Tag Archives: D300

Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

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Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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Always be looking for the shot

So I’ve been a bit delayed in writing my week’s blog entry due to going back to Connecticut for my oldest girl’s graduation. When we arrived there, I needed to rent a car and for 10 dollars more than a Chevy Malibu, I was able to get a very cool burnt orange Challenger. It was the ONLY one I saw the entire weekend of driving around and it gather looks and comments everywhere I went.

Along with the car, we needed a place to stay and I found a bed and breakfast that was a working farm (small) called “Butternut Farm“.  It was a very eccentric place to stay for a few days with good food, poor cellular coverage and virtual no lighting at night to see the sign or the building so I missed it a few times trying to find it at 9PM. It turns out that it’s really dark on country roads in Connecticut.

So what does a farm B&B and a orange Challenger have in common? Not too much till I came back to the farm one afternoon and saw a cool photo op by moving the car a few feet into the front of the barn and shooting with scene. I shot knowing full well I would need to photoshop the image since the light was not the best and rain had just started to mist down so everything was a dull blue tint. But I managed to rip off several images and by paying attention to details that I could control like the placement of the car, angle of the shot and waiting for the chickens, I got a good image to work with.

Here is the before and after shot.

2011 Challenger before and after with Lightroom 3

As you can see, I worried about my composition first, then I dealt with the lighting, color and so on.  Now that I have the shot, I loaded up photoshop CS5 and went to work using my Wacom and blend modes. The trick is to use a couple of layers to built up the color and detail of the car. You can see the original was a bit flat and the lower body panel was dark due to the overhead flat light. So I made a duplicate layer and used the multiply blend mode to darken up the very light highlights. I then applied a layer mask to hide it and re-applied it using a soft brush at 10% opacity to where I wanted to darken up things like the glass and top body highlights. I repeated the process again but used the screen mode to get a lightened version of the car. Again, I used my Wacom to apply a 10% layer to the lower body panels, the back and anywhere else that needed to be punched up a bit. Next was the application of an orange photography filter at 40%. Another layer mask let me paint out the orange on the blacks and wheels. The final touch was using Red Giant Light Factory to apply a “sun” to the tree line and tweak the final overall warmth of the image.

After all that which took about 30 minutes, I ended up with a pretty cool “product” shot of the classic Challenger in the farmyard. I did think about adding a flag but I thought would be too over the top of stereotypes.2011 Challenger in Butternut Bed and Breakfast Barnyard

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Winter Portraits

Ahh.. Winter.. brightly burning logs, toasted marsh mellows, hot coco and snow. Really bright snow in the daytime that completely confuses your automatic camera into thinking its about 2 to 3 stops too bright.  So many pictures taken in the winter by people end up looking like blown white outs and very dark stick people or serious racoon eyes from the nasty shadows under the eye sockets. Trying to shoot in the snow in unlike anything else other than maybe the Gobi dessert. It’s cold, batteries die an early death, your fingers freeze, it is incredibly bright and people dont want to sit still very long.

So is it impossible to get good natural portraits in the snow? Not at all, it’s very possible so long as you follow some basic rules. You will almost certainly have to use a flash, you will almost certainly need to go manual to override the camera’s non-winterized brain and you need to be able to shoot fast before everyone including you freeze.

It’s does not need to be a fancy flash, the onboard popup flash can really work wonders by staying within it’s working range. You will need to overdrive it, I typically shoot at +1 to +2 stops over flash compensation. I keep the ISO between 200 and 500, I look for shade if possible and I do like to use the sun as a natural backlight. In the image below, I put Sara directly in line with the setting sun. This was while we were out just walking around the neighborhood in the late afternoon. I had my D300, a 17-55 F2.8 lens and that was it.

ISO 200, F3.5 and a shutter of 1/125 using the popup flash at +2. With the D300, the 45mm works out to be almost 70mm on a full frame sensor

Snow Princess

Snow Princess

To pull this off, you MUST know your equipment and how to set various settings. When your fingers are getting stiff and cold is not the time to fumble around for menus. I set up the shot first to get the background the way I wanted it and then added the flash. It took about 4-5 shots to dial it in completely the way I wanted it. As you can see, I put the sun behind her head so her face was in shadow but her hair was rimlit by the sun. The flash provided the fill light.

On the next shot, it was the same basic settings but I did not like the look of the colors against the white snow but it black and white, I think it works really well. Again, you need to pay attention to the posing as much as you do to the camera settings.

B/W Snow Princess

B/W Snow Princess

In this shot, there are some apparent tricks. One, the shadow gives away that Sara is backlit again, I do this so I can light the face and not get the blown highlights from the bright sun. The hair looks really nice when backlit and in this case, the snow blows out to almost white. I have just enough texture so you can tell she is on snow  but it does not distract. I’m shooting down at her so she can stretch the face and neck up a bit and get that nice curve. This stretch helps her look natural and relaxed. Her bent knee provides a good place for her to put the arm and gives some nice lines.

My final image was taken on the side of the road and in partial shade. I made a point of putting Sara’s face into the shade and letting the sun dapple the rest of her and the ground. The bright patches provide a nice visual interest and works with the fence in the background for some texture. In a perfect world, the bit of ground would be cloned out but I wanted to show portraits with minimal work. I had to start to scoop up some snow with her hands and then asked her to look up.  It is a very natural pose and works well. Again the pop up flash was used to fill the face with some light.

Sun and Snow

Sun and Snow

I hope you can see that you dont need alot of gear to shoot nice winter portraits with just a bit of thought and knowing your equipment. Many times, your current equipment is more capable than you think and the popup flash is  a perfect example of something that is very much maligned by the “pros” but used by those in the “know”.

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Unexpected photoshoots

Just the other day I was talking about taking advantage of shooting in unplanned circumstances. And so it came to pass, I got a call from a friend telling me about a way to get inside one of the old airship hangers in Tustin here Orange County. The base is still owned by the Navy and had been used as a Marine helicopter base and a blimp base among other things. I have taken pictures over the years of the hangers from the outside but I have never been able to get on the inside. So I get a call saying that there will be a tour on saturday and it’s now friday.

Saturday AM, I’m in a crowd of around 150 people, Boy Scouts, reporters and fellow shutter bugs heading down a dirt road to the old runway leading to the North hanger. We even had one of the few remaining airship pilots who used to fly along the coast of CA in WWII. Claude Makin had a wealth of stories and was happily sharing them and answering questions from the public during the tour.

I had my 5 year old in tow and was trying to work out how to shoot a structure that is 180 feet high, 300 feet wide and 1000 feet long. The SB800 is a bit underpowered for this type of “indoor” shooting 🙂

I had brought two lens, my trusty 17-55mm F2.8 and my 11-24 F4. I found myself wishing for a something like a 10mm fisheye but I made do. It was much lighter on the inside than I thought it would be even with the hanger doors closed due to three rows of windows on each side of the roof running the full 1000 feet. They do have lights on the inside but this time they were off. My typical exposures were ISO 200 at F2.8-F4 and shutters running from 1/25 to 1/160.

These selections of my images give a very good idea of what it’s like on the inside on the hanger. Most of these images were processed using the free Kodachrome actions from Michael W Grey. The actions work very well with many types of images, not all but many.

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Where are all the pictures?

I read an interesting comment the other day that continues to dig at me a bit. Over on Flickr, a poster put up a complaint about how he could not shoot because of the weather. It had been pouring rain for several days and his excuse was the weather sucked so he could not shoot.

I countered that with a single image and pointed out that pictures are where you find them, not where you think they are. Here is the image. I used just the light from the window and LR3 was used for the post work.  This is a rainy day image that was not staged or planned, I saw her playing by the window, ran to my camera, ran back setting the camera settings as I went and managed to get about five frames.

Rainy Day Imp

Rainy Day Imp

I’ve shot all kinds of things when other say they cant shoot.  I’ve shot toys on my desk, pull cords on the window blinds and my coffee cup. There is no reason in the world that you can not shoot at any time of the day or night and at any place. The shot below of my window blinds was taken in the afternoon while testing my 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens.

Shade

Shade

I’ve used my pro cameras, my point and shoot, my phone and even my ancient film cameras. It’s all about shooting no matter what or where. Dont get locked into the idea that circumstances have to be perfect to shoot, many times my best work as been shoot on the fly or at the last second. I’ve gone out in the rain knowing full well it’s dismal conditions for shooting but I find a way.

Art is where you make it and sometimes it comes to you but sometimes you need to go to the mountain and find it. Art does not take breaks or vacations. Art is around you all the time if you just take the time and the trouble to see it. So the next time you have plans to go shoot and something interrupts them, take advantage of the interruption and see where it leads you. You very well might be very surprised and pleased at the outcome.

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Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it separately as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40 families over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t.  I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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Black and Blue

Black and Blue Portrait

Black and Blue
I was in Irvine, CA last night for the Westcott Pro Tour and this was one of the results from shooting at the event. We used the Westcott spider lights with the tri-flector and the new vintage backdrop from Westcott.
Herman Rodriguez was our mentor photographer for this shoot and he had alot of very good information on shooting portraits with a tilt to fashion. The point above everything else was “shape the light”. It was all about lighting and how lighting can make or break an image. It definitely got me thinking more about how I light my own subjects.

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Final Westcott Competition Entries

Some of you know that the photographic lighting supplier, Westcott,  did a pretty crazy cool thing at Photoshop World this year in Vegas. They set up four shooting sets and had live models, lights, props and watchers on hand and then let the public go nuts shooting the models. The payoff if that IF you enter their contest and IF you win, your image will be the Westcott catalog and you get some lighting equipment. And let me tell you that after shooting with their spiderlights, I’m lusting after a set of those lights! Cool, nicely balanced and bright, they are easier than strobes when shooting something like this where a subtle change in position or expression can have a profound impact in the image. Since the lights are continuous, you can shoot as fast as you can click the shutter without worry of the strobe not keeping up. In my studio here in Orange, this type of shooting works really well. I shoot strobes alot but after working with “hot lights” twice now, I really can see the value of them, especially the new cool “hot” lights.

Here are my entries for the contest. I’m also including a few shots of the sets so you can see the environment we had to work in. I used several different techniques with my entries. I worked only with the props and set given, I replaced the background in one, I flipped one to a “painting” using CS5’s new bristle brushes and I worked the tones. In all case though, the overriding concerns were sharpness, content, composition and overall impact of the image. I feel that without a sharp image and good solid composition, all the post work in the world will not push a bad image up the ladder.

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