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A clean sensor is a happy sensor

Loads of people ask me about my opinion about cleaning their sensor. Often people let specialized shops do it for sometimes a lot of money and don’t realize that the moment they zoom (with some lenses) or change lenses they have new dust building up. Let me start by saying that cleaning a sensor is easy as can be. You’re actually not cleaning the sensor itself but the toplayer. Which is actually pretty strong. There is one thing you, however, have to be careful for.

Some sensors (like the Sony) have onboard image stabilization, this means the sensor is “kinda” floating, so when you apply pressure to the sensor you will actually see it move, now that’s not good of course, to solve this just go into the menu and activate “sensor cleaning” this way the sensor will do it’s “magic” and it will lock itself unless you turn the camera off and on again, this is the moment when you can easily just clean your sensor.

Solutions

The in-camera one
To be honest, most cameras nowadays have sensor cleaning but to be clear, I never really had the idea it worked, yeah it sometimes did clean up a little bit but in essence, it’s the less effective way from what I’m going to discuss here.

Rocket blower
This is probably the most famous one, and for good reason, often all that is needed to get rid of that dust bulb is a good gust of clean wind. In all honesty, this really is a must buy, if you don’t own any of these well…. get out and get one. And don’t EVER blow into your chamber with your mouth, although cleaning a Medium Format sensor can be done by breathing on it and wiping it clean with a pecpad, this is something that should not and never been done inside a camera.

Get your rocket blower here


Arctic Butterfly
If I have to choose one device to use for cleaning, this is it. That’s also the reason I opened the article with an image of the arctic butterfly. I’ve been using them for quite some time now and the “new” versions with led lights are absolutely awesome. Operation is very simple, just activate the butterfly and let it run for a few seconds, stop and clean the sensor, it’s a very effective way of cleaning and takes out a lot more than the rocket blower. The main problem with dust is that not all dust is equal, some dust particles are just “resting” on the sensor and can be blown off, but some are a bit more sticky, and that’s where the butterfly comes to the rescue.

They are delivered in a sturdy case so you can take them with you on travels without worrying about damaging it. And trust me I’ve been in loads of situations where a rocket blower just didn’t do it’s work and being in the middle of nowhere without the option to clean your sensor at a camera store is amazingly annoying and takes a lot of time in Photoshop to clean up those beautiful shots, so if you only can take one device with you make sure it’s this one.

Get your butterfly here

Sensor swipes and Eclipse
If all else fails this is it. The wet method. In essence, there will always be dust that whatever you throw at it it will stay there, it’s like it’s glued to the sensor, now before you take out the paint remover (which you should not even thing about) you should invest in a bottle of eclipse and sensor swipes. I have to be honest, for me, wet cleaning is like a last resort, but it never let me down. I’ve cleaned sensors from students of mine that were so dirty that even on f8 you already saw the dust blobs appearing and after a good wet clean they were “perfect” again.

Get the sensor swipes here
And get the Eclipse here

Conclusion
There is one very important thing you have to keep in mind before you lose your sanity. There will ALWAYS be a little bit of dust on your sensor when shooting at f16 or f22, don’t worry about it, it will be gone in seconds in Photoshop/Lightroom etc. I actually never saw a 100% clean sensor in my life, there are some things you can do to prevent it from building up or getting really bad.

  1. Make sure you always switch lenses up side down and fast.
    don’t let the camera lay on it’s back with the lens mount wide open, change caps first and then the lens. No take the lens off with the camera facing down and immediately put the new lens on
  2. Don’t switch lenses in a windy or dusty environment
    Sounds obvious but you don’t want to know how many people I see changing lenses on the beach or even worse in the dunes.
  3. Don’t push the dust to the sides
    I see this a lot when people start out cleaning their sensors, they will move the dust to the sides of the sensor and don’t take notice, this dust will build up and before you know it it will be very hard to clean and you see a collection of dust particles in your corners or side.
  4. Make sure the dust is gone but don’t over do it
    A good cleaning should be pretty fast, don’t keep rubbing the sensor one good swipe from left to right and maybe one to check but that’s it. Check first and continue later

 

Of course there are more ways to clean a sensor including some I never even tried because somehow they feel a bit sketchy for me, like putting magic tape on your sensor and pulling it off (yeah I really read that somewhere) now let’s make one thing clear, yeah magic tape is supposed to not leave any trails but really seriously would you risk your sensor to that? I won’t. There are also some dustpickers out there with which you can select one dust particle and take it out via a sort of plunger effect, I never tried it because in all honesty with the 3 solutions above I never run into problems.

So what should you always bring?
One would say the rocket blower and although I use it a lot in the studio my choice is, however, the Arctic butterfly. It’s right in the middle of effectiveness between the rocket blower and the wet method and this means that when travelling within seconds I can clean my sensor more than enough to get clean shots for the rest of the trip when I’m home I can always do it “perfectly” with the wet method. And trust me nothing is more frustrating than being on a trip and shooting some stunning scenery and coming back in the hotel/RV and finding out your sky is littered with dust and you didn’t bring anything and there are no camera stores close by enough. Try driving an almost 10mtr RV into a city centre to get some cleaning stuff or lose some time on your trip to find a camera store that sells cleaning gear. So always bring at least one device that really does the trick and for me, the best allrounder is the Arctic Butterfly.

 

Any experiences from you guys?
Post them below

 

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How did you do that?

In a new series on the blog I’ll try to show some images including the light setup.
Normally you will find all the technical stuff in the instructional videos, my books or digital classroom but I’ll also show some on the blog.

 

This time a high impact portrait with Nadine.
Shot during a workshop with a very simple beauty dish and a wall with wallpaper.
You can see the students shooting the same shot.
The key is the nice harsh lighting from a silver beauty dish that is not too far away from the model and trying to shoot under an almost identical angle with the beauty dish creating nice flat lighting for this setup.

Nadine Oktober 10 2015 0683

Nadine Oktober 10 2015 0684 BW

Nadine Oktober 10 2015 0691

 

Tip: Directional lighting or character lighting

One of the first things people ask me when they visit our studio is why I use so many soft boxes with grids.
And I understand, in a lot of studios you will find plenty soft boxes but often without grids. Of course it depends greatly on what you do with your light and what your personal style is, that goes without saying.

 

I always explain it as follows
“Light is the paint you tell your story with, but it also dictates the character of your model/subject”

 

Now what do I mean with this.
I strongly believe that if you shoot a model in jeans and tanktop you have to be lighting wizard and have a great model to make something that’s really WOW because well… there’s not much going on. Now as soon as you throw in styling and a great location things get interesting and even with a huge softbox images can already look awesome, but you actually look at the styling and background “Only”.

 

Light can be manipulated and what photographers often don’t realize is that light can actually enhance a character of the model/subject. Think about Peter and the Wolf (Sergei Prokofiev) which in essence is a learning tool for children to learn the different instruments in an orchestra, but it’s so much more. Every instrument has it’s own “voice/character” you immediately hear if something is BAD, big, small, happy, old etc. it’s actually a stunning piece of work when you think about it. Now how do we translate this to lighting?

 

Very simple.
If you want something to be bright and friendly use large soft light sources.
If you want something eerie, aggressive or full of character use harder light sources.
Now you don’t hear me say you can’t shoot an elf with harsh light… but it doesn’t really make sense if you want something to be nice and free.

 

Hollywood uses this technique for… well for ever. They even add a lot of toning to this. Think about the Matrix with it’s distinct green and blue tones, or Titanic with it’s beautiful reds, but also Saving Private Ryan with the high shutter speed material and damaged almost BW material… the list goes on an on and on, and still for a lot of photographers light is …. well just light.

 

Try to image a story with every single shot and adjust your lighting to this.
This is one of the reasons I love to be able to really steer my light (hence the grids), it opens up a lot of possibilities. But there are of course a lot more different sources you can use, for example the Westcott Ice Light (but make sure you use the barn doors), or what about led panels (we use LedGo), the possibilities are endless as soon as you start to see light as character.

 

For example here two images from Nadine shot with VERY directional and aimed light.

 

 

Nadine Digital classroom September 23 2015 0347 BW

Nadine Digital classroom September 23 2015 0347

So the next time you shop for lighting make sure you are able to add grids later on, we love to work with a company called Honeycombgrids who makes grids for almost any modifier you will probably use, and they are pretty inexpensive (highly recommend them)
But most of all realize that light actually creates character, and shadows are the soul of a shot.
Good luck.

 

Want to learn more on model photography check out my book Mastering the model shoot and our instructional videos (via this site), or of course check out kelbyone.

A topic on the light meter

I recently put a topic on social media and got so many good responses that I thought it also needed a place on the blog. Now let me make one thing 100% clear before starting this topic.  The light-meter is a tool, it’s nothing less and nothing more. If you don’t use a light-meter you’re not a bad person, you are without any doubt not a lesser photographer than someone who is using it, I think that from all “photographers” out there now a days less than 1% is using a light meter, from the pros this percentage will be a little bit higher and as you know those people can create stunning images.

I for one however strongly believe that someone that is into photography should at least look at the light meter to see what it does and how it operates, because if you use one, one thing is for sure it WILL speed up your workflow considerably and also helps you to create the same quality of exposure over and over again.

 

Now in the past I’ve written a lot on the subject and I still believe that there are areas that I did not touch (so who knows what you will see more in the future), during my workshops and talks to photographers I find that the group using a meter is very very small, when I talk about the reasons I often get the same responses “You don’t need it with digital right?” and that’s ok, with digital you can indeed judge an image on the “instant polaroid” on the back of your camera or on your screen. However I also get responses like “I use the histogram”, “I always thought meters were only for the landscape guys”, “I was told that the meter was inaccurate and that with digital you could nail the exposure so much better”…..

 

I’m not sponsored by Sekonic (and trust me I tried :D) but somehow the whole light meter thing did got me thinking and I decided a few years ago during PSW to do a class on why I use a meter with stunning results (I believe they sold out the meters in a few hours) ever since it’s been a solid part of what I teach.

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