately the easiest way to do this is to sacrifice a sheet from your first box. If you are lucky you might have a friend can lend you a wasted sheet, but you might find a local large format photographer a bit hard to come by! Take your film box into your changing bag or darkroom, and take out one sheet in complete darkness. Close the box and then open your bag up and take a look at a sheet of film. You will notice that the film is notched at one corner, when the film is held with long side pointing vertically, the emulsion will be facing up when the notches are in the top right hand corner. The photo below shows a sheet of film going into the holder the correct way.

_MG_7969

First practice loading your sheet in daylight, making sure the film goes under the film guides. Some photographers load with the dark slide completely removed, but I prefer having the slide pulled halfway out. Try things different ways to see what you are comfortable with. Notice as well that the white side of the dark slide has ridges at the top so you can tell which way it is facing in the dark. Once you have gone through the process of loading the film in daylight, try repeating the process with your eyes closed. Try to get used to the feel of a sheet of film going in correctly and where the top edge of the film should be in the holder. Most holders have little dips and other reference points to help the process of doing this by touch.

Once you feel relatively confident loading your practice sheet by touch you are ready to load a film holder for real. But before you begin there are a few things you need to do.

Clean and Dry your Hands

It is very important to make sure that you don’t transfer grease from your hands onto your sheets of film or film holders. Dust sticks to the grease and it makes it harder to blow the dust free. Some photographers use thin rubber gloves but I prefer to make sure I thoroughly wash and dry my hands before handling films, and I have never had any trouble with grease from my finger tips.

Get Rid of Dust

The odd spot of dust is almost unavoidable in large format photography, but you can do your best to minimise it. If you have a changing bag make sure you vacuum it out before every loading session. Also make sure you remove dust from all your dark slides. You can use a combination of a rocket blower and a clean brush on most holders If they are particularly dusty I use lens cleaning fluid and a lens cloth and allow them to dry thoroughly.

A note on Changing Bags

A pop-up film changing tent.

A pop-up film changing tent.

 

The are two types of changing bags. The normal ones are just a zip up bag with two armholes, but the best pop-up like small tents do. I have used both types and I’ve found that small non pop-up bags are too small and have a tendency to make your hands sweat. Sweat from your hands can get on the film emulsion, making the film sticky and difficult to load. If you fail to load the film the first time your hands get sweatier still. Your film gets yet more sticky, and the trickier and trickier the film gets to load . This can be a real vicious cycle in hot weather, and film can seem impossible to load if you don’t get it right in the first couple of attempts.

Set up Your Changing Bag

Set up you changing bag on a table or other flat surface. Make sure you can sit comfortably to load the bag.

Put in your film, film holders and if you want to, a blower brush and a pair of scissors. Try to put them in the same places every time. Don’t fumble around for them when the bag is closed. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to lose a blower brush in a one metre square changing bag! If your film box is new, cut the seals on the box in daylight before placing it in the bag.

Loading the Film

Close up your changing bag, remembering there are usually two zips to fasten. and insert your hands. Open up your film box and locate the film. If it is sealed use the scissors to open the bag, taking great care not to cut the film. Once the film is out, feel for any cardboard protection sheets and remove them from the pile. Now orient the film so that the notches are in the top right hand corner as above. You now have a pile of film with emulsion facing up. Now load the film into the holders as you practiced. Give each sheet a blast with the blower once loaded to clear any dust before you close the slide. Once you have loaded the sheet, pull at it VERY gently with your fingernail to check it is in properly.

Once you have loaded your film, close your film box. Check by touch that all the dark slides are properly closed. Remove your hands and open the bag. In daylight make sure all the catches on the film holders are holding the dark slides in place. Then load the holders into zip-lock or plastic bags to keep the dust off them until it is time to shoot.

The Wrap Up.

If you follow these steps you should find it relatively easy to load sheet film. The trickiest thing is probably the fear of getting it wrong. Film holders are easier to load than a plastic developing reel, and require less space to do it without hiccup.

Happy Shooting!

Toby

I work as a Commercial Photographer in Sussex

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Analogue Photography, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , |

A Beginner’s Guide to the Large Format Film Camera.

_MG_7978Part One: Getting Started

Large format cameras are often thought of as difficult to operate, but there is nothing impossible about using them. If you are organised and methodical they are straightforward, if not exactly simple to use. Many photographers find the idea of using a large format camera daunting because we are all so used to having so much automation in our cameras. Compare a large format camera to a ‘manual’ 35mm film camera and you will soon see that there is a whole new level to manual when you move up to the largest formats. Most large format cameras are literally no more that an adjustable light tight box with film at one end and a lens at the other. There is no metering, nothing is battery powered. The only thing powering the camera is the clockwork shutter.  Despite this, working with these big old beasts is perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences a photographer can have. When I use my camera I feel a real connection to the history of photography and take great pride in being able to produce amazing images without any help from automation. This is ‘pure’ photography.

If you have ever toyed with idea of using a large format camera, or have just bought a camera and haven’t used it yet then this guide is for you.

What is Large Format?

Large format is generally considered to start at 4×5 inch sheet film. as the name suggests film comes as individual sheets that have to be loaded into holders. A process that would be be familiar to photographers 100 years ago. Large format film gives you two main advantages: The quality is unsurpassed, with images approaching or surpassing the equivalent of 100mp, and because you shoot single sheets, each sheet can be developed differently to suit the lighting situation you find yourself in. There are lots of sizes of sheet film some historical, like whole, half and quarter plate, others still available today like 4×5, 5×7 and 10×8. Of these 4×5 is by far the most widely available, and has the most options in terms of film type. Colour negative, colour slide and black and white film are all available, although the choices in colour are a little thin.

Taking your first Photograph

Unlike smaller formats there is quite a lot of equipment you need beyond a camera and some film to successfully make a large format photograph. The good news is that most experienced photographers will already own a lot of it, and things like dark cloths can be improvised from things around the house. With care you can put together all the equipment you need for a relatively modest initial outlay, and many of the things you need can be bought second hand and sold for the same money you paid for them.

Equipment Needed

Large Format Camera

Toyo Large Format Camera

This is a monorail. Cheap ,versatile and solid but heavy. A good choice for portraits and the studio.

To get started you should pick a 4×5 camera. The other two common sizes are 5×7 and 10×8 but it is more expensive, the equipment can be much more difficult to find, and film supply can also be an issue. There are lots of different choices from expensive, beautifully crafted field cameras to old studio monorails you can pick up for a couple of hundred pounds. Light weight is the thing that tends to cost money, and traditional wooden field cameras go for more than monorails. Monorails are often the better and more versatile cameras, it is just that you might give yourself a hernia lugging one into the wilderness. They are also not as pretty as field cameras and I’m sure that has an impact! I am primarily a portrait photographer so I use a monorail, mainly because they focus more closely (i.e. have longer bellows) and are easier to use once set up. Make sure the camera locks down properly and the bellows are light tight (shining a torch inside the bellows in a dark room is an easy way to check). Check as well the camera has enough movements to suit what you will be use it for (this is a complicated subject but their is plenty of information online).

Lens boards

One of the great advantages of large format is that lenses are pretty much interchangeable between any camera as long as your bellows will focus them. However a lens board is needed to mount the lens. These lens boards are simply a flat piece of wood or metal with a hole drilled in them to mount the lens. They tend to be specific to the brand of camera, and come in three main sizes Copal 0, Copal 1 and Copal 3. The common types are Linhof for field cameras and Sinar for monorails which are both copied across various makes and brands, although Toyo boards are pretty easy to find too. Some cheaper second hand cameras use difficult to find lens boards (hence why they are cheap). If you are looking to buy one of these make sure it comes with the lens boards you need to suit your needs, or the design of the board is simple enough that you can make your own.

Lenses

Generally almost all relatively modern lenses are good. As your first lens, I would recommend going for something in a modern Copal shutter from one of the main manufacturers – Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji or Nikon. Your first priority should be putting together a reliable system, so that initial mistakes are easier to diagnose. Something like a lens with an unreliable shutter will cause you endless grief if you are not already confident in your skills as a large format photographer.  Standard Lenses are around the 150mm mark, but if you are getting into large format I will assume you are experienced enough to know which type of lens you want. Just multiply the focal length of your 35mm lens by three to get its large format equivalent.

Tripod

Virtually all large format cameras need to be placed on a tripod to be useable. This is not an area to scrimp on, as a wobbly tripod will cause you endless frustration with blurry shots. As potential resolution goes up, the more meticulous you have to be. Make sure the tripod you choose is strong enough and tall enough for the camera you choose. One good thing is no one wants humungous heavy tripods anymore, so they can be found second hand quite cheaply. Carbon Fibre is the Rolls-Royce option and very light and stiff, but there have been reports of these tripods blowing over in windy conditions when they have a field camera on them with the bellows extended. The bellows act like a sail turning your expensive wooden camera into firewood!

Light Meter

This light meter works as both a spotmeter and incident meter.

This light meter works as both a spotmeter and incident meter.

Most experienced large format photographers will use a hand held meter for establishing exposure, either a spot meter or incident meter depending on what they like to shoot. However you can just as easily use a DSLR and transfer the reading to you large format camera or get a light meter app on your smartphone. A DSLR is probably the best method when you are starting out as it allows you to ‘polaroid’ your large format exposure before you expose a sheet of precious film. You will probably find it better to overexpose the film slightly compared to the DSLR reading, but again I will assume you have some passing familiarity with shooting with film, so I’m sure you have your own preference.

Film Holders

Large Format Film holder

Check film holders have good seals and the dark slide is not cracked.

 

Essentially a light tight box that carries two sheets of film. You can usually pick these up second hand for about £10-20 each, make sure they are light and in good condition, otherwise you get fogged film, which is expensive and frustrating at this level of photography. If you are starting out you will find that 5-10 holders is enough. Modern holders are made of plastic and are pretty bullet proof, some older holders (40 years+) are made of wood and can warp with age, so be careful of this.

Film

There is still a decent choice of film available, the only downside is colour is significantly more expensive than black and white. In the UK black and white film is about £35-£40 for 25 sheets of black and white or £50 for 10 sheets of colour film. To start off with I would recommend Kodak or Ilford 400iso black and white film, as it gives you a bit more flexibility with shutter speeds and f-stops which will help you get sharp pictures when you start. Film and developing is the most expensive part of the process, but remember if you get everything right you can produce images that could only otherwise be achieved with a medium format digital back. A system like that will set you back five figures.

A Changing bag or Darkroom

Film needs to be loaded into the holders in complete darkness. The easiest way to do this if you don’t have access to a darkroom is to purchase a pop-up dark tent, they are about 3ft cubed which is enough space to load film relatively easily on a table in daylight.

Cable Release

Large Format Cable Release

The cable release attaches to the shutter to ensure you don’t vibrate the camera during exposure

 

A cable that attaches to the shutter mechanism so you can trip the shutter without moving the camera. These are relatively cheap to buy, that main thing to watch for is to make sure the release is long enough so you can stand away from the camera. You can also use your body as a shield to shelter the camera in windy conditions.

A Loupe or Magnifier

This is something you can spend anything between £5 and £200 on! Most popular when starting off are the 8x Agfa or Kaiser slide loupes that can be bought cheaply and will do the job.

A Dark Cloth

Without a dark cloth it is nearly impossible to see the focusing screen in bright conditions. If you don’t want to go to the expense you can use the double T-shirt method. Just put a black T-shirt inside a lighter colour one and use the neck of the shirt to fit around the focusing screen.

A Notebook

It is important to take notes when shooting with a large format camera. You don’t have metadata with every exposure, and it is a lot easier to make mistakes. Make sure you write down your exposure, film type and speed rating, and number your dark slides so that if you have a light leak you know where it came from!

The Wrap Up

Large format cameras probably offer the most bang per buck than any camera system. With a bit of ingenuity, you can put together a 100mp+ camera system for well under £1000, and be able to re-sell it for what you paid for it. It can also produce images that have a unique look that you can’t replicate with digital, and teach you skills that can be applied to produce excellent results in any other camera system.

My Adventure with Large Format Photography

I have been shooting with my large format camera for about 4 years. I saw a camera in a vintage camera shop and just fancied giving it a go. I mainly shoot portraits. Follow the link to see examples of my vintage girls portrait project . There is something inspiring in using methods that Victorian photographers would be pretty familiar with. In the age of digital photography I don’t think we care enough about the long history of film photography or the pleasure and satisfaction learning and using those skills gives us. I like to do my little bit to keep these skills alive. My main work in photography is as a wedding photographer and I can shoot 000’s of images in a day, so large format photography is a great way for me to separate the photos I take for my career and those I shoot for fun.

Toby

Tobias Key Photography

 

Also posted in Analogue Photography, Brighton photographer, Brighton portrait photographer, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography Tagged , , |

Stop Taking Selfies

What is a camera?

A camera is a window to the world.

An excuse to look at things more closely

To meet people you would never have met.

To go places you would never have gone.

A ticket to adventure.

A reason to get up before the sunrise or linger while the sun sets.

A tool to appreciate the world and all its beauty.

To find beauty in the youngest and the oldest face.

No matter the colour or creed.

A way to experience life in all its diversity.

So when you use your camera, use it to look out not to look in.

Stop taking selfies.

Also posted in Uncategorized