Just got the new Westcott 43″ Apollo Orb octabox for speedlights and I have to say it is one sweet light mod. Since there are already several good reviews of the Orb out there, instead of doing a review of just of the Orb, I decided to do a comparison of the Orb with its closest competitor, the Photek Softlighter II. Both are really nice lighting modifiers and while they have many similarities, there are a few noticeable differences as well. Let’s check ‘em out…
First off, in looking at the two side by side (please note, the pics are NOT to scale), you’ll notice that the Orb is significantly deeper than the Softlighter but the Softlighter is actually an inch or so bigger in diameter. The Orb’s face is 43″ while the Softlighter is 46″. The only benefit I can see from having a deeper box is that you might be able to get a better selection of different sized lights inside of it, but since the construction of the two are different, that doesn’t appear to be the case because the Softlighter takes the light on the front of the box while the Orb takes it on the inside, thus any light seems to work with both equally well. I also thought that maybe the quality of light would be different due to the depth of the Orb over the Softlighter, but after shooting with both, I really couldn’t see that much of a noticeable difference, however, maybe you can.
In the portraits below, you can see the effect of both mods on the subject. Both portraits were taken at f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec ISO 200 and the face of each modifier is the same distance from the subject (roughly 36 inches) and angled the same way. Both modifiers create a really nice, soft wrapping light, but the Orb appears to be much more efficient (uses less light) than the Softlighter.
To my eyes, the Orb seems to create a slightly softer light, judging this by the shadows under the model’s chin on the right side, but just marginally. However, notice the power settings. To get the exposure with the Orb, I had my
Ice Patterns, Hudson River / Olympus OM-D E-M1 , f/4 @1/60 sec, ISO 200, 40mm (effective)
“Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.” - Peter Adams
Processing Images With Vision
A great print relies on proper processing and interpretation to achieve good tonal separation, rich gradations, sharpness, and what I like to call emotional impact. Every photograph you capture needs your interpretation, otherwise they just become a record of what you saw, not what you felt.
For instance let’s imagine you’re enjoying a serene moment at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The light is soft and magical and the forest floor is carpeted with beautiful wildflowers of all shapes and colors, all wet with a rain shower that has saturated their colors and created a great opportunity for photography. And most importantly, you feel like this is where you want to be—you’re inspired and in the flow, distracting thoughts all but non-existent.
The camera will capture the light that hits the sensor, but that doesn’t contain your feelings and opinions about the subject. Without proper interpretation of the Raw file, how do we know what inspired you? The rain, the setting, the colors of the flower or flowers, or something else that makes you who you are? Was this just a walk through the woods and you snapped what you saw, or did you study each flower, appreciate its beauty, enjoying the wonderful gift of nature? That’s what interpretation is all about, and every great photographer from the past to the present has interpreted his/her images in a similar way.
Think Processing Instead of Post-Processing
Developing your images in Lightroom or other Raw developer is part of the creative workflow, and should not be detached or separated from the original inspiration. When we think of this as “post-processing”, I think it detaches it from the creative side of our brains, and puts the focus on the tools—in this case the software—and whether or not we’re making adjustments that are correct and/or routine. This is the main reason why I avoid presets and formulaic approaches to editing. Plus it becomes all too easy to reach for that preset and get predictable results instead of letting the image guide you intuitively.
We should really be looking at each photograph as a unique expression, and then deciding how the
Still autofocusing by pressing halfway down on your shutter release? Well, suppose I told you there’s another way that you might even like better? Sound interesting? Read on.
The technique is called Back Button Autofocus and it can really change the way you use your camera. Rather than autofocusing with your shutter release, you move the autofocus function exclusively to a button on the back of the camera. When you first hear about this technique, it’s natural to greet the idea with a bit of uncertainty, but once you get used to focusing with this method, you may never go back.
See, Back Button AF turns focusing into an almost instinctive act for many photographers. It’s a fantastic alternative to switching between single shot AF for static subjects or continuous AF for action. With back button AF, you can do whatever you want – instantly. I’ve been using it for years, and I’m confident in saying that this technique has helped me land some of my best shots.
Naturally, this is a case of personal preference, however, wouldn’t you like to see if you should add this tool to your arsenal? Check out the video below for details. Oh, and don’t worry – nearly every Nikon DSLR supports the feature and the video shows you exactly how to set it up. Why not give it a try for a couple weeks and see what you think?
Below are a few sample shots. As a wildlife and landscape photographer, Back Button AF really comes in handy, but keep in mind it’s just as effective on portraits, sports, street, architecture, or whatever style of photography you enjoy. By the way, all were resized using my web sharpening technique you can find on my YouTube channel.
When I received wind that Outdoor Photo Gear was being sent a quadcopter from DJI, I could barley contain my excitement. I had never flown any sort of remote object and was itching to get the copter into the air. Finally, when the package arrived we literally ripped open the box to find an assortment of screws and attachments. It was overwhelming, but with a simple read of the instructions it was all put together in a matter of 10 minutes. We let out a loud sigh as we read the batteries for both the copter and the Wi-Fi extender would need a full day charge. So we plugged everything in and tried to forget about it.
When I walked in the next morning the shipping department already had it out and ready to go. We had recruited our friend Ryan Amburst, who owns a DJI Phantom himself, to come out and give us crash course on the copter. After a series of GPS calibrations, Ryan lifted the copter into the air and all our faces lighted up with amusement. It feel like Christmas morning with a new toy in hand and it was all ours. One by one each of the staff took a run with it, at first I felt nervous to be flying it, but soon came to realize simply how easy it was to handle. Withing 5 minutes, I felt like a professional remote pilot flying this thing. The hardest part of the entire system is remembering what controls what. After some experience in flight it soon becomes second nature.
The true beauty in it all is that even in-experienced or first timers can fly this copter. The entire system is ran on several GPS points, so you can literally let go of the controls and it will stay stationary. If the wind takes it left it will automatically correct back to it’s original position. If for some reason the copter goes out of range or out of sight, it will automatically(with an alert) return to it’s take off point. With a first flight, I do recommend flying in a open field with no trees or power lines. Even buildings and walls can cause trouble if you’re not careful. I say that because, we did hit a few bumps a
Its the time of year (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) for shoveling driveways and sidewalks, scraping ice off of car windows and generally freezing our butts off. The older I get, the more Florida sounds like an awesome place to live. That being said, we have to deal with the cold and for most of us, that means bundling up with multiple layers, wearing heavy coats and hats, and donning the ever fashionable snow boots, but what about those hands?
I for one, absolutely hate wearing gloves. You can’t do anything that requires delicate touch with gloves on, nor can you really feel anything. But this year, due to the extreme cold we’ve experienced (some days the highs were below freezing), I’ve had to re-think my opinion of gloves. My long, skinny fingers and hands have froze to beyond numbness on more than one occasion so I broke down and bought yet another pair of winter gloves… where do they all go? I know I’ve had several pairs over the years, the glove fairy must be swiping them! This time however, thanks to my friend Chris at Outdoor Photo Gear, I got an awesome pair of gloves that solve a lot of problems for me.
These gloves are the AquaTech Sensory Gloves, and they are called that because on the index finger and thumb of each glove, there is a hole that you can slide the tips of your fingers and thumbs through, giving you the ability to have touch and feel again with your finger tips! When you’re not using the holes, there is a sleeve inside that you put your finger and thumb in to keep them warm. You can see how this works in the photo below. As always, you can click on any pic for a larger view…
Not only do these gloves have holes for your fingers and thumbs, they also have a really good grip thanks to all those little nubs on the palm sides. They’re also light weight, bend easily and are incredibly warm! Another cool little bit is that they’re water proof as well. They have velcro
One of the key ingredients of successful photography, and one that still lies exclusively within the control of the photographer, is strong composition. In landscape and nature photography composition is more important than ever as technology makes capturing properly exposed images easier and easier. But how you frame a scene and decide what to include or exclude is still the domain of vision, creativity, and your unique perspective.
Composition is all about balance, and one of the tools we can use to achieve proper balance is negative space. By negative space I mean areas of the composition that are either relatively empty or devoid of any significant detail. The key word here is relative, meaning it depends on what else is in the frame and what the subject matter is. What may appear to be negative space in one image may not have the same effect in another. It all relies on context and overall balance, or what we often call visual weight.
Different parts of an image will add visual weight to the scene—essentially where the eye will slow down or even stop—where it feels it needs to rest. That weight needs to be in balance with the rest of the frame for the image to feel right. Negative space can act as a counter balance, as a way to bring more attention to the “positive”parts of the composition and control where the viewers eye moves. Of course, everyone sees differently, which is why simplicity is always a good place to start.
Seeing is believing, so here are a few examples for you to consider.
Catskill View, Mohonk Preserve Canon 1DS Mk III, 19mm, f/16 @ 2.5 sec, ISO 400 (no filters)
In “Catskill View” above, I wouldn’t necessarily call the sky featureless, but in relation to the foreground, it is. In my mind I thought clouds would add to the image, but as I was composing the scene, I struggled with all of the detail and “weight” of the lower right side, which for me was the subject matter. I wanted to keep the viewer’s eye in the foreground, but not let the image feel out of balance, so the sky acts as a counterbalance, keeping the viewer returning to the details I thought were crucial to the image.
I received a question recently from listener Derek Bezuidenhout asking about condensation issues in cold weather. I’m asked this a lot and usually have one main bit of advice and that is to ensure you put your gear back into your camera bag before going indoors. There are a few other things to consider though, so I thought we’d go over this today, especially as many of us in the northern hemisphere are getting well and truly into our winter seasons now.
Viewfinder Misting Up
Derek’s question was actually in two parts. The first asking if I had problems with my viewfinder misting up in the cold, and if so, what do I do about it. Yes, I do sometimes get a misted up viewfinder. It’s actually usually only when the temperature is floating around freezing point and when it’s either raining or snowing. Once it gets much below freezing, I don’t see this.
When it happens, my methods for cleaning the viewfinder are very basic. I often find that it happens just as I’m trying to capture something where timing is important, so I simply stick my finger into the viewfinder and wipe it. If I’m wearing gloves, the cloth of the gloves helps to remove the moisture, but if it’s my finger, it really just smears the water across the glass.
This generally clears the viewfinder enough for me to continue shooting and I might then use a lens cloth to give the viewfinder a wipe to clean it up some later, but if it’s misting up a lot I just keep wiping it with my finger until I get home or back to a hotel later in the day, when I might clean the viewfinder with a lens cloth again just to get rid of any smearing that might be left behind.
Derek also mentioned in his email that Scuba divers often spit in their masks to prevent them from misting up, and I have tried licking the viewfinder, but I honestly didn’t find this very effective, so my main method remains a mixture of wiping with my fingertip and cleaning with a lens cloth as time allows. I believe there are anti-misting sprays that you can use too, but I’m not sure how effective these are. I guess I have not
Here is a fun little shot I made of two frogs in a pond covered in duckweed. The basic theme here is a repetition of the main elements within the image. The two frogs visually play off of one another and become a visual echo of each other. It’s important in a composition like this to make sure both frogs have equal weight within the shot. You don’t want either frog to become visually dominant or the main focal point of the image. The comparison of the two is the focal point. By keeping them equal in visual weight we emphasize and celebrate the symmetry between the two. Additionally, the beautiful S-curve in the negative space of the image adds much to this composition, helping to gracefully tie the two frogs together.
The brain is truly amazing. At any given second, it receives millions of signal inputs with the current research suggesting an approximation of 40,000,000[i]. Impressive, eh?
Dealing with such a massive amount of information at once, the brain has a couple of tricks to deal with that volume. One such method is the utilization of shortcuts, or rules. These shortcuts are established based on your own experiences. Thus giving additional credence to the notion that experience can make you wiser.
Shortcuts are efficient because it denotes which signal inputs can be handled by your subconscious, or hidden brain, and which ones require cognitive processing cycles found in your conscious brain.
It is important to note that the terms conscious and subconscious portions of the brain are used for illustrative purposes. The dichotomy (or trichotomy) of thought patterns is also referred to in the literature as System 1 and System 2[ii][iii], Active and Hidden[iv], New Brain/Middle Brain/Old Brain.[v]
Shortcuts tend to be funneled through the subconscious brain because shortcuts are rarely questions and so they do not require much (if any) thought. Although we know we need to turn the handle to open the door, this does not mean we think about it on every door we encounter.