Category Archives: Equipment

Have lens, will travel…


Travel photography means variety.  You shoot what you see.  Well, the things you see that you like the look of anyway.  To cater for this, I’ve always carried a bag full of lenses – mid range zoom (24-70mm), telephoto zoom (70-300mm), wide angle (14-24mm) and some low light, low DOF lenses (50mm, 85mm f/1.8).  I’ve even carried a 105mm macro as well.

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Nikon loses plot–starts selling ”lifestyle” cameras

Oooohkaaayyy so Nikon has finally released their new “Df” camera.  Whilst other manufacturers like Sony are advancing the art of the digital camera by removing legacy “features” left over from the days of film (flappy mirrors and shutters), Nikon has put a random collection of DSLR parts into an F3 film camera body and is asking Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Forty Nine actual real pounds for it.

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More flash hacking…

Arduino flash trigger prototype 1

Up until a few years ago, bolting bits of electronics together to do complex things was quite a steep learning curve.   If you could do it all without any processing, you could connect individual logic gates together to make things happen.  There is a lot to wrap your brain around to get things to work.  Happily, now there are a number of small computers around that are focussed on input and output at a basic level – reading voltages, or on/off states and outputting them on other connections too.

I built an Arduino based robot kit from 4Tronix recently.  It comes with 3 sensors:  an ultrasonic range-finder, active infra-red obstacle detectors and a air of line followers  (detects light or dark surface).   The logic is in software – you write code saying things like “if this sensor says ‘Yes there’s summit there’  then send a signal out of this connector”.  It’s really easy to learn (especially if you wrote code in C 20 years ago, the constructs for loops and blocks are identical, however all the complex bits are gone – we built 25 of these robots and got 13-14 year old school kids to program them.  They all picked it up in about 10 minutes).   In this way you could make the robot move in a certain way depending on what the sensors saw.   This got me thinking:  I know how the object sensors work, and I know now, having messed with Triggertrap mobile app, how to trigger my flash.  Can I put the 2 together? Continue reading

The Speed of Light

photo 2

Or, more importantly, the duration of the light really.  I’m gearing up to do some motion freezing shots using flash.  Now, why do this with flash?  We could just use a really high shutter speed and yes, the shutter on my Nikon D800E will go to 1/8000th of a second, which is fast enough to freeze most action in the “medium sized world”.  However, there are a couple of reasons why this is not a good idea.

First, for shots where we need to the camera to react to a noise, vibration or something breaking a detector beam, there may not be time for all of the mechanical gubbins inside the camera to lumber into action before the event is over:  the mirror has to raise, the whole shutter has to start it’s operation etc.  All of this can add as much as 50ms between the trigger event, and the exposure starting.  The second reason has to do with the amount of light we have to work with:  at 1/8000th of  second, not a lot of light is going to get in.

Now, one of the best things about speedlights is that you can’t alter the power.  Yep read that again 🙂  Speedlights do not work in the same way as conventional studio lights.  Whereas studio lights charge up their capacitors with just the right amount of energy for the light output you want, speedlights are always fully charged.  You control the amount of light by altering the duration of the light.  They have a tap inside – these days this is normally an Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor or IGBT.  So rather than a trigger voltage discharging the whole cap across the flash-tube, your speedlight can turn the flow of electrical energy to the tube on and off.  The power of your speedlight btw, may amaze you.  Power is the rate or flow of energy (the rate of “doing work” in generic terms).  It is not the amount of energy delivered.  Your average speedlight holds around 80 joules of energy in its capacitors.  To empty them fully takes about 1/900th of a second.  1 watt is 1 joule per second, so dividing 80 by 1/900th gives us 72 kilowatts.  That’s a pretty bright light – for just over a millisecond…. Continue reading

Shooting models

_OHL0441-EditNo – not people from agencies – little models of cars.   Automotive shooters reckon you need a soft-box at least twice as big as the car to get great clean looking light on a car, which is basically a big convex shiny thing that reflects everything for miles around.  Who has a 20 ft soft-box?  hands-up?  Nobody?  Anyone get a car sized studio space with a diffusion panel under the roof?  No? Continue reading

Triggertrap “invents” the remote hot shoe



Now, I’ve had Triggertrap mobile on my iPhone for a long time, and for those of you who haven’t seen this, it allows you to use your  iPhone’s sensors (sound, vibration, motion, magnetic field (!), etc ) to. trigger either the on-board camera or a bigger one, via a connecting cable from the phone’s headphone socket to the camera sync port.  It’s great – works well now after a dodgy start and is useful for so many things from timing long exposures automatically (Nikon like most camera manufacturers seem to believe we won’t shoot beyond the times in scope for the exposure meter, which gives out at 30 seconds) to getting proper brackets (more than 1 stop apart).

See here for details:

Now, triggering the camera when a loud bang is made (say from breaking glass, a gun, balloon popping etc) is all well and good, but there’s an age or two that passes between the camera getting the signal and the mechanical gubbins (that quite frankly is a hang-over from film) such as mirrors and shutters lumbering into action to take the shot.  So for most of this, all of that has to happen before the sound occurs in a dark room, so the shutter is open and waiting for light – which you then provide from a flash.  To do this, Triggertrap must trigger the flash, not the camera.  You open the shutter on bulb mode, pop the balloon:  the light flashes, and you close the shutter. Continue reading


Sunstars are the star shaped rays of light you get from a point source, when shooting a wide-angle lens stopped down.  I recently did a short test on most of my wide angle lenses to see which gave the best sunstars.  I included the 70-300mm as well just to see.  I used a small LED torch as the light source about 2 metres away, focused on it, and took shots at f/8,  f/11 and f/16 with each lens, except the Zeiss 50mm which ash f/8, f/16 and f/22.  The number and shape of the blades that make up the diaphragm should determine how many points the star has, with straight bladed diaphragms giving the most defined stars.


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Portrait lights on a budget

So what is the minimum you can get away with in terms of flash light for a head shot?  I’ve had this question a few times over the last month or so and I’ve put together a list of kit you can take great portraits with for almost no money*

So what do you need?  A light, some way of triggering it, something to hold it, maybe some way of softening the light and maybe a reflector to fill in shadows.  Now – you can get away with *buying* just the light and a trigger or cable.  All of the rest you can make, however I am going to recommend you buy things – as to be honest they are not expensive.

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Portrait shooting and processing workshop

Thanks to everyone who attended the session last night at Holmes Chapel Camera Club.  Despite the technical problems with tethering a D800 to a Windows 8 laptop (my old D700 always worked flawlessly when tethered) we achieved the main goals of the workshop.  There are a number of articles on this website looking at specific bits of process and techniques which I’ve linked to on this page, however I thought it would be useful to summarise the things we looked at last night.

Many thanks to Clara for modelling for me.  Not easy seeing your face up that close.

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