Saturday, 6 December 2008

Selected Excellence: The Real Me

Can you tell for sure the difference in portraits taken with a compact and a DSLR?  We have the honour to have the courtesy of Ye Li from Shanghai to publish here some of his works taken with a Canon 5D along with a DP1.  The two sets of photos are to be published in two days.  Today, this first set is from his album titled, "The Real Me".

080421sety_9 (Courtesy and copyright of Ye Li.  Taken with DP1 and Canon 5D)

Okay, go check the photos.  Can you tell any difference?

 080421sety_1080421sety_2 080421sety_3080421sety_4

Hey, not enough?  Can't tell any difference yet?  Alright, more coming.


Wow, admirable works!


The answer will be given tomorrow.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Selected Excellence: The Sad Clown

As a climax to finish the "compacts for portraits" discussion of this week and to encourage you to start taking portraits with your compact, here is an indoor portrait by Mark with his GRD. Mark has actually done an awesome lot of great indoor portraits on his blog, An American Peyote Scribble. His saying that photography is "for guys who aren't into drag [drug]" is very true. Visit his blog and you will read that he is addicted to photography enough to learn even how to handle makeup for portraits!

(Courtesy and copyright of Mark Melnykowycz. Taken with GRD

The Sad Clown story by Mark: He has little ambition or direction in life, schooled on the streets and usually found sleeping in the gutters of Paris, he sports a stripped sweater, yellow button-down shirt by Ben Sherman, and occasionally a sport coat by "WE" and a tie by the same label. The Sad Clown smokes 15 year old cigarettes and laments on the laughs he cannot produce due to this wasted life on the stage.)

By Mark Melnykowycz: You can see in this view that the eyes couldn't be sharper. This is one reason to use a Ricoh Digital over a massive DSLR with an 85mm f/1.4 lens, the quality of small sensor Ricoh GR portraits include very sharply defined lines -- and when properly exposed, excellent subject-background separation. I don't think it would really even be feasible to produce an image like this using my Minolta 7D, or any other DSLR, unless using a very long lens to compress the image and increase the depth of field by using a very small aperture. With the Ricoh GR and Alzo Digital Softboxes, it took 5 minutes to setup and execute this portrait in a very confined and cluttered space.

Every piece of equipment has it's limitations, and in total the 40mm is an excellent lens, extending the usability of the GR digital system considerably. With the 21mm and 40mm lenses, you have an excellent small sensor camera system, suitable for travel, landscapes, city, portrait, and the production of unique images with studio lighting techniques. Well, actually, you can use it for whatever your heart desires -- go out and make the Sad Clown smile again.

(For the full version of Mark's Sad Crown story, read here)

Ricoh Discount Offers to Herald the Coming of GDRIII?

(UPDATE ON 15 Dec)
I have learnt about the news for some time but there was no official proof. This morning I wrote to the local dealer and they just put up a press release on its website. So, If you are coming to Hong Kong and craving for a GRDII/GX200/R10, mark that Ricoh is offering Christmas discounts here in Hong Kong as follows (prices in HK dollars; US$1 = HK$7.8): Ricoh GR Digital II (was $5,500) 30% off to $3,900 Ricoh GX200 VF Kit (was $5,000) 10% off to $4,500 Ricoh GX200 (was $4,500) 15% off to $3,900.00 Ricoh R10 (was $3,180) 12% off to $2,780.00 (Do exchange rates here) This means that the previous street price, say, for GX200 at $3,450 here dives deeper now. Now, read between the lines, they axe the biggest 30% off the price of GRDII! Clearly, this is a typical move to sell out the stock. Clearly, the new cycle is on its way: the discount is very likely heralding the coming of GDRIII. So, may I correct myself that if you are craving for a GRDII, think twice before you buy it now. Wait and behold, the newborn is probably coming to town.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Post Processed Blur

(Portrait with digital blurring effect)

What is a digitally blurred background in a portrait really like? I just bumped into some portraits done with a G10 in which the photographer blurred the background by post processing. So, let's further the discussion on compacts for portraits a bit with some more examples.

In the second part of the post on portraits, the advantage and disadvantage of extensive DOF with small sensors for doing portraits were discussed. Advantage: Great for quick candid portrait (and images with razor sharp eyes which are important for portraits; I should have mentioned it). Disadvantage: not really possible to blur the background; but it can be achieved in post processing or turning on the Marco focus.

(PP blurs: What do you think?)

Digitally Blurred versus Marco On

For the digitally blurred background in the above photos, the photographer must have meticulously done the PP work. To my eyes, however, the blurred background lacks the sense of transition in an optically blurred image. The results appear too artificially engineered.
Hampered by this limitation of small sensors, photographers have to be even more careful in choosing a shooting location to do outdoor portraits with compacts. Although it is not really possible to blur unwanted background, the option of trimming it by composition is yours.

Otherwise, turn Marco to ON in case a blurred background is necessary, and stand closer to your model. But beware of distorted images if you stand too close, in which case you may zoom to a longer end and re-orientate the position of your camera or the model to smoothen out the effect.

marco_portrait (Medium)
(Portrait with Marco focus on: taken with GX200)

Two Examples

Take for example, the above photo was shot in 35mm with the Marco focus on. Click open the photo and there I blurred the background by means of Marco focus. The camera was turned to one side to smoothen out the effect of distorted face due to standing too close to the model. A frontal portrait would look less pleasing because of the distortion.
(Studio look: post proceeded )
marco_portrait_pp (Medium)

Another example is the photo titled "Break Even" in the first post on compacts for portraits. I also did that portrait with Marco focus left to ON, which was in fact meant for other photos in the series. There is not much background to see but actually, the bars between the boys are blurred. The image is not really distorted, probably because the lens was zoomed to 50mm.

The link to the captured portraits is here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Selected Excellence: Portrait by Mitch Alland

(Courtesy and copyright of Mitch Alland. Taken with GRDII)
As a follow-up to first and second posts on compacts for portriats, this intriguing portrait neatly illustrates that a serious compact can do portraits as well as a DSLR/ SLR. This picture of a lovely lady was taken by Mitch Alland with a GRDII on a 40mm tele-converter at f/2.4 and 1/73 sec., ISO 400. It was done in a RAW format file which was post-processed in Lightzone. Mitch is located in Thailand and has proven his skills in doing portraits with a compact in his Flickr portrait set.
Check out this portrait again. The soft light befitting the charming lady came probably from a natural light source through a nearby window. Was it a window facing north? The rule of thumb is that north facing windows give light of a stable amount and quality in the daytime throughout the year, while the light quality through windows facing other orientations changes constantly as the sun moves. The north facing windows serve best as a natural light source in terms of the controllable light quality. The similar soft light in Mitch’s work here helps to avoid sharp contrasts in the portrait and gives a comfortable tone to compliment the lady’s sweet smile and tender posture. If you wonder whether more shadow details should be given in this portrait. The answer is yes if it is in a controlled lighting situation, or if you can afford an assistant to hold a reflector for the model, and no for the taste of some (or, well, yes for the others; prejudice is personal). Given the natural light source, this is undoubtedly a very handsome shot. Besides that, look closely in the model’s eyes and you will find that she was sitting at a reflective surface which smoothed out the darker areas, giving a better tone and details in the shadow. (Personal experience: A big pillow in a light-coloured pillowcase can serve as a wonder free-form reflector for indoor portraits) And think again: Mitch achieved a great portrait with a compact! If you have done portraits only with a DSLR or SLR, give your serious compact a try this weekend. (PS: [prank intended]Dear readers, don’t write to ask for the name or contact number of the lady. I will keep them confidential and won’t leak them to you. Er, well, Mitch, may I have the name and contact number of the lady so that I can keep them confidential?)

Popular Photography's GX200 Review

The Popular Photography Magazine has just published a belated review (an early write-up for Christmas?) of the GX200. It says in the review that the camera has been tested to be Excellent on colour accuracy, which GX200 users would have expected. Once again, cameras with colour inaccurancy and poor AWB should be biased against because these are the bigger-than-noise evils which prevent a photographer to use a camera as a camera: that is, you have to take the extra trouble to tweak the colour setting/ AWB almost every time you change a scene. You're gonna forget the tweaking for some first shots somehow sometimes. You will be obliged to do a harder PP work to correct the images.
The reviewer also says that GX200 scores an Excellent grade for images up to ISO200 only owing to the noise issue. A better noise performance for high ISOs is a plus for sure. But when an where do you use high ISOs actually? The more common situation I can think of is for indoor social shots. With some simple techniques, we can work around the noise issue. Later on, I shall write a post about the easy, practical techniques proven to be great for indoor shots and night shots.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Can I Do Portraits with a Compact and How (Part 2)?

The first part of the article was posted yesterday. This second part gives some tips form experience for doing portraits, especially with a serious compact.
un (Medium)
(Lock Me in Your Heart: This was taken with a Minolta Dynax 7, reproduced here with a P&S)
The Good News (Continue from Part One)
Thanks to the extensive DOF of a small sensor, serious compacts are great for candid portraits on the street too. Usually, you don't wish to be intrusive in doing a candid portrait or shot in a shilly-shally fashion. One of the ways is to take the shot with a fast shutter speed while you walk on.R0011087 (Medium) 
(Old Man Busked in Dreams: This candid shot was taken while I walked along in a park. The extensive DOF of GX200 allowed me to use a faster speed for this quick shot)
Otherwise, you may shot in a hidden position that requires you to stick out the camera, press the shutter and retreat the camera. On those occasions, the huge DOF will allow a slow f-stop to accommodate a fast shutter speed. The best part of it is the small size of a compact which an intrusive DSLR will envy.

R0011346 (Medium) (Fruit for Business: For this candid portrait, I hid behind the boxes, adjusted the manual focus, stuck out the camera, shot and left without being noticed by the man.  It was only possible with the non-intrusive size of GX200)


The small size also stands the photographer in good stead for portraits with a proper model. Point a gigantic DSLR to a model, take some shots. Then, do the same thing with a compact. By comparing the photos, you will likely find that the model is more relaxed in the shots taken with a compact. A model at ease makes for half a success for a portrait. The small size will also save photographers from getting dislocated shoulder joints as a friend of mine did after carrying pounds of photographic gears for a day. To the contrary of the common belief, serious compacts are great tools for portraits if you ask me.

Points to Note

However, a compact is never a DSLR. Its AF is slow. So with a compact, it is advisable to pre-focus before the actual shots (this is very important for candid streetshot portraits). Secondly, a blurred background in a portrait is not always possible. Depending on the composition and the distance between the camera and the model, the marco mode or post processing may yield a close result. But don’t expect it to be like a DSLR. As for the printing size, a reader wrote that he/ she has made A3 prints from GX200's shots. However, you will need skills in PP and A3 is probably the limit for a compact.
R0011169 (Medium)
(This photo taken with GX200 illustrates that a camera with a bigger sensor will allow the photographer to blur the background which could be ideal for a portrait composition)
Rules of Thumb
Lastly, yes, rules are still needed in the digital era. Experience suggests that the rules below work fine for me when doing portraits:
1. If possible, scout the shooting location beforehand.

2. Picture the shots in mind beforehand. You may think of a theme before the shootouts take place.

3. Avoid shooting portraits in a location where there are lots of passers-by or activities. If you need to shoot in such a location, think of a way so that the model won't feel distracted or embarrassed.

4. Faking similes and posing endlessly are tiresome. Talk to your model about what she or he is proud of or hold an interest in so as to keep the model upbeat and cheerful. Crack some jokes. But never do this as if you were a talk maven.

5. Say less "look up a bit/ down a bit/ head up…" when you shot. Instead, think about what expression or posture you wish the model to give and say something to guide the model to do it naturally.

6. Some models will fake smiles and give a tensed expression at the press of the shutter. In that case, press the shutter half a second before the model expects it to be done. When you use this trick, you don't have to let the model know or feel being fooled. And don't overdo this.

7. To help the model relax further, ask him/ her to pose properly for the first shot, make faces for the second one, and then do an impromptu for the third shot. The third shot is usually the best one. Don't overdo this.

8. Use the foreground as a frame for composition. Trim the excessive background. Compacts have extensive depth of field. The all clear background can be distracting for portraits. So mind your background unless you bother to blur it in post processing.
9. If you don't have an assistant to hold a reflector for you, do the portraits near a reflexive surface like a whitewash wall. If the portraits are taken indoors and a natural light source is used, a big pillow in a light-coloured pillowcase can serve as a good reflector which can fit in whatever places. You can even ask the model to hold the pillow-reflector when you do a headshot.

10. If there is no other way to add catch-light in the model's eyes, fire a soft flash. But as a general rule, don't use flash for wrinkled faces.
All in all, a serious compact can also do portraits and produce great results too.  There will a further evidence in the post to be published tomorrow.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Can I Do Portraits with a Compact and How?

The first part of this article offers a user's observations on shooting outdoor portraits [meaning formal and causal portraits with a human model posing for the shots, and candid streetshot portraits] with a serious compact [meaning any digital camera with a 1/1.7” sensor (or approximate size) like GX200, G10 and LX3]. The second part published in the next post gives some tips from experience for doing such portraits.
R0010967 (Medium)
(Circles, Squares and You Are There: The children's playground has a lot of forms and shapes for doing composition. I took this by climbing up the monkey bars, calling the girl for attention, and shot. It would be much less convenient to do with a bulky DSLR/ SLR)
If you have not done any portraits with a serious compact or have actually dropped the idea, read on.
I did some portraits with the GX200 last week, partly for the November Ricohforum photo contest but mostly for fun. In fact, I have been doing formal and casual portraits for some 20 years with my Minolta SLRs. Outdoor portrait, which is my favourite, is considered by many a non-starter for compacts. There is some truth in it. So let's start from this viewpoint
Bright Day, Blind Display
Take for example the LCD display on a bright, sunny day when the sunlight will blind it, hence the photographer. The same can be said of a (tiny) built-in optical viewfinder or, worse still, an electronic one. That was exactly what I experienced when doing outdoor portraits under the autumn sun hanging on a low attitude last week. Composing with the LCD display was virtually impossible. The workflow became cumbersome: second guess the composition, take a number of shots to be sure and check them out in the shade afterwards. If the composition was not in order, the model had to pose again for the same shot. This workflow works exactly against the model, who will flat out sooner. Bad for portraits.

Restrictive Reach
Apart from the LCD display, the long-end of a compact can be restrictive too. Using zoom lens for portraits will yield several benefits, one being the ability for photographers to tailor a scene and compose in a unique long-end prospective. The GX200 zooms to a mere 72mm which has put me in tricky positions for some streetshot portraits. For portraits taken with my Minolta Dynax 7 film camera, I used a 75mm-300mm lens along with a 50mm lens.
R0011155 (Medium)
(The Green and the Old: The GX200 zoomed to the maximum 72mm for this shot. I wished it could zoom to 105mm.)
Sunny 16 Rule
In the film era, people move ahead along the proven old tracks. One of them is the sunny 16 rule, which dictates that the basic exposure for an average scene taken on a bright, sunny day is f/16 at a shutter speed equivalent to 1 over the ISO value. So, at ISO100, the exposure combo should be f/16 at 1/100 sec (by the way, it should be f/22 at the beach and f/11 on a bright but cloudy day). The f-stop of a serious compact is funny for this sunny 16 rule. I don't know about the other compacts but, oops, there is no f/16 on the GX200. The closest stop is f/15.8. Surely, you may wish to put the subject in highlight or contrast. And no one is going to do photography with a fixed rule. So, f/16 may not be necessary. But a rule is what a rule is for: it gives a reference for expectable results with different exposure combos. Thanks to the digital technology (notably, the anti-shake mode), rules become more disposable because photographers can see instant experimental results on the LCD display. But, alas, the LCD display on a bright, sunny day.
The Good News
But a bright, sunny day is in no way guaranteed. So on an average day, with creativity given full play without rules and overhead costs (films, prints and so on), photographers can experiment more. This gives them a higher chance of getting unprecedented good results. With the GX200, for example, shots can be taken in colour, B&W and tinted monochrome at the same time, and in different dimensions.

(to be continued tomorrow)