Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Photography?

A Realization:
This weekend, during the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk, I had some interesting conversations with other photographers. One in particular was with Frederick Van Johnson. As we walked down the shaded street I asked him a simple question, but his answer was quite compelling. The question was: “Why do you like photography?” His answer came quickly; I’m quite sure he’d been asked this question many times before. His answer was:

"To be a good photographer I think you have to have some mastery over at least these three things: 1) An Artist - you have to know and understand the concepts of photography. 2) A Psychologist - when shooting (photographing) people, one has to have the ability to connect, build trust, and relax the subject in order to show them at their best. And 3) A Geek - You just HAVE to love computers, and gadgets to be in this field. Things change so quickly, if you didn't lust for the next "shiny object", then it would quickly become tiresome."

Making connections:
What resonated with me was the part about making the connection with people. I think the camera is a tool we use to get closer to each other. I'm often amazed at the places I've been able into get to just by asking if I can take a picture. People seem genuinely willing to show me around, to share a little bit of their world with me. I often feel their pride as I listen to their story. Perhaps they use my camera as a tool to connect with me as well. Perhaps they appreciate being noticed. Perhaps we all just want to be recognized, to be liked, and to belong!








Sunday, July 19, 2009

White Seamless Shooting

I've always wondered how images like this were made.
Thanks to Zack Arias' Blog, now I know how. The key to this shot is to light the background using separate flashes from the subject.

This weekend...

I set up my garage studio with a 9-foot wide roll of paper as a background. I used two tile boards as a white floor so that the model (in this case, my daughter) could stand surrounded by white. The set up is shown below:

Starting from the back...
we have two ProMaster LS3 light stands (~80.00) with a Manfrotto telescoping crossbar holding a roll of the Savage white paper. (BTW- You've gotta love the B&H catalog picture of white paper; just a white square!)) I have two 15 LB sandbags keeping the whole thing stable. There is an "A" clamp On the paper to keep it from unrolling. The paper gets pretty heavy once 6 feet or so is unrolled, so keep a firm hand on it or the whole thing will unroll and you'll lose the 40-dollar roll on the floor of your garage. Keep an A-clamp in your pocket and clamp it so it won't spin.

In front of the paper...
we have two speedlight flashes that are able to be tripped as slaves from the main flash. I had to play with the power on the SB900 to evenly light the paper. I ended up with it set at about 1/10 power. The Vivitar 3600 is fixed at 1/4 power. Normally You'd use a light meter to dial in the flash power to get an even spray across the paper. I didn't have a light meter, so I used the camera's histogram function to try to push it as far right as I could. Too much light and it will start to wrap around the subject. You'll lose contrast, so dial it back just a bit.

The subject stands about the same distance from the background as the two speedlights. You don't want the background light to hit her. She stood on two Home Depot tile boards (vinyl sheets used in cheap apartments as a shower wall) These provide a nice bright floor on which to stand. Make sure to clean shoes with Windex or you'll be photoshopping footprints.

In front of the subject...
is another light stand with my home-made diffuser and the grip head. You can see the 10 lb counter balance hanging from a bungee cord. The main light is the SB600. I'd much rather use the SB900 here, but the 600 only has one IR sensor meaning I had to keep it close to the camera or it wouldn't fire.Straight out of the camera, the image wasn't perfect. There were some shadows and grey spots that needed to be taken out. Luckily, Zack's PhotoShop tutorial helped a lot in post processing.

I think the final result came out nice!







Tuesday, July 14, 2009

iStock Update


So when do the gold coins start falling from the sky?

I think we all tend to believe that selling your photos online will be easy. We think that once we post, the gold coins will start falling from the sky.

Last week, iStock accepted my application and I began uploading photos to their site.
Oh by the way, they limit me to 15 images a week. The upload process is not quite as easy as Flickr, there are no automated tools for Windows users, yet, so the files must go one by one. For each file, I filled in key words relevant to the image, categorized it and clicked the submit button. Ah yes, now I just sit back, rub my hands together and wait for the mail man.

So where's my check?

Immediately after upload, I checked the database to find the files, to see the result of my half-year-long pursuit. Wha,,, where are they? What does "Pending" mean? I checked the next day, and the next with still no results. Okay, I'm not excited anymore... I asked another photographer, Nicole Young, what to expect.

The Scouts

iStock uses a team of inspectors called Scouts who evaluate each image for composition, lighting, shadows, sharpness and a bunch of other things. Apparently the process takes 5 to 8 days. When they did get to my files, they sent me emails along the way. I got either:

Hello timlimon,

Your file "School Buses" has been accepted into to the iStockphoto collection.

Thank you for submitting your art to iStockphoto. You can view your file here:

http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup.php?id=9912743


or

Dear timlimon,

We regret to inform you that we cannot accept your submission, entitled Apple for the teacher ( http://www2.istockphoto.com/file_thumbview_approve/9915834/2/istockphoto_9915834-apple-for-the-teacher.jpg) for addition to the iStockphoto library for the following reasons:

We could not find a clear center focal point for this file.

For more information about iStock Focus Standards, please see:
http://www.istockphoto.com/tutorial_2.1_focus.php

:( :)

Its funny, but rejection spurs me onward. I get a little fire under my butt to go out and make a better image. I looked at each rejection and agreed with the inspector. This one is a tiny bit blurry (if I zoom waaay in), this one has dark shadows etc... Hey I'm getting free photo critique, cool!

So a week has gone by and here's my stats: 15 submissions, 6 accepts, 6 rejects, 3 still pending. I must say the rejections have got me to up my game considerably. Now I check the lighting very carefully, I look at the sharpness while zoomed waaaay in, I spend a lot more time planning, and thinking and evaluating each exposure, cause after all, we all hate rejection, right?




Monday, July 13, 2009

Inspiration


This Sunday,

I listened to an excellent interview with Anne Day. Anne is a world renowned photographer who spoke about photographing in your own home. You know when the light is right, When the color is golden and when the shadows fall just so. Her boys were being... well... boys and running around indoors. She snapped the picture at just the right moment and froze that instant to share with the world. Being a father, some of her images struck me. I felt my chin begin to quiver.



Photography is an art. Its as if we are all walking around in a painting that changes as we move through it. The light in the morning is colder, bluer and the evening is warmer, and more golden. the shadows play with the wind. All we need to do is frame it and release the shutter to capture that fleeting moment in time.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Friday

This week's post is brought to you by a couple of talented students at Kingston University. Enjoy!

HP - invent from Tom and Matt on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Bus Yard


When was the last time you stood next to a school bus?

On certain weekdays in the summer I drop my kids off at a day camp. Right across the street is the county’s transit yard. I've driven by this yard many times. This particular time, I had my DSLR with me. I stood outside the fence and shot a few pictures, but it felt funny. I didn’t have permission and there was a big "No Trespassing" sign posted. Still I felt compelled to get in closer. After quite a bit of mental deliberation, I decided to go around and see if there was someone in the office I could talk to.

Two Ladies
There were two nice ladies there who referred me to their supervisor. After a few questions, he agreed and let me walk around and take some shots. Being the Friday afternoon before the 4th of July, the place was pretty empty.

Shiny and Clean!
Many of these busses were recently detailed. One in particular, Number 9, caught my eye. All of the rivets stood out and the clean black lines made for some interesting photos. Since it was midday, the side lighting was sparse and I had to rely on the reflected light from the adjacent bus.

Nice People
I spent about 40 minutes walking around, kneeling, checking exposure and sharpness of each capture. As I left, I passed back by the office where those two nice ladies took a genuine interest in what I was doing. “Will you post them?” “Where can I see them?” and “Do you have a card?” We talked for a while then I said “Goodbye and Thank You!”

Returning the kindness…
A few days later, I returned and dropped off a few 8x10 prints of the best 3 shots along with a business card. Neither of the two ladies was there at the time, so I handed the envelope to someone else and then disappeared around the corner to look at one of the workers in the wash bay.

Linda…
I wasn’t there two minutes, when someone approached me and said “You took a wonderful picture of my bus! Its Number 9 and my name is Linda”. Speaking with her for a while, I could sense the pride she had in what she does and how important it is. She pointed out how there are steel reinforcements that form a cage to protect the children in the event of a crash. Linda has been responsible for the safety of thousands of children, moving them from point A to point B, day after day, with out incident. She should feel proud!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Accepted!

This morning I received some excellent news from the folks at iStock photo:

Dear Timothy (timlimon),
Welcome to iStockphoto.com, the
designer's dirty little secret. Congratulations, the iStockphoto administrators
have determined that your files are commercially and technically ready for
iStockphoto.com. Please begin uploading at your convenience. ....

WhooooHoooo!
As many of you know, I have been trying for many months now to make images worthy enough to be used as stock photos. This post was one of many rejections received. Stock photos are those that you see on websites, billboards, or the side of a bus. You know, like this:


So What...
...does this mean? Well it meant that I can start selling images and, hopefully, make a little money too. It also means that I have a small chance at seeing one of my shots on a billboard someday. I have to temper the excitement with a dose of reality; There are many, many photographers contributing to iStock, so the chances are still slim, but at least I've cleared the first hurdle.

I'm happy with that!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What's A Clamshell?

Recently,
I was fortunate enough to purchase a Nikon SB900 Speedlight (a camera flash). I have been eyeing this one for several months now and finally got up enough nerve to make the purchase. Joe McNallys book, "The Hot Shoe Diaries" has been instrumental helping my understanding.

One of the reasons that this flash is so useful is that it works using the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS). This system en
ables the flash and the camera to "have a conversation" about how much light should be used to properly expose the subject. The Canon equivalent is "eTTL" which does pretty much the same thing. The amazing thing about both of these systems is that this conversation happens in a few milliseconds and yields some pretty impressive results!



In this shot...
The Nikon D90 camera acted as the master unit, controlling the output of the new SB900 (camera left at 7 feet high and aiming downward) and the SB600 (camera left at 2 feet high and aiming upward). Each flash was softened using a translucent "shoot through" umbrella. I used a white bounce card (camera right) to light her left side. The background was illuminated using my old Vivitar flash with the hot shoe slave. Because the studio is shallow, I had a tough time getting the background lit evenly. Here is the set up shot for reference:





Because ...
The umbrellas are facing one another, the setup is referred to as a "clam shell". One nice thing about this type of a set up is that both flashes are on one lightstand making it very easy to adjust. The lower flash is held in place on the stand using a Justin clamp.

As you may have noticed by now, I tend to gravitate toward inexpensive (don't say cheap...) studio equipment. One reason for this is that I see the real value in the high tech electronics (flashes, camera bodies, slaves and the like). A simple satin umbrella, or tubular steel lightstand is relatively low-tech and should be priced accordingly.

One thing

That I notice now, is that I tend to look at magazines, websites, and billboards differently. I'm looking for how the lighting was done. And now I'm starting to understand!