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Promotional school photography by Laura Daly

A couple of months ago I shot some images for a local school's Open Evening advertising.  I had an eager bunch of bright eyed year 7 pupils, new to the school (it was their first week!) to act as models in various situations in the Science department.  The images had to be bright, interesting and showing the pupils enjoying their time in "lessons". 

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A day among the (virtual) clouds by Laura Daly

A few weeks ago now, we spent some time with Virtual Aviation at Cambridge airport.  They have a couple of Boeing 737-800 simulators that trainee pilots (and occasionally, newbies like us) use to practice flying - they are genuine simulators, set up to give you the same feel that the real aircraft would.  Very cool! Obviously, photographing in this environment would be very challenging, due to the low light and bright screens simulating the view out of the window.  But, I do enjoy a challenge, and luckily the low light performance of the Nikon D750 is just fantastic.  I dialed in an ISO of 3200 - easily manageable by the D750, producing very usable images - and started shooting.  Luckily, with it being a controlled environment, once you have the settings in manual, you can just shoot away as they are unlikely to change.  This makes it much easier to focus on composition and trying to get some more unusual looks.  My time was limited, as I was quickly roped into being a co-pilot for my husband!  However, I did get some nice documentary images of his first take-off, flight and landing at Heathrow.  So, as a slight change I decided to present these images as a photo story.  I hope you enjoy.

(A big thanks to Virtual Aviation for their hospitality and great tuition during our afternoon)

learning the ropes-1487Accelerate-1488Pete-1491Taking the controls-1489Easy, right--1494LHR landing-1501

3 rolls by Laura Daly

Over Christmas I spent quite a lot of time with my film camera - trying to learn more about exposure, composition, contrast, and just how to work more smartly.  Because of course, every image costs in the film world.  This post contains some images from the first three rolls of film I have ever shot - I can't say how satisfying (and exciting) it was to see these images on the roll of plastic as I pulled out the developed film from the tank for the first time...

Roll 1 - Ilford HP5+

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I decided for my first roll to be a film classic; Ilford HP5+.  So many people had recommended this film as either their go-to, or a great beginner's film to experiment with.  It has a really nice grain that I personally think compliments black and white portraits.  It isn't too oppressive, but is noticeable, and it adds a nice mood to the images.  This film also had a reasonably pleasing contrast - the images above were not really corrected for exposure or contrast in Lightroom (dust and marks were removed).  If there was one thing hindering me when shooting that roll, it was getting used to the split prism-type lens focusing that the old Nikon lenses had.  Some images I thought would be nice and sharp just weren't (although, this might be due to the fact I was shooting pretty wide open because of the low level of available light!), but this hopefully will begin to sort itself as I get used to shooting this medium with this gear.

Roll 2 - Ilford Delta 3200

This was the roll I was really looking forward to shooting.  Some people hate it (too grainy), but I love the roughness of it, coupled with the quite strong contrast (...at least, heavier than the HP5).

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Perhaps counter-intuitively (or at least going against the grain of what people normally do with this film), I decided to shoot some candid portraits of my new nephew with my mother.  I actually found that the lovely contrasty tones made the highlights pop, giving the images some nice soft, dreamy character.  This worked well coupled with the bokeh being produced by the Nikon 105mm - I was pretty pleased with the results.

Also, I was onto my second roll and I hadn't messed up the developing yet...I'm not sure exactly how contrast and general film characteristics can be affected by the development temperatures and times used; perhaps something for me to look into in the future...

Roll 3 - Ilford Delta 400

My last roll over the christmas period I shot was a roll of Delta 400.  Delta is generally considered the Rolls Royce of pro films, so I was interested to see how this (more expensive) film compared to the cheaper, but identical ISO, HP5+.  I did shoot some more portraits with this roll, but I also took it with me when I was shooting in Snowdonia over New Years (see my previous blog post) as I was keen to see its potential and performance shooting landscapes.

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The grain is pretty similar between both films (maybe, if I squint, you could argue the Delta's is a bit finer...) but the tones across the board are in my opinion a bit more pleasing with the Delta.  This film also seemed a little sharper, and responded better to light sharpening in Lightroom.  As a film for landscape photography it worked pretty well - especially in dull conditions, it was useful to have that raised sensitivity.

I really enjoyed the whole process over the holidays.  Slowing down and properly considering a shot, then having to wait to see if I got it right, then the development steps themselves.  It is definitely something I will be continuing with, and I have already bought in some more rolls ready for my next outing.  I've even splashed out and picked up some colour negative stuff (some Portra 160), which should be pretty fun...

Exploring group shots by Laura Daly

Group shots.  Weddings, events, parties, family gatherings; at some point there is always a group shot to be taken.  I've been trying to figure out how to get the best quality group images - focus, depth of field, exposure, all of these things can make or break a shot (this becomes even more important if it's a paid job).

Arranging your subject

My subject in this case happens to be some Lego minifigures (to me this group *perfectly* represents a wedding party.  Everyone has met a space monster [the relative you had to invite], a fencer [the one who doesn't want to be in the photo]...).  Depending on the lens you use, you will get different compression and therefore the way you arrange your guests will determine how far away everyone appears, how many guests were there etc.

Aperture and depth of field

If it's a dark day, chances are you will want to go for a wide aperture to keep the shutter speed up.  You focus, you shoot, you review, you swear.  The focus can often be off, with the most important guests appearing fuzzy.  Not good.  Here are some examples:

Fuji xpro1 @ f/2.8.  Focus here is on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  The subjects in front and behind of him are not in focus.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is now on the troll in the front row (where perhaps a bride would be).  Now you've got the first two rows, but the back row has been lost.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/5.6.  Focus here is back on the hotdog guy in the middle of the frame.  Surrounding subjects are clearer, but still not sharp.

The best results were with a smaller aperture (wider depth of field), but more importantly the focus is in the middle.  The point of focus for a lens is a bit like the centre of a sphere.  There will be some stuff in front of (and behind) that point which will also be in focus.  Therefore, if you focused on the bride (say its the troll in the images above), there is less chance of second cousin Ken at the back being in focus.  Clearly, as you decrease the size of the aperture (the f stop number increases), your depth of field will become more forgiving, and this will be easier.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  The focus here is on the troll again, but even at f/16, not everyone is in focus.  This could be rectified by using a wider angle lens (e.g. a 24 mm).  There would be less compression, so people would appear further apart, but the depth of field is much wider with a lens like this, ensuring everyone is in focus.

With a full frame body like the D750, depth of field is even more narrow so even at f/16 not everyone is completely in focus.  However, that being said unless someone is going to be reviewing a print with a magnifying glass, it may not be noticeable to the regular viewer.  You still need to remember the focus point though - here it is on the troll, and second cousin Ken is still suffering slightly.  If the focus is shifted to the hotdog guy (lets call him Uncle Bob), this problem is rectified.

Nikon D700 @ f/16.  Dealing with depth of field becomes even more tricky when using full frame.  Moving the focus to Uncle Bob in the middle, more people are in focus and sharp, producing an acceptable image.

The Wedding party

These examples are useful when thinking about a normal party, or a family shot at a wedding.  However, there is usually the ubiquitous *everyone* image that is taken at weddings, usually from a height.  Doing this, I actually found that (depending on whether you were shooting DX or FX) you could be a little more creative.

Our wedding couple now are the space ranger and the fencer, who are traditionally positioned at the front of the group.

Fuji xpro1 @ f/11.  The same rules apply here, and in fact are more important as your couple are now further away from the people at the back.  Second cousin Ken is once again getting a raw deal...

Fuji xpro1 @ f/16.  By shifting focus to the front row of the guests (the troll again), pretty much the whole of the group is in good focus [one thing to note - the fujinon 35mm seemed to back focus a little, with there not being much in focus in front].  These images were all shot with natural light only (backlit), so there would be no need for moving around lots of lights.  I quite like the effect too, it does produce a nice, light, airy feel to the images, which would suit a set of wedding shots.

One final thing - if you aren't so fussed about all shots having everyone in focus all the time, using a full frame body can give you some nice images where you can focus on the main subjects (say a bride and groom).

Nikon D750 @ f/2.8.  Taking advantage of the nice bokeh produced by the Nikon 50mm, you can produce images completely focused on the couple, which I actually quite like.

This has been a learning exercise for me, and a very useful one.  I really enjoy shooting with prime lenses, but they do take practice and an understanding of things like depth of field and focusing distance.  Hopefully some of this stuff is also of use to you guys out there.