Category Archives: Hints and Tips

10 Tips to help your Wedding Group Photos Run Smoothly

Group photo

Group photos can be fun and run smoothly as long as you plan properly beforehand. Here are 10 tips for great group photos.

Ideally, all your group photos should be agreed with your photographer at your wedding planning meeting. I usually advise my clients to set aside about 45 minutes for group photographs. Most wedding schedules allow between one and two hours between the ceremony and the wedding breakfast. Around an hour and a half would be the average.

So, if you allow 20 mins after the wedding for everyone to have a drink and congratulate the newlyweds, 5 or 10 minutes or so to corral everyone for a confetti shot you generally have a total of one hour to fit photos into. I don’t like to schedule all of this time as it is important to have a bit of leeway in case people disappear or are just difficult to round up.  I prefer to work pretty quickly and keep things moving. Your guests’ enthusiasm can start to wane if things move too slowly.

There are plenty of things you can do to make sure this part of the wedding runs smoothly, and is enjoyable for you and your guests. These are my top ten tips to ensure group photos don’t become a chore that frustrates you and bores your guests.

1.Make Sure You Have a List.

The first step into making sure your group photos run smoothly is to agree a list of photos with your wedding photographer beforehand. Your photographer can guide you as to how long he thinks it will take and advise you if you have missed anything. If you are pressed for time in your wedding schedule the best way to make sure you run to time is to not have too many small variations in your list, or combine related shots into one larger group. For example, shoot bridesmaids and ushers as one group instead of photographing them separately. I always bring two or three hard copies if the list to each wedding. One for me and another for whoever is helping me round people up.

2. Start with large groups and gradually send people away.

It’s usually best to start off with the largest groups as people are easier to round up just after the ceremony, and less likely to have wandered off. Also guests tend to be smartest early on in the wedding, and loosen ties and take off jackets as the day goes on. Things like that can be hard to spot in a group of 120 people! Whittle the groups down so that immediate family and closest friends are last, as they are usually the most invested in having photos taken with you.

wedding photography in west sussex

3. Ushers and Bridesmaids are Best for Rounding People Up.

I like to have someone working with me to round up the the next group of guests. At the same time, I can concentrate on the current shot. This should be someone who knows who most of the guests are. Say I need Auntie Mavis for the next photo. Someone who knows her can go and fetch her more quickly than an assistant. That’s why it is best to persuade an usher or bridesmaid to be the shot wrangler, it makes things a lot quicker.

 4. Can People get Refreshments while they are Waiting?

Whenever possible, it is better to shoot groups at the wedding reception where guests can get refreshments while waiting to be photographed. If I shoot group photos at the church I tend to work to a fairly short list and then complete them at the reception. This is especially true in the height of the summer. Don’t let people wait around in the hot sun without access to water. This is especially true if you have older guests or small children in the wedding party.

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5. Prioritise Older Guests.

If you have elderly or frail family members at your wedding make sure they are photographed quickly. Don’t leave them standing around. If you can make sure there is a place to sit nearby, so much the better.

6. Keep your Shooting Location close to the Wedding Guests.

This can be a real time saver. If the groups are shot even two minutes from where everyone is gathering it will take a minimum of four minutes to find that missing person or go and get a missing bouquet. This time can really add up if there are 20 groups to get through. Therefore, always make sure that your shooting location makes logistical sense as well as being nice to look at.

group photos sussex wedding photogrpher

7. Make allowances for complicated family situations.

Sometimes the bride or groom’s parents might be divorced or remarried. Often both birth and step parents are attending the wedding. In situations like this make sure your photographer knows exactly who is who. He or she doesn’t want to inadvertently cause offense or embarrassment. Sometimes this means shooting extra group photos so that everyone feels valued and included. Other times it just means carefully arranging individuals so no one feels uncomfortable.

8. If your list is too long – split it up.

There is nothing that says you have to shoot all of your group photos in one long session. You can just as easily break the list down and shoot groups at different times during the day. Groom and Bridal parties before the ceremony, family after the ceremony, and friends after the meal can work well. Breaking group sessions down into 10 minute chunks can make them a lot more manageable.

9. Make sure you have a plan for bad weather.

If you are unlucky and it rains on your wedding day, have a contingency plan. You might be able to use an indoor or sheltered are. Alternatively, have a decent supply of umbrellas, but having a plan will put your mind at ease. Nothing guarantees that it won’t rain on your wedding day like buying half a dozen white umbrellas!

10. Enjoy Yourself

I often tell my clients it’s my job to worry and your job to enjoy yourself. Do all your planning beforehand and then let the professionals at your wedding look after you. That is what we are all here for. From my point of view, the happier the wedding party is, the easier it is to take great photos of them. Keeping you happy makes my job much easier!

 

Tobias Key is a wedding photographer in Chichester, West Sussex. 

 

Also posted in Advice for Clients, bride portraits, Brighton wedding photographer, Chichester photographer, Chichester wedding photographer, wedding photographer, wedding photography

Film Camera Review – Minolta Autocord TLR

Minolta Autocord ReviewI bought my Minolta Autocord on something of a whim. I had been searching for a ‘walkaround’ film camera for a while. Compact cameras were where I started, with the Olympus XA and MjuII, which I liked but didn’t quite gel with. I wanted more control. After that I got hold of an EOS 3 but that was perhaps a little too close to the digital cameras I used, and the batteries are expensive. I found myself at a crossroads. For most of my career, I had really been more of a user of 120 film than 35mm. I still have a Pentax 67 system, but decided years ago that it was too big for casual carrying. So I ended up looking for a portable 120 camera, and settled on a TLR.

TLR camera

One of the unforseen advantages of shooting with a waist level finder is that it makes it much easier to shoot younger children. All film images shot on Kodak Tri-X.

The search for a TLR

I had never shot in the square format, despite being a photographer for 20 years. Going straight from 35mm to 6×7 after university and never looking back. I stuck to the same aspect ratio when I started to shoot 4×5.  So I decided to shake things up and started looking for a TLR. The obvious choice would have been a Rolleiflex but I had rarely even seen one in the flesh. So I wasn’t that keen on buying one off of Ebay without knowing much about them, especially with so many different models that look so similar.

Luckily, I have a very good vintage camera shop near me, that gets TLRs in fairly regularly. The bad news, such is the popularity of these cameras that they barely last a day in the shop! Worse still the stock isn’t on the internet so you have to go in and just see what’s there. Luckily it is on one of my regular routes  so I got into the habit of popping in a couple of times a month. I was looking for a Yashica or Minolta Autocord, and one day a decent user Autocord was there on the counter. Taking a deep breath, I got out my debit card and took the plunge.

First Impressions of The Minolta Autocord

Minolta Autocord TLR

To test out the Autocord I brough it along to a few weddings I shot during the summer. I found it great for candid portraits like this one, and a real conversation piece.

The Minolta Autocord is a handsome camera. It feels solid but isn’t too heavy. My camera is an early version, made around 1956-8. It’s an unmetered version with an Optiper shutter that maxes out at 1/400. The shutter goes in the old Europen progression so from 1/400 the speeds are 1/200, 1/100, 1/50 etc.  I have a digital meter that matches some of those speeds, but for others I just pick the closest speed. Mechanical speeds on a 60-year-old camera aren’t that accurate anyway. 

You can see the shutter speeds and f-stops in these two windows. The two little arrows point to the lever that operates that function. Neat!

The focusing mechanism is very cool. Instead of using a knob on the side of the camera, the Autocord has a lever underneath the taking lens. This means that you can hold and focus the camera with your left hand and trip the shutter and wind on the film with your right hand. This is a much better ergonomic arragement than the Yashicas where you focus with your right hand via a knob and then have to switch hands to wind it on.

The Rokkor lens on the Minolta is excellent. It is a 75mm f3.5 of Tessar design. Sharp enough wide open, and gets progressively better as you stop down, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens for professional work. Lots of people claim that this lens gives the Planar-equipped Rolleis a run for thier money and is better than the Tessar lensed Rolleicords and ‘flexes. All I know is it’s plenty good enough. 75mm equates to about 40mm in 35 mm terms. The lens focuses down to 1 metre, not close enough to do a tight headshot but OK for about a 1/4 length portrait.

Minolta Autocord Review

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is a little dim but totally fine in good light. I don’t think mine has ever been cleaned – it may well get better with a thorough CLA. It lacks any kind of focussing aid like a split screen or prism, so you have to use the magnifying glass to be sure of focus. As with all cameras with a waist level finder you see an image that is right way up, but reversed left to right.  If you press in the middle of the hood cover, the hood converts into a sports finder. 

Minolta Autocord Review

Winding On

Winding the camera on takes a bit of getting used to. You have to rotate the handle forward to wind the film on, then wind it back again to cock the shutter. It’s easy enough to get into the rhythm of doing it after a few rolls.

Film loading

Film Loading is straightforward but difficult to do without putting the camera down. The camera has an interlock and I have had no trouble with frame spacing with my copy. Mine will only take 120 film.

Other Features

The Minolta Autocord has a PC socket and can switched between X-Sync for electronic flash, and M-Sync for flash bulbs so make sure you have it on the right setting if you don’t want blank frames. 

There is a cold shoe on the side for fitting a flash but you will still need to connect a PC cable for the flash to work.

My camera also features a self timer, a standard tripod socket, and a shutter locking ring.

Film Camera Review

Straps

Minolta Autocords sport two types of strap lugs. A standard type where a strap can just loop through, and a Minolta specific type which will only accept a type of strap that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore. I was unlucky enough to have the second type. I like to have a strap for extra security so I use a wrist strap that screws into the tripod. The drawback with this is you can no longer put the camera upright on a flat surface.

 

Conclusions

Minolta Autocord

The Minolta was described as ‘fully automatic’ in the 50’s. I’m not sure you could get away ith that now!

A good camera gets out of your way while you make great pictures. One of the great things about all-manual cameras is that they have no modes or gimmicks, and this offers you a kind of creative clarity. The Minolta Autocord is one of these cameras. It is ergonomically very sound, and performs superbly. Like all older cameras it has a narrower set of applications than a modern DSLR but it is none the worse for that. You have to shoot to its stengths, you can’t pick a style and bend the camera to it so easily. It is an excellent candid or street portrait camera, great for working thoughfully. I found it harder to use for action because of the reverse image in the viewfinder. It’s always disconcerting to move one way while the viewfinder image moves the other. 

I like the fact I don’t have to worry about batteries, and the camera is beautifully quiet. The shutter is very smooth and I am sure I’ll be able to handle this camera at pretty low speeds with practise. I like the quality of the negtives it produces. Sharp, but not aggressively so, with a nice 3d depth to them and decent bokeh.

Another great plus point is its portability. I easily fits into my main kit if I forego one of my lenses, so I can carry it with my digital camera easily.  On its own it’s light enough to carry around all day, so it means I have a nice camera with me even if I’m not going out with photography as my main priority. It doesn’t elicit groans from my children when I pick it up, which is always a good thing!

All in all it’s easy to see why this camera is considered a classic. It is one of the first Japanese cameras to take on the Germans on their own terms rather than just making cheap and nasty copies. When the Minolta Autocord was introduced the Nikon F was still 3 years away. It is a great TLR option for the photographer who is more concerned with making good pictures than presticious labels. A definite keeper in my collection.

Toby

Wedding Photographer in Sussex and Hampshire

Commercial Photographer

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shooting Large Format Portraits On Location – A Hands-On Guide.

 

Large Format Portrait

I have been shooting large format portraits in my personal work for the last five years.

This is partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly to give myself a break from digital photography when I am shooting for fun. That is not to say that I apprieciate what digital can offer. I do, but using a view camera is very different. It gives me a new challenge, and a new perspective in how to approach the portrait.

Many photographers are intimidated by the idea of shooting film and the thought of using such a large and archaic camera. In reality, a view camera is a very simple device. There is genuinely nothing complicated about it, it is just a very well made box!

Each step in setting up the camera is simple. But there are quite a few steps and forgetting one usually wastes a sheet of film.

If you know your basics, and understand the camera’s strengths and limitations, large format photography straightforward, if not simple. Like any camera, there are only three essential controls, aperture, shutter speed and focus. For portraits, the only movements you really need are front rise and fall, and these are only to help composition. I shoot with a monorail camera and tripod weighing close to 6kg, and it is just not practical to compose using the tripod head. It is much easier to set the tripod straight and level and use camera movements to fine tune your composition.

What catches the novice out is not the difficulty of any particular step. Each step is easy. It is missing any of these simple steps out that often leads to a wasted sheet of film.

Large Format Portraits

Walking around a 40 acre site like the Weald and Downland Museum with a large format camera takes a certain degree of planning.

It was July when I got a press pass to shoot at The Weald and Downland Museum’s Living History Festival . I regularly shoot commercial photography for the museum, so I already had a good relationship with them. It also meant I knew where everything was and how to get there without having to wander around too aimlessly. One of the first questions you ask yourself when shooting large format is “How am I going to get all my heavy camera gear to where it needs to be to take pictures? Preferably without hurting my back or having a heart attack”. 

Getting from place to place

Working in a large open air museum is a challenge. The buildings are spread out over a 40 acre site, and most of it is hilly. Thousands of people go there at the weekend so you can find yourself parked a good few minutes walk from the museum proper. It is not so straightforward to nip back for a lens or extra film holders. 

Commercial Photographer SussexSet up and Gear

I prefer to set up my camera up from the boot of my car, attach it to a tripod and walk around with it like that. I pad one shoulder with my dark cloth so the tripod doesn’t dig in to my skin. Then I  hang my camera bag on the other shoulder. A back pack would probably distribute the weight better, but I do need easy access to my holders. My camera is a Toyo-View 45C monorail. It is more portable than a lot of rail cameras, but not exactly a featherweight. A field camera would be a lot lighter, but most lack the bellows extension I need for shooting close with my longer lenses. A monorail is also nicer to shoot with once it is set up. Mine has geared movements, and is very stable and precise.

I decided to stick with one lens, my Schneider 210mm APO Symmar. Not only is it my most used lens, it is also a spectacular performer in all condtions. I can honestly say I didn’t realise how good lenses could be until I got this one.

One of the essential skills of large format photography is knowing what to leave out of the accessories bag. I decided to stick with one lens, a loupe, and a light meter so that I could pack in as many film holders as I could.

I packed 15 holders in my bag, enough for 30 shots. The plan was to take two pictures of every subject I chose. Normally, I work in a way that I direct people until I think I have the shot I want, and expose one sheet of film. I then shoot another sheet which is usually a close duplicate of the first shot. When it comes to processing I split the two sheets into different batches for development. That way if there is some problem with exposure or a user error in the development process, I know that I have a back up of the image. Of course this does mean you have to label all your holders and keep notes. However, it does cut down the risk of disaster.

Approaching strangers to take their picture is something that a lot of photographers dread.

The great thing about using a large format camera is that it is a good conversation piece. People often seek me out to talk about the camera. If I ask to take someone’s photo, they are usually happy to pose for me.

After a hard day shooting,  it was interesting to meet another photographer at the end of the day and compare notes. He was telling me how hard it was for him to get people to pose for him, and how disinterested they were with the process, he was using a Nikon DSLR and profoto flash.

I had totally the opposite experience, the re-enactors were very interested in the camera and the whole process. They wanted to know how it all worked and the fact the method was so close to how a Victorian might have taken their picture had huge appeal. I had as many subjects as I could handle. After photographing each person I exchanged details, and made sure everyone got a photo in the next couple of weeks. I think this is a really important thing to do and helps keep people open to other photographers taking their picture.

Routine is everything when shooting large format portraits.

It is important to make the portrait making process as easy as possible for your sitter. I prepared by setting up my camera as much as could beforehand. So I set my exposure and zeroed the camera’s tilts and shifts. I also made sure that the camera focussed to about 10ft.  Even mostly set up, the camera is still slow to shoot, so a mastery of small talk is often a necessity.

Once I have everything set up, I get my subject to pose by standing next to them and getting them to mirror what I do. I then go back to the camera and I get my subject to look at the camera instead of me -you can’t look through a view camera once the film is inserted and people will instinctively look at me rather than the lens. I have found you have to be quite vocal when shooting portrits this way. You can’t shoot a lot of shots hoping that some magic will happen. You have to make the magic, then take the shot. Suprisingly, now that I am used to it, I prefer not looking through a camera when I am taking someone’s picture. It is easier to look directly at someone and really increases your connection with them. Different methods yield different results, and that’s exciting.

I would recommend large format photography to anyone. I have learned so much shooting this way and much of it is applicable to other formats. Changing your camera can often change your photographs, and there is no bigger change than a view camera.

Toby

I am a professional photographer based in Chichester, West Sussex, England.

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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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Olympus XA – Stealthiest Ever Film Camera?

The Olympus XA is compact rangefinder camera with a built-in 35mm f2.8 lens. It is probably the smallest rangefinder camera ever made and a masterpiece of camera design. Launched in 1979, it was designed by   Yoshihisa Maitani, the genius behind all of the Olympus’s great cameras, the Pen F, the OM1 and the XA itself.

The philosophy was simple. The Olympus XA was designed as a camera you could always have with you. It is small, about the same size as a pack of cigarettes, yet has a bright prime lens, a rangefinder and full control over the aperture. Instead of a lens cap it introduced the clamshell design. Slide open the clamshell cover and the camera is powered on and ready for action.

I came across the Olympus XA in a secondhand camera shop quite by chance.  Looking for a cheap compact camera for my daughter’s French trip, I came across this camera among the more ubiquitous fully automated zoom compacts that seem to be in every charity shop and car boot sale. I am very instinctive when it comes to cameras. My first test is pick a camera up and hold it to my eye. Before everything else I think a camera should feel good in the hand. The XA is small but handles well, it feels solid and the controls come easily to hand.

Olympus XA

I took my Olympus XA to wedding I shot in the summer to test it out. Just kept it in my suit pocket and brought out when I saw something that might make a good black and white photo. Most of the time I never even knew it was there.

The Olympus XA has lots of  great advantages for street photography.

  • You can access the aperture controls and the focussing tab while the camera is off, and it is easy to set them without looking at them. This means you can set the camera before you bring it to you eye, a big plus if you want to work fast and be extra stealthy. Being manual focus you can also zone focus the camera for optimum speed
  • The camera is  extremely quiet, helped by the fact that it isn’t full of whirring electric motors that most later compact cameras have. You set ISO manually, so pushing or pulling your film is straightforward. There is a +1.5 backlight compensation and self timer lever in the base.
  • Best of all this camera is so small and light you can put it in your coat pocket and forget it is there until you need it. It is as close as you can get to smartphone convenience in a film camera.""</a

You can carry the Olympus XA with you all day, every day. You’d barely know it was there.

Often unfairly overlooked, the Olympus XA is still relatively cheap. You can pick one up for £50-£70 on Ebay.  Many other premium compacts attract much higher prices in the used market. This is especially true of the Contax T series and the Ricoh GR’s. Both these models can go for over £200, sometimes nearer £300 and the prices keep increasing. These cameras are often not repairable now if they go wrong – so buying one is always a risk. The price of compacts often has more to do with how fashionable or collectible the camera is rather than how capable. Particularly in the case of some favoured lomography cameras, and compacts used by famous (or infamous) photographers. Olympus XA’s are cheap enough that it won’t be quite so painful if the camera breaks down. It is  common enough that it is relatively easy to find another.

The Olympus XA is still affordable compared to some similarly specified cameras from more prestigious marques.

Of course it doesn’t matter if a camera is cheap if the photos it produces are sub par. Luckily the optics in the XA are very good, and certainly capable of excellent results. The combination of features is excellent. There are no gimmicks, just things real photographers will find really useful. Best of all this is one of the few cameras that will genuinely fit into a coat or trouser pocket. It looks so unimposing no-one will give you a second glance.  More often than not people have thought I was using a disposable camera because of the film advance wheel. The XA’s size leads most people to dismiss it. Those of us who have been lucky enough to use one and see the results know better.

 

Toby

I am a  Wedding Photographer in Chichester, West Sussex who shoots a lot of film in his spare time.

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Analogue Photography, Film Photography

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 advice for new photographers, Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer 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 advice for new photographers, Analogue Photography, Brighon portrait photographer, Film Photography, 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 advice for new photographers, Chichester photographer

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

 

 

 

 

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