Tag Archives: DIY

A Fun Way To Shoot Portraits Using Strings Of Christmas Lights

Christmas Becky

I subscribe to Petapixel.  It’s an online magazine with all sorts of neat articles about the latest photography news (did you know Lensrentals.com and LensProToGo are merging?), cameras, camera gear, projects, etc.  The other day, I read an article that piqued my interest and I ended up sharing it to my Facebook photography page (Rebecca Latson Photography).  I thought I’d share it in a blog post too.  To read the actual article, click on this link.

After reading the article, I decided to do some experimenting with strings of multi-colored Christmas lights (since I had 5 strings of them and only 2 strings of the white lights), using the same settings that the photographer, Irene Rudnyk applied (ISO 500, f1.2, 1/250 shutter speed, 85mm lens).  Heaven knows, I didn’t have anything better to do, like laundry, dishes, or packing.  It was a fun little experiment and I gained some valuable insights.   Photography is about experimentation as well as about learning new techniques and ideas and stepping outside one’s own comfort zone to apply something new that they’ve learned.  That’s how a good photographer becomes a great photographer.

  1. Ignore the clutter in the room and concentrate on the camera/light/backdrop/light setup. Just as in Ms. Rudnyk’s room, this light project can be accomplished in a very small space.
    8001_View Of Setup8009_Setup View From Camera Angle8005_Looking At The Camera
  2. Yes, you can do this project with just one person (yourself), but it’s not as easy. Because I was both photographer and model, and because I was using a remote shutter release instead of being the one to look through the lens at the subject, I kept checking the images to ensure I was positioned correctly in front of the lens and that the string of lights did not get in the way of the lens.  You can see what happens when a colored light is in front of the subject and too close to a lens wide-open at f1.2.  You also may notice just how shallow the DOF is on a 85mm lens wide-open.  I didn’t mind that too much, as it added a teeny bit of dreamy quality to the shot.
    Christmas Becky Green BlobPink BlobChristmas Becky
  3. I carried out this project twice, over the course of 2 days. During my first attempt, I wasn’t using an 85mm lens, nor did I have the aperture wide-open to get the maximum bokeh.  I used different  settings as well, since I didn’t remember what Ms. Rudnyk’s settings were – I didn’t learn that until I actually watched her YouTube video embedded in the article.

    Christmas Becky - Day 1White Lights And A Christmas Tree

  4. Ms. Rudnyk used white lights in a light, neutral-toned room with a large picture window letting in natural blue/white side light. Her model was pale and wore light-colored clothing. I was in a cluttered spare bedroom, in the evening – so no natural light – using a black backdrop and strings of multi-colored lights. The strings were dark (as opposed to the white strings used in Ms. Rudnyk’s images, which is why I used the black backdrop).  I used a tall lamp near the camera for side-lighting.  Sometimes the strings still showed through, but I don’t consider them too distracting.
  5. Because of the darker atmosphere, I used Curves to lighten, and sometimes Levels to brighten the composition.  I also had to clone out a dark spot on my front tooth – I have a natural indentation on the tooth and it catches the shadow, so in some photos, it looks like a speck of food (sigh).
  6. I used my Canon 5DSR for this shoot. I love this camera, but it totally stinks regarding low-light, higher-ISO noise (what’s up with that Canon?).  So I applied some Imagenomic-brand  Noiseware noise-reduction software to the overall composition, which reduced/removed grain and helped my skin look a little more even (I’m definitely not as young as Ms. Rudnyk’s model).

All-in-all, it was a fun project and I like the results.  Plus, I learned a new technique for neat portrait shots.

Note:  If you are doing this all yourself:

  • Use a wireless remote rather than the timer on your camera.  Really, it is easier.
  • Make certain you have a sturdy step-ladder and/or a spotter to keep you steady while you hang the light strings from the ceiling.
  • Unless you want to put holes in your ceiling, I would suggest using something like duct tape.  Gorilla-brand tape works really well.  If you use any other kind of tape, it may be too weak to hold up the light strings for any length of time.  I noticed this morning that the tape and lights had fallen from the ceiling to the floor.
  • If you want light strings to lead to your lens, don’t use tape or anything else to secure the strings to the lens.  Simply wrap the string around the lens itself to keep the string in place.
  • Remember to stand in front of the light strings to get the nice bokeh.
  • Have fun!  Despite getting all sweaty and hot as I hung the lights up, set up the camera and ran back and forth to take a shot then look at the result, it was a neat, educational project.

Christmas Becky


Leave a comment

Filed under 5DSR, 85mm f1.2L, Canon, Canon Lens, Christmas, Equipment, Exposure, Photography, Portraits

The Pentax 645Z Non-Scientific First Impressions

Becky At The Refuge

Self-Portrait taken with the 55mm lens at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

I believe I mentioned  in a recent post that I’d sold my firstborn (ok, I don’t have kids so that’s not entirely true – I sold someone else’s firstborn – just kidding) to purchase a new Pentax 645z medium format body and a couple of used lenses (the 55mm and the 28-45mm zoom).  I haven’t really gotten out with it, much; this camera is sort of like saving the “good” silverware for use at that special dinner party.  Also, I currently live in a part of Texas that is totally blah when it comes to scenic landscapes, especially in the summer. Hey, I was born in Montana and also lived in Washington State, so I tend to measure everything else by those yardsticks.  I did, however, need to get the camera set up and start learning how to use it so I wouldn’t be wasting valuable sunrise or sunset time fumbling around the controls during its use while on vacation.

I’ve got several reasons for adding this camera to my Canon family:

  • I’ve wanted to follow in my father’s photographic footsteps.  After all, Dad is the person who instilled in me the love of photography.  Back in the day, when the family lived in Montana, Dad would take his Mamiya medium format film camera and drive up to Glacier National Park or maybe Big Mountain in Whitefish to spend the day capturing the scenery.  One of my bucket list goals is to get up to Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana, and photograph the snow ghosts in black & white with my new medium format camera, like Dad did.
  • It’s been a great desire of mine to try out medium format for landscapes as I love the dynamic range capture ability of medium formats.  To see the sensor of a medium format camera compared to the sensor of a full-frame camera is always an eye-opener.  Sure, I could rent a medium format, but I figured that for the price of repeated renting (basically to take along for each and every one of my vacations), I might as well just buy the camera outright for use for the rest of my life (fingers crossed that I at least live long enough to justify the price of camera and lenses).
  • I’m really interested in comparing the 645z to the Canon 5DSR

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE my Canons.  I love Canon glass and I love my 1DX and 5DSRs.  That won’t change.  The Pentax 645z is like the rich aunt coming to live with the family, promising to buy a new house of the family’s choice, for the family’s use in perpetuity.

Why did I choose the Pentax 645z, a camera that’s been around since 2014, as opposed to the new Hasselblad X1D-50c mirrorless or the Fuji GFS 50S mirrorless?

  • Price – I wanted a new, not used, camera body. That was non-negotiable. On the BH Photo site, the Pentax lists at $6,996.95, the Hasselblad sells for $8,995.00 and the Fuji sells for a comparable $6,499.95.
  • Online reviews and sample images; I used Flickr.com a lot for sample image review.  I must admit that the images are all comparable, so I knew that whichever medium format camera I chose would produce great pics.
  • Established quality and reliability.  The Pentax is a great brand and it’s been around long enough to have established its quality and reliability with users (a Pentax was my first SLR purchase when I entered high school, eons ago).  Hasselblad – well, that goes without saying, and I did consider purchasing this camera except that it is more expensive and the wide-angle landscape lens I wanted to pair with the camera (Hasselblad XCD 30mmHasselblad XCD 30mm) has been on backorder forever.  The Fuji looked interesting, but it’s brand-spankin’ new, I’ve never used a Fuji before (nor have I ever used a mirrorless, actually) and it didn’t have enough reviews or images to change my mind away from the Pentax.  It’s also easier, at this point, to find used Pentax lenses from places like KEH and Lensauthority.
  • AF fine-tune adjustment (aka micro focus adjustment).  This was the major deal breaker for me (aside from price).  I wanted the camera to have some sort of AF fine-tune adjustment in its menu.  I don’t care that lenses are supposed to focus perfectly with all cameras of the same brand – they don’t.  I have had to use micro-focus adjustment on every single one of my Canon L-lenses to make sure they focus correctly between all of my Canon models.  I read that legacy lenses for the Pentax (like the 55mm lens I own) have front/back focus issues and need to be adjusted.  In all my research, I never found out if the Hasselblad or the Fuji had the ability to fine-tune focus.

Below are my first thoughts of the camera right out of the box and after a couple of very short photo sessions:  a morning session at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, and a session at my DIY studio in my apartment.

Out of the box:

  • Without any lens attached, it’s actually as light as my 5DSR and definitely lighter than my 1DX.  It feels like that to me, anyway.  The heaviness comes from the lenses. That 28-45mm zoom lens I have is a freakin’ tank!  The 55mm lens, on the other hand, is light as a feather.  Ok, allow me to amend this:  any lens affixed to the Pentax after hefting the camera with the 28-45mm zoom attached would feel light as a feather.
  • The Pentax 645z body is sort of “boxy” compared to my Canon’s, but I love the grip – it’s a deeper grip which allows my small arthritic fingers to get a better handle on the camera.
  • This camera has a built-in remote receiver, so I don’t have to attach a wireless receiver to the hot shoe or any other internal attachment point like I do my Canons.  Plus, the Pentax wireless remote sender is cheaper than the ones purchased for my Canons (naturally, it must be purchased separately, because – well – they want to make all the money they can off of you in terms of accessories).  That said, after use for all the self-portraits, I can say the Pentax wireless remote is definitely less sensitive and much slower than my Canon wireless remotes.  I can hold my Canon remote sender behind my back or on the floor (pushing the button with a toe) and the Canon picks it up.  Not so with the Pentax remote sender/receiver setup.
  • Cameras of different brands will, of course, have their buttons located in different positions, those buttons will represent slightly different uses, and even the way a lens is attached to the camera body will be different.  So, I continue to have a bit of a learning curve.
  • Both of my lenses (55mm and 28-45mm) needed to be AF fine-tuned.  Easy enough, except here’s the kicker:  unlike each of my Canon cameras, which allow for, and keeps in the camera’s memory, each of the settings for the wide-angle as well as the telephoto portion of a zoom, the Pentax 645z does not do that.  Oh, it does remember the AF fine-tune settings for each separate lens, but when it comes to fine-tuning the AF of a zoom lens, it only remembers the last setting entered for that lens.  So, I must remember the separate settings for the 28mm focal length and the 45mm focal length, then re-adjust in the camera depending upon which focal length I choose to use for a shot.  Oh well, memorization is good for the aging brain, right?  It just takes a little more time to set and then re-set focus adjustment for focal lengths, so it’s good I am photographing only landscapes and not wildlife or sports.Speaking of which, I did not purchase this camera for sports or other action shots.  I only wanted this camera for landscape and portrait imagery.  Good thing, because the Pentax 645z has a speed of 3 fps (frames per second) as opposed to my Canon 5DSR (5 fps) or 1DX (12-14 fps).
  • All of my Canons sport L-brackets.  I love those things because it allows easy setup on the tripod for vertical or horizontal shots.  Initially, the closest thing I found to an L-bracket for my Pentax 645z was to purchase two separate quick-release plates from Really Right Stuff (RRS), which I did.  Each plate is $55.00.  Another, later, search dug up camera plates for this camera as sold from KES (Kirk Enterprise Solutions).

Regarding quality, I LOVE the results from this camera.  Below are some landscape and studio self-portraits captured using each of the focal lengths on my lenses.  The dynamic range is amazing, as is the ability to crop to 100% and still get awesome resolution.

Sunrise On Big Sough

Sunrise over Big Slough in Brazoia National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom at the 28mm focal length)

Boardwalk Over Big Slough

The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28mm focal length cropped)

Boardwalk Over Big Slough

The boardwalk over Big Slough at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge (28-45mm zoom lens at the 45mm focal length)

The Brazoria NWR trip was the very first time I’d used this camera and lenses, and of  course I’d forgotten the AF adjustment settings for the zoom lens focal lengths. So I messed around with the adjustment there at the refuge, not really knowing if I’d applied the right settings (I had not). Thankfully, these zoom lens shots still look pretty good, as long as you don’t zoom in 100% on those two black-bellied whistling ducks perched on the railing way in the background.

Becky At The 55mm Perspective

Taken with the 55mm lens

Becky At the 45mm Perspective

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom at the 45mm focal length

Becky In Her Studio

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the top and sides cropped.

Becky And Her Backdrop

Taken with the 28-45mm zoom lens at the 28mm focal length with the camera and tripod moved much closer to the subject and the top and a bit of the sides cropped off.

These self-portraits were all edited with some very minor sharpening applied.  The 100% crop below of the second image in the series above shot using the 45mm focal length, however, is the original with no sharpening applied.

IMG0257_100 pct crop

I’ll be taking this camera and the lenses (as well as my Canons)  along for my Mt. Rainier National Park and Glacier National Park trips this year.  I am super-excited about this and will, of course, share my thoughts and images here.  I especially want to see just how well this medium format camera does with high-ISO environments, like night photography and other general low-light conditions.



Filed under Equipment, HD PENTAX-DA645 28-45mm f/4.5 ED AW SR Lens, Pentax 645z, Pentax Lens, Pentax-D FA 645 55mm f/2.8 AL[IF] SDM AW Lens, Uncategorized