Lights, Camera, Action!

March 27, 2012

Per request, a post on photography!

Many readers have asked about the camera(s) and gear I use for blogging as well as the process of how I use them. I take most of my photos with a DSLR on a tripod using AV setting in as much natural light as I can find. I edit them in Adobe Lightroom and blog using Windows Live Writer. More information on each of those details below!

Camera

I bought my first DLSR  in September 2009, 2 years after I started blogging. Boy was it life changing! There is just something so magical about an upgrade from a point and shoot to a DSLR camera. Check out some of my first comparison shots in this post.

This is the model I used until late 2012 – the very basic Canon Rebel XSI – but if I were you, I’d buy the T3 so you have video too (and it’s a better model)!

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I recently upgraded to a full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which I bought used on Craigslist. It’s an AMAZING camera and I couldn’t be happier!!

Lens

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The Canon 35 mm f/2.0 lens never leaves my camera!! Its 35 mm is wide enough to shoot a restaurant meal without standing on a chair, and it’s a crisp, sharp, prime lens that I love. At $350, it’s not cheap, but it’s affordable and completely replaced my less-practical Canon 50 mm f/1.8. I rarely use the stock lens that came with my Rebel, but I pull it out if I need a wide angle shot like these I took of our porch. I do recommend getting the stock lens with the base model just because it’s nice to have a backup, but I’d get a prime (non-zoomable) lens for your everyday lens because they are so small and crisp.

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Lights

All winter I use these these amazing umbrella photography lights with my dinner posts.

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I’ve been using them for over a year. I could not winter-blog without them!!! They are big and bulky, but worth every second of assembly time each night. I store them in our hall closet and bring them out as I set the table. I just love the shade of natural light hue they provide.

A nice + bright dinner shot under them:

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Tripod

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I highly recommend shooting on a tripod. The difference in the clarity of the photos is amazing, especially if you’re limited on light. This one that I bought a few years ago is cheap and works well, but is intermittently available.  Neither of these is the most ergonomic purchase out there and if I bought a new one I’d get a roller head that booms. But if you don’t have $250+ to spend on a tripod (as I didn’t) then it will do just fine. Mine is also very lightweight and easy to take on road trips if need be.

Eye-Fi

I love the Eye-Fi card because I hate cords. The premise of the memory card is that it wirelessly transfers photos from your powered on camera to your computer in minutes.

Eye-Fi

But here are a few drawbacks:

  1. It’s never very quick at my house and uploading all of the photos requires leaving my camera on for a long time, draining the battery.
  2. Sometimes it can be finicky and takes a while to get going
  3. I get errors on occasion that the card isn’t formatted right (it is) and I have to take the card in and out.
  4. It’s not good if you shoot in raw because those files are so large they take forever to upload
  5. You have to set up the network, so this doesn’t work anywhere and everywhere (like when you travel)
  6. It’s hard to swap between computers because when you get back to your home computer, you have 50 photos waiting to upload that you have already processed on your laptop

I’ve tried troubleshooting these problems and actually got a new card from the company to replace my last one which I deemed defective, but the problems persist. I just accept them.

HOWEVER, I still highly recommend it because I just plug it into my SD drive and things seem to go really well when I do that. [Perhaps the problem is more with the wireless set up than the card? I have tried all kinds of ways though]. So I still think inserting a card and having the images wirelessly upload is WAY faster than using a cord and having to designate an import folder each time. So this works well for me. Still a recommendation!

**Edited to add: since upgrading to the Mark II, I’ve had to switch to Compact Flash cards, but I still use the Eye-Fi when shooting with my older cameras***

Point n Shoot

I have the Canon S95 that I bought after a few recommendations. However, this camera was a little disappointing, and I don’t think it’s worth the price. It still has that blown-out point and shoot image and despite having manual settings, doesn’t even compare to my DSLRs. Next time I’d probably get one of the $100 models. I’m finding my phone’s camera is about as good for on-the-go photos.

On a positive note, it does take great video and I’ve used it for lots of videos.

Remote

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At $20, this was one great purchase!! I use this remote anytime I need to take a photo of something with me in it. Like all of my pregnancy photos, or a group picture at holidays. Or headshots of Matt and me. Everyone should have one!

Shooting Style

*This is not a lesson on photography. This is how I shoot!*

My favorite mode is AV mode, which means aperture priority. For more information on aperture, visit Ashley’s post! It essentially controls how focused you want your photos to be. A very low aperture, like 2.8, will put one thing in focus and the rest blurry, like the remote control shot above. A very high aperture, like 11, will make everything clear, however it’s harder to take high aperture photos without a tripod due to a longer shutter open time.

To be a good photographer, all you need to know is how to work AV mode. And never use your flash! I shoot mostly from f/3.5-7.5, and I’ll use f/2.0-2.8 when I’m in a really dark restaurant. To get that blur to food photos, you want to shoot around f/2.8-3.5-ish, but don’t let too much of your photo be blurred or it’s hard to see!

The main reason why I don’t shoot in manual is because I usually snap photos very quickly and on-the-go…or I’m just hungry! I don’t have the patience to adjust the ISO, the shutter speed, the exposure, the aperture, the focal point, all for just one shot. It’s too much for my eye to focus on. It’s easy to mess manual photos up. I can totally see why a professional photographer who has the time, patience, experience and desire for a perfect shot would always shoot in manual, but for me, it just doesn’t make sense. I switch to manual again if I’m in a really dark restaurant, but otherwise, it’s AV mode all the time. I’ve had professional photographers tell me that they shoot in AV mode when they are pressed for time (such as during a bride’s walk down the aisle!). You don’t lose quality with AV mode – you just let the camera do some of the thinking for you.

I came to the same conclusion with RAW photos. I tried shooting in RAW for a few days, expecting to see magic come out of my camera. But after editing them layer by layer, my naked eye couldn’t tell much of a difference and the editing time was much increased.  So I went back to JPGs. Again, I can see why a pro photographer would want the control of a RAW image, especially those who are blowing up wedding photos for canvases, but for my purposes, it wasn’t necessary. [For a great RAW tutorial, check out this post.]

Editing

For information on editing with Adobe Lightroom and blogging in Windows Live Writer, see this post!

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Computers

At home, I have an HP Pavilion HPE [similar to this one] and absolutely love it. Windows 7 rocks! I worked on a Mac for a year and would never go back. Plus you really want to be blogging with Windows Live Writer…which is difficult to get on a Mac. I also love HP computers. And the big monitor is great for blogging!

For travel, I have an HP Pavilion dm4 that I purchased at Best Buy [similar to this one]. Absolutely looooove it!!!

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Camera Bags

My primary camera bag is a Lowepro Messenger in gray. I’ve had it for years and it’s great and very inexpensive. It’s super lightweight and easy to put across the body. Lots of extra pockets for phones and things! I use the extra lens slot for my wallet : )

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Thanks for reading!

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