Holiday Lights Through a Crystal Ball

There is still time to order a crystal ball before all the holiday lights are packed and put away.

This is the one I ordered through Amazon.  

Click here to see a gallery of my photos with a crystal ball.

Crystal ball, reflection, reverse,
Christmas tree through the crystal ball.

Crystal ball, reflection, reverse,

Magical Winter Lights KAC1400
F/stop at 22.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1419
Holding the crystal ball to see all the lights in the background.

 

Which External Flash Should I Buy?

JAH wrote:

I  attended three, I believe,  of your photography classes in 2015 or 2016.  However, even now,  sometimes I feel like I’m still in the pre-beginner phase.  

I’m ready to think about buying and using an external flash.  I have on my to-do list taking one of the Basic Intro Flash classes that you have listed for February 2018. 

The purpose of this email is to ask if you can recommend a flash that is  beginner-friendly, not terribly expensive, and easy-to-use for the technology challenged.  

I read an article that was written in 2013.  That article recommended these five flashes:

  •      Neewer TT560  – (but it’s not an E-TTL)
  •      Canon 270 EX  II  – (probably the more expensive of the five)
  •      Yongnuo  YN-560  II
  •      Precision Design DSLR 300
  •      Neewer  NW680/TT680 (this one is the E-TTL version).

Do you have any thoughts on any of these, or is there another that you might recommend?

My Reply:

Canon 600 Flash KAC3626
Canon 600 flash is top-of-the-line
Canon 430 flash showing ETTL and Zoom settings.
Canon 430 EX II Control Panel  

Get a Canon flash for your Canon camera.  Same with Nikon users should buy Nikon flashes, Pentax should buy Pentax flashes, etc. 

 I worked with the Yongnuo and the Precision recently in class.  The Yongnuo is like working with a “knock-off”.  It looks like a Canon flash or a Nikon flash (both were in class) but it doesn’t feel like a Canon or Nikon.  The head is hard to turn. The buttons on the back are clunky and clumsy.  The flash exposure was erratic and not precise as it would have been with a Canon or Nikon flash. 

The Precision flash was not even wroth considering.  It way over-exposed during most of our classroom exercises.   

I recommend the Canon 430 EX  or Canon 430 EXII.  The 430EX III-RT is loaded with features and a bit  complicated.  It’s about $250.  Look around and see if you can find a 430EX II.  You might be able to find one used for $150.  It’s my favorite and so simple to use. 

You’ll love it for years. 

Take a look at some of my butterfly images on this page All of the butterflies were photographed with a flash but none look like they were flashed.  The flash should be subtle and natural.   In my opinion, you only get that with a good flash.

Is a 50mm my next purchase?

One of my photography students wrote: 

I’ve taken a couple classes from you and have enjoyed them both. I’m still very much a beginner and still learning about my camera.

I use a Nikon d5000 and my question is, if you were going to add a lens to my kit lens which I have, would it be a 50mm (nifty fifty)? I take pictures mainly of my 4 year old daughter and have been reading about different lenses.

Any suggestions on lenses or where to buy would be greatly appreciated.

M.W.

My answer:

It’s good to hear from you.  Personally, I’d buy the 70-300mm or 70-200mm before I’d buy  the 50mm.  

Shooting with the 50mm means your daughter has to be somewhat still and you have to be close to her to fill the frame.  Use the 70-300mm or the 70-210mm and she can be running around the playground while you’re sitting on a bench and photographing her.  There’s distance between you and the subject. You don’t have to be right in her face all the time.  

The 50mm is a great lens for studio work.  It’s not the greatest for outdoor or shooting in the living room.  I know a lot of people promote it on the internet but you can get the same results with the other lenses.

I have the 50mm and I always grab my 70-200mm first.  Here’s an example why:

Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Here’s a photo of ornaments against a background with lights.  This was taken with a Canon 70-200mm lens at f/7.1.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo is enlarged to 100%.  Notice that both of the little ornaments are in focus.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Same little ornament scene but this time photographed with a 50mm lens.  I had to move the camera closer to the scene with the camera and tripod.  The lights in the background have the great bokeh that makes people  want when they use the 50mm lens.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo was enlarged to 100%.  I used a 50mm lens set at f/1.4.  Notice that both little raccoons are soft.  My focus point is the little raccoon on the left.  Its eyes are in focus but the soup can is soft.  The raccoon on the right is totally soft.  

Recapping, the 50mm f/1.4 lens gives a great bokeh or blown-out-background.  Yet, if you shoot it at f/1.4 the depth-of-field is super shallow.  The lens should be used at an f/stop appropriate for the subject.  You’ll also need to get closer to the subject than with the 70-200mm lens.

Hope that helps.  I’d let you borrow my 50mm if you used a Canon.  It doesn’t get much use.

Crystal Ball and Holiday Lights

Magical Winter Lights KAC1394_1
Holiday lights reflected in a 4.2-inch crystal ball.  The ball is placed on a tripod.  The photo is flipped in Adobe Camera Raw.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1422
The same 4.2-inch crystal ball held in a hand.  No need to flip the photo.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1405
Shallow f/stop, f/4.5, to soften the lights in the background.

F/stop from 4.5 to 22 to change the background.

Where do you get a crystal ball?  Amazon, of course.

 

Holiday Lights — Make a Sequence GIF

My friend, Patti Edens, and I spent the evening at Magical Winter Lights in LaMarque, Texas, last week.

The lighted displays were a lot of fun to photograph.  As you see from the slideshow below, there were huge and amazing lighted objects to photograph.  We had our cameras on a tripod and used an f/22 most of the time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A different display was a lighted cube.  It was pink, red, and purple outside but filled with disorienting colors inside.

Outside the cube was a huge silhouette of a potbellied man.  The words “In the city where beauty and pain integrate, I am the most perfect stain,” by Fan J.

How funny to see a huge pink cube in the middle of a lighted holiday display.  Yet the cube captivated our eyes.

Magical Winter Lights KAC1327
Patti silhouetted against the pink wall.
Magical Winter Lights KAC1329
Me against the giant pink wall.

Camera settings were pretty basic.  Camera on a tripod, set at Aperture Priority, f/22, and ISO in a moderate range like 400 or 500.  For the silhouette photos, we just stood pretty still.

Magical-winter-lights-me-walkingKAC

For this GIF, though, we used a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the walking.  That meant changing the f/stop to a f/4.5 giving a shutter speed of 1/40th.  The shutter speed gave us a bit of blur but not too much.

Fun playing with lights and our cameras.

(Instructions how to make a GIF are in December 6, 2017 blog post on this site.)

Holiday Lights — Make a GIF

 

A lot of holiday light displays are using lights that simulate motion.  I visited the Magical Winter Lights display in LaMarque Texas with my friend Patti Edens.  We found lots of fun lights to photograph but also a lot of light that could make GIFs.

Magical-winter-lights-spinning-wheelKAC

 

Magical-Winter-Lights-pirate-shipKAC

If you shoot RAW, then make JPGs from the images you want to use in your GIF.

Here’s how to do it:

  1.  Open Photoshop and click on Files>Scripts>Load Files Into Stack….
  2. Select Browse and select the photos for your GIF.  Then click OK. Photoshop will open the images in a series of layers.
  3. Click on Window>Timeline.  The Timeline window opens along the bottom of your screen.
  4. In the Timeline window, select Create Frame Animation.  One photo appears on the left side of the Timeline window.
  5. Click Select>All Layers
  6. Click the little, tiny dropdown menu at the top right of the Timeline window.  (It’s really tiny.  Look for it in the corner.) Select Create New Layer For Each New Frame.
  7. Click the same menu again and select Make Frames From Layers
  8. Under each frame select how long you want that frame to be visible.
  9. At the bottom of the toolbar, you can select how many times you want to the GIF to loop.  The options are once, three times, or forever.
  10. Push the play button to preview the GIF.  The play button is a sideways triangle.
  11. When ready, click File>Export>Save for Web (Legecy)
  12. Your save options include dithered GIF.  That prevents banding in solid colors.
  13. Then upload your GIF to the web or use in a Powerpoint presentation.
Magical-winter-lights-kids-playingKAC
Be sure to load our photos in the right sequence.  These photos were loaded backwards.

#Houstonismagical