Category: Shooting on a Budget

Shooting on a Budget in Downtown Las Vegas

Susan walking the runway in 2015.
Dress by Wassa Wear.

I finally got to do a shoot with this gorgeous girl! I met Susan a few years ago through Facebook. I first saw her on the runway of a local Vegas fashion show where I was attending as a photographer. This show featured new designers. Susan stood out to me because she reminded me of model/actress Brigitte Nielsen in her prime, but a more demure version of her. Back then, she was a blond.

Thanks to the power of Facebook tagging by mutual friends, I was able to send Susan a link to download her pictures.

I’ve always wanted to work with her, but she moved to New York City for modeling and acting and lived there for a few years. We’ve been following each other’s work through social media throughout the years.

When Susan announced she was visting Vegas and was looking to collaborate, I jumped at the chance!

We did the shoot in Downtown Las Vegas at the Neonopolis. The area wasn’t very busy due to many businesses closing. We had free reign to shoot, especially this bridge area that overlooked Fremont Street.

I didn’t intend on doing this shoot for my “Shooting on a Budget” project, but the amount of gear used ended up matching my criteria. Also, I haven’t posted anything related to “Shooting on a Budget” in a long time.

Here was the gear list:

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Yongnuo YN-568EX TTL speedlight – Free!
    (A fellow photographer graciously gave me this flash, but it normally sells for about $97 new)
  • ‘Yongnuo YN-622N-TX  and YN-622N receivers – Free!
    (A fellow photographer graciously gave me these receivers, but it normally sells for about $85 new)
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $408 ($8 over budget) or $226 (since 2 items were given to me)

I was having problems firing the YN-568EX off-camera. I normally use it on-camera for wedding ceremonies. Some of the shots were done with natural light, while some were with the speedlight when it did fire.

Credits :
Model – Susan (Instagram)

At the end of the shoot, we did an obligatory selfie. In true model fashion, Susan would change her position for each shot from her cell phone. She’s a model through and through!

 

 

Fashion Magazine Look on a Budget

One of my most favorite looks in photography is the bright and flashy look that you see in fashion magazines and editorials. Typically, the model is brightly lit and pops out from the background. I can thank watching America’s Next Top Model for that.

When I first got into fashion photography, I would watch re-runs of Top Model. The drama among the contestants and the challenges were ridiculous to watch, so I just skip to the photo shoots.  While watching a few episodes, I have always wondered why they would need a strobe in the daytime.

Throughout my photography journey, I’m glad to say I finally figured out why photographers would need a flash or a strobe in the daytime. It is used as a fill light, especially in harsh lighting with no shade.

I attended a photographer-model networking event at the Arts District. During this event, you basically grab a model or “human subject” and start shooting. Because the event was held earlier in the day, the lighting was harsh. There was plenty of shaded areas around, but I didn’t want to shoot the same thing as every one else, so I brought my models out in the sun.

It was one of those instances where I wish I brought more speedlights and a diffuser to spread and soften the light, but you work with what you have. So in both instances, I just used one bare speedlight at about 1/2 power. It didn’t spread the light as I hoped, but it did an alright job.

Credits:
Models – Landon (Instagram) | Reyna (Instagram)

Shooting with Natural Light on a Budget

I’m looking to shoot more natural light in 2018. As much as I love off-camera flash, it’s annoying to bring a light stand to every shoot. I can get away with shooting with the flash on camera if I don’t have a light stand, but sometimes the lighting can be a bit harsh and flat.

I pride myself in being able to shoot with both natural light and off-camera flash, but my goal is to make my natural light portfolio just as good as my off-camera flash work.

A small group of photographers and I spent the day in Mt. Charleston to shoot in the snow. One of the photographers brought her aspiring model friend to be our “subject”. Vegas people get very excited about snow, so Mt. Charleston was pretty packed. My car was parked far and I didn’t want to haul my light stands while walking up the hill, so I just left it in the trunk.

I felt a little out of my element for various reasons. First of all, I’ve been so used to off-camera flash, that I felt it’s been my “crutch”. I now had to read the light and move the model accordingly. Second of all, I was using my Dad’s Canon Rebel T1i, which I still have from my Philippines vacation. I’m still trying to get used to the dials and buttons, but they’re so much different than my higher-end Nikons. Back-button focusing (BBF) felt weird on the T1i, so I switched and re-learned shutter-button focusing. Finally, I only had the kit lenses, which are sometimes not ideal with shooting natural light portraits because of it’s not-so-wide apertures.

Many photography beginners think that shooting at an aperture of f/1.8 with the 50mm lens is the only way to get a blurry and “bokeh-riffic” background. However, depth of field is also determined by the distance between the subject and the background, as well as the subject and the photographer. To get the blurriness, there needs to be a good amount of distance between the subject and the background and the photographer. With that in mind, I used the 55-250mm kit lens only.

Yes…You Can Shoot a Wedding with Budget Gear

But I highly DO NOT RECOMMEND IT!

There is a saying that “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer behind it.” That’s true for the most part, but when it comes to weddings, it’s a different story.

Wedding photography is expensive for a reason. It’s because you are paying for the photographer’s experience and their usage of high-end equipment, as well as the photographer’s time coordinating before the wedding and editing the pictures after. In 2017, I have booked 4 weddings on my own and have worked as either the main or second shooter for other people. For all these weddings, I have used my higher-end Nikon D750 (with my Nikon D300 as a backup) and quality lenses with fixed apertures. A few lenses alone were way over $400. Per my “Shooting on a Budget” project, all my equipment had to total at $400 or less!

During my cousin’s wedding, not only I used “downgraded” equipment, but I also used a system I was not very familiar with. I did not want to use my money-making equipment during my trip to the Philippines, so I used my Dad’s entry-level Canon Rebel T1i and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 55-250mm f/4-5.6 kit lenses. To ensure I had decent shots, I had to quickly learn how to use the camera prior to my trip. I also had to adjust my way of focusing. I was using back-button focusing (BBF) on my Nikon, but it was a pain to do BBF on the T1i, so I had to re-learn how to use shutter button focusing.

It was extremely frustrating using my Dad’s camera. It was a pain setting the focus points, so I had a few out-of-focus shots. Because of the lenses’ changing apertures (if you’re shooting at its widest possible) as you zoom in and out, I had to constantly adjust the shutter speed to get a well-exposed shot. I missed the first kiss because of this. The closest thing I got was the bride and groom about to kiss, but the shot was pretty under-exposed. Thank goodness I shot in RAW!

Even though I was shooting this wedding with entry-level Canon gear, I would have just as much frustration shooting with comparable entry-level Nikon gear. Learning the Canon wasn’t that much of a huge learning curve for me.

In summary…yes, you can shoot a wedding with entry-level gear. However, it’s best to use that gear if you’re sitting in the audience as a guest, NOT as the main shooter.

I hope I didn’t lead you all to believe I was the main shooter of this wedding! Fortunately, I was just a guest and took pictures from my seat in the back rows. The wedding had 2 photographers and 3 videographers in a pretty small space, so I didn’t want to get in their way!

I know the main photographers did a much better job than I did, but here are a few shots I took during the ceremony.

Holiday Shoot at the Smith Center

I wanted to do one holiday shoot before the end of 2017, so when Kayla posted on a Facbook group that she was looking for a photographer for holiday shoot, I jumped at the chance.

I chose the Smith Center as the location because there was plenty of lighting at night and it’s one of the most photography-friendly spots in Vegas. Also, there was a 30-foot Christmas tree at Symphony Park. My goal was to get a couple “bokeh-rific” shots with Christmas lights.

I have not purchased any additional gear since I started the project. Unfortunately, I did not purchase the Nikon D50 yet because I’m still looking for one at the right price. However, I’m looking to forego the Nikon D50 because I really want to take a slimmer camera for my trip to the Philippines during the first 2 weeks of January. I’m looking at either a Sony A6000, a GoPro, or something with better video capabilities.

During this shoot, I used the same equipment as before.

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Nikon 50m f/1.8G AF-S lens – $150
  • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60
  • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $481 ($81 over budget)

I bought this camera somewhat on a whim because I really needed a second body for weddings. However, when I first used this camera, it just didn’t feel right to me and it was so beat up, I regret selling my first D300 in 2015. Because I didn’t really like the camera too much, I just kept it around just in case my Nikon D750 would malfunction.

Thanks to this project, I’m actually appreciating my D300 more. Using the Nikon D750 really has spoiled me prior to the project, especially when it comes to high ISO, but I think I will be okay. I’m not too bothered by pushing the ISO on the D300 to 1600.

Credits :
Model – Kayla (Instagram)

Trash the Dress at Dana Point

Dana Point Harbor, especially the Ocean Institute, is my favorite spot to visit whenever I’m in Cali. Even though it’s 50 miles away from my parent’s house in Walnut, it’s well worth the drive. It’s peaceful, calming, and the water is easy to access. It’s also a great place for photo shoots!

I did a casting call on Model Mayhem, looking for a model with specific measurements. I have a used wedding dress I purchased on eBay for only $50. I previously bought it for a wedding simulation workshop with my photography group. Because the dress is inexpensive and just sitting in my closet, I’ve always wanted to do a trash the dress session. It was very important for the dress to fit the model like a glove. Luckily it did!

I was able to get my hands on my Dad’s camera, which is a Canon Rebel t1i with the 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 kit lens. He received the camera and lens brand new as a Christmas present back in 2009. I researched on eBay and the lowest price the camera now is selling for is $155 and about $70 for the lens, so everything totals about $225. The pricing is based on the “Buy It Now” price.

I studied the Canon’s button layout and menu a little bit prior to the shoot. Thanks to a Google search, I was able to setup back-button focusing. During the shoot, I had the model stand near the water, which was far away from me. With the waves crashing in, it was hard for her to hear my voice and the camera’s shutter. I felt a little bit out of place shooting with the Canon, especially with the focus points. The button functions were much different than what I’m used to. I had to stop periodically to make sure I had her in focus. I didn’t want to use my off-camera flash system because I needed to gain more familiarity with the Canon.

I switched back and forth between the Canon and my same Nikon setup, the D300 with the 50mm f/1.8 lens and Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight. Since I didn’t use the 18-55mm kit lens, even though it came with the D300, everything totals slightly over $400.

I also switched back and forth between using natural light and off-camera flash. In addition to my “Shooting on a Budget” project, I also wanted to scale back and just use natural light. Unfortunately, because the lighting was a little harsh (even on a partly cloudy day), I wasn’t enjoying the washed-out white skies and flat lighting that comes with shooting with natural light. Lighting was much more gorgeous when I shot away from the sun, with the model having to look at the sun.

Credits:
Model – Katie (Model Mayhem)
Dress and Veil – All purchased from eBay

Camera description is included in each pictures. The first 3 images are from the Canon camera and the last 3 images are from the Nikon camera.

 

 

Harley Quinn Balloon Shoot

My “Shooting on a Budget” project got off on a rocky start. First of all, I was supposed to do my first shoot for this project last Sunday, but my model cancelled at the very last minute. Second, I was not successful with getting the Nikon D50 within my budget. I made bids for two separate eBay auctions, but unfortunately they were not the winning bids.

I’m part of many local Facebook modeling/photography groups. If I need to do a shoot with a model, these groups are great resources to find models. Within an hour’s notice, a model posted that she was looking for a photographer to do a Harley Quinn-inspired shoot. While posting, she was wearing a dress made out of twisted balloons and was hair and makeup ready. All she needed was a photographer on a trade-for-print (TFP) basis.

Since I had my equipment ready from last week’s cancellation (just needed to throw in my 50mm), I was ready to drive to the Arts District near Downtown Las Vegas to meet with the model and the balloon dress designer. I brought the following equipment with me:

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Nikon 50m f/1.8G AF-S lens – $150
  • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60
  • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $481 ($81 over budget)

I did the majority of the shoot with my Nikon D300 and 18-55mm kit lens. Because it was already dark, the lens had some limitations. I struggled with exposing for the ambient light because I wasn’t able to lower my f-stop to f/2.8 or lower. I need to increase ISO, but I didn’t want to crank it up past ISO 1600 because I didn’t want so much grain in my shots. Because of the lens’ specifications, I would have to adjust the power of my speedlight if I were to zoom in at 55mm, as well as adjusting my camera to a slower shutter speed. The more I zoom in, the less light the lens allows. I was at f/5.6 zoomed in.

I was reluctant to use my 50mm lens, but in order to get the Stratosphere in the backdrop, I had use it because of its low-lighting capabilities.

Credits:
Model – Charlie (Instagram) | Balloon Dress Designer – Ronnie (Instagram)

Shooting on a Budget – Introduction

I’m not sure what prompted me to join yet another Facebook photography group, especially targeted towards beginners, but I joined this specific one because a friend is a member. (Unfortunately, she’s not very active, LOL!) I’ve been trying to find ways to re-gain my passion for photography and I joined the group in hopes to get some inspiration. I also wanted pay it forward and help people with their own photography journey.

The most common questions posted are, “What camera should I buy?”, “What camera should I upgrade to?”, and “What lens should I get?”. Many people in the group are convinced that upgrading to a new camera (especially to a full-frame) will help make their pictures better, and that the “Nifty Fifty” (50mm f/1.8 lens) is the magical lens that gives you a blurred background in your pictures (known as shallow depth of field).

There’s this admin in the group (bless his heart), that is constantly telling people the best camera is the one you have in your hand and that you can achieve a blurred background with kit lenses (the lenses that comes with your new camera). Whenever someone posts about upgrading, he asks “Why?” Some people perceive him as rude because he is truthful and direct with his responses, but for the most part, him and I agree on almost everything. Also, when I try to play the voice of reason in the group, he always likes my posts, so I guess I’m not off the mark!

Since I joined around Halloween, I’ve been very active in this group. As I got more and more involved in the group, trying to help people out and answering questions, it made me think of a local Vegas photographer who created a blog about shooting with budget gear (Shooting on a Budget). Thanks to both the group and the blog, it inspired me to do a personal project where I only shoot with minimal gear.

I’m putting away my $5,000 gear! (Except the 50mm)

Gear List

Here is my list and how much I’ve spent out-of-pocket on each item:

    • Nikon D300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 “kit” lens – $180 from OfferUp
    • Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens – $150 from Craig’s List
    • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60 from Amazon
    • Yongnuo YN-560IV speedlight – $75 from Amazon
    • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45 from YongnuoUSA.net
    • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50 from eBay
    • Beauty dish with sock – $58 from eBay
    • Lightstand – $30 from Amazon
    • S-type Bowens mount – $17 from eBay
    • Flash bracket – $7.50 from eBay
    • Working on getting a Nikon D50 for under $100

Rules

  • The value of all equipment used must be $400 or lower COMBINED!
  • 3rd party equipment (external lighting and modifiers, light stands, tripods, etc.) are allowed just as long as it stays on budget.
  • Cannot pair Nikon D300 lens with 50mm f/1.8 lens unless it’s a low-lighting situation.
    (Even though I’ve spent only $180, the D300 is not considered an entry-level camera. Only the 18-55mm lens is entry-level. I feel using the Nikon D300 with the 50mm lens will not stay true to the project.)
  • 50mm lens can only be used on low-lighting shoots.