Afterexposure Photography

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Posts Tagged ‘pentax’

Shooting for fun

I had an idea while I was in Vancouver to shoot an entire book in a day. Not the 4 pound ‘War and Peace’ books that Taschen puts together (although I admit to owning more than a couple of them), but a little 40-50 page something-or-other.

But here is the pinch: It would be designed, shot, and published in a day.


As it turned out last Sunday wasn’t the day. But the challenge still stands.

Here is my game plan:

7:00am Go for a big breakfast. The energy output of the day will be epic.

8:00am Go for a coffee, or three. This is where the pre-design part happens. I use these notebooks and am really happy with how tough they are; one has been commuting with me for months and it looks practically new, even though it’s just paper. I picked up this four pack on the weekend, and will be giving them a try starting tomorrow.

9:00am Start shooting for the pre-designed shots. Note that the timing might need shifting if you need early / late light.

Noon-ish Finish shooting; first edit, and a bite to eat. If I had an iPad I’d probably shoot jpeg and use the camera kit to upload and edit while I was still in the field, so I could shoot more if I liked how something was going.

2:00pm Final edit; pull all the shots into Lightroom and use the new custom layouts to throw the pages together. Print as big 2 page jpeg spreads for uploading to your favourite photobook printer.

4:00pm Finished edit; start getting the album pages sorted out.

6:00pm Upload the pages as draft and go for dinner. Possibly print a proofbook.

8:00pm Finish any second guessing of the prior work and release the draft uploads to the printer.

I’m picturing this as a square format book, maybe a small softcover. If it rocks then reprint it as a large hardcover. I’ll keep you posted!

Shooting Vamps and Vampires

A while back Lexus Lee and I had started conversing about a non-glamour photoshoot, something fun and different. One thing we both zero’d in on was the idea of an Underworld / Selene look… NO sparkles for us! I really like shooting in landscape orientation (ie, wide), as if making a movie, so this was something I could get into. And she got to do something that was interesting to her, personally… this wasn’t just another T&A shoot (which she obviously rocks at, but has plenty in her portfolio already).

For you budding photographers on Model Mayhem, take note. This one small fact – shooting what the model finds interesting – is probably why I have such a low flake rate, why the shoots are so much fun, and why everyone puts in 110% effort.

This shoot sat on the books for months, and we just couldn’t get our calendars to line up with the right conditions. Finally we got it together for Friday evening…. and the forecast called for snow. Great! We nabbed a few shots outside, and ran back to the car to warm up. Take a look at the makeup, contact lenses, and wardrobe… she did an AMAZING job pulling this together herself.

Waiting for the snow to stop

Waiting for the snow to stop

Before it really dumped on us we got in a few good, if brief, setups. The temperature was about -2C, so we had to work fast. The color balance in these shots is basically for incandescent, which is why it has an intentional blue cast, but it’s better than shooting in the correct white balance and doing in post production. Why? Because you can see the results while you are shooting, which means you can check highlights, background details, and watch for odd colored elements.

This was all shot in RAW (DNG, specifically), so I could adjust the white balance later if needed, and with the big buffer on the Pentax K20D I could still shoot rapidly. This is really important when the model is essentially wearing only a thin stretch lycra catsuit in below freezing temps! As soon as the teeth-chattering stopped we ran out and popped off a series of shots like this one, which might be my favorite for the day:

Hunting. Freezing, too!

Hunting. Freezing, too!

… and then back into the car. The snow really started to come down. There was no way to use anything but available light; everything was getting soaked.  I think I’d like to pick up a couple of clear plastic Pelican cases for my lights, and epoxy some 1/4″ mounting studs to them. My newly replaced lens, the Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8, is weather resistant, and shrugged off the wet with no issues. I would have liked to get in closer with the 16-45mm for some funkier angles, but the snow was so thick the auto-focus was picking up on the white snow against her black outfit, so I knew we didn’t have much time left before it got really dark. The 16-45mm is f/4 wide open, and looks better at f/5.6 – meaning I would have been up another notch in ISO.

By now we knew the shoot was going to have to be called off for another day. There were shots we weren’t going to get, like with the city skyline as a backdrop, that were now made invisible with the falling snow. We found another interesting location and rattled off a few quick shots:

So how cold is that stone on your butt, anyway?

So how cold is that stone on your butt, anyway?

The BB guns were her idea; we discussed what to do if the police were called because they are so realistic. I suggested that she not panic if  the cops drew their weapons and asked us to get on the ground :) Lucky for us the weather was so terrible nobody noticed us, and thankfully nobody got tazed!

We’ll be back, but not until it warms up a bit. In the meantime we have about 130 images from that day to study and discuss, so that when we next get a small window of weather we can take advantage of it.

A big thanks to Ms. Lee for coming out, freezing her tush off for a few minutes, and doing an outstanding job. I can’t wait for the next chinook!

Creativity and Challenge

I finished reading the series ‘Becoming a More Creative Photographer‘ last weekend, and today by happenstance I had a few minutes to shoot on the way home.

But what to shoot?

Lucky me, I had printed the entire series of articles, and left them in my camera bag. All I needed to was pick out an assignment from the articles and shoot.

Just for fun I had mounted a Soligor 135mm f/2.8 on my K20D as another ‘one lens for the day’ exercise before I left the house this morning. I hadn’t really done much with this lens since buying it a few weeks back in Toronto, and with winter light being rare as it is, I really had to shoot something today… I could feel myself getting rusty, not really shooting for a couple of days.

I was quite surprised by the results of the assignment and the lens itself (click for larger images):


Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/1500

Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/750

Pentax K20D, Soligor 135mm @ f/8, ISO 100, 1/750

These aren’t going to win any competitions, but a few things stand out.

For starters, I do get a sense of the ‘3D effect’ that some people talk about with certain lenses from the first image. I had always written the effect off as just shallow DOF, but I think there is more to it… perhaps ‘correct DOF’ would be a better description, where most of the subject is in acceptable focus, and the not-subject areas are out of focus.

The other thing that strikes me about the first image is the richness of color. I don’t always get this from my Pentax 50-135mm lens, and combined with some users noting that Pentax lens coatings actually block some colors (like violet) perhaps there is something going on.

The other thing that’s somewhat interesting is the octagonal blade pattern that shows up in the out of focus highlights of the second image. I did play around with the greyscale mix in Lightroom a bit to make the individual highlights more even across their surfaces, but without the tweak I find the shape alone pleasing.

Now, the act of using ‘assignments’ like this might seem limiting or unnecessary; but I do shoot a lot, and most of the time it’s what I want to be shooting… in other words, it’s selfish. Applying a little external stimulus to the creative process can really show you where your comfort zone and limits are. As soon as you feel challenged or uncomfortable – or even more interesting – at a LOSS for a shot… that’s telling you something.

For me it’s interesting to see which of the assignments are a breeze, and which are a genuine challenge – and thus where I should be putting in more practice. Yes, I think that creativity is something that benefits from practice, especially when a lot of artificial equipment enters the equation, as it does in photography.

Oh, the lens? I bought it one weekend from an outdoor table at the St. Lawrence flea/antique market.

It was $5.

From the hip…

I’ve been shooting a lot with the Best Camera iPhone app lately, and I’ve learned to shoot what I see (rather than what I’d like to see), and to trust my instincts as to what to shoot.

What’s weird is applying this technique to shooting with a ‘real’ camera, and getting wildly different results than I’m used to; and framing shots in ways that I’d never had thought of as ‘proper’ before.

It feels good.

Granville Island, Vancouver

Granville Island, Vancouver

51 seconds to a visual vocabulary

The last week was interesting, productive, and frustrating, all at the same time.

I was in Toronto for SecTor, a conference that’s somewhere between Blackhat, DefCon, and something more mainstream like RSA, after which I was in Vancouver for a few days of R&R, shopping, and of course, some shooting.

Actually, I had planned on doing a lot more shooting than I did. My preparations were a bit rushed, and I wasn’t really able to put together a shot list for the trip. It seems that writing, at least beyond the style of this blog, and my more to-the-point stuff I do at work (usually email) isn’t my strong suit.  Ah well; both are beautiful cities and offer a lot photographically, so I wasn’t too worried.

I sat down today to go through some of the digital images and found this single image jumping out of the stack at me:


Vancouver at sunset, from the hotel. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/20 sec

The shot took a bit to develop; I’ve boosted the Vibrance in Lightroom to bring out the blue in the sky, as well as some light noise reduction with Wavelet Denoise … and to get the buildings to look straight(er) I did a keystone distortion adjustment in the GIMP as well.

After I was done editing the image a few things struck me.

First, I’ve always wanted to do this shot of Calgary, because I often see the city at dawn/dusk; although given the local topography it’s never quite this dramatic (downtown Calgary sits quite low compared to its surroundings).

Second, this is similar to a dawn shot I wanted of Toronto, but couldn’t get an early enough ferry.

And it reminded me of another of the shots I was planning on doing in Toronto, but didn’t due to poor weather;  one of those night cityscapes of the flow of traffic, like this one. The CN Tower would make the perfect vantage point!

My original plan was to add shot list notes into my iphone calendar so I could be at the right place at the right time for the shots I wanted. But I couldn’t describe the scenes. I had no way to say what I saw in my mind. I couldn’t say “high vantage point, city view, long exposure, with light trails”. I don’t know why. I can say those things when I see an image, but I couldn’t seem to turn an imagined image into words in the pre-trip rush.

So as the sun set I saw these images that were familiar to me; the fading sky reflected in skyscrapers that are often used in travel magazines, and I clicked away; here is a three image panorama that took a bit of work to stitch together… for some reason autostitch thought it should be a pyramid…


Tower. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/15 sec, 3 images

I had pictured images like this in my mind before the trip, but for some reason couldn’t write them down. What the heck is so hard about “skyscraper reflecting sunset” ?

The last image wasn’t one I had ever planned, and the color treatment, using the Split Toning tool to amp up the blue in the shadows, well it’s quite heavy-handed… but what the heck. One thing that shooting with the iPhone app “The Best Camera” has taught me is that vivid color and simple composition are often the best to communicate an image.


Sunset. Pentax K20D, 50mm f/1.2 @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/180 sec

But what is that? I’ve taken shots like this before; but never described them simply. Is this “Silhouette against twighlight” ? Or “Geometric man against fluid nature” ? Bah!

Either works, but I guess I need to start reading something other than technical standards and linux howto’s if I’m going to be able to better put what I imagine into words. Without words to help me I’m not going to communicate or remember to get all the shots I want!

Incidentally, all 5 of the images here (the first one, the 3 that make up the tall pano of the skyscraper, and this last one) were shot within 51 seconds of each other.

Food for Thought…

Of all the kinds of photography there is, the easiest has to be food photography. I have no idea if I’m any good at it, but man-o-man do I like the subject matter!

A couple of nights ago we had deep fried zucchini flowers; tempura batter, some beer, a chilled bowl and hot oil in the wok. Wow.

Zuccini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Zucchini flowers... we saw them at the market and knew what to do!

Then tonight was a baked onion dish with bacon, cheese, and herbs in cream. A heartstopper. Just a few spoonfulls on a plate and you are done.

Onoins as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

Onions as main dish. Rosemary, bacon, cheese, and friends.

More experiments with film; scanning and stereo!

Some time ago my Dad gave me a Kodak Stereo Camera as a novelty from one of his antique store forays. I’d wondered if it still worked, so I took it to the Lethbridge airshow. With lots of aircraft on static display, it would be a good place to try it out. It has some very limited settings for aperture and shutter speed, and focus is by guesswork, using a distance scale; the viewfinder is actually the square window between the lenses, just above the green bubble level.

Kodak Stereo Camera

Kodak Stereo Camera

Originally slide film would have been sent to Kodak and they would have cut and mounted the left and right images in cardboard to make them easy to use.  Keep this in mind if you have one of these cameras and would like to try it out… starting with slide film will save you a TON of time later on. All the unused film I have handy is 35mm for prints; not slides… had I known how much hassle I was about to cause myself I would have sprung for a roll of slide film for sure.

For starters, the images from each lens are almost square, and quite small. They are interleaved 3:1 on the negative, and that was the first hurdle. The photo lab couldn’t print or scan them because of the non-standard size… the tech tried, but the spacing didn’t match the standard mask sizes.

That left me on my own; I could go to a pro lab and explain to them what I wanted, and it would have cost a fortune in labour… or I could buy my own film scanner – but still have the same problems with needing non-standard image masks and having to realign every frame. What I ended up doing – photographing the negatives – was far more work, but the end results are (almost) worth it. If you get close enough to the screen and let your eyes cross the images below should fuse to a single 3D image!

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

Final result: A left+right image pair. Click for a larger size.

After some failed experiments simply photographing the negatives against window light, I mounted a flash on one end of a 4 foot long bit of wood, my trusty K20D with a Tamron 70-300mm macro on the other end. One thing I had read about photographing negatives is that the orange cast of the negative can be best dealt with by gelling the lightsource to blue/cyan. I picked a strong blue gel from my freebie pack of Lee filters, and my first guess was pretty good (I think it’s #200 – Double C.T. Blue). I also put four layers of a white plastic bag in front of the flash as diffuser.

I mounted the negative at roughly the minimum focus distance. I used a folding cardboard slide holder taped against the bottom of a shoebox, with an oversized hole cut in the box. The flash was a few inches back from this, firing into the box to limit light spill. The camera was set to ISO 100 and f/11. Because of the spacing of the flash and camera I used some cheap eBay triggers; to keep the sync right I set it to 1/30 second shutter. The hotshoe trigger also gave me a handy mount for the flash.

The steps of transforming the negative to positive required some trial and error. These links should help: (scroll down to Dave Martindale’s post)

A negative, lit from behind with a blue gelled flash.

Starting from the image above, here are my steps using the GIMP (Photoshop should work too):

1. Switch to the color picker, and choose an area of neutral orange (the sprocket holes, for example) or something known to be grey (like a cargo plane).

2. Add a new layer using this new foreground color

3. Invert the new layer from orange-pink to blueish. I ended up editing this blue tint to be Red: 0, Blue:255, Green:175, after experimentation. A different filter on the flash will mean these values will change!

4. Set the new layer to ‘Overlay’ mode. This should improve the color range, but it’s still a negative image.

5. Merge the new layer down (you should have only one layer now)

6. Invert the layer; it won’t be quite right yet, but it should be close

7. Edit the curves for red, green and blue individually; I just selected the midpoint and dragged it up or down very slightly. Also edit the brightness and contrast to taste.

Hope this helps anyone looking to scan or copy old negatives with their digital camera. For the money a good flatbed scanner, with masks for 35mm film is going to save you a lot of time.

Alberta International Airshow

Last weekend we snuck down to the city of Lethbridge, Alberta, for the ‘Alberta International Airshow’. It’s not as big an affair as the old airshows at the old base at Namao (Edmonton), but the more relaxed atmosphere meant lots of space up at the fence to get close to the action… not that you needed to be very close with a unexpected treat like this old girl:


B-52 (in black and white, for a vintage feel)

All of these shots were done with the Pentax K10D and K20D.  The K10D pretty much had the 16-45mm lens on it all day; the K20D had either a 50-135mm f/2.8 or Tamron 70-300mm (sometimes with a 2x TC on it). By having two bodies with different focal lengths I was able to switch quickly, and by pairing the K20D with the tele’s I could use higher ISO’s that the Tamron needs (f/8 for best sharpness) without sacrificing shutter speed. The day was pretty warm and hazy; I’ve color corrected the sky in these back to a better shade of blue, and in some cases have done additional color treatments to bring out some extra pop in the shots.

Easily the most photogenic aircraft was this silver P-51 Mustang; the nearly chrome finish really makes it stand out. Turning up the ‘Clarity’ slider in Lightroom also added a whole lot of punch. I wish I had selected a slightly longer exposure time to let the prop blur more; the plane was actually turning in front of the crowd so I’ll have to settle for this:



This shot was chosen from several frames for the pleasing clouds and clean ground under it. The other shots had ground antennas, trucks, and ground crew visible. Ick!



And who can resist a nice sharp shot with no distractions?



The Mustang also flew a bit with a Harvard trainer. They trotted out a number of older planes to celebrate 2009 as ‘100 Years of Flight’ in Canada. This particular shot is a tight crop to isolate the aircraft, but also leave in a nice cloud in the distance.

Mustang and Harvard

Mustang and Harvard

A nice young lady from Montreal gave us a wing-walking show; she starts off by lying in the criss-crossed cables between the wings for take-off, then clambers up to the top wing for the show.  The sun wasn’t at a perfect angle for shooting most of the action, so the best shots were of the aircraft from crowd-left. For most of the of the show the sun was directly across the runway from the crowd fence, making for pretty uninspired shots; when a plane did a dive and was lit pleasingly the shots have much better color.

Wing Walker

Wing Walker

A pleasant suprise was the show from the ‘MiG Fury Fighters’, which was entertaining. They had an old T2 trainer, and did a simulated dogfight with a MiG 15 and MiG 17. Nice. They also did several ‘beauty passes’, so I’m sure there are a lot of folks with shots like this one:

MiG Fury Fighteres: T2, MiG-15, MiG-17

MiG Fury Fighters: T2, MiG-15, MiG-17

Another suprise is that they could afford to take a CF-18 and paint it up in non-combat colors for the airshow circuit this year. I honestly didn’t think we had enough of them to spare… but I’m not complaining… flat grey fighters are pretty boring! For this shot I wanted the water vapour that get squeezed out of the air during high-G manouvers.



Not as clear, here is a similar effect from another angle:



I also shot several rounds at 22 frames per second (the K20D has a super-duper burst mode that nobody seems to talk about much) so I could capture the Snowbirds doing their close-pass manouvers. Here is a particularly interesting 4 plane cross… I’d love to have shot this from the second seat of one of these planes… they used to be trainers, so they sit two-abreast.



All in all a great show; I think this is one I’ll do again next summer, although I’ll bring more water and more ice next time. In total I shot about 20GB of images; what you see is just the fraction that I’ve looked at so far.

For memory cards I had a 16GB SDHC card in the K20D. It meant less changing cards, although I still used a Hyperdrive Space for making backups, and dumping the 2GB card in the K10D (my 4GB cards had disappeared in my bag for the day!). I can’t rave enough about the Hyperdrive; I upgraded the hard disk from 40GB to 250GB; plenty for vacations or extended shoot assignments. The built-in battery is enough for about 40GB worth of backups, and you can buy or build an external battery pack for cheap. It also charges from USB or AC, and I’ve noticed a lot of USB power in airliners, rental cars, and hotel business centers, so power is never an issue.

A photobook cheat sheet

Back in June I shot a wedding, and at the same time was having a promotion, so I thought … ‘What the heck, let’s try printing their wedding as a book!’. I’m glad I did… one of things I need to do is build better estimates of the actual amount of time it takes to perform all the post work, and assembling a whole book was an unknown to me. Short answer: it took more time than I thought… (more on that later), but the results were great:

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

Take a few wildly out of focus images for page background shots.

I organized all the print-resolution ‘Picks’ into a folder, fired up the free layout software they provide (you could do your own .pdf if you like), and started the process. I tried a few things at first to get used to the software, which is a breeze to use, and then settled in for a full-day edit session. I wanted to know how long it would take, start to finish, for a 40 page book (which, by the way, is not only the minimum book length, but it’s also a tight squeeze for the ‘Big Day’, so count on using more pages).

I also wanted to try out all the possible layout options; white background, image backgrounds, and a couple of their ‘canned’ backgrounds. I wanted to know what would happen to the middle of an image of a two-page full bleed image (answer: bad things!). I wanted to know if the edges of an angled inset image would be smooth or jagged (answer: very smooth!). Do white image borders still look corny? (answer: yes!).  I had a LOT to try out.

Lots going on: An image background, and some angled insets.

Lots going on: An image background, and stacked and angled insets.

I knew the result of trying so many things would make the book, taken as a whole, slightly inconsistent from page to page. But it would let me use it as a sales sample tool… prospective couples (who am I kidding – it’s really just the brides) could hold it in their hands and get a feel for how the decisions they make would look.

The first mistake I made was choosing the less expensive softcover book; go for hardcover; after all it’s what the couple will be choosing for their book, although the extended family might opt for softcover versions. Although the paper and image qualities are fine, the softcover is attached to the rest of the book with a slightly different binding. It does mean that the cover won’t be creased when the book is opened – which is great – but the deep, tight binding means the pages don’t lie very flat, and a lot of image is lost into the spine. Also, the hardcover binding option they offer just looks damn cool, so that’s what I’ll order next time.

The cover is lying flat, and the pages loose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

The cover is lying flat, but the pages lose almost 1cm of image into the binding, so beware!

I made a special effort during the wedding day, knowing that I’d be needing additional images for the book to use as backgrounds, to ‘shoot everything’. How well did that work? It’s harder than it sounds. I went to the hotel room the bride and bridesmaids were using to get ready, and didn’t think to shoot a table of room service trays of food – it was just messy. Later, when I was laying out the book, I realized what a fantastic background that would have made for a page of fun shots. After all, they obviously had fun eating it, but there would be no photo to help them remember it, and food, taste, and smell are such powerful memories!

I ended up using a swatch of the wallpaper as a background, and it worked out ok, but I can still see that half eaten slice of pepperoni, taunting me…

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Wallpaper as background; I decided to use sepia images for a complimentary look.

Some obvious things to check are red-eye and resolution. I had a couple of red-eyes in the crowd shots; nothing major, but I can’t believe I missed them. Once the ink is on the page the only red-eye tool that is going to fix it is a Sharpie!

The other thing to watch – and their software will help you with this – is image resolution. You really don’t want to approach the minimum resolutions for any of your files; I had some small crops that didn’t survive being printed large, despite the software confirming they were ‘ok’. I should have manually up-rezzed them myself first. The print process emphasized the jpeg quantization matrix in one of the monochrome images; thank goodness it wasn’t the bride! You can always confirm the final calculated image resolution with their software, so don’t worry too much; it will protect you from make really blunderous errors.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, and APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread.

Source material is from a 14.5MP Pentax K20D, an APS-C sensor. There is plenty of resolution for a two-page, full bleed spread across two 8.5" x 11" pages.

It took about 12 hours to do the entire layout; I suspect that should fall to 8 hours for 40 pages next time, and perhaps 5 hours for 50 pages as I improve the workflow. If you add the extra prep time for background and detail images, and the postproduction time on the proofing, uploading, and ordering, it should be ‘about a day’ to put the book together, using the flow of events to guide the chronology of the images.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didnt make the cut.

Floating sharp inset images stand out nicely over intentionally out-of-focus backgrounds. This background was actually a shot of the centerpiece that didn't make the cut.

When I thought I was ready to print I had a couple of questions for their tech support; they use a live person on the other end of a 1:1 chat window. Although typing is slower than talking, it does mean that swapping URL’s is possible. And the fact that I was conversing with an well informed person at 10pm MST was just awesome!

The first question I had was finding the final trimmed crop marks. This was important because in my layouts I wanted some of the inset images to bleed right off the page. To see the crop marks you have to start the upload process, and the first step is the creation of a temporary Acrobat file that shows the real crops.  The file has the word ‘Proof’ across all the pages, so you can’t just print it yourself, you have to go to step 2, which is to ensure that you’ve actually proofed it, and then you can upload it, and provide payment info.

Proofing tip: If I had printed the Acrobat proofing file I would have chosent to make these inset shots about 50% bigger. Against the busy detail of the dress macro shot they get a litte lost!

The second question I had was more of a puzzler – what about color management? The short answer – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. If you use their software to do the layout, they take care of it, because you’re basically using sRGB jpegs on the input side, and their software (and printer) on the output side.

No color-balance worries here; the DJ's lights weren't going to show in the early evening light, so I gelled some strobes to add some punchy color.

I chose the slow-boat shipping to save some $, and the wait was agonizing, but the book did arrive well protected; in a plastic sleve, wrapped in soft foam, inside a corrugated cardboard mailing box that was just the right size. Again, impressive!

The only quality issue (that I haven’t bothered to call photobook about, because it’s soooo minor), is that one of the pages is rippled in the middle, as if the quantity of ink was too high and the paper became wet. It’s so slight that it can only be felt; under normal light it can’t be seen. If you look at the page edge-on, into a light, the slightest of shadows of the ripples can be seen. I’ve heard great things about photobooks service, but for this slight an issue I’m not going to give them a call. But if you are a tactile person you should probably check each page individually when you get your books.

I would still like to try out some other photobook printers for comparison, but if I had to print a book right now, I’d have no reservations about using them again. The images I’ve used in this post were intended as samples for my web site, and were shot pretty wide open on purpose; if you want to see more samples,  head over to photobookcanada and have a look at what other formats and styles are like.

I hope you’ve liked this post, it’s a bit long-ish to cover the material in one shot, but I think it’s deserved in this case.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; its like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.

For me this is what makes wedding photography worth it; it's like bottling a moment of distilled happiness.

A Tale of Three Umbrellas and a Gel

I was just reviewing some shots of Kasandra (one was poster earlier). She is a make up artist that did double-duty as model on a recent shoot, and what a gem she is:

Pentax K20D, ISO 400 ,f/9.5, 1/90 sec, 135 mm, smc Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8

I had been experimenting with white umbrellas (reflective, not shoot through), and found I really prefer the light over a harder reflective material, like silver.

This shoot would be a chance to try out a lighting arrangement that normally would need a bunch of reflector cards, softboxes, and such, but since we were shooting on location I wanted to pack a bit lighter, and keep the setup time down to a minimum.

What I decided on was a variation of butterfly lighting. I knew she would be sitting, and these would be head-and-shouler shots to show off a necklace, so I placed a chair about 6′ from a scrap of seamless background paper. The room was too narrow for a a full 10′ wide roll of seamless, so I put up the portable background stands with only two lengths in the horizontal crossbar, instead of all three.

For light, I put two umbrellas up high and in front of the model, pointing about 45° down. In these shots the light stands are just barely out-of-frame to the left and right. I found that the shadow under her chin was too dark, and a small 2′ x 3′ white foamcore didn’t help enough.

To give a more even light I put my most controllable light, an Alien Bees ABR-800 (that’s right, a ringflash), on it’s umbrealla adapter (which is a curse and should be redesigned…), and put this third white umbrella on the floor, pointing up. No stand, just a pile of black scrim fabric under it, to give it the right angle. Which by no coincidence was 45° up. It was so close to her that she could touch it with her feet.

The main light in the first umbrella (on image-right) was an old hot-shoe flash on full power. It’s an old Sunpak auto 28, but for whatever reason it has a really short recycle time, making it perfect for ‘strobist’ style use.

For the fill umbrella on image-left, a second hotshoe flash, I chose my new Pentax 360. It has good manual control, so I turned it down to about 1/4 to nearly match the main, but not quite, to give some shape to her face.

The Alien Bees is quite a powerful light, so I kept it down to 1/32 – 1/16 territorry. All of these lights were fired from ebay style radio triggers, which aren’t bad for this kind of close range work. And the new ones use AAA batteries in the receivers, so rechargables are now an option.

The resulting image (above) was pretty darn good, in terms of matching my vision. It could be developed has high-key with more juice, but really I was going for a slightly lower tone and DR in the main colors to make it more suitable for print. If you look at the exposure data you’ll notice this was done at ISO 400; this is because the main was already at full power, and couldn’t pump out more light.  I could have set up a heavier stand and put the ABR-800 up in the air as the main, but balancing the output of that monster of a light with a puny little hotshoe flash would mean I would have just turned it down anyway. I could also have opened up from f/9.5 to f/8, but if you look closely enough you’ll see that at f/8 I would have to start making trade-offs in focus; the back of her pony-tail is already starting to blur; and my focus point was either the corner of her eye or her hairline around her ear.

On and off throughout the shoot I added a fourth light, right behind her head; it was sometimes pointed forward, to give her a nice rim light, but that also showed too many fine / stray hairs. Toward the end of the shoot I decided to gel this strobe and point it at the background; I think this color was a Lee Filter ‘Bastard Pink’, and the resulting images from the last 10 minutes really came to life:

Pentax K20D, ISO 400 ,f/11, 1/90 sec, 108 mm, smc Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8

The effect of the gel on the white background paper is remarkable; and the hue of the light is very close to her lipstick shade. I think when I looked in the LCD after this shot I told her she looked like the color of a sorbet!

I hope this inspires you to play around more with inexpensive lighting; I could have substituted a cheaper light for the under-fill and claimed this was done for $200 in gear (three $20 lights, three $20 umbrellas, two $20  stands with hotshoe/umbrella brackets, and two pairs of $20 ebay trigger sets.).

Maybe I should change my tagline to ‘the $20 strobist’…

High Dynamic Range – Tripod -vs- Software

I used to have a quiet chuckle to myself when I saw someone hiking with a tripod lashed to their backpack.

Well, turns out there still IS a place for that archaic camera support… the HDR (and maybe Panoramas… next post…)

Well, maybe.

It took me nearly an hour of cropping, rotating, tweaking, and otherwise fiddling to get three exposures to line up to produce this small sample shot, using an older version of Photomatix (2.3.2):


Pentax K20D, ISO 200, f/8, 50mm, 3 images @ 1/90, 1/180 and 1/350 combined.

Not bad; I was using really low resolution jpegs just to get a feel for the process, so it’s not as sharp as it could be. But all the tweaking to get the images to line up really bugged me, so I checked for a newer version of Photomatix.

Turns out the new version is really pretty good, and even has an alignment mode that works on matching common features. I chose another image set to see how long it would take, and how well it would align:

Behind Chester LakePentax K20D, ISO 200, f/22 (I know… I know…), 16mm (smc Pentax 16-45 F4 ED AL), @ 1/30, 1/15 and 1/8 sec

This image took the new version of Photomatix seconds to process. I spent a few minutes fiddling with various slider controls that adjust the various tone mapping parameters, but Holy Cow, the alignment is perfect. I did spend a minute in the GIMP to clean up a couple of dust spots in the sky, but from start to finish the results are as good as you could hope for, even with a tripod.

And one more little plug for Pentax Shake Reduction… look at the exposure info again… the brightest shot was at 1/8 second, resting on the top of a trekking pole. Nice. I should have opened it up to f/11; I thought it was f/16 but I think my thumb slipped when I was balancing the camera on the top of the handgrip of the pole and it got cranked up a notch.

Perhaps if the only goal of the hike was to make perfect images – then I’d take the tripod, but for casual use like this… Photomatix is the way to go.

A Two Fur. Or Two-fer. Or Two for Two.

I just loving living in Calgary; the mountains are about an hour away, and if you get on the road early enough you’re almost always going to see some kind of critter. Deer are almost as common as cattle around here, and coyotes and rabbits are seen almost as often as cats and dogs, even in the city.

Last weekend was all teeth and claws:

Da Bears

Pentax K20D, ISO 800, f/8, 1/180 sec, 600mm (Tamron 70-300mm LD Di + 2x Tokina TC)

And this weekend was all hooves and horns:
Da Mooses

Pentax K20D, ISO 200, f/4, 1/90 sec, 135mm (smc PENTAX-DA* 50-135mm F2.8 ED [IF] SDM)

I’m really not sure what next weekend will hold… but I bet it’ll be furry!

… and I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again… the in-body Shake Reduction feature of the newer Pentax dSLR’s is just AMAZING. These shots were both hand-held!

Human Statue Shot. Film at 11.

And you thought I was kidding!

Bronze Guy

Bronze Guy

His gal got shot too…

Bronze Gal

Bronze Gal

These were shot at the Calgary Stampede… there is an arts & crafts hall that featured life sized bronze statues of horses, moose, etc in these big graveled areas ringed with big rocks, trees, etc to look like your average mansions driveway.

Perched among the real bronze statues are these performers, also bronzed, and they were at times indistinguishable from the metal statues… to the point where some people just walked on past – close enough in a few cases for the statues to reach out (slowly) and nearly touch them.

Good fun!

Equipment – Does it make a difference?

I was chatting with the model / make-up artist Kasandra about Twitter and photography, and was showing her what it was like to take a quick picture, post it, and tweet it. This was shot with my trusty old iPhone 3G:
The resulting photo is more behind-the-scenes than actual photography, but what the heck.
Of course I was really keen to see what the finished images looked like from the Pentax K20D with the 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens that I was shooting with…
Needless to say, there are a lot of differences between the shots; optical equipment aside.
But we’ve all heard the old drum that ‘the equipment doesn’t make the photographer!’
Yeah. Sure.
But what if …. in some crazy corner of the world … you could make the second image with a lowly old iPhone. We’ve all seen links to galleries of ‘Amazing iPhone images
Hmm…. sounds like a great challenge… the next time I’m shooting like this I’ll see what I can do to ‘improve’ the ‘ol iPhone shots a bit. I know I’m going to start with the lighting… I just need a trigger…

Lightroom Presets

I took the K20D out for a spin yesterday, despite the rather overcast light. This morning I was wondering if my copy of Lightroom had been updated to handle the K20D profile, and stumbled upon a pair of presets in this thread:

The result is a little over the top in terms of vibrance and clarity settings, but it is an interesting effect when the natural light is so washed out.

Here is a sample image:


Pentax DSLR Shake Reduction

The Shake Reduction system that Pentax uses in their DSLR’s is technically a nifty thing. It lets you leave the shutter open longer to let in more light, but it dampens minute motions of the camera body to reduce the blurring and shake.

Technical wizardry aside, it’s what it lets you do that really pleases me. Shake Reduction lets you take pictures in new ways, breaking old rules. And it let’s you do this without worrying (too much) about blurry images.

For starters, you can take shots in poor light, handheld, at reasonable ISO’s for low noise. This is a pretty standard use – nothing overly creative, just useful:

Hearst Castle at Christmas
1 second @ 18mm f/5.6 ISO 100

At higher focal lengths and in tighter spaces you can shoot macro shots without a tripod (and in the middle of someones garden :)

1/25 second @ 200mm f/8 ISO 400

1/2 second @ 200mm f/4.5 ISO 200

But you can also treat motion in different ways; like smoothing things out to calm them down…

Like the water in a stream…
1 second @ 70mm f/32 ISO 100

Or let a busy street streak past outside.
1.6 second @ 39mm f/6.3 ISO 100

You can suggest activity by letting people or things in motion be captured as motion:

A crazy carousel in Paris…

1/2 second @ 50mm f/4 (?) ISO 100

…or conference attendees in Toronto
(walking a VERY long hallway…)

0.6 seconds @ 16mm f/10 ISO 250

The neatest thing is that it lets you capture things that you didn’t even know existed:

Toronto Skyline (I swore I saw Batman…)
1/3 second @ 55mm f/2.8 ISO 400

All of these images were taken without a tripod, and at shutter speeds that should have ruined the images. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Thanks Pentax!

Wiley E. Pentax

Amazing that you can actually photograph stuff when you aren’t sitting in front of a computer:

More amazing still, this shot was handheld @ 1/250 sec, f/4.5, ISO 400. Somewhere between 400 and 600mm. Thanks, Pentax!