Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Kit and My Process - A Summary

So far, over the course of many blog entries, I've discussed how and why I assembled the kit that I did. Now, it's time to summarize. Also, I'll update it a little bit to describe developments in the past couple years, and modifications I would suggest if you're starting now.
  • The camera: Canon EOS 30D - I've been very happy with this camera. Canon is known for good optics. (So is Nikon, but I don't know the Nikon cameras as well.) This is an SLR camera (detachable lens). I almost always shoot RAW format now and use the complete Manual mode. The most important consideration to me when buying the camera was the 22.5mm image sensor.
    • More recently, there have been a 40D and a 50D which have better light sensitivity and higher resolutions. I think the 7D is the next in this series and can even do HD video and image preview.
    • There is a cheaper line of these cameras - the Rebel, Rebel XT, XTi, etc. These have a disabled version of the same chip, the same image sensor. The camera is lighter than the corresponding 10D-50D, and it is missing the back dial. There are some buttons there instead. Personally, I think the interface would drive me crazy because I'm constantly adjusting both the exposure and the f-stop. You can still do it with the Rebel series, but I think it's just less convenient.

      You never know until you try it though. Go to a camera store and try it out for yourself. If the Rebel is good enough, you can save yourself a few hundred dollars.
    • There is a more expensive line of these cameras - the 5D and the 1D. These cost about twice as much as the 30D did. The main difference is that they have a full 35 mm image sensor. I believe the 5D Mark II also has video capability. I wish I had one of these, but it's just too much for me.

  • Lens: Canon 24-70mm L series f/2.8 - I love this lens. It can do f/2.8 for the whole range, so I can use it in fairly dark rooms and bars. The 24-70mm range is good enough for a big venue like Camp Hollywood. I highly highly recommend this lens. But it ain't cheap. I got a good deal on it and got mine for about $1200 - almost as much as the camera body itself! But in photography, just be ready to spend on the lenses...
    • I did get some good use out of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and it is cheap - only about $80 - and that was from a retail camera store. It's fast enough for good indoor shots with this, and some decent outdoor ones too. It will be close to what you see, so don't expect many dramatic shots. But it is a good lens, and worth the money.
    • Recently, I used a friend's 50-200mm image stabilized zoom lens, and it was really nice. I've thought about getting the L series 70-200mm f/2.8 one after using that - it took great closeups at Camp H, that some nice blurring on the background. A bit pricey for me right now, but it's definitely on the radar. I might buy the cheaper ($350) first and get the $1500 one later after I've saved up a little more.

  • Extra battery.
  • I use a SanDisk Extreme III 32 Gig Compact Flash card, with a 8 Gig Extreme III backup. I also have a couple 4 Gig cards from before I got the 8 Gig. If I was to do it over, I might buy 3 or 4 (at least 2 though) 8 Gig cards, just in case one goes bad. I try to clean out the cards as often as possible during a shooting weekend.
  • monopod - mine is a Manfrotto 680B monopod. It has some nice weight behind it so it's easy to steady.
  • 430 Flash I've only started using this now (2009). I'll blog about it later. There's a better one out there - the 580 - which can be remote triggered. So far, the 430 has been enough, but I'm actually starting to think about whether I should use a remote trigger - that just starts getting super expensive though.
  • Belkin USB card reader - very useful so you don't have to worry about communication protocols with your camera. I've had issues with my Nikon coolpix when I connect to the camera, but everything has been fine when I just plug the SD card into the reader.
  • LowePro CompuDaypack Photojournalist backpack - I got one for about $70 at Amazon. I use this as my carry-on on all flights. There's a padded section to hold the camera and another padded section to hold a laptop. Plus another medium sized pouch for accessories. It's good for holding all camera and computer stuff, but don't expect to fit a change of clothes in there or anything. BTW, once I get to the hotel, I unpack the laptop and use the laptop section to hold my dance shoes.
  • Adobe Lightroom - available on both Mac and PC. I'm using version 2 and I think they're up to version 3 now. It is AMAZING processing software. It's great for organizing my photos, reviewing photos to figure out which ones to delete, making color balance changes to a group of photos, fixing exposures, exporting to JPG, etc. Most importantly, it is really helpful for navigating what you can do with a RAW image.

    I think some people like Aperture, which does similar things. I don't know anything about Aperture, so I won't comment on it, but just thought I'd mention it.
  • Adobe Photoshop - I'm sure everyone's heard of Photoshop, so I won't describe it too much. I'll just say that now and then, there will be something I can't do in Lightroom, like make a spot correction to one little part of the image, or if I want to apply a Gaussian blur somewhere, or use smudge tool to obscure a license plate or something. Honestly, I don't use it very much, but I thought I'd mention it.

So that's the kit. Just a few more pointers...
  • In Lightroom, I output as JPG with a quality setting of 90. They're much smaller than quality 100, and visually, I can't tell the difference.
  • I share the photos at the max resolution of 1600x1600. (One dimension will be smaller). Again, when compared to the full 3244 or whatever resolution, the files are around 1/4 the size. This seems to be about the biggest anyone wants. If there's a special need, you can always re-export a bigger one.
  • I don't distribute the RAW images. It's like a negative.
  • In the metadata, I embed a copyright notice, derived from Creative Commons. For me, the non-commercial, attribute, share-alike seems to fit my needs. Also, I put a description of the license on every gallery. I think it's not asking much to get credit for my photos.
  • I haven't started watermarking photos yet, but probably will starting in early 2010. By the time you're reading this, I might have already started. I've seen a couple cases where people have not included proper attribution per the license. I don't really want to make a big issue out of it, and I don't believe they are intentionally violating the license. At the same time, I don't think they should be offended by an unobtrusive watermark.
  • I keep my online galleries on smugmug The thing I like is that I can make the full res photo available, and I think the galleries are easier to navigate than flickr, though that may be my own personal preferences. But let's say you want to view the "large resolution" versions of each photo. In smugmug, you would click one of them into large resolution, then use left and right arrows to navigate the gallery. In flickr, it looked like I had to go back down to medium size before I could go to the next photo. I haven't explored picassa yet.

    If you wind up wanting a smugmug account though, let me know and I'll give you a referral code and we both get a discount.

    BTW, for the last 4 years or so, I've been using the cheap account, but next week, I may upgrade to the professional account. (Mostly to get the watermarking feature.)
  • Favorite Galleries These days, when I shoot a dance weekend, I shoot a LOT of photos, like in the neighborhood of 3000-3500, keeping around 1600-2000. When I show you a gallery of 1600 photos, that's after I've trashed a bunch. That's quite a bit for anyone to navigate, and most people probably don't want to.

    While there's something I like about all of them, I understand they don't all mean as much to everyone else. Now, I go through All the galleries and tag the 4 or 5 star photos, and maybe the 3 stars and make a special "Favorites" gallery for that. I think people appreciate it, because I monitor the statistics and I see the Favorites gallery gets the most traffic. At first, I would do between 100-600 in the "Favorites," but after seeing that Facebook limits galleries to 200 photos, I try to put a cap of 200 on the "Favorites." Seemed like about the right number I was settling on anyway.

    As for the other galleries, they do sometimes still get some attention. I think that most people look at the Favorites gallery, and if they competed in something, they'll look for more photos of themselves in that gallery. Sometimes I'll see people use these photos (that didn't make it to "Favorites") in their Facebook or Myspace profile photos, so I think people still like to look at them.
  • These days, I also keep Facebook galleries and release low resolution (640) versions of the photos there with a link to the smugmug galleries. I like Facebook's tagging - it actually seems to be the most effective way to publicize the gallery and show everyone photos I took of them. I sometimes post to some bulletin boards like SoCalSwing or denverSwingDance, but honestly, I see just about everyone on Facebook, and I barely see any traffic on the forums anymore.
  • Indoor color temperatures are around 2800 K. Not written in stone. But I've just found that at Camp Hollywood and Cowtown Jamborama, my photos initially come in too yellow, and I need to lower the color temperature from what's in the photo, even though I set it to tungsten, which should be correct (assuming no flash).
  • Ideally, dance shots should be 1/125 sec or faster. You can get away with something as slow as 1/30 sec, but your shots WILL be blurry. At 1/60 sec, they will be acceptable, but a little blurry. If you're in low light, you can generally get away with 1/80 sec or 1/100 of a sec and not feel bad about it. And if you're using a flash, you might be able to use 1/250 sec(but your SLR probably can't go faster), depending on your flash setting.

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