HOW I SHOT IT - VALLEY FORGE PHOTO

Learning to get out of your own way…


That phrase really is the best way to describe how I created this shot. This was taken after the sun had already dropped down below the tree line at a beautiful venue in the Valley Forge Historical Park, called The Philander Chase Knox Estate. It’s a venue that I’ve shot at 5 or 6 times now over the past 3 years. The spot that I took these three photos is one that I’ve literally stared at more times than I can remember, simply trying to figure out a creative way of shooting it. It’s a simple man-made pond with a brick walk-way surrounding it. On one end, up near the estate, there’s a little area made of brick that was probably built by hand in the 1700’s, with a small water fountain and concrete statue. On the other end, if you look closely at the photo below, you can see there’s a concrete lined canal or or waterway that leads down to a river. There’s an identical concrete canal on the estate side as well which is a little easier to see in the cell phone photos I had the venue send me. Each canal was made of concrete and had about 6 inches of water running through them.


In the past, I’ve shot photos using reflections from the pond and other similar shots with the estate in the background but nothing that I’ve ever really been happy with. Each time I walk out the back door of the estate it looks at me and screams that there’s creative ways to shoot it which absolutely drives me crazy because until this past wedding, it’s only left me scratching my head.

So, what was the difference this time? Before I took any gear out of my bags, I walked out back and looked at it as if it were the very first time. I forced myself to forget all of the other ideas I’ve had that didn’t work, or simply weren’t all that creative. I’m sure some of you experience this as well, but I have a bad habit of going through the same creative thought process over and over again. Going through the same mental steps that for the most part have treated me pretty good over the years. Well, breaking that process can be pretty challenging but I was hoping that it would be what I needed to finally create something artistic that my clients would love and I would be happy with.

 
 

I walked around the entire pond, looked at it from different angles, but blocked out any thoughts of gear or lighting (both natural and artificial), and within just a few minutes had a brand new idea in my head. I squatted down about 15 feet down the concrete canal between the pond and the stream and had a pretty good vision of what I wanted to capture and how I wanted to do it. Later that night just as the sun went down, I set the shot up, took a couple of test shots and was ready to go.

As much as I feel confident in my creative thought process that I typically use, I’ve been trying more and more to switch things up and break it now. This is the shot I’ve known was there all along, I just had to find it... with new eyes.

FEARLESS PHOTOGRAPHERS - Right On Awards

I simply placed the bride and groom exactly where I wanted them (right in front of the brick wall up near the estate) and asked them to take a few minutes to themselves away from all the excitement. I brought two camera/lens combos with me as I walked around to the other side of the pond and basically laid down over top of the water canal leading down to the stream. There was a concrete ledge about 6 inches wide on each side where I was able to put my knees and elbows.

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The first couple shots I took using the Leica SL and 50mm Summilux M-mount because I specifically wanted to use a little lens flare to help add that little something extra to the composition and draw the viewer’s attention right where I wanted it. I had an AD200 strobe up near the estate, behind the brick wall, about 6 feet above the bride and groom. It was aimed right at me with a Magmod grid and full CTO (my setup for creating lens flare when I don’t have the sun). From my test shot below, you can see how there isn’t a lot of separation between my wife and the brick wall, so I wanted to add another light to create a little more. I put an AD600 strobe right behind the bride and groom, about chest height so that it wouldn’t be too much work to edit out, and I aimed it right at the wall behind them. This brightened the wall and gave me the separation I wanted to see, really making them stand out.

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It only took me 3 shots to get the photo I was looking for and the lens flare exactly how I wanted it. I then had Sandi move the AD200 and move it off to the side a little so it wasn’t directly behind the couple anymore. I switched to the SL and 90mm setup and took a few shots. That was it, done.

The first shot below was taken with the 90mm and the black and white photo was taken with the 50mm, only I turned off the AD200 and only triggered the AD600.

Leica SL  +  Leica 50mm Summilux  | Only the AD600 behind the bride and groom

Leica SL + Leica 50mm Summilux | Only the AD600 behind the bride and groom


GEAR

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COMING SOON:

I just filmed a video tutorial on how I create that beautiful golden hour sun using just one light (GoDox AD200) and what I use to get the awesome lens flare you see in the shot above. It’s all in the light, the lens, and the way that I shoot it, none of the lens flare you see in my photos is created in post.

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The SSD Hype - Why Pay More For Less Storage?

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INTRODUCTION

Along with all the exciting tech advancements in cameras these past few years, there’s also been some pretty nice advancements in the storage department. While it’s pretty easy to keep up with all the camera hype as a photographer, the less exciting advancements with storage devices typically get a lot less love. It’s definitely the red headed step child of the photography industry. I can ask any random photographer about the new mirrorless bodies that have been released in the past year and most will be able to tell me. I can ask the same photographers if they would rather have a 1TB SSD external drive or a 1TB HDD for a lot less, most either won’t know the difference or will simply pick the cheaper one.

 
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While I get it, it’s pretty amusing to see how many photographers still don’t have a solid backup solution or don’t know the difference between an SSD or an HDD. So, before we go any further, let’s just get part of that out of the way right out the gate:

SSD:

Solid State Drive (think flash drive)

HDD:

Hard Disk Drive (moving parts)

The first 4 external hard drives from left to right are HDD’s. The last one all the way on the right is a 1TB SSD.

The first 4 external hard drives from left to right are HDD’s. The last one all the way on the right is a 1TB SSD.

I’ve written a few articles now on good backup and storage practices to avoid data loss, here are two of them: My New 10G Studio Network & The 3-2-1 Rule. I’m not going down that road again with this article, instead focus on explaining why you really should pay attention to the SSD hype and why it’s important. I’ll also be giving an explanation as to what the differences are between SSDs and HDDs as well as the advantages/disadvantages of each in an easy to understand way.

 
 

Over the past 5 years or so, SSD’s really started making their presence known as an option over HDD’s as internal storage for the operating system in computers. Yes, they were around earlier than that, but it was roughly 5-6 years ago that they started making their presence known. Having an SSD in your computer offered more speed, less power consumption, and less noise due to there being no moving parts. But, it was a pricey upgrade. The good news is that the price has been dropping significantly over the past several years, even more so since early 2018. The forecast for 2019, from what I’ve read, is that they’ll drop close to another 50% more. The flip side of that coin is that so will the HDD’s which aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In 2012, a 512Gb SSD cost $400. Now, you can get Samsung 1TB SSD for $147.99.


THE IMPORTANCE

Why is does this info hold any importance to those not looking to invest in a new computer or upgrading one? With the price drop of both SSDs and HDDs over the past few years, SSD’s have broken their glass ceiling and started making their way outside of computer housings and into external drives. Companies like SanDisk, Samsung, Lacie, and G-Tech are making portable external SSD drives. These drives are much smaller, faster, and more durable than typical external HHD drives that photographers have been using for years. Because of their smaller size, two of them can be stacked on top of each other in an enclosure the same size as a typical HDD external hard drive that we’ve all been used to using for years. Two SSD’s in an enclosure, with read/write speeds much faster, USB 3.1 Type C or even Thunderbolt 3 for Mac users, and the ability to run a RAID for even more protection. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty damn impressive to me and a sign of what’s to come in terms of protecting our data/images as the prices of SSD’s go down and the capacity goes up. No more having to feel like you might vomit after dropping an external hard drive that isn’t backed up anywhere else.

 
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SSDs vs HDDs

I’ve had one too many conversations with photographers who simply look at the total amount of storage, bus power (type of connector such as USB or Thunderbolt) and the price when shopping for a new external drive. To be fair, up until a year or so ago, that was basically all that did matter. Most know that if they have a Mac, Thunderbolt is faster than USB. After that, it’s simply comparing prices for the amount of storage they’re looking for. Well, times are changing and depending on your needs, it might be time to start spending more on a 1TB SSD external drive than a 3TB HDD external hard drive. SSD’s are basically replacing HDD’s and if you don’t know the difference, now is the time to start getting caught up. Below is a comparison of the two, and why some may want to spend more on an SSD. For me, I still use both.

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While 2TB portable SSD external drives are still on pricey side, 2019 will be the year you’ll see that change. 1TB sized drives have been the more popular choice. It makes more sense to go with a 1TB portable to carry with you while still utilizing the cheaper HDD drives in the studio to transfer your data to for safe keeping and backing up. I just picked up a few 10TB 7200rpm HDD’s for my NAS that cost $300. I picked up three individual 1TB SSD’s for $150 each. For me personally, if the drives are in the studio and aren’t in danger of falling or being dropped, total storage and going with a reliable brand is my main concern. For portable drives, I’ve dropped way too many external drives to risk having one of those internal moving parts get knocked around causing data loss. I typically don’t need anything more than 1TB when on the road traveling, although I’m looking forward to the prices dropping on the 2 and 3TB drives this year.

Two of G-Technology’s Dual HDD RAID Enclosures

Two of G-Technology’s Dual HDD RAID Enclosures


THE FUTURE

In August of 2017, Samsung released the first USB-C portable SSD available to the consumer. They had a couple previous models that were a different type of of SSD (I won’t get into the different types in this article), but 2017 was the year when portable SSD’s with both USB and USB-C interfaces hit the market. I purchased the SanDisk portable 1TB SSD Extreme when it came out last year and loved it. However, earlier this year, it grew legs and made a break for it. With prices dropping and seeing the trends in storage this coming year, I went a different route for my portable SSDs. I purchased a 4-Bay enclosure that is directly connected to my main workstation (2017 iMac Pro) so it can be added to the Backblaze Cloud Storage like the other external drives. The SSD’s are hot swappable which also makes it easy to pop one out, toss it into an enclosure like the one below to bring home or on the road with me. I also picked up the Mediasonic ProRaid USB-C 2 Bay enclosure that can run RAID1 for extra protection. Dual drives being a mirror of one another in case one was to fail.

SSD RAID Enclosures


LETS TALK SPEED

With one of the biggest advantages (if not the most important) of SSD’s over HDD’s being speed, let’s take a look at some of the speed tests I’ve ran. Hopefully, if you’ve read everything up to this point you have a much better understanding of why SSD’s have been receiving so much attention. You should also see the advantages that come along with a much smaller and robust drive that has no moving parts that can easily break if dropped, yet nearly twice the price. For most, speed is everything, it means less time spent sitting at a workstation in front of a monitor or a laptop and leaving more time for other things. Possibly, even time spent using an actual camera capturing your own moments with family or friends.

Personally, I’m willing to spend more money for extra speed. Time IS money after all, and the less I have to stare at a progress bar or spinning pinwheel the more I’m willing to dish out. I’ve upgraded the studio’s to a 10Gbe network and have now began replacing all my portable external drives with new SSD options. The plan is to also start implementing the faster SSD’s with our associate photographers making it much quicker for them to transfer their files over to our main server from their home RAID setup that we provide them.

[Twisted Oaks 10Gbe Network Breakdown]

I remember installing my first 2-bay HDD RAID setup just about 4 years ago and being happy and relieved to have that extra level of protection. Now, I have a portable external enclosure that holds dual SSD’s running RAID1 that’s overall smaller in physical size than most of my portable HDD drives. Most don’t even know these are out there.

So, if you don’t mind the longer wait times while uploading or downloading data there’s no need to go any further. Below, I’ve shared the speed tests I’ve ran to which show the the speed advantages of both the Samsung 1TB 860 EVO SATA III SSD and the SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable SSD (the two 2.5” SSD drives that I personally have invested in) using USB3.1 (TypeC) over the popular HDD alternative drives with more storage at a much cheaper price per TB.


SSD SPEED TESTS


HDD SPEED TESTS

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2

G-Technology GRAID Thunderbolt2


CONCLUSION

I’ve had had this blog post sitting in the queue basically marinating for the past couple months as I’ve been busy with other projects. I had contemplated on tossing it but in the two months that it’s sat waiting to be finished, I’ve had more photogs question the advantages of SSDs over HDDs and also invested more of my own money into SSD related products. So, after a 5-day long stint in the hospital last week I had a little time to spare. Time used to finally get this conclusion written up.

While SSD’s are faster, more durable, and quickly dropping in price, HDD’s aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The price per TB of storage with HDDs is also continuing to drop, making large amounts of storage affordable for those who need it. I recently purchased a 24TB G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt3 for the same price that I bought a 12TB G-RAID with Thunderbolt2 just 4 years ago. Now, due to the price of HDD storage I’m able to afford two Synology NAS devices with a total of close to 100TB’s of storage. Storage that I can upload and download to at pretty fast speeds even with HDDs running in each NAS due to the 10Gbe cards and wiring.

If this article has piqued your interest in utilizing SSDs where speed is more important than the amount of storage, I highly recommend spending a little more time learning even more. With the rate at which SSD prices continue to drop, you’re gonna start to see some SSD’s cheaper than others. The reason for this is that there are different types of SSDs which offer even faster speeds depending on their interface. Read up on the differences between an SSD with an M.2 NVME interface, SATA, or PCIe. The SSDs that I’ve purchased and are using an external storage are all SATAIII, which as you can see above offer quite the boost in speed over your typical HDD. An M.2 NVME SSD can offer speeds of up to and even more than 7 times the speed of the SATAIII drives that I own. They also cost a lot more and offer less total storage.

No matter what, it’s exciting to see the new technology that’s coming out as well as the once unaffordable technology dropping drastically in price. Yes, I used the word exciting and storage in the same sentence, you read that correctly. The less I have to watch a progress bar is exciting. We now have a lot more options available to us at much more affordable prices. For right now, having a general understanding of SSDs and HDDs is enough to help you make smarter purchasing decisions based on your storage needs. That’s the reason I wrote this up and hopefully, it helps.


New Shotkit Feature

Click on the image below to be taken to my new updated Shotkit feature. I was one of the first featured photographers on the site back in 2015 so it was time for an update. Being that I’ve become good friends with Mark, the owner of Shotkit over the years, I’ll be writing a few new articles for him over the next month or two as well.

The Cecilia Mercator & Tharp - Camera Bag Review

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of testing, reviewing, and owning way more camera bags than I should. The equipment room in my studio at one point looked more like I imagine a Kardashian bag closet would look rather than a photographer’s gear room. I actually started selling off some of the ones that I either didn’t use anymore or have found others over time that I simply like better. It’s not so much that I have a thing for camera bags, it’s more of a problem that I have with saying no when companies reach out and ask if I want to test out and review their new products. Good companies, like Cecilia, that I know make quality products.

 
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A bit of a backstory, I was initially introduced to the Cecilia product line through a photographer friend before they even had any bag designs completed. In fact, I believe they had just started designing a few concept ideas but nothing more than that. I did some research on the company and then reached out to the owner to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to send me a few products to test and review. You can click HERE to read more about the products I tested and what I thought. If not, let’s just say I was more than impressed. Not only with the Alpaca Wool camera straps that had been their original product that caught my eye, but also a few of the others that I normally would have passed on. Products that both my wife and I are still using today.

I spoke to the owner and founder, Michael Fleisch, at the time and he had mentioned a few camera bag concepts he was currently working on. When he explained the concept and what he had in mind I had just started using backpacks again, something I had gotten away from for years. Hearing that a backpack and messenger bag were in the works I was really hoping to hear back from him once he had the bags ready to go. Well, luckily I did, and here we are.

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REVIEW PROCESS

So, as I started putting this review together, it dawned on me that I really should explain my process for bag reviews. If you were to go through all my gear reviews, where I also throw bag reviews, you won’t find me trashing any bags or writing negative reviews. I don’t just write up positive reviews for every camera bag or accessory that comes my way. I learned early on when I started doing these that I simply don’t want to waste my time testing out a bad product any longer once I know it’s one that I won’t ever use or that I’m disappointed in. If a product comes my way, outside of actual camera gear, that I don’t like or recommend I send it back and give the company my honest feedback directly in the hopes that they make the changes I suggest. You can see all of my gear reviews HERE.

Depending on the job, or project, I tend to switch things up a lot when it comes to the accessories I use with my camera gear. I tend to either use a messenger bag, backpack style camera bag, single camera strap, or one of my Holdfast Moneymakers. Besides the bags that I’ve been sent to test and review, I have plenty that I’ve bought as well for either myself or my wife. Some have stayed and some have been quickly sent back.

I basically carry a camera with me at all times, even when it’s just between home and the studio. I’ve been like that ever since I purchased my first camera and don’t see myself changing anytime soon. I use a couple of different backpack style bags as work bags, carrying my 15” MBP, iPad Pro, Leica M10P, along with a number of other items. I typically don’t use those for shooting, I like to keep them looking nice since I meet with clients at the studio. I have a few different bags that I like to use while shooting, messenger bags and backpacks, and some that I use just for carrying gear from one place to another such as airport rollers and Pelican cases.

Since a lot of my weddings can involve a lot of hiking in the mountains or on large farm properties, to jumping from Uber to Uber in a big city, having options to choose from before each job is definitely something I can appreciate. Believe it or not, I have about 3 different backpack style bags that I use and beat up pretty good, 3 or 4 different messenger bags, and different camera straps for each camera that I shoot with. So, even though I have way more bags than I should, it’s often surprising to other photographers when they see how beat up most of them are.

 
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One thing about having the unique opportunity to test products like camera bags is that I get to try out all the different styles, pocket configurations, and material that each company uses. This has definitely helped give me a good idea of what I personally like, don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tried some that have had stitching start to come loose within weeks, some that simply aren’t comfortable to wear whatsoever, and others that I thought were great products right out of the box that turned out to be poor quality and not be able to take a beating. I can honestly say that camera bags are probably one of the toughest products to review because it’s such an over-saturated market and it’s a lot like reviewing a pair of jeans. Personal taste and style play a big role in choosing a camera bag, but just like jeans, you don’t want them falling apart after you wash them a few times. Basically, I’m going to tell you what I like and dislike about the two Cecilia bags I have and let you know some of my thoughts. I’ll keep it short and sweet since you can see by the photos what they look like and if these style bags are something you would be interested in or not.


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The Mercator is the 16L backpack camera bag that comes in a black and brown leather as well as the cotton canvas that was sent to me. Cecilia also offers a slightly smaller 14L design called the Humboldt which comes in the same options. While the look and design on the outside is quite simple, the inside is quite perfect. The 16L that I have holds a 15” laptop with a leather strap that snaps in place to keep it from accidentally sliding out. There’s just enough pockets and room to hold all the gear that I’ve ever needed to put in any backpack camera bag.

PROS

  • Weight: It’s extremely lightweight

  • Comfortable. Even with its very basic shoulder strap design, it’s more comfortable than most that have tried to get fancy with the design.

  • Impressive pocket design. Some bags have way too many, others not enough, the inside design and pocket layout is done nicely.

  • Holds its form well.

  • Easy to access and hide rain cover.

  • Well made tripod or light stand pocket and strap.

CONS

  • Not the sexiest looking backpack design, it’s quite simple and plain looking.

  • Personally not a fan of the one and only cotton canvas color, but being that this is the first line introduction to a bag line from Cecilia I’m sure there will be more colors soon. Although, I don’t know for sure.

  • The provided strap to hold a tripod or light stand is located inside a pocket. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pocket needs to be open when using the strap.

  • Price is $398 for the canvas and $498 for the leather.


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The Tharp is the 8L Cecilia messenger style bag, which also comes in a 12L named the Lambert, in the same two leather colors and cotton canvas color. The Tharp and Lambert are like most messenger bags with a few unique characteristics. While ONA messenger bags use straps and buckles to close the top flap and ThinkTank uses velcro, Cecilia went with magnets strong enough to hold it closed. The EVA foam padding is also a nice feature, not only as extra protection for the gear inside, but also comfort.

PROS

  • Weight: Light weight just like the backpack.

  • Comfortable with a well padded strap.

  • Sturdy and holds form really good compared to other messenger bags.

  • Seems to be quite durable.

  • Pocket design, just like the backpack is the best I’ve seen.

  • Price is $149 for the canvas and $249 for the leather. A good price for one of the best made messenger bags I’ve used.

CONS

  • No short strap for picking up, only the long shoulder strap.

  • Same as with the backpack models, I’m not a fan of canvas color.

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Leica Q2 Photoshoot

Prior to its launch this past Thursday, March 7th, I had the opportunity to test out the new Leica Q2 for a few weeks. Here is the first photoshoot that I brought it on, each photo below of the beautiful and talented Katt Wilkins was shot at 28mm f/1.7. This was the first of several shoots I shot with it, but also my favorite. Even though it was cold and raining, we shot for a little over an hour and I was able to get a real good feel for how the new Q handled and performed. The sun that you’ll see in some of the shots is simply the affect from using off-camera flash with MagMod grids and warming gels.

If you haven’t already seen it, there’s a lot more sample shots here in my “First Impressions” review - THE LEICA Q2.