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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

••◊ Shot in the dark

I attended the (pre-)strobist meeting this last Sunday with extremely limited success. My attempts at low light photography with hotshoe strobes are still a work in progress. I did manage to get one, meaning exactly one, good shot that evening. The rest were either ruined by my mis-management of time or experimentation. But hey, that's what strobist meetings are for; learning and experimentation that I couldn't do during a paid gig. The photo below was lit with two side firing bare flashes and a fill reflector near the floor at camera left.

I wanted to get some edgier, non-portrait stuff so I asked the model to put on her iPod on start dancing. I used the same light setup as before, but moved the flashes slightly to the rear to give her a harsher look. The first two shots were fine, but after that...

Ugh...blur! ...and of course you really don't notice this on a camera's 3" LCD until you get the pictures home and download them. I had set the focus to manual after adjusting it manually and the first two pictures came out sharp. So what happenned? Beats me.

In an effort to actually get these situations to work for me I did a little research today. It turns out that my 580EX II speedlights have a modeling flash capability built in. Hah ha! A solution. There are two ways to control it, via the depth of field preview button (which is hard to find in the dark) and the test fire button on the 580EX II flash. The red pilot light is a lot easier to see in the dark, so I turned the modeling flash on for both buttons. Note that by default the modeling flash is only turned on for the depth of field preview. Here's how to turn it on for both buttons.

  1. Turn on the flash in the non-master/slave mode.
  2. Press the C.Fn button until the custom function menu appears
  3. Use the scroll wheel to go to custom function #2 (Fn 02)
  4. Press the "PUSH" button at the center of the scroll wheel and use the scroll wheel to change the custom function value to "2" (both buttons)
  5. Press the "PUSH" button to accept the value.
  6. Press the "MODE" button to return to normal operation

Now what's even better about this is that if you fire the modeling flash you can also use auto-focus, however the metering cannot be evaluated. You'll still be chimping to get the light level correct, but that should almost be a one shot deal most of the time. Now that I have this down, it's time to delve into better (i.e. quicker) techniques for light metering.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

••◊ Archiving family photos

I recently took on the task of archiving old family photos, some from negatives, others from actual photos. This job is certainly not for the faint of heart. It took my friend Dan well over a year to archive his old family photos. I guess they used to treat photos like we currently treat most of our email inboxes ("I'll get to it later"). Folders and folders of negatives that were kept, in some cases for no reason at all. Just so I'm clear with mom and others, the negatives above did come from the family batch but didn't contain any family members or pictures worth keeping - yes, I double checked...have photographic proof if mandated.

Since the task is multi-headed (like Cerberus) I'm using both an HP C5280 all-in-one scanner and a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 (pictured above). The Nikon scanner is fairly nice, but be prepared to watch paint drying faster than a negative set goes through this scanner. The scanner has IR dust and scratch removal; it's saving grace, and true 4k resolution. If you save 35mm scans as 16-bit TIFFs each comes out to about 135MB. I've been scanning to TIFF, retouching, then archiving as JPEG for hard disk sanity.

The camera pictured above was my grandpa's Pentax Spotmatic-IIa and took most of the photos I'm currently archiving. It's certainly nothing like the Pentax K-7 that was just announced today. Although the predecessor (non -IIa) to this camera was the first with TTL exposure metering in 1964. I have to say that I'm not a nostalgic person by any means. I sometimes get frustrated with my year old Canon 40d not having some of the features of newer models I would gladly take advantage of. After briefly picking up the camera I found manual aperature and focus a serious source of immediate dissatisfaction. It makes you really appreciate the work that went into getting usable photos before digital. Now anybody with a point and shoot/cell phone camera and infinite depth of field can get a usable picture if the auto-focus cooperates!

In case my photog friends are interested, I took the scanner/camera photo in my spare bedroom on the bed with two pieces of foam core as the backdrop. One strobe was fired overhead into an umbrella for fill, the other bare strobe was behind the subject at camera left for a highlight accent. Both strobes on TTL at +2/3 compensation, 1:2 ratio of fill:highlight. I'll have to remember this for future Ebay items.

So...on to the photos. Now Prince Albert and I have something in common. No, not piercings. I like to call this one "Stuart in a Can."

Then there are the pictures like my aunt Ronnie looking cool, circa 1970. With that cap she was well ahead of the hip-hop fashion curve. Heck, P-diddy was only 1 year old. Little did he know what influence V-siddy would have on him 20 years later.

This is my mom's uncle Jake that I met briefly during a family reunion in the 1980's. He had a horse drawn carriage and would provide carriage service for weddings and special occassions in the Bismarck area. This portrait was taken in 1979. I thought it was well posed and decently lit for available light.

...and finally, what family portfolio would be complete without two or more family members standing in front of their house. I think at some point everyone's family has this type of photo in their album (remember those...the time *before* flickr - no, not really?). This is my grandma Elsie and my mom's cousin Karen, probably sometime during the 70's.

Off to shoot more model-types this Sunday. I'm hoping to try some night time techniques and get some athletic shots this time. Remember, just say no to posing in front of your house unless you're Candy Spelling.

Friday, May 1, 2009

••◊ April with the Strobists

Last Sunday I attended a get together of the San Diego Strobist group at Liberty Station. The group is organized on flickr and it's primarily made up of people doing creative lighting. For those less familiar with the term "strobist," it refers to the blog hosted by David Hobby with his moniker being "The Strobist." The meetings are a great way to get out and try new ideas, as well as network and sharpen existing skills. This meeting was in an abandoned military complex just north of the San Diego airport. We had four models show up: Hope, Caden, Val, and someone I didn't meet. My strobes were too weak for mid-day California sun, so I was using natural light as much as possible.

Hope was a favorite right off the bat. This girl has got the "it" factor with fierce eyes that would make Tyra Banks proud. She's also athletically built and claims to have a "four pack," although we never saw it during the shoot. Hope walked in knowing how to pose her body *AND* create a facial expression at the same time, which I'm finding is difficult for most newbie models. At one time she had six photographers shooting her and seemed to pull it off (yikes). The obvious steps here were to capture both her eyes and her athletic body in a flattering style. You go too far one way and you have a bodybuilder, you go the other way...she's just not going to pull off a girlie-waif look. I personally think Hope has a real future in lifestyle and athletic modeling. Results follow...

Hope also brought along her friend Caden, whom the two female shooters of the bunch quickly absconded away with. Caden seems to have an Abercrombie and Fitch thing going, so my inclination when I started sorting through the photos was to go monochrome. It also helped even out some of his skin tone. If I was shooting him again I might be temped to use ISO 800 just to get the film grain effects you typically see in A&F store ads. Yes, I know I can add it in post. So more importantly...shirtless with a winter coat in Southern California spring time? Does it make any sense. ...Nah. Does it work for the photo? I'll have to ask my female friends. Evidently Hope had worked out a deal before the shoot to do a few photos piggy-back with Caden. Seems to work for the young couples modeling look.

I was all packed up and ready for dinner when Cole (a fellow Strobist) walked over and introduced his friend Val to the group. Turns out that she showed up late - really late because of work. I felt sorry for the poor misses, so I pulled out my gear again and agreed to pop off a few shots. Light was escaping fast because it was already 7:30pm. I had two choices (three really, but go along for now): shoot with strobes (finally) or do long exposures. Val isn't quite at the same experience level as Hope, so it took a while to get her posed but she was a trooper in her short skirt and the cold air. Since this was just going to be a quick setup for me I posed her against a wall instead of trying to scout a location. The high-key shot was done with a poor man's ring flash (i.e. an umbrella at 12 o'clock directly over head) and the low-key shot is a long exposure. The third option would have been to strobe her and then do a second background only shot and composite the two. I'll be practicing that next time. Using long exposures with people type subject inevitably leads to motion blur.