The Canon 5D Mark III Is Real

After literally years of speculation about Canon’s successor to the wildly popular Canon 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III is finally here! The improvements are mostly incremental: better image quality, especially in low-light, some more video/audio options, and superior software options.

I currently own a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 7D, and to be honest, nothing about the new camera screams “MUST BUY!” to me. The Mark II still produces dynamite images and the 7D has some pretty robust video features. The extra $1000+ I would be forking over for a Mark III (compared to a Mark II) will be difficult to justify.

Then again, I haven’t seen the images yet. If they are truly mind-blowing, which they very well may be, I might have to dip into the old savings account for an upgrade…

My Favorite Aperture Presets

Presets. They are the poor man’s Photoshop actions. A decent preset can totally change the mood of a photograph with the click of a button. It can make it into something unique or consign it to the failure pile.

I’ve recently been on the lookout for some filters/presets/actions/whatever to take my photographs to the next level. In the course of my journey, I bought the Flare app for my Mac and found it to be a colossal waste of money. While reviews stated it was great for beginners and adequate for professionals, I found their preset filters to be amateurish and unpleasant. Many of them mimicked the effect of having an old film camera, complete with emulsion spots and grainy texture. This might be fine for photos I produce playing around with my iPhone, but I would never think of presenting anything produced by Flare for a client.

Thus, I retreated back into the arms of my current photo app of choice, Aperture 3 for Mac, and tried to find some decent presets to work within it. It’s a minefield out there when it comes to finding decent presets. A Google search for “Aperture presets” turns up spam site within spam site, and most of the sites I came across felt as sketchy as hell. That being said, I did find one (XposurePro) that, despite its spartan appearance, actually had some pretty decent stuff for sale (you can pay via Paypal, for those who are wary of site security, as I am).

After copious searching and experimentation, I’ve arrived at a tentative list of my favorite presets (click to enlarge before/after):

Toy Camera – Alright, this one’s kind of a cheat because it comes with Aperture, but I’ve consistently found it to be a good go-to if I want to punch up my images. Increased vibrancy and a hardcore vignette make the blues and reds in your images really shine.

Monster Punch – This preset puts a lot of emphasis on Edge and Edge Sharpening. The result is a photo that pops, while still looking quite professional. While this preset is quite Warm and its Tint borders on a bit too purple for my tastes, it is a great starting point. It also reminds me of my colleague Tammy Swales’ photography style, and that’s never a bad thing. Monster Punch is available for free.

Vintage Fashion – Much preferable to Aperture’s default Vintage preset, Vintage Fashion gives a glamorous, old-school feel without making everything feel washed out. Vintage Fashion is available from Xposurepro for $2.99.

Retro Vogue – There are a lot of apps that purport to give you a retro/vintage look, but few do it as subtly and with as much grace as the Retro Vogue preset. The colors in Retro Vogue are a little bit punchier than those found in Vintage Fashion, but they still look fantastic. I can tell this is going to be a preset I’m going to return to again and again in the future. Retro Vogue is available from for $2.99.

Errol Morris’ Recent Book Tour

Errol Morris just signed my copy of THE THIN BLUE LINE (Morris in background). COULD THIS DAY GET ANY BETTER?
Errol Morris recently signed my DVD copy of The Thin Blue Line. Morris is in the background in the orange coat.

One of my favorite filmmakers, Errol Morris, recently stopped by his hometown of Cambridge, MA as part of a tour to promote his newest book, Believing Is Seeing. Morris is basically all the things I endeavor to be: an incredibly talented person at his craft, who is concerned with the nature of truth and the mysteries of the mind (especially as they relate to photography). For a brief taste of what his book is like, check out his series of essays for the NYTimes on the Fenton cannonball photographs.

I managed to see Morris when he spoke at the Harvard School of Design, but Morris just posted on his site a full transcript of his talk at the Brattle Theatre (a place near and dear to my heart) and it’s well-worth the read. I enjoyed his answer to a question about why the book is titled “Believing Is Seeing”:

Why the title is Believing is Seeing instead of Seeing is Believing? Well, one seems to be far more clever than the other, although much to my chagrin it’s been used by several other writers. I felt I should read their books. One is a romance novel about a ménage à trois, which was satisfying for a short while, but quickly got kind of tedious. The other is just a straight ahead art book, not to disparage art books, but it did not seem to be terribly interesting. And the third, of course, is my effort. Why Believing is Seeing? Because we somehow think that vision comes to us in some pure native state, as if we don’t bring anything to it. It’s a reminder that what we see is often based on our preconceptions, misconceptions, we don’t come to the world as neutral observers. We come filled with bias, prejudice, vested interests of every kind. Why not occasionally be reminded of that fact?

Announcing the Launch of

I’d like to make this official: as of this moment, my new photography website, Dave Chen’s Photos, is online!

It’s been a long journey to get to this point. I’ve spent the past year amassing thousands upon thousands of photographs from a wide variety of events and situations. I’ve studied with master photographer Jerry Ghionis and read up on the techniques of flash photographer David Hobby. My hope is that the new site will reflect the breadth and quality of my work through an elegant, simple, classy design.

Shortly, I’ll be writing a blog post about the two photo website services I’ve tried this year: 4ormat and Bigfolio (which hosts the current version of the site). I know many of us dislike flash but there are reasons why I chose to use a service that only hosts flash websites. I will get into those later, but iPad and iPhone users are not left out, as there’s a fully functional mobile version of the site as well.

In the meantime, check out the new site! Put it through its paces. And ask yourself: would you hire this photographer if he was local? Why or why not? Your answers and feedback are welcome in the comments below.

Can the iPhone 4S Replace a High-End Camera?

Ars Technica joins the discussion with this in-depth exploration, complete with comparison pics:

[P]hotographers accustomed to DSLR quality won’t be trading their higher-end gear for a smartphone camera of any kind, iPhone 4S or not.

In the end, the iPhone 4S offers convenience—light weight, fits in pocket, simple controls—along with competitive, if not excellent, image quality. Unless you need or want full manual control or greater versatility in lens options, the iPhone 4S certainly makes a great photographic tool.

Wedding Photography Is a Dangerous Game

Maybe I don’t want to get into this industry after all…

[O]ne groom, disappointed with his wedding photos, decided to sue. The photographers had missed the last dance and the bouquet toss, the groom, Todd J. Remis of Manhattan, said.

But what is striking, said the studio that took the pictures, is that Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.

Dan and Priscilla’s Wedding

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles. While there, I worked with Stephen Tobolowsky to put the finishing touches on our upcoming live show. I also had the opportunity to photograph Dan Trachtenberg’s wedding.

Dan and I have been friends for a couple years now (he’s guested on the /Filmcast a few times, always to great effect). It was an honor to capture images from his big day with his bride Priscilla, who looked absolutely stunning in her wedding dress. The wedding took place at Marvimon in Los Angeles. Beautiful location, great food, amazing people. I could not have asked for a better wedding to shoot!

Here is a video I put together of the festivities. It is my first attempt at assembling a video slideshow out of my photos. Hope y’all enjoy it:

The Wedding of Dan Trachtenberg and Priscilla Hernandez from David Chen on Vimeo.

What Went Wrong with Kodak

David DiSalvo, on how Kodak failed to react to market forces in time:

The fall of the company that George Eastman built is perhaps the most salient commentary on the new economy in recent memory, and tells an unfortunate story about much of America’s industrial base. Monolithic, inflexible and unable to keep up with the shifts and turns of disruptive technology, once great companies like Kodak can’t survive without exhaustive restructuring. Hopefully, other U.S. companies have been watching and learning.


Sorry for the sparse updates recently. I’ve spent the last few days moving. It’s not a process I recommend; moving is incredibly disruptive, not just because it requires exceptional amounts of exertion, but because it upsets one’s routine. In a literal way, the world I woke up in yesterday is no longer the one I’ll wake up in today. It’ll take some getting used to. To commemorate the occasion, I tried my hand at some street photography last night in Harvard Square. (Again, I used my Canon 5D Mark 2 on ISO 3200.)

It’s a place that’s full of character. These photos are my brief love letter to it:

Tips from the Works of Cartier-Bresson

Eric Kim (via Vanessa) has some pretty good tips, drawn from the work of master street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Perhaps my favorite one is “stick to one lens”:

Although Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with several different lenses while on-assignment working for Magnum, he would only shoot with a 50mm if he was shooting for himself. By being faithful to that lens for decades, the camera truly became “an extension of his eye”.

Apply the same mentality to when you go out and shoot. I encourage people to use different focal lengths to see the world differently and experiment—but ultimately sticking with one focal length will help you solidify your artistic vision. You will be able to see natural framelines in your everyday life, and know exactly how your photos will appear when shooting from certain angles and distances.

There Is No Tomorrow

Some inspiring words by photography Martin Prihoda (via David Hobby):

What I realized is that putting your visions of success and happiness into the future tense really is a negation of your success and happiness right here and now. We are unhappy with how things are so we fantasize about the future and how happy we’ll be when we have our new car, house, salary, job, relationship.

But its all bullshit. You’re lying to yourself. If you can’t feel your success right here in the present moment, then you never will. It will never ever come.

Testing Botero Background #023

After viewing the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVD Box Set, I was particularly intrigued by what photographer David Hobby was able to achieve using a cheap, simple collapsible muslin background created by Botero. I decided to buy Botero Background #023 (the same one in the DVD, apparently) and try to replicate the effects that Hobby created. So, I did a quick-and-dirty setup in my living room, got my roommate Matt to pose for 10 minutes, cranked up my f-stop to minimize ambient light, and fired away. Here are the photos that resulted.

In general, I’m extremely impressed that I was able to achieve this look in my living room, which, trust me, does not resemble a photo studio in the slightest. Here are a few of my notes:

  • I used two flashes: one flash aimed at Matt at a 45 degree angle to his left and above, fired through a Westcott 43″ umbrella on top of a light stand. The second flash is directly behind Matt, pointing at the wall, and was triggered via infared sensor.
  • The different colors were achieved by putting different colored gels on top of the background flash. It is amazing what a difference a $.50 piece of see-through plastic can create!
  • Unfortunately, the Botero background wrinkles extremely easily, exacerbated by the fact that it is collapsible. These wrinkles are also very, very obvious in photos where the background can clearly be seen. As a result, I had to shoot at high focal lengths (using my 70-200mm) in order to make depth-of-field more shallow to achieve the kind of bokeh that minimized these wrinkles. Unfortunately, I think I overshot it a little bit; there’s some image softness in a few of these photos and I think f4 would probably have been sufficient, given how close I was to Matt
  • On a related note, I bought the 5×7 Botero background for $65. Apparently they sell other, much larger sizes (a 10×12 and a collapsible 8×16). I think the 5×7 is a good combination of portability and big size, but I did find myself struggling on numerous occasions to crop out the edge of the background. In other words, this background is a bit small and will constrain your options, so if you are going to shoot with the 5×7 background, you need to use a 70-200mm lens (or higher).
  • It was surprisingly difficult to lean the background against anything that wasn’t a wall. Anything smaller would create an uneven shape, so just keep that in mind if you’re hoping to lean this thing on a chair or something.

Overall, I’m pleased with the purchase and am glad that with just a $65 item, I have another major asset I can add to my portfolio.

Testing the Canon 5D Mark II’s Low Light Capabilities

When the White House puts out a photo of President Obama, it’s frequently taken using a Canon 5D Mark II (Example: this iconic image). It’s the same camera that Jerry Ghionis uses. It’s one of the gold standards of DSLR cameras these days, in terms of image quality.

I recently acquired a Canon 5D Mark II after the unit went on sale at Best Buy. There are many reasons to own one, but the two primary ones for me were the fact that it sports a full-frame sensor (allowing me to take full advantage of my EF lenses), and the fact that it gets amazing low light performance.

Last night, I decided to put the latter to the test. I spent some time with my friend Rachell, during which I shot a few photos at ISOs 2500 and 3200:

Rachell Low Light

On the way home, I shot a local band, Cradle to the Grave, who were performing at the Plough & Stars bar in Central Square. All of these photos were shot using ISO 3200 or ISO 4000:

Cradle to the Grave

My thoughts? The low light performance is spectacular. It is, in fact, so good that I’m pretty irritated I have not been using this camera all along. With my Canon 7D, I top out at ISO 1600 before the images become unusable, noise-wise, for any professional context. Yet with the 5D Mark II, even the ISO 4000 images are theoretically possible to use (realistically I probably wouldn’t go higher than 3200, but it depends on the situation. We don’t always get to choose our optimal ISO levels). And as you hopefully can see above, this makes possible images that I could only dream of prior to this point.

How many images have I missed out on because I did not have this camera before now? I shudder to think on it. But I’m glad this camera and I are finally together.

[Thanks to Alex Billington for hooking me up with the 50mm f/1.4 lens used in all these images. Extremely handy for producing sharp images in very dark situations!]

The Camera Equipment I Use

In the past few months, I’ve gotten many questions about what camera bodies and lenses I use. I thought it would be useful to make a post about it, so I can just refer people to this post rather than answering the same question dozens of times. As of today (8/16/2011), here is what I own. Typically, I’ll use some combination of these bodies and lenses for any given shoot:

Camera bodies:
Canon 50D
Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II
Fuji X100 (fixed 23mm lens on cropped sensor)
iPhone 4 (favorite apps: OldCamera, Pano, Hipstamatic)

Camera lenses:
50mm f/1.8
50mm f/1.4
70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM II
24-70mm f/2.8


I’ll try to update this post as my needs and interests changes.

Shooting San Francisco

I visited San Francisco this past weekend to see some old friends and see about a job opportunity. I was able to bring my Canon 7D with me, along with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. In addition, I brought along my trusty Fuji X100 as well. The Fuji is a phenomenal travel camera — small, unassuming, attractive, and likely to spark conversation with those who see you using it:

In addition, I did a brief photo shoot with my friend Sara. We took these photos after viewing the Picasso exhibit at the de Young museum, which, btw, was breathtaking:

Sara is one of those natural beauties, a person whose posing and expressions are so sublime that they rarely needs any direction from me. I hope these photos were able to bring out that beauty.

Shooting New Zealand

This is long overdue, but I thought I’d make a brief post about some of my experiences in New Zealand recently. I had the opportunity to visit Weta studios to see footage from Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Adventures of Tintin. You can find my full write-up by clicking here, as well as a partial transcript of a conversation I participated in with Spielberg and Peter Jackson (part 1 and part 2).

After the set visit, I took the opportunity to drive along the South Island of New Zealand. The rental car cost me about $450 for three days (including gas, which costs about $8/gallon in New Zealand), and I had to drive all by myself for about 1,000 miles, but I saw sights that are so beautiful that they simply can’t be matched anywhere else on earth. For this trip, I used a combination of my Canon 50D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, my Fuji X100, and my iPhone mostly using the Pano app:

I’ve done nature photography in the past, but in general, I find it to be a challenging enterprise. On a very basic level, the technology is limiting. The human eye’s dynamic range is vastly higher than that of even the most advanced dSLR on the market. Therefore, when you’re photographing images like this one…


…it can be challenging to determine the correct exposure level. And even if I got something usable, some post work would be required (as it was in this image). Fortunately, as I’ve pointed out in the past, the Fuji X100’s dynamic range is spectacular. Obviously HDR is a solution for some of these problems, but I’m still not sure I want my images to look so obviously manipulated.

New Zealand Day 5 7

When you’re photographing a human being, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to compose an image; maybe stick to the rule of thirds, and if you have interesting background elements, use them to frame your subject in a unique way. But with nature photography, you have to be more conscious of how different elements fill the frame, how the eye is drawn to them, and how the eye moves through the image. You also have a lot less flexibility in terms of which angle you are shooting from.

Sunrise in Christchurch

Despite the challenges, I’d like to think I was able to capture a small fraction of the beauty that’s present in New Zealand. Hopefully, you feel the same way.

[A special thanks to Sam and to Sid from New Zealand for their help in allowing me to capture these images!]

The Ethics of Using a 10-Year Old for Fashion Photography

Jenna Sauers, writing astutely about French fashion sensation Thylane Loubry Blondeau:

Even posing questions like these about the sexualization of children is discomfiting. To ask is this child too sexy is to put a child’s body under a kind of scrutiny that is (and should be) strange and unnatural, and that’s not a thing that should be taken lightly. But it’s one thing for a parent to take a photo of his or her little girl while she’s running around a beach in a pair of swimsuit bottoms. It’s another for a fashion magazine to take a photo of a 10-year-old sitting topless on a bed and publish it for a global audience.