Camera Work

June 23+, 2019

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

For fun, I take pictures. Not a surprise. I write diaries to keep track of things we do. This diary records the story of a photography lesson and a photo field trip, aka a "Camera Caravan". It makes a good record for me, maybe not such a big deal for the audience. You can always choose to stay - or not.

classroomThursday evening, Horn Photo sponsored a class and field trip on "Portraiture". This is not a type of photography I do much of, so I figured I had plenty to learn.

BenBen Hutchison from lens-maker Tamron came down from Portland to give the course and, eventually, sell gear. For over an hour, he gave the room of enthusiastic amateur photographers straight forward advice and guidance and showed several of his own shots. He described the details of each photo and I could only begin to imagine how much experience he had to make it seem so easy.

Follow rules (watch the light, focus on eyes, get "catch lights", keep your own eyes open and aware, interact with the models, think, think, think) and the pictures will happen. Maybe. I left the classroom session both intimidated and encouraged with my new "knowledge" (if classrooms give knowledge.)

signsHornActual shooting was at the Friday evening Farmer's Market in Clovis, Fresno's northeastern neighbor. Horn Photo had a pair of tents set up where we checked in and lined up to borrow equipment. Ben was offering lenses and the folks from Panasonic were offering their LUMIX cameras. I would ask for pieces from both.

First up was a 90mm, f2.8 Tamron "macro" lens. A macro used to mean one that allowed the image on film to be "life-size". Nowadays, it's easier just to think of it as an extreme close-up lens. For my testing, I focused on peanut brittle, flowers, fruits, and veggies. Not the most exciting of subjects, but this was a lens test, not a travel magazine shoot. For each of the following subjects, I show the picture as-taken and a square-cropped version. Websites require much lower resolution than printing, so cropping is OK. (Do you have any favorites? See below.)

From these shots, I noted that patterns are important in macro-photography and it is hard to get crisp focus on the desired part of the shot. Macro with an open lens (wide aperture) has notoriously shallow depth-of-focus, so very little of the shot is clear. Good shots require practice. What's new? As for this specific Tamron lens, I was not impressed. It seemed slow and tricky to focus, but that could be the operator.

brittle pink flower white buds
brittle detail pink detail whie bud detail
tomato pepper tomateo squash
grapefruittomato detail pepper stem tomateo detailsquash detail

Of course, the 90mm lens can also be used simply as a "portrait lens". The object in this case would be to have the person (subject) in focus, but the surroundings fuzzy. This draws the viewer to the subject. In these cases, the lens worked pretty well, although the slow-to-focus problem persisted.

singer hat band

Bottom line: I don't need to go out and buy the Tamron 90mm macro lens. (Maybe the 85mm "prime", for portraits?)

The next piece of borrowed gear was Panasonic's "LUMIX LX100 II". I often walk around with a good-but-small SONY camera, whenever I don't want the complications of my "real" cameras. The LX100 could be a replacement for when my SONY breaks. Since I carry it around so much, I expect to drop it sometime and the compact instrument is not compareflowers

I tried general "snap shots", a few closeups, and overall street scenes. I liked the manual controls of the LUMIX better than the zillion complex computer-menu choices of the SONY. The pictures seemed equivalent quality. Bottom line here: Nice camera, a bit retro, no need to drop the SONY yet.

My real testing was going to be trying portraiture, trying to remember the guidance Ben gave us the day before. Since the "normal" TAMRON portrait lenses were already loaned out, I opted for a 70-200mm, f2.8 zoom.

The camera store had arranged professional models to pose for the gaggle of mostly-amateur photographers and Ben and Horn folks coached. I shot with manual speed, f-stop, and ISO. (Focus remained automatic.) One of the class suggestions had been that manual shooting forces more understanding and control. OK, but it's not easy. More need for practice.

Shooting models was interesting. I worked to get the eyes in focus (Rule #1) and those bright spots in pupils called "catch lights". A soft flash worked well for the lights. (Lesson learned.) Shooting with an open aperture (f2.8) gave nice, non-distracting backgrounds. Shooting "through" or past foreground objects could be interesting - or not. The models were trying to respond to a dozen photographers at a time, so I did not learn the talk-with-the-model lesson. Too shy. I need to use friends and family as subjects for more practice.

Cara 1 Cara also cara with foreground model 2

dancerThere were other subjects with which to test my borrowed lens. I tried some Polynesian dancers, but could not get close enough to focus on eyes. Besides, the dancer kept blocking her face with the exotic hand motions. Not a good shot, except the background was properly fuzzy (good "bokeh" in camera-talk.)


I also used the band members for portrait practice. The lighting was interesting and the 70-200 mm lens really does have nice bokeh at f2.8. It was also quick to focus and, even at 200mm, has good stabilization.statue

This last model was almost-perfect. Had a sorrowful expression. Good catch lights. Good bokeh. Model was patient. Not very responsive to conversation, but at least I could practice.

Bottom line for portraiture? Yeah, Ben's lessons were worth remembering, and practicing. That will make family and friends look better, and who can complain about that?

As for the TAMRON lens? I liked it. It covers the range of one of my most-used Canon lenses, one that I use for grandkid sports, for example, but does it quicker with more image stabilization. It also served well as a portrait lens. But, can I justify the expense to replace a good lens? Not yet.

That was my photo work diary. The class and field trip served the purpose of getting in some guided practice and writing a diary made me think. Always a good idea.

We do not know of much exciting coming up, but stay tuned.

John and Marianne