Camera Settings

First of all, learn your camera. It’s great to learn composition on an Apple product, but eventually you’ll want to shoot DSLR or SLR, and then medium and large format film once you’re into it. Your eyes are better than your camera’s auto settings, but even Helmut Newton shot entirely in auto. Eventually, you will easily be able to shoot what you envision in manual rather than what the camera gives you.


The f-stop controls the brightness and bokeh (bokeh here means background blur, not those Japanese colored light shapes). The lower the f-stop, the brighter and more blurred out the background of the photo will be. I prefer lower f-stops for people, especially because I shoot mostly at night, unfortunately, so I keep it around 1.4 to 2.8. High f-stops are nice if you are using artificial lighting and want all the detail.


The shutter speed controls the sharpness and light. The longer shutter speeds will let in more light, but also too long of a shutter speed will give you camera shake if you are shooting by hand. I keep it around  1/125th most of the time, it’s sharp enough for me handheld, even when the subject is moving a little, and lets in a good amount of light. If you are shooting kids running around outside try 1/400 or 1/500.


The ISO, formerly called ASA, controls the light and the grain. The higher the ISO the more light and grain in the image. A high ISO and f-stop works well for architecture photography. For great architecture photography use a high f-stop like f14 and a tripod with a low ISO and long shutter speed. You can tell when they do this in magazines like Architectural Digest because the people look blurry.


You might wonder why photographers are obsessed with light, it’s because a brightly lit photo can make an average photo extraordinary. Light changes where the shadows are and in studio photography, it's all about the shadows if you are using a plain background. Sometimes underexposed images can also give a dynamic feel, but my personal style is to make my images overexposed without washing them out. 


ISO 200 / f-stop 2.0 / shutter 1/200


ISO 400 / f-stop 1.8 / shutter 1/200


Here is an example of how a higher ISO and lower f-stop can make a photo. This photo was taken at early sunset. As you can see with just a difference between 1.8 and 2.0 already the shoulders are in focus in the darker image at 2.0 but only the hands and face are at 1.8. The brighter photo was taken at ISO 400, and the darker one has more detail at ISO 200, but obviously ISO 400 was the way to go for this shot to make it pop more.


For white balance I use Kelvin in manual because you have more control over your vision that way. It takes about a week to get used to. The higher numbers, 5000K for example, is more orange, while the lower numbers like 3700K (common for those cool fashion photos) have a more blue cast. Once you get into white balance you can also get into color theory. Usually a camera will pick of up predominant color, esp. if you are using flash and color the whole image with that tint. To counter act that you can use either white balance or color filters that are other opposite of the tint you are getting. For example, in greenhouses I get a green tint over the models skin. This is not pleasing, because they look sick. To counter act that, I'd use a purple filter because purple is the opposite of green on the color wheel.



Lighting with umbrellas

Now that you may know how to regrow succulent plants by cutting them and planting the cuttings, from my article on that, here's how to photograph them.

First you have to set up the umbrella a few feet from your subject, the closer the more intense the light. On my camera the automatic settings do not register the strobist setup, so all of the photos are blown out, white and overexposed. You'll want to set up manual mode, with a low iso of maybe 100 or 200 so you have the finest grain. A shutter speed of 1/100 is a good starting point, you let in a good amount of light without the photos being blurry when you're just holding the camera. The lower f-stop has a shallower depth of field that I like, and the higher ones let in less light, but keep more of the photo in focus. For portraits with a blurred background an f-stop of 2.8 is good, and for street scenes with everything in focus, and f-stop of 11 or higher is good.  Keep in mind that photos with high f-stops like f-18 may be underexposed, especially when you're using a low iso. For the photos below I used a glass table, a low f-stop, two umbrellas, 1/3 power, about 3 1/2 feet away, and polaroid SX-70 film from exposure 7. 


 (all used various Polaroid filters from Exposure for a tan background instead of white)



Photoshop Tips

If you use photoshop, a key skill is removing pimples. To do this click j, choose the size of the brush tool, and then click them away. To remove the background, you can use the brush tool, which is one the left and looks like a paintbrush, be sure to adjust the brush size and hardness so you don't waste time. The colors are on swabs on the right. This takes awhile, but it's useful if the background is not very good. I did this to the photo with the black background below. To adjust the colors of the photo to make them a little brighter or darker, go to image, then adjustments, then use the curves function. This is not unlike EQing a music track. 

To get a tint, such as the below, you can add a layer to the image. Choose the gradient layer, and do soft light, then play around for awhile until you get the tint desired. 


Lightroom Tips

My tip for Lightroom is to experiment until you find what you like. After you've done this you may find a few settings that you prefer. One of my favorites to use is to make overexposed cyanotypes. Here's an example of that.


 For black and white photography, it looks the best if you use a red filter on your lens. The photoshop filter is not as good for this as an actual filter.

Here is overexposed without a red filter.

 And here is one with.


Camera Buying Guide


Long story short the brand does not really matter. Megapixels do, but not as much as you think. It's all about the lens and the sensor size. The bigger the sensor the better the camera. Apple phones have really small sensors, but they are great for their ease of use and handiness. Most consumer DSLRs are slightly less than a 'full frame' 2X3 sensor. The Nikon D800 is slightly better than the Mark III, because it has more megapixels, but the sensor size is still 2X3 on both cameras, in fact most people, photographers included, can't tell the difference between photos taken on these and a $300 digital rebel and $3000 D810 at 100-400 ISO when you put the same lens on both cameras, because the sensor size difference is marginal. The Rolliflex famously used by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn are mostly 4x4. The Hasselblad 500 series and Mamiya 6 cameras have a sensor of 6X6, so it's square format and a little more than twice as good resolution wise, as a full frame 35mm camera. My personal favorite format is 6X7. It's still portable, anything more is strictly a studio camera, unless you make like Ansel Adams and strap it to your car's rooftop. The Mamiya RZ67 and Ashai Pentax 67 are both extremely good film cameras, Phase One makes basically the same camera in digital format for $30,000. Large format cameras can range in size from 8x10 all the way up to 16x16 and beyond. These cameras are so good and expensive that the majority of people will never get to use them unless they've been in the photography business for 20 or 30 years. Personally, I still prefer medium format over these, because large format is too realistic for my tastes. 

Famous photographers cameras

These photographers used the cameras mentioned above

Lara Jade

Canon Mark III 

Melissa Rodwell

Nikon D800 (with Profoto lights)

Helmut Newton  

Canon 35mm film cameras (on auto, with on camera flash) 

Jen Huang, Kurt Boomer, Gert Huygaerts, Ana Lui, Branco Prata, Michael Ferire, & Wesley Nulens

Contax 645

Terence Donovan 

Ashai Pentax 67 

Henrik Purienne, Annie Leibowitz

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II 

Lens-wise, I'd always recommend prime lens over zoom lens, because you get better sharpness. Zoom lens are like a buffet, lots of options, some people prefer it, but none of them are as good optically as a quality prime.  With a prime lens, you get one choice, but it's great quality, like pizza in Naples. I'd recommend the entire Sigma Art series line except the zooms, that's all I shoot with when using digital cameras, besides the Canon 85mm 1.8 which is not as good, but still better than most. 


For sample images from a wide range of cameras and lens visit, jointhebreed,  the Phoblographer and Shotkit.

Film Emulators

There are a number of great film emulators on the market, that can give the film look to your photos in Lightroom or a stand alone programs. So far, I've found 5. Alien Skin's Exposure 7, as used by Lara Jade, Rad Lab's Replichrome, Google's NIK collection, VSCO, Mastin Labs, and DxO. Here's a comparison of the SX-70 preset on both Exposure 7 and Rad Lab. This comparison seems to hold true to all of their filters, with Exposure 7 being more realistic, and Rad Lab having a more soft WeHeartit feel. 

Above is one of my monkey photos, edited with the Rad Lab SX-70 preset.


Above is the same preset done by Exposure 7.


Since DxO doesn't have an SX-70 preset, (although they do have the close 669 film, to compare it I'll use Fuji Astia 100F. 

Above, Astia 100F, Exposure 7. 

Above Astia 100F, Replichrome.

Above Astia 100F, DxO.


 Above Kodachrome 25 DxO.


Above Kodachrome 25, Exposure 7.

Fujifilm, X-TRA Superia 400, Exposure 7.

Fujifilm Superia X-TRA 400, DxO.


Personally I feel Exposure 7 is the best film emulator out there, if only for the polaroid films, sometimes, DxO has better results for the print films, but so far, I'm always able to get a my best image with Exposure 7.  I think Radlab has a softening effect on nearly all of it's presets, and it's probably the worst of the bunch, however it's great at changing the image in a non-film, more computerized way. If you are going for the softer, dreamy vibe of the photos on We Heart It, Radlab is the way to go. If you want that portland indie beauty vibe VSCO is your best bet. 



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