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Gear Review: Canon 50mm f/1.2L

If you’ve ever worked with us or keep up with our ever expanding arsenal of camera goodies, you may have noticed that we are (er, were) exclusively die hard Canon users when it comes to glass and digital cameras. With the exception of adding the Sony FS700 to our roster of digital bodies, and my exploration into a Hasselblad film body (but honestly, that doesn’t really count against Canon), we are dedicated to that brand. I shot a Nikon once, it was weird and I assume they use voodoo demon magic to make their images are a very nice company to be behind as well. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I shot two weddings and finally got around to using the holy grail of L Series lenses, in my opinion of course, the 50mm f/1.2.

Taken with a 50mm 1.2L, of me holding a Canon 5D Mark III with a 50mm 1.2L

Taken with a 50mm 1.2L, of me holding a Canon 5D Mark III with a 50mm 1.2L

I like my set up simple when I go out on a shoot, because I know what works for me and I know I can get everything with just a messenger bag full of gear. The 50mm prime lens series has been my go-to since just a few weeks into learning photography. I’ve used my fair share of lenses now, but nothing could be more simple yet so versatile to me then one camera body with a 50mm lens on it. When doing portrait work and my early gigs of shooting concert photography in next to pitch black rooms, I needed a lens that was long enough to get medium-close to my subjects and fast enough to shoot wide open and get great shots (this is where the f-stop becomes the key factor for me). A lens that might only open as wide as f/4, like say the very popular Canon 24-105 L, is gonna limit me well over two full stops which can be crippling in some situations. Your trade off at this point of course, is a very ‘narrow’ depth of field, meaning that even if you hit your focus point just right you might only get the eyes tact sharp and everything else will be out of focus. Lets be honest though, who doesn’t like a healthy dose of blur and bokeh in a portrait?

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The 50mm is the perfect all around lens if you ask me. It stays on my camera 90% of the time when I’m out shooting. There are three lenses in the Canon 50mm family; the f/1.8 (also commonly referred to as the ‘Nifty Fifty’), the f/1.4 (my workhorse thus far) and finally the f/1.2 L. I’ve never personally owned the 1.8 but clocking in brand new at $100, you would be foolish not to pick one up just to give it a try. The 1.4 has gotten me to where I am thus far in my career and I would highly recommend it for a significantly better build and great optic quality over the 1.8. However, the 1.2 L was such a beast that I can’t see myself going back to anything else. From the solid, weather sealed body that just feels like it can take a beating, to the absolutely stunning and sharp as glass image quality paired with the killer auto-focus, this is the one for anyone serious about portrait work. The 1.2L will set you back about $1,500 new, but if you are serious about your image quality being top notch then it’s an essential investment.

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I should take a quick second to advise against going fully wide open on these lenses unless truly needed. All of my example shots above were done at f/2, and mostly for the reason I touched on that by opening up more than that you run into a very, very narrow depth of field with minimal wiggle room for error. I’ve found that the f/2 to f/2.8 range is ideal for that extremely sharp point of focus with great fall off to that milky soft bokeh you see everywhere else. By opening up to f/1.8, f/1.4, or even f/1.2 you run the risk of having an image so soft that it may not be usable. If you need the extra full stop or two in order to get the image, however, then open it up cause nothing is worse then missing the shot all together. With all that being said, this is a dream lens to me. If you have never tried one out, I couldn’t recommend any other lens higher then this bad boy right here. Go track one down, slap it on whatever body of choice, and get to shooting.

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-Ant

Joel and Jessica’s Engagement Shoot

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of shooting an engagement session for my long time friend Joel and his wonderful fiancé Jessica. Having met three years ago at Minnesota State University – Moorhead and now happily living in Fargo, Joel wanted to come back to his home town to do their session. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and gave us an unseasonably nice April evening to capture some lovely stuff of the happy couple. Joel and Jessica will be tying to the knot together over Memorial Day weekend. Here is a collection of shots and a preview into their wedding day just a week away.

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-Ant

Analog Photography, Pt. II

Film is film.

In an age where cameras are pushing to new heights and limits everyday, it’s all too easy to get caught up on the flashy and spendy equipment. Shooting digitally is a necessity for us to do what we do today. Digital bodies have become so advanced and relatively affordable that it’s the medium of choice that makes the most sense. It allows me to do the jobs I want to get paid to do, and be able to shoot and post-process and manipulate images into the way I want them to look and deliver. It’s what I started with and learned to shoot with, and what I will continue to use the rest of my career. It wasn’t until I started shooting film, however, that I really got a grasp on the fundamentals and learned more than I ever had.

Shooting film is so very crucial to how I work as a photographer now, and I am starting to firmly believe that everyone who is even mildly interested in trying to make a living with a camera should be using film as a tool to learn and better themselves. Film is film. There are no shortcuts to making great shots with film. The biggest thing it has taught me is to slow down and think about what I am trying to capture and convey in a scene. When you only have 36 or 12 or even 1 shot to capture, depending on your format, you really need to slow things down and think.

With digital, I used to overshoot everything just to try and see how it would turn out. Don’t get me wrong, you have the luxury of trying that if you’d like to. The problem is it quickly can turn into a bad habit when you are doing a paid gig and the pressure is on. I shot countless shows where I’d shoot damn near 2,000 pictures and only end up with 15 or so that I liked. Most of those were even dumb luck that the shot turned out. Since I started shooting film almost 9 months ago, I’ve only been able to shoot a few handful of rolls but when I go out I am much more disciplined and selective with what I want to shoot, and I’m significantly happier with the quality of the shots I am getting in return.

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The key to this whole thing is that I’ve started slowing down drastically when I shooting digital and thinking more about what I want. Composition, technique, lighting, perspective are all going through my head before I rattle off a shot. The philosophy of doing as much of the work as I can in camera saves me so much time and hassle in post, but also comes from the reality that film is film and if I don’t get everything just right when I snap an analog picture, there is no Lightroom and Photoshop command that will correct a fundamental mistake of a negative.

Some of my absolute favorite shots I’ve ever taken are coming from my film cameras, and they don’t cost a fortune to have. Go grab an old camera from your grandparents house and order a few rolls online and try it out yourself, I bet you might be surprised how enjoyable it is. Here is a small collection of my last developing day. Shot with a Hasselblad 500c/m with an 80mm 2.8 on Ilford Delta 100 & HP5 400 medium format film.

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Ilford Delta 100 Shots

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Ilford HP5 Plus 400 Shots

-Ant

Location, Location, Location

In high school, I was never much a fan of doing my homework.

I was able to get by with doing as little as I had do on a daily basis and it was very apparent on my GPA, much to my disappointment. I thought that I could fake my way through it and still turn out some decent work and fool whoever I needed to. I was dead wrong, but luckily that was just high school.

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Fast forward to a few years to now, and I’m doing more homework then I ever thought I would in my whole life. The best part is, I love every second of it and it shows in my quality of work. If you don’t do your leg work and put the time in to scouting and finding exactly where and what sort of shot you want, it’s hard to imagine that anyone will be able to achieve just what they want by sheer luck. This is where location scouting comes into play, and how crucial and thankful I did my homework before my first engagement shoot this past weekend.

With any project that comes across our desk, location scouting is key to every aspect of the pre-production phase. It is worlds more difficult to get a visual idea of how you plan to get a shot to look if you don’t have a visual reference to start with. Begin with a general idea of what you want to achieve, whether you want a scene to be urban or romantic or nature themed. Then grab a camera and go explore. Head out during the time of day you would ideally be shooting to get a true barring on the quality and positioning of light there is at the spot of which you find. Draw from shots that you find as inspiration, and look for somewhere that closely resembles it and make it your own.

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There is no substitute for doing your homework in preparation for a project. Cameras don’t take pictures, you do. When you take the time to setup the shots you want, you will get the results you envisioned. This is also great practice in exploring what you want and having the confidence that adding people to the shot will enhance in tremendously and be both flattering to them and their surroundings. Here is a sneak peek into my latest engagement shoot with a long time friend Joel and his gorgeous fiancé Jessica.

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Stay tuned for a full write up on this fun evening I was fortunate enough to enjoy with them, and a full catalog of their shoot.

-Ant

The Wonderful World of Strobes

As our exploration into new fields of photography goes deeper, we naturally had to look into the very dynamic and exciting world of strobe lighting.

For those not familiar with the term, a “strobe” is best described as an off camera flash unit that can be moved freely and the amount of light can be adjusted drastically, opening up a whole world of endless opportunities for shooting in any sort of manner, but primarily low light and studio situations. Our focus will primarily touch on a few recent shoots where the strobe lighting was the primary light source.

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Camera Settings: 1/160th Shutter, ISO 100, Aperture f/16

Our primary light set up for these shoots was a “One Light” system, using only a Paul C. Buff Einstein strobe with a 56” Octabox diffusion and a grid. The sky is the limit with diffusion choices, but it doesn’t get much bigger and softer than a large box of that size. A softbox was essential for both controlling the direction light is spread on the subject in a small space, as well as the quality of the light spread on the subject. If you are closer to the light source, the more dynamic your subject will be lit. Back the light source up, and you will get a cleaner and more even, well lit subject. When looking at the pictures above, we know that the illumination on the person is from the “key” light source and the shadows are what could be “filled” with additional lighting, but more elaboration of key-to-fill ratios at a later date.

In the shots above, Anthony is standing roughly 12” from the softbox, which was almost parallel with his body. The addition of a grid gives even more directional control to your light, essentially turning the box into a straight beam of light hitting mostly the subjects in the line of sight of it and gives no additional spray of light to the outside confines of the grid. With strobe shooting, there isn’t much more control to be had than this.

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For the shots of Alyssa in the dance studio, we struggled with drowning out all of the ambient light even though the lights were off in the studio. I used the same Einstein set-up as before with the large octabox and grid, but to get it as dramatic as possible I had to adjust my camera settings. In an effort to let in only the light from the burst of flash and not any of the subtle daylight that was coming through the few windows in the studio, I had to push my camera and gear to its limits. Putting the strobe to full light power, I was at my camera’s physical ends to create this scene. With very minimal post-processing, the photo of Alyssa turned out just the way I was hoping it would; bold and dramatic.

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Camera Settings: 1/200th Shutter, ISO 100, Aperture f/18

Stay tuned for more shots from our strobe photography shoots, and keep following us for more in-depth write ups and break downs to help you get some dynamic shots like these yourself.

-Ant

We Need A Bigger Office

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Making a living for one’s self can be monotonous. One of my life mottos I constantly strive for is: “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I realize that it can come off as so simple and cliché, but I often wonder how many people stop and think about how a mantra like that could benefit them, let alone act on it. I am fortunate enough to not have to worry about that when I come into work for Field Technique. Monotony is a foreign concept to us.

Photo shoots are not something Field Technique does. So when Striker Ice, A fairly established client with us, came looking for some product photography for their new lines of clothing to try to break into big box store catalogs, our first response was; “Absolutely.” Opportunity and experience is King in my book, so a chance to try something we’ve never done seemed like a no brainer. If you get the right people in a small basement corner office with the right equipment, knowledge, and Chipotle then you have yourself the makings of our first photo shoot.

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Creative questioning is an everyday workplace hazard. What the customer and consumer sees as the final product is worlds apart from where the start point is begrudgingly agreed upon by us. With access to a lavish photo studio and professional lighting gear in the heart of Minneapolis, the group came to a conclusion of turning the everyday editing facility in Hudson into a makeshift photo studio itself. Since we love pushing our limits and capabilities to see what we can do with the resources at hand to deliver a great finial product, we MacGyver’d our tiny workplace into a full-fledged temporary studio. Did I mention we like a challenge?

With the help of a few Keno Flos and an AlienBee Remote Flash with a 3-Foot Softbox, all borrowed from fellow photographers, we were able to nail down 35 product shots. All of which using different articles of clothing, all using different positions and lighting, and most importantly all requiring different editing techniques. The unanimous tagline of the shoot became “We need a bigger office.” I fully understood the literal aspect of the saying. We had too much equipment in such a confined space to model, shoot, and edit the shots all at once. I feel cramped when we are each in our designated spaces to work and we try to find a spot to eat lunch together in such a small room.

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The literal term to that declaration isn’t what stuck with me though. I took it beyond face value. The exploration of trying a new field of work that had never been done by us, let alone in the space we call our everyday workplace, represents a bigger need. Our constant drive to experiment with new fields of marketing, whether it be a foreign concept or something we can do in our sleep, we are constantly needing space to move forward. So when Pat or Chad tells me “We Need A Bigger Office,” I know exactly what they mean, and I’m excited to see what this new space will bring us.

The Magic of Natural Light

Any time I am given a job to light something whether it be a commercial, a narrative, or anything in between, I first ask myself what the project/story is asking for (in terms of light). More often than not I will need a variety of lights for a variety of different situations, but that’s not always the case. Recently I worked on a project for a little film festival in the boonies of Wisconsin with a few friends. In an ideal world we would have been given days and days to plan our lighting layouts and shot lists, but we weren’t, we were given two days. In order to keep on schedule while staying true to our story we opted to shoot bare-bones, natural light.

The name of our project was Won’t, a story about Tanner Lofgren the NHL’s best hockey player as he abandons his team during the middle of their playoff push. There were a few things I loved while working on this project. For one, I got to get together with some friends and make a movie, which seems to never happen these days, that was amazing by itself. Another thing that was a real breathe of fresh air was being able to utilize natural light, there is something so beautiful about how it wraps the face, it can be so incredibly gentle and also so aggressive.

I really enjoyed our indoor scenes during this shoot, they were elegant and strong, but with that said; our outdoor scenes did not hold the same emotion as the indoor ones. There are a few reasons for that I feel, one we were stuck shooting in the dead of the afternoon for a few of our scenes. This led to our image turning a bit flat and faces to loose a bit of that “grit”. Ideally we would have shot the sidewalk scene with the sun coming from the side, and a bit later in the day, but the location was a bit to good to pass and we needed to get rolling, the trails and tribulations of 48hr film festivals.

In the end I was very happy with our final edit. I felt we used our resources effectively and told a beautiful story. Sometimes you don’t need all the bells and whistles to get a wonderful image, you simply need a window and some talented friends.

Until Next Time.

Pat Shelton

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Light Leaks and What to Do About Them

Originally Posted by Art Adams from Pro Video Coalition

There is nothing worse than lighting a set and getting the quality you want where you want, just to step back and see light is leaking all over your set in places you don’t want. Art Adams from Pro Video Coalition writes a wonderful article on how to control those unwanted light leaks.

Until Next Time.

Pat Shelton

By Art Adams | July 31, 2012

I prefer contrasty soft light for most of my work, and while I’m not averse to hard light accents there’s one thing I absolutely detest: unintended hard light flooding randomly across the set. Here are the three most common causes I’ve experienced, and how I fix them…

Black wrap exists for a reason: it is the single best tool to eliminate light leaks through barn doors.

Allow me to explain:

There’s a gap between a lamp and its attached barn doors to allow the use of wire scrims for intensity control. This is fine if the light is hung in a grid or rigged some distance from the set, but if it’s on the set–in the form of an active bounce, for example–it’s very easy for light to pass from the lamp’s lens through that crack in the barn doors and rake across the set. It can be a very subtle effect, and in many situations it’s nearly impossible to see… until the camera is rolling and the actor is giving the performance of their lifetime. That’s when you notice that there’s an extra shadow cast whenever they move their hands in front of their face. Ack!

Solution: I ask my crews to stay on top of this and black wrap the side of any lamp where that barn door gap faces the set.

For the rest of the article please click here