Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Wonderfulness: Creative Self Assignments

Good Afternoon Everybody,

We got a short day today. As a matter of fact we are only working a half day today. Unless we have some last minute orders, we have most everything caught up for holidays which is always a relief. Today LaDawn and I begin the holiday festivities with family so I'm going to keep today's post short and sweet.  Here we go.

Wednesday Wonderfulness: Creative Self Assignments

I think one of the best ways to get your creative juices flowing is with self assignments. Those self assignments can center around photographing shapes, colors, the alphabet, focal lengths, f-stops, shutter speeds, etc.  What I'm suggesting is to pick a theme like F1.4 and then make a whole series of images just at that single f-stop. Another way to do it is to select a certain lens focal length and then just make all your images at that single focal length.

Sigma 85mmI recently talked to my buddies up at Sigma USA and asked them if they could loan me one of their new 85mm F1.4 lenses. Happily they said yes and I should be getting that lens today... yippee, it just showed up!

I've said it a1 million times  that I'm just not a “fast glass” type of a guy.  I've always preferred image stabilization to fast class. I've also never been a fan of medium telephoto lenses.  I'm a wide angle lens freak and have always enjoyed exploring the outer reaches of the widest settings of my wide-angle lenses.

My good friend and Ace number one assistant, Nicholas Viltrakis, tested both the Sigma 85mm F1.4  and the Canon 85mm F1.2 lens.  He opted to go with the Sigma 85mm F1.4  mainly because  it saved him about $800 over the cost of the Canon lens and he loved its sharpness. Both lenses are really on the mark optically.  In fact Popular Photography magazine, in the current issue, named the Sigma 85mm F1.4 as one of the sharpest lenses they tested in that range. That's why I wanted to get my hands on one and give it a test drive.

85mm shot

Okay, I said I'm not a fast class guy and I'm not a fan of the medium format telephotos. So, why in the world would I want to test drive Sigma’s 85mm F1.4?  Here’s why. A few weeks ago when photographing a Bar Mitzvah, Nicholas brings his Sigma lens along to the shoot. He graciously offered me a chance to give it a try. After that short test drive, I fell in love with that lens.

Now you know I'm also a huge fan of high ISOs. I also love to capture candid expressions of the guests attending these events with just the natural light of the reception. That is exactly what I did capturing the image above. As you know, that light can be very, very dim. After trying Sigma 85mm F1.4 for a few images, The image was captured at 1/80 second @F1.4 at ISO 3200. It looks great and consequently I was hooked. The lens was just long enough to allow me to get my "reach-out-and-touch-somebody" candids  and the combination of the F1.4 aperture and my high ISO shooting, I had no problem at all capturing the images I wanted.

My New Self Portrait Assignment

Self AssignmentSo, what else can I use this lens for? I'm really looking forward to giving it a try out on a trip to Cabo coming up next week.  I plan to do one of those self assignments again. I plan to keep the lens at F1.4 and shoot away at about any and all subject matter I can point the camera at. I'll have the lens attached to my Canon 7D making the effective focal length of the lens 136mm.  My friend, Kent Smith, will have his Canon 5D with him so I can give the lens a workout on that camera as well.

Anyway the bottom line is this; Give yourself a few of these creative self assignments and let your creativity go wild. What happens is that you'll be working outside your comfort zone and your creative mind and your emotions will be experiencing something that they may not have experienced before. It's these kinds of visual exercises that can really help us improve our photography. I think it's something we should practice at least once a month maybe even once a week. If we truly want to advance ourselves in the field of photography then explore, experiment, and gather some additional knowledge. . It's always a fun, exciting, creative, sometimes frustrating eye-opening experience.


Hey gang, that's it for me today. Were heading out the door the next couple of hours and enjoying our first taste of Thanksgiving day dinner. I want to personally wish each and every one of you a Happy Thanksgiving!! I'll have a few thoughts on the Thanksgiving Day holiday tomorrow.

I hope to see you then. – David


  1. Great post. My favorite self assignments are Wide-Angle Wednesday, 35mm Thursday and Macro Monday. Love your blog.

  2. Sigma does make some good glass. The F1.4 on your 7D gives it an equivalent f-stop of 1.4x1.6 or approx 2.24 which I think is excellent ror portraits and blurring the background. As you know, the crop factor does not effect the exposure.

    I have the 50mm Sigma so it would be 80mm on our 50D/7D with a 2.24 equivalent f-stop. We also have the F2.0 Canon 100mm. This is only a depth of field discussion.

    I would check the focus on any lens as I found the Sigma 50mm had to be micro adjusted to -18. I used a tripod with focusing target on the floor. All my canon lenses were right on.

    A bit off topic: Do you shoot with the new Sigma 12-24 version II as version I is a bit soft on the corners. This one's on my wish list for now as I have the Canon 17-40 F4.

    I love the Sigma 50mm during low light reception shots without flash and portraits to blur the background.

    Love your blog/book/teaching material