Entries by Ania

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How to photograph autumn and have fun with your kids

“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

I love autumn. It’s less loud than summer with all its hot weather, shouty sunshine and show-off flowers. It’s more earthy than the pink pastels of spring. And is sure beats winter. 

It also photographs oh so well! There is a very good reason why it's every professional family Photographer's busy season.

And if it's good for them, it should be good for you and your kids and your camera! And we're here to help you do just that!

Below, you'll find a mini guide to things you might want to photograph this autumn - 8 ideas on how to enjoy the season with your family and capture it beautifully.

BUT THER'S MORE:

While the ideas below should give you a great starting point to photograph your Autumn beautifully, we have one more thing for you - our FREE Autumn Photography Bootcamp - all about capturing children with a seriously seasonal, autumnal twist. Open to any parent who wants to take great kids photos this season. Completely tech-jargon free and beginner friendly! 

Join us!!

BTW, all the images below were captured by our students, either as part of our last years' Autumn Photography Bootcamp or as part of their personal shooting practice. Aren't they fab!?


8 ideas for having fun with your family and photograph your Autumn beautifully

1. Go for an autumnal family walk.

I mean, a no brainer really. Don your best wellies and waterproofs and take the family out. The youngest ones will certainly find plenty of sticks, leaves, bugs and mud to collect, logs to jump off, trees to climb on, dens to build and the older generations will appreciate the scenery and the colours. Win-win-win

Things to think about:
  • Consider your surroundings and how you experience them and then take a long hard look at how your camera sees them.
  • If you want the wider scenery, reduce your zoom, if you want detail or portraits - zoom in
  • Consider your angles carefully - instinct tells us to place the subject in the middle of the frame and the horizon line to divide the frame neatly in half. Fight your instinct. Your instinct is wrong. Instead consider dividing your frame more along the one-third / two-thirds line with one third being given to the ground and the rest to the trees. 
  • Get low to the ground to use the fallen leaves to help bring additional texture into the image. 
  • Turn around - especially if your light is quite strong - the same scene from two different directions can look entirely different! Light will make WAY more difference than you think. 

Photo by Olivia BIanchi Bazzi

Photo by Jo Napier

Photo by Hannah Slater


2. Kick’em high and  throw'em far

An all time fave of all the kids I know. Build a leaf pile and get your kids to annihilate it by trying to kick it as high as they can or just run through it or have a good old-fashioned leaf fight. I DID mention the waterproofs at the start of this article... Wit younger kids, you can just throw them above them as they sit down and capture a bit of a leaf rain.

Things to think about:
  • Consider your background – you need to make sure your leaves mid flight stand out against it. Look for either simply sky or a darker, uniform background with which they might contrast. Backlighting them might help to bring them out of the background too.
  • Where is your light coming from? If you have strong light behind your subject, the leaves are likely to be backlit beautifully, but your subjects may be in their own shadow. With soffer light from an overcast source you will have a more forgiving scene. 
  • Go for full length or crop to just the feet sending the leaves fly from a close up
  • Move around and capture the action from multiple sides – go for a side view or from behind or have them aim their kicks in your direction ( just keep your camera safe)
  • Experiment with angles – try different vantage points – shoot from the ground pointing your camera upwards or from standing height, OR if you find the right set up – perhaps from above?
  • If you can control your camera, go for fast shutter speed to capture the flying leaves sharp or slow it down  for a bit of motion blur
  • For some variety, shoot from below, with leaves falling right down on you.

Photo by Jennifer Thomas 

Photo by Carly Morgan

Photo by Hannah Slater


3. Use the leaves on the ground as a colourful, seasonal carpet 

Things to think about:
  • Where is the light? If you’re getting your kids down on the ground and you’re in plain sunshine at noon, your kids will keep their eyes firmly shut. Opt for some shade instead. If your kids are still still struggling to keep their eyes open, play a game with them where you ask them to keep their eyes shut until you tell them. You could either make it on 1,2,3 or go for some bonus giggles and insert a silly word when you’re meant to say three.
  • Be careful what else is on the ground. I once got my daughter to lie down on a carpet of leaves and only discovered later she was inches away from some dog poo that was hiding among the colourful foliage.
  • Look for trees that are dropping colourful leaves rather than just brown if you can
  • Experiment with composition – tight crop or a wider image? Subject in the centre or side of the frame? Horizontal or vertical?
  • Change the vantage point – with your kids on the ground, get down next to them and photograph from the ground level.

Photo by Kerry Anderson

Photo by Namra Wasm

Photo by Colette Poore


4. Single out a beautiful leaf and photograph it from different angles and against different backgrounds.

Things to think about:
  • Light will have a huge impact on the way the leaf will look depending on the kind of light you have ( direct and intense or soft and diffuse) but also where it’s coming from – front, side or back light?
  • You have a lot of options when it comes to backgrounds – place it against a similar colour background or go for contrast – both colour and textural, keep it ‘in nature’ or take it home with you
  • Play with camera angles – it doesn’t have to be just ‘from above’ – unless it’s been flattened like a pancake, it should have a little curl to it which could help you show off its texture.
  • Experiment with different placements within the frame, go for both vertical and horizontal, crop in to it or leave a generous amount of negative space
  • Can you get your kids to accessorise wuth the leaves? 

Photo by Lindsey Gaut

Photo by Hannah Slater

Photo by Emily Robinson


5. Have a good puddle splash!

Wellies? Check. Waterproofs? Check. Let's go! 

Things to think about:
  • What you want from a good puddle splash is one thing - and that’s a crown or water splashing out and being frozen in time and space with your camera. To get that, I am sorry, but if you want to get a really good picture of that, you will again, need to get very low on the ground.
  • Go horizontal : by placing the camera nice and low and pointing it at your subject, parallel to the ground, you are building in depth in your image which will allow for the crown of water to truly stand out. If you shoot from CAH ( comfortable Adult Height) - your shooting angle will be pointing downwards, which means you will get that crown agains the ground and it won’t make the best of images. 
  • Go fast - if you can control it, make sure your camera has a good shutter speed. If you can shoot in shutter priority or manual, aim ofr 1/500s or faster. If you don't switch your camera over to Sports mode or similar.
  • Finally - again, experiment with your light direction - especially if the sun has come out - it can make a world of difference

Photo by Hannah Louise Andrews

Photo by Sarah Collins


6. Look, really look into a puddle!

Puddles are not just for splashing in you know! They are also magical mirrors into the underworld

Things to think about:
  • Even a tiny puddle can look great if you angle your camera correctly. And by correctly, I mean again, very very low, pretty much on the ground ( just make sure to protect it from the wet).
  • You want to get your camera seeing from right at the edge of puddle to create that illusion of infinite water. By using a short focal length ( aka - not zooming in at all) you can stretch that puddle and still fit a lot of your subject in. With longer focal lengths ( aka - zoom in) you can bring more of the detail in. 
  • Light direction matters! Walk around your puddle and take test shots from a couple of different directions to make sure you get the light right.  If the light is behind them, you may get a great reflection of the sky, but their reflection will look shady and muddy. If the light will be behind you, you can get an almost perfect, mirror-like reflection of your subject in full colour.

Photo by Sarah Collins

Photo by Jenn Thomas

Photo by Kessia Kowalska


7. Create a flat lay - seasonal art

Flay lay is when you arrange a number of different elements on a surface and photograph from above. It’s great for showing different colours and textures and including other autumnal elements too.

  • Think of a theme or concept for your flat lay – perhaps the same leaf type with different colours, or same colour, different shapes?
  • Consider the colour and texture of your surface – to contrast or complement your subject
  • Your light is crucial here – you want soft, diffused light which will not distract from your subjects
  • Think about how you will use the space – will you fill the frame with leaves or leave a good amount of negative space?
  • Will you keep the leaves as they are or turn them into art or have a little fun drawing faces onto them with your kids?

Photo by Olivia BIanchi Bazzi

Photo by Namra Wasm

Photo by Lucy Pritchard


8. PUT IT ALL IN A COLLAGE

Finally, take all the awesomeness and put it together - side by side! 

  • Pick a selection of wider and more detail shots to end up with a complete story
  • Ist there a colour or a theme that unifies them?
  • Many little ones or a few, more carefully chose big ones? 
  • Good balance of colour and texture, evenly distributed through the frame.

Photo by Marie Devine

Want more autumn photography advice? 

Join our Autumn Photography Bootcamp - 5 days, 5 lessons, all online and FREE, 

Get into the frame

This week, on our Student and Alumni group, but also on our Instagram channel, we're kicking off week one of our Project52. If you've not heard of it before, it's essentially about a personal commitment to taking at least 1 photo a week for the whole year. Simple.

You're welcome to join in - just follow us on insta: @photoparents, watch out for weekly theme announcements and post a photo that fits the theme - #photoparents52

Our very first theme is : #thisisme - and this one is all about YOU

 

Why you really want to get into your own photos:

I was recently sitting with my older 10 year old  daughter and we were choosing which photos, out of the few hundred that we took on a recent day trip, to print. I find that letting her be involved in both the photo 'starring' part but also taking some of the photos and coming up with ideas what to photograph and then printing them - helps immensely with overcoming her reluctance to have a camera stuck in her face yet again.

But my point is, as we were sifting through the photos we took on the day, while I kept trying to pick the more 'arty' photos I took of her and her sister and their dad, she kept picking the photos I was in. The ones where I thought l I look fat and old and awkward -  taken by her or my husband or on self-timer.

The photos that show her MUM having fun with her.

The photos that are about us, our connection, me being present with her and joining in her joy and being in her life. 

And you know what, I hate them so much but I also kind of love them. Because they show me and them that I was there! Because my children deserve to have the memories they made WITH THEIR MUM  to have a pride of place on the wall too. 

Let's talk about the technical first 

With most cameras, and indeed, even the phone cameras, you'll have at least one of the following options. 

Self-timer 

Most cameras and phones have this option these days so you have NO excuse. You can often choose to have a shorter or longer lead time, and sometimes you can also choose whether the camera should trigger once or multiple times. 

Interval shooting 

Available on some cameras and some phones. You set the camera up, and then tell your camera to take a photo once every so often - you define the duration, so this could be once every 30 seconds or 3 minutes or anything else really. It's great when you don’t want to perform for the camera but simply want it to capture the fun as it's going on. It will inevitably involve lots and lots of pretty bad photos due to people wandering off the frame, focus missed, etc, but usually it'll have a couple of gems as well.

Remote trigger

Some years ago I spent £5 on eBay and bought myself a super simple, uncomplicated clicker remote. It is the size of a lighter, attaches to my key ring and pairs with my camera via infrared connection and it means that I can just set my camera up and then trigger it discreetly when I feel the moment is right. The kids love using it too! You could, of course, get a fancier one that helps you focus and set the camera settings (mine just sets of the shutter)  etc, but honestly, I think for this kind of purpose, my clicker did its job rather admirably!

Camera specific app on your phone

While I still have my little clicker, my newer camera allows me to use my phone to trigger it remotely and it comes with the added bonus of letting me see what the image will look like and even focus remotely. Many of the newer wifi-enabled cameras will have that option too so if you haven't explored it yet, it's worth checking. 

Pass it on

Admittedly the most low tech solution and it comes with both its benefits and drawbacks. The benefits being that there will be a human at the back of it so you're less likely to end up with your head chopped off. Then again, there may be an unskilled human at the back of it and they'll chop your head off regardless... well, no solution is perfect.

 

The problem with shooting blind..

... is that, of course, you can't see where you're pointing your camera in real-time!  And this can make getting sharp photos hard. We have a few tips: 

Focus : 

  • if you know roughly where the action is going to take place, pre-focus there, and possibly even leave the camera on manual focus so it doesn't try to hunt focus and send it to the wrong place. I sometimes will place to toy or a more compliant of my children to use them as the pre-focus target and make a mark on the ground so I know roughly where I'll be.

  • avoid using super-wide apertures - this is the tip for those of you who know how to manipulate them on your cameras. If you extend your depth of field, you run less of a risk that people will drop out of focus. For those self trigger photos, I would generally avoid going below F4 or even F5.6

  • avoid zoom - short focal lengths - AKA no zoom - naturally creates a larger sharp focus area, so they're usually a safer bet when it comes to being able to capture multiple things sharp.

  • keep your shutter fast - ideally above 1/250s - you don't want your big joy, high energy photos to be spoilt by blurriness? 

 

Don't look for excuses not to do it.

Trust me, I've been there, I know them all.

How to help with a cringe factor: 

The worst thing you can do in front of the camera is just to stand there and look at it. Action and interaction is KEY!

Have a concept of what you want to be happening - maybe you'll just be having a tickle fight on the sofa, maybe you'll get your kids to race towards you and try to topple you over, maybe you'll be jumping up or dancing like a lunatic. 

If a photo is about that action, it ceases to be JUST about you and it makes it about the memories. 

Make it easy on yourself with light - pick a location for your photos which has good light - ideally outdoors as you'll find it easiest, but if you'd rather be indoors, make it close to a large source of light and avoid shooting against the light

Let go of perfection

This is the biggest obstacle for many a photographer - if it's not perfect, it's worthless. WRONG. Perfection is not something that's often achievable with remotely triggered photos so if you get yourself in a mindset of accepting that this will be an imperfectly composed, imperfectly focused, imperfectly posed photo and that these things will be its strengths - you just let go. 

Pick an activity, a situation, a moment that your kids will enjoy with you - as I said above, it doesn't have to be anything complicated - and use one of the methods I suggested above to capture yourself in it. 

Be present. 

 

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What camera to buy?

It's that time of the year, when - if you were thinking about upgrading your camera - you are starting browsing the stores offerings and wondering if now is the time to take the plunge. 

But also, if you want a new camera or lens - which one? 

We have researched and tested and thought about some key considerations for you. All accurate as of Nov 2019

SO WHAT’S THE BEST CAMERA FOR ME?

If we had a penny for each time we get asked: “What’s the best camera to buy?” And I really wish I could just say – THAT one. But I can’t. Even if we take the cost out of the equation, there are still a lot of reasons that make one camera the right fit for someone and a terrible for another.

So how do you know? Here are a few questions that may be of help.

What’s your skills level?

If you’re just starting up, you certainly don’t need the £3,000 piece of gear. Instead, go for a camera that will not be too complicated to handle when you don’t know much, but at the same time, one that you won’t want to replace as soon as you’ve learned a little.

That’s why we tend to recommend cameras that are one shelf above the absolute starter camera – if possible. The production cycle of cameras these days is approx 18 months and sometimes the technical differences between the newest model and its predecessor are really insignificant ( like for example having or not having built-in wifi) so in some cases it’s better to choose a slightly older model from a shelf up ( which had gone down in price since the newest version came out) than the brand new shiny model from the bottom shelf.

If you're upgrading your camera, you already know a bit about what's important to you and you know the degree to which you tend to use it. If you find it lacking - I'd recommend going for a model that's 1-2 levels above what you currently have, so you can get some longevity out of it. 

 

Weight and size – are those important to you?

 

Does the size and weight of your camera matter to you? If you have a few small people swarming around you, perhaps carting a larger piece of equipment is not really for you. Getting a heavy camera, however great it might be, won’t be of any use to you if its weight and bulk will make you reluctant to bring it with you frequently. The saying goes – the best camera is the one you have on you – and we certainly subscribe to this view. If you don’t use it, what’s the point of spending lots of money on it?

So if weight and size is a key consideration, you want something small and light ( that includes smaller lenses) which means you’re looking either at the smaller end of DSLRs or going mirrorless.

What's a Mirrorless? 

Do not confuse mirrorless cameras with ‘bridge cameras’. Bridge cameras are essentially upgrades to point-and-shoot cameras which include the capability to shoot in manual modes and to manipulate a few other settings. More often than not, bridge cameras have one fixed lens which is not interchangeable with any others. We don’t tend to recommend these for one reason – even if they boast most of the features of an entry-level DSLR, they are usually designed with an Auto user in mind – not someone planning on using them in semi-manual and manual modes. The key settings tend to be hidden deep in the menus and not easily or ergonomically accessible.

But mirrorless cameras – that’s a whole different story. They are essentially designed to be the new DSLRs. They make away with some of the mechanical elements from the DSLR design ( the mirror which sends the image from the lens to the viewfinder – which does not actually take part in the photo creation, just pre-viewing the image) ) and often pack some great features and advanced settings. The quality they give you is as good or better than DSLRs. As of the last few years, they even come in professional-grade, full-frame varieties and we’re seeing more and more photographers switch away from bulkier pro DSLRs to the much smaller and lighter Mirrorless.

The future is Mirrorless

More importantly, camera manufacturers are definitely putting their money that way with Nikon for instance announcing they will not be further developing and updating their entry level DSLR ranges, and instead offering entry level Mirrorless in the coming years. So if you're thinking long term, mirrorless maybe the way to go. 

The pros of mirrorless cameras are certainly the size. The downsides – well, they are on the pricier side, there are still fewer lenses available for them and they tend to be more expensive too and they can be more fragile. In some cases, depending on how you will be using them, the lenses can be almost as large as the ones for DSLRs ( though there are quite a few small and light ones so that’s certainly not a rule)

 

What will you be using the camera for?

 

Do you plan to use it as your family camera or perhaps thinking of working towards becoming a pro? If you have such ambitions, you will need a camera that’s reliable and precise above all. Those – and lenses that come with them – tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier so worth considering whether it’s a now or future purchase.

If you’re planning for it to remain a family-focused hobby ( for now at least) don’t worry about going full-frame and go instead for a good, small and compact camera that will be easy to take with you everywhere. It doesn’t need to be a mirrorless, there are some lovely small DSLRs out there that aren’t that much bigger.

Don’t forget that when you buy a camera, you are also buying into the lens and accessories ecosystem linked to that particular brand. So your canon camera will only work with Canon lenses ( or made-for-canon third party lenses – like Sigma or Tamron), and also that you will need different lenses for your starter DSLR, full-frame DSLR, and a mirrorless – even if it’s the same brand

 

And finally – budget

 

Let’s not beat about the bush. Photography is not a cheap hobby. The gear can be very expensive, but you don’t always need all that. We don’t all need to drive a Lexus if all we do is pop down the shops from time to time. All the more reason to shop with care and buy the kind of camera that’s actually well suited to what you need. It might also mean buying a camera body and lens separately to maximize your money.

Used is not a dirty word

 

There is a thriving second-hand market for photography gear. Specialized sellers like mpb.com and wexphotovideo.com or camerajungle.co.uk will service all their second-hand gear before selling it on and then offer between 6 months to a 1-year warranty on it ( depending on the seller). This means you’re getting quality gear which you can rely on for a lot less than buying it new.

Sometimes the differences between the older models and their new version can be almost purely cosmetic - in recent years there were a few cases where literally the only things that change from an older to the newer model were the addition of wifi and touch screen - and all the actual photo taking bits remained exactly the same.

 If money is a serious concern but you want to get more than just the entry-level gear, I would recommend considering second hand. 

So with all that being said, what do we actually recommend?

 


A BEGINNER PHOTOGRAPHER

A beginner photographer does not need a £3000 camera. She does need a solid camera that is designed to allow her a bit of growth beyond the most basic features, that she’ll be able to build up on.

DSLR range:

 

Nikon cameras:

Nikon's entry-level cameras date from last year, as Nikon is moving onto mirrorless and have not released, now will release updates to the current entry-level range, but they're still great choices to start with, and more affordable than ever. 

  • If you’re on a budget and she’s just starting up: Nikon d3500 ( from £299 on Amazon with a standard kit lens),

  • if you can push the money a little further NIkon d5600 ( from £485 on Amazon at the moment).

  • Alternatively, you could opt for the slightly older d5500 – Nikon d5600 is newer and more expensive than d5500, but beyond adding a few Bluetooth and wireless connectivity features they are practically the same camera). D5500 can now be bought quite easily second hand from around £300)

Canon cameras :

In the past couple of years, Canon released a few lines of entry-level DSLRs: Canon d4000 being the most basic, followed by 2000d - still entry-level, but a rung above, and then an update the 100 range - Canon 250d. All three can be good choices for a beginner photographer, but for different reasons. 

Canon d4000 has the lowest resolution of all 3 - at 17Megapixels it lags behind the standard at that level compared to 24MP for the d2000 and d250. For that reason, and comparatively little difference in price, I would recommend jumping up to the Canon d2000 if it's no-frills, good, entry-level camera in a small and light package - from around £318 currently on sale on Amazon

But, if you can stretch the cash a little further, Canon d250 would be a better choice - it is smaller, performs much better in low light, shoots better video and has an improved focusing system - currently from £489 including a lens on Amazon sale. 

 

There are other camera systems out there as far as DSLR is concerned - most notably Pentax and also Sony, but given the widest choice of lenses and accessories, we tend to recommend to sticking to these two brands. 

 

 

Mirrorless range:

If it’s a mirrorless camera you want to get, we have a few favorites from the entry-level range :

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

Currently on sale for around £428 on Amazon including a standard kit lens.

Great looking, very capable camera with a lot going for it. With very good performance on the move and a great focus mechanism, it definitely packs a lot of features in. Bonus – it uses a micro 4/3 lenses which means the pool of lenses available for this camera is wider than some of its competitors as you can use both Olympus, Panasonic, and a few other third party lenses. The slight downside is that the smaller sensor which results in a smaller resolution - of 16MP. However that really only matters if you plan on printing your images in large format, which most people don't tend to do often.  A big bonus is 5 axis image stabilization which makes shooting sharp images in low light MUCH easier. 

Fujifilm X-T100 or X-T20

New, entry-level kid on the block for the Fuji stable  ( around £535 incl lens from various retailers)- this one is aimed at a beginner user and while simpler than the higher up and flagship Fuji models, it still offers a small, compact, yet versatile and stylish package. What we like a lot about this model is that unlike the more budget end of Fuji mirrorless end, it does have a viewfinder and does not rely on the back screen only ( a non-negotiable feature for a camera in our books). 

But, If you can stretch a little further, we would still recommend going for the moderately older, but equipped with a better sensor and faster focusing mechanism Fujifilm X-T20 ( currently around £620 including a kit lens) - it's essentially a slightly simplified version of the photographers beloved X-T2 model and packs a serious punch both in style and substance.

Canon EOS M-50

Canon is expanding its mirrorless range and this little baby is their entry-level mirrorless. M-50 is not the cheapest of the range ( from £465 including lens)  but beats the lower level camera by improved features and an integrated viewfinder. It has good resolution, a good sensor, good focusing system - all of which translate into a good little contender. 

Sony A6000 ( or A6400)

We love the sony Full-frame range (a7 and a9 ) but the crop sensor models are great and full of features too. Sony d6000 ( around £400 incl lens) or the newer version – Sony d6400 ( on sale for around £749 incl lens) are both great cameras in little packages, capable of great things. Sony has been at the mirrorless game for a little while now so the range of lenses available is getting bigger with some third party lenses available as well.

 


ENTHUSIAST PHOTOGRAPHER

She knows her way around her current camera. She wants the better low light handling, higher resolution, better focus options and other more advanced features that her current camera doesn’t give her. Or maybe her current model is just a little too old now to handle it all as well. Either way, you want to be looking at the mid-high range.

DSLR range:

 

Nikon Cameras:

Nikon d7500 ( approx £760 at John Lewis right now) is a great choice up from entry level – a lot of the features trickled down from the the higher end, full frame models and for once, it is a significant update to Nikon d7200 ( approx £700) which already was a great camera.

If money can stretch further – all the way to full frame, pro grade – Nikon d750 ( from £999 right now) is one of the best entry full frame models – relatively small and light but with lots of features from the higher end models. Just be aware that with a switch to a full frame body, you will need full frame lenses. And those do not come cheap.

Canon Cameras:

Canon 80d ( from £965 at the moment) is one of the Canon cameras for enthusiasts which is receiving great reviews. Without having to go for a full frame camera, you get lots of the advanced features without the price tag and having to change your lenses to full frame.

If you’re ready to make a switch to full frame, 6d mark II received a significant update to the sensor and focusing system from the already excellent 6D. It's a direct competitor to Nikon's d750 and boasts similar range of features. Whether you choose one or the other is often a choice between which of the two you prefer in handling, colour rendering, or which system you may already have lenses for. Both will make a great first step into full frame systems, and be cameras you won;t be in a rush to replace soon.

Mirrorless cameras:

There has been an explosion of higher-end mirrorless cameras in recent years - from enthusiast to full pro level. The choice is now greater than ever with many manufacturers 

Sony a7 iii or Sony a7 ii

Sony a7 iii is up there as one of the best cameras for pro photographers - it has amazing focus ability, fantastic low light performance, exceptional resolution, dual memory card slot - there is lots and lots to love about it, even if Sony has since produced a newer Sony a7R iv. The only weak point is common with most other mirrorless at this moment and that's weak battery life. It isn't cheap - the camera body alone will set you back in the region of £1,700.  However, if you still want great performance and don’t need some of the more sophisticated functions, the older a7 ii could be a fantastic choice. It's around half the price too if you shop around. 

Fuji X-T3 or X-T30

Fuji X-T3 replaces the XT -2 which has long been a darling of photographers. We love it for the cool design (let’s not pretend it’s without importance) but above all, for the beautiful richness of colours, great focus and a good selection of small and light lenses. Unlike the Sony a7 range, Fujis are still crop sensors rather than full-frame, but beyond that, both are brilliant The X-T3 itself has been joined by a more budget-friendly  XT-30 alternative, one that includes a lot of the same specs but in a slightly less pro-design body and surprisingly with one bonus over the XT-3 which is a built-in pop up flash. XT-3 retails at around £1,200 while the XT-30 at around £850 if you shop around 

Nikon Z6 or Z50

Nikon Z6 - Nikon was comparatively late to the full-frame mirrorless game but it more than made up for it with this beauty. It packs in a pro-spec - great resolution, superb focusing, great handling, brilliant low light performance, plus, often bundled in with the camera body, a converter which makes it possible to use all your old DSLR fit Nikon lenses. It has also struck deals with third-party manufacturers such as Sigma to bring more lenses into the market, so it could definitely be one to jump on to if a pro level is what you need.  If you don’t want all the pro-spec, go for a more junior option - Nikon Z50 - it will mean stepping from full-frame to crop sensor and there are a few compromises on the side of build and resolution, it is a great package with the same lens mont as its older brother and the same lens mount converter. If you are en existing Nikon user and loathe to part with your lens, collection, this may be a great choice for you. Nikon Z6 is selling for around £1,400, while Nikon Z50 will set you back in the region of £850 - comparable to Fuji XT-30 - also a crop sensor.

Panasonic Lumix G9

Panasonic Lumix G9 - I've not mentioned Panasonic mirrorless in the entry-level section and that's partly because as far as its more junior models go, other brands take the edge on the quality vs cost comparison. But G9, aimed at an Enthusiast level is a different story. It's a very capable camera that excels in several areas such as fast focus, great low light handling - it has built-in 5 axis stabilization, great video performance, and all-round great handling. It's also splash and dustproof, which is a great feature when you cart it around kids that - like mine, love to roll in mud and splash in puddles. Like some of its competitors, it also offers face/eye detection. To get your hands on one, you are looking to spend in the region of £900 at the moment

Canon EOS RP

Canon EOS RP - yes, there is the Canon R - the highest resolution mirrorless you can get, with all the tricks and trimmings. BUT, it retails at around £3300 which makes it out of reach for most non-strictly-pros. But, then there is EOS RP - with a slightly lower resolution of 26MP ( which is still above most of its competitors), full-frame sensor, smaller body but still a brilliant spec. It has a great focus performance, great low light capability, touch screen, and a very fast processor. It falls short of its competitors in the image stabilization area which is reliant on lens stabilization only.  It also comes in with a handy lens mount converter often bundled in, which allows you to make use out of your existing Canon lenses in the same way, Nikon does with its mirrorless range. 

Whatever camera you choose, remember it’s just an instrument. A great photographer will capture an amazing image with the simplest camera. It really doesn’t matter all that much if yours is a Nikon, Canon or anything else – noone has ever looked at a photos and went – oooh, yes, I can see what that canon did here…. It’s the person behind the camera that matters most.

Let me leave you with a quote by a magnificent photographer, Ernst Haas

‘The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But,you have to SEE’! ~ Ernst Haas

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Buying your first flashgun

*post updated with additional remote trigger information and gear recommendations for Nov 2020

If you’ve never bought a flash unit before, looking at the variety out there and the sheer number of acronyms attached, you would be forgiven to be completely bamboozled by the choices. But fear not, we decode what’s out there and help you choose the best option for you.

But do you even need one?

What’s wrong with your pop up flash?

Oh, nothing much, only that it’s weak, only points forward at an unflattering angle, does not give you  much of an opportunity to amend its strength and you can’t take it off the camera. Other than that – it’s grrrreat!

I’m exaggerating of course – it can have its uses but it’s also largely responsible for why people tend to think of flash as being the single worst thing that can happen to their photos. Of course if all you use IS the pop up flash and you use it on full auto, that’s not surprising at all.

But flash light can be SO MUCH BETTER – it can fix your existing light, amend it, supplement it, replace it and more! It can be a trusted and controllable friend, but you need to learn how to make it work for you. And yeah, you need a better flash than your little pop up thing.
And we’re here to help you with it.

What do you want from you detachable flash?

Pretty much the opposite of what your pop up gives you:

  • you want to be able to point it not just at your subject but also elsewhere
  • you want it to be powerful
  • you want to be able to control its strength to suit your needs
  • but you also want it to do auto
  • finally, you want to be able to take it off the camera

So now that we have our shopping list, we can start decoding the options out there:

1. You want to be able to point it in various directions

Honestly, this is probably one of the most key characteristics of a good flash and light control in general. Your flashgun should have a swivel head which should allow you to point it all around. Discount straight away anything that is fixed, or only points up and down. Quite how much the head will tilt will depend on a model – I find it helpful to check youtube or manufacturers videos for specific models but the more it swivels, the better.

2. You want it to be powerful

Not all flashes are created equal. A quick glance at Wex Photographic reveals that for Nikon alone, you can buy a flashgun for £85 and one for £599. There are a few differences between them of course, and you actually don’t need to go for the higher ticket model, but one of the key differences will be the strength that your flash delivers. Because that translates into both the intensity of your light that you’ll have at your disposal, but also at its reach – the stronger your flash, the further the beam will be able to reach. This is measured in what we call “guide numbers”. Without going into the technical whys and wherefores – the higher the number, the stronger your flash. HOWEVER, unless you’re planning to be lighting up cathedrals – for simple portraits and smaller venue set ups, you don’t need to pay all that much attention to it. Most mid-market flashes from trusted manufacturers that also have other features we mention here have more than enough power to serve you well.

3. You want to be able to control its strength

So we just said that we want power from your flash, but you don’t always want it firing at full strength. In fact, most of the time you won’t need it at all. But you do want a way to control it and so you do need it to have manual controls that can help you get an absolute ( we’ll get to relative in a moment) control over your light output. As many other things related to the camera, this tends to be displayed to in fractions. So you can have full strength = 1, and then fractions of that output – 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64 etc Quite how far those fractions go will depend on your make and model. Some will only give you 4 options to choose from, some take it down to tiny fractions. For the sake of full control, I do go for a flash that gives me options that go up to 1/64th but it’s not always crucial.

4. But you also want it to do AUTO

Auto, otherwise known as TTL or iTTL or eTTL depending on what camera brand it is for is not to be sneered at. TTL means literally Through The Lens and relates to the fact that when your flash is connected to your camera it can read the light in front of you through that lens and adapt the strength required to give you a good exposure based on that reading. But it’s Auto, I hear you protest, why would I care about auto settings? Actually, you can still control those – much like exposure compensation on your camera, you can apply exposure compensation to your flash output and reduce or up it relative to what your camera believes to be the correct exposure. It means that if you’re not super confident with the level of flash you need, you can stay in the ball-park and tinker until you get the right result. Trust

5. You want to take it off your camera.

Once you start learning about flash, you realise that part of the fun and beauty of shooting with flash is the ability to take the flash OFF your camera and place it exactly where you want it to shine. It’s really not hard and in some cases you may not need any additional equipment at all.

There are two things you need in order to be able to do it: 1, quite mechanical, is a stand or a mount that you place your flash in. Often your flashgun will come with a little mount, on some occasions you might need to buy one ( simplest stands will set you back a whopping 2£ on amazon)

The second thing is the ability of your flash to still communicate with your camera, even if it’s not physically attached to it. Here again, your choices are multiple.

Sync cable is the simplest – but you need to be still close enough to your camera so the reach and creative options are limited. For that reason’I would’t recommend it.

Second option is already built into many flash guns and that’s an optical-pre flash system. It relies on your camera ( and its pop up flash) being within ‘line of sight’ of your ‘dismounted’ flash – before the camera takes a picture, it emits a few pre-flashes through its pop-up flash ( that don’t contribute to the final photo exposure) which are picked up by your flashgun and act like a trigger. Again, while it does’t require additional equipment, it’s not always practical. Not all cameras support it either.

Remote triggers

The ONE accessory I would consider purchasing from the start is a wireless flash trigger.  Investing in a wireless trigger / receiver is a better long term option and while the branded ones can cost £££, there are some really capable budget options from third party manufacturers such as Nissin or Yongnuo. We listed some recommendations below with our Flash recommendations.

Things to consider :

  • manual or TTL – there are some very very cheap flash triggers (from £10 for a pair) which work well but require you to set your flash fully manually – they don’t communicate with your camera beyond the single impulse to set the flash off. Your flashgun in this set up is effectively blind to your camera and has to be set up manually. More expensive TTL triggers ensure full communication between your camera and your flash with your flash benefiting from the exposure information in your camera and capable of auto or semi-auto setings. We recommend those.
  • trigger, receiver or both? – unless you have a flash already equipped with wireless radio capability ( and many of the newer flashes, including some budget brands are) – you will most likely need a trigger and receiver pair. One will go on your camera, the other on your flash. Think of them as walkie-talkies for your gear. If you have a flash with the radio built in, you will only need a trigger – for instance Nissin i700 will only need nissin trigger ( they even sell them as a combo). Similar with Yongnuo 600XE – you will only need one compatible Yongnuo trigger.

Other things you need to pay attention to:

Brand compatibility
You don’t need to buy a Canon flash for a Canon camera, but you do need to buy one compatible. Good third party makes include Nissin, Metz, Hahnel and on the more budget – but still pretty decent end – Yonguno. You’ll find many flashguns compatible with Nikon referred to as “Speedlights” and Canon – “Speedlites”. It’s just how they like to ‘differ’ from one another…

High Speed Sync:

All flashes limit the shutter speed you can set on your camera when you shoot with flash to about 1/200s. But some flashes have a setting – called High Speed Sync – which allows you to go faster than that. This can be very useful when using Flash outdoors so check if your flash is able to do it.

Recycle times

Recycle time is the time it takes your flash to ‘recharge’ itself to fire again after a few flash shots. Faster recycle times are better, but while they’re crucial to a wedding photographer who might not have second chances at certain shots, for mostly domestic use, don’t go too crazy about them

Other accessories

Snoots, domes, diffusers, gels, umbrellas – do you need them all? The answer is no. Some will certainly come in handy but not all at once. Learn how to use your flash first, then start using them to shape the light further. A lot can be DIYed as well.

So go, check out the options out there – there are great bargains to be found also on the second hand market. And if you need further advice – get in touch either here or via our Facebook

SUGGESTED FLASH MODELS AND BRANDS (JULY 2019 UPDATE) :

( I have included suggested remote triggers compatible with those flash models as I know some of you will be looking to purchase some, but don;t feel like you need to, certainly when just starting)

Nikon range:

  • top of the line : SB 5000 ( approx £500 – unless you’re a pro, you most certainly don’t need it)
  • great option : the now discontinued SB 910 or SB 900 ( discontinued means they’ve moved on to selling the newer model, not that there is something wrong with its predecessor!  For the record I have sb-900 and love it! ) – buy them used from £115 on mpb.com)
  • mid-range: SB 700 – ( approx £250)

Canon range:

  • top of the line : Canon Speedlite 600EX II – approx £500 – (unless you’re a pro, you almost certainly don’t need it)
  • Great choice : mid-range : Canon Speedlite 430EX III ( approx £200 ) or earlier model 430EX II (from £80 used via mpb.com)
  • Futuristic choice – Self adjusting, auto bounce Canon 470EX AI – just check out this video 

Third Party  Flashes

Available in versions for both Canon, Nikon, Sony etc – Flash options start from under £100

  • Godox TT685 ( budget) or  V860II (more expensive but mire robust and with rechargable lithium battery instead of AA batteries) –  available in Canon, Nikon, Sony etc  versions – pair these with the Godox X1T remote commander
  • Nissin : Nissin i700 flashgun – also offered in a bundle with a remote commander via Wex ( bundle price approx £199)
  • Yongnuo for Canon : Yongnuo Speedlite YN-600 EX II or or YN686EX RT which comes with a rechargable Lithium battery instead of AA batteries( pair these flashes up with Yongnuo remote transmitter YN-E3-RT)   
  • Yongnuo for Nikon YN565EX or YN568EX – pair it up with a pair of transmitters receivers – YN622N

Flashes for Mirrorless and Micro Four Thirds ( smaller, mirrorless cameras like Sony, Fuji or Olympus )

Full sized flashes listed above will work just as well with your mirrorless cameras. You may just need to be prepared that the flash will outweigh your camera. Smaller flashes sit better on mirrorless cameras, but you need to be mindful of the fact that smaller in this case means weaker and they may not have the same strength and power their full sized versions might have. I find them more than adequate for daily shooting with a bit of flash oomph added.

  • Godox TT350 – lovely, light and small ( I use one!) – pair it with Godox X1T remote transmitter 
  • Nissin  di60, di40 or Nissin di700 – again, make sure you get one made for YOUR brand.

Remote triggers / transceivers (TTL capable): 

If you’re a pro and money is no object, go for own brand options:

  • Nikon’s own: The Nikon SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander – approx £350
  • Canon’s own: Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter – approx £190
  • PocketWizard TTL – from £250 per unit – you usually need a pair

If you’re not a pro, and you’re not envisaging shooting with off camera flash daily, go for third party options:

Third party ( compatible with multiple brands – so you can have a Nikon camera and a nikon flash paired with Yongnuo triggers / receivers) :

  • Nissin Commander Air 1 and the Receiver Air R ( approx £100 for the set) – compatible with multiple brands of cameras and flashes  – Nikon, Canon, Sony etc. If you buy a Nissin i700 flashgun, you only need the commander, reducing the overall cost – great value kit
  • YONGNUO YN622C + YN622TX – a transmitter / receiver pair, compatible with multile brands. Cost of the set – approx £70 on amazon  – great budget option – if you have a wireless enabled compatible Yongnuo flashgun, you only need one trigger – halving the cost. Word of warning – not all Yongnuo flashguns are compatible with all yongnuo remote transmitters – I listed ones that pair with my recommended models above.

Buying Second Hand:

Flashguns and accessories can often be found on second hand camera seller sites such as mpb.com or www.wexphotovideo.com/used/  and often in near mint condition as people buy them, realise they don’t know how to use them well and finally sell them after barely breaking them out of the packaging a few times. You can get really good quality gear for much smaller prices and as the sites still offer good warranty terms, you do so without risk.

LEARNING TO SHOOT WITH FLASH

If you struggle with light and want to learn how to use your flash in a variety of shooting situations, look no further than our Very own Shooting with Flash course. It takes you step by step through learning how to use your flash on and off camera, both for every day as well as more creative uses.

The course is self paced and supported by a Facebook group so you can go through it at your own pace and still get your questions answered. Find out more

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There is a camera in my changing bag

My changing bag. It’s got nappies, wipes, a sippy cup, some snacks for the little one, oh and a camera. Don’t worry, it’s got its own little padded home within the bag so it doesn’t need to touch anything icky, but live in my changing bag it does.