Category Archives: Photos

Canon EOS 40D “user modes”

On Saturday, I got to try out my most anticipated new feature of the EOS 40D – the three “user modes”. Yes, I know that for most people there are infinitely many other new features on the 40D to get excited about, and in fact everyone seems to have pretty much overlooked the addition of these three user-definable modes, but for me they were the killer feature of this camera.

A user mode is a completely user-definable setup for your camera: in the same way that most cameras come with pre-set modes for portrait, landscape, blah blah blah, user modes lets you define your own. And it lets you set virtually every single adjustable feature of the camera, from ISO, exposure and aperture to obscure custom functions, and save those under an easily accessible dial setting.

What’s even better is that on the 40D there is a menu setting which allows you to turn off flash firing (the 20D probably had this too, but I didn’t think to look). This means that, with my 580 EX flash mounted on the side of the camera, I could define my three settings thus:

  1. 1600 ISO, 1/80th at f/2.2, flash turned off – used for shooting candid shots throughout the nightclub.
  2. 250ISO, 1/20th at f/7.1, flash turned on – used for flash portraits with a bit of ambient fill-in light.
  3. 400ISO, 1/25th at f/7.1, flash turned off – used for soft & atmospheric photos of the spotlit performers on-stage.

The settings are easily changeable – for example, if the club is very dark, and setting number 1 still isn’t getting me decent photos, then I can just dial in a new ISO, exposure or aperture, go into the menu’s “camera user setting” mode (easily accessible because of the new user-definable menu) and “register setting”. Or if I just want to change the setting for a few shots, but retain the saved setting, I just dial in the new numbers as I would when shooting in manual mode – it will retain those settings until I switch to another mode or turn the camera off.

So I took the camera down to Stardust bar and (with a bit of assistance from Mozaz) shot lots of photos. Here are the results (they get better towards the end, as I was getting finding my groove with the camera settings).

Two weddings, plus one camera, minus one lens

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.

Last week, I photographed the wedding of Kate Marshall and Jack Corrigall. I’d met the couple last year, when I was covering the Liverpool Biennial for FAD magazine: Kate was one of the artists exhibiting at the Noise Festival. The Noise crew were such a nice bunch that I hung out with them all day (and I was interviewed by BBC2 about the exhibition), and that evening at the after-party in Korova bar, Jack ordered some champagne, stood up on the table, and proposed to Kate. As usual, I was snapping away, and when I got home I emailed them my pictures from that evening.

Six months later, Jack emailed me asking if I would be official photographer at their wedding, in a field by the River Dart in Devon. I was flattered, and delighted to accept.

As this wedding photography thing is becoming a bit of a habit, I decided I needed a second camera body, just in case the unimaginable happened – I’d hate to be stuck halfway through a wedding with no working camera. I’d been pondering what to get (and how to afford it) for the last month or two, and had more-or-less settled on a Canon EOS 5D when, blow me, Canon go and anounce a new successor to my workhorse 20D, the Canon EOS 40D. Although not quite as swish as the 5D, the new camera has a host of new features that I’d been begging for, plus it was a lot cheaper (don’t let all my recent purchases fool you into thinking that I’m made of money: I just have a very “understanding” credit card company). I took my life into my own hands and ordered the brand new model, on the day of its release, from Digital Rev in Hong Kong via Ebay.

I wasn’t even sure that the camera would arrive in time for the wedding, but I knew it was the camera I needed. Thankfully, it got there just minutes before I was due to set off on the long drive to Devon. I didn’t even have time to get it out of the box before leaving, but I had a stop-off at Keith’s house in Minehead that night, during which I put the new camera through its paces.

The 40D was wonderful – a few different muscle-memory moves that I needed to learn after becoming so intimate with the 20D, but still all pretty intuitive to me. Here’s a brief and very subjective review which I posted on the Urban 75 photography forum:

Most immediately obvious is the huuuuge 3″ display – this makes it much easier to confidently review and delete photos while on the go (the 20D’s 1.8″ screen looks pathetic by comparison).

Not part of the specs that Canon sells the camera on, but also important to me, is the shutter sound. It’s a lot quieter and somehow less harsh than the 20D’s sound. Perfect for stealth photography, accoustic concerts, etc.

ISO display on the top LCD and in the viewfinder is a real bonus, and having ISO adjustable by 1/3rd of a stop is much more useful than I had expected it to be. Automatic ISO adjustment seems a bit of a gimmick that I can’t really see myself using much.

The menu screens are much more intuitively organised than the 20D’s single long menu, and there’s even a user-customisable menu, where you can put all of the settings that you change frequently. Added to this are three user-customisable camera modes – something I have long been begging for – I haven’t got to grips with how to set them up yet (because my manual’s in Chinese), but I can see this being the single most useful improvement in this camera, because it means that when I’m out shooting at night I can quickly switch between flash and non-flash modes without having to dial in big changes to the shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Burst mode runs noticeably faster and longer than on the 20D: for me, this meant lots more wonderful photos of the “confetti moment” at the wedding I photographed last Friday. The downside is it will mean lots more 10Mb+ files clogging up my hard disk

Subjectively it seems that high ISO performance is a little cleaner, and auto-focus in the dark a little more reliable, but I’m not really the sort of person who runs side-by-side tests, so I couldn’t say for sure.

The very different button layout from the 20D has been a bit of a challenge to my muscle-memory, but after one long wedding day and night, shooting 600-odd photos, I’m getting used to the new design.

The larger LCD display means that exposure settings are always displayed above the photo, which I find very handy, and the four different display modes contain a wealth of useful information (although again muscle-memory was only used to three display screens, so this kept throwing me), although I’m a bit peeved that to turn the flashing highlight alert on and off you have to edit a menu setting, whereas on the 20D one info screen had highlight alert and another didn’t.

The addition of picture styles is really, really annoying – I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to use these, and the button that controls them is just sitting there waiting to be knocked by accident. I’ve already had one photo come out in monochrome by accident.

Liveview also seems like a bit of a gimmick, although I can see some occasions where it would come in handy. I haven’t encountered any yet though, so haven’t tried it out (oh yeah, and it’s another thing where I need a bit more than my Chinese manual to work out what to do).

The auto-focus on button ought to be really useful, but I need to learn to adapt my way of photography to properly take advantage of it. I think this may take me a month or two.

Lots of other little improvements, all add up to make a package which I absolutely love and can’t wait to make more use of. My only problem: Adobe haven’t yet released a 40D RAW plugin for Lightroom, and the Canon DPP software supplied is all greek to me, so it’s taking me a lot longer to actually process the hundreds of photos I’m ending up with.

So, I arrived in East Cornworthy ready to take pictures. The wedding was fabulous – bride and groom arrived sailing a dinghy down the River Dart. I met some wonderful people, ate some great food (the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten, plus far too much apple and blackberry crumble – the king of crumbles!), and took some great photos. The resulting wedding photos are here – n.b. at the time of posting these are unedited, because I uploaded them before Adobe released their RAW plugin for the Canon 40D, I will replace them with edited photos in a week or two, but for now some of the photos will appear rather dark.

Another week, another wedding – yesterday I was at Aston Hall to celebrate (and photograph) the union of Andy and Alex, both of whom I know well from the Washington. The wedding was a little more traditional, but again loads of fun. Unfortunately, I had camera problems… at least, I assumed at the time that they were camera problems. The ceremony itself had just started, I was crouched on the floor at one end of the room, next to bride, groom and registrar. Shooting away when I started having big problems with the auto-focus. I was using my Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC zoom lens, which is not the quietest of focusers, and every little squeak it made as it hunted for the right focus point made me feel painfully self-conscious. I tried pointing at all the obvious contrasty spots which would normally help, but: nothing, it just wouldn’t focus for love nor money.

I was already feeling rather nervous, due to the seriousness of the ceremony and the importance of getting good photos, plus the room was rather warm and I was wearing a jacket. I was sweating, as they say, like a pig. My mind wasn’t thinking straight. I was just desperate to get some good photos. I switched to manual focus and fired a few shots that way. It worked fine, but then the viewfinder went noticeably darker. I fired more shots, and it lightened up again. It seemed to randomly switch from dark to light after certain photos. And it wasn’t just the viewfinder: some of the photos were coming out way too dark.

I tried to think of solutions: presumably, this was down to my new camera. Either there was something wrong with it, or I’d enabled some menu setting which I didn’t fully understand. I fiddled with the menus, trying things almost at random. At one point, I managed to enable liveview, something which I hadn’t previously worked out how to do even when trying. Nothing helped though. In the end, I shot off as many photos as I could, and luckily about 1/3rd of them were acceptably bright. At the end of the ceremony, I cursed my new camera, grabbed my 20D back off my assistant, and used that for the subsequent formal shots.

The formal shots went OK, but then I experienced the same problem again – this time, while using my 20D, but with the same Sigma lens. So… something must be up with the lens. But what? I switched to using my two Canon prime lenses: slightly more awkward than the zoom, but at least they worked every time.

Over the course of the day, as my mind recovered from its earlier panic, I wondered whether it might be a problem with the iris diaphragm which controls the aperture of the lens. This would certainly explain the darkened image in the viewfinder (it occurred to me at the time that the view appeared as if I was holding the automatic depth-of-field preview button down, even though I wasn’t). It might also explain the auto-focus problem, as auto-focus was having to operate in a much darker environment (in fact, I subsequently discovered that auto-focus operates by comparing the relative position of the images coming in from opposite sides of the lens, and if the iris is closed down beyond f/5.6, all that the AF sensors will see is the black backside of the iris). I was less certain how this would explain the dark images – after all, if I was using manual camera settings and the “stuck” aperture was the one that I had selected, then the photos should still come out as I’d planned. However, I was also using a flash with E-TTL “through the lens” metering, and it’s possible that the narrow aperture was messing up the results of the metering.

Today, I tried the lens out again – the problem had got even worse, and I was able to determine (by looking directly into the lens) that it was indeed due to the iris sticking. Damn! Gained a camera, lost a lens.

Photos from Andy and Alex’s wedding coming soon.

Sheffield Bench store launch party

On Thursday night, I was hired to photograph the launch of Bench‘s new flagship shop at Sheffield’s Meadowhall, and the subsequent VIP party.

Mani (Stone Roses/Primal Scream) and The Yell at Bench VIP party

I have to admit, my hopes weren’t that high. I mean, how exciting can a Meadowhall shop be? Well, how wrong could I be? The shop was amazing, and the evening even more so.
Continue reading Sheffield Bench store launch party

The 1234 Shoreditch Festival

Yesterday I went to the 1234 festival, organised by our mates at 1234 records. With my “Access All Areas” press pass, I had some fun backstage and got a few decent photos (appearing soon on Dan Shot Me – a couple are already up on Flickr). Didn’t catch a lot of music, although I was very happy to grab the end of Man Like Me‘s set – I saw them last December on the Vice tour, where they were the highlight of the evening.

I hooked up with Jan while I was there, and the two of us pootled around photographing everything, him with his little compact camera and me with another Heath Robinson-esque flash rig, which Suz has described as looking “like a portable version of the Fylingdales Early Warning Station in Yorkshire”. Here’s a photo Jan took of me and my rig:

Dan pretending to be Fylingdales Early Warning Station (mobile version)

Washtock photos and new flash doodads

This weekend was Washtock 2007. Last year, Washtock was the event which introduced me to so many of Sheffield’s bands and really helped me to connect with the Sheffield scene. So I wanted to try and be there for the whole weekend this year, and catch as many new acts as possible. I failed rather – got there for the last 5 minutes on Friday, caught most of last night, but tonight felt too ill to go at all. All the same, I did manage to take some great photos on Saturday night at Washtock, and I also got to see Kid Acne for the first time which was well worth the wait.

I was trialling new equipment too – a few weeks ago, I splashed out on a very expensive Canon Speedlite 580EX II (I bought it because I was photographing a wedding – bloody typical, the Speedlite didn’t arrive until after the wedding) and a Lumiquest 80/20. I’ve also ordered an off-camera E-TTL flash cable which hasn’t arrived yet, but Andy lent me his. So, last night was the first time I fired this lot in anger. I started off feeling my way, pretty experimental and pretty crap, but once I sellotaped a piece of white paper over the top of the 80/20 and dialled the shutter speed right down to 1/5th to get some background fill-in, things really started cooking. I got some lovely photos, and I’m really looking forward to going out again with this set-up.

This man with lanthorn, dog and bush of thorn…

This man, with lanthorn, dog, and bush of thorn,
Presenteth Moonshine; for, if you will know,
By moonshine did these lovers think no scorn
To meet at Razor Stiletto, there to woo.

William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With amendments.

Tonight, I’m going to Razor Stiletto. For the first time, I decided to dress up. And to combine my dressing up with some strobist experiments.

The fancy-dress theme for tonight is “Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespearian Splendour, Fairies & Woodland Creatures”. I acted in Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was 17. I played Robin Starveling, the Tailor, who appears as Moonshine in the mechanicals’ play-within-a-play towards the end of the show. So in homage to that role, I thought I would play moonshine tonight.

By sheer chance, when I took the kids to school yesterday I discovered a load of drum-heads which somebody had thrown out. Now, a drum-head is round. So is the moon. And most of these were also white. “That’s it!” I thought. “I’m halfway there already…”

Thing is though, the moon is illuminated. I wondered about putting a torch behind the drum-head to light it up, but as I’m going to be wandering around taking photos, using my Ebay remote flash triggers, I thought “why not put a flash unit up there, so that the moon lights up whenever I take a photo?”

And so, I built an elaborate wire headgear which holds the drum skin on my head, and holds the flash unit up a few inches behind it so that the drum skin acts as a rather wonderful diffuser (at least, it would with the flash in the right place – I’m still having some trouble avoiding getting bent wires). To this I added on one side a cuddly toy dog belonging to Rowan and Lola, and on the other side a sprig of miniature holly branches. Voila: the man in the moon!

But I wasn’t finished yet. Having got into the swing of making stuff (something I normally never do, unless it’s “virtual stuff”) I carried on with a project I’ve had in my head for ages: the umbrella reflector glove. Take one fingerless glove. Stick some lengths of garden cane in each finger. Put some silver wrapping paper over the lot, in a “bat hand” sort of shape (actually, I’d meant to use reflective gold fabric, but I couldn’t find it. The wrapping paper was a pain because it kept ripping, but it does the trick). I know Robin Starveling never actually dressed as Edward Scissorhands in the mechanicals’ play, but please allow me some artistic license.

To the bat-hand I added my usual off-camera flash technique, slightly modified: I have the flash pointing upwards along my wrist, so that it hits the umbrella-hand and is reflected back over my subject, suitably diffused.

Here are some slightly dodgy photos of the whole kaboodle (better ones will no doubt follow later):

With the flashes off:
Robin Starveling flash experiments - flash off

With the flashes on:
Robin Starveling flash experiments - flash on

I can’t wait to try this out. Wish me luck! Results coming soon to my photo website.

Band Photoshoots

I’ve finally got over one of my biggest photographic hurdles, and started doing “posed” photos. This last week, I’ve done photoshoots of one sort of another for four bands/musicians. None has been perfect, or anything even approaching, but all have made me realise how much I have to learn, and have pointed me in the right direction. I still have great difficulty with posed shots, because I am useless at directing people, too nervous myself (never a good vibe in a photographer) and never have any kind of mental image of what the finished photos might look like – I only really discover that once they’re on the computer. In fact, I think these are the two most important things for me to work on: confidence and visualisation, but in the meantime I also need to work a lot on lighting technique – my current approach of using remote flash units on ebay triggers, pointed in semi-random directions, yields some interesting but very inconsistent results. I could do with a proper lighting kit, and I certainly need a reflector. But with every random shot I take, I learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t.

Here’s a photo I took yesterday of The Cherokees:

The Cherokees at Volstead

Dan Shot Me dot com Sheffield party photographer

A day at the Leadmill, a night at the… Leadmill

A bit different from my usual photoset: on Saturday I was asked to tail Sheffield band Durban for the entire day, photographing them as they prepared for an played a gig at the Leadmill. From practice rooms to soundcheck to backstage debauchery, plus the band’s performance in full and highlights from headliners Air Traffic and support acts Jacob Golden, Dark Sparks, Sonic Hearts and The Stations.

Here are the photos.