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Holiday Gift Ideas: Photography Courses on Sale!

HOLIDAY SALE
and Holiday Gift Ideas for Photographers

Treat the photographer on your list with one of these great holiday gift ideas.
Or better yet, treat yourself. You've been good.

 

Holiday Gift Ideas: Photography Courses on Sale!

50% Off
Online Photography Courses

 

And save even more when you purchase more than one course here! Makes a great gift! Enroll a loved one today and they can start whenever they're ready.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Orange County Photography Courses on Sale!

15% Off
Tustin Photography Classes

 

Save on enrollment fees for all classes held at my Learning Center in Tustin, CA. The "Understanding Exposure for Beginners" class is the perfect companion gift to a new camera.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Private Photography Lessons in Orange County

Private Photography Lessons
in Orange County, CA

 

Great for beginner, intermediate, and advanced shooters, private lessons make an excellent gift for the OC-based photographer in your life. Print-at-home certificates are available!

 

 

Don't battle the crowds this holiday season. When you give a loved one the gift of an online photography course, Orange County photography class, or private photography lesson, you can order online and receive a print-at-home gift certificate without ever leaving the comfort of your home. These holiday gift ideas are the perfect companion present to a new DSLR or mirrorless compact digital camera.

Take advantage of these savings while you still can! This sale ends December 25th! Contact me today for more information about these services or click the links above for more details on what these gifts have to offer. Dollar-amount gift certificates are also available.

 

50% off sale applies to all online courses. Discounts reflected on website. 10% off group photography classes applies only to classes held at the Nick Carver Photography Learning Center at 14471 Chambers Rd, #101, Tustin, CA 92780. Gift certificates and discounts are not available for classes held at the Irvine Fine Arts Center as they handle all of their own enrollment processing. Private lessons are typically offered Tuesday-Saturday from 9:00am to as late as 8:30pm, depending on schedule. Rates vary depending on where the lessons are held. Email info@nickcarverphotography.com for current rates.

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography
Click Any Image to Expand

Continuing my previous post showcasing the photo shoot I did with my brother, here I wanted to share some more details on the lighting I used to create some of these portraits. I opted for a style of lighting called "Rembrandt Lighting" because I've always loved the deep, soft-edged shadows it creates. When used in the right way, Rembrandt lighting makes for some excellent depth and drama in portrait photography. Granted, this light probably isn't ideal for the fun family portrait to hang over the fireplace, but in these shots, it worked quite well.

Rembrandt lighting gets its name from the works of the 17th-century painter Rembrandt. His painted portraits often utilized a light that appears to originate from a large source - like a big window - at the extreme side of the model. The light was soft and the shadows dark with little to no fill-light on the shadowed side. The trademark look of Rembrandt lighting is when the shadow of the nose and cheek creates a little upside-down triangle of light on the model's cheek opposite the light source.

Take a look at the picture below. Notice that triangle of light on the model's left cheek (your right). That's Rembrandt lighting.

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

So how to do you find Rembrandt lighting? Simple. You just need a big light source to one side of your model and a dark, unlit room or shadow to the opposite side. Put someone next to a sliding glass door in an otherwise darkened room, then photograph them with the door to their right or left. All of the sunlight outside bouncing off the landscape will pour in through the door as a big, soft glow. You don't want sunlight shooting directly in through the door, just let the light bounce off the trees and sidewalk and grass and sky and everything else beyond the door. But the photos you see here were not taken next to a sliding glass door, so let me dissect the light on this series of shots.

For the photos you see here with the concrete background and floor, we were in the shade of a storm drain. No joke. Just a dirty old storm drain. It was one of those rectangular drainage tunnels about as tall and wide as a 2-car garage. You could easily drive 2 cars down it side-by-side. We went right to the edge of the storm drain where the ceiling of it terminated and opened up to daylight. This is where I found Rembrandt lighting - under the shadow of this dark tunnel, but just at the edge of it where sunlight bouncing off the environment poured a few yards in to the cavernous space.

This is where you find good light: the edge of shadow. What I mean by that is you put your model in a shadow, but get right up to the edge of the shadow where it just starts to meet the sunlight. The sunlight bouncing off the environment outside the shadow will pour light into the shadow itself as a beautiful gentle glow.

When you think of a shadow, you probably think of a lack of light. But shadows are not a lack of light. There must be light in a shadow, otherwise we wouldn't be able to see anything in a shadow. The light in shadow is coming from light bouncing off of buildings and trees and clouds and sidewalks and the sky itself. So when you're in full shadow, like we were under the shelter of this storm drain, the light source is actually the environment out there in the sunlight. Standing indoors next to a sliding glass door or a big window achieves a similar effect. The environment itself illuminates with the sunlight and that light bounces into the shadow.

When it comes to light, the bigger the light source is, the softer the light is and the fuzzier the edges are on the resulting shadows. When the whole environment to your left (in this case) is the light source, you have a huge light source to work with. Thus the light is soft and, for portraits like this, very flattering.

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography

For the photos in this series below done out in the open where you can see the sky, I used the setting sun to illuminate my subject. The sun itself is not small but relative to us it's no bigger than a quarter held at arm's length. That makes it a small light source which, accordingly, creates harder-edged shadows. But you'll notice in these photos that the shadows are nearly nonexistent, which indicates that the light source is very large. Well, if you wait long enough, the sun will drop so low on the horizon that its intensity about evens out with the sky around it. Basically, the air stretching out to the sides of the sun and a little bit above it illuminate like fog in headlights. When this band of air illuminates under the light of the setting sun, it creates what is called the "twilight arch." This illuminated air - this twilight arch - acts as a light source in and of itself, making the shadows just a bit softer than in the middle of the day when the twilight arch is absent and the source of light is much smaller.

If you wait until the sun is below the horizon, the light source becomes the sky itself. This light source is huge, and so the shadows virtually disappear after sunset. In fact, if you look at the series of shots below, you'll see that the first photo shows some relatively sharp shadows on my brother's face. This is because the sun wasn't that low on the horizon yet, and thus the light source was relatively small. Then, as the sun dropped lower for the next 4 photos, the twilight arch started to glow, creating a bigger, softer light source, bringing with it the attendant softer-edged shadows.

So size does matter...at least when it comes to good lighting for portraits.

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

Medium Format Kodak Portra 160

All of the photos featured here were made on Kodak Portra 160 film using a 6x7 medium format camera (Mamiya RZ67 with a 110mm f/2.8 lens). I was switching back and forth between medium format film and 35mm film using a Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens throughout this shoot because I wanted to compare the shooting technique and the overall look between the two formats. Upon reviewing the shots, I quickly came to the conclusion that I prefer the medium format. The resolution is unreal and the 110mm lens at f/2.8 created the perfect depth of field and compression. I also enjoyed shooting with this camera a lot more. Since I had far fewer frames to burn, I was much more careful and deliberate with my shots. I hate feeling sloppy, and that I wasn't on the medium format.

Portrait Photography With the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L


Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L
Click Any Image to Expand

I was hired to photograph an event recently that was to take place in a dimly lit restaurant. Aside from carrying 2 flash units with me, I decided to rent a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens for some low-light non-flash photos. This bad boy is Canon's top of the line 50mm lens and it only costs $30 to rent at Pro Photo Connection in Irvine. Plus, I was able to take advantage of the old trick where you can rent 3 days for the price of 1: rent it after 3:00pm on Friday, pay for Saturday, they're closed Sunday, return it Monday morning.

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L

The lens worked like a charm at the event, but I wasn't about to let the remainder of my short time with this beautiful lens go to waste. So I called up my brother and we conspired to do a little photo shoot on Sunday. My goal was simple. I wanted to really put this lens through its paces by using it in a realistic fashion for which it would be most suited. That means low-light natural-light portraits with the aperture wide open. No side-by-side comparison images, no analyzing color fringing, no looking at MTF charts - none of that useless drivel. I wanted a real-life, practical application experience with this beauty of a lens.

I prefer natural light over artificial light any day of the week. But it has to be good natural light. No direct sunlight on this shoot. I wanted something soft yet dramatic. Something that would bring out the rich textures of denim and highlight the rugged good looks of my brother (yeah, I'm comfortable saying that...), without creating too much contrast for my film to handle. Oh yeah...and I'd only be shooting film. Film with an ISO rating no higher than 160. For the series you see here, I used Kodak Portra 160 on my Canon EOS-1v with the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. In some soon-to-come posts, I'll also show you  shots I made on medium format Kodak Portra as well as medium format and 35mm black and white Ilford Delta 100 film. I'll be talking more about this in the next post, but this was my first time shooting Kodak Portra and I have to say (and pardon my French) goddamn is this a beautiful film. I finally understand people's obsession with this film stock now.

Now I know that the majority of my readers shoot digital, not film. And that's cool. The only reason I'm pointing out that I shot film here is that I want my readers to understand that you can get great portraits without a ton of Photoshop work! These portraits were done on film, meaning no Photoshop, no Lightroom trickery, nothing. This is how they came out of the camera. I see so many portraits these days that have a dozen different Lightroom filters applied, an extra hour's worth of skin smoothing, the eyes over-sharpened and over-brightened, a cheesy ultra-stylized imitation film look applied...just way too much editing. But I want to show you that all you need is good light and good shooting technique. Find yourself a nice, big, soft light source, then put your model there. Then it's just a matter of knowing how to shoot in manual the right way (interested in learning?).

I'm going to be talking all about how to find good light for portraits in the next blog post, so stay tuned. For this post, I want to focus on the Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens.

I'll give you my straight, un-scientific opinion right off the bat: if I were to buy a wide aperture 50mm prime lens for my Canon DSLR, I wouldn't get the 50mm f/1.2 L, I'd get the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens instead. Don't get me wrong, the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L is a sharp, well-built, beautiful wide aperture lens, but it's just too expensive and too heavy for my taste. The 1.2L is about $1,700 and weighs 1.3 pounds! The f/1.4 version, in sharp contrast, only costs about $450 and weighs just 10 ounces. A good 50mm prime should be lightweight, small, and inconspicuous! That's half the point of these lenses.

Now some may say, "Yeah, but the 1.2 version must be a lot sharper." I'm sure it's a little sharper...but $1200 sharper? I doubt it. From the side-by-side reviews I've read, it really isn't that much sharper - at least not enough to justify the price and weight. The cheaper 50mm f/1.4 is plenty sharp even for me. What you're really paying for with that extra $1200 isn't so much the glass as it is the weather sealing (you know, so you can shoot portraits in the rain), the tougher build quality (so you can do some portraits in battle), and curved aperture blades. The 50mm f/1.2 has curved aperture blades whereas the 1.4 doesn't. This means that the aperture on the 1.2 actually forms a circle instead of an octagon. Some people make a big stink about how this makes the bokeh (that's the out of focus areas in the background) look better. It probably does in side-by-side comparison images, but again, I really wouldn't say it's worth $1200.

So if you want a beautiful, heavy, expensive, weather-sealed 50mm lens with curved aperture blades, go with the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. If you want something lighter weight and much more affordable that is still plenty sharp, go with the Canon 50mm f/1.4. You'll only lose 1/3-stop of light on the aperture (which is almost nothing) and you'll just have to live with straight aperture blades - like virtually ever other lens manufactured.

Whatever the case, if you decide to use either of these lenses wide open or nearly wide open, get ready for a lot of blurry pictures. The depth of field is so insanely small at these ultra-wide apertures that once you achieve focus, try not to breath, otherwise your area of focus will shift off of where you want it. I had a hell of a time keeping the focus in the right spot with this lens. Just look at the first picture below for what I'm talking about. The DOF is so small that it doesn't even reach his ear!

Keep an eye out for my next two blog posts talking about finding good natural light for portraits and shooting in B&W.

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L

Portraits with the Canon 50mm f/1.2L