100 Pictures - Done!
Latest milestone now reached as 100 pictures have been done. It’s nice to hit three figures even if total progress is only at 27%
I thought that for this blog post I would touch on the technical side of the project for the benefit of anybody interested in technical aspects of photography. If you are not into aperture settings, flash sync and cropping in post then probably you will not find the rest of this post very interesting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Starting with equipment
Each portrait is photographed on exactly the same equipment using the same technique. Some shots are indoors and some are outdoors, it just depends on the situation that led up to the shot. ie If it is a day when I have somebody planned then I could go to his/her home or place of work and take the photo there - indoors, but if it’s a day when I have nobody planned and need to walk around the streets looking for somebody, then the photo is usually taken outdoors.
For camera I use a Canon 7D. I bought this camera last year, used, off eBay for around €500 which I still think was a great deal. I was careful when buying as I know there are a lot of scammers on eBay but used a bit of common sense to find a seller I believed to be a real person, selling a real camera. I was lucky and got a camera in almost new condition. When I bought it I had a budget which was stopping me going for a full frame Canon 6D or 5D mk3 which I would have preferred.
For lens I use a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens also known as a ‘plastic fantastic’. It’s cheap, actually the cheapest lens Canon makes but the larger aperture size means there is a shallow depth of field and leaves a lot of the portrait out of focus. When taking the photos I typically focus on the subjects eye (left eye) using a dedicated single focus point on the camera. The 7D has 19 available auto focus points, so I select one and then place it over the subjects eye in the viewfinder. The lens is a bit hit-or-miss with focus so I usually get at least half of the shots on focus. I typically take around 6 shots per subject. I have heard some mirrorless cameras from Sony have a eye focusing setting which always put’s the eye in focus, that would be useful in this project.
For additional lighting I use a speedlight flash - Lumopro LP180R mounted ‘on camera’. I bought this specific flash after reading a load of reviews online, in particular from ‘The strobist’ David Hobby. Flashes are a strange thing. You can either spend €500 on a branded Canon or Nikon flash or €25 on a fake version from Amazon which does almost the same thing. After reading reviews, like David’s, I decided to go for the middle ground. Instead of the high expense of a Canon flash, instead go for cheaper but well built manual flash, this one is built like a tank. €250 was the cost plus some shipping from Holland (only seller in EU)
To get that even lighting around the face, with minimal shadows, as well as the circular ‘catchlight’ in the subjects eyes, I use a ring defuser. Similar to a beauty dish but allowing you to put the camera through the middle. I first saw this type of defuser on TV last year when somebody was using a portable version to photograph cyclists before the start of a Tour de France stage. I tried to find the same thing on Amazon and eventually I did find one found one made by ‘Neewer’ for the low price of €19 on amazon and so I ordered it. later I found out that this was actually a ’made in China’ replica of one I believe was originally created by Roundflash, which retails for around €70. So far the replica has done the job well and 100 days (approx 700 pictures) into the project their are zero reliability issues or build quality problems so far, even though I have to fold it up daily and fit into my bag. Would be nice to test the original to compare.
All this equipment luckily folds up into a easy to carry small backpack. As I don’t want to walk around each day with a bag full of lenses and accessories so I put only the essentials into one bag and leave everything thing else at home. I also carry with me a spare camera battery, flash batteries and a spare CF memory card just in case.
I am using Manual setting on the camera because I want to define the shutterspeed and aperture myself. As I am using a flash with a camera that has a flash sync speed of 1/250s, I have to set the shutter speed to 1/250s. This was fine in the darker winter months and indoors but outside is sometimes too slow. Aperture is f2.0, although I could use f1.8 (remember the lens had a aperture value of f1.8) I decide to go one stop up just to increase the chance of hitting focus. ISO I keep at 100. Flash power I vary defending on available light, In some of the winter days when I wanted to ensure a pitch black background so I would use 1/64 Flash power, and on some days I have use up to 1/8. I usually make one or two quick test shots to check everything is okay and lighting is okay. I have a plan that the portrait background will become progressively lighter as we move towards summer months and then return to darker backgrounds as we move back to winter. This might not be very noticeable from the day to day photos, but collected together I am hoping it should be more noticeable. For that reason I also have to ensure the background is not to light or too dark but fits in with the time of year. If I am outside and there is direct sunlight, then shutter speed of 1/250s will be too slow, so I have had to pump up the f-stop to around f2.8 and decrease the flash power to 1/64. Now that Spring is here and there is a lot more direct sunlight outside I will have to look at using an ND filter to try slow things down.
Once the pictures are taken I import them to Adobe Lightroom for a few post processing adjustments. First thing I do is check the focusing on the eyes for each picture and remove the ones where the eyes are out of focus. Then I select one from the remaining images. I try to take the image where the subject is directly looking at the camera and not with a slight angle to one side. Once selected I convert into black and white and apply some adjustments to contrast, shadows, clarity, whites etc (as illustrated below in the screenshots). I don’t touch the tone-curve but do increase the sharpness and noise reduction. I am trying to keep the image as realistic as possible, so I don’t do things like removing blemishes etc. I crop the image so that the face fills most of the screen. When I look back over the project so far, I see that at some points the crop has been more tighter than other periods, so I plan to go over it again later when I have some free time and make the same size crop throughout. After I export the final image to .jpeg so that I can upload to my various channels. I am still not satisfied with how the images look after being exported, I seem to loose a lot of quality once exported when compared to the preview of the image in Lightroom. I Need to read up on why that is. My export settings can be seen below. I also need to look at getting my home laptop monitor (old 2007 MacBook Pro) calibrated correctly, as the image always appears a lot different to how it appears on my phone, work computer etc.
Once exported, I upload the images to Facebook, my homepage and also to a gallery in salon.io. I add a few lines of text to briefly describe the person and then is all done. In total I estimate I spend between 30 mins and 90 mins on each picture, that includes the walking around looking for somebody, doing the picture, importing to Lightroom, selecting, making adjustments, exporting and then uploading. The most time I spent was probably 2 hours on one day when it was hard to find somebody who wanted to be photographed and the shortest time was maybe 15 mins to complete everything.
So that briefly explains the technical process, thanks for reading. Now I need to think about today’s picture!