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Merry Xmas all – it’s the silly season – here’s how to really capture your work Xmas party with a simple photo booth

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Most of us have a Christmas work party where everyone gets to dress up and have fun and really get into the team spirit.

You can value add to this is an enormous way by creating great quality photos and leave them to their own creative devices.

Add a few props for them to play with and you will get some fantastic shots they will all love – although I did end up with well over 300 shots which I had to edit – but I loved them all as they were so natural looking with fantastic expressions which really showed how much they all enjoyed the opportunity to be creative – knowing that they will look great unlike typical indoor iPhone snaps!

And there were none of those helicopter-style selfies!

None of these have had any significant PS work on the skin, just some cropping, cloning of creases in the backdrop, and some tonal adjustments and some have a little increased clarity added.













Now for the set up:

A couple of sheets as backdrops – would have been better with a white wall to save cloning out the creases in every shot – a clean background really makes a big difference in the aesthetics!

A flash to light the backdrop – I had intended to use 2 x Metx 45 CL-4 flash units triggered by optical sensor, however, one of the PC cords failed me so I had to be happy with one on full output with a diffuser attached. The light from the flash had to be shielded so it did not directly hit subjects causing blown highlights.

A main light – here I used a studio flash with a soft box on a light stand to provide some soft semi-directional light so that it didn’t matter too much where the subjects were facing as that was always going to be next to impossible to control!

A fill-in light at 1 stop less exposure than the main light – to avoid secondary shadows from a fill-in, I decided to bounce a studio light off the rear wall – the main downside to this is that the photographer is visible in the reflections of glasses – but that is a reasonable compromise.

The result is lovely soft semi-directional light on their faces with catchlights in their eyes and no nasty secondary shadows. nor nasty flash reflections from glasses.

The camera was irrelevant – as long as you can trigger the studio flash with PC sync cord or a radio remote trigger, and you have a suitable lens you are going to be fine.

I forgot to bring a zoom lens for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 would have been perfect) so I decided to resort to my Canon 1D Mark III with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L lens hand held and set on manual exposure mode to f/5.6 at ISO 320.

A zoom lens proved to be critical instead of my primes as there was no time to constantly change lenses to accommodate varying numbers of subjects from 1 to 12 at a time!

White balance was set to Sunny, but as I shot in RAW, I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom according to a test target I photographed.

And there you have it – fairly easy portrait lighting for some fun portraiture.

A day out in Ballarat

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny almost Spring day and I had a day trip to the old gold rush provincial city of Ballarat to view the many photographic galleries on display as part of the Biennale (see my earlier post).

In between galleries, I snuck back to my car and went for a stroll – after all, my Canon 1D Mark III dSLR has been so neglected of late because it is just so big and heavy and my Panasonic GH-1 now does almost everything I need.

So here are a few I took with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS L lens.


Tawana Lodge, the blackbird and the man waiting at the bus stop (click to view large image):

Tawana Lodge

Provincial Hotel:

Provincial Hotel

Disused weighing station at the railyards – og I love those clouds – looks like they are straight from the Simpsons:


Seems Canon still can’t get sports AF fixed – their new 1D Mark IV is giving unreliable results

Friday, February 12th, 2010

My first Canon dSLR was the much hyped Canon 1D Mark III when it came out in mid 2007.

I bought this to compliment my much lighter, more compact Olympus Four Thirds system as it would add improved sports AF, 10fps burst rate, shallower depth of field and less noise at high ISO, plus the ability to use lovely fast prime lenses such as the 135mm f/2.0L lens and also tilt shift lenses.

Unfortunately, the Canon 1D Mark III, despite being Canon’s flagship sports camera from a company priding itself on sports photography (that’s why you used to see all those white lenses at sports events), was plagued with unreliable autofocus necessitating return to Canon for modification as well as firmware upgrades but still, my Panasonic GH-1 will AF in C-AF tracking mode MUCH more reliably on a stationary subject as you walk towards it at 3.4 fps than my Canon 1D MIII will do at 3fps in AIServo mode.

Many Canon pro-shooters in frustration turned to the Nikon D3s which had a much more reliable sports AF.

Late last year, Canon proudly announced a new sports pro body, the Canon 1D Mark IV, with a totally revamped AF system and added in movie mode.

Sadly, this report by Rob Galbraith seems to suggest the new model’s AF is still extremely unreliable for sports, and the Nikon D3S is still a more reliable camera in AF for action, is less noisy at high ISO, and being full frame, allows wider angle shots, while the 1D MIV gives more telephoto reach – see here.

Canon is due to release a Mark IV of its full frame, 20+mp pro dSLR, the 1Ds Mark III, but if they just use the current AF system as in the 1D Mark IV, they may find the pros will be moving to the Nikon D3X or a Leica S3.

Perhaps Canon has lost its way – it’s once dominant position in the sports autofocus world has been lost, and even its low noise at high ISO dominance of its Canon sensors appears to be falling behind even lowly Panasonic if DxO’s comparisons of the Panasonic GH-1 and Canon 7D are to be believed.

Without these two reasons to buy Canon, Canon may soon be losing its dominant market share in the dSLR world to Nikon for proshooters and to the much lighter, smaller Micro Four Thirds for most of the rest of photographic needs.

This is very sad, not only for me as I have a LOT of money invested in pro level prime Canon lenses (luckily I can put them on my Micro Four Thirds cameras too), but it may have a big impact on Canon’s pro status as unfortunately, the market tends not to forgive 2 dodgy products in a row.

However, shooting sports with shallow depth of field is a difficult task and each sport requires a different approach and often different AF settings – this is why a pro camera is so complicated for the casual user to use well.

The Canon AIServo AF algorithm tries to predict the AF for the next shot after analysing the subject’s velocity in the previous AF attempts. It is thus not surprising that the AF will fail at the end of a race when the subject suddenly slows down, but it seems with this camera, it takes a LONG time for the AF system to adjust to this and by this time, you have lost the “decisive moment” of capturing the instantaneous expression of a winning or losing competitor which is critical for photojournalists.

I for one will not be upgrading my Canon 1D Mark III just yet – 10 megapixels is just fine for me, and luckily, I don’t shoot much sports.

It may well be the last Canon I will have as the Micro Four Thirds system is far more functional for my needs and will only get much better as technology evolves while Canon is stuck on the constraints of old optical viewfinder technology and being big and heavy, I already find myself increasingly leaving it at home.

Perhaps when Panasonic produce the silent digital shutter camera (eg. the rumoured GH-2 later this year), it will evolve to take 10-60fps (if they get the buffer large enough), and its contrast detect AF tracking mode which currently is able to identify a subject so you don’t have to worry about where your AF point on your subject will shoot sports more reliably than a phase detection AF system as used in dSLRs.

The current Panasonic GH-1 will easily track someone walking, or a car passing at 20-30kph, even if you zoom in or out – this will only get better as electronics improve. Unfortunately, currently it will not lock onto a subject that is only a small component of the frame.

Of course you will get EVF blackout, but this can be easily resolved by adding a cheap optical viewfinder to the hotshoe which is a little wider view than your lens and you will be able to track your subject very nicely indeed.

The future, whether you like it or not, will be an electronic solution where the camera can identify a subject and preferentially lock onto it, no matter where it is in the frame.

Hiking in Alpine areas with your cameras – a win for the Panasonic GH-1 and Olympus E510 over the Canon 1DMIII

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

This week I took some time off to explore Victoria’s Alpine region in Winter and took my Panasonic GH-1, Olympus E-510 and Canon 1DMIII.

After the first very steep hill climb on which I thought I was going to have a heart attack (reminder to self – time to get a bit fitter!) carrying the Canon 1DMIII and a couple lenses as well as the Panasonic GH-1, I quickly decided that unless I was going to be shooting something that specifically required the big, heavy 1DMIII and its lenses, this kit was going to stay in the car!

The image quality and resolution of the Olympus E510 and Panasonic GH-1 are very similar at low ISO to the Canon 1DMIII, and I could easily cover the focal length range without it, while shallow depth of field and close up work could be achieved very satisfactorily with the E510 with ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens.

Thus my hiking kit quickly became reduced to 2 cameras each with only 1 lens giving me 28-400mm coverage in 35mm terms:

  • Panasonic GH-1 with its 14-140mm HD lens – this would give me 28-280mm coverage (although best at 28-100mm), image stabilised with useful ISO to 1600 (3200 at a push), and with HD video with AF if I needed it, but perhaps best of all, the ability to alter image aspect ratio according to scene without losing pixels (thanks to its over-sized sensor)!
  • Olympus E510 (the E620 or E30 would be better but I don’t have them) with ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens – a great image stabilised combo with ISO useful to 400 (maybe 800 at times), but giving great focal length reach of 100-400mm with wide aperture allowing shallow depth of field and ability to compress landscapes, capture wildlife and even do close up work to 1:2 macro if needed.

An example of the E510 with 50-200mm SWD lens – uncropped image of bushfire-affected Australian alpine forest taken across a lake in light fog conditions (cloud actually as it was only 5deg C at this altitude – which required wearing gloves) at 200mm focal length (400mm in 35mm terms).

This image shows the contrast of the white Candlebark gum trunks against the fire-scarred black trunks from the 2003 bushfire which ravaged the region 6 years ago.

Click on image for larger view.

Lake Cobbler

And, to demonstrate the 16:9 image aspect ratio of the Panasonic GH-1, here is the Paradise Falls, uncropped but resized for the web:

Paradise Falls

Finally, another GH-1 photo – 6 years on – not all parts of the forest show evidence of new growth – some were so devastated, they will take years to recover.

Again click on image for larger view.

Bushfire destroyed forest.

It goes to show, the best camera is the one you are willing to take with you and actually bring – size does matter – and the Micro Four Thirdsand Four Thirds cameras and their beautiful lenses definitely have a big role to play.

A few quick comparisons:

  • Panasonic GH-1 with 14-140mm OIS HD lens giving 26-280mm coverage (10% more width in 16:9 aspect ratio) + 28-560mm HD video coverage with AF = 904g
  • Canon 1DMIII + 24-105mm ISL lens giving 31-137mm coverage but only in 3:2 ratio and no video = ~1.8kg
  • Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens gives 100-400mm coverage with IS with close focus to 1.2m for nature macros = ~1.5kg, will work very well with a 1.4x or 2x tele-extender in AF, and the lens can also be used in MF mode on the GH-1 for extended focal length HD video or 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Canon 1DMIII with EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L lens gives 91-260mm coverage = ~2.9kg

Here is another photographer who has create some great alpine shots using a GH-1 – check them out!

Short photo essay – Darwin in the dry season

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Last week I had the opportunity to grab a few days in Darwin, Northern Territory – one of the hottest and most humid cities in Australia – fortunately though, it was in the middle of the “Winter” dry season when temperatures are still in the low 30deg C range but conditions are much less humid and more bearable that the wet season.

As I only had a very brief stay and no opportunity to get to the main tourist attractions of Litchfield National Park (~2hr drive from Darwin) and Kakadu National Park (~4hr drive from Darwin), I decided to check out Darwin itself – a small city of some 120,000 population with a large 20-40 year old backpacker population which dominates the city, especially in the balmy evenings at the many open air pubs and cafes.

The local indigenous people were generally very friendly (although I did not try taking their photo without permission) and I was fortunate to learn much more of their culture, particularly their kinship system. Perhaps Western society could learn a thing or two from them!

I had planned to take a Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds camera along with me but this has still not hit the shelves in Australia!

I thus decided to take my Canon 1DMIII with my new Lens Baby Composer and a couple of other lenses – but this may be the last trip I take it with me – its just too heavy and too obvious that it becomes more of a liability and thus less capable as a street cam – I will probably stick with my Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds Olympus gear for future travel unless I have a specific need for the Canon.

I couldn’t leave Darwin without a pic of a reptile, and rather than just take the usual old crocodile shots, I decided for something a bit different – a cute lizard:


There is no Photoshop applied to any of these images in this essay, just a bit of time choosing the correct lens focal length and position to get the background and composition just perfect.

Next was a trip to the famous Mindil Beach Markets which are open Thursday and Sunday nights each week. Thousands flock to these markets to try out the large variety of food stalls and then sit on the beach to watch the sunset, while the locals keep any stray crocodiles away.

Again, I didn’t want to join the thousands of others taking “normal” sunset shots, so I thought I would experiment to see what the Lens Baby could do (please click on the image to view a larger version to appreciate the Lens Baby effect – it is NOT just a depth of field effect BUT rather everything in the central zone is sharp – the guy’s hat and the clouds, while the surrounding areas blur rapidly):

Mindil beach 1

Here is another sunset shot, this time with the 50mm f/1.8 II lens focusing on one of the many Mindil Beach food staff chefs – perhaps cooking up a kebab of crocodile – which, by the way, tastes like a bland form of chicken.


For the photographers out there, don’t expect Darwin itself to offer many unique photographic opportunities – you will need to plan to get out of the city and spend 2 or 3 days in Kakadu, or at least a day trip to Litchfield. If you are into bird photography, I believe there are some local areas accessible by boat which may fulfill your needs as long as you don’t get taken by a large salty – salt-water crocodiles can be enormous – check out the one in crocodile cove attraction in Darwin!

The new Canon 17mm tilt shift lens on a Canon 1DMIII

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

I had the opportunity to have a play with the very expensive ($A3500) and heavy, unique Canon EF TS-E 17mm tilt shift lens yesterday – albeit, on my 1.3x crop Canon 1DMIII.

Although in essence it presumably gives an angle of view of 17×1.3 = 22mm on the Canon 1DMIII, it’s shift capabilities allows one to gain some nice images without having to resort to convergence correction in Photoshop.

The 17mm f/4 TS-E tilt shift has an unprotected protuberant front element which means filters are not possible and it does not come with a lens hood, which would have been nice – at least to protect accidentally hitting the front element while walking.

17mm TS-E

So let’s have a look at what it’s shift functionality can achieve:

Firstly, let’s look at the results we get using it as a normal wide angle lens to capture Melbourne’s Etihad football stadium – although many of the building lines are not truly vertical due to the round shape of the stadium, the necessity of angling the camera upwards creates distortion. This distortion can be corrected in PS but at loss of detail and loss of pixels from cropping.

usual convergence style

usual convergence style

Now, without any shift still, but this time keeping the camera sensor perpendicular to the ground to ensure vertical lines remain vertical. Now lines are vertical, but you don’t get to see much of the stadium.

vertical lines no shift

vertical lines no shift

NOW, we get to see the beauty of the shift lens, keeping the camera positioned as for the above shot we can now elevate the lens using the shift knob until we get the top of the roof in. As we have kept the sensor perpendicular to the ground, the vertical lines remain vertical.

lens shifted upwards

lens shifted upwards

And just to show how much we could get in if we shift fully downwards with camera still in same position, you can see how useful this technique could be for creating 3 overlapping images for stitching into a panoramic image.

lens shifted down

lens shifted down

I have purchased an EOS to Micro Four Thirds adapter and am looking forward to using this lens on my new Panasonic GH-1 when it finally arrives – I have some uses for having a 34mm equivalent tilt lens using the GH-1′s HD video with external microphone.

Now to wait for an EOS to Four Thirds adapter so I can use this on my Olympus E510 as well and have it as an image stabilised 34mm tilt shift lens!

Olympus have not yet made any tilt-shift lenses for their digital systems – perhaps they have an even better plan – tilting the sensor to make all lenses into tilt lenses, or with Micro Four Thirds, it would be easy to make a tilt-shift adapter so nearly all lenses become tilt-shift lenses?

See my blog on this here.

More portrait fun with Canon 90mm TS-E tilt-shift lens and Canon 1DMIII

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Following from my previous blog on tilt-shift portraits, I have added a couple of more portraits to show what it can do.

Click on the images to see an enlarged version.

The first is an outdoors Australian bush 1920′s style portrait and this is actually a crop of the original but no PS effects applied:


The second was one I took to demonstrate the tilt-shift lens and again has not been modified in PS:


Partly cloudy, showers – great weather for urban photography

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Yesterday was one of my preferred days for urban photography so I headed into Melbourne on the train as usual with my little hiking backpack with Olympus E510 + ZD 7-14mm lens and Canon 1DMIII with EF 24-105mm IS L lens and a Lee 0.6 neutral gradient filter for the Canon.

I prefer to select only 2 cameras and 2 or perhaps 3 lenses for a given trip and then target shots that will suit those cameras. Given the weight of the Canon kit, I decided to leave my beautiful Olympus ZD 50-200mm at home – with regret as it turned out as there was a Homeless World Cup 2008 soccer event on in the city which that lens would have been perfect for.

Here are a few shots from the day (click on then for larger views):

After a brief shower which temporariliy made the day stand still, some nice reflections of St Paul’s church from Flinders St railway station using the Olympus E510 with ZD 7-14mm to give a 14mm rectilinear ultrawide image in 35mm terms (Can’t achieve this with any lens on the 1.3x crop factor of the Canon 1DMIII).

St Paul's

and same outfit with a bit of sky drama:


and as the sky got darker and more menacing, this time with the Canon kit:


A celestial smiley face to bring cheer and good luck

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

It’s Dec 1st, 2008 and tonight we had the pleasure of a conjunction of the crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus making a smiley face in the evening sky.

This alignment of the crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus apparently will not occur again until 2052, although the next time Venus and Jupiter have a close conjunction is in May 2011 and March 2012 so for those that missed it, here is what it looked like from Melbourne, Australia.

I took the opportunity to play with my Canon 1DMIII with EF 24-105mm L lens from my letterbox.

moon, jupiter, venus

For the tech heads, I removed the UV filter to minimise lens flare from the street light and the settings used were 24mm focal length, f/4, 3200ISO, 0.5sec exposure.

No post-processing, just resizing and compression for the web. Click on the image for a 1000 pixel wide view.

I also tried with an Olympus OM 21mm and 24mm lens but whilst both gave excellent results, they did have a more pronounced lens flare.

Of course, I could have moved over to the park and avoided the street light but I felt this added interest and lit up the foreground nicely.

And just for the Olympus guys… here is a shot with the Olympus E510 with ZD 50-200mm SWD lens at 50mm which I have cropped just a little and applied a blue monotone tint in PS but no other PS other than resize and compress for the web.

Olympus - moon.

This image was taken at f/4.5, ISO 400 at 6 secs exposure with antishock set to 5 secs (mirror lockup). I purposely over-exposed the moon to bring out foreground detail.

The ZD 50-200mm at 200mm giving 400mm eq. focal length reach in 35mm terms actually took a very nicely cropped shot just of the moon, venus and jupiter, but lacked the contextual interest of the foreground.

Those in Europe should be lucky enough to see the moon occult Venus in a similar way to the following occultations I imaged of Jupiter and Mars a few years ago.

“The last time London was treated to such a favorably placed Venus occultation was back on October 7, 1961. And after 2008, there will not be another similarly favorable Venus occultation for the United Kingdom until January 10, 2032.”

I captured an uncommon event in 2005 when Jupiter was occulted by the moon:

jupiter occultation

and.. an even rarer event, a grazing occultation with Mars when Mars was almost at its closest to Earth in 2003 in tens of thousands of years – hence bigger and brighter than usual.

mars occultation

More of my astrophotography can be found here:

More information on this event can be found at

Other blogs to cover this event:

And, if you are in America, the moon has moved to the other side of Venus and Jupiter resulting in a sad face, which I guess is representative of the state of affairs over there :)


and compares with past events:

and don’t miss this image of a sequence of shots at the same time each day for a full month in New Delhi showing Jupiter marching towards Venus using an 18mm lens. Three days of photography are missing because of clouds and haze in the evening, 12th, 16th and 30 November. The crescent moon starts at the bottom on 1st November, goes just at the edge of (behind) the building, and upwards, and returns in the scene on 1st December to form the now famous Celestial Smiley!

  • The octagonal building in foreground has a bit of astronomical history, Humayun – a mughal emperor in India, was an astronomer, one evening he was trying to locate Venus in the evening dusk when he heard the muezzin’s call for evening prayers, he rushed and fell down the stairs to his death (a few days later). The octagonal building was the library of Humayun.
  • Several DSLR cameras were used, Canon 450D, Canon 1000D, Nikon D80, Nikon D70. The images were first scaled (in photoshop) bringing them equal to a Canon 450D, as most of the photos were taken with this camera. Alignment (Translate, Rotate, Scale) was done in Images Plus, and composite was constructed using Startrails software.