Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What it's like to be a wedding photographer

Love is in the air, originally uploaded by daniel_pfund.

A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to photograph a very special wedding. It was very special to me because:

  1. it was my brother in law
  2. I was the official photographer

Now, I'm not a professional photographer so I don't get paid to take pictures. I had no contractual obligations, only a moral one. Nevertheless, I was quite stressed out because the pictures had to come out right the first time and I really wanted to give it my best. There was no opportunity to re shoot the wedding later. So to be sure that my equipment was in order, I asked a friend if she could lend me her Canon 7D (thanks again Sylvie!) as a backup camera to my trusty old 450D. Since they were both Canon bodies, I was quite rapidly at ease, although I must say that there were quite a few little differences (I for example like to focus on the center AF point and recompose with the * button on my 450D, while the 7D had much better focus points, so I chose the center area to focus and it already had a dedicated AF button to the left of the *).

This was a small wedding (about 30 people) and they only did a civil celebration (inside) and feast afterwards. Pictures included the ceremony, then quite traditional group pictures outside and people eating at the restaurant. So there wasn't much creativity involved. I had some fun with my Canon 50mm/1.8 prime lens at the "after party", which were my personal favorites, otherwise I used my Canon 28-135 IS.

For the pictures of the ceremony inside I used my on camera flash, bounced on the ceiling. But I didn't check my settings, as I was shooting aperture priority (Av), and the camera was choosing a much too long shutter time. Even though the ambient was quite lightful (it was almost noon on a bright sunny day in a building with lots of windows), the camera dragged the shutter, and the flash didn't freeze the action. On the other hand, the pictures have more ambient lighting, but about 20% of them were out of focus due to subject movements (speeds of 1/20th for example, causing motion blur). So clearly, this was not the best solution and I messed up. Luckily the quantity made up for some lost pictures... Lesson learned: shoot in M (manual mode) with a speed of at least 1/125.

Afterwards I shot group pictures in the parc in front of the town hall. This was fairly basic, as you simply wait for one group to come in, take a couple of pictures, wait for the next group, rinse & repeat. Certainly nothing creative involved, but I guess these are pictures people like afterwards, so they remember who was there. Funily enough, my own wedding photographer told me at the time it was quite boring and very "static". I didn't quite understand what he meant back then... but now I sympathize!

When the group shots where done, we all went to eat in a nice restaurant and I took some candids of all attendees. These were mostly shot with available light.

Finally, a small group who wanted to stay longer went to my in-law's home and there I got some nice candids as well.

Overall I learned some essential lessons from this wedding:

  1. know your camera inside out, never take a new camera you don't know yet to a wedding!
  2. know your settings perfectly. If in doubt, check your LCD screen for anything strange (especially when using flash).
  3. have fun!

Luckily I knew quite a few people attending the wedding, so I did much more than just take pictures. I can barely imagine what it's like to be a professional wedding photographer where you turn up and only know the bride & groom. For me, photographing events is a little boring, and thanks god I have a real job that's much more exciting!

In the end, my brother in law and his wife were very happy with the pictures delivered. Happy end !

Red Balloons

Friday, March 25, 2011

Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2 L II Review

I rented this lens for a week from the excellent www.rentalens.ch website (highly recommended if you live in Switzerland). I had read so many things about this baby that I wanted to try it out before possibly buying it. Glad I rented it first, because to make a long story short, I'm not buying it (for now... read on).

This little summary of my experience is not a full blown review. For that, I let you find more complete reviews of the Canon 85/1.2 lens. I only want to share my impressions of this overall excellent lens.

The first thing you notice with the Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2 lens is its weight! Oh man, it weights a ton (1.025 kg to be precise). You better be a strong man to carry this puppy around (my elbow is still sore after having used the lens exclusively this week-end). Also, the size is just humongous. To give you an idea, it's about the size of a big grapefruit. My personal camera is a Canon 450D (aka Rebel XSi or Kiss X2), which weighs less than half of the weight of the lens (475 g). To balance it out, I have the grip with the 2 batteries and I put my camera strap vertically (1 side on the grip and 1 on the camera). With such a heavy lens, the camera balances out neatly. I would definitively recommend you get the grip anyway if you swap the kit lens for any serious glass on the entry level Canon cameras (3 or more figure models like 600D or 1100D). If you only have a lightweight body camera, it will definitively feel front heavy with the 85mm/1.2.

The next thing I immediately sensed was that it was too tight. By that I mean that it was too close to be a general lens. With the 1.6x crop factor of the Canon 450D, the 85mm is actually a 136mm equivalent on a full frame sensor. It's still OK for portraits, but you certainly have to have a great deal of space between you and your subject. The minimum focusing distance of the Canon 85mm is 0.9 meter anyhow. Anything below 2 meters was simply too close for me.

This lens is a portrait lens by definition. For portraits you want your subject to be in focus and the rest out of focus, so I wanted to shoot mainly at ƒ/1.2 apertures. The problem is that at ƒ/1.2, your depth of field (the sharp zone in the picture) is very small. You really have to focus sharply on the eyes, as even the temples will be out of focus! The way I work is that I usually use the center Auto Focus (AF) point and then recompose. When you do that, you have to be very careful to keep exactly the same distance to your subject and not move the camera forwards or backwards, or the eyes of your subject will not be sharp anymore. That's just a question of practice and I could get about 95% of my shots sharp like that.

Where it gets extremely hard is when you're photographing moving people, like kids. In that case, you need to rely on the AF of your camera and not try to recompose. In that case, it's probably better to use all AF points than only the more sensitive central one (which on the 450D works by detecting contrasts both horizontally and vertically). But, then you don't have control of which AF point will be used and you have to hope your camera chooses the right one! Unfortunately, I didn't find that very reassuring, and in general, I can really say now that I've reached the limit of the 450D's auto focus system (which is poor anyhow, but I thought it might have worked better with a 1.2 lens). So focusing is a real issue here. You can see the problem in the 2 pictures above. The one with the lady's closed eyes is in focus, and on the other picture, the focus is more towards the ears (on the temples).

Another issue I discovered is that I had too much light. Outside in the sun, shooting on Aperture priority (Av) of ƒ/1.2, ISO 100, shutter speed would often be of 1/4000 second. That's the maximum speed of the 450D. If the sun was really bright, you could easily be limited by that 1/4000, as you'd need 1/8000th of a second. The solution is to go a bit in the shade. Not a real issue in real world, but one to be aware of and check regularly in the viewfinder if the 1/4000 is blinking.

The photo quality overall was really excellent. I did notice some chromatic aberration (purple fringing) at ƒ/1.2, but from what I read it's due to focusing issues; and from my real-life experience, it's not so disturbing.

In conclusion: I would highly recommended the Canon 85mm ƒ/1.2 for portraits if you have a serious camera (full frame with good auto focus capabilities). For crop sensors (like APS-C), I would recommend you look for a shorter focal length prime (maybe the Canon 50mm ƒ/1.2 which I have yet to test).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Stuck in iTunes error 1015 loop

New recovery mode icon!iPhone in recovery mode, originally uploaded by mathowie.

So here's a quick iPhone story, to change from just pictures...

This week I found a cheap iPhone 3G(8gb) on www.anibis.ch being sold by a local user in Geneva for only 150 CHF. After some back and forth emails, he tells me that he has asked his operator (Orange CH) to officially unlock his iPhone (which is done legally for free after 24 months contract in Switzerland) and when he did a restore in iTunes he got an error message, saying his iPhone was stuck in DFU mode. We agreed to meet at the train station and after a quick inspection, I indeed saw that it was stuck on the "connect to iTunes" screen. I thought it was in fairly good physical condition, so I agreed to buy it and hoped to be able to restore it later.

After getting home with it, I tried a simple iTunes restore to the final iOS release version available for the 3G: 4.2.1. That didn't work, I got an error 1015 at the end. After a quick googling, I tried the various answers found on "error 1015 loop": RecBoot, TinyUmbrella, iReb (PC only), iRecovery... you name it!

Finally I read the iPhone Wiki and found reference to this error. It seems that my baseband was too high versus the latest firmware... which was strange I thought. Upon reading more, it seems that the previous user obviously "forgot" to tell me that he had jailbroken and unlocked his iPhone before asking for the official unlock. For that, he needed to upgrade the baseband to 06.15.00, which is the iPad baseband of iOS 3.2.x. Normally, iOS 4.2.1 has baseband 05.15.04 for the iPhone 3G. The only way to restore the iPhone was with a custom firmware (IPSW file), so I found one for 4.2.1 and it worked.

Only problem now is that the baseband is not the correct one for the 3G, so the GPS is not working correctly. Unfortunately I found out that the bootrom was 5.9 and that it was not possible to downgrade the baseband on this bootrom, so for now I'm stuck with it. For other people coming to this page, check out your bootrom, if you're on 5.8, there is a solution for you!

Moral of the story: if a price seems too good to be true, there's probably some trouble ahead!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sunset over Geneva

Sunset over Geneva, originally uploaded by daniel_pfund.

Happy new year everybody!

Tonight there was just such a beautiful light mood with the sun setting in Geneva. It's actually fairly rare to get sun in January here, so we are grateful :-)