Friday, December 26, 2014

Congratulations to Laura Johnson!

Big congrats are in order for Laura Johnson who was the winner in our Erin Manning Holiday Giveaway!  Laura has won the Erin Manning Home Studio Lighting Kit by Westcott, with 2 lights, 2 stands, 2 softboxes, PLUS a DigiTent and instructional DVD! We can't wait to see the great images you take with the kit, Laura, so @ us on Twitter, post on our Facebook wall or leave some images in the comments here!
And a big thanks to everyone who entered! 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

It's that time of year again and for those of you with a photographer on your gift list, the choices can be daunting; there's a lot of great gear out there! But never fear, don't lose your holiday cheer because SDC is here with our Holiday Gift Guide! We've made our own list and checked it twice, it's got the best, most giveable gifts that any photographer would love to unwrap. There's something for every budget, even a few stocking stuffers. So don't stress, there really IS a great gift for everyone!

For the photographer who wants to carry their gear in style, we love the Mini Messenger from Tenba. Sturdy and stylish, this gem holds an SLR body, 2-3 lenses and your flash attachment plus other smaller accessories. And speaking of gems, it comes in 7 colors! At just under $100, a great value! $93.95
The Mini Messenger from Tenba

For the travel photographer on your list, the Tenba Shootout Backpack is just the ticket! This backpack is roomy and comfortable enough for a long hike, yet sleek enough for a high end wedding. At just under $200, a terrific value. 
The Tenba Shootout Backpack

Got a portrait photographer on your list? They're probably hoping for a LumiQuest location/portrait kit! Includes the Soft Box III, FXtra gel set and TWO Ultra Straps in one lightweight kit that can go anywhere, so put it under the tree! $94.95 price tag makes this kit a must!
The LumiQuest Location/Portrait kit

We love the MeFoto DayTrip tripod. This small tripod is in two sections and can support up to 8.8 pounds making it a great choice for P&S, mirrorless and compact DSLRs. A single action ballhead, mini arca-swiss style plate, 8 sassy colors and carrying case with shoulder strap round out this great gift package! $119.00
The MeFoto DayTrip tripod

Want a gift that keeps on giving? How about a Hoodman H Line SDHC card? Rugged Hoodman quality plus a lifetime guarantee? This gift gets our vote! 
The Hoodman H Line SDHC card

From X-Rite comes this time (and headache) saver, the ColorChecker Passport. This handy tool fits in your bag and contains three targets so you can get your color just right. Also allows you to use any shot to create a profile, saving time in your workflow later.

For the photographer that likes to wear her/his heart (and love of photography) on their tees, these fun camera/photography themed tees and totes over at the The PhotoBrigade are iconic and cool. Pick one up for yourself when buying gifts!

For the pro or serious enthusiast, we love the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art Lens. This new iteration of the 50mm captures subjects crisply with beautiful bokeh. Free the inner artist in your favorite photographer with this premium prime lens! $949.00

Good things DO come in small packages! Check out these stocking stuffers! 

 The LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer will fit in your pocket so of course it’s a perfect fit for a stocking! Soften harsh flash with this 90 degree angle redirect. The whole thing folds flat! $26.95

Thursday, October 23, 2014

See the Light Vol 6 Natural Light at Events

All of us get invited to parties and events. If the hosts know you are a photographer, they may think, "Hey, he’s got a nice camera, let's ask him to take some photos." I see quite a few photographers at events with their flash units on top of their cameras with the latest modifier on it. I always chuckle a bit because I've always hated how those photos look. They're mostly the "Everyone say cheese" variety. Instead, go without a flash and use the available light in the venue. Sure, it may be horrid, dark or yellow or green, but make do with what you've got. Look for authentic expressions and interactions.... Pump up your ISO, take it off Auto and look for a story. 
Light, expression, environment.

My friend Ken and his wife had a party for their new daughter. And even though they never asked me to photograph the event, whenever a close friend invites me to an important event, I try to capture a few images for them. So as I watched him walk around the venue with his pride and joy, I noticed that when he faced his daughter toward the Western windows, this beautiful light would frame her face. So I simply placed myself in a position next to one of the tables so I could capture her awash in beautiful light as she gazed over her father's shoulder. Some photographers may ask someone to stand in good light and I can understand that method. But my preference is to just
let it happen organically. Light, expression, environment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Congratulations to the winner of the Ready for Anything Giveaway!

Congratulations to Ron Veiner, the winner of our LumiQuest Ready for Anything Giveaway! Ron won the Ready for Anything kit, so he’s getting the ProMax system, (including the 80/20 ceiling bounce), the FXtra gel holder system, and the Ultra Strap, all in a lightweight storage wallet.

Bummed you didn’t win? We’re a LumiQuest authorized dealer, so visit our site and you can get Ready for Anything too!
The Ready for Anything kit from LumiQuest!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

See the Light Series Vol 5: Natural Light with Mark Kitaoka

"I only use natural light..."

Yup I remember saying that very same thing in an intentionally arrogant tone. Truth be told, I didn't know how to use artificial light whether it was from a strobe or hand held flash. Sure I had dabbled with them, but didn't understand the first thing about using either very well.

I began my photographic journey doing street shooting. No artificial light, no reflectors, no scrims, just what being in the right place at the right time had put before me. After that initial fear of shooting strangers going about their daily lives wore off, street shooting became invigorating. Looking for the 'right' person, in the 'right' situation, in the 'right' light meant being visually vigilant and above all being patient. To this day it is still my favorite type of photography, but I've been both blessed and cursed to not have the time to pursue it as often as I have in the past.

So for the next couple posts, I want to talk about shooting tips in natural light whether you're street shooting or creating a portrait.

I have developed my own rule for shooting whether by natural or artificial light. I call it "The LEE" principle: Light, Expression, Environment. Make sure your image tells a story either using light, expression or the environment and you're on your way, but your best shots will incorporate all three factors. Let’s look at the LEE principle in available light/street shooting.

How to get over the jitters about photographing strangers on the street is an article all unto itself, so I won't go into it here. The main elements you should consider when looking at potential street scenes:

1. Tell a story, including the environment is as important as your subject. If you frame too tight, you lose the story in the shot. If you want to go in tight you can always crop, but try to get the entire story in camera. Park yourself in an interesting place and WAIT.

As I was waiting for a musician I was photographing I decided to hang out on Market Street in San Francisco. After about ten minutes I noticed this interesting man
approaching the bus stop, so I simply waited until he got into a position where I could frame him with the art across the street. Light, expression, environment.

2. Observe the light and determine what you hope to achieve before taking a shot.

For this image I went into San Francisco one Saturday morning and waited as I watched people crossing California Avenue on Kearny Street. I waited until I observed these five people walking and snapped the image as they were in this formation. It was almost noon so I knew the subjects would be silhouetted, but that was my plan for this shot. Light, expression, environment.

3. Wait for the right action or expression. Remember a great expression with bad light or a boring environment will not get you the shot you want.

Window shots are my favorites and this one was taken during a street fair. I had to wait 15 minutes for the sun to travel to an angle to light the two women and the dog as they watched the people in the fair below their apartment. I was quite worried that this shot would be missed if they moved from the window. But I waited until the sun was just right and took this shot. Light, expression, environment.

Off the street, the LEE principle still works:

I literally HATE any time in the early morning. So getting up before 11:00AM takes an act of Congress or the potential for gorgeous light. In this case the two models in this photo were simply asked to run through a field of grass at around 7:00am amid gorgeous fog. When the light is diffused like this, the whole world seems gorgeous. Because the environment and light are almost a sure thing, your direction to the subject for expression and activity will make or break your shot. Light/expression/environment.

Bodies of water make incredible reflectors! In this shot I had the subject in a rowboat and asked her to row parallel to the sun. I wanted her backlit to give an angelic feeling to the image. I asked a fellow photographer to spray water from a garden hose into the air and spot metered on her hair to give me the exposure I needed for the light. Light/expression/environment.

My friend Russell was dismantling the recording studio he had operated for over 30 years. He asked me to photograph the process so he could have memories of his decades of recording so many artists. I told him that the story would not be complete without taking an environmental portrait of him, so I wandered around his studio to find the right spot. In his upstairs storage room was an old chair surrounded by lots of gear being packed and was lit by window light. Light/expression/environment.
In the next two installments, I'll talk about natural light in event shooting and reflectors. Happy Shooting!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Enter the Ready for Anything Giveaway from SDC and Lumiquest!

“Be prepared.” That’s not just a motto, they’re words to live by! But if you’re a photographer, being ready for anything could mean a confusing and expensive array of gear and accessories. Check out the Lumiquest Ready For Anything Kit! This compact and efficient kit contains the ProMax system, a 6 piece set up that is built around the “80/20” bounce and also includes the Fxtra, a gel holder with an assortment of gels to balance your flash and the Ultra Strap which can be used with the kit as well as to securely attach photographic anything to anything else! 

Click here to enter!

You can win this kit, valued at $90, by entering the Ready for Anything Giveaway on our Facebook page! We're a Lumiquest authorized dealer, which means we carry the full line of Lumiquest products on our site.

Never worry you won’t be prepared for whatever kind of light you encounter on a shoot; with LumiQuest’s Ready For Anything kit, you’re covered!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Prime lens Primer

In honor of Back to School week, we've got a primer on prime lenses!   

First of all, prime lenses shoot at ONE focal length. If you have a 50mm lens, you’re shooting at 50mm, there’s no adjusting the zoom. This means you will have to actually physically move, taking a step or two back or forward to get the frame you want. “Why would I want to limit myself to one focal length when when I can move between focal lengths without changing lenses (or moving my body)?” It's a challenge to be sure and that is why you may want to try it! 

Just as you can learn a lot about writing by limiting yourself to a certain number of words or even characters (Twitter anyone?), the same is true for photography. If you have to move around and change angles you’ll get different perspectives on your subject and how is that ever a bad thing? Try leaving your prime on your camera for a set length of time, and challenge yourself to NOT change lenses. Once you get the hang of the focal length, you’ll find that you’re more actively seeking out the best angle, instead of just planting yourself in one spot and ripping off frames at different focal lengths with your zoom. My 50mm 1.8 prime is my default lens, ALWAYS on my camera for personal use.  

Taken with a 50mm 1.8, this image has delicious bokeh, or out of focus background.

You can also get much wider apertures in many cases with a prime. A larger aperture (smaller f-stop number) will let in more light, which is good for lower light scenarios and will allow you to “freeze” action in those low light situations. The 85mm 1.4 is often the "go-to" lens for portrait photographers as it's especially suited for portraits and low light. 

Primes are also nice and sharp, which is another reason they’re perfect for portraits, and they’re fast, so they give a beautiful background bokeh that really highlights your subject. Plus they’re lighter and smaller than zooms, which comes in handy when you’re moving around getting the best composition.

What are primes NOT good for? A 50mm would not work so great for wildlife (unless a bear is 10 feet in front of you, in which case you’d better be running and not taking pictures!), as you wouldn’t really be able to capture a bird  in flight at a distance or something very skittish as you’d have to move your body closer, potentially frightening it. There are primes that are especially good for wildlife but they tend to be upwards of $1k. There's the 300mm prime macro lens which is great for wildlife as well as sports photography, but at over $3k, it's not the best choice to start your prime experience. There's also fisheye primes but they produce a much more specific and eye-catching kind of image.

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art lens is redesigned to provide the maximum in artistic expression with high resolution and beautiful bokeh while reducing the blur on the light points near the edges. 

Will you take the challenge? If you’re new to primes, start out with a 50mm 1.8. With a price just under $143.00 you can experiment and see if you like prime shooting without risking a large investment. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Congratulations to the winner of the SUPER FlexFlash Giveaway!

Congratulations go out to Debra Ledsinger, the winner in our SUPER FlexFlash Giveaway! Debra won a FlexFlash 200W strobe from PhotoFlex and SuperDigitalCity. The FlexFlash can switch between fractions and decimals so you're always right on in your exposures, and it's perfect for travel as no adapter is needed. It shoots at 1/1200th of a second and is perfect for portraits and family photography. 
The FlexFlash 200W 
Didn't win? Don't be sad, you can save $50 on this essential piece of lighting until the end of September! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

SUPER Photographer: Steven Frank

Welcome to our newest blog series, SUPER Photographer! From time to time we'll be highlighting our customers' work; one outstanding image and a bit of background on the shot.

SDC customer Steve Frank kicks things off for our first installment with this striking portrait. 
 Steve used a Profoto D1 Air 1000w to light this shot.

Steve says:
 "Just before the start of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival this year, I was contacted for a Renaissance-inspired portrait session for an avid "Ren-fester" that wanted to show off his garb. He had a rough look and I took inspiration from his custom-made pirate attire, giving him a dark rugged look which will soon be hanging on his wall to remind him of his hard work for years to come."
See more of Steve's work on his website, and check out his Facebook page.

Want to be a SUPER Photographer? Contact us with an image and the story behind it and YOU could be featured next!

Monday, August 18, 2014

See the Light Series Vol 3: Modifiers by Mark Kitaoka

Part 3 of 3 - Using Modifiers

Photographers often ask, "Mark what's your favorite modifier? Is it a softbox, umbrella, shoot through or bounce?" My answer is always the same - My favorite modifier is what I think is the best one for a specific job. Sometimes it's a softbox, sometimes it's an umbrella, sometimes a cone or in quite a few cases it's a combination of several.

So as I often like to do, let's go back a few years. One of my teachers, actually the man who taught me about using artificial light was thankfully VERY hard on me. No namby pamby talk; it was mostly, "You must not be listening to me because that looks terrible, here's why!" And he would go over EXACTLY why it was bad and he was always right ... back then. After a bit my photos moved from terrible to a proverbial "Nice" which in his speak meant crummy but not horrible.

Once in a great while I would garner a "Great Shot!" from him, with his caveat "One day you may understand how to use light, not soon, but one day and it's only a maybe... And remember, one in a row doesn't count for anything if you want to be a commercial shooter." I used softboxes as my primary light modifier. Reading through blogs, forums and such it seemed to me that most 'pros' or advanced non pros used them extensively. So naturally I wanted to emulate the 'pros' and found I was able to consistently produce 'nice' images on a relatively consistent basis.

What I noticed though was no matter what my subject matter, inside a studio, on location or outdoors my lighting seemed to all look the same. Soft light, done decently, but not that different from one to another. So it was back to my mentor for some more ego beatings. "So do you ever feather your light or do you hit the talent in the dead center of the softbox you're using?" Huh? Feather?

You will be amazed at how much of a different look you can achieve by feathering light. What does that mean? Well instead of hitting your subject with the dead center of the softbox light, swing it left or right, up or down to see how the wrap of light can make a difference. Use your modeling light if you have one to observe how the mood of your subject changes as you move the light around. Take off the outer diffuser to see how that looks. Use a grid to direct your light. Take off all of the diffusion materials to see how that looks. Try it all!

Read more on Mark's blog!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Staycation Photography Series: DIY Backyard Photo Booth

Get creative with your background!
Summer vacation! Seems like as soon as summer comes, everyone is busy planning for and talking about their vacation. Going away is wonderful, but a "staycation" can be just as much fun! Explore your hometown, take day trips or just hang out in the backyard. Plus, there's tons of  photography fun to be had on a staycation and in this blog series we're going to give you some tips on enjoying staying home and tell you the right gear for your staycation photography! 

“There’s no place like home.” - Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Day trips are great, but what if you want to really stay close to home? Your backyard can be the site of great photo ops and if you’re planning a family bbq, sleepover/camp out for your kids and their friends, or just an ordinary summer afternoon, why not set up your own backyard photo booth and let family and friends ham it up? Becoming increasingly popular at weddings with all kinds of set ups from extravagant to shabby chic, making a photo booth in your backyard may take a bit of time to set up properly, but the images you’ll get, not to mention the fun everyone will have mugging for the camera, are well worth your time. If you check the weather forecast and have clear skies for a few days, you may be able to leave the set up in place (sans camera and any other pricey gear, obviously, or anything that could be irrevocably damaged by moisture or easily taken from your yard).

DO NOT set up your photo booth in direct sun! Under a tree (watch out for bird poop on the backdrop!) under the porch roof, or if you’re lucky enough to have it, one of those portable canopies. 

TIP: It’s fun to have props on hand for people to pose with, but don’t go overboard! Have some funny hats or funky sunglasses on hand but most of all let your subjects shine through. 
Have a friend or family member act as a stand in so you can set the focus and light the shot, if any lighting is needed. If it’s daylight you should be good without any additional lighting, but you may want to set up a reflector, if you have one, if not you can use a piece of white cardboard to reflect a bit of light up toward the booth’s subjects. Be sure to mark what area is in the frame so no one gets cut out! Enlist a friend to operate the booth and snap the photos, or better yet, take turns being the photographer, all you have to do is snap away! 

What kind of camera? You can use a simple point and shoot or an SLR, it all depends on what you’re working with and how fancy you want to get. This is one case where a P&S fits the bill, you can even leave a set of instructions on setting the self timer (easy even for older kids and older folks who aren’t tech savvy to operate) if no one is available to take the shots! 

What You’ll Need: 

Backdrop: If you have a backdrop and the equipment to set it up, have at it, but if you’re new to this and trying to stay in a budget, you can use a bedsheet (bonus points if the kids (or you!) paint a scene on it or 3-4 yards of upholstery fabric or plain canvas.  You can fasten it between two trees, use a stepladder or a clothesline or any other sturdy vertical structures in your yard (remember to secure it at the bottom too in case it gets breezy!). You could also pay a visit to your local home improvement store and build an inexpensive and easy frame. Do you need a backdrop? No; some greenery, a big tree or even the side of your house will work great, but having one puts a special stamp on the images you’ll take in your photo booth so do try for a unique set up. Wanna get really creative? Set up the sprinkler and snap people as they dash through!

Lens: If you’re using your SLR, we’d recommend a good general purpose lens like the SIGMA 18-200mm F3.5-6.3.  Nice and sharp in a variety of lighting scenarios, you’ll be able to adapt to changing light without changing lenses. 
The Sigma 18-200mm is a great all around lens

Tripod: Be sure and mark the spot where you set up your test shots so all your shots are uniform. 

We love the lightweight yet sturdy MeFoto tripods!
TIP: No tripod? Use a stool or chair with a bean bag or small bag of rice to stablize the camera (leaving the lens free to focus) and have your subjects sit on a bench or lawn chairs. If the photo booth is for the kids, be sure to adjust for height accordingly! 

What’s most important is that you enjoy your photo booth; get creative with your background and choose your props carefully, have a blast posing, and then share the images so everyone can remember the summer YOU made a backyard photo booth! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Staycation Photography Series: Theme Parks, Fairs and Carnivals

Summer vacation! Seems like as soon as summer comes, everyone is busy planning for and talking about their vacation. Going away is wonderful, but a "staycation" can be just as much fun! Explore your hometown, take day trips or just hang out in the backyard. Plus, there's tons of  photography fun to be had on a staycation and in this blog series we're going to give you some tips on enjoying staying home and tell you the right gear for your staycation photography! 

What’s summer without at least one or two day trips to a theme park or your local county fair? If you're lucky enough to live close to a big amusement park, go for it! But you don't need to make a long, expensive trek to Disney World or any of the other big name parks if your community has a county or state fair or even a local church or fire company carnival, grab your gear and get ready for some exciting photo ops! 

While a small ferris wheel or slow moving carousel might be ok to take your camera on, for the most part, you won’t be able or won't want to take your camera on the rides (it’s also tiring walking all day with your equipment in the summer sun!) so consider stowing your camera gear in a locker or other secure box offered in many theme parks for valuables. Ride the rides and explore, making mental notes (or snapping locations with your cell phone!) then go retrieve your gear and head back just for photos.

TIP: Some theme parks have restrictions for photographers or require permits. Check the park’s website to see if any such restrictions apply before you go!

The same rule that says to take holiday light pictures *before* it's completely dark applies here too: plan to shoot some of your frames just after the sun dips low when the lights on the rides and amusements become really lively and the sky is a deep blue.
Shoot some frames of the lights before it's completely dark for a stunning deep blue sky!

You probably won’t want to lug a tripod around with you (see gear concerns above), so get creative! If you’re shooting at dusk or at night try balancing the camera on a trash can or other stable object and use a cable/remote release.
What you’ll need: 
1. Lenses and Filters
For a lens, you want a sharp, fast focusing lens like the Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 that will allow you to zoom in as well as shoot fairly wide. This lens also helps get rid of the pesky blur you might have with small camera movements. Throw in a filter to help eliminate glare from water and add a bit of saturation to the blue summer sky.  If you’re at a county fair or small carnival, sometimes the attractions are very close together, and a wide angle might be the only way to get it all in the frame, so you may want to include a super wide angle like the Sigma 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 (Bonus: this lens is now on sale with a $150 instant rebate!) 
The Sigma 10-20mm shoots W  I  D  E, perfect for getting a lot of action in the frame.

But let's face it, there's more than just the rides to photograph, there's the people! Focus on the faces you see with the tried and true SIGMA 70-200mm f/2.8. Super fast and sharp, this lens also shoots great in low light and is one of our all time favorite lenses. 

2. Rain Hood (optional) Some of the best faces you'll see are on the water flume rides, which have the added bonus of splashing water to add action to your images. But the water is also a hazard to your equipment, so if you’re trying to get action shots of the water flume rides, those signs that warn riders that they will get wet apply to you, too! If you want to stay close, consider a rain hood

3. Bag
Carry your gear in the Tenba Small Messenger Camera Bag. Sturdy and light, it holds your camera body plus a couple lenses with ease. If you’re not going to ride the rides and need to have your gear with you all day, then keep your hands free for hot dogs and snow cones with a backpack camera bag like the brand new Tenba Shootout 18L Backpack

The brand new Tenba Shootout 18L Backpack

With a little planning you can make some amazing images at a theme park, fair or carnival, but if heading to one of these events isn't in your summer plans, then stay tuned for our next couple of installments in the Staycation Photography Series, as we'll be talking about photo ops in your own backyard!