Sunday, October 31, 2010

Getting the most from Speedlites

Flash photography is my nemesis.  Or, I should say "good" flash photography is my nemesis.  I have a feeling many people feel the same way.

I've read many books and articles on it and I've definitely improved my flash photography over the years by leaps and bounds, but I'm still not quite there on a consistent basis.

To date, this link to an older post of mine lists the resources that I've been using to learn and improve.  I can now add this great book by Joe McNally called "Hot Shoe Diaries" to that list.  It's a great read filled with practical and effective real world advice.

Today I stumbled across this link on the Canon Professional Network web site that is the beginning of a multi-part series called "Getting the most from Speedlites".  Part 1 and 2 came out fairly close together, so if you decide to start reading this series then keep an eye open for the following installments.

Although this Canon series is not covering topics that are vastly different than those addressed by Joe McNally and Neil van Niekerk (two of the best in the flash photography world), it covers the topics from a slightly different angle.  For me, sometimes reading similar subject matter from different viewpoints eventually helps me find a way to make the material "click" in my head so that I can put it to good use.  I don't know....for some reason I occasionally need multiple reads of the same topic to completely understand and absorb it.

I hope you find these articles and books helpful.  Without reading them, I would still be wandering aimlessly in a world of bright flashing light!  :-)

Friday, October 29, 2010

X Marks The Spot

Here's a link to a helpful article in the current issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine about using technology to get you to a desired photography location at the right time of day to have a better chance at getting the lighting results that you want.  This was a great article for me to read, because quite frankly I didn't know that these tools did all of the things that they do (and that they do it so well).

I immediately downloaded the latest versions of Google Earth and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, plugged in a few locations and times of day that I was interested in testing out, and I was instantly able to see in a visual way what the lighting and shadow angles would be at those times of day, on those days, in those locations.  I was particularly blown away by the Google Earth 'Sun' button that simulates the path of the sunlight (and its shadows!) throughout a given day at a given location.

So what does this mean for planning a shoot?  It means everything!

Sometimes photography is about casually walking around and grabbing whatever serendipitous pictures you can find, and that's fine when that's what your goal is.  But other times it's a very planned activity when you're on the hunt for a specific shot, in specific light, etc.

I can't tell you how many times I've driven or hiked to a given location with the intent of photographing something with the sun shining on it (or not shining on it), trying for a specific angle of lighting, etc, only to have my efforts ruined by getting there and seeing that I just missed getting the right light because of bad timing.

These tools allow you to plug in locations, dates, and times to see simulated lighting AND shadow paths!  I can then say, "OK...For this location, to get the sun shining on that hillside, I need to be there by 3:00 at the latest or the sun will be past the hill".  This is awesome insight to have when planning a photo excursion!

When planning a shoot from now on, no more will I have to say "I just missed my light and wasted my time!".  I can now plan to be there when the light is where I want it, and it's only the quality of the light that I'll have to worry about...but that's up to Mother Nature.

Try these two great tools!  You'll really like them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photo Carousel #4: "Artist"

This is the next installment in my Photo Carousel series.  I don't know what it is about this picture, but I really like it and wanted to post it here.

I've always been fascinated watching painters and sketch artists work.  It's amazing to me the way they draw a line, smudge it with their finger to make it softer (such as around the girl's cheeks, chin, and chest), outline edges in such a meaningful way, and breathe life into their pictures until they're done and you stand back and say "Wow!".

I was at an Oktoberfest celebration near my house recently and I saw this artist drawing this couple.  He was drawing them one at a time on the same sheet of paper and he didn't show it to both of them until he was done.  They loved it!

While I was standing there, I became intrigued with trying to capture him doing his work.  I had an idea for a great long exposure shot that would have showed his hands moving around the page while the rest of the picture was steady and sharp, but I didn't have a tripod with me.  So my next best idea was to show just his hands and the paper.  I thought this conveyed a slight sense of mystery to my photo because you know someone else is sitting there posing for him but you can't see them in my photo.

I wanted his hands and the all important pencil completely in the photo, but right at the edge of the frame to keep the viewer's attention inside the picture.

The main lesson I got from this photo was:  Keep your eyes open when you're walking around at special events!  Here I was drinking a beer and walking right by this cool scene and I almost didn't give it a second glance.  There are so many interesting opportunities like this if you just keep your eyes open.

From a technical perspective, this shot was simple.  I knew the camera would slightly under expose when it metered the mostly white scene, so I added +1/3 stop of exposure compensation to keep it bright.  I then had to further increase the exposure slightly more in Photoshop because it still came out a little underexposed.  I left the color balance the same because I like the glow of the tungsten light bulb that the artist was working under.  I thought it added some warmth to the otherwise mostly white feeling.

All in all, it's a shot that I like and it's another compositional and technical learning experience.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Photo Carousel #3: "Layers"

This is the third entry in my Photo Carousel series.  The autumn colors near me haven't been that great this year, so instead of looking up for compositions, I looked down.  That's how "Layers" came to life.  I shot these leaves as they were....I did not move them.  That's important to note for my explanation of how/why I took this photo below.

This photo is somewhat of a cliche.  We've all probably seen too many leaf pictures to count and the leaves may have been prettier than these.  But my Photo Carousel series is not necessarily about always presenting startlingly original or perfect images.  It's about presenting nice images AND explaining the thought process behind them to communicate and exchange ideas about composition, light, etc.

My goal for this image was to present layers of leaves in a way that would cause the viewer's eye to wander around the frame looking on top of and under the leaves to see what's there.  I think it succeeds in that goal because of three things:  careful composition, lighting, and exposure.

I positioned the two orange leaves and the opposing brown leaf carefully in the frame to counteract each other and set the overall tone for the image.  They also act like covers to the leaves under them and set the premise of what I was trying to do.  The brown leaf is in that location for a reason.  If you look carefully under the big brown leaf in the darker hole, there's just enough light under there to see more leaves.  That keeps the viewer's eye right in there looking around.  Same thing with the big orange leaf on the right.  I had to get the camera just low enough to get that effect while still being able to get the hand held depth of field that I wanted.  I could not stop the lens down to f/11 or further because I didn't have a tripod.  This kind of intentional composition and perspective control gives the image some depth, instead of just shooting a single leaf on a rock, for example.

These leaves were coming in and out of shadow from the clouds above, so I waited until some sun hit them from the side to light them up.  Careful metering let them go right to the edge of their luminosity without over exposing anything.  I dialed in +1/3 exposure compensation because the scene was so bright that I knew the camera would try to under expose it.  It was shot with 'Daylight' white balance to keep the colors more true.  If this was shot in 'Auto' white balance, the colors would probably have been considerably more bland and neutralized by the camera.

All the time I was taking this picture, my daughter who I was hiking with was saying, "Dad....Come on!  Let's go!".  I told her to be patient for a minute and I would show her why later.

When I opened up the picture large on my wide screen computer monitor, she smiled and said, "Wow!  That's neat!".  When I showed her the leaves hidden under the brown and orange leaves, she said "That's cool, I never would have noticed that when I saw you taking this".

And I guess that's the point of this picture.  To look around a little bit and notice things that you wouldn't ordinarily give a second glance to.  And then perhaps spend some time with your camera thinking about how to use composition, light, and exposure to make a photo that, although it might be a little bit cliche because of the subject matter, also has some hidden elements that can bring about a smile when people discover them.  And don't worry about getting your pants dirty when you get down on the ground!  :-)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creativity in the Photoshop Darkroom

I've always enjoyed the writing of Harold Davis on the web site.  He has interesting insight and opinions about the creative process of photography and that of post-processing in Photoshop to achieve his creative results.

In addition to this series of articles a while back on the web site about becoming a more creative photographer, he has recently been posting another series of articles called "Creativity in the Photoshop Darkroom" located at this link.

If you're interested in the options and techniques for how to tweak your photos to the next level in Photoshop, these articles are for you.  Davis sometimes takes his photos further than I personally would, but regardless of that I think that most people can probably learn a great deal just from reading about his thought process and techniques.  You can take away from these articles whatever works for you.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

PhotographyBB web site

I stumbled across this link for a nice web site called  The reason I like this site is because it consolidates its focus in four areas:  photography tips, post processing, photo assignments, and the PhotographyBB Online Magazine.

In particular, the reason I'm posting this here is because of their Online Magazine.  It's a nice publication and each current issue (and all of the back issues) can be downloaded in PDF format for free.  I've read several issues of the magazine already and it's well put together and definitely worth a read for its variety of content.  And you can't beat free!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rush: One step at a time

Here is a link to a great long video interview with one of my favorite bands, Rush.

In this interview with John Roberts from CNN, the band covers a huge range of topics from their 42 years together.  Damn!  Has it been that long??!!

They speak about their current tour, upcoming album, history together, likes, dislikes, charities, how they've survived in the music business this long, songwriting, fame, traveling, hobbies, etc.  It's one of the most thorough interviews I've seen with Rush in a long time, and if you're a fan, it's worth sitting through to get some more insight into the band and their music.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Charley and Cheerio - An October update

Cheerio (at left, with the white racing stripe on his nose) and Charley (below) have settled into their new home nicely.  They're now three months old and seem to be growing quickly.  I should have measured them when we got them, but I would guess that they've grown 1/2 inch since we got them.  We've had them for about a month and handle them a lot each day, and I think that has paid off in the fact that they're used to us now.

By the way, no, I'm not squeezing them in these photos to hold them still.  Don't worry.  Our little guys like to be carried around secure in the palm of our hands while they stick their head out the "window" to see where they're going. 

They know me the best at this point because I handle them the most each day and also assist the kids with getting them in and out of the cage.  I've explained to the kids the importance for this first month or two of not putting their hands in the cage, getting impatient when trying to pick them up, and chasing the gerbils around the cage.  This is the equivalent of invading their home, and they'll NEVER get friendly and tame that way.  The kids understand, and for the most part have been patient with the process of familiarizing themselves with the gerbils.

We had one set back two weeks ago when I think we handled them a little too much over the course of two days in particular when it was raining one weekend and we were inside spending a lot of time with them.  They then seemed to go backward in their comfort level with us and hid in the cage when we came in the next day or two.  We took it easy for a few days after that, hit the reset button with how we handle them, and everything is fine now.

At this point in time, they always come out to investigate when we put our hands in the cage.  This is good.  They sniff us, hop on and off our hands, come back and sniff us more, etc.  No objections to us.  At night, Cheerio is particularly adventurous and will readily run up your arm to your shoulder to say hi and get out of the cage for a visit.  Or, if you just leave the lid off the cage then he climbs on top of his nest box and hops up to sit on the edge and waits patiently for you to pick him up.  He never does this during the day though.  Only at night.  Interesting...

Charley is much more reserved than Cheerio.  For example, I think it will be quite a while (if ever) before Charley is bold enough to walk up our arms to get out of the cage.   He'll certainly never jump up on the edge and sit their waiting like Cheerio.  It's just not his deal.  You kind of have to put both hands into the cage, cup Charley, and take him out that way.  Cheerio is bold and adventurous.  Charley is more cautious and reserved.  Two different gerbils, two different personalities....

Watching the two of them play together outside of the cage is very funny and it's a good "zen" thing to enjoy after a busy day.  They run all around the bathroom floor with the door closed, wrestle with each other, eat out of your hands, etc.  Today I had them on the floor and they kept coming over to check me out.  I would play wrestle with them, ruffle up their fur, etc.  Very gently so they know that I'm not trying to hurt them.  They would run away for a second and then come back to my hands for more "wrestling" with me.  They seem to like it because when I stop they just sit there looking at my hands like they're waiting for more.  Funny...

They're both steady and confident enough to ride around the house on my shoulder if I move gently.  Of course I keep my hands ready if they decide to slide down the front of my shirt for a more steady ride on my hands.  I don't let the kids do this (yet) though.  The kids still sometimes move too quickly or make sudden movements, and we don't want the gerbils to jump off.

I switched to using a standard 8" wire mesh wheel today that can be purchased at any pet store.  I had originally purchased a solid surface wheel, but our gerbils designated their wheel as one of their bathroom spots.  Needless to say that I didn't think it was too sanitary to pee on their wheel and then run on it.  This resulted in pee spinning all over the wheel and them, so out that went.  If they pee on this wheel it will drop straight through to the bottom of the cage and no harm is done to anyone.

So, that's the latest update on the boys....More to come in the future!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Trump for President!

I knew this would happen eventually because Donald Trump has been appearing on a lot of political TV shows in the U.S. recently.  CNN.  MSNBC.  You name it, he's on the air.

Check out this interview with Donald Trump about running for President in 2012.

Say what you will about Donald Trump and whether or not you like him, but his blunt talk about the economy, war, oil, and some of the things the U.S. is doing is great to hear!

He talks specifically about other countries who have said repeatedly that the U.S. leadership is a complete joke and what they're able to get away with when negotiating with the U.S. is unbelievable.  We are viewed as weak in the eyes of the world, and I don't think this is a big secret...We've dug ourselves a huge hole over the past fifteen years.

Listen to the logic he uses about the wars in Kuwait and Iraq.  It makes perfect sense.  Listen to what he says about one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City, and how our infrastructure is completely crumbling while we spend money and time to rebuild other countries.  Listen to him ask:  Why didn't Kuwait pay us back for saving their country?  He's right!  Why didn't Kuwait pay us back for going in there, liberating their country from Iraq, and handing it back to them???  They could surely afford it!  Pay us with money.  Pay us with oil.  Whatever, just give us something for the billions that we spent over there!

All of it is true.  Keep an eye on this one.  Trump could rock Washington and perhaps put this country back on the right track.

Like I said, love him or hate him, a lot of what he says makes perfect sense and nobody else in the political arena is willing to say the things that he does.  I'm curious as to whether or not he could turn it into action, or if he would immediately alienate so many people that he would get nothing done as President.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guerrilla Travel Photographer

I ran across these two posts today on the Digital Photography School web site and I got a good chuckle out of them because much of it is true for all of us guerrilla photographers out there.

There's enough good info in these posts to be helpful to all those moms, dads, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc, out there who are trying to grab pictures while their families or significant other are saying "Come on, let's go already"!

Actually, the comments at the bottom of the posts from the other readers offer even more good advice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lost America - Night Photography of the Abandoned West (by Troy Paiva)

I've always been fascinated with great night photographs.  Keep in mind the word "great", because mediocre night photography is just that....mediocre in quality, boring in presentation, and not inspiring to look at.  I've seen some night photography books where I was left wondering, "Is this the best they could do?", when I was done reading them.  Not worth the time...

However, keeping in line with the word "great", you have to check out Troy Paiva's "Lost America" web site at this link.  Wow!  I don't need to tell you his night photography work is great....check it out for yourself!

In addition to looking at the galleries, I would strongly encourage you to take the time to read the content of Troy's web site as well.  He goes to great length to explain his techniques and how he got to where he is today with his work, which indeed seems to be a life passion.  He also tells a story behind some of the pictures. 

When you first view these photos it's tempting to quickly think that Troy simply Photoshopped his vivid colors, but that's not the case.  These are true long exposure night photos which Troy enhanced with various hand held light painting and flash photography techniques.  His control of light is terrific.

Enjoy this site!  I was lost in it for hours...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Cuba: The Accidental Eden

This link is to a great episode of the PBS Nature show and it's called "Cuba:  The Accidental Eden".

For anyone who has even a passing interest in nature and ecology, this is a great episode to watch.  Because of Cuba's political history, I'm sure many people are unaware of much of the content in this show and how untouched Cuba's ecology actually is after decades of being isolated from the rest of the world.

The description from PBS:

Cuba may have been restricted politically and economically for the past 50 years, but its borders have remained open to wildlife for which Cuba’s undeveloped islands are an irresistible draw. While many islands in the Caribbean have poisoned or paved over their ecological riches on land and in the sea in pursuit of a growing tourist industry, Cuba’s wild landscapes have remained virtually untouched, creating a safe haven for rare and intriguing indigenous animals, as well as for hundreds of species of migrating birds and marine creatures. Coral reefs have benefited, too. Independent research has shown that Cuba’s corals are doing much better than others both in the Caribbean and around the world.