The Graduated Filter in Lightroom 4


Last week I shared out a video on how to handle noise and sharpening in Lightroom 4. On the heels of that, I also shared a video hardware review on what a Justin Clamp is and how it can be used in a lighting your photography. Since these videos seem to be fairly popular. here’s another one on how to use the Graduated Filter in Lightroom 4.

Are you enjoying these video tutorials?  Judging from the analytics, they do seem to be pretty popular, so there’s likely more coming down the pike.  The next eBook announcement having been delayed, and now this rather unfortunate chest cold have left me a little behind the 8-ball so to speak, but more tutorials and educational content is coming.  But, if you keep following, you may find a neat little photo lesson coming up soon (hint, hint…eBook topic!) Thanks to all who have helped spread the word via social media – keep at it!

Hardware review Sigma 85mm f1.4

Low Light - Hand held fire light

For today, I am happy to bring to you the latest hardware gear review – from none other than the folks at Sigma, with their 85mm f1.4 lens.  Let’s just jump right in:

1.  Focal Length – I’ve talked at length on the blog before about fixed focal length versus variable length zooms.  Their differences, both pros and cons of each are duly noted, and for the most part, I think we can skip the formalities of the technical explanations.  It’s an 85mm lens.  This means you are not going to be able to zoom with the lens, rather with your feet.  It also means that you will gain pros in IQ (See #8 below).  Normally I am shooting with either a 10-22 for wide angle landscapes or a 70-200 for portrait work, so this took a bit of adjusting.

When I did shoot portrait work, I kept on having to step further back to bring more of the subjects face into the scene, and with landscapes, I found myself rotating into portrait position (vertical) and instead of trying to get everything in one shot, rather capturing several shots, with the acceptance that I would have to stitch together in post production.

It’s not perfect for either, but a good compromise in focal length to try and meet the needs of both ends as much as possible.  If I had to choose my favorite focal length, it probably would not be an 85mm, but there are very subjective reasons for that, which probably aren’t as relevant here, so I will defer that for another post.  The focal length is what it is.  You either like the length or you do not.  I was middle of the road on it – sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t.

In the end, I think the focal length was fine for most purposes.  Even

2.  F-Stop Range – This is the reason I want this lens.  Stopping all the way open to an f1.4 gives you amazing results from two key perspectives:

  • Depth of Field – When you shoot with a low depth of field, the subject is very easily separated from the background.  This also brings up the subject of bokeh quality, and here I was quite impressed as I didn’t see any evidence of jagged lines or aperture opening sizes, which is often characteristic of cheaper lens builds.
  • Low Light photography – Low light photography to me means shooting at or near dusk, or in an incandescent environment where you don’t want to introduce flash.  You don’t want to be a part of the scene.  The photographer wants to blend into the background and be as unobtrusive as possible.  Lenses with low f-stop ranges allow you to do this, and the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is no exception!

3.  Noise – The motor on this lens is as quiet as one would expect for current technology – whisper!  I never heard anything that would cause a distraction, and at this point I am actually considering upgrading the Sigma Macro for this reason – the quieter the operation, the easier it is to concentrate on what you are shooting!

4.  Size/weight – About what would would expect for this focal length and aperture.  Remember, the lower the aperture (f1.4) the beefier a lens will have to be, because elements will need to be thicker in order to have any sort of stability.  It made for near perfect balance in conjunction with the 40D.  On a larger camera like the 5D or 1Ds Mark IV, I could see where you might not have as much a balance, but for my purposes, it works!

5.  Build – Patented and as expected, the water resistant housing, and non-slip grip that is now almost a trademark feature of Sigma was present so no surprises there.  I always enjoy shooting with Sigma gear because the heft of it just feels solid in my hands.

6.  OS/IS/VR – There is no built in motion correction here, which is what I collectively use to refer to the proprietary features of Sigma, Canon’s and Nikon’s camera shake correction technologies.  ALthough I should probably share that OS = Optical Stabilization (Sigma), IS = Image Stabilization (Canon), and VR = Vibration Reduction (Nikon).  Since this lens doesn’t have this motion correction feature, there’s really not much to discuss here.

The one note I would have is that when shooting with this lens, the benefit is primarily in that you can shoot at f1.4 which lets in a lot of light.  To that end, the need for motion correction is probably not as needed, except for the most exceeding low light scenarios, but you’ll see in a minute, that’d have to be pretty darn low!

7.  Cost – For the benefit of shooting at f1.4, the price of admission is hefty indeed.  B&H Photo prices it out at $969.  Since this is a new lens in their lineup, you likely will not find it for much less than this, as there is no aftermarket yet to speak of.

8.  Image Quality – Here, as always, I like to let the images speak for themselves.  I’ve tried to include a few samples that demonstrate both the depth of field capabilities and the low light performance.  Keep in mind – every image here was shot hand held!

Shallow DOF on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Shallow DOF #2 on Sigma 85mm f1.4

Selective Focus on the 85mm

Low Light - Handheld Sunset

Low Light - Hand held fire light

Fishing with shallow DOF

*Editor Note*  This review was done back in 2011, but still holds today after another rental session with this lens.  My review still stands!

Video Hardware Review Justin Clamp


Today I am featuring a hardware review of the Justin Clamp – specifically, we are looking at a Manfrotto iteration of it.  Why is it called a Justin Clamp?  Well…I’m not sure why it’s called a Justin Clamp to be honest.  I guess some guy named Justin came up with the idea, but regardless, it’s a pretty cool idea!  So, “What is a Justin Clamp?”, you ask?  So glad you did, because this hardware review both shows you the quality of this Manfrotto version of it, and the video really serves to help show, explain, and walk you through the features.  It’s a pretty straightforward (hopefully) hardware review, and really adds to your lighting options when you consider the versatility of where you can position lights with this clever device.  Take a look:


  1. Lightweight and portable
  2. Easy to use
  3. Sturdily built
  4. Adds a huge range of options for portable lighting


  1. Price to use ratio – this will really only be handy for those who are into using off camera lighting in interesting and unique places, so if you don’t like to venture outside traditional setups often, the price might be a bit high to justify use
  2. Awkward shape – While the Justin Clamp is small enough (as the video hardware review above indicates), it is a bit awkward which can take up a lot of space in a camera bag.  If you are into run-and-gun style photography, your bag is likely smaller, and this could eat up precious real estate in a small photo bag.

It seems you are all enjoying the presence of multimedia on the site, from videos to photos, and eBooks, given traffic reports lately,!  The last Lightroom video seemed particularly enjoyable, so thanks for all that have enjoyed it thus far! So, with that in mind, there’s more of that coming on a regular basis.  I’ll try to get a video tutorial or gear review up more regularly.  Some interesting changes may be coming down the pike though, so I will have to just wait and see.  In the meantime, keep enjoying the videos.