Photographic Tech: Chris Davies

At Digitalab, we’re a bunch of photography fanatics and can’t resist an opportunity to nerd out. That’s why we’ve decided to talk to our favourite photographers about one thing we’ve definitely got in common – and that’s professional photography. This time we’ll be getting down to the technicals, and we’ve asked travel and sports photographer Chris Davies for a look inside his photographic toolkit – to figure out just how he finds his perfect shot.

Riding the cliffs in Gozo

What’s your camera of choice?

Difficult, I love all my cameras. The Canon 5d mk3 is my number one as it’s the money maker, the autofocus is out of this world and its image quality even at really high ISO is awesome. But my 7d is great for events where I need a high shooting frame rate. I’ve recently picked up a Fuji x100s for traveling and recce shoots but its 35mm equivalent lens at f/2… wow! It’s the perfect documentary camera. Did I mention my ONDU wooden pin hole camera?

Honestly though, it’s not about the gear – the most important thing is being able to take a good picture with whatever camera you have to hand. You need to know the limitations of whatever you are using but you don’t have to have the best gear to take a great shot.

Which photographic gadgets couldn’t you live without? And are there any you regret ever buying?

I’m not really a camera gadget person. Good photography doesn’t need gadgets, you just need to learn your equipment. The basics will be good bodies and great lenses. Flashes are useful in action photography and with them come wireless triggers. I use the in house canon system with an ST-E3-RT transmitter, which allows me to remotely control the 600ex-rt flashes. The closest I come to a gadget would be my pack, I use a Dakine Reload. It’s sectioned really well so I can safely store all my kit but access it easily, and it looks like a hiking rucksack so I don’t look like a photographer when I’m out and about – useful for security.

What’s your go-to lens, and why?

Probably the Canon 24-70 f2.8. It’s so versatile. Sure, I use a wide 16-35 for big landscapes, a 70-200 for getting in tight and a dreamy 50mm f1.2 for killer portraits, but the 24-70 allows me to adapt quickly and get a different view of the same shot so quickly. I’d highly recommend it as a first step into professional lenses for anyone building up their kit.

You’re in the field – what are your settings?

Aperture priority. When I’m shooting commercially, for a catalog for instance, I need to showcase the kit and you do this by separating the rider from the background. Dial in a big aperture, f/2.8, and you’ll do this with a lovely soft blur behind. A roll of the dial back to f/8 and you’re in the safety zone of shooting with most of the picture in focus, perfect for a wider shot of an athlete set in a stunning landscape.

Which gear do you never travel without?

All of it! My kit bag will have both bodies, the 5d3 and 7d, and the Fuji x100s. Four lenses (16-35, 24-70, 50, 70-200), two flashes, remote trigger, filters, spare batteries, memory cards, cleaning cloth, drinks and snacks. Sometimes I’ll have a carbon fibre tripod! On a magazine shoot, you just don’t know what is going to unfold and you need to have everything for every situation.

All of this goes in my pack which I ride with… thankfully I’ve got a really good sports masseuse!

What software or tools do you use post-processing?

Adobe Lightroom has been a revelation for me. It’s awesome for cataloging, keywording, processing and uploading to my Smugmug website or social media.  I’ve been using it for about three years now and using it day-in, day-out you really become proficient with it. It works seamlessly with Photoshop, which is useful, but on most of my work I find the develop module in Lightroom enough.

I’ve used Smugmug for my website solution for a while now. For me, their solution offers me the most cost effective way to have an awesome site, designed and built by myself, with functionality such as unlimited uploads, print sales options, and backups. I can have hidden galleries with passwords, meaning I can upload images for clients and they can preview them online and download full resolution files. It’s important to me to have a workflow all the way to the client – the easier it is, the more time I can spend shooting.

Which professional photographers inspire or influence your work?

I have a mix of inspirations. Growing up I was always inspired by Steve McCurry, the photojournalist. It’s cliche that a picture speaks a thousand words, but Steve’s work does exactly that – the pictures need no explanation. More recently, I’ve been following a guy from Vancouver, Jordan Manley, and he’s a huge inspiration for what I do. He’s so passionate about nature and the environment, and this comes through in his photos and videos, even though they might be a cover of a skier or a mountain biker on a trail. Jordan’s helped me on a few things but we’re yet to meet. I look forward to sharing a beer with him one day.

Finally Kevin Winzeler, a commercial photographer from Utah. Kevin produces behind the scenes videos on his Youtube channel and, for any photographer learning the skills, I really recommend checking them out. I like it when photographers share their skills and help others – it’s important to give back.

How do you improve your photography skills?

As one of the previous featured photographers mentioned, study. Watch videos, read books, look at pictures and work out how they were taken. Appreciate light, learn flash, but above all just get out and shoot. I like to challenge myself – take on jobs that take you out of your comfort zone or do a thirty day project with a theme. Shoot a wedding – there’s no pressure like it and you’ll learn faster than anything how to get round the buttons on your camera.

What’s some advice you’d give to a first-timer that you wish you had known starting out?

Not necessarilyy one that I wish I knew, because I had some great advice when I started out, but never, ever shoot for free. Always make sure there’s something in it for you. It’s not always money – it might be to further your portfolio, the experience of working with a pro, gear, beer etc but shooting just for an image credit or to get your name in a magazine is never worth it. You won’t put your all into it and you sure as hell make it a messy market to work in. It’s really hard to start charging if you’ve done things in the past for free.

Also, learn how to write an email. This one is something I was lucky to get some help with and I’m happy to share. Describe who you are, what you do and what you are passionate about. Be concise about your pitch/project and be sure to include what is unique about it. Finally, let your work sell you by including references to anything current that really stands out.

 

Chris Davies is a travel and adventure sport photographer working for brands including Polaris Bikewear, Kali Protectives and Smugmug. His images are found in some of the most stunning mountain bike and adventure magazines. He’s very active on social media and you can find links to his accounts on his homepage chrisdaviesphotography.com.

Chris Davies Photography

Photographic Tech: Alexandra Jane

At Digitalab, we’re a bunch of photography fanatics and can’t resist an opportunity to nerd out. That’s why we’ve decided to talk to our favourite photographers about one thing we’ve definitely got in common – and that’s professional photography. This time we’ll be getting down to the technicals, and we’ve asked wedding photography expert Alex Jane for a look inside her photographic toolkit – to figure out just how she finds her perfect shot.

PhotographicTechAlexandraJaneWeddingPhotography

What’s your camera of choice?

I’ve been using my Canon 5D Mark IIs for all of my professional career and I love the low light capabilities and comprehensive features.

Which photographic gadgets couldn’t you live without? And are there any you regret ever buying?

I don’t really have any gadgets as such – I’ve thought about all of my equipment and how I would use it before I bought it, as it’s often very expensive. If I regret buying anything, it’s all the Photoshop actions and presets – I’ve bought far too many over the years until I finally found the ones I’m happy with.

What’s your go-to lens, and why?

My favourite lens is my Canon 50mm f1.2 – it’s rarely off my camera. I use it for details, portraits and first dances, and I love the speed, gorgeous bokeh and super sharpness it gives me.

You’re in the field – what are your settings?

I mainly shoot in AV in the full flow pressure of a wedding and I’m always adjusting my iso and aperture depending on the situation. I tend to shoot details really wide open at 2.8/3.2, then up to 4/5.6 for a ceremony. Groups I shoot around f8, depending on the number of people, and then down again to 2.8/3.2 for bridal portraits. I might go down to f1.2 for the first dance, depending on the light levels.

Which gear do you never travel without?

Gosh – my camera bag is a bit like my handbag, in that I put pretty much everything for every eventuality that could present itself at a wedding. On top of 2 camera bodies, I carry a 50mm f1.2, 70-200mm f2.8, 16-35mm f2.8, 100mm macro, 80mm tilt shift, spare batteries, a flash gun and lots of memory cards. Then in the car, I always have 2 light stands, 2 reflectors, a video light, a shoot through umbrella, a spare flash gun, wireless flash triggers and a ton of AA and AAA batteries. I like to be prepared!

What software or tools do you use post-processing?

I always used to process everything in Photoshop, but last year I moved over to Lightroom – I now don’t know how I managed without it and my processing time has been cut in half. I use VSCO presets, tending to use Kodak Portra for colour and Tri-X for black and whites. I have to reign myself in actually – I’m a bit like the artist who wants to use all of their paints in every picture!

Which professional photographers inspire or influence your work?

There are so many – but as a quick roundup, it has to be Jose Villa, Elizabeth Messina, Jasmine Star, Jen Huang, KT Merry, Max Wanger & Jesh de Rox.

How do you improve your photography skills?

I like to invest in some training at least once a year, either with another photographer who inspires me or on a course which just allows you to think creatively and shoot for myself. I also like to socialise with other photographers and do creative collaborations with other creatives and photographers. I think even if you learn just one thing from another person, it’s a worthwhile experience.

What’s some advice you’d give to a first-timer that you wish you had known starting out?

Make sure you’ve got your head screwed on when it comes to business. This is a really competitive industry, so refine your product to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Alexandra Jane Photography

Photographic Tech: Colin Boulter

At Digitalab, we’re a bunch of photography fanatics and can’t resist an opportunity to nerd out. That’s why we’ve decided to talk to our favourite photographers about one thing we’ve definitely got in common – and that’s professional photography. This time we’ll be getting down to the technicals, and we’ve asked Colin Boulter of Neilson Reeves Photography for a look inside his photographic toolkit – to figure out just how he finds his perfect shot.

Barbados-2008-Edit

What’s your camera of choice?

The cameras I use at the moment are Canon 5D Mark II and I have 2 of them. They used to be my camera of choice, but I think I am quickly growing out of them and would love to move up to Medium Format Digital back, such as a Leaf with a modular medium format camera system of Phase One/Mamiya. But sometimes choice is restricted by budget and business sense, and I can’t quite justify the jump in cost of ownership of a medium format camera system.

Which photographic gadgets couldn’t you live without? And are there any you regret ever buying?

Not sure reflectors come under the title of ‘gadget’, but if they do, I couldn’t live without my Westcott 6 in 1 reflector diffuser kit.

There are loads of gadgets I regret buying, and most of these purchases happened early in my photography career. While you are learning photography, it is easy to fall into the gadget trap – and think that these gadgets will make your photography better or look similar to the professional you follow and aspire to emulate.

What’s your go-to lens, and why?

I love prime lenses due to sharpness and image quality, and my go to lens tends to be Canon 85mm 1.2. This is because I shoot lots of actor and corporate headshots and this lens is perfect for this type of work. My second go to lens is Canon 50mm 1.2.

You’re in the field – what are your settings?

I try to stay out of fields because my hay fever plays up and I hate grass stains. But seriously, I mainly shoot Manual with my ISO as low as it will go while I hand-hold the camera.

Which gear do you never travel without?

I think first of all I would advise all photographers not to travel without their camera. Other equipment depends on the work I will be doing. As I do a lot of corporate work, I suppose I would never travel without some sort of off-camera flash system, speedlights, Ranger Quadra and Bowens Explorer. The size of job will determine the kit I choose.

What software or tools do you use post-processing?

All of my images are imported into Lightroom and then I use a combination of Photoshop, Nik Filters and On One Software Perfect Photo Tools.

Which professional photographers inspire or influence your work?

There are loads of great photographers out there, and over the years I have taken inspiration from lots of them. At present, I really like Peter Hurley as he is a fellow headshot photographer. These days, when you look at some photographers’ work, it’s hard to say what you actually like about them. What I mean is, are they great photographers or great digital artists/Photoshop wiz kids?

I think I am a bit of a purist and love simple images that are well lit, capture emotion and speak to the viewer. Too much Photoshop dilutes the message and it can quite easily become digital art.

How do you improve your photography skills?

Training OCD. I genuinely think I am obsessed with photographic training and study. As a photographer, I think we are like doctors, always practising but never complete. What happens is you tend to raise your own bar or your eyes acclimatise to higher and higher standards, so you always pursue the perfect image and get bored of stuff you used to be proud of.

What’s some advice you’d give to a first-timer that you wish you had known starting out?

  • Do not pick up a camera as a short cut to what you perceive as an easy and glamorous job because, when you fail, you tend to make a mess of the market and bring prices and industry standards down and then decide it’s not for you. The damage you do to our industry is immeasurable.
  • Train, study, train, study and then train some more.
  • Always have your camera with you.
  • Offer your services for free while you’re not consciously competent – this way, you get a portfolio, the customers expectations are lower, and you’re under less pressure while you learn.
  • Study light, light and more light. Study its colour, quality, intensity and how it effects everything we see.
  • Don’t fall into the gadget trap, because most great images are produced with light and a camera.

Neilson Reeves Photography

Photographic Tech: Stu Cooper

At Digitalab, we’re a bunch of photography fanatics and can’t resist an opportunity to nerd out. That’s why we’ve decided to talk to our favourite photographers about one thing we’ve definitely got in common – and that’s professional photography. This time we’ll be getting down to the technicals, and we’ve asked Stu Cooper for a look inside his photographic toolkit to figure out just how he finds his perfect shot.

StuCooper3

What’s your camera of choice?

Contax 645, medium format film camera.

Which photographic gadgets couldn’t you live without? And are there any you regret ever buying?

Light meter, Honl speed strap & Barn door, Sanyo eneloop batteries, Kodak Portra 400 Film, Matin Labs Kodak presets.  These are the gadgets that I definitely couldn’t live without.  There are a ton of products that I have wasted money over the years – Nikon battery grip, Pop up soft box, sunsniper strap to name a few!

What’s your go-to lens, and why?

Carl Zeiss 80mm f2 is my go to lens, in fact it is the ONLY lens I use on the contax, as it truly is the finest lens I have ever used!  When used at f2 it gives the most beautiful depth of field to wedding pictures and has a look that is like no other lens I have ever used. Because it is medium format, this lens is the equivalent to a 50mm in 35mm.

You’re in the field – what are your settings?

On digital (Nikon Df) I use aperture priority (f2.8), as this is quick fast and generally very accurate in matrix metering mode. For film, I meter for the shadows and generally overexpose by at least a stop. Film has more latitude with highlights and overexposing gives a soft dreamy look to an image.

Which gear do you never travel without?

If it’s a wedding, all of the above plus my manfrotto tripod. Also I do love my Nikon 24-70 f2.8 lens – it doesn’t have the same bokeh look that I like from my prime lenses but it’s a great all round lens.

What software or tools do you use post-processing?

I use Adobe Lightroom for 90% of all editing and post production. Where we are mixing film with digital, it’s important to get a consistent look for colour so we start by using the Porta 400 by Mastin Labs as a starting point and then tweak the colour using temp/tint sliders and the HSL sliders to match as close as we can to the film scans. We also use the VSCO Kodak Tri X presets for our black and whites.

Which professional photographers inspire or influence your work?

LOADS! For weddings my absolute fav is Jonathan Canlas – his work blows me away on a weekly basis! Other great wedding photographers include Max Wanger, Jose Villa, Elizabeth Messina, Polly Alexandre and Tec Pataja. I love lots of other great photographers, probably too many to mention, but my favs again would have to be Bailey, Terry Richardson, Susan Burnstine, William Eggleston and Atget. I absolutely love the session of Princess Diana by Mario Testino at Kensington Palace – incredible!

How do you improve your photography skills?

I like to look at other photographers’ work to be inspired, and with blogs it’s so easy to find inspiring work. I still love to attend workshops and seminars – one of the most influential was the Film Is Not Dead workshop that I attended in 2012.  Every wedding or shoot that I do I always shoot our signature images to make sure we are capturing everything we need, but then I always like to go home with something new as well.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a first-timer that you wish you had known starting out?

Get to grips with your numbers as soon as you can!  Being a full-time photographer is ace because it’s like doing your favourite hobby for a job, but you are running a business and it’s very easy to let spending go out of control. There are so many ways to market your business these days that you need to be aware of your profits and be able to assess the return on all the things you invest in. Always go the extra mile for every client and you’ll always be busy.

Cooper Photography