Saturday, July 17, 2010

Various Thoughts on Photography (and video) with the 5D Mark II

I'm currently enjoying my Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR and my lenses. As many of you know, it is a excellent camera, and I have taken some pictures with it that I am proud of, but my photography skills still leave a lot to be desired. I would say that while I definitely have room for improvement with regard to my compositional expertise, it is the technical aspects that I need to improve more, and it is those techniques that I feel more comfortable with tackling.

I've recently shot a number of photos and some videos and I wanted to make some comments about some of those techniques that I want to improve. I'll blog more about other ones that come to mind in a future post. Here are the ones I will talk about today:

  • White balance issues:  I recently took some photos at the annual ARRL Field Day, and amateur radio event.  After the sun went down, I wanted to take some pictures using my fast glass, notably my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM.  I increased the ISO speed to around 800.  The 5D Mark II has no problem with this.  I had already thought ahead to custom white balancing the evening shots.  Our Field Day event was held in a picnic shelter.  At dusk, several high-pressure sodium vapor lights came on to illuminate the picnic tables and our radios.  I realize that sodium vapor lights can only be corrected to a degree, but I wanted to attempt it anyway.  I grabbed my X-Rite ColorChecker Passport and opened it to the ColorChecker section and took a picture.  I figured that later in Adobe Camera RAW, I would use the neutral eyedropper to correctthe color balance.  The problem, as it turned out, was that the light that was falling on the ColorChecker was a combination of the sodium vapor lighting and the twilight.  The twilight tones were probably actually stronger.  The pictures that I ended up taking were actually taken a little bit later and from further inside (or under) the picnic shelter, where the sodium vapor light was more predominant.  The lesson to be taken away here, is to use white balance tools under the same lighting conditions and the photos that will be corrected.
  • During that same weekend, it took a short walk with the camera to take a distant shot of the picnic shelter along with the antennas, and the tents that were set up.  I wanted this to be an all-encompassing shot of the entire Field Day site.  I walked back about 500 feet or so.  I was using my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens, and its field of view was perfect.  The problem that I had with these shots was that part of the foreground was distractingly out of focus.  I would have preferred to have it in focus.  The only solution to this problem would have been to stop down the lens and correspondingly lengthen the shutter speed.  As the photos in question were already night shots and I was pushing my luck to get acceptably sharp photos, I would've have needed my tripod.  I had packed the tripod for the weekend, but I never thought to grab it.
  • I was still taking evening pictures of fellow amateur radio operators making contacts at their stations.  I was still using the same 35mm f/1.4 lens.  That lens is a fairly "fast" lens and also focuses fast due to its ultrasonic motor.  For several of these photos, I wanted to keep the flash turned off, in order to capture the lighting coming off of the radios and the computer monitors.  I should've used a feature of my Canon Speedlite 580EXII that I tend to forget:  the ability to leave the flash turned on, but disable its ability to fire.  By doing that, I still get the benefits of the AF-Assist lamp, which can lead to quick and accurate focusing.  I don't really have any complaints about the focusing on the shots that I took without the AF-Assist lamp, but I still feel it could've helped.  I also have the Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter that performs the AF-Assist functions but without the weight of a full flash unit.  This can be used when it is already know that all of the pictures will be taken without flash.
  • The final technique that I want to talk about is shooting video with the Canon 5D Mark II.  Although some people may dismiss the video capabilities, I happen to think that the Mark II is an excellent video camera.  It is rapidly taking the place of my eight year old Sony VX2000 MiniDV-based camcorder as my primary tool for video.  There are two points I want to mention now about the video capabilities of the Mark II.  The first is that a custom white balance can be set for the video.  Since I was shooting under mixed lighting conditions, and since the video was going straight to YouTube (I don't edit these videos; they are more documentary in nature), I should have set a custom white balance before shooting my evening video.  I don't have a computer or editing software that is powerful enough to handle the 1080p video that the Mark II produces (I suppose I could shot standard VGA video), so the video that ended up on YouTube was the raw, un-corrected video.  The other point is that while the Mark II has a front-facing monaural microphone, I own a Rode stereo video-mic that includes a shock-mount and a "dead kitten" wind sock.  I should have used it.  Besides the radio, there were plenty of other environmental sounds to capture.  A stereo capture would have added a new dimension to the video.
 As I have said before, I'm still learning, and I will always be learning how to use my camera and my other photography tools.

Until next time.