Tom Libertiny

Study of Lighting and Camera Lenses

With the resolution of digital camera sensors approaching that of 35mm film and the cameras themselves becoming relatively affordable, an interesting glitch has been occurring:  as you’d expect, mass-produced cameras have variations in sensor location front and aft of the designated film/sensor plane.  Prior to the advent of autofocus, this wasn’t a large problem because the optical focus systems were precise enough that we’d correct the focus with our eyes–what we saw through the eyepiece is what the film also registered.

Tom Libertiny

Three flourescent light rig:  One large keylight and two small fill lights.
  Photography and lighting by Tom Libetiny. Modeling, wardrobe, hair, and makeup by Elysia Richards.

But with the common use of autofocus and the corresponding reduction in the quality of optical focus systems, most photographers rely heavily on autofocus.  Even the best camera optical systems and onboard display screens aren’t good enough to tell if something is truly in focus.  And focus is critical in fashion photography.

A workaround has been developed where a digital camera can send a live image directly to a large outboard monitor.  The image can be reviewed prior to and immediately following the photographer pressing the shutter.  Another workaround for the most expensive camera bodies is power adjustment of the image sensor to ensure that the focal plan is aligned with the sensor.

But in cameras that are just under the high-end, the image sensor can only be adjusted manually.  This takes an adjustment rig and technical skills to ensure that nothing gets damaged in the process.

Tom Libertiny

Two flourescent light setup with reflector: One large key light, one small fill light and a reflector to bounce key light for additional fill.
Photography and lighting by Tom Libetiny. Modeling, wardrobe, hair, and makeup by Elysia Richards.

Which brings us to today

Due to the relatively low-cost of 35mm and 28mm sensors in all but the top-of-the-line cameras, I’ve strategically decided to spend the majority of my money on a series of the best lenses available.  The remainder has been spent on a quality camera body for each lens.  I then invested in having a specific lens matched and tuned to a specific body.

The benefit:  Lower overall cost and a camera system that is completely in focus including the total stack-up tolerance of the lens, interface, and camera body.  If you’d like to try adjusting your system yourself and you’re interested in more information on this subject, here is a great article by Leon Goodman.

Over the next 3 years, as the price of camera bodies decreases that include the ability to power adjust the image sensor, I expect to upgrade.


Due to my background in lighting for live shows and movies, I’m a fan of conventional steady-state lighting (incandescent, flourescent, and LED) as opposed to the use of strobes.  After trying the three main types of conventional lighting, there’s no right or wrong.  It’s a matter of color balancing your camera (or not, if you’re going for a particular look).  Lighting position is much more important for key, fill, and highlight fixtures.

With the help of model Elysia Richards, we ran a series of test photos with two different lenses with their respective tuned camera bodies.  For each of the two camera/lens combinations we ran four different lighting scenarios and then checked our results.


Even with tuning, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8GII ED lens gave a sharper result than a Nikon 50mm prime lens.  Why?  It’s likely that the 50mm lens/body combination needs additional adjusting.