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We’ve been very, very busy this year. Lots of new cameras and lenses were announced and we’ve seen tons of innovation this year across the industry overall. There have been many great products released this year in the photo world and we’re here with a massive roundup of the very best.

Without further ado, we present the Phoblographer’s Editor’s Choice Awards list for 2014. Here you’ll find the best cameras, the best lenses, the best lights, the best camera bags and a whole lot more.

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Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon MR14 II ring flash review product photos (1 of 14)ISO 2001-50 sec at f - 4.0

Earlier this year, Canon introduced their MR-14 EX II ring flash. As the successor to their aging offering, the new flash brought minor upgrades with it including new ergonomics, a new LED lamp to help with focusing, and new controls on the back. But otherwise, it’s a mostly unchanged flash. To begin with, it was very specialized and the world of macro photography has changed quite dramatically as the years have progressed. Many photographers tend to go for diffusion off of large panels instead of direct light from a harsh flash.

And while you should be excited about the ETTL capability improvement that this flash brings, you should also scratch your head a bit about how it fits into Canon’s ecosystem.

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Chris Gampat Film scans from pinhole and personal 2014 (2 of 17)

Want more useful photography tips? Click here.

When it comes to shooting portraits, your aim for the final image should be to distinguish the person more so from the rest of the scene. This can be done in a number of ways and one of the primary ways is to use the bokeh effect. By blurring out the rest of the scene organically, the viewer is forced to focus on the subject that you photographed. While this is true, there are elements of the image that can make the subject blend in more with the rest of the scene. For example, their clothing type is extremely important. If you’re photographing a person dressed in camouflage against a background of similar colors, it may be tough to spot them and make them stand out. So for starters, try coordinating the wardrobe with the portrait subject.

But beyond that, adding lighting to the scene is a great way to make your subject stand out even more. The image above is from some of my personal work featuring my friend Dane in a suit. To make him stand out from the rest of the background, I added artificial lighting in just the right spot. The light made him and his clothing stand out from the otherwise dark background. The light also hit the wall that he was leaning on and separated that from his body.

Add into the scene the fact that the light also illuminated his skin and you’ve got yourself a portrait subject that stands out from the scene and forces you to focus on them. But you don’t necessarily need artificial light to do this–you just need to provide lots of contrast. If you’re outdoors, you can backlight a subject and expose for the shadows to make them stand out from what will otherwise be a very bright and washed out background. Sure, you’ll lose the highlight details, but all that matters is that you make your portrait subject stand out.

Pro Tip: to be honest, all you sometimes need to make this process work out for you is a flash with a zoom head or a nicely diffused umbrella reflector. If you're using a flash with a zoom head, set it to its widest zoom range--which is typically 14mm. Then move the flash back and forth accordingly.

Pro Tip: to be honest, all you sometimes need to make this process work out for you is a flash with a zoom head or a nicely diffused umbrella reflector. If you’re using a flash with a zoom head, set it to its widest zoom range–which is typically 14mm. Then move the flash back and forth accordingly.

“I’m a natural light photographer.” How many times have you heard this before? Or how many times have you said this before?

It’s time to suck it up and admit the truth–no, you’re not a natural light photographer. You probably don’t know how to use a flash. Do you know what a guide number is? Do you know how ISO works in conjunction with it? Well guess what, you don’t have to.

No longer will you say to folks that you’re a natural light photographer. If you take this guide and follow through with according levels of initiative to learn how it all works, then you’ll at least get the basics down before moving on to the advanced stuff. Don’t settle for mediocrity when you can become a better shooter by adding more tools to your skillset. In case you were wondering how to use your camera flash, here’s a guide that will explain it but is useless without practice.

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Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Shooting Coffee Steam tutorial (1 of 1)ISO 8001-80 sec at f - 1.4

Getting the perfect coffee photos involves a lot of work, but photographer Phillip McCordall has a neat trick that gives you the same look and sometimes even better.

For starters, if you want to photograph steam coming from coffee, it’s best to have some sort of dark background to add contrast to the scene and make the white steam stand out more. You should also try to shoot as soon as the the coffee or tea is poured for the maximum steam. If you shoot it any later, the steam will die down. Adding milk, cream, or half and half also kills the steam because it will cool the liquid.

Instead, Phil’s idea comes from the days before digital. In the video below, he tells you to use a combination of hydrochloric acid and ammonia to create a chemical reaction that creates lots of steam. When you combine this with soft lighting and a dark background, you get an image that stands out from the rest. Mr. McCordall warns that this is a chemical reaction and won’t smell good. Plus it can be dangerous, so you’ll need to be careful.

Another idea that he talks about is using a steamer–but that steam doesn’t last for too long. By using the chemical reaction, you have a bit more time to plan accordingly and shoot.

Just make sure that you open a window or two. Phil’s video on how to photograph coffee steam is after the jump. Also, be sure to check out our very own tutorial.

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DIY Light Tent

If you want to shoot photos of objects and products with little to no shadows, then one of the simplest ways to do it is with a light box or light tent. This is a white box with an opening in the front and with translucent white panels on each side that allows bright diffused light to bathe the subject in what can be a shadowless lighting effect.

The guys over at DIY Tryin created a tutorial video on hacking together your own light box/tent on the cheap. What they try to emphasize is diffusion. In order for a light tent to really work, you need to diffuse the light coming in from all sides. But as they were able to demonstrate, the light is so diffused that they can shoot an image with their phone and get something very diffused.

For what it’s worth, we would rather recommend having a three light setup than a two light setup. We would place two lights on each side and one on the back with the back lighting being cranked up to turn the background into pure white. An alternative is to have a very high powered strobe firing in from the top of the lightbox with a translucent reflector diffusing the light.

Their tutorial on making your own DIY light tent is after the jump.

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