Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Digital Conversion

I used to really be into photography when I was in school. I took a photo 101 class at San Jose State taught by Max Crumley. He's a funny guy who told stories of shooting a locomotive at night by hand firing the flash and "painting" each section of the massive dark beast with his SLR set to the bulb mode. I remember spending hours in the darkroom and coming home smelling like fixer.

My first real camera was a Minolta x700 film SLR. I was fortunate enough to live with a room mate who had most of the darkroom equipment just sitting in boxes in the garage. One day I asked him If I could set it all up. I turned pantry closet into a makeshift dark room complete with Bessler enlarger, safe light, dark bag and a print washer. I took portraits of neighbors and gave them away as gifts. I was having the time of my life!

After graduation, I got married and my Minolta disappeared one day from the trunk of my car. My second camera was a Nikon N8008 complete with a 50mm lens and a Vivitar 3600 TTL flash. Wooo Boy! I was all set!

Funny how free time slips away from you once you get married and have children. Priorities change and you grow in a different direction. I had a friend once, named Ed Jensen, who said: "You never realize how selfish you are until you get married, Then you never realize how selfish you both are, until you have children." He was sure right!

I'd kinda forgotten about photography for about 15 years. Just long enough for digital SLRs to become affordable. Sure I've had a bunch of point-and-shoots over the years, but these were relegated to "happy snaps" for the family and vacations. I'd rarely go out just to shoot pictures.

Now it seems I've rediscovered photography all over again. The kids are old enough to not want their parents around all that much. I seem to have more free time now than I have in years. I've taught myself Photoshop from watching tutorials on YouTube, I joined Flickr and started listening to TWiP. I bought a D90 a month after it came out.

I find myself looking at the world in a whole new way. I started to notice how the light hits things; How different morning is, from evening, I keep saying to myself; "Now that would make a good picture..."

I love learning it all over again. Sure, the basics still apply, "good light" is still "good light", bad light still sucks. I've enrolled in classes and signed up for "photo walks" and bought books. I guess its safe to say "I'm Hooked (again)" But this time its for keeps!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Happy Friday: Modeling at its best

Happy Friday! Here's a video of high class models wearing the latest creations and showing us all that they're only human. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Justin Clamp

A few weeks ago, I purchased a new strange-looking but oh-so-useful item called a "Justin Clamp" Its actually a "Manfrotto 175F Spring Clamp w/shoe flash" and it costs about 50 USD but its well worth it.

Lets take a look at it shall we?
First off you'll notice that it resembles a "chip clip" and functions the same way but with a really beefy spring. The flat gripping surface has 4 stiff rubber inserts on each side that allow it to clamp securely on cylindrical objects (think-- light stands, pipes, tree branches, dining room chairs, etc...)

Sticking out of the top is a nice cold shoe on which to place your flash. The flash is held securely by rotating a lock ring up against the base of the flash. The shoe is attached to a ball and socket that allows the flash to tilt and swivel in any direction. Tighten the clamp to lock it down and prevent movement.

Just below the swivel and in the center of the spring is a standard light stand post allowing you to attach it or other parts of your lighting gear.

On the very bottom is a female post clamp, if that's the proper term, with a thumb screw to lock it securely to the male post on your light stand.

Overall the design is really functional. Now you can hang a flash securely just about anywhere.

Here I have it mounted to the top of a light stand allowing me to aim the old Vivitar 3600 flash at the back of a diffuser. I use this as the main light for portraits because it gives me a 3-foot square of soft light that looks great for head and shoulders shots. Starting at the top, the flash is connected to the cold shoe and lock ring. The female post clamp is firmly attached to the post at the top of the light stand. I'm not using the spring clamping feature here, but its just an example of how versatile the "Justin Clamp" really is.

This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of photo-geek-gear!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shooting into Darkness

This weekend, we all went to the Academy of Science Museum in San Francisco. It was really crowded, but we all had our expectations set accordingly, so we were ready for it. I brought along the Nikon D90, my SB600, and a snoot in case I needed to throw light at a subject far away.

Controlling the flash off camera
Both Nikon and Canon offer a wireless system whereby the camera body and flash negotiate the amount of light to output while you press the shutter button. The whole conversation takes about 10 milliseconds. In the Nikon World this is called the "CLS" or Creative Lighting System. For Canon, its called the E-TTL system. What these systems do is pretty amazing, allowing you to place the flash many feet away form the camera and really control the direction of the light to add more interest to the Image.

The Albino Alligator
In the main hall there is a pit about 15 feet deep with an albino alligator in the swampy bottom. The pit was fairly dark and the alligator was laying motionless. It made for an interesting challenge to photograph, so I wrapped the snoot around the flash and asked my wife to aim it into the pit. I stood a few feet to her right and zoomed in on the gator. The snoot really helped blast the light down into that dark pit. The result looked pretty cool.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shooting Through Glass

Have you ever been disappointed at photos taken through a glass display case? Perhaps you were at a museum or the zoo trying to capture the memory of that animal on the other side. How about shooting through a tour bus window? Was there a lot of distracting glare? Here's a few tricks that photographers use to avoid this situation:

  1. Wear black - Many times the glare comes from what you are wearing. A black jacket or shirt can do a lot to shield stray light.
  2. Shoot off angle - If your using a flash, it will certainly bounce off the glass and ruin the shot. Try moving off axis by 30 degrees or so.
  3. Shoot head on - Crank up the ISO on your camera to use the available light in the display case. Turn off your flash and get as close to the glass as you can. You can even lightly rest the lens on the surface of the glass, provided the optics in your lens don't touch and cause a scratch. The glass will help steady the camera so you don't get any motion blur.
  4. Use your hands - Cup your hand around the lens to block out the stray light. You might even try asking your spouse, child significant other to cup his or her hands around the lens.
  5. Lay something dark on the floor - If the room has a light colored floor causing the glare, lay your dark jacket on the floor to block it out.
  6. Hold smomething dark near the camera - Move the camera out of the way and look at where the reflection is coming from. Use a dark jacket spread over your hand to see if you can get rid of the reflection. Then replace the camera and take your shot
Try these out next time you know that there will be a piece of glass between you and a great photo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Model Shoot!

A few days ago, I had the honor of being requested to do a "Head Shot" for Adam, a young actor/model auditioning on Saturday. This would be the first time that I'd been asked to do something like this.

Last night was the shoot. I have to admit that I was a little nervous, even though this was done for free. The model was nervous too. We both talked a while and did some test shots and began to relax. It was nice knowing how to use the lights thanks to Zack Arias' blog and Joe McNallies The Hot Shoe Diaries. I felt totally comfortable tweaking the flash output, moving the lights around, climbing up on ladders and shooting. The shoot lasted about a hour, with another hour in post (bridge and photoshop) rating 91 images, sorting and doing minor adjustments. I think we got some nice shots.

Happy Friday

This remains one of my all time favorite stories. Paul Potts on Brittan's Got Talent makes me smile every time. Enjoy

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Using a "Snoot" for emphasis

What's A Snoot?

Imagine you're taking an indoor picture but want to use lighting draw attention to just the subject. You reach for your flash and attach it to your camera. What do you expect that you'll see?

Probably very even lighting. Manufacturers go to great lengths to balance the spread of the light coming from the flash so that it illuminates the whole frame. Hmmm, That not really what we want in this case, so what do we do?

Enter one of the most elegantly simple device to modify your flash, The "Snoot". Its basically a tube that you place on your flash to focus the beam where you want it. The one I have , by Honlphoto, wraps around your camera flash and attaches with velcro.

This model costs about 30 bucks, has a shiny inside and a flat black outside and is very well made. You could probably make your own for much cheaper, but this one looks like something a professional would use. Below is a test shot I made to illustrate the shape of the light beam as it hits the flat wall. Pretty cool!

Now lets put it to use: In this shot, I'm trying to get the effect of a glow coming from this young boy's new phone. I used the snoot and the off camera flash, handheld by an assistant. The eerie blue glow comes from another off camera flash with a blue filter on it, and bouncing off the cieling. Have a look and tell me what you think?

One thing I'll mention is that the size of the spot is related to the aspect ratio, or the diameter to length ratio. A smaller diameter on a longer length will give you a smaller spot and allow you to keep your distance away from your subject. This is also true for grids or home-made "black straw snoots. More on that later. For now, get out your camera and go take some pictures!

The Big Guy at the Airport

A number of years ago, My wife and I were traveling back from a vacation in Mexico. Waiting at the almost empty gate for the plane to arrive were just a few passengers. I was seated in one of those monotonous rows of seats; You know, the ones with two metal bars sticking out horizontal and a leather "seat" strung between them? So my wife steps away for a few moments, and this guy, huge, say 350-400 lbs sits in one of these seats in the row in front of me. He's maybe 6 feet in front of me.

I hear a creak, and as I look up from my book, I see one of those metal bars slipping downwards where this guy is sitting. These bars are sort of clamped onto a support beam that spans between two concrete trash can/ash trays. So this guy stands up, reaches down and pulls the bar up, back into its original position. He walks to the cocktail stand immediately behind me. I'm thinking to myself; "Now that something you don't see every day... A guy break an industrial strength airport chair!"

So my wife comes back from the bathroom and sits next to me completely unaware of what just happened. I'd like to tell her, but the Big Guy is pretty much right behind me and would certainly hear the conversation. I keep quiet, until....

A few moments later, a bookish looking lady walks along that same row of seats. As luck would have it, she sits down in the exact same seat that the Big Guy just broke (and fixed). She opens her book, puts on her reading glasses and starts to read.

Within a second or two of her settling in, the seat begins to give way. She must weigh all of 100 lbs, but its enough to start the bar slipping again. Instead of moving to another seat, she just slides over to the high side. The bar slips again, but this time really fast, surprising her into letting out a high pitched shriek.

By this time, I can hardly contain myself. I'm biting my knuckle to keep from laughing; Remember, the Big Guy is *right* behind me. My wife thinks I'm having a fit of epilepsy or something and can't figure out why I'm trying so hard not to laugh.

Finally the big guy hears the shriek, sees me convulsing trying not to laugh out loud, and sees my wife trying to make sense of it all. He lets out the jolliest laugh I've ever heard. I can no longer contain myself and join him in uncontrollable laughter.

Life is full of awkward situations. They all don't end in laughter, but those that do remain the most memorable!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wine Fridays

Thanks Dan!
I used to work with a man who was all about wine. On Friday's he would bring in a bottle of something we'd never heard of and we'd share it after work at the little park across the way. He'd introduced me to what are now some of my favorite wines: Garnacha, Tempranillo, Primitivo, Rhones, and many others. I began to experiment by buying bottles from the same regions as those I liked. I discovered many of the Australian and other "New World" wines and their forward fruity flavor. I also enjoyed the french wines and the complexities they offer. Soon I began bringing wines to the "Wine Friday" tastings.

Most of the wines we had were in the 10 to 20 USD range. We'd get on mailing lists for the wine club, and K&L and bargain hunt for the real values.

It it hard to know what to buy?
One of the tools I've used over the years is the vintage chart for general wine quality trends from Robert Parker. Beyond this, I would suggest going to a real wine store, not BevMo. I've found the people there really willing to help. If you start by telling them what you like, oftentimes they can lead you in new directions. I've not found them to be snobby, just be honest with them, and They'll be honest with you!

So raise your glass and try something new!

Seven's up

I loaded windows 7 on my laptop. I actually went to Microsoft's site and signed up for the "Release Candidate" I got a legitimate license key, good until June 2010, for free; Whats the catch?

So far, I like it! I loaded Photoshop CS3, my Nikon drivers all without a hitch. There was a bit of a hiccup with the Bamboo tablet from Wacom; The install program bombed on the last step. I had to search through the CD and run that setup program alone. It seems to be working well now.

No Hibernation?
Apparently there's a glitch with some of the power drivers that wont allow the sleeping laptop to "wake up and hibernate" so it just sleeps until your battery dies. Hmmm... Now I have to remember to make it hibernate before I close the lid. No Biggie..

Where's My Old Drive?
I'm such a chicken that I just pulled out the old drive and will keep it so I can go back to XP if needed. I wanted to get some data off the old drive so I put it into a drive case with a USB interface. For some reason, the Toshiba laptop won't see the drive. Googling led me to this fix: "Remove the driver in the Device Manager and then reinstall by scanning for hardware changes." Guess what? It works now.

Now I understand what the catch is: I'm basically finding some of the bugs so that the rest of the world can have a better experience.

I think its a fair trade.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What's a Grip Head?

This weekend, I stopped by Keeble and Shuchat to look for something that would let me hang the home-made screen flash diffuser. I needed to get the diffuser much closer to the subject and mounting it directly to a light stand wasn't working out well.

At the store, there were several other customers renting studio gear. I have to admit I was kind of intimidated looking at all the stuff there. Being new at this, I had no idea what most of those items were. I ended up buying a "grip head" by Manfrotto, that fits on the top of a light stand and allows a boom (a steel rod) to extend horizontally. The grip head cost about 39.00 USD and is very well made. In this photo, you see a lightstand at the left, with the grip head holding a boom. The skylight panel is attached to the end of the boom close to the model. Notice how even the lighting is on her left side. The flash is softened quite a bit.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Feel Good Friday

Its another Friday and I can feel the anticipation in the air. Why is it that on Friday's we go to the same place of work (or school), are surrounded by the same people, doing the same things, but it's somehow different? "Hooray, It's Monday" just doesn't sound the same.

Enjoy the video.