Irregular Injection of Opinion
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 Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Taking Nice Party Photos

So I’m a big fan of taking available light photos. This is particularly good fun at Wedding parties and Christmas parties.

I took a bunch of photos at the Intergen Office Christmas party last Friday night and I’ve had a bunch of people ask “what camera etc… were you using”. SO I thought I’d take a few minutes and write up a post with some notes on taking available light party photos.

So the trick to taking nice party photos is not using a flash. To do this you need a couple of things;

  1. A camera that has a decent High ISO noise level.
    ISO is an interesting term in that it goes back to the film days. The ISO (International Standards Organization) measure basically set a standard for the sensitivity of film to light. A high ISO film required less light to create an image, but, a high ISO film also typically produced photos with much more noticeable film grain. In the digital age we still use the term ISO but this time it’s basically referring to the amount of light required by the sensor in order to create an image; while the ISO of a roll of film was fixed we can change the camera ISO (sensitivity) at will because it’s basically just turning up the Gain (a camera sensor is effectively an analog-digital interface). If you’ve ever played with other things that have a Gain knob you’ll know if you put a small signal in and try and use the gain knob to boost it things can get a bit ugly- so it is with camera ISO if you turn the gain up too much things get noisy.
    So to get the nice party photos with available light (no flash and as such relying on not much light) you need a camera that lets you turn the gain up with out getting too noisy. The original ‘super amazing’ low light Camera was probably the Canon EOS 5D Mk II which is now about 3 years old. Indeed it is this camera that I used for most of the shots. It’s an expensive ($5k) body, but, over the past few years that super high ISO technology has filtered down such that you can get pretty decent looking shots from most $1000 bodies at ISO of 1600-6400 (to give you an idea of how revolutionary this is it would be very rare for anyone other than a professional to shoot film higher than ISO400 back in the day. Thus the modern digital cameras are several times more sensitive for the same level of noise than film was ever able to achieve)
    I’m a Canon person so that’s where my recommendations will sit and I think there’s not a lot wrong with the Canon 600D body in the $1000 price point. Take a look at these high ISO shots from DPReview. There will be similarly good options from Nikon in the price point which people can point out in the comments. The benefit of getting the $1000 body is you have more moolah to spend on lenses…
  2. The second thing you’ll need is a lens with a large maximum aperture.
    You can tell the maximum aperture of your lens by reading it off the lens. It will be expressed as a ratio on the front ring e.g. 1:1.8 but it’s typically shortened in conversation and marketing to just the denominator. For the tech boffins the F-Stop (Aperture) is basically expressed as a ratio of the focal length of the lens. The lower the F stop number the larger the aperture- a bit counter-intuitive I know.
    For a zoom lens about the largest F stop you’ll get is F2.8 and even then you’ll be paying big bikkies and they weight a ton. There are a few shots in the party photos that are taken using an 70-200mm F2.8 lens.
    What you really want is a ‘prime’ lens. This is a lens with no zoom. Most of the shots taken in the party set above were taken with a Sigma 50mm F1.4 lens (this is a mid-range prime lens in terms of cost) but, for the most part I have it ‘stopped down’ to F1.8. This is for two reasons 1) wide open a mid-range lens like this can lose a bit of sharpness particularly around the edges and 2) A side effect of a large aperture is a very shallow depth-of-field; in the case of F1.4 on a 5D MkII with the subject at 2m only 11cm of depth will be in sharp focus. You’ll see this shallow depth of field in most of the low light photos as either a nice blurry background or as an annoying fact that of two people in the photo only one is in focus.
    So. Which lens to get. This is a place where Canon has a real advantage. If you are not ken to spend much money there is a Canon lens, the 50mm F1.8 MkII (plastic fantastic) that for under $200 will let you take nice party photos too. To me this is almost as good a reason as any to prefer Canon over Nikon at the cheap pricepoint cameras.
    If you have a bit more money to spend both the Canon and Sigma 35mm/50mm/85mm primes are great for under $1000.
    And finally if you have plenty of money go buy a Canon 85m F1.2 for shots like this one I took on a borrowed lens.

So this post became a bit of a ramble. To answer the more direct question of what I used for the party photos.

Canon 7D Body (early evening) with a Canon 24-105 F4 zoom
Canon 5D (low light) with a mixture of Sigma 50mm 1.4, Carl Zeiss 85mm 1.4 and Canon 70-200mm 2.8


Intergen | Photography | Rambles|Tuesday, 13 December 2011 19:40:21 UTC|Comments [0]|    

 Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Shipping a great 100% Silverlight Site for Microsoft

As a Microsoft Regional Director I’m often prepared to stick my head out and stir a bit of shit. One of the things I’ll often bleat about is the appearance of Flash on Microsoft properties. It therefore behooves me to put my money where my mouth is and deliver up great Silverlight sites ourselves.

In the past we’ve done some really cool ‘hardcore’ Silverlight projects that we’ve shown of at events like Mix. These include TextGlow and Buttercup. This time around we’ve delivered a Silverlight based site to help support the Technical Preview of Office 2010.

It’s 100% Silverlight and I’m not going to go into the technical details as a bunch of the team (linked below) will be doing that.

We kicked around the idea of using Silverlight 3.0 for this project- we knew the ship date and given that it was just three days before our go-live we decided that we’d err on the side of caution. This really comes down to the adoption of the plugin; Silverlight 2.0 has pretty good adoption, particularly among our target demographic but 3 days just isn’t long enough to get the number of plugin installs up to a decent level. At the end of the day whether your running with Flash or Silverlight you are making a trade-off between plugin availability and functionality even if just choosing between versions on the one platform.

We’re running Silverlight streaming. The video clips that are coming from the production company are have fantastic production values: certainly make me jealous. It would be a shame to stick them in a nasty grainy low bitrate codec but at the same time we’re catering to a global audience. Silverlight Steaming means that we can delivery a good experience for everyone around the world and then for those of us with great internet connections (thanks Telstra Clear cable!) we can deliver a full 720p HD stream in the same UI. We worked with iStreamPlanet who are providing the streaming services over the LimeLight CDN.

The main application is hosted in the Rackspace Texas data center. It just wasn’t practical to run this out of the Intergen Wellington data center in the short time frame we were working to. The backend platform is, unsurprisingly, Microsoft server products: Win2k8 and SQL2k8.

So there you have it. Money where my mouth is I think you’ll agree.

Links to posts from the team:
James Newton-King who built out the server side technology and headed up our release management blogs on more of the technical details:

Aaron Hall from our Dunedin Office jumped on the Tin Budgie and spent 2 weeks in Wellington working on the mobile version (visit it on your WinMo or iPhone device): with Microsoft 2010

Chris Klug who lead the Silverlight development side of things: Chris also has some tips we learnt along the way…. in fact make that Chris has crap load of great technical deep dive content that I emplore you to go and read so you can learn from our experience.

I’ll call out the rest of the team as they blog or tweet about this.

Intergen | Silverlight|Tuesday, 14 July 2009 08:37:45 UTC|Comments [0]|    

 Thursday, 14 May 2009
The Making of our 48 Hour Film – All shot on the Canon 5D MkII

Roger Wong one of the people on our 48 Hour Film Comp team has posted up some behind the scenes photos. One of the things about shooting a full film with 5D MkII cameras is you inevitably end up with some great photos too.

We’re not allowed to post the video online until the finalists are announced. But I promise I’ll get it up here ASAP after that. Currently we only have a Standard Definition (stupid rules) cut but we’re hoping to remaster it in full HD too.

You might recognize ‘Dr Phil’ from 22 seconds into the new Air New Zealand Advert. What a tough job!

Horst and Carlos, our erstwhile directors.

D. McG. who composed our original score.

Collaborative editing.

Intergen | Photography | Toy Box|Thursday, 14 May 2009 00:52:04 UTC|Comments [0]|    

 Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Why you should have redundant connections.... (May contain gloating)

No I love living in Wellington. We have TelstraClear Cable for 10MB internet and we have Citylink which both prod buttock.

On the weekend Citylink fell over..... Ouch!

TAB & Metservice were completely knocked offline, TradeMe & Stuff had over 25% of customers unable to reach them.

 The TAB’s punters couldn’t use the website for the whole day leading up to the game – that’s got to drive those customers away from that business channel. 

 “The MetService's weather website went down for six hours as a result of the CityLink failure…"CityLink went down and our backup link was overloaded by other similarly affected companies."


 In contrast, Intergen customers were completely unaffected* thanks to our multiple physical connections to the interweb (Citylink & a dedicated fibre link directly to AT&T).

*Of course if the customer relied on Citylink for their Internet they'd have issues.

Intergen|Wednesday, 10 October 2007 21:26:00 UTC|Comments [0]|    

 Sunday, 09 September 2007
IIS Log Analyzer - An Office Open XML Example

The team @ Intergen (Simon 'Skip' Gardiner of Kognition fame was the project lead) have been beavering away recently on an Open Source application for parsing and reporting on IIS log files.

It's called IIS Log Analyzer and it shows how easy it is to use the Office Open XML file formats to do document generation.

While the application is hosted inside Excel (by way of Visual Studio Tools for Office) all the document generation is done with plain old XML generation and some help from the .NET packaging APIs.

OOXML really does open up a wealth of additional options for doing document generation really easily.

Check it out here:

.NET | Intergen|Sunday, 09 September 2007 03:28:08 UTC|Comments [0]|    

 Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Something Exciting Happening @ Intergen

So we've had a team @ Intergen hard @ work for the past 6 moths putting together a fantastic new service offering that we're going to take global.

It's called ActionThis and it's basically a platform for getting things done. I can't say much more than that in terms of detail... but in the abstract here's a few things it is (grab your Buzzword Bingo Card)....

  • It's web 2.0. It has AJAX, simple graphic elements and all that Web 2.0 jazz.... yes. It looks like sex!
  • It's Software as a Service with a twist... think more Picasa meets Flickr meets Live Spaces... but in an entirely different problem domain... that I'm not going to tell you about.
  • It's going to be a platform- you'll be able to build stuff that bolts into ActionThis and help people get stuff done.

I'll probably dribble a bit more information out here before we begin yelling from the rooftops (i.e. go public with an announcement) but, if you want to be the first in the know and the first to get your hands on the bits... you should head to and sign up for our Beta news...

Intergen | ActionThis|Wednesday, 23 May 2007 04:28:43 UTC|Comments [0]|