Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Get Up and Shoot Down

Would you like to add some interest to your shots?
One sure way to do this is to change your point of view. As humans we are used to seeing the world from our own two eyes. Whether standing or sitting, we generally look forward and outward making pictures from this vantage a bit on the ordinary side. Try getting up high and looking downward at your subject. This technique can be especially flattering in portraiture.

Try This:
Look at yourself in the mirror and tilt your head down. Notice how the skin on your jaw broadens? Now tilt your head up and watch as the skin on the lower part of your face gets narrow and tightened.

In Practice...
Look for opportunities to photograph your subject from above. When they are seated, stand. When they are standing, get up on a step stool and shoot downward. Try shooting so that the subjects shoulders are at an angle to the camera to add a bit of warmth to the shot.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Real" Darkroom Photography (Part One)

When I was a kid, I used to watch a TV show called Mission Impossible. Inevitably, one of the main characters would spend time in the darkroom developing film to incriminate the criminal-du-jour. Have you ever wondered how that process works? Well, in this first segment, I'll explain how a latent image is captured on film and how the developing process works.

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a class in darkroom photography when I was in school. After that, I set up my own darkroom in a spare room that used to be the garage. The process was so fascinating to me. Now, in the age of digital cameras, that knowledge is getting a bit scarce.

There's Jello inside?
Inside the metal canister is a roll of plastic which is coated with various layers. One of these layers is a special form of gelatin (the exact same chemical you can eat at desert!) Suspended in this dry gelatin are microscopic with silver-halide crystals. These crystals act as light detectors and change chemically when hit by photons. Areas of the film that were hit by bright light will contain large numbers of activated silver halide coating. Other areas which have not been exposed to bright light will not contain many activated crystals. Its important to note that the film contains only a latent image at this point. That is to say that the activated areas look exactly the same as the un-activated areas but their chemically different. The silver-halide crystals are amazingly stable and can hold their state (activated or not) for a long time. To render the image, we need the next step.

The Developer
The developer is a fluid that replaces the exposed silver halide crystals with pure silver. This chemical reaction takes place in a light-tight canister in which the film has been placed on a spiral spool. The spool is needed to keep the film surfaces separated to the developing agent can do its work. The film sits in the tank for about 12 minutes depending on the temperature. The higher the amount of activated crystals, the more silver you get in that spot, and the darker the spot will appear in the end.

Whoa! Stop
If left in the developer for too long, the remaining unexposed silver-halide crystals would start to be affected. To prevent this you add something called the "Stop Bath". This chemical would stop the developing process before it began to eat up the rest of the latent image on the film. 30 seconds is all the time it takes for the stop bath to do its job.

The Fixer:
In order to make the image light durable, we need to remove the unexposed crystals using something called fixer. Generally this liquid dissolves away those crystals that have not become silver metal so that subsequent exposure to light doesn't activate them. The film soaks in the fixer for about 3 minutes. Now the image can be viewed. The image on film will appear as a negative of the image that was shot because bright spots = lots of exposed crystals = lots of silver = a dark area on the developed film.

Sticky Stuff
Remember that the film has coating of gelatin on it? This stuff is pretty sticky when it's wet and needs to be dried thoroughly before it can be handled. I used to have a clothes line strung out with a clothes pin on the top and bottom to keep the film from curling back up. Once dry, the film can be handled, but can still be scratched fairly easily.

There's some great further reading from Illford on the whole process

That's it for now. In the next segment we'll take a look at how the negative gets printed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Water Heater Rocket

Happy Friday Everyone!
Living in the Bay Area, its kind of a treat knowing that the Mythbusters are right here in my backyard. This clip is definitely one of my favorites. Thank God for safety valves!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Last night I tried my hand again at being accepted to iStock Photo. This morning I got the sad news:

"At this time we regret to inform you that we did not feel the overall composition of your photography or subject matter is at the minimum level of standard for iStockphoto. Please take some time to review training materials, resources and articles provided through iStockphoto. The photographs provided in your application should be your best work. Try and impress us, we want to see how you stand out from the crowd."

I guess I shouldn't be discouraged. I'll try again in a week with a new set of images. In the meantime, I'll keep looking up!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kids say the darndest things....

Yesterday, I received the cutest story from my brother-in-law. His daughter Caitlin is a 9-year-old. Her mom had just finished making one of her favorite soups: split-pea with ham. After tasting the first spoon, Caitlin said, "Wow, this soup is good! What is it, mom?". Her mother responded: "It's pea soup". Caitlin paused for a moment and the replied with a little smirk on her face, "Mmmm, this is number one soup, mom!"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm International?

I want to say a big "Thank You" to my international visitors. According to the site statistics, I've had some page views from Indonesia, Peru, Cyprus, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Russia, Philippines, Greece, and Canada. I'm surprised at the great diversity. I'll try to keep the interesting photographs coming, because imagery crosses the language barriers.

Thanks Again!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cold Shoes?

Setting up a One Light Studio

A while ago, I set up a studio in my garage. Part of the fun of it was figuring out what to buy and how it would fit together. I knew that I needed to mount a flash onto a light stand, but how does that work? The light stand has a stud or a post, and the flash is meant to be mounted onto the camera's hot shoe?

Luckily, Adorama has pretty good pictures of what the items look like. I ended up buying a "Universal Swivel Holder" which attaches to the stud at the top of the light stand and allows you to mount a flash onto its "cold shoe".

There was one small problem though. The cold shoe is made of aluminum and would likely short out my flash. See all those little pins on the bottom of the SB600? I'm sure that mounting the shoe onto a metal surface would fry my $300.00 flash. No Thanks!

Necessity is a mother...
I had to come up with a solution. Here's what I did: I have some plastic (PET) packaging material from one of the recent gadgets I've acquired. I cut it into an "H" shape and slipped it into the cold shoe. I cut it so that it would be nice and snug and wouldn't fall out when I loaded the equipment into my bag for on-location shoots.

Now it was just a matter of attaching the flash to the swivel, then attaching the swivel to the light stand, then adding the shoot through umbrella, and a white bounce card, I was all set for a One Light Portrait.

Available Light

Summer is travel season, and, if you travel, you most certainly will see a photo like this in one of those brochures in your hotel.

Have you ever wondered how something like this was done? Here's a few pointers on getting this type of shot.

Use a Tripod
Traveling with a tripod is getting more difficult. With weight restrictions and the large size of a tripod you may be dissuaded. Have a look at the Gorillapod by Joby or other light weight tripods. They are really worth the effort for getting in the group shot as well.

Shoot at a Low Angle
For this type of shot, set your tripod down low to add a bit of interest. Most of the time we see things at eye level, so photographs from this height won't really be all *that* special. Lowering the tripod can add a surreal effect, as if the viewer were a small child looking up.

Use the Self Timer
Pressing the shutter button can start the camera vibrating and make the shot look blurry even though its focused. If you're using a full size tripod and a heavier DSLR, this isn't so much of a concern. With smaller "Point and Shoot" cameras on a light-weight tripod, you should definitely use the self timer to trigger the shutter.

Check the White Balance
Your photos may have a yellow or blue cast if the white balance is set wrong. Most outdoor lighting is either tungsten, mercury vapor or sodium vapor. Your camera has a setting for tungsten, but not the other two. Experiment a bit to get the color cast you like.

Play with the exposure
Use the +/- function to over/under expose the shot for different effects. Often times, the default metering won't produce the desired effect. Try over exposing by one stop (+1) to see what happens.

Now that you have the basic tools. Go out and give it a try. Practice makes perfect. Don't wait for the vacation to experiment with your camera settings. Now is as good a time as any. Try these in your own backyard and see what you come up with. Enjoy!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Have a good weekend!

What happens when you play soccer wearing binoculars? Take a look and see for yourself

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Windows 7 Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Last night I needed to install a driver onto my Win7 laptop. So, as any normal (albeit geeky) user would do, I grabbed the install disk for my hardware, which in this case was a Pronto Remote, and went to town installing the application, driver, and tools from the OEM disk. I started configuring the TV remote, adding macros and channels for the new cable box. I saved the file and now was ready to download it to the remote.

Do you I know You?
Next I plugged in the USB cable on the remote to the laptop and waited for the two devices to acknowledge on another. And I waited... and waited.... No luck. the driver failed because of a "incorrectly configured INF file" Great... so let's go get the updated river from Philips, no problem, I've done this before. But here's what was strange: The Pronto remote has no updated driver, not for XP, Vista let alone Win7. Am I hosed?

So now what?
Luckily, when I installed Win7, I had enough forethought to keep my XP installation intact on a separate drive. Hard drives are so cheap these days, that it made sense to keep the old system, just in case. I popped open the panel on the bottom of the laptop and made the drive switch.

Hello, my old friend
Booting back into XP was a relief at this point. I had left the drive in hibernation mode so it came back to life right where I'd left off, as if nothing had happened. Now I needed to get the file for the remote from the Win7 drive. I used an external USB drive case to mount the drive and pull the file over into the XP world. I did the download and the remote was rockin'

Seven's Sins
After the file transfer, I re-installed the Win7 drive, thinking I could play with it a bit more, but NoooOOOoo, nothing is ever that simple with computers..... Now instead of the happy colorful swirling fireflies, I'm greeted with a black and grey screen telling me there's been a hardware malfunction. It mentioned something about the boot loader and the recovery disk. I think, perhaps when the Win7 boot drive was mounted in the XP operating system, XP did something to the root directory. Maybe it left one of its bird-poopy hidden files on it some where.

So whats next?
Now I'm in sort of a holding pattern. I need to Google a solution plan and sort through the myriad of solutions for problems that I don't have. Perhaps there's a simple fix, but knowing computers.... that's pretty rare.

UPDATE 06/03/09 7:52 pm:
Actually the recovery process was pretty easy. I booted from the CD image and chose recover. The whole process took 5 minutes. Not Bad. Now if they only had the right driver for the remote.....

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hot Shoe Slave

No, this post has nothing to do with footwear...

I have an old Vivitar 3600 flash that I'd forgotten about. I used to use it on my film SLR back in the day... Of course when I got my digital SLR, I thought I would just slap it on the hot shoe and I'd be golden.

Not So Fast....
Apparently, the voltage for TTL flashes have changed over the years. I know this to be true for Nikon, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true for Canon, Olympus, and other brands as well. So what now? Shell out 300 bucks for a shiny new SB600? Oh wait a minute, I'm cheap!

Hot Shoe Salvation!
There is a company called Wein that makes a hot shoe slave. I got mine from Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto for about 60 USD. It was actually cheaper than Amazon, and I got to take it home and play with it that same day.

What this device did for me was pretty neat: It turned that functionally-useless 15-year-old Vivitar 3600 into a slave flash. It uses the available flash pulse from my camera's built in (pop-up) flash and triggers the slave. Most digital cameras have several pre-flash pulses to meter the light before they pop off the real deal with the shutter open. The Wein HSD ignores these pulses, firing only when the shutter is open. The coolest thing about this gadget is that it uses no external power.

Why did that exposure come out way to bright? Unfortunately I have to run the slave flash in manual mode

I only use this one indoors. I've read complaints about using it outdoors and that makes sense to me; That light sensor on the HSD might not be able to notice that your wimpy pop-up flash went off when it's looking at the sun.

So for about 1/5th the cost of a new flash, I was able to re-purpose my old one. What's in your old camera bag?
as there is no provision for the flash and the camera to negotiate the exposure (unlike E-TTL or CLS flashes) For me, I have two choices: Full Blast, and -4. Full bast is really REALLY bright and it takes a long time for those poor little batteries to recharge the unit for the next shot. I run mine at -4 most of the time. There are occasions when even -4 is too bright. For those days, I use a neutral density (gray) filter (gel) that brings the flash down about 2 more stops.