Tag Archives: equipment

Christmas Photography Tips

Its soon time to end shooting the Christmas lights for the season. So get out for the next week and grab a few shots of your favorite lights to enjoy over the next year. Do not settle for the average under blacked out pictures or the really over -exposed shots where the Christmas lights are burned out blobs. With a few simple tricks, you can nail some pretty good images. Now, with as much of a fan I am about shooting with my iPhone, this is one time I would recommend a DSLR or micro-four-thirds for the best results. You can beat the smartphone into submission but you really need to be able to adjust all aspects plus be able to use a real flash with some gels. I use Rosco for my gels and you can use other brands but that is who I stick with.

Here are a few tips and tricks for getting the “Oh WOW” shots during the holidays:

  1.  So unless you have a full frame (FX) rig, embrace the grain and shoot at a high ISO. These images were shot at ISO 2000 or higher and I used Noiseware afterwards in post to clean them up.
  2. Read the manual and learn how to shoot on a custom white balance. My D300 shoots nicely at 3000K and while this worked for the normal light bulbs, the LEDs were all over the map as are some of the small lights. So be prepared in post to work it out.
  3. Gel your flash. I cannot stress this enough. You need to color balance the “daylight” flash to something closer to the Christmas lights or you WILL get that vampire look. I used a 1/4 cut CTO (color Temperature Orange) but I should have used 1/2 cut CTO. The 1/4 cut and 1/2 cut refers to the density of the color on the gel sheet. 1/4 is lighter than 1/2.
  4. Shoot with a stablized lens or use a Pentex with a stablized body ūüôā I shoot Nikon so it’s VR lenses for my. The new Olympus for example, has 5 axis stabilization. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with it at night by hand.
  5. You want to drag the shutter a bit when using the flash to get the pretty background lighting.
  6. Dont forget to shoot wide and get some details. Some folks really put in the effort on their lights and it shows in the details.
  7. Be ready for the unexpected shot. I had “Santa” come cruising by on his motorcycle as part of the visiting crowd.
  8. Shooting manual is where it’s at to get the best shots. Very little about shooting Christmas lights at night is considered a “normal” photography so most camera automatic settings are wrong. For much of the time I will shooting at ISO 2000, 1/40 second and 5.6 aperture. The flash power would vary from 1/128 to 1/32. This strikes a nice balance between depth of field, shallow depth of field, higher shutter speed to combat shake and noise at the higher ISOs. Newer camera or FX cameras can shoot from ISO 6400 to 50,000 without much noise now.
  9. Get pictures of the faces. The expressions on the kids faces are priceless and are the money shots from something like this.
  10. I dont have to contend with snow but snow works like a giant reflector. You will need to really pay attention to your settings when popping off the flash to avoid blowing out the image.

I have some shots here from around my own neighborhood. Enjoy the holiday and Merry Christmas from us to you.

Lights, Lights and more Lights

We dont need no stink'n snow

Adoration

Window Lights

Impromtu Carolers

Blue Lights

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Shooting Soccer Games

Summer Soccer Shooting

Most folks that I shoot with know that I will use my iPhone for any number of photography tasks. Even at a wedding because the iPhone excels at macro shots like shooting the wedding rings very close to show off the details. But, there are times that you really need to use the proper camera and lens to get the best picture. Much like a carpenter who has five different hammers, a good photographer will have a few different cameras and knows when it is time to switch it up and change the camera to get the best picture they can. And it IS all about the picture, not what hardware you shot it with.

 Goalie Megan Blocking Ball

This summer, I’ve been shooting soccer games on the weekends. I have to say I really enjoy watching the kids mix it up and a few times, some of the more adventurous will try moves they saw used in the World Cup games. Shooting soccer games, even in daylight has some interesting challenges to work around. You have a very fast paced game, you normally have harsh light which is also directional and you need to be able to stand at one end and still get the shot at the other end of the pitch (field).

To be successful at this type of shooting, you need to balance several competing settings. You need to shoot with a long lens and and after shooting with a micro four thirds and my DSLR, I would only recommend the DSLR in combination with 70-200 mm lens at the minimum. And not any DSLR will do, you need to have a fast focusing system that can track and focus continuously.  My system is a Nikon D700 using a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 lens. Yes, it is heavy but it has the reach along with just enough zoom to track 90% of the action.  The Nikon also has a decent high speed frame rate which can be as high as 8 frames per second with the right grip and battery pack. And yes, you will need this burst mode to really catch the fast action on the field. Also, you will need high capacity cards since burst shooting chews through megabytes of card space in a  hurry. I typically shoot through one 16 Mb CF card per game which is roughly 500 images.

Olivia Chasing the Ball

The lighting will be your curse because most of the time, these games are outside in harsh directional light of morning or afternoon sun. You will need to move to one side or the other to get the best light so the kid’s faces are not in heavy shadow. This means you will be moving around a fair amount so forget the big camera bag. I never change lenses or use a flash during these games so I have a “man-purse” which is a shoulder slung belly pack which has spare memory cards, spare batteries, lens cloth and some gaffers tape. I also keep my light meter in it. And yes, I use a light meter to get my first settings of the day. I shoot the games on full manual mode. Why? Why not use aperture priority (Av)? Because with consistent exposure, my post processing is much faster. If I find that for 20 mins, the lighting was one way, I can set all the images during that window to the same adjustment. My ISO is locked down to 400 and my shutter is locked to anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/4000 of second. As much as I like a bit of blur to show motion, I want the kid’s faces sharp so its a delicate balance. I normally just live with the lack of blur in exchange for a crisp image that will print well for the parents.

I also use a lens hood but not that hard plastic disaster that Nikon gives me. I have a nice rubber Mamiya¬†lens hood that originally was for a medium format lens. It’s black and folds back on itself if I need it out-of-the-way. More importantly is that when something hits it, the rubber bends and absorbs the impact. Think about a spectator on the line not paying attention to where my lens is as they get overly excited. I’ve saved many a head with this rubber lens hood.

When you shot, always try to think ahead of where the action is going. Constantly be aware of where the ball is, where it’s going and who might be kicking it. Use your fastest burst mode and learn to shoot with a gentle touch on the trigger. If you see the player getting close to the goal, start burst shooting to have a chance getting¬†¬†the actual goal shot. This is ALWAYS a hero¬†shot as the player pushes the ball past the goalkeeper. Conversely, a save of the attempted goal is also a hero shot that is often times overlooked by the photographer.

Attempted Goal

At the end of the day, you will need to sort through hundreds of images but there will be some real gems along with the out of focus shots, just missed shots and accidental shots. There will always be one or two shots that sum up the game’s action for the day. I make up faux magazine covers to showcase a player who has an exceptional image.

Magazine Cover Soccer Olivia

I also give parents a custom app on their mobil devices with images of their child when they purchase a package from me. These images will be downloaded to the mobile device and can easily be shared with various social media sites right from the phone or tablet. For a live demo of the custom app, click here.

Smartphone Album

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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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Shooting high quality pictures on the cheap

Compact fluorescent light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

I hear alot from photographers, both pro and amateur alike about all this expensive equipment they “need” to have in order to shoot good photographs. I know it well since I also used to say the same thing. Or at least I did till I saw some work done with cheap equipment, obsolete equipment and DIY equipment. I also read up on what some of the famous photographers used to make their images. What Ansel Adams used to make most of his famous images would be considered junk by most photographers today if shown the camera without the backstory. Oddly enough, if you gave the photographers the backstory, then the camera would suddenly be imbued with mythical qualities of just the right lens or some other quirk that gave Ansel the edge he needed. None of which addresses the one critical fact that is Ansel KNEW how to make an image before he even tripped the shutter.

I see the same thing with lighting, I see it with cameras, lenses, bags and more. Photographers are equipment junkies which in itself is fine but when it gets to the point that you can not take a pictures without several thousand dollars of equipment and it’s your kids birthday party, you might want to rethink things a bit. I’m as guilty as the next photographer who grabs the three thousand dollars selection of equipment to take a family snapshot. But, in recent times I have become much better about using whatever camera I have handy for my images. Why? Because I’ve grown as a photographer and I have learned how to take pictures regardless of the camera. Some of the important things I’ve learned about is getting the right pose or using a piece of white paper to give me a touch of fill light while shooting with my iPhone and other tricks. Another very important lesson is not worrying about the last 20% of the picture quality when the first 80% is good enough for what I will be using the image for. Honestly, do you really NEED to shoot a snapshot with a five thousand dollar camera body/lens just to stick it up on Facebook?

Black and White Ireland Castle Bell

I just got back from a trip to Ireland where after much internal struggle, I took two cameras. Neither of which was one of ¬†my expensive bodies/lenses and that was because I really didnt trust my own judgement ūüôā ¬†So what did I take to Ireland? The last time I took a D80 with a cheapo 18-55mm VR lens. This time I upgraded a bit and I took a Canon G11 which I know I can shoot well with, it was my camera of choice when I went to Oxford last year.

But  I also took a old D70s with a bargin 18-105 F3.5 VR lens. I took that because it has a bit more reach than the G11 and it has less noise than the G11. But the G11 is very convient to drag around given how much smaller it is over the DSLR.  I left my very expensive equipment at home. So why would I do that? A couple of reasons to be honest. I did not want to drag all that expensive and heavy equipment around and risk it on a trip that was personal. I make money with the D300 and the expensive glass I use with it. If something happens to it, I need to replace it and that can cause a few problems even with insurance. So I took two cheap cameras so  that if something happened, it was not a serious deal, it would be more of an annoyance. There is another reason that I like to take some of my lesser cameras on trips like this.

Portrait using bare CFLs and cheap home depot reflector

I have my share of pro level lighting and modifiers, I have become somewhat taken with very cheap lighting and shooting pretty nice portraits without even a modifier. And when I say cheap lighting, I’m talking about using eight dollar reflectors from Home Depot and single CFL (Compact fluorescent Lightbulbs) screwed into the reflector. If you know how light works and how a camera works, you can take good solid pictures even with this cheap lighting. The picture shown here is one of my¬†experiments¬†taken with a couple of the single CFL lights without any modifiers. This image is a lesson in that you do not need alot of expensive lighting to make a good portrait. And in this case, I did shoot the image with a Nikon D300 but I used a relatively cheap 50mm 1.4 lens. My Nikon D70s would have worked just as well.

The Strobist community has made an art form of using small battery flashes in ways that most photographers never thought of. And not just the expensive small flashes like the Nikon SB900, but ANY flash such as the five dollar reject found at Goodwill that was designed for a long dead camera brand. Light is light and once you know that, you are ten steps ahead of everybody else.

Matching polkadot  dress and hat

In this image, I used two small battery flashes, one with an umbrella and one facing a 15 dollar reflector and set -2 stops from the umbrella. I shot this on a grey background and then used a texture to give the image a nice background. This was a cheap and easy portrait without alot of money sunk into lighting modifiers, expensive strobes, power packs and all the rest.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the takeaway of the fact that you dont need expensive equipment to take nice pictures. The expensive  equipment can help you by making it easier to make images, but it is not required. And in some cases, the expensive equipment can hinder you making solid images because you dont know how to use it as well as you need to.

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Behind the scenes of a photoshoot

Photographers love to show of images from their last photoshoot. Everyone likes to “ohhhh and ahhhh” over the images that are retouched, mashed up and worked over in a good way we hope. But, personally, I love to shoot the behind the¬†curtain¬†shots. You know, the things that make a photoshoot what it really is and can have you really¬†appreciate¬†all the more the very cool image when the¬†environment¬†is anything but cool.

I attend a monthly workshop that is a mix of a social hour, some food, shop talk, instruction and shooting over at Redgum Creative Studios. A friend of mine, Richard Radstone is the instructor and mentor for those of us who regularly attend these socials and it’s always fun to be there and be involved in the day’s shoot. We have a model or two with a MUA (make up artist) present plus the crew at Redgum to help pull it all together.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’m posting some of the set up and during the shoot shots of mine of the last social/training/breakout Redgum Studio shoot. It really will give you a sense of the afternoon and what a real photoshoot is like. I’m not talking about a “shoot” where the softbox is made from a empty box of corn flakes and the light stand will blow over with a single breath. I’m talking about a real photo shoot, with real models, make up artists, real grip equipment and a real studio setting. The only thing missing is the stress of ¬†having the client on set breathing down your back.

I’ve already mentioned the MUA and I would like to point out the use of C Stands (century stands) instead of the more common tripod stands. These are portable only in the sense that you can carry them from one side of the stage to the other or roll them if they have casters. They are very stable and with the sand bags, they will not be falling over unless you really go out of your way to try to knock it over. The same goes for the big gun strobes, the hot lights, various bit of grip equipment holding it all together and the rest. Things are taped down, locked down and safe. Many photographers would do well to take some notes of the set up of the gear, I know I did when I first started and I have invested more than a bit of “extra” equipment that just makes putting a shoot together a bit more enjoyable and safe for all concerned.

In the other images you can see some of the students from Brooks Institute that were visiting, the cameras of choice for the day and of course, the model getting prepped and having some shots taken.

To myself one of the most interesting things are how the lighting is set up. You can see the lights used, the scrims and/or diffusion used and how the stage is configured overall. There is alot to learn from these types of events. And when you understand that the four hours of social mixing, shooting and listening only costs 25 dollars, you can see how it is a real bargin.

I hope you enjoy this short visit to the backside of a photoshoot and I hope you enjoy the detail shots. So here are two of the final images from the day. So now you know both sides of the shoot, the prep and set up of the shoot and the final outcome.

Final Portrait

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Reflections of Light

No, not what you think. I’m talking about using a reflector to bounce some light into or onto your subject. I had a chance to shoot a fun family portrait session a few days ago and I walked into it not really knowing what to expect. I ended up at a public facility on the base without any trees or shade to speak of at 10AM on a bright day. I did find some shade by a gazebo and so I set up shop there. I was on soft grass and a bit of slope with a three year old running around so I was not comfortable in setting up a softbox with my SB800s so I went another way. I tossed a diffuser on the SB800, put it on the camera (yes, I hear the howls already about the evils of on camera flash) and set the camera to manual. The flash was set to TTL but that varied from -1 stop to +1.5 stops.

I was shooting pretty much head on to the subjects so you would think “washed out, hard shadows etc” and normally you would be correct but this time I pulled out a 36 inch silver reflector. I put it on a stand and locked it down and used it to cross light my subjects and fill in alot of those nasty shadows from the on camera flash. I did not have to worry about it being knocked over or anyone getting hurt. I did not have to go hunt for power (none around) and I didnt worry about the softbox falling over in the breeze and soft soil.

I could have used the white one I had but I wanted a bit more “edge” to the light so I went with silver. It has a brightness to it that works well with the SB800 flash.

Family using light infrared preset

Family using light infrared preset

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

Cross light with SB800 flash and reflector

You can really see here on the arm and around the boots, there is not the hard shadow you would expect from the strobe being on camera and just a piece of plastic to diffuse the light. Her hair on camera right also has some really nice light bringing up the highlights while there is a touch of the sun on her hair on camera left.

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

SB800 TTL manual mode and silver reflector

Here is a quick diagram of the shooting situation. I had some shade, bright sun and a silver reflector. The SB800 provided most of the light and the reflector provided the fill light.

 

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

lighting-diagram-Reflector and SB800

So get a reflector or a few of them. And it does not have to be a California Sunbounce.. I used a cheapo that came with a strobe kit I bought off ebay a few years back. You can also use those windshield reflectors or anything else that reflects light. White fabric will provide a softer light than the silver while gold will provide a warm light.

 

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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also¬†ordered¬†up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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Hollywood Glamour and Noir Portraits

One of my newest projects is ramping up to offer old school style of portraits in the Hollywood Glamour and Noir style. This type of portrait was made famous by photographers such as George Hurell in the 30s, 40s and 50s.  They were a very dramatic black and white picture with very distinctive light and shadows. Many times these were shot with fresnel hot lights that normally would be used to shoot movie films. Many folks have tried to reproduce this style of image using strobes, snoots and reflectors. But while these can get close, the old school equipment has some unique qualities that add subtle but very important changes to the image.

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Hollywood Hotlight Glamour

Lets take a look at the one of the biggest difference between shooting with¬†continuous¬†lighting vs. shooting with strobes. Many photographers of the digital age have no idea what a hot light (I’m¬†referring¬†to¬†continuous¬†lighting here) ¬†is since all they know are strobes. In their mind, who would want to use a light source that is big, bulky, can run very hot (unless shooting fluorescent bulbs¬†), need AC power, barn doors, scrims, dimmers and more? The “disadvantages” are many in most photographer’s minds.

There is one very important detail among everything else that the hot lights excel at. And that is the small fact that since the light is¬†continuous, ¬†you can shoot as fast as you can hit the shutter. So when the model hits her/his stride in providing the EMOTION of the shot, you can catch it without fear of the strobe being in the middle of recharge cycle. Most strobes require a second or two to recharge unless the photographer is shooting with multiple strobes and the power levels dropped down to encourage the faster recharge rate. Or the photographer is shooting with very expensive packs that can recharge very fast. Either way, speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?This does not really apply if the photographer is shooting posed shots where the model is set in place and needs to hold that pose specifically, I’m talking about the more organic style of shooting where the model has some¬†latitude¬†on the pose. In the static poses, you can afford to wait the 1-2 seconds between pops of the flash since the model’s job is to stay still till told otherwise.

Other points in the hot light’s favor, in particular, in the fresenel’s favor is the ablity to focus the beam and that the light is fairly constant over the diameter of the beam. Also, ¬†the beam has a naturally soft edge which is great for feathering the light on the subject and the¬†ability¬†to very quickly and easily adjust the shape of the light with barn doors. All of this leads to a very flexible lighting solution for portraiture shoots.

One more possible advantage is that with the hot light, the photographer does have to work around the model flinching every time the strobes fire off. This is not always the case, a model used to strobes would not normally  have this issue but a new model or someone who is a non-professional paying client will not be used to the bright strobes firing off in their face every few seconds.

For my glamour project, I looked at different brands of fresnel hot lights because I really wanted to recreate the old school hollywood glamour and noir images. So I went back in time a bit and decided I would use equipment close to what was used then for my lighting. I had tried strobes and I was not at all happy with the results. What really changed my mind was a shoot I went to a few months back that used hot lights and I had very little experience then with hot lights. I had grown up on strobes so I was really curious to why we would be using such old technology. I know that the film industry used continuous lighting but I could understand that but why use them with still photography? After shooting for a few hours and seeing how I could catch very small but critical changes in pose and expression, I got it.

So I went shopping to find some hot lights of my own. I could buy used lights but the bulbs can be very expensive if you dont know what you are buying but ARRI lights are bucks. I found some ARRI clones on eBay but over at Coollights, I found the same basic clone ARRIs, scrims, nice air cushioned stands, barndoors and a good quality roller case as a package deal. The ARRI package was 1800 and Coollights package was 1,100 USD. So for a savings of 700, I have what is for all intents, three ARRI 650 frensel lights, stands, scrims and case. The big difference is the stand mount, the cut edges are not as cleanly cut as the ARRIs and the aluminum is not beaded and coated. I can live it for now. I have pictures below of both lights

So what you do with hot lights? Set your white balance to tungsten and rock and roll. One piece of advice, get a light meter. It’s far easier to meter tungsten then trying to chimp when you have ratios of lights. I also bought 3 cheap speed controllers from Harbor Freight which are perfect dimmers for the hot lights to get the lights right on the money in intensity without having to move anything. Also get some toughspun for¬†diffusing¬†the light.

Hot Light Glamour Shot

Hot Light Glamour Shot

This shot was taken using a set of ARRI 650s. The shot below was taken with the Coolight ARRI clones. I could not find any difference in shooting with them or in post with them.

Hot Light Noir Shot

Hot Light Noir Shot

Above all, be careful and make sure everything is secure on the set. Use sand bags and plenty of gaffers tape to secure everything down. Hot lights are, well, HOT.. very hot and will remain hot for several minutes after you turn them off. Keep in mind your model is baking under the hot lights and so breaks every 10 minutes or so is the norm. It’s also very hard for a model to look directly into a hot bright light so dont think you will put a light head on and have the model gaze into it.

A parting trick is to get the 650 hot lights and then put in the 300 watt bulb if the 650 is too much all the time. You can always do down in wattage but not up. Also, using a dimmer to cut the output by 20% or so can give the lamp about a 50% increase in lifespan. The bulbs for the ARRIs and clones will set you back about 15-20 USD and they are rated at 200 hundred hours when used at full power. Never touch the glass of the bulb with your skin, the oil will cause the bulb to get a hot spot and burn out very quickly.

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SSD and the need for SPEED

a 2.5 inch Solid state disk, E-disk from Bitmicro
Image via Wikipedia

Faster, everyone wants to go faster, have a faster computer, a faster disk drive or a faster application. Once a VERY expensive option, the SSD (Solid State Drive) drive has become mostly affordable now they are being made in large volumes. You can get them in all kinds of packaging so you can put the drive into a PCI-E slot or replace an existing hard drive. The most common use for photographer is either as a extra volume or a replacement system volume.

Before we look at the speed of a the SSD, we need to understand how they work and what makes them differently than a traditional hard drive with a rotating plater. The traditional hard drive for years has been made with a motor of some kind spinning a metal or glass platter(s) in a rigid cast metal chassis. They were heavy, took a fair around of electricity to move the platters and it took time to move the heads across the platters. Over the years, the motors were improved, the platters were made lighter and higher capacity and throughput was improved with the new interfaces like eSATA (enhanced  Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and SAS (Serial Attached SCSI). But even with all the improvements such as 15K RPM drives, glass platters, low power electronics and very sophisticated storage algorithms, they were still a very slow device  when compared to the lighting fast access times of a memory chip.

But memory chips had some issues like they lost their contents when the power was removed and they were expensive in the number needed for any decent capacity. Time passed and now we have FLASH based chips that keep their contents even with power removed, we can write thousands of times to the same locations without the memory location burning out and they are cheap enough we can build an array of chips to supply a reasonable amount of capacity on par with the traditional hard drive.

This brings us pretty much up to date where we can buy a 240 gigabyte SSD drive in an external case with Firewire, eSATA and USB interfaces for about 500 USD. You can buy a bare 500 gigabyte SSD drive with an eSATA interface that drops in as a replacement hard drive for about 750 USD. But why you ask? why spend four times what it costs for a 1 terabyte hard disk drive? In short, SPEED.

The SSD is very fast compared to a normal hard drive, there are no moving parts so the drive is immune to shock therapy and it can be easier on power but not always. Most of us are into the speed for our applications.

For example, I have a 240 GB external SSD from OWC attached using Firewire 800 to a dual quad MacPro tower. My testing of Photoshop, Lightroom and overall usage like file copies showed some very interesting results.

  • VMware Fusion booting Windows XP takes 22 seconds from power on vs. 1:20 for a internal HD
  • Copying 55 GB of data from the MacPro to the external SSD took 19 minutes
  • Photoshop CS5 starts in 17 seconds vs 22 seconds. This does not seem like much till you start using it. Then the speed becomes very apparent between loading large files or files with alot of layers and/or high resolution. It also becomes very apparent in running actions and working with video files which means moving larger chunks of data to and from the disk.

Now the downside to the SSD used to be ¬†the limited lifetime usage of the NAND chips. But that has been overcome to a large degree by over-capacity and by “data leveling” where the data is written out to ALL the chips over time instead of the same group time and time again which is like a traditional hard drive.Each memory location is rated at something like 100,000 writes. However, the cheaper SSD drives are not created equal and one of the corners cut is the over capacity and data leveling.

Where do SSD drives really shine? on the random access times for data. The typical read time is 0.1 ms vs. the 10-15 ms for a normal hard drive which has to move the heads to where the data should be and then wait for the platter to spin around and put the data under the heads. Random access for small files is the key place of performance for the NORMAL user of SSDs. All the bandwidth and throughput of large files is fine but on your computer, it’s mostly small files in random places on the hard drive. If the drive can not perform in this area, you will be hating life and the new SSD that you just spent a ton of money on.

Even the best SSD drives have a limited life time so using them for swap files space is normally a bad idea since the data constantly changes and is rewritten. But for the typical system drive or scratch drive, the SSD can work very well for two or three years of normal use. Any SSD drive will slow down some from the initial speed but they will still be faster than a normal hard drive spinning a disk platter.

If you are a geek and want alot of geeky details on SSD drives, performace and how they really work, check out ANANDTECH and the article I’m linking to. It’s a really good piece of detailed information on SSD drives.

Is this short blog entry a definitive article on SSD drives? not a chance but it should show you that an SSD drive is probably the number one way to improve performance on your editing workstation all the way around. Now days¬†processors¬†are so fast that even a two year old mid line processor is pretty good and ram is so cheap that most systems are now spec’ed with a decent starting point of RAM. So the only real bottleneck to your workflow is the disk I/O speeds. The SSD addresses that in several places and can really boost your output.

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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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