Photography 101

Initial "Impressions" with the 5D Mark III - Dog Edition by Justin Fritts

I say "impressions" because color me impressed.  So I've only had a few days to play and it's been all play, no work.  Haven't really sat down to do side by side with the 5D2 but let me tell you, using this thing is a pleasure.  It fits better in my hand than the 5D2 (deeper grip, grippier), the AF is amazing, the ISO is amazing.  Unfortunately it's time to learn a whole new button setup, not a huge fan of that but I'm already adapting and can see some of the advantages.  Soon I'll be posting some side by side 5D2 and 5D3 but for now, here's some of my favorite snaps from this weekend (I've spent a lot of time around dogs this weekend as it turns out).  

A few more samples after the break...

And another running one.

And the last, another ISO test with a fun extra.

As an extra little note I had gone through and done MFA adjustments on all my lenses for about half of these, my 24-70 really needed it and took advantage of the new wide adjustment and telephoto adjustment.  Fantastic!  I believe I'm a -14 on the wide side and a -7 on the tele side.  I can't believe I can make that adjustment still.

This week I'm going to take an evening and do side by side 5D2 and 5D3 photos using my 70-200.  I'll take requests from people if they want any, if not I'll just pick them all myself.  Mostly ISO related I'm sure, hard to repeat AF tests.

How to open your Canon 5D Mark III Photos in Lightroom by Justin Fritts

Edit: A LR 4.1 Release Candidate has been released that supports the 5D3, you have to create a new catalog but you can plan on being able to import the 4.1 RC catalog into 4.1 once it is officially released.  

Alright, I know some of us have our 5Dmk3 already and some of us are waiting, me included sadly.  My buddy Andrew over at AK Photo Denver  just gave me the heads up, LR 3 and LR 4 don't support Canon 5D Mark III RAW files yet.  I guess it's been implemented into Adobe RAW already but not into Lightroom yet, plan on it being there in the next release.  Anyway, he wrote up a quick article helping people like myself out and I figured I'd pass the knowledge along, I'll need this knowledge very soon myself.

It's simple really, convert the CR2 into a RAW file.

Just do this:

  1. Go grab yourself Adobe's DNG Converter (like I said, it already supports the Canon 5D Mark III)
  2. Install it and run it
  3. Point it to your folder housing the CR2 files and set your output back to the same folder or somewhere new, up to you.  If you have Auto Import going you could output to there, as they're converted they'll pop into Lightroom.
  4. Now click "Convert" and wait as the conversions take place.
  5. If you didn't do the Auto Import just import from that folder you just exported to.
Not too hard at all.  This will make your CR2s into DNGs which is a non-proprietary RAW format but still completely lossless.  Might even get a little bit of space savings out of it, some compression is done, zip file like compression, not JPG like compression.
Andrew has some screenshots and such on his posting right over here.

Another Product Photo - Bulleit Bourbon by Justin Fritts

So I got to spend a little time with Tom Bulleit of Bulleit Bourbon a few weeks back and we got to talking about photos, banners, printing, large format printing, advertising and all that.  Well I showed him a few of the product photos I'd done in the past and he was interested.  So I took it upon myself to throw one together for Bulleit Bourbon.  Always fun to do stuff like this. As always I love to also share the how to.  This is actually a composite shot with the bottle of Bulleit on some black-backed glass giving it a nice reflection.  I then did some exposures moving the lights around to get rim lighting, lighting on the letters, the label, the reflection, the cap, etc.  Then I brought them all together to give me a nice clean image mostly clear of reflections.  I can go into more detail if people want me to but that's the main idea.

Taken with my 5D Mark II (maybe my last product photo with it before the Mark III), my 100mm 2.8 macro, a tripod, a flashlight and a speedlight.

Canon 5D Mark III? by Justin Fritts

  Could this be it? After tons of waiting and anticipation, could this be it?  Canon Rumors has posted what they believe is the final spec sheet of the 5D that will be unveiled tonight(?).  The question is, do I upgrade? Do you?  Let's break down the specs.  My thoughts after the specs.

Image Quality and Sensor 22.3 Megapixel Full Frame CMOS sensor DIGIC 5+ Image Processor ISO 100-25600 (expandable to L:50 H1:51200, H2: 102400 Full HD Movie (ISO 100-12800 (H:25600)

Operation 61-point high-density reticular AF (up to 41 crosstype points) 6.0 fps for high continuous shooting Intelligent viewfinder with approx. 100% coverage 3.2-type, approx.1.04m dot (3:2 wide) Clear View LCD II iFCL metering with 63-zone dual-layer sensor Shutter durability of 150,000 cycles

High end features Silent & low vibration modes Dual card slots (CF & SD) High Dynamic Range (HDR) Mode Multiple Exposures Comparative Playback function Improved durability & water and dust resistance

SPECIFICATIONS Available Colours – Black Megapixels – 22MP Sensor Size – 36 x 24mm ISO/Sensitivity – 100 – 25600 Autofocus Points – 61 points Lens Mount – Canon LCD Size – 3.2″ Liveview – Yes Viewfinder – Optical TTL Min Shutter Speed – 30 sec Max Shutter Speed – 1/8000 sec Continuous Shooting Speed – 6 fps Self Timer – 10 sec, 2 sec Metering – Centre-weighted, Spot, Evaluative, Partial Video Resolution – Full HD 1080 Memory Type – Compact Flash Connectivity – USB 2, HDMI, Mic Input, Wireless (optional) Battery – LP-E6 Battery Type – Lithium-ion Charger – Includes Li-Ion Charger File Formats – AVI, RAW, H.264, MOV, MPEG-4 Dimensions – 152 x 116 x 76mm Box Contents – Battery Pack LP-E6 .. Battery Charger LC-E6 .. AV Cable AVC-DC400ST .. Interface Cable IFC-200U .. Eyecup Eg .. Wide Strap EWEOS5DMKIII .. CR1616 Lithium Battery+


So, first thoughts from me. 

Megapixels: 5D2 21.1 MP, 5D3 22.3 MP.  I think that 22MP is a good sweet spot, anything bigger takes more RAM and time to crunch and render.  With my Intel 2.8GHz Quad Duo with 10GB RAM 21.1 MP can take plenty of time to get a 1:1 preview. 

Sensor: Digic 5 vs Digic 4.  There is no doubt that the Digic 5 will bring plenty of improvement for quality and high ISO noise.  Will it be enough, the Digic 4 is pretty amazing up to 6400 ISO although if it's another leap that makes 6400 ISO on a Digic 5 look like 1600 on a Digic 4 that will be enough for me.

ISO Range: 5D2 H2 = 25,600, a setting I've only ever used for fun, quality isn't great here, 5D3 native at 25,600 not pushed.  Again if 25,600 looks close to 6400, I'm in.  Although I'll still probably hardly ever use it.

100% viewfinder coverage vs 98%, awesome!

Slightly larger screen, hopefully it has the clarity of my Galaxy Nexus (yeah right)

Autofocus Points: Here could be the big winner, 61 AF Points vs 9 AF Points.  This could help out a lot with motorcycle racing, dogs, kids, anything and everything.

Burst Speed: 6.0 fps vs 3.9 fps.  This is why I still have the 40D, to get that 6.0 fps.  Another possible great feature.

Dual Card Slots: Hopefully you can open the card door while recording video and swap one of the two out, I may be really hoping for a lot here but that would be amazing.

Some Added S/W: Added software features like HDR, Multiple Exposure (if that means what I think it means) could be great.

Better Water and Dust Resistance: Who doesn't want that. 


Overall conclusion. 

If these specs end up being accurate you can pretty much count me in for an upgrade, will I be a first adopter, maybe not, the 5D2 had a few bugs that required some time to work out and I may wait for some more info and reviews to be sure it's what I need and want.  I think the most impressive part about these specs is just the fact of how, and I don't want to sound like a naysayer here, but how little of an upgrade they are to the 5D2.  They're all great improvements likely worth the cost of the upgrade but nothing completely mind blowing, instead completely expected, better sensor, better ISO, higher burst, better AF.  I don't think this is anything against Canon though, I think it's more proof that the 5D2 was just totally ahead of it's time when it came out to combine all those things into one camera 3+ years ago and to put the 7D out after that that gave us a hint at what could be part of the next 5D.

The 5D2 remains a solid competitor to this theoretical 5D3 especially for people who don't do a lot of sports or low light photography but for those that do sports and low light like myself, these upgrades could be priceless.

I'm hoping the specs are true or better than this, perhaps we'll find out at 9PM tonight (my time, MST). 

Also maybe to come a 590EX flash and a new 24-70mm 2.8 L?

Motor Cycle Racing Photography by Justin Fritts

So originally I was going to do a piece just on going out to the track and show photos and talk a little bit about it.  But one thing I've learned on this fancy internet thing is that people looking at photography stuff seem to much prefer learning about technique and how they can do something themselves.  So with that said I recalibrated my head and instead decided to talk about the actual doing of the photos and show off a little of what I did, although to be honest, I'm definitely no pro at this and really just did it for fun and had to learn as I went along.  I'd assume a lot of what I learned would apply to racecar photography too.

So, first things first.  My buddy and I went out to the High Plains Raceway and worked the the MRA here in Colorado and got some media passes.  It wasn't too hard to do, lots of paperwork, waivers, agreements, and all that jazz to go through (including who you're insured by, ouch!).  If you are interested I'd suggest starting there, contact your local raceways and clubs that race and see what ones will allow you to get a pass, without one getting the really fun photos will be a lot harder.

Second, be safe, seriously and follow all the rules of the track.  You don't want to end up getting hurt or getting someone else hurt or having your day cut short by getting kicked out.

This guy laid it down easy, with speed it really could hurt

Now, I'm going to break this blog post here, otherwise it may fill my whole homepage, click on through for more!

Alright, so now the fun.  Equipment.  I took out my 5Dm2 and my 40D, loaded my bag up with my 24-70L and my 70-200 2.8 IS L and a 1.4x teleconvertor.  If you don't have a long lens with good fast focusing, go rent one, a place here in Denver (Camren) will rent you a 70-200 2.8 IS L mk I for $40 for the whole weekend if you rent it on a Friday or go big with a 400mm or 500mm for a few bucks more, although I'm not sure you really need it.  Having something that focuses fast and accurate will be important, you might have trouble with that 70-300.  The lens is the important part here, I think any camera on the market today will do just fine (can't confirm this).  If you have micro-focus adjustments available on your camera go ahead and try to get the lens as sharp as possible, especially if it is a rental.

Now the important part, find an angle.  I can tell you from my experience, the corners are the place to be, especially the inside of the turn.  You know why, the bikes slow way down in the corners, its hard enough to get a good photo when you're going as slow as they are in the corners, also they lean hard into the turns.  So, why is it so hard to get a good photo, lets go into the specifics.

Inside of the turn, the slow lean!

First, focus.  I set my camera to the center focus point.  This is because that is usually the most accurate point and probably the easiest point to try to keep the motorcycle in and also because you'll be wanting to use AI Servo mode, don't forget, these bikes are moving.  AI Servo mode will track that center dot's movement, you can add point expansion on some cameras but I didn't, the bikes movement is pretty predictable.  Plan on doing some cropping later, some shots may be shifted in the frame but you may want to crop some down a little, I know I did.

Depending on what you're looking for photographing motorcycle races could be hard or easy.  Shutter speed is the reason for this.  Assuming you have a fast focusing lens and enough light you can really freeze the motion, take for example this shot taken at 1/1250s.

Fast shutter, tack sharp focus, motion frozen

Now, I'm not going to say it looks bad because some people may like the look of it but compare it to this:

Leaning into the corner

Now you can see the difference, the motion blur of the background and the spinning of the wheels!  I prefer the second, it really gives the feeling of speed to the shot instead of the frozen motion of the first shot.  But let me tell you, getting that second shot is a pain.  The problem is you have to actually move the camera at the same speed as the bike.  Now how far away the bike is will determine how much blur you get, the closer the bike the more it moves, the more it moves the faster your shutter can be, if you're close 1/250 can give you some good results, further away, plan on 1/100-150.  That means you have to move the camera in the same direction the bike is moving at the same speed it is moving.  Plan on 2/3 of your photos being throwaways.

My buddy and I took two different approaches.  I used a monopod letting it keep my vertical motion to a minimum.  When the first few bikes would go by I would track them in the center of the frame without taking a photo, just pushing the shutter halfway and letting it focus.  Once you get the motion of the bikes down start shooting.  (Oh yeah, IS on, IS Mode 2 preferable as you are panning, and put the focus limiter on to further ranges, might increase you focus rate a little that way.)  For me, I found actually turning my hips helped a lot, keep the monopod placed and twist your hips around it like a little dance.  My buddy went without the monopod and twisted his shoulders, I say to each his own, try it all out and see what gives you the steadiest motion, and thanks to the digital age you can review the photos and see if you are turning to slow or fast or bouncing up and down.

I started first shooting at 1/200s.  I also used burst mode on my camera, 3 fps not 6 fps that the 40D can deliver.  The 3 fps allows you to see in between shots long enough to adjust your movement.  1/200 gives you a little room for play on keeping steady.  1/100 will probably give you the most blur but getting a truly sharp photo at 1/100-125 is very hard.  Once I started to feel like 1/200 was working well I started to dial it down some, 1/160, 1/125, etc.

What do I consider a sharp photo, I probably keep myself at a little bit too high of a standard, this was one of my better ones.  But I like to read the dials and see the faces.

Faces and stickers

Once you feel comfortable in the corners try moving around some, I tried some other angles, outside of the corner, straight aways (these are tough and the bikes are going fast enough that even 1/200 or 1/250 gets you motion blur) and even tried some remote shooting with my 40D on a very low angle (manual focus).

I welcome any comments or questions, there's a lot of information and I'm not sure I've captured it all and coherently.  Thank you.


Outside corner

Little bit of a wheelie

Remote camera capturing from down low

Even a miss of a shot can look good

How to or how not to shoot a lunar eclipse by Justin Fritts

I don't know when the next lunar eclipse is off the top of my head, I'm sure I could google it but I think it's more likely that as it approaches the news will be sure to tell me.  One of my most popular posts on this site is my post about night photography and shooting the stars. Shooting a lunar eclipse is a challenge, I didn't know this until recently.  I decided to go as big as I could with my zoomed photos, my 70-200 w/ my 1.4x teleconvertor, a whopping 280mm.  I thought that would get me close, ha!  Let me give you an idea of how close 280mm got me:

Lunar Eclipse Full Photo

As you can see, not very close at all.  So, how did I get results.

Well, first and foremost, when you're looking at something this small (the moon) and that far away, getting focus is difficult.  Sure, you can get it kinda clear but getting strong lines takes a lot of work.

My setup, 5DmkII, 70-200+1.4TC, my MacBook, USB Cable, Canon EOS software and a steady tripod.

I did all these photos laying down on the ground, partially because it was a flat surface to set everything like the laptop but also so I could get the tripod legs as wide as possible.  I was using them at their max distance, the camera was only about 12" off the ground.  I set up remote shooting using my laptop and Canon EOS and attaching the USB cord to the camera.  Then I used the Live View function and zoomed in 10x.

This is where the hard part starts, manual focus, when you are focusing the smallest amount of rotation will really change your focus.  It took a lot of time to get it right and then once it was right or what I thought was right I'd take a photo.  I'd then open the photo and look at it to see if it was in focus.  If it was I'd keep shooting, if it wasn't I'd stop and refocus and try again.  This was a lot of trial and error.

This is where I'd say I went wrong, a higher zoom would mean I wouldn't have to use 10x on live view, 10x is too hard to really get focus detail, there's too much noise and pixelation to see what is sharp and 5x wasn't close enough.

Now, I know what you're thinking, following this should be fine, you get it in focus once and you're good to go, but no, the moon moves and even at a low 280mm it moves fast, from one side of the frame to the other in 5-10 minutes.  This means you are constantly having to move the camera on the tripod and each time I did I had to find the focus point again.  Again something I probably did wrong, if I would have had a totally level tripod this may have been avoided.

So for the bright moon, as shown above I shot at 1/200 s, f/10, and ISO 500.  Those with less ISO forgiving sensor will probably want to drop the ISO and compensate with a lower f-stop.

As the moon became more and more of a sliver I had to start tweaking settings.  By the time I was down to a little sliver I was at 1/50 s, f/9.0, and ISO 500.  This was to capture the white of the moon as it was a small sliver.  To capture the red of the moon became a totally different ballgame.  I had to lengthen the exposure time significantly, 0.5 s, f/6.3, and ISO 500.  It quickly became a challenge to get it right.  Once the moon was in full eclipse I was at 0.6 s, f/5.6, and ISO 800.  I found anything longer than 0.6 s started to cause motion blur in the frame, that moon is hauling!

Truthfully I don't know what I would do differently as far as exposures go, maybe I could do a higher ISO or a lower f-stop to try to get the shutter speed faster.  If anyone has any advice I'd be more than happy to listen.  I can tell you one thing, focussing with the viewfinder on the moon I don't think is possible, at least not at 280mm, next eclipse, I think I'm gonna go rent me a 500mm or higher lens with a TC.

Check out the results here, cropped, contrast bumped a little, clarity +40, sharpening 92, 2.4, 47, and some noise reduction.

Marguerite - All white background photos by Justin Fritts

Marguerite was a referral to me from Ryan Brandle over at She needed a headshot with a white background for her site that is currently under development.  This one was a new one by me and given that I do nearly all available light photography or single flash (Speedlite) photography I knew this would be a challenge.  An exciting challenge though. Marguerite headshot

I ended up with a few reflections on the cheeks and on the glasses but the diffusion of the umbrellas went a long way to helping this.  If you'd like to read more about getting the shot please continue after the break.

I looked on the Internet high and low for help getting these white background photos.  I couldn't find much and what I could find was way more complex than my budget and space constraints would allow.  So...

First I went to my local camera store and bought some continuous lights.  Two reflectors with 250W bulbs, light stands and umbrellas.  This little setup only set me back $100, I figured with those two and the flash I'd be good.  That was until the light bulb in one burnt out 30 minutes in to playing around with the lights.  The next day I went and bought two bulbs, $7 a piece and went home to play some more.  Well, another one went out pretty much immediately.  This wouldn't do so I turned to craigslist.

After two days of browsing craigslist and diamond in the rough showed up (well at least a cubic zirconia).  A pair of Promaster strobes with stands and umbrellas.  This set new runs $300-350 from what I could tell and I picked it up for $100.  Not an amazing setup but a functional one.  I must say, plug in, studioesque strobes are awesome.

After playing around (with a Halloween skull on a barstool as my stand in) I found that placing the strobes with white shoot-through umbrellas at a 20-30 degree angle in front of the person gave some good light, it didn't make the features completely flat.  Now I just needed a background.  Simple as simple could be I bought the cheapest plain white queen sized sheet at Target and tacked it into the wall.  Now I just needed to light up the background.

I used my Speedlite (Canon 580 EX II) with a remote trigger on a tripod for this.  I put the tripod down low and lowered the wide angle flash diffuser.  I have some of the cheapest remote triggers you can buy from although I've seen similar ones on Amazon now and am thinking of increasing my collection.   Luckily for me the strobes I bought have a photo sensitive light trigger so me remotely triggering the Speedlite also triggered the strobes.

I sat on a stool about 10 feet away with my 5Dm2 and my 70-200 2.8 IS L.  I had my ISO down at 250 and the flashes all at 1/8.  I hope this all makes sense, if it doesn't I can give more info or some illustrations.  Please feel free to tell me.

The Challenges of Color Accuracy by Justin Fritts

So one thing that a lot of photographers know about but I feel a lot of people outside photography don't is color accuracy.  I don't know how many people have really sat down and worked on a photo, get the white balance right, get the saturation looking great, oh bump up those yellows a little, ah, finally it looks good.  Then you print it or put it online somewhere. Oh man, those prints can look absolutely awful, way over saturated, bright fake looking reds, but how, it looked so great on your monitor, you can even hold them side by side.  This is not the photo you edited.

Well, I've seen this from time to time, more on the online side, since a lot of the work I do is online (websites, uploads to clients, emails) I've found that this problem extends well beyond printing.  Monitor calibration can play a huge role in what the client and prospective clients see.  Just this week I uploaded some photos from a Ron Zacapa event, I spent lots of time editing them, getting the colors just right, they look great on my computer but you know what happened when I looked at them at work, they looked awful!  Turns out my monitor at work is not very well calibrated at all.  I've spent so much time calibrating it but usually for text that colors just don't render correctly.

What is one to do, well first things first, I needed to calibrate my work monitors.  Well, in order to really calibrate a monitor you need a piece of hardware, you need something like the Spyder but I mean really, who is going to spend anywhere from $70-500 on a calibration device unless you are doing it professionally and color accuracy is of the greatest of importance.  I know I still haven't bought one but I really should have a few times over.  Thankfully you do have some options that are a lot cheaper, like free.  QuickGamma or the Monitor Calibration Wizard will allowa you to look at your monitor and make some executive decisions about how it displays things.

What you're going to run into though, is the monitor will only be as good as your eye is and you have to know exactly what color they monitor is trying to make, your perfect grey or red may look totally different than my red or grey.  On Mac computers there is also a built in color calibration tool.  It is under the System Preferences -> Displays -> Color -> Calibrate...   This is quite the tool and it has allowed me to really calibrate my laptop exactly how I want it.  I calibrated just the way I thought it would look, then I adjusted a photo, a colorful photo and got it printed professionally at my favorite print shop.  Held them side by side, darn, what I was seeing still wasn't what the print shop was seeing.  Well, I tried again, and then again, and then one more time.  Finally!  There are resources on the net where people have professionally or at least carefully calibrated their monitor and uploaded the calibration file for the world to use but it is monitor build specific, more on that later.

So now I have a MacBook screen that is totally aligned with my printshop, the problem is now different printer profiles, papers, etc stuff that is pretty much over my head.  My real goal with my simplistic approach was to have prints match my monitor which they now do.  Sadly, I don't know how your monitor out there in the Internet world is calibrated.  For all I know all my photos are too dark, too saturated, too blown out on your monitor.  I witnessed it myself this week!  It is frustrating knowing that all the time I've spent making the images look amazing by me might not translate over to you but sadly this is a problem that won't be solved anytime soon.  Every manufacturer has a different "white" and "red" and every other color under the sun.  And even manufacturers that hold their products close, like Apple, have monitors for their MacBooks that don't match up.  A MacBook Pro manufactured in June will have a different monitor than one in July just because of the manufacturing process that it underwent.

Color accuracy is amazingly complex and really I don't know how to beat it.  Until every monitor comes equipped with a calibrater built in or everyone goes out to buy one themselves, I don't know how to fix it.  I guess what I'm saying is, if you hire a photographer and you aren't exactly pleased with the results, get some prints you can hold in your hand, look at the colors in that world, maybe it is time for you to look at your monitor calibration.

Heck even me looking at this website, it appears that my whites are too high, I can't see the difference between 251->254.   Another resource here and another here.