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Orbis Ring Flash with Bracket

For my upcoming Close Up Photography Workshop, I needed a ring flash that would work with each student's lighting gear. After some research, I bought the Orbis Ring Flash with Bracket. It looks like I made a good choice.

bee_on_lavender_web Bee on lavender captured with a handheld Canon 60D, 100mm f/2.8 L macro, and the Orbis Ring Flash.

The Orbis slips over the head of standard hot shoe flashes. I'm testing it with a Canon 580 EX. (You'll need a dedicated flash cord too, so if you don't have one, add that to the budget.) I purchased the "system" kit that includes the ring flash and bracket directly from Orbis for $249. It's not cheap, but if you compare it to other dedicated ring flash systems, it's less expensive than most.

Once everything is put together, it's a fairly bulky rig. But I found it surprisingly easy to handle. I used my left hand to hold the middle of the bracket while pressing the shutter release with my right. I felt that it was easier to steady the camera with the Orbis bracket than with just the camera and lens alone.

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The bracket allows for adjustment of both flash and camera. So you can configure the rig to your particular photo gear. After a day's use, I consider the bracket a necessity. The Orbis would be unwieldy to use without it.

Thanks to the dedicated flash cord, you have TTL flash metering that makes exposure a snap. I used flash exposure compensation for some of my shots. But for the most part, I just let the camera control the flash while I concentrated on my subject.

The Orbis feels well made, and it should last a good long time. Keep the sturdy cardboard box for storage when the ring flash is not in use.

Even though I purchased the Orbis for the workshop, I know I'm going to enjoy using it for portraits and macro work for years to come. I give it a thumbs up.


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A Beauty in Black and White

I shoot everything in color. Actually, Raw, to be precise. And once I've done my sort and decided which images I like best, I begin to consider the possibilities. One of those considerations is B&W.

Leah Gerber
Model: Leah Gerber.

As others have said before, color sometimes just gets in the way. Not always, but there are those times when I want to experience the composition and tonality without distraction. For those images, I've started a SmugMug gallery dedicated to B&W.

For me, B&W is a frame of mind, I usually don't mix those images in with color photographs. Even in my portfolio, B&W has its own chapter.

As for processing, initial sorting steps are handled in Aperture 3. After I've decided which images are going to be converted to monochrome, I open them in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2,which gives me the control to process the images just the way I want. I use the Aperture plug-in version, so my photos come back to Aperture for finishing touches.

B&W isn't for every shot. But for the right images, it's an amazing way to view the world.


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You can create inkjet contact sheets with Aperture by following four basic steps. These are useful as proof sheets for client review, or as a handy way to tell a story with multiple images. There are a variety of options for adding text to the pages too. Here's how.

Step 1 - Select the Images

Step 1 - Select Images

In Aperture's thumbnail mode, select the images you want to add to the contact sheet. Just CMD-click on the shots to choose them. Then go to File > Print Images.

Step 2 - Set Rows and Columns

Step 2 - Set Rows and Columns

In the following dialog box, select the number of rows and columns you want. The fewer you choose, the larger the images. Don't forget to choose your printer and paper size also! Then click on the "More Options" button in the lower left corner to reveal the Metadata panel.

Step 3 - Choose Metadata

Step 3 - Choose Metadata

Here you can choose the type of information you want on your contact sheet, such as title, file name, etc. The text itself is pulled from the metadata associated with the picture.This includes EXIF, such as the file name and date of capture, and IPTC, such as the caption information and title you may have entered. Now, click Print.

Step 4 - Print Dialog Box

Step 4 - Print Dialog Box

You'll be presented with one more dialog box, this one is part of the print driver software. Make your selections and click Print. In just a few minutes, your contact sheet will emerge from the printer.

Advanced Tips

If you want to make a preset of your contact sheet, click on the little gear menu at the bottom of the dialog box in Step 3. Choose "Duplicate Preset" from the popup menu. Give your preset a descriptive name by clicking on it. The next time you want to print this type of contact sheet, just choose your preset.

If you'd rather generate a PDF instead of paper output, click on the PDF button in the lower left corner of the Print dialog box in Step 4. Choose "Save as PDF."

More Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture 3, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training on Lynda.com. Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

My next open Aperture Workshop is scheduled for Nov. 2012, in Santa Rosa, CA. You can get on the pre-registration list, plus learn about all the other photography workshops offered this season by visiting the TDS Workshops page.


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Both Aperture and Lightroom provide excellent tools for organizing images in your library. A common question I hear during workshops is about the difference between Flags, Stars, and Color Labels. Here's a quick overview on how I use them.

Star Ratings

I use stars to rate the quality of an image. A great picture will be 4 stars, good is 3, and acceptable is 2. I recommend making two passes to rate photos. First pass is just a "yay or nay" review. If it's an acceptable image, give it 2 stars (a yay). If not, no stars at all (nay).

Then, on the second pass, only review the 2 star photos. I usually put them in an Album (or Collection in Lightroom). You've now had a chance to see the entire shoot and have better perspective on the relative quality of the images. Upgrade the best shots to 3 or 4 stars. These should be the only pictures you spend image editing time on.

Color Labels

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Use the color dots for categories. You could assign one color, for example, to shots that you've uploaded to the web. Another color might be used for images that you've printed. If you have a frequent client, he or she might deserve their own color label. You can assign names to labels by going to Preferences > Labels.

Flags

Flags are useful for temporary collections. Let's say that you want to isolate and look at a handful of images. Mark them with a flag, then in thumbnail mode, go to the upper right corner of Aperture and click on the search icon. Choose Flagged from the popup menu. Only those images will be displayed on your screen. Click on the "X" in the search box when you're done to reveal all of the images in that project.

aperture_flagged.jpg

More Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture 3, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training on Lynda.com. Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

My next open Aperture Workshop is scheduled for Nov. 2012, in Santa Rosa, CA. You can get on the pre-registration list, plus learn about all the other photography workshops offered this season by visiting the TDS Workshops page.


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Sigma has released a pair of prime lenses for micro four/thirds cameras, such as the Olympus PENs. I've been testing the 30mm F2.8 EX DN($199 US) because it fits nicely between my Olympus 17mm f/2.8($219) and the longer 45mm f/1.8 telephoto($399).

Sigma 30mm on Olympus E-PL2

The first thing I noticed with the Sigma 30mm is that it's larger than the two Olympus primes. On the E-PL2 body (shown above), it looks great. On the PEN Mini, the Sigma looks a little oversized. Despite its greater diameter, it's still very light (135g / 4.8oz). The metal lens mount is nicely finished. But the lens mechanism inside does move around when not in use. Once you turn the camera on, it engages, eliminating movement until you actually focus. I'm guessing that this is a byproduct of Sigma's new linear focusing system.

Comparison of 45mm 30mm & 17mm Sigma 30mm (center) compared to the Olympus 45mm and 17mm primes.

On the camera, autofocusing is fast and smooth. You can manually focus on the fly using the large knurled ring at the front of the lens. Focusing action is nicely dampened.

Sigma 30mm f-2.8 for Micro Four Thirds

Threads on the front of the lens accept 46mm filters and accessories. A lens hood is not included, but you do get a nice zippered case.

Since the 30mm behaves like a 60mm mild telephoto with the micro four/thirds sensor (crop factor of 2X), you can soften the background when shooting wide open. Overall sharpness of the lens is good. It has decent close-up ability allowing for 1:8.1 magnification at 11.8"

Depth of Field Test at f-2.8 You can soften the background when shooting wide open with the Sigma 30mm.

Bottom Line

The Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DNis an affordable prime lens for micro four/thirds users, especially useful for Olympus PENs because it doesn't have image stabilization built into the lens. It performs best when the camera's firmware is up to date. For example, when I mounted it on my E-PL2 with firmware 1.0, the lens became hyperactive constantly adjusting the aperture with changing lighting conditions, even when locked down in Aperture Priority mode. I would upgrade your camera firmware if you plan on using this lens.

On start up, I also noticed that there's a 1-2 second delay before the lens was ready to shoot. It feels like the lens and camera are establishing communication during this delay. Once everything is ready however, the lens focuses quickly, quietly, and accurately.

I do like having the faster f/2.8 aperture at the 30mm focal length. On the 14-42mm, f/3.5-5.6 Olympus zoom that comes with the PEN cameras, the aperture is f/5.0 at 30mm. So this prime delivers a stop and a half more light at the same focal length.

The lens should also look good on the black version on the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 bodythat is due to be released later this month.

Overall, I rate the Sigma 30mm a notch below Olympus prime lenses. But if you want a mild telephoto with a reasonably fast aperture for an affordable price, you'll probably like shooting with this glass. I'm going to keep mine.


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Derrick Story Speaking at SMUGs

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Starting this month, I'm available for speaking at SMUGs (SmugMug User Groups). I'm looking forward to meeting with other photographers who share the same passion for making great images and enjoy the process while doing so.

Currently I have five talks available:

  • "Efficient Aperture for Busy Photographers" (Apple's Photo Management Software)
  • What's in My Bag" (How to pack light yet have everything you need)
  • "Getting Started with Macro Photography" (Sometimes, the closer the better)
  • "Compact System Cameras Are Here to Stay" (And they might be right for you)
  • "Flash Photography for Event Photographers" (Lots of fun modifiers for this one)

Plus, Lowepro is also behind this project, which means there will always be gear giveaways at my speaking engagements. How cool is that?

My SmugMug Bio

Derrick Story is a professional photographer, writer, teacher and photography evangelist for Lowepro. He has authored several digital media books, including, The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers and The Digital Photography Companion (O'Reilly Media, publisher).

Derrick is a Senior Contributor for Macworld magazine where he writes a digital photography column, and he's a regular presenter on the popular training site, lynda.com.

Online, Derrick has formed a virtual camera club called The Digital Story that's open to all photography enthusiasts. The site features weekly podcasts, daily posts, training videos, and reader-submitted photos.

How to Contact Me

If you interested in having me speak at your SMUG, my contact information is listed on the TDS Members page. I hope to see you soon!


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It's exciting to create an image unlike anything you've shot before. That fresh look can lead to a entirely new type of photography. To help jumpstart that process, here are 5 stimulating projects that you can do at home. Each presents its own unique challenge that will add a new dimension to your work. Also, at the end of the podcast, I talk about my latest experiences at Oracle Arena and the $10,000 shot.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (30 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.


Enter to Win a Nikon 1 with 10-30mm zoom lens by "Liking" Red River Paper Facebook Fan Page.


Monthly Photo Assignment

Macro is the April 2012 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is April 30, 2012.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. And from those images, I choose the TDS Member Photo of the Day.

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- The $7.99 Sample Kit is back! And with free shipping.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.




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Are Lens Hoods Worth the Price?

I recently paid $39 for an Olympus LH-40B lens hood for the 45mm f/1.8 primethat I use on my PEN cameras. Even though it's one of my favorite lenses, I debated for quite some time before spending the dollars on what's essentially a plastic tube. The question I've asked myself many times is: are these accessories really worth the price tag?

olympus_lens_hood_web.jpg

The best answer I've come up with so far is: "sometimes."

I've shelled out similar payments for accessory hoods for my Canon 85mm f/1.8, 15-85mm zoom, and other heavily used glass. Why? Because for me, the lens hood serves a few purposes.

First, it helps protect the front objective glass from impact. The plastic bayonet mounted hoods will absorb the shock and possibly detach all together from the lens itself. This could save your larger investment. It's also why I don't use cheaper screw mount hoods. They transfer the impact to the lens itself and have less odds of saving your glass.

Second, lens hoods do help control flare. Stray light hitting the front of your lens or multi-coated protection filter will decrease contrast. A good lens hood, especially the longer ones for telephotos, will eliminate or at least help control this negative effect.

And finally, a lens hood is helpful when working in inclement weather. It helps keep rain drops or snow flakes off the front glass.

Do I buy hoods for every lens I own? I don't - especially if they don't reverse for easy storage in my bag. But for my telephotos and heavy use everyday zooms, I take a deep breath and shell out the bucks. In the end, I believe they help me get the most out of, and protect, my investment.


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A slight shift in weight or change in angle can make a big difference in the final portrait. Since many of the subjects we photograph aren't professional models, they look to us to help them pose.

Leah Tall

I just read an article that covers the basic tips that every photographer should have in mind during a portrait session. In 7 Killer Portrait Tips by Dustin Olsen, he illustrates how to position the subject to render more flattering outcomes. It's a good read, and certainly a post you'll want to bookmark.

In this portrait that I captured of model Leah Gerber, she demonstrates a few of these basic reminders. She's angled her torso for a more pleasing body line, and the hands are partially hidden. Her chin is at a good angle. I've softened the light using photo umbrellas on light stand. The strobes themselves are simple Sunpak flashes with a connecting cord that I often use in the studio.

A final tip that I would add is, that once you've covered the basic elements in a portrait, take a few more minutes to play. Try a different angle, experiment with another lens, and change the composition. You have nothing to lose because you already have the "safe" portraits, but lots to gain if you find that magical pose.


twitter.jpg Follow me on Twitter


It's the question many filmmakers want answered: Is the Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 best for high-end movie making? The answer, according to Dan Chung in his detailed comparison titled, Video Shootout: Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III, is: depends on your priorities.

Live View Switch

Dan cites more image detail with the D800, but better moire control with the 5D Mark III. And for his filmmaking, moire control is more important.

If you are debating these two cameras, you should definitely check out Dan's report. He covers everything that you'd want to know.


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