Eliminating distractions when photographing concerts

In music photography, one of the biggest concerns (apart from lighting) is how nice the stage is.  When indoors, the stage is usually (but not always) lovely, it’s clean, has awesome lights and is sometimes customised for the band you’re photographing – depending on how big they are. But when you’re outdoors, stages generally tend to be nothing more than a small tent raised off the ground with people crammed closely around it, or a huge tent with scaffolding everywhere at a festival.

Well, the small tent situation is what many early stage music photographers get stuck with. It’s either this or a small dingy pub (I haven’t quite figured out how to make the most out of these situations yet). These events are generally the easiest to get access to as a beginner, which sucks, because no matter how hard you try you’ll never be able to get amazing looking photos to help you progress, show off your skills and gain access to bigger events. However, they are good learning grounds when it comes to watching your frame. You’ll have to work harder to keep unwanted objects out of your background/foreground because the stage honestly looks like someone just threw everything there. My first paid live gig was to photograph Kate Nash in a tiny, terrible pub here in Dublin. I hate every single photo I took that evening, and I hated the entire evening because of the god awful stage.

026 - July 03, 2012 - Stuart Comerford

Maybe I’m just spoiled because I’ve never really been in too many terrible venues, but nobody wants to have to shoot in a terrible venue, unfortunately for some it’s unavoidable as they’re trying to assemble a music portfolio to gain press access to better gigs. Everybody wants to just take awesome looking photos. So what’s the best way to make something good out of a bad situation? Well, the other day I photographed Kodaline in the US Embassy here in Dublin, Ireland for the 4th of July celebration. It was a terrible tiny and cluttered stage and the best solution I could find was to shoot tight. I’m not a fan of “standard” focal lengths, I like to go extremely wide or extremely close when I don’t have a specific brief to stick to. I love shooting with telephoto lenses, I love the compression. I’d happily shoot a full body portrait at 200mm, 300mm, it’s just not always ideal.

When you’re in this situation where your surroundings is mostly one big distraction with scaffolding, stands, speakers etc then unless you have a very eventful crowd, shooting wide won’t work out very well. I unfortunately only had a 24-70mm with me on the day of the gig so this is as wide as I was able to go when I moved to the back of the crowd.

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The crowd was pretty poor, when there isn’t much life in the crowd just avoid photographing them. Nothing worse than a photo where somebody in the crowd is looking away from the stage. However, having an eye open for those rare occasions when a photo pops up in the crowd is always smart.

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But when you have a band like Kodaline on the stage, you don’t want to turn around with just photos of the crowd. So, how do you deal with the horrible stage? My main recommendation is to shoot as tight as possible – for me, it was 200mm @F/2.8 which worked a treat.

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However, you might not have an F/2.8 lens or you might not have a lens long enough to compress the background enough to minimise distractions. So you need to find a way to clean up your backgrounds/foregrounds. A handy tip for cleaning up your foreground is to use the crowd to block things by shooting between their shoulders for example.

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This method can be used to different extents, I only have a little bit of their heads in here as I actually shot quite close so didn’t have much to block out. But sometimes, don’t be afraid to just cut out all the distractions and shoot with as much empty space as possible when you find a clean part of the background.

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And remember, you only need one good shot to make it an acceptable shoot. If you can get one good shot from every shoot you do then you’ll be doing better than most people.

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Making a Short Film…

I’m not a videographer, my skills don’t really stretch that far. Although I would absolutely love to making videos it’s just not something I feel comfortable getting into, my preference lies in still images. I prefer the much wider creative scope and the power a still image can hold. However, I want to change that.

I’m a huge film fan, my respect for history of cinema and filmmaking in general has grown and grown since I was in 4th year in school where I did a filmmaking course, a film studies class and a history of cinema class. And over the past few months I’ve become more and more attracted to the idea of directing a film myself. One thing that often pushed me away was the amount of people who work on a film set to make the project come together, I’m quite the control freak and not only do I like to be in charge of everything, but there’s very few people I’d trust to help me and I like learning the extra skills involved.
I did a photo story to be used as my portfolio to get into college to study photography, and the issues in the story which the shoot addresses is one which I strongly believe in and really want to get out there and have it gather more attention. I’ve decided to take the plunge into the world of filmmaking in an effort to get this story out there and hopefully have these issues addressed by more people. So, a few weeks I started piecing together a script and developing my idea to suit the different medium. But the best thing is, my portfolio pretty much acts as a visual shooting guide/basic storyboard.

DSCF3483Instagram photo from Stuart Comerford

It’s been rather difficult to contain the world I’ve created in the script, it’s hard to not let other storylines drift into the spotlight. I’m trying to replicate a real world environment and keep it as realistic as possible without going too over-the-top and I’m finding it rather difficult but the script is coming together and is practically done, all other tweaks would be done during filming.
As I’m in the middle of my Leaving Cert exams I can’t start it quite yet, but at the end of this month the production will be in full swing! Hopefully everything will be wrapped up and released by August (actually, it needs to be into post-production at least by August since my leading male is moving to England in the first week of August!). I’m really excited to make this.

The film is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence during a pivotal time in her life when she’s finishing school and concerned about the purpose of her existence. Not everybody “fits in” as a teenager due to it being such a crucial period of personal development and self-discovery, and I hope to create something that at least opens people’s eyes to a topic which is very serious and demands attention.

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Is gear important?

For making good photos? No. Unless you count your mind/eyes as pieces of gear (I do have to include my brain on a checklist of gear to bring with me for shoots as I frequently find myself making stupid, brainless decisions).

If you want to take good landscapes, portraits, street shots etc. – you can do that with anything. About 90% of photography doesn’t have any sort of gear restrictions, of course better gear can improve things but you can still create magnificent photos with anything that takes a picture. I love using Instagram for example, my phone is the one camera that I have on me all of the time so I’m always taking some photos on it and popping the best ones on my instagram. You see many people on Instagram taking brilliant photos with their phones (not everyone, but there are some great photographers on there). There’s always been a huge cult-like hatred for Instagram but regardless of the means used to take/create the photo, surely if it’s a well taken photo – it’s a well taken photo?

But depending on your chosen field of photography, gear can be of the utmost importance. Sports photography is extremely difficult to do well at with minimal gear. It can be done, you can get some good photos, but to replicate the best you need to have the best gear available – there’s no real way around it. Long lenses, fast bodies, rugged equipment. Then for wedding and music photography you need to have gear that can cope with extremely dark situations – fast aperture lenses and high ISO capable cameras don’t exactly come cheap.

There’s something that I’ve learned over the past year which has really shocked me. “Looking the part” seems to be quite important when it comes to getting hired. Flash a white lens here or there, and you’ll have people whispering “oh, he’s a professional”. Getting people to move out of your way is much easier when you have a big camera and lens. Not very many people took me seriously when I was at a stage where I had minimal gear, only when that started growing to more lenses, bigger gear, bigger bags did I start getting respect for what I did. I can still remember the very first time I brought two lenses on a shoot with me – I was photographing a band’s recording session and I could feel the atmosphere in the room get more serious as I took out the other lens. Now, it was only a 55-250mm lens for my Canon 500D (the day that shoot was done was my 16th birthday, I got that lens as a present from my Mam that morning, the only other lens I had was my kit lens), nothing majorly impressive about the lens but I felt like I was in charge, which was a first.

I say it a lot, but it’s true that we live in a society where nearly everyone considers themselves photographers (thanks a lot, hipster culture) so people naturally look for ways to distinguish the big dogs from the rest of the bunch. Sometimes flashing some fancy looking equipment is the easiest way to stand out – it’s quite a dirty tactic, especially if you then go and produce terrible images, in turn damaging the reputation of professional photography. Looking and acting the part will open doors, your ability will dictate whether or not those doors get slammed shut in your face. I sometimes wear my business card on a lanyard around my neck for 2 purposes, having my contact information easily accessible and showing that I’m a photographer, this is my job.

Go look on 500px and you’ll see that there is a plethora of unbelievable photos that are taken with near ancient equipment. If you want to take great photos then just go outside and start taking pictures with whatever camera you have, practice makes perfect. But unfortunately, in a culture where first impressions mean a lot, looking the part is the easiest way to break into the field. But don’t let that hold you back, I’m still chugging along, building my gear as I go and pushing to get media passes, great photos, and respect for what I do.

 

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How to photograph sports: Rugby

Here’s the first part of a new series I’m going to be starting up. The series will be called “How to photograph sports” and will be an in-depth look at positioning, hot spots, action and key moments.  I shall be covering as many sports as I can over time, I’ll be starting with rugby today and will hopefully move on to hockey (field hockey), basketball, football (soccer) and GAA in due time, but you’ll have to bear with me as I invest time in gathering enough information about photographing these sports to make this a worthy read.  The reason I’m doing this is because I spent a long time looking for information online about positioning when photographing sports and I couldn’t find information about anything other than baseball and american football – absolutely useless to me as I live in Ireland. I’m hoping to use this to help amateur photographers go to their first games with more confidence or improve their photographs with ease. So, lets get into it.

Rugby

To stand or not to stand?

Unfortunately rugby is a sport you really need to sit for, or at least kneel/crouch. I’ve taken some great photos that I’ve only been crouching for but I’ve never particularly liked anything I’ve been standing for. I’m 6’3″ so I’m close to eye-level with most rugby players. When you stand, horizons tend to be higher and often heads get cut off. Example:

IMG_9162To be able to keep the players’ feet in the shot I’ve ended up cutting off all the heads in the background which makes for an extremely distracting background. If you’ve ever stood on the sideline of a rugby match then this photo will look very similar to what you’ve seen with your own eyes. You can see that you’re looking down on the players and they look smaller because of that.

IMG_9037Now, here, as I’m sitting you can see that the horizon is significantly lower and all the people can be seen in the background (I know they’re further away, but it’s the best example I have). This positioning makes the players look physically bigger which is what our aim as photographers should be. Our aim is to make people look as good as they can (most times…), rugby players are known for being big and built so it’s important to get this across in the photo. You need to show them from a perspective that people don’t generally see, this helps to make your photos more eye-catching.

So I 100% advise that you should sit, kneel or at least crouch when photographing rugby. For the most part, I sit on my Peli 1510 case that I use to transport my gear (you can find my review of that case here). I don’t like to sit or kneel as it typically makes my jeans quite dirty due to the weather here in Dublin causing the ground to be soft most of the time. If you do plan on kneeling though, I advise you invest in some gel knee pads. You can buy these at any hardware store, I bought some for €8 at a local DIY store and they’re fantastic, I use them for photographing basketball now as they just get destroyed on the soft ground outsides.
I like to agree with the phrase, “If your photo isn’t good enough, then go lower and get closer”.

Positioning

Now here’s the bit I could never find information about when I first started. Where should I position myself to get the best photos? Naturally a beginner’s reaction is to walk around the pitch and follow the play, this can be quite useful when you’re photographing something where you don’t have time to wait for the action to come towards you. For example, I photographed two cup games recently, they were both being played at the same time (a senior match and a junior match) and they were on pitches right beside each other. So I had no time to sit down and wait for the action to come to me, I had to capture some action so I was moving between the pitches to keep up with the action. Only in this kind of situation do I advise moving around, usually you’ll get better shots if you pick a position and stick with it. It’s very much like getting used to your first ever prime lens.

So, where should I position myself? Well, lets start with the obvious position:

 

Position 1: The Halfway Line

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Surely by positioning yourself at the halfway line you’ll be able to cover all the action? Well… not really. Sure, you can get a photo of everything that happens, you can indeed capture anything and everything. But you won’t get very dynamic shots and you’ll hurt your chances of blurring the background unless you have an extremely fast lens. The easiest way to blur the background regardless of what lens you have is to have your subject as close to you as possible and have your background as far away as possible. By shooting across the pitch you’re restricting yourself to, at most, half of the pitch to separate your subject from the background. Whereas, if you were up by one of the try-lines you have the whole length of the pitch to put between your subject and your background, thus making it blur easier.
If you’ve ever watched a rugby match, which hopefully you have (if you haven’t, watch some before photographing rugby – the easiest way to make sure you get good photos, know the game), then you’ll know that the play usually moves across the pitch as the basic tactic is to push the ball out to the backs so they can make a dash up the touchline for the try. When you position yourself at the halfway line like this you’ll find that there’s a sweet spot in the middle of the pitch where you can get good photos, but very quickly the play will be too close to you or to far away from you to make good photos. You’ll start to cut off body parts if using a prime lens, lose the ability to isolate your subjects as you zoom out or lose your subjects in the background as they’re too far away to be isolated from it. I wouldn’t advise setting up in this position unless it’s for something very specific, I’ve found that this position is great for getting shots of players passing to each other, but that’s it.

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Position 2: The 22m Line

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Still not the best but indeed a much better choice than positioning yourself at the halfway line. This is a good position to start in if you don’t have a very long lens, for example, if you’re limited to a 70-200mm lens. This gives you a greater sweet spot in the middle of the pitch and improves your chances of capturing action as the players are moving towards you. Action rarely moves across the pitch so the further back you are towards the try line, the better your chances of getting clear shots of the players breaking through the opposition’s defence. This position, as I said, is good for people who don’t have very long lenses (or much patience) but it also offers some unique opportunities for closeups of lineouts and rucks. When you’re in a position like this you can very easily get low and look up at the players as they’re getting lifted for lineouts, this makes for a strong image showing the players as big as possible, you can use the sky as a background to remove any busy backgrounds you may have around the pitch.

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It’s almost impossible to get shots like this without being close to the lineout. This position also offers you unique opportunities to capture static portraits of players, generally not very interesting photos but they’re a favourite among parents/family/friends, great for selling purposes!

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Position 3: Behind the Try Line

2Probably my favourite position, only because I don’t have a lens longer than 300mm. If I had a 400mm and/or a teleconverter I’d prefer position 4. This position offers many advantages but also has a coverage issue. Firstly, you’re in a great position to capture tries whether they’re close to you:

STU_7504Or far away from you, on the other side of the pitch:

IMG_9071This position offers an even greater sweet spot in the middle of the pitch, which is ideal for isolating little bits of action to create good action shots. It works great for full body shots when they’re far away from you and it’s great for closeups when they come closer.

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IMG_3401However, unless you have a lens that reaches 300mm then you’re going to find your photos a bit far away so I’d recommend position 2 or a spot between this one and that one.
Another benefit this position offers is that you can clearly see down the touchline which can make for some great shots as players are being pulled out of touch.

STU_3032Two big drawbacks of this position are that you have to be patient and wait for the action to come to you. If you’re trying to photograph action that’s on the other half of the pitch then you’ll be disappointed with your images and feel the need to move closer to the halfway line. If you wait, the action will make its way to you, eventually. If you know the team well enough then you’ll know which side the players favour and you can therefore pick that corner to give yourself the best vantage point at capturing key moments as well as tries. The biggest drawback of this position is that you’ll have a fair bit of the other end of your tryline blocked by the posts and you’ll have a stupid corner flag in your way. If you’re photographing amateur games then it’ll luckily only be a flag but if it’s professional matches then you’ll be unfortunate enough to have a padded corner marker in your way which is significantly bigger, and therefore you’ll be better off with position 4.

 

Position 4: Behind the Dead Ball Line

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Typically favoured by professionals shooting with 400mm lenses or longer, this position offers many advantages of being able to isolate your subjects (there’s a lot of distance between the subject and the background – the length of the pitch), pick out runs and capture any try from a dynamic position. Due to the posts you can’t really see the other side of the pitch before the try line but the coverage of the side you’re positioned on is brilliant. However, it does require even more patience if you don’t have a 400mm or longer lens.

IMG_3355As the action is always coming straight towards you, you can get some fantastic shots of players straight on.

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Position 5: Behind the Posts

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I don’t particularly like this position, this is probably my least favourite out of all of them because I have yet to discover a real use for this position. It seems like it’s a good idea, you can see both sides and directly down the middle but when in action you realise that the posts block a lot of your vision. I was lucky enough to get one of my favourite photos in this position, I found it useful for getting in close to rucks but generally that can happen from any of the positions due to the frequency of ruck formations. This position, like position 4, is great for isolating your subject as you have the whole pitch between them and the background but that’s only when you’re able to get a clear view of your subject.

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Conclusion

Position 3 and 4 offer the best photographic opportunities but require a reasonable amount of patience waiting for the action to come to you. The key moments you need to look out for are when players break away from rucks, scrums etc. Nothing is worse than a crowded photo. You can be positioned in the perfect spot to isolate your subject but if there’s too much going on in your frame then the image will still fall short. The better the quality of rugby you photograph, the easier it will be to capture these moments. In junior rugby all the players just crowd around the ball whereas in senior rugby they’re more spread out and it just makes your job much easier. Most action tends to happen close to the touchline as that’s where you’ll find the backs making their runs and you’ll usually get some good tackles occurring there, with little crowding around the ball. It’s important to have a good view of the centre of the pitch as that is where everything starts, the photos may not always be the the cleanest or most consistent but you’ll always get some good keepers. A good view of the tryline is also vital, especially if you want to capture those big moments for a publication or whatever.

Hopefully you were able to find that information helpful, if there is anything you want me to add in or consider looking at for my next guide (hockey) then please let me know. Thank you!

 

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Peli 1510 case review

I have been dying to write a review of this case since I got my hands on one about a month ago, but I thought it best to wait and do a full review instead of an initial impression review. I wasn’t satisfied with a single review of the case online, I never felt like any of them were relevant to my needs. But after owning a 1510 case, I kind of know why. If you value your equipment and don’t mind lugging around a heavy case, pelican cases are for you. There is literally nothing I can say about it, when you have it in your possession, you’ll realise it’s the greatest case available, you’ll realise that any worries you had about it were stupid. If you don’t like heavy duty cases then you can stop reading here, this case isn’t for you.

Why did I want one?

Well, this has an interesting story. I was photographing a hockey (field hockey) match in a school on the Southside of Dublin, I live on the North. I got the bus down with one of the teams as I’m the official team photographer but their coach was umpiring the match after theirs and I didn’t feel like sticking around, it was already about 5pm and since it’s Ireland I live in, it was on the verge of being night time. I decided to walk to get the train home, it was about a 25-30 minute walk to the nearest train station, then a little longer amount of time on the train followed by a 15 minute walk from my local train station to my house. The amount of walking didn’t bother me, it was nice to have a stroll about. But I had about 15kg or more of camera gear crammed into a Lowepro Slingshot 302 AW that was destroying my back. It was fine for a little bit, then got annoying and finally became a horrible pain. I lift weights frequently so deadlifting and squatting big weights is something I do every week, so my back is used to being worked hard. But carrying a camera bag is just agony. So I decided it was time to get a better bag.

I was initially looking some other kind of backpack, then moved on to roller cases. I had photographed a rugby match before and chatted with a professional sports photographer from a big agency here in Dublin, noticed he was using a hard case. From then on I started looking at these pelican cases, looked at the 1510 model he had and fell in love. I had a brief look at the Think Tank rolling cases but my honest opinion is that they are stupid. Well, stupid in a country where the weather is a huge factor. Fair enough, in America it can be sunny all the time but even then I don’t like the idea of those cases. I liked the durability and usability of the pelican cases and really liked that it could be used as a seat on the sidelines. When I found out the cases literally don’t break, I just went ahead and bought one. It arrived, and I stuffed every bit of gear I own in it.

2013-03-19 18.38.22Instagram picture from @StuartComerford

So…what’s it like?

I could just say it’s amazing and end the review right there, because honestly, that’s my only opinion of it. It hold a lot, but not all of my equipment. There are a few little bits which don’t fit in (I probably haven’t given much thought to packing it properly though) but it does hold quite a lot, everything I should ever need for a particular shoot. And I know the case will hold some of the great whites, it definitely holds a Canon 400mm F/2.8, the photographer I mentioned earlier that I shot a rugby match with, he had a Canon 400mm F/2.8L, Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L and two 1DX’s in his 1510 case. How? I haven’t a clue, but I must be packing my case wrong to be running out of space so quickly, it’s a problem I have with all my bags/cases (those years of tetris as a child have failed me!). In my case I can fit a 1D Mark IIN, 40D, 70-200mm F/2.8L, 300mm F/4L, 24-60mm F/2.8, 10-20mm F/3.5, batteries, cards, flashes (1 Canon 430 EX II and 2 Yongnuo YN 560 II’s), cloths and a monopod on top. However, the monopod does dent the foam on top, but so far that hasn’t proved a problem. This is how I currently have my gear laid out (for photographing sports, like rugby, hockey, GAA, football etc.):

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I have walked the rough streets of Dublin for several miles with this equipment in the case. The case and bumped around on the rough ground and has twisted and turned in my hand, bashed of footpath edges, bumped against steps and scraped across roads, the case is very badly scratched down by the wheels (only cosmetic damage) but nothing inside has broken (and I keep the lenses down at the bottom by the wheels!). I trust the case to protect my equipment and it hasn’t failed me yet, and I doubt it ever will fail me. I have discovered though, maybe it’s just my lack of experience with roller cases (I rarely go on holidays so I don’t even have experience wheeling roller suitcases) but the case turns a lot, it could be my wonky walking but as I’m walking along it will tip slightly more onto one wheel then spin around it my hand and I’ll have to pause for a moment to turn it around again. It’s annoying, I doubt it’s the case’s fault but it is still one of the two things I don’t like about the case. The other thing being the incredibly loud noise it makes when wheeling it along rough ground! I also discovered that the case doesn’t roll very well on grass, I wouldn’t expect it to roll very well on grass but it’s a shame it doesn’t. I have no problem picking it up and walking with it for a while, the 25kg or whatever the case (containing equipment) weighs is very little to me, easily lifted and carried around for a period of time. Yesterday I walked around a rugby pitch about 3 times without putting it down, as I was searching for the best spot to set up. The weight is something to keep in mind, as that bothers a lot of people. My solution for the problem: become stronger. Simple.

Once I was set up with everything at the rugby match then it was easy to open the case, take out my equipment and sit down. The case acts as a seat. Easily the most amazing thing about this case. I’m not a fan of kneeling due to how uncomfortable it is, even with gel knee pads. I’m not for bringing my own seat (like a foldable chair) as some do as I see no point in doing so when I could have it as an all-in-one package. A case that acts as a seat, fantastic really. My sister also uses it as a table for her cup of tea whenever she’s in my office as there’s rarely any place for her to put her cup. I frequently use the case as a footrest and step on it for an extra reach up as well. It’s held up exceptionally well. However, there’s a slight dip in the lid from me sitting on it. I weigh 115kg and my weight has caused a tiny, but noticeable, dip in the lid. It’s a little trickier to open the case after getting off it at the end of a match than it is to open at the start of the match. But this hasn’t damaged the case, I’ve sat on it loads and it holds up. I’ve seen videos of these cases being run over by jeeps and they still work perfectly! I have an unfortunate habit of picking the case up by the extending arm (meant for wheeling the case, not lifting I believe) which worries me. I have bad thoughts about that snapping but it seems durable. A bit wobbly but that’s just because it’s not sealed down tight as it needs to be able to extend up to wheel the case.

Me on peli caseMe using the pelican 1510 case as a seat during a rugby match

The case provides a great vantage point for field sports. For field sports, the lower you are, the better the shot will be. It’s lower than I would be if I were kneeling (and a lot more comfortable!). Sitting with my legs extended, I can very easily let go of my camera on the monopod and pick up my other camera for when the action gets closer, like I did for the following two tries. On the second camera I keep a 70-200mm F/2.8L lens, preset to 70mm as I’d rather shoot too wide have to crop than shoot too tight and have to discard the photo. I wasn’t very far from the try line, about 8 feet or so.

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It allowed me to sit comfortably and not worry about getting my jeans filthy from the ground. Except when I kneeled down to get my gear out of the case and got my knees a bit dirty. It was easy to sit around and let the action come to me, I could rest my phone on the edge of the case when shooting and easily pick it back up again when the action got closer to me, I also kept my spare batteries on the other side of me, resting on the edge of the case.

I intend to design/create a clamp type device to attach a flash bracket to the extendable arm of the case, so I could (if needed in an emergency) use it as a flash stand. I can think of so many uses for this case, it’s not just limited to being a case. It’s also a magnet for stickers/design, I just feel as if I want to stick things to it all the time. I have a habit of putting stickers on my cameras (I have a huge “I SHOOT RAW” sticker on my 1D Mark IIN) and, as you may have seen, I cover my gear in tape, so I don’t bump settings/knock of focus rings. (I use green tape to identify that it’s my equipment, I also have business cards stuck to lens hoods). And I’ve ended up decorating my pelican 1510 case like this:

Untitled-1Instagram picture from @StuartComerford

Conclusion

What can I say about the case? It’s the best case available on the market (referring to pelican cases in general, not this specific model). It’s in a different league to every other kind of camera case, it screams “serious” and “professional”. When I arrive to a shoot with this I just feel the part, usually that doesn’t happen until I take out my camera. I feel a little embarrassed sometimes when wheeling it around because it attracts attention, especially considering how loud it is. But at least people step out of your way when you’re walking. I feel safe keeping my gear in the case, and I think that’s the most important thing about it all. Except that it’s a seat, that’s a pretty huge point.

Pros
-Safety
-Durability
-It’s a seat as well as a case!
-Fits airline carry on regulations (not a big point for me since I don’t intend to travel with my photography)
-Water tight, weatherproof, rugby player resistant (I’ve had a player crash into my case and it’s still going!)
-Much smaller than I expected it to be, makes it very convenient for transport. It will even fit on a public and private bus/coach easily.
-“Serious” factor, it’s like whipping out a really big white lens at a sports match, people will treat you differently and give you space to do your job. They’ll whisper “oh, back up, he’s a professional, let him go”. Definitely a plus for some people.

Cons
-Ridiculously heavy by most people’s standards
-Doesn’t wheel perfectly on all surfaces (this is to be expected though, you’d need huge wheels to work perfectly on all surfaces)
-Expensive for most people (but it’s price is completely justified by everything mentioned in the pros list)
-Not exactly discrete in any way, it makes a lot of noise and is big and clunky to carry around casually

It’s an interesting scenario. Some people like to walk around with the thought that they won’t get beaten up and mugged for their camera equipment, so they opt for a bag that doesn’t look like it could have camera gear in it. But honestly, the case would make an incredibly good weapon if someone tried to mug you. But then again, that might land you in court for murder. I cannot describe to you how intense this case is, if you value your gear then you’ll buy it. If you’re weak and think it’s a ridiculous looking case, then it’s not for you.

However I, have named my case “Bobby”. Bobby and I are now the best of friends.

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Album Cover Photoshoot

Today I had the opportunity to do a photoshoot for the album cover of my friends’ band, “Checkpoint”. You may have seen me blog about them in the past, I’ve done a lot of work with them, we’ve been close friends for almost 6 years now and they got me into photographing live concerts so I love to give back as much as possible. Their new album is coming out soon, check out their facebook page for further details: http://www.facebook.com/CheckpointPunk
You can check out one of their new songs here: https://soundcloud.com/checkpoint-punk/driven-you-dead

Anyway, I am still very new to portraiture. I don’t have a clue how to pose people or how to compose shots, I always feel very uncomfortable when working one on one with people. I’m a huge fan of candid shots, about 90% of my work is of a documentation style, so this was another learning experience for me.

We all got delayed and gradually met up much later than agreed upon so we didn’t start shooting until 4:30pm, to add to that it was a horrible snowy day and we were down an alley… so I was stuck up around 1600 ISO the whole time, using my Canon 1D Mark IIN.  As per usual with photoshoots, I did a bit of forward planning and started to come up with ideas, unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with much. But I had one idea which I sketched out a little, here’s the page of my idea book:

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Well, my idea didn’t work out like I planned. The shooting itself didn’t go how I would have liked, and the photoshop afterwards went horrible. I’ll probably end up going back to it and attempting to photoshop it again but for now I’ll give up with this crappy attempt. My idea was to blank out the eyes and seal the slight opening in the mouth, to make them dummy like.

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That shot took a few minutes to set up and get the desired result, I’m really kicking myself about not getting the photoshop part right. With more time and effort my vision could come true, my cloning/tone blending abilities aren’t the best if I’m honest. After that we got on with the rest of the shoot. They had a few ideas which we shot next, mainly focused on their shoes which I found a little boring so worked around with a few angles to get as interesting a result as possible.

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After that I wanted to do some individual portraits so set up in front of that door they’re standing in front of above. The reason I’m going with a square crop for these is because the album booklet will be in square format, so for ease of use I’m keeping them all square.

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And of course, I had to capture a candid or two in between shots.

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The candids aren’t square as there is little chance of them getting used. The above one was more powerful without cropping.
Throughout the whole day I found it very difficult shooting for a square crop. In the editing process I frequently found myself cutting off little bits of the image here and there because I didn’t shoot wide enough or underestimated the parameters of the square crop. We were wrapping things up when it started pouring snow again (it’s late March and it’s been snowing sporadically every day here in Dublin, Ireland). We spent the whole shoot in a little alley, so every location is less than 15 seconds from each other, it was a really cool spot to use, had a lot of interesting textures and a fair bit of character. If you’re ever in Dublin and want to use the location, it’s the back alley to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin City Centre, not too far from the IFI. We were about to head off because of the snow but decided that we can’t turn up the opportunity to have some shots walking down the lane with the snow in the background. We braved the elements and may have gotten a cover photo out of it!

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All-in-all it was a pretty enjoyable shoot. The photos came out better than I had expected, but I still long for a particular style/feel to my photographs that I haven’t yet achieved. Maybe with time things will improve as I learn to work with people in a more efficient manner. If it weren’t for the weather I would have brought out my lighting kit and tried out a few things, but I didn’t feel up to it because of the snow. Really wanted to bring my brand new Peli 1510 case (I’ll be reviewing this soon!) but didn’t want to get the bus with it so brought everything in my Think Tank Retrospective 30. Unfortunately, in the end the only two pieces of gear I used were the Canon 1D Mark IIN and the Sigma 24-60mm F/2.8.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for behind-the-scenes stuff from all my shoots:

http://instagram.com/stuartcomerford

Portrait of a Place, Volume 1

A few of my friends and I went down to a local chipper for lunch the other day when we had a bunch of free classes in school. Afterwards we were walking around the park next to the chipper and came across this really old, deserted playground. A new wooden playground had been build just beside it and this one was now obsolete. It was in bits, graffiti, rubbish, safety hazards… it was a broken down wreck. I felt that the place had quite a bit of character and after talking about it for a minute or two one of my friends convinced me that it would be a great place to do a photoshoot. So I took out my phone and took a few shots to get a feel for what the place was like and add it to my locations archive. However, I liked what I was seeing a took a few more with the intention of making a series which dealt with the character of the place. I’m calling this series “Portrait of a Place” and I plan to do it for a few things, hopefully the next will be done in a more planned manner!

Here are the photos, taken with a HTC One V phone camera and the JPEG (yuck!) shots were edited in Lightroom 4.

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I post some similar pictures like this on my Instagram which can be found here if you’re interested: http://instagram.com/stuartcomerford

Is the Canon 1D Mark IIN still a good purchase in 2013?

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*UPDATE as of May 2013* I own 3 of these bodies and they are all workhorses. They get me through absolutely everything I come up against.

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With my photographic needs growing significantly towards the end of 2012  and with the expectation of bigger things to come in 2013 I felt like my equipment was holding me back a big. I love Canon, and I’d love Canon even more if I had about €4,000 to spend on equipment. But like most, I don’t have that kind of money. I had needs that my equipment wasn’t meeting and I had a budget of €500. Things weren’t looking good. I had expected to end up sticking with my current equipment but I looked around and found a great deal on a 1D Mark IIN which I instantly snapped up and haven’t regretted since. In fact, I’m considering buying another.

Why the 1D Mark IIN?

Well, simply put… the Mark II felt too dated and the Mark III was a bit too expensive with a few too many AF worries. I was specifically after a 1-Series body, for the build quality, the dual card slots and the AF system.  As much as I love the 5D Mark II it just wasn’t fit for my needs, it has the benefits of low light performance and image quality but I just needed to get away from the 9 point AF system (well, only the centre point has ever been useful on any of these 9 point systems). The Mark IIN looked like it was the one, it fit all my needs, it fit my budget and it had very few drawbacks. So I went ahead and picked it up.

How does it perform?

I’ve used it on quite a few occasions now and I am extremely impressed with it. It produces fantastic images at all ISO values (actually, I don’t think I’ve had the camera below 800 ISO yet!). I’ve shot fireworks, a concert, rugby matches and some night time street shots since I got the camera. ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 are extremely clean compared to the same settings on the Canon 40D, 60D and 500D. They equal the quality of the Canon 5D Classic and ISO 3200 on the 1D Mark IIN is slightly worse than ISO 3200 on the 5D Mark II. (I’m excluding the 5D Mark III, 1D Mark IV, 1DX etc. because, if you have the money for them then you wouldn’t be reading this post…).

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1/60th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

It’s snappy to focus. Better than any Canon DSLR I’ve used before. In lower light situations, the 40D/60D are quicker to start up but the 1D Mark IIN is quicker to find focus and it’s better at finding focus in low light situations. I shot a 4 hour long battle of the bands concert and there were only 3 occasions throughout the whole night that the 1D had trouble finding focus and that was mainly my fault. If you know to look out for the high contrast areas then it’ll be easy to lock focus 99% of the time. The constant changing stage lights didn’t put the camera off once. Music photography is by far one of the hardest jobs a photographer can get, you really need to be able to rely on your equipment to pull through for you.
The 45 point AF in the 1D was phenomenal. Every point, including the non-cross-type points locked on very easily. I stayed in one shot AF for the entire gig as that’s my shooting preference and I didn’t have a single out of focus image from the entire night. The 1D rendered the colours lovely and they were a pleasure to edit. I’ll mention now that all these images were shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 4, no noise reduction was added to any of them (I went back and checked). The dynamic range of the 1D at 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO surpassed that of the much newer 60D  and the full frame 5D Classic.

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1/320th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/200th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/80th, F/2.8 ISO 3200

Regarding the editing of the RAW files: you can increase the exposure by about a stop but then the image falls to pieces. This is to be expected. Here’s a black and white image which I pushed and pulled to extremes to get just the way I wanted it, I boosted the exposure by about 2 stops and drastically increased the blacks and clarity to get the exact silhouette look I was after:

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1/1000th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

However, when kept within its limits the camera’s RAW files hold up very well during the edit process.

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1/640th, F/2.8, ISO 1600

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1/100th, F/2.8, ISO 3200

So, I mentioned how the AF performed in one shot, how about in AI Servo? Equally as brilliant. I photographed a Leinster Schools Senior Rugby match and I didn’t get a single out of focus shot that wasn’t my fault. I got a total of 3 out of focus shots because I selected the wrong point or focused on the wrong thing (I was still trying to get used to the AF system at this point). At no point did I have to think about the AF, I set it to back button focusing (my preference) and just held it down without letting go. At no point did I have to give the AF any thought. Tracking was exceptionally good and the camera was not easily tricked. Even when the ball passed in front of players faces there was no noticeable hiccup in the AF. I’d imagine if you set the tracking speed faster in the custom functions you might encounter some problems here, but I had it set to standard and it was perfectly fine. I shot during the rugby match with the Canon 300mm F/4L non-IS and the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L non-IS so AF was spectacular as per usual with those lenses.

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1/800th, F/4, ISO 800

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1/1000th, F/4,  ISO 800

I left AF point expansion off when shooting with the 300mm. It didn’t feel natural to me, probably because I’m not used to it yet, but the camera handled the action fine without it. I was able to keep up with the players by moving the AF point myself. The dual dial system is a bit tricky to get used to compared to the newer joystick method of selecting AF points but I now prefer it, it’s much easier than the joystick for people like me with big fingers.

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1/1000th, F/4, 800 ISO

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1/1250th, F/2.8, 800 ISO

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1/1250th, F/2.8, 400 ISO

Conclusion

It’s fantastic. I love it, it’s a workhorse of a camera. The files it produces are superb, the 8mp sensor is more than most people will need, it will print as big as you could ever want (unless you’re a studio photographer, in which case I doubt you’d be interested in this camera).  The smaller file sizes are much more friendly towards CF cards though, the buffer clears quicker than with bigger files (like with the 40D or 7D), due to the buffer clearing quicker it’s easier to get longer bursts at the 8.5 FPS the cameras offers. A Lexar 8GB 200x CF card gives me a good 3 second burst of RAW files on full speed before it slows down. An even faster card wouldn’t have this problem, I just have no need for faster cards at the moment.
In terms of IQ, it is far beyond any current APS-C sensor camera offered by Canon. I would rather buy a 1D Mark IIN than a 7D. The IQ of the 1D matches that of the 5D Classic, the 5D Mark II is a bit better, especially at high ISOs. It really benefits from the full frame. I love the 1D Mark IIN and I think it is a very good choice in 2013 if you’re on a budget. Other cameras around it’s price range would be a 650D, 30D, 40D, 50D, 60D, 5D Classic – it performs better than each of those models in it’s own way. The AF is far beyond that of the 5D Classic, and the image quality (as well as other features like the AF) is far beyond that of any APS-C offering.

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1/10th, F/4, 800 ISO

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1/1000th, F/4, 640 ISO

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1/1600th, F/2.8, 400 ISO

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1/1000th, F/2.2, 800 ISO

Pros
-Fantastic Image Quality
-Rugged build
-Brilliant 45 point AF system
-Dual card slots
-100% Coverage Viewfinder
-Audio Recording
-Smaller file sizes allow for cheaper CF cards (like 200x as opposed to the 600x needed for similar speeds with a 7D)

Cons
-Big and heavy
-Big battery (twice the size of the 1D Mark III/IV battery and about 3/4 times the size of the 5D/7D/xxD batteries)
-2.5 inch LCD screen, not as high quality as current screens (doesn’t bother me, it’s still a brilliant screen)
-Only goes to 3200 ISO

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram:

Twitter: StuartComerford
Facebook: StuartComerfordPhotography
Instagram: StuartComerford

Morning Landscapes

I don’t know why, but I did. I got up at 6am and went out at 7am to take pictures in the freezing cold whilst it was raining and only 2 days after Christmas. I had an urge to take pictures after watching the phenomenal HBO series about photographers called “Witness” (look it up if you haven’t seen it already. Juarez and Rio are my favourites out of the two).

I finally got to properly try out my new Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 lens. These were shot on my 60D but the lens also works on my newly acquired Canon 1D Mark IIN (I’ll be doing a review on this camera soon enough when I get to use it more at an upcoming concert and some rugby matches).

Anyway, enjoy the photos!

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I love slideshows

They’re a joy to make, I’ve always thought that. I make slideshows for a lot of the big things I shoot, it’s a shame most of them are actually just pointless.

I was recently extremely busy photographing Mount Temple Comprehensive School’s journey in the Leinster Schools McMullen Cup. Since I had loads of photos from their three matches I decided to make a slideshow story documenting their time in the cup. I plan to make another if they do good in the next Leinster Schools Senior Cup after Christmas. You can watch the slideshow here: