Circular polariser experimentations

Two photography posts in a day! Amazing!

I took a circular polariser out today for a spin to see what all the fuss is about. I’ll save you the trouble of reading something long-winded, if you’re so inclined: useful, but I don’t think I’ll shoot with it everyday.

It was kinda funny, actually — this was my first time out with a polariser, and I had really no idea what it could do. I must have looked like some crazy dude on multiple occasions, looking through the viewfinder and rotating this thing on the end of my lens like a fool, pointing it towards the sky or towards a window to see the effect that it has.

And what an effect.

shop window with circular polariser

shop window with circular polariser

The difference is pretty clear — with the polariser, you almost entirely eliminate reflections on windows. It’s also supposed to make the sky more blue, but I couldn’t get that to happen an extreme amount.

building and sky with polariser

building and sky without polariser

Nice and all, but I don’t think I’ll be shooting with it all the time, at least not to start off with. Takes too much time to compose, for one — compose the shot, spin the polariser, spin the polariser some more, take the shot — by which time your subject has either long gone or the moment has passed. Still, I can definitely see where it will be useful for landscapes and the like.

Also: if you look closely you can see a tiny bit of pretty extreme vignetting in the corners of those shots. It’s not bad, and can mostly be corrected in post, but it’s still there.

Anyway, yes. So sometimes you go out shooting, right. Week 1 of the Uni semester is great for this because you don’t have tutes to attend, and can spend most of the day wandering around taking photos, right. You take a walk, and sometimes, you only take a handful of photos. But almost every one of those photos are great. I don’t even know what it is, maybe you spend more time composing, more time thinking about the shot, more time actually taking shots you want to keep rather than just shots you would like but don’t turn out very good…

And then, other days you go out shooting, take hundreds of shots, and end up with a single shot you actually like. Maybe it’s because you’re thinking more about how the circular polariser affects the shot, maybe it’s because you’re not even thinking about shots you want and just shooting to see what kind of an effect the polariser has. And the kicker, the kicker is that the one shot you do like was the most balls-y, most not-even-thinking-of-the-polariser shot of the whole hour or however long you were out shooting for.

That one shot where you saw someone sitting on a ledge, minding their own business.

The one shot where you got right up in some guy’s business, aimed the camera at him, put the viewfinder up to your eye — and by that time he’s definitely noticed you, but there’s no time to back out now — you half-depress the shutter to focus, you compose the shot —  the guy is smiling, realising what you’re doing by now (as if it wasn’t already obvious) — and you take the shot.

By the time you finish the shot, the guy has a huge grin on his face. He’s laughing, even. You thank him, and keep walking.

Best photo of the day. That one, single moment where it all comes together.

And it completely blows your mind that it was so easy! I mean, all this time you’ve been telling yourself that people are just going to flip out when they see someone taking their photo, that they’ll rant and rave about some crazy privacy, make a huge scene and kick up a massive stink. It’s the one thing that’s been holding you back from the kinds of street you’ve been wanting to take, and all you needed was some guy on a ledge to smile as you were taking the shot and not flip out completely.

I love photography.

A little more light, please.

really bad photo, but I'd love to experiment with a strobe more

I don’t know whether I just need more time behind the lens, or whether I’m just pixel-peeping more than I should be, but so much of the time I’m unimpressed with my photography; street or otherwise.

Technically, photography is incredibly complex. So much depends on the three pillars of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, and when you’re starting out (because, make no mistake, I am still very much an amateur) getting them right to suit the conditions is hard.

So much of the time it’s like the three pillars are the world’s most intricate balancing act. Say you’re shooting people in an area where there isn’t much light. You start off in Av, at f/2.8 with an ISO of 100 — the camera says you’ll need 1/8th of a second, which means camera shake then becomes a factor. Upping the ISO above 800/1000/1250 means you have a more respectable shutter speed of 1/30, maybe even 1/60, but even at those speeds a shot can still be ruined by subject motion. In this kind of situation, what can you really do without adding more light into the equation? More ISO means your photos are starting to be fairly grainy indeed, and you can’t open the aperture any more because you’re already at the limit of your lens (or you want the DOF because nailing focus is hard, etc). Photography in these kinds of situations is seriously challenging, and it’s times like these that make you think: “hey, this stuff isn’t just child’s play”.

Being a perfectionist is hard when you’re doing photography. I’d like to think my composition is good enough most of the time, and yet, when I’m looking at my photos in post at 100%, I’m sorely disappointed to see things aren’t as sharp as I wanted them to be, or that I’ve missed focus even though it looked okay on-camera.

I don’t even know why I crimp shots when I’m shooting — things on that back LCD look so much different than they do when I’m looking at the photos 100% on the computer, and even things that look okay on-camera can turn out to be extraordinarily average when viewed 1:1. In any case, crimping shots is a really bad habit that I’ll try to break.

It’s like Ira Glass said: I know I can do so much better. I know I can improve, it’s just that when so much of my shooting is extremely mediocre, it’s depressing as anything.

It’s somewhat ironic that the only place where I am improving is post-processing. I can now do simple stuff like split toning in Lightroom, and I can even do that Schindler’s List black/white/red effect in Photoshop (I think Sin City also used this effect), as well as selecting the black and white points of a photo in Ps.

To be fair, I don’t really have a good idea of why you would want to do those effects, or how to describe the effect, and for now, my understanding of it is limited to “it looks cool”. I disgust myself.

I guess most of this dissatisfaction with my own work stems from being very well versed in a particular subject area; computers are easy for me, and I understand them well enough to be able to explain most concepts to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, photography is fun, taking photos is fun; doing it well and with understanding is something that I’ll just have to work on.

But doesn’t that come hand in hand when learning something new? Everyone sucks to begin with; some people then quit, but others go onto future greatness.

At the moment I’d settle for consistently mediocre, but I think I’m getting there. Slowly.

some dude flippin' a water bottle

Electronically Capturing Light

Yes, photography. Another day, another lens.

Wait, what?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been suffering from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, for the uninitiated) for a little while now, which results in me buying lots of things. Perennially bad for my wallet, but somewhat satisfying. What good is money if you don’t spend it?1

My newest glass is the arguable best of EF-S lenses for crop-sensor DSLRs, the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM. I didn’t find the DigitalRev hands-on to be all that informative (strange for them, their videos are usually top notch when they’re not fooling around doing stupid things like “horsemanning”).


Of course, this meant that I had to try it out. More street, anyone? The location: in and around the Hobart CBD. It was a pretty overcast day which normally would have been fine for a bit of outdoor street, but it started to drizzle heavily a little later on which meant I didn’t go for a serious walk up to North Hobart like I was originally planning to. The best laid plans, and all that.

Initial impressions of the lens: it has a pretty big lens hood (not included). The focal length ring is incredibly, incredibly smooth; there’s a tiny more friction in the 17-35 range than there is in the 35-55 range, which makes it very nice to use. The IS and AF switches have a nice, audible “click” when you move them, and the focal ring is equally smooth when you’re changing the focus, and slightly more resistive when you’re past the focal range adjustment. I honestly can’t fault it as a piece of engineering, bar for the fact that it’s slightly larger than I expected (both length and girth-wise), but I guess that’s part of the parcel when you have quality glass.

It is, in a word, excellent. Most of my flawed photos were simply and error of the guy behind the glass overestimating his abilities to take a good photo — or just simply failing to take a good photo. By my own account, I think I’m at least okay with the whole composition thing — it’s just taking the shot like I see it in my head that’s hard (well, of course it is).

Choosing this lens was difficult, to say the least. I already have comparable lenses that do the same focal range — my Sigma 30 1.4, for example, covers the same distance provided I take a few steps forward or back, and it does this at an even bigger aperture, and I already have an 18-135 which covers the same range, as well as the nifty fifty which does a similar thing to the Sigma. My current collection of glass aside, there were also many great alternatives: the 24-105 f/4L at the top of that list, followed by a few non-Canon alternatives. After taking a few photos with it, I’m pretty glad I chose this lens over something like the 24-105 f/4, purely because it’s a fantastic standard lens for a crop-sensor DSLR.

Admittedly, the 24-105 does still have a few advantages over the 17-55 — it covers a bigger range and works with full-frame cameras should I ever decide to upgrade, both excellent points to consider. It does have one thing lacking though, and that’s the 2.8 aperture. I think this means that it needs twice as much light at the same shutter speeds as the 2.8, and it might also mean I don’t get as much bokeh as I do with a 2.8 aperture (although, once again, it can be argued that the 24-105 can get more bokeh due to its longer focal length). At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned from the internet.

If there’s one thing I want to work on with my street, it’s individual portraits. I’m way too hesitant to take photos of individuals or couples when doing street as it can seem a little stalker-ish, a little perverted (if you’re talking photos of the opposite sex), and there’s already a million other things to worry about when doing street. I guess it’s about finding the line between invading someone’s privacy (if only for a moment) and being seen as a pervert — an exceptionally fine line indeed. Taking photos of individuals on the street is definitely something I’m warming up to, but I’m still quite hesitant about it for the reasons posted above. Sadly, for now, it means my photos aren’t of anything particularly interesting. I mean, who wants pictures of just nothing in particular?

You probably wouldn't want to go where that bus is going, though.

Now that I think about it, taking photos of random people is hard. You never quite know how they might react, and I’ve read enough horror stories to know what could happen. Worst-case scenarios rarely happen, but I’m still a little freaked out one day someone is going to completely lose the plot when I take their photo and, like beat me up or something. It’s a scary thought.

Then I see people like this guy doing street photography on the streets of LA, where he gets right up into people’s faces using his Leica M, and people look up, smile, and continue on with whatever they’re doing. Are people much friendlier over there, or is it all about the right approach? Which brings me to my next point…

Okay, so I’m Asian, right (don’t laugh, this is SERIOUS BUSINESS). On the one hand, I can blend great into any crowd with a decent-sized cam and people will think I’m just another tourist taking pictures of damn-near everything, which is fine. Great, in fact — people don’t think twice about the Asian guy taking a photo of a busker. The only thing is, the whole blending-in thing doesn’t quite work if you’re taking photos of people. I mean, normally you see Asian tourists with their point and shoots snapping away at nice-looking buildings or whatever, and here I am with my giant DSLR aimed squarely at them! What’s up with that?!


Lastly (until next time) I went to the cricket the other day. This was at 85mm on a 1.6 crop — there’s a 200mm lens limit condition of entry at that particular ground, but a) I think the guys at the gate wouldn’t be able to tell (or they just didn’t care because it wasn’t an international match), and b) I think you would be able to get a few decent shots of players if you had something like a 70-200 at the same crop factor.


  1. Probably a deeper underlying issue here if I’m going about saying things like that, but that’s for another time. 

Photography, Take Two

I was going to go to Melbourne this weekend, but that didn’t happen because “the circumstances didn’t allow it” (whatever that means), so here I am, tapping on a few bits of plastic, sending 0s and 1s through a few copper cables, so that electric charges can manipulate crystals and make things happen on-screen. And that’s just my own computer! Technology, eh?

Allow me to dwell for a second: man, this Melbourne trip would have been awesome. Imagine it now: a hundred people at an engagement party, all mingling and interacting with each other. Man, it would have been awesome. I would have brought along my trusty Sigma 30 1.4, shot it wide open with the help of a borrowed 580 EX II, and the photos, man, the photos would have been spectacular, incredible, and all those superlatives. Alas, Things Just Didn’t Turn Out for many a different reason, and here we are. I briefly contemplated just going to Melbourne to do street photography there, but that would have been a pretty expensive expedition (not to mention I’ll be in Melbourne next week anyway).

Luckily, there was but one saving grace: I got some new glass. New old glass, but new glass nonetheless. I also had the day off from work. Rather than waste it moping around at home, I decided to go to a place I hadn’t been in a long time and try my hand at a little more street (photography). I couldn’t do any serious gaming due to the fact that all my serious gaming hardware was on the other side of the state, a by-product of having a 5-day gaming expedition with a few mates that was pretty great. We played heaps of multiplayer games, ate over a kilo of ham between the six of us, and had an excellent time. But I digress.

So, street photography. As DigitalRev says, the number one rule of Street Photography is not to look like a convicted sex criminal.

With that sorted, I headed out. The location: Salamanca Markets. I’ve said something about street photography, Hobart, and something about a lack of population density before, so what better way to solve the issue by going to a place with high population density? I’ve actually done this last time I was on safari, going to the Taste to try my hand there. I got a few keepers, but I figured Salamanca Markets would be an ace spot as well. I haven’t been in literally, years — working Saturdays has that effect. I used to go pretty much every other weekend with the family, but times change and people grow old…

Oh right, I had some new glass to test. Probably better tell you about that, too. It’s the older, now-discontinued EF 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 USM lens. Initial impressions were that it was a pretty standard zoom lens for full-frame DSLRs, and on a crop body that works out to be about 38-136mm. It’s lighter than the EF-S 18-135 I already own, plus it’ll work on a full-frame body when I make the switch. USM makes it really cool in terms of focus speed — it’s quick, and silent. Interestingly, this copy doesn’t seem to have a huge issue with gravity zoom unlike my 18-135 and other copies of the 24-85.

The thing about street photography is that it’s hard. Photography is hard. Street photography is even harder, because you have to take photos of people in public spaces (something that’s totally legal in Australia, by the way), and even better if you can do so while they’re doing something interesting or something “makes” the shot. For this reason, street is great for learning about composition — you’ve really got to get into the zone otherwise you’ll just snap away at random crap. And no one wants that!

Back to the 24-85. It was great for up-close portraits or subjects a few meters away, and is definitely a lens I wouldn’t hesitate to bring out again. It isn’t a particularly fast lens, but shooting at f/4 was pretty okay anyway. I was surprised at the amount of blurred background this lens produced, actually — doing an quick comparison reveals that the Siggy has slightly blurrier backgrounds at f/3.5 at 30mm, but in reality it’s all much of a muchness, none of which is applicable if your subject isn’t in focus in the first place 😉

Viking job losses! This guy looked at me and posed for the shot.

With street, it’s more about just capturing the moment than it is getting perfect portraits or great subjects. Taking pics of a single model with a few props is great and all, but what about capturing the vibe? Getting that shot of the moment is rewarding, just don’t chase it — let the moment come to you.

Some guy shouted to me as I was taking the pic that this was a common occurrence in Hobart. I think he was referring to why grown men were wearing bright red dresses in broad daylight, but I can't be sure.

Judging by some of the shots from today’s expedition, I still have quite a bit to learn. All the photos you see are the pick of the bunch, and none of them are particularly great, I can find flaws with many of them. In any case, I put some more time behind the lens — and that’s only a good thing, in the long run.

Occupy Hobart? I didn't even know that was a thing...

Final comment: Salamanca is much more of a tourist attraction than I remember. I saw a disproportionate number of “serious cameras”, including what I’m sure was someone with the elusive, green-ringed 70-300 featuring Diffractive Optics (but curiously, no L glass to be seen). Camera models varied: most were Canons, but I did spot the gold-ringed Nikon variety every now and again, as well as the odd Pentax or Sony. DSLRs were the choice du jour, outnumbering micro 4/3rds and compacts. Why is this interesting? I have no idea, it just is to a camera nerd like I.