Lensbaby Velvet 85mm Lens

I love working with new technology when it comes to photography. With the advent of mirrorless cameras and all the advanced features now available to consumers at a relatively affordable price, it might seem like backwards thinking to shoot with a fully manual lens in 2018. Companies are pushing for higher megapixel sensors, faster AF, in-body stabilization, focus-peaking, assist features, and video capabilities.  This is actually the perfect time to experiment and work with manual lenses if you haven't already. Having focus assist and exposure simulation on cameras like the Sony A7 series has really benefited us photographers. 

As a portrait photographer, I have always welcomed an assortment of focal lengths to use on my job. Lenses are tools with varying characteristics so when Lensbaby reached out to me to test their Velvet 85mm lens I was super curious how this would perform. I already had two 85mm lenses in my arsenal and didn't actually have a need for another, but I was already in love with their Sweet 50 optic in my gel work. I knew that the Velvet 85mm would be different in its rendering capabilities. 

 Canon 5d Mark III and Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens.

Canon 5d Mark III and Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens.

The Velvet 85mm lens has a manual aperture and focus ring. The construction is metal and feels absolutely solid in the hand. The only caveat I would have is handling the lens in extreme cold, but I have yet to run into any issues with the build quality of the lens. Another worthy mention is the long throw of the aperture and focus ring, something that videographers will surely appreciate in their work. At its most wide open setting of f/1.8 the lens creates a distinctly soft halo effect. For my own work and personal taste I found this to be too strong for my liking, but once I stopped down the lens to f/2.8 it was much better. I will typically use this lens at f/4.0-5.6 for portrait work where I found the sharpness to be exceptional and there is still a unique rendering quality that sets it apart from my other lenses. On the contrary, the soft focus halo effect is perfect for videography if your scene requires an ethereal look and feel. The rendering is literally perfect for such a circumstance. 

 Canon 5d Mark III and Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens.

Canon 5d Mark III and Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens.

Another area that I enjoy using this lens is in beauty photography. 85mm is a flattering focal length and works quite well for headshots and beauty. You will have to make sure that your camera's viewfinder is adjusted properly using the diopter. This will help ensure that what you see through the lens is what you get in regards to focus when you use a traditional SLR camera. On mirrorless cameras you can enable focus-peaking if its available in your function menu. With beauty photography the attention is on the details, and with the macro capability of the Velvet 85mm lens I found detail and texture to be excellent, with a beautiful smooth transition to the out-of-focus areas and bokeh. 

 Beauty photo captured using the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens. 

Beauty photo captured using the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens. 

Overall, I've found the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens to be uniquely different from other 85mm lenses on the market. The soft halo effect of the lens at wider apertures along with the  rendering characteristics and smooth bokeh make this piece of gear a pleasure to use. I find it helps set my work apart from other photographers while also providing a fun challenge in its fully manual operation. For videography work it is exceptional, providing macro functionality and an ethereal look and feel wide-open. The long throw of the focus ring also helps build trust that your focus is tack sharp, and with the aid of mirrorless cameras you can rely on such a lens for your professional work.  

For myself as a hybrid stills and video shooter, I plan on using the Lensbaby Velvet 85mm lens on a regular basis and have found myself reaching for this lens first when I need the 85mm focal length.

If you enjoy my work I highly recommend you give Lensbaby lenses a serious consideration.

 

 

Shooting Color with Longer Exposures

In this video I go over the equipment and settings I use to shoot colored gels using motion and in-camera effects. You'll typically want to leave your ISO at 100 in studio, but to capture motion you'll want to have your shutter anywhere between 1/5-1/160th of a second. Just make sure the image is suitably sharp for your intended purposes. Items mentioned in this video can be found below. 

Colored gels: http://amzn.to/2z5uirk  

LensBaby 50mm tilt-shift lens: http://amzn.to/2zWgUZR

Lens prism: http://amzn.to/2zZBJl6

Model's page: https://www.instagram.com/andreventurrr/

Natural Light Essentials

Hi guys. In this video tutorial I cover the basics to a natural light shoot using minimal equipment. I keep this simple and affordable by using the following elements-

1) Large window - FREE

2) Foam Core boards (white and black) $15-30

3) Apple Box $30-40

Check out some images from this shoot below.

 

Videomaking with the Sony A7S ii

Over the past few months I have been getting more and more involved with video production. I've always had a strong interest in storytelling through different mediums so it feels like a natural extension into video making using the equipment I already possess. However, my primary work cameras are the Canon 5d mkiii and Canon 6d. If you've been keeping up with camera technology you know that Canon reserves its premium video functionality for their cinema line of products. I found myself not only wanting, but requiring higher fps capture rate and 4k.

Based on my research of modern video functionality from the top manufacturers I decided to go with the Sony A7s ii camera body. The criteria for my selection was high bitrate recording, minimum of 60fps in 1080p, and lens selection/AF. The past few videos I have recorded on my Youtube channel have been made using the Sony bodies (A7s ii and A6500). 

Lauren and I decided it was time to record our first music video together. She cover's Jack Johnson's 'Better Together'. Follow me on Instagram @josephdtran Follow Lauren on Instagram @laurenemilycastle

I've been extremely pleased with the advanced functionality of the Sony camera bodies versus my older Canon bodies. I'm actually tempted to switch over to Sony for all my professional work, but don't quite feel its ready for prime time. The lack of dual-card slots is really a buzzkill as I have unfortunately experienced SD card failure in the past.

But as it stands now I am confident to recommend any budding videographers to take a look at Sony's latest offerings. 

Colored Gels for Lighting

Using colored gels allows us to bring a certain pop and splash of color that can really accentuate a model's shape and figure. Directing light and filling in shadows using colors is a fun way to experiment with off-camera flash. Here are some of my examples.

 Model: Andrea Ventura, HMUA: Alethea Spencer

Model: Andrea Ventura, HMUA: Alethea Spencer

 Model: Marisa van der Eijk

Model: Marisa van der Eijk

 Model: Patricia Evelina Zapodeanu 

Model: Patricia Evelina Zapodeanu 

 Model: Leena TP, MUA: Azin Farshadfar, Hair: Giselle Williams

Model: Leena TP, MUA: Azin Farshadfar, Hair: Giselle Williams

 

 

Iceland April 2017

I just got back from a 7-day trip in Iceland visiting friends and exploring the country. What a magnificent beautiful place! I attempted to capture some landscape photographs in the process (and learned quite a bit!). I debated for quite some time prior to my trip as to which camera I would bring (Canon vs. Sony). I ended up compromising and brought my Sony a6500 and Canon G7x Mark II. All images below were captured on the a6500 (the Canon was used for vlogging).  

Enjoy.

Portfolio Shoot

I recently did a model portfolio shoot but have not had time to edit the pics now that I started working a full-time job again. Slowly but surely I'm learning to manage my time better, and slowly but surely new images are rolling out!  

 

Favorite Lenses for Portraits

Commercial shoot for Tribetats and Blenders Eyewear shot on Canon 24-105 f4l lens.

I have people ask me which lenses I use for a particular shot. I don't necessarily have a specific focal length that I always reach to-- really depends on the situation, but most importantly what I like to refer to as the 'working distance' to a client. How comfortable you are as a photographer with people, and knowing how to pose them in a way that appears natural and inspires confidence is really the key element.  

For some people that might be a 24-70 zoom lens, an 85mm prime, or a 70-200 telephoto zoom. All of these focal lengths can take amazing photographs if you capture the right moment. Having quality equipment, maintaining it, and knowing how to use it properly to create the aesthetic you are going for is mostly experimentation in the beginning, but once you familiarize yourself with your gear the next step is to create a connection with your subject.

Personally I like to work at a very casual 'talking distance' with my clients. That means I am at a distance where we can have a natural conversation without either of us speaking overly loud, or missing what the other person said. For me this can be in the 35mm to 50mm range. 

When I first started out taking portraits I read articles online advising the 85mm and/or the 135mm focal lengths as perfect for portraits.  Naturally curious, I tried both lengths and quickly learned that although they can both create amazing images due to compression (Google lens compression if you don't know what that is), I was so far away from my subject it felt very impersonal. 

I'm not saying you should never use those lenses-- that would imply removing good tools from your toolbox. What I like to do is start with a focal length that creates a healthy starting 'working distance' with your client. From there learn to intuitively gauge the distances you can both work at comfortably, find the crop distances that your subject likes, and experiment. I might start with a 50mm and find that I could move to a 35mm or backup to a 100mm depending on the crop and how much rapport I have built with my subject. 

There's no baseline, right or wrong method here. Everybody is different and how comfortable you make them feel is really going to make the biggest impression on their images. 

That being said, if I could only have one lens it would be a 24-70 f2.8 zoom :)  

Retouching: How to approach portrait editing?

Photographers may use very similar equipment across the board, but what really sets photographers apart is the style they approach their retouching. For me personally, I use Adobe Lightroom to sort and rate my images-- this allows me to speed up my workflow in the often time-consuming selection process. Once images are rated from 1 star (worst) to 5 stars (best), I view my top picks and create a collection gallery to determine which ones will move on towards editing.  

SOOC (Left) versus VSCO color grading (Right)

The next step is color grading. Straight out of the camera (SOOC) images typically look a bit dull and flat. This is because in order for the camera to capture as much data as possible it must separate the darks from the lights. Camera sensor technology is not at the level of sophistication as the human eye, which can see a wide gamut of colors and contrast. Because of this, post-processing becomes a tool by which the photographer can bring his or her vision to life. In my case, I often utilize color presets (I use VSCO primarily to color-grade) to begin my editing process. This helps me to set the mood for the gallery.  

The next step is to retouch the subject using a multitude of methods in Adobe Photoshop. I start by using the Healing Brush tool to clean up skin artifacts, slight wrinkles, acne, etc. The Patch Tool is useful for larger areas of skin that need to be cleaned up. The next step is to even out the skin tones. For this I use a method called Frequency Separation (you can Google/Youtube this for more info). You can also use Photoshop Actions that enable you to 'brush on' skin smoothing. I use the ones created by Fashion Actions (www.fashionactions.com). It's a quick and easy way to clear up blotchy skin tones, and uneven layers.

Once I feel the skin looks clean, I move on to dodge and burning.  I use a Wacom Intuos Pro to paint on highlights and shadows to create more depth in the image.  I add and remove to areas where I want to enhance the natural light as it is (especially around the eyes).  This helps to create the impression of dimension to an otherwise flat image.  

VSCO color graded image (Left) versus Full Retouched image (Right) 

After that is detail work such as sharpening and brightening eyes, cleaning up makeup, and removing stray hairs from the equation. At this point I would do additional minor tweaking or special filters such as the ones offered by Alien Skin Exposure. It's an excellent plug-in software that you can install within Lightroom/Photoshop. I highly recommend it!  

And that's about it-- here's an example of a finished product.  Enjoy!

Marketing Projects

I recently teamed up with a large marketing and advertising agency to develop my brand further. I had the pleasure of working with one of their videographers and my good friend Victoria who is always a great model to develop some material moving forward.  

Here's a photograph from our session tonight.  More to share coming soon...

Enjoy!

Joe