Friday, July 31, 2009

Studio on my back

This past weekend, I was asked by my friend John to come by his apartment to work on some photos of him and his roommate, Suzanne. They live in an older apartment building on the outskirts of Williamsburg and Bushwick, and Suzanne has decorated their place with all sorts of neat-looking vintage furniture and nick-nacks.

The two of them - John, being a rather fashionable fellow and former stylist, and Suzanne, being an actress - had a surprisingly wide variety of cool vintage clothing that they wanted to get dressed up in. We figured it might be fun to go for that classic "old time photo" look.

Mind you, we hadn't discussed this beforehand - all I knew going in was that we would be shooting in the apartment, and there might be a cat.

So I decided to try to over-prepare myself, and set to put together a rig that would allow me the option to use up to five lights, with an array of modifiers to go with them.

I looked at the directions to get to their place from my place, and unfortunately, there was no direct route. The nearest train stop is a good 15 minute walk, and there isn't a bus that goes near there, either. I didn't want to deal with calling a car or trying to find a taxi, because dammit - I've got a bike.

Normally, I'd pack two bags - my Pelican 1514 hard case, which would carry all of my camera gear and the strobes, and then my trusty Kelty backpack, which would get stuffed with all of the grip equipment. I've travelled this way many times in the past, and when I'm only walking a few blocks here and there (to and from the train), it's no problem.

This time, however, I figured I'd test my limits a bit.

As I was unpacking my gear from the Pelican case, I was struck with an idea - "I wonder if this padded divider insert would fit inside my backpack..." Sure enough, it fit inside perfectly. With room to spare, in fact. With the dividers in my pack, I was able to load up just about everything I'd normally put into the Pelican case. Since there was still room on top, and I needed some tension to ensure that everything held in place, I started placing my various modifiers and grip gear on top of and around the insert, until the bag was nice and tight. It zipped up without a problem.

Finally, I grabbed a pair of flimsy - er light-weight - light stand bags, and managed to stuff the remaining gear into them, and then secured them to the sides of the backpack. I picked up the pack (which must've weighed a good 40+ pounds), and it felt well-balanced. Sure enough, once it was on my back, it felt great. Looking in the mirror, I kinda felt like a little kid who was pretending to be Boba Fett or something (I know, I know, he didn't have two things pointing out of the sides; he had the one thing pointing out the middle. I said "little kid", okay? sheesh.)

With the pack secured, I hopped on my bike, and proceeded to shoot the following pictures:



and, going for the weathered/aged/vintage look:


I was so impressed with my pack-job, that I decided to make a little video of myself unpacking it all:

studio on my back pack job vid

Further details and a close-up shot can be found here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I apologize for blogging about this so late, but hey - I've been keeping busy, and busy is good, right?


So a few weeks ago, an event called "Manhattanhenge" took place in New York City. This event happens twice a year in the summertime, where the setting sun hits the horizon in near-perfect alignment with the city grid of Manhattan. Stand on just about any east/west street, and you'll see the sun line right up in between the buildings and skyscrapers. It's pretty neat.

You can find a lot more info about it here.

Having done a little bit of research, I discovered a few things. There is a pretty decent following of this event, and lots of people like to come out and photograph it. Many of the posted photos I found listed where in the city they were shot from, so I made some mental notes about potential shoot-sites for myself. I had also noticed that no one seemed to post a decent-looking timelapse of the event. I'm sure it's been done, but I couldn't find any. So I decided to take a crack at it for myself.

I headed over to what seemed like the easiest, most convenient spot - the bridge that crosses over 42nd street, just above 1st ave.

Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one with this idea. By the time I had arrived (about 7:45 or so), there was already a large crowd of people huddled up against the railing of the bridge, taking up the whole sidewalk. A forest of tripods made it clear that there was no way I was going to be able to get my shot from this spot.

After glancing down 42nd street, I could make out what looked to be another bridge, about 3 or 4 avenues over. I hopped on my bike and headed in that direction to investigate.

Sure enough, there was an overpass, right in front of Grand Central Station. This looked like a perfect spot. Nobody was up there, so I maneuvered around until I could find my way up. That's when I figured out why no one was up there - there were signs at at the on-ramp onto the bridge stating "no pedestrian traffic".

I reasoned that since I was on my bike, I really couldn't be classified as a pedestrian. So I pedaled up to the spot, where I found a very narrow sidewalk. I stashed my bike, and set up my two Canons - the SD630, shooting as fast as it could (about 1 frame every 2-3 seconds), and the G7, shooting a -2, 0, +2 bracket sequence as fast as it could (also about 2-3 seconds) - using the wonderful CHDK intervalometer I've become so dependent on.

I used a super clamp and a little ball head to secure the cameras to the railing, and - fearing interference from the police - I decided to step away from the railing and wait until the last moment before the sunset (which only lasts about 3 or 4 minutes) to grab some stills with my other cameras.

Everything was going smoothly, but sure enough, as the sunset crept closer, people started to walk up to my spot, and set up their tripods and get ready for their shots. After about three of four of them showed up, I decided that I'd better get over there, so as to secure my own spot, and to make sure nothing happened to my TL cams.

By the time the event had finally come around, I'd say there were a good dozen or so fellow law-breakers up there with me, and we were all shooting away. I snapped a few frames with the F3 on Velvia, and wound up setting up another super clamp with a magic arm to help me stabilize my D90 with the 80-200, which I was shooting bracketed frames with as well.

Here's a quick iPhone grab of what my view was:

The best-looking shot I was able to get with the D90 looks like this:


Not bad, but not great, either. Shooting the sun is harder than I expected.

As the last of the sun disappeared into the horizon, as if on cue, one of New York City's finest came along to break up our little party. He asked if any of us were interested in receiving a summons, and if not, to vacate the bridge immediately. Since I had so much crap with me, I did the best I could to pack up quickly, but I did stall a little, with the hopes of at least letting the TL cams catch that last bit of sun disappearing as possible.

I was the last person to leave the bridge (first one in, last one out, heh), and fortunately, the cop didn't give me any trouble.

When I got home to compile the TL frames, I realized that my framing was a bit on the wide side, and a tighter composition (not unlike the still above) would've probably made for a better shot. I also forgot to set the cameras to under-expose, so the frames that the 630 shot were pretty much useless. I monkeyed around with some HDR and exposure blending with the frames from the G7, but due to the rapid movements of the street traffic, nothing looked right.

In the end, I decided I'd just compile the -2 set of frames, and go with that; lesson learned.

Here it is up on flickr:

Manhattanhenge TL

I know, too wide. And the sky is completely blown out.

Anyway, there is a happy ending to this story.

For whatever reason, I decided to post my shots as soon as I'd finished them (this is not something I do very often; I tend to post bunches of stuff all at once).

I woke up the next morning to find a ton of messages in my flickr inbox, reporting new comments on my movie, and, more surprisingly, lots of new contacts (followers). It turns out that the flickr blog decided to post about Manhattanhenge that day, and they linked to my time lapse movie (probably because it was the only one) in their post.

I scored a all-time personal best hit count that week, landing well over 500 views over the next couple of days. Pretty cool, but I really wish the shot had come out better.

Oh well. Lessons learned for next time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More work!

Shortly after the workshop, I wound up getting two gigs back-to-back.

One of them was a corporate portrait for use on the company's website, and the other was a custom "stock" piece.

The first job was obtained through my long-time friend, the extremely talented Josh Berta. He's been working with Rocco Piscatello at the Piscatello Design Centre for some time now, and when one of their client's website needed an updated photo, he referred me for the job.

I met with Rocco, and we discussed what he was looking for, and later that week, we got together at the client's office for the shoot.

Here's what we went with:

Shot with my lovely new 35mm lens, and converted to black-and-white in Photoshop.

The very next day, I got a call from another graphic designer, Ben King (who, coincidentally, I met through Josh), and he asked me if I would be able to put together a shot for him within the next 24 hours. He described what he was looking for - a hand holding a remote control, giving the impression of "power", for use in an comp he was working on for a client. I think it had something to do with "on demand". The final direction was "think 'Black Panthers' but with a remote in the fist".

Fortunately, my friend Ryan had a nice-looking remote control, and he was available to model for me first thing the next morning. We wound up going with this shot:


I did a few little bits of touch-up in Photoshop, but I think it came together nicely, and Ben was appreciative of the fast turn-around.

I have to say - I was really into this kind of work. Getting a specific assignment, and setting out to do it is a very rewarding process for me. I think it appeals to the "problem solver" in me, which has a tendency to come through in a lot of the stuff I do.

This shoot gave me an idea for a potentially cool concept, which I'll be writing about in a future post.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kent Miller

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to meet Kent Miller at the workshop I attended last month.
He and I exchanged contact info, and after a couple of weeks of email tag, we finally got together to meet up and talk shop.

Long story short, I asked Kent if I could assist him, and he agreed.

So far, this is looking like it's been just the break I've been hunting for. In the short time that we've been working together, we've shot jewelry, window displays at Macy's, a fashion model in the woods, live music, and some headshot/portrait work in the studio.

As images from these shoots are edited and finished, I'll post links to them on Flickr.

In the meantime, I've got a lot of other stuff to catch up on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

35mm/1.8 = sweetness.

A couple of months ago, Nikon released a new lens: the 35mm f1.8 G. Its street price is $199, which is pretty reasonable.

I'd say that this lens fills a much-needed gap in Nikon's line. Here's what I mean...
If you want to skip my history lesson and just read about the lens, click here.
Back in the days of film cameras, it was not uncommon to see a 50mm lens bundled with a new camera body. The 50mm was considered a great "starter" lens, what with its near 1:1 (or "normal") field of view. The lens became so ubiquitous that nearly everyone who had an SLR had one kicking around somewhere. They were usually f1.8, but you'd also see f1.4 and even f1.2 (from Canon, anyway) models, too. Suffice to say, it became a standard.

When the first DSLRs started to appear (almost 10 years ago), they all featured imaging sensors that were a bit smaller than a standard 35mm piece of film. With a smaller sensor, less of the image coming through the lens would be captured by the camera - only the information in the center; the edges would be cropped out. This crop factor effectively raised the functional focal length of a standard 35mm SLR lens by a factor of 1.5 or so. In other words, if you stuck your trusty 50mm lens on your new DSLR camera, you wouldn't be seeing that same 1:1 normal view that you were used to - you'd be seeing more along the lines of what an 85mm lens would get you (well, somewhere between 65 and 85, anyway). So if you wanted to get that 1:1 look, you'd need to step down to a wider lens, like a 35mm.

What with the advent of point-and-shoot cameras and inexpensive video cameras getting more and more accessible and easy to use, the general photographing public had come to expect the ability to "zoom", right out of the box. As DSLR technology evolved, manufacturing processes got more efficient and inexpensive, and camera manufactures began producing entry-level cameras that came bundled with zoom lenses. Gone were the days of the 50mm being the standard "first lens".

You could still pick up a 50mm lens for under $200 - sometimes as little as $100 - but they weren't being packaged with new camera bodies anymore.

Nikon has been making lenses for their SLR cameras since the 60s. And thanks to their fierce commitment to their lens mount system, you can stick just about any lens on just about any camera (within reason), and shoot a picture. Obviously, the super-old stuff doesn't really work that well with the super-new stuff (and vise-versa), but there's some nice overlap in the middle, giving the Nikon user a really nice range of choices.

So let's talk about the 35mm lens for a minute. On a 35mm film camera (this can get a bit confusing, I know) a 35mm lens is considered a wide angle lens. Not super-wide, mind you, but wide enough for you to get a little bit closer to your subject, or to get a little more of your surroundings in for landscape work. My dad's 35mm lens was an old manual focus f2.8. Not particularly fast, but a solid performer.

Nikon made some faster versions of the 35mm, eventually getting it all the way down to 1.4 (selling for upwards of $500).

Now let's talk about the whole DX/FX thing.

FX and DX are Nikon-speak for their two types of DSLR cameras. Long story short - FX cameras have bigger sensors in them, which in turn allow lenses to behave the way they do on 35mm film cameras. No more crop factor! DX cameras have the smaller sensors, and behave the way I described above.

Recently, Nikon has been producing more and more DX-based cameras than in the past. For example, last year's lineup had two FX-based cameras, and three DX-based models. Right now, you can still find all of last year's cameras, plus two more DX-based cameras as well. I guess we can count the D3x as an additional FX-based camera, too. But my point in bringing this up is that it seems that despite the fact that Nikon has finally broached the "full frame" barrier, they are still very much committed to making DX-based cameras, as well.

Which brings us to my new lens!

Prior to this lens, I've had the 50mm 1.8 (AF, first-gen) and an older 50mm 1.4 (AI'd manual), from years ago. The 1.8 is an okay lens, but it has a really frustrating drawback, of creating these really noticeable and annoying ghost-like flares when shooting bright subjects in the dark , wide open (and gee, who'd be shooting wide open in the dark? hmm). So I stopped using it, and gave the manual focus thing a try, but man - at 1.4, focusing is a bit challenging. No biggie if you're working in still life, but if you're trying to shoot moving objects (like musicians on stage), then it's a real challenge. So I was definitely feeling a need for something to serve in that "normal" focal range, and having it be fast would also be nice.

Enter the 35/1.8 G. (G basically means that it doesn't have an aperture ring, so it's useless on older cameras. It also means it's got an internal motor, so the lower-end/entry-level cameras (like the D40/60) which don't have internal AF motors can auto focus as well).
At $200, it seemed too good to be true. I kinda expected it to suffer from the same kind of flaring issues I'd seen on my (and others', too) 50/1.8. But the reviews started to pour in, and everyone seemed to love it. Sample images looked great.
So I did some shopping around, and found that this thing is so popular, it's literally unavailable everywhere. I could buy it on eBay, but the average price is closer to $300. I wasn't in that big of a rush, so I decided to get on a waiting list. Three of them, in fact. Two mail-order, and one in-town, just to cover my bases. After almost four weeks, Amazon finally came through with the goods, and I am now a happy owner of this new little rockstar.

I've only used it a handful of times so far, but between its lovely "normal" focal range, its fast aperture, and - bonus - its light weight - it is fast becoming my favorite lens.

These days, my bag contains the 35/1.8, my [dad's] old first-gen AF 80-200/2.8, and my Tamron 14/2.8. If I'm feeling feisty, I'll bring along either the 65/2.8 macro or the Tamron 24-70/2.8. But I think my next lens purchase is probably going to be a Nikon wide zoom. We'll see.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Workshop with Joe.

A few weeks ago, I attended a "One-Day Lighting" workshop presented by Joe McNally. He's become somewhat of a rockstar lately, following the success of his latest book, The Hotshoe Diaries (which I own), and through some consistent, quality social networking (he has recently gotten into twitter, and just updated his blog). There's tons of info about him out there, so I'll skip the history lesson and move onto the details of the class.

Long story short - it was pretty much exactly what I'd expected.

Having been hip to Joe's style and approach for the past year or so, I've done a fair amount of research and ingesting - watching any/every video of his I could get my hands on, reading his blog and book(s), etc. The class was basically like a live-action version of what I'd been reading and watching. No real new or ground-breaking info, but it was definitely inspiring and exciting to actually meet Joe and see him do his thing in person.

The workshop also wound up being an excuse for my old pal Seth to come out for a visit (we attended the class together), and we got some good hang-time in. The first night he arrived - literally right from the airport - we ended up at a Coney Island freak show, where I was fortunate enough to snap a quick shot of this guy:

And in the spirit of making the most of our time together, we organized a photo shoot with my friend Michelle and her friend Coco. Coco is a burlesque performer, who happens to be a fire-eater (among other things). Michelle was interested in learning how to eat fire, so I shot some pictures of the two of them in Coco's backyard:
CoCo Fire

Michelle Fire

Pretty cool. Or, "hot", I guess. (sorry)

Anyway, it turned out to be a pretty good week.

Oh, I almost forgot - what wound up being the most valuable take-away from the workshop was a networking connection that I made. For this series of classes (there were two week's worth), Joe called upon many of his friends and colleagues to help him out - both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. One of the folks he had up to help out with modeling for our class was a guy named Kent.

During some down time, I struck up a conversation with him, learned that not only was he a professional photographer himself, but he also worked as an assistant to Joe in the past. After hearing this, I asked him for some advice (the basic "do you have any suggestions/tips for an up-and-coming pro?" thing). We didn't have a ton of time to chat, but we did exchange contact info.

I'll talk more about Kent in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Busy busy.

Man, I can't believe it's been over a month since my last post!

Okay, so here's what I've been up to (photographically) lately:

I attended a workshop taught by Joe McNally.

I landed two, completely unrelated paid gigs (one "corporate", the other "stock")

I met a really cool professional photographer who I should be able to work with (assist) in the future.

I got a spiffy new lens.

I've been thinking up a few new ideas for projects/techniques.

I think each one of those things warrants its own post, and, given that it's practically 5am, I'm going to bed.

But stay tuned!

Drafts have been started!

I WILL be a good blogger, dammit.

that is all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pimps & Pinups shots are online!

A while back, I was asked by my friends at Pimps & Pinups (a hair salon) if I could help them out with a couple of photographs for their website.
At long last, they're now online!

To get to them, go here, and click on "New York". That's the first one. To get to the second one, click on "Services".

Retouching/post production by Seth Thompson.

Here are bigger versions:



Some background:
Pimps & Pinups is a hair salon that was started a few years ago in London. This past year, they decided to open up a second location here in New York City.
My good friend, Michelle Williams was hired as a stylist there, and not long afterwards, she asked me if I'd be interested in helping out with some photographs of the salon for the website. I happily obliged (this was before I decided to make the big transition, and was working full-time as an IT consultant), and put together these shots. The owners of the salon were impressed, and put them up on the website immediately. They then asked me if I would be interested in another photo...

If you reload the P&P website, and hit the "London" link this time, you'll see the original version of the shot I made. They asked me if I could essentially reproduce this look and feel, but with a different girl, in the New York salon. I knew that it would be a challenge, but I was eager to give it a shot. After setting the appropriate expectations, I put everything together - rented some nice studio strobes, lined up an assistant, and made plans with my friend Seth - who is a bit more skilled in Photoshop than I - to help out with the post processing (of which I knew there would be a lot).

The main direction was to make my shot look as similar to the original as possible. Looking back, there are a few things that I would do differently today, but all things considered, I think everything worked out pretty well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Working for free.

Today, two opportunities came up for me to do some work. The first one was for a fund raising event; as I understand it, they were looking for someone to do basic coverage, and maybe shoot some pictures of key people involved. We didn't really talk about the details because they were looking for someone to do the job for free.

The second job was to shoot some pictures of a band for a magazine - my friends in Loop 243 are being interviewed, and the editor wanted some photos to go with the article. Unfortunately, there was "no photo budget".

In both of these cases, I found myself thinking about the various discussions that went around the photography scene blogs a few months ago on the topic.

And in both of these cases, I turned down the job. Well, kinda.

For the fund raiser, it was a pretty simple choice. I didn't have any details, and after some further explanation from the friend of mine that referred me in the first place, it became clear that this wasn't going to be a worthwhile opportunity. This friend is also a working professional, and didn't realize the nature of the inquiry until after he had asked me about the job, so there aren't any hard feelings, and hopefully he will continue to keep me in mind for work in the future.

The music magazine job was a bit tougher to decide on, but ultimately, we worked out a reasonable compromise. A few months ago, I shot some promotional photos for Loop 243. They paid me for this work, and everything is all good with them. As far as I'm concerned, they own those photos, and can do with them whatever they see fit.
So, rather than taking on the assignment, I proposed that they choose from the existing work, and I would provide them with whatever support they might need. I'd still get the same photo credit I would had I taken the assignment, and my professional principles remain intact.

I was very straightforward with both the band (who recommended me to the magazine in the first place) and to the music editor about the situation, and everyone was very understanding - we're all good, now.

My hope is that the next time the magazine needs a photographer in New York City, they'll think of me - not just based on my photographic skills, but also based on my professionalism and demeanor. Which, I'm learning, can actually be as important (if not _more_ important) than one's ability to take a picture.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


For quite some time, I've been wanting to get back into film.

My ideal setup would include a nice medium-format camera, which I would use as an alternative to my DSLR for "final", higher-end work. Work out the particulars of the exposure and composition with the DSLR, and then transfer the exposure info to the film camera, and fire a few more frames.

I have every intention of doing this some day, but my budget doesn't really allow for this system - yet.
In the meantime, I've been satisfying my film cravings by using my dad's old SLRs. I currently have his old F3, and have my eyes on his F4 next.

Not long ago, I was in a local grocery store, and while I was on the checkout line, I spotted a row of these little cameras hanging right next to the magazines and the gum:

disposable cam1

See that price tag? That's right. $2.99. I figured "at that price, why the hell not?". So I bought one, and after opening it up when I got home, I found that it was obviously a re-packaged disposable camera. Here's what it looked like after I took off the cheesy paper wrapping:

disposable cam2

So I carried that little guy around for a week or so, just shooting random things, half-expecting that none of it would come out.
To my surprise, everything worked out. You can browse some of the fruits of this little guy here.

Satisfied with these results, I decided to kick things up a notch, and purchased myself a Holga. I'm relatively inexperienced with medium-format film, so I figured this would be a nice intro to the medium (har har).

Getting the 35mm film processed and scanned (with no prints) from Walgreens or Duane Reade costs about $5. They're obviously not the highest-quality scans, but they're fine for sharing and "seeing what you got". I figure somewhere down the line, I'll pick up a film scanner for myself, and be able to do full-rez scanning if/when I ever need to.

Getting the Holga film processed (but not scanned) also goes for about $5, which isn't bad. I still need to look into the most convenient and cost-effective way to handle this, as I know there are a lot of folks out there doing this already. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share.

Anyway, I decided to keep this trend going for a while, so for the time being, I should have at least one film camera on me at all times. Keep an eye on this set for my progress.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Light Reinforcement

As some of you might know, photographing musicians performing on stage at a typical venue can be a bit of a challenge.
Most of the time, the lights that are there are either not terribly bright and/or poorly positioned. Most clubs don't really put any energy or effort into actually lighting the stage, and I can't say that I blame them - it's extra work for someone who's probably not getting paid much (if at all), and since each set is only going to be 30-60 minutes, what's the point?

I've been experimenting a bit with shooting shows a bit lately, and decided to share some of my experiences and ideas.

When I first started shooting shows, I decided to only use available light. Pictures shot with flash tended to look all washed out and unflattering, and bright flashes might also run the risk of distracting the performers on stage.

The more recent digital cameras have really great low-light performance, and can shoot at ISOs like 1600 and even 3200 with much better results than their predecessors. Even still - the higher your ISO, the noisier your image, and the less sharp it will look. Not to mention that your camera's going to be shooting wide open, and at a shutter speed that would either require a steady hand, a monopod, or some good image stabilization. And even then - shooting at those slow speeds is still going to result in blurred images, because performers tend to move around a lot on stage.
Sometimes, that's a cool effect, but I thought it'd be nice to get some sharpness, if at all possible.

So I got to thinking - "wouldn't it be great if I could shoot at ISO 400 at like, an f8?"
And I came up with an idea - "light reinforcement".

This is a variation on a term used in the world of live audio, called "sound reinforcement".
The basic concept of sound reinforcement is to take whatever sound is already there, and to, well, reinforce it. Beef it up. The best examples of true sound reinforcement (to me, anyway) are theatrical performances - plays and musicals. These are traditionally performed in a proper theatre, which has been designed and engineered for sound to project off the stage. However, since there are often a variety of elements coming off the stage - different actors/singers, musicians, sound effects - getting everything balanced can be a bit tricky. The way this is typically handled is to put a microphone in front of anything and everything that is making a sound, and sending all of those signals up to the sound guy, sitting at the back of the theatre. From there, he makes whatever adjustments are necessary to keep everything sounding naturally balanced, as if it were coming right off the stage - which, for the most part, it is. But having that little extra bit of support from a microphone and some speakers can make all the difference in the world.

My thought was to essentially use this same principle, but with light - augment the existing lighting with a little bit of my own.
Using a speedlite equipped with a Pocket Wizard, mounted on a super clamp with a ball head (or a magic arm), with a gel or two and either a snoot or a grid (or both), I could effectively mimic what a real stage light would look like. Using colored gels is way more forgiving with music photography, because stage lighting is always colored anyway.
The ideal setup would be to have my strobes positioned right next to where the house lights were already, either clamped to the same bar/grid as the house lights themselves, or very nearby. This would help minimize any "blinding" effects that might occur to the talent on stage, and also maintain the authenticity of the look. With one light on each side of the stage, I was able to get a nice, dramatic cross-lighting effect, giving me a good 2 or more stops of light to augment the existing stage lighting. Keeping the strobes at lower power (1/16 or 1/8) is just enough to make a difference, but not enough to be noticeable to the performers (your milage may vary on this, actually, depending on the size of the venue), and it also ensures faster recycle times and more pops per show.

At the last show I shot, I asked the performers if they noticed me and my strobes, and they said "huh? you were using a flash? I had no idea".
I've tried this technique a few times now, and am confident in the approach.

Here are a few shots of the technique in use:



(these have both been post-processed in Photoshop)

Next time I put this setup together, I'll snap some setup shots and post them here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Upgrading a LaCie Biggest FW RAID

A couple of years ago, I happened upon a decent deal on a LaCie "Biggest FW800" RAID. It was a 1TB model, with four 250GB SATA drives in it.
I won't get into the particulars about how the unit works or what its features are, but I will say that it has performed quite admirably for me, with no issues.

A few weeks ago, I inadvertently deleted a huge folder full of movies and television shows that I'd been holding onto just for convenience (I will sometimes put together "care packages" for friends with random or specific stuff on a few DVDs, and it's nice to have my favorites handy).

Since I knew I'd be able to re-download most of the stuff I'd lost, I got to thinking - "this thing is pretty much completely empty right now..." - and I decided that it was time to upgrade.

The four 250GB drives, when configured as a RAID-5, yielded about 680GB of useable storage. I figured replacing them with 1TB drives should net me about 2.8TB or so, in the same configuration. So I found myself a nice deal on a set of 1TB hard drives, and when they arrived, I installed them in the unit.

Here's where things got interesting...

When the unit began formatting/initializing the drives into the array, the LCD panel was reporting that the volume size was XXXX. Normally, this would report an actual number. Since the volume wasn't visible to the OS at this point, all I could do was cycle through the status reports of the individual drive modules on the LCD of the RAID. It recognized them all as 1TB drives.

After a couple of hours, the initialization finished, and the volume showed up on my machine - as a 2TB volume. Not 1.9, not 2.1, and sadly, not 2.8... But an even 2 terabytes.

My conclusion is this: these particular RAIDs simply cannot recognize drives larger than 500GB. This makes sense, because at the time of the unit's manufacture and for the [relatively short] time period that they were sold, the largest drives available were 500GB. Looking back at the literature, I found that this model was available in 1TB or 2TB configurations. It also looks like this model was only around for about a year or so, replaced by a similarly named (why do they do that?), similarly featured product.

I'm not that upset by my "loss" of space. After all, I more than doubled the amount I had in the first place. And I don't feel bad about the drives, either, as they will most likely find their way into a Drobo Pro one of these days.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my experience on the off chance that anyone else out there might have one of these units, and was considering the same upgrade plan I had. You can save a little money and go with 500GB drives, as that's as big as it'll use. Although, I'll bet that the formatted capacity of a 4x 500GB RAID would be closer to 1.8TB, so maybe 750GB drives would be the best. [shrug]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

cold shoes

Picked up a couple of these guys today from B&H.

In short - get one for any of your metal-shoed/pin-locking Nikon speedlites. You won't regret it. For more info, read on.

My main lighting setup consists of four Nikon speedlites: two SB-26s and two SB-80DXes.
The reasons I use these lights are:
They were inexpensive - well under $150 (and as low as $100) each on ebay.
They have PC ports on them for use with PocketWizards (or other triggers).
They have built-in optical slave triggers as well, just in case.

Ideally, I'd have a set of four SB-800s, but at over $300 a pop, that's just out of my price range.

I also have an SB-600, the 800's poorer little brother, which does not have a sync port or an optical slave, but _does_ have the ability to speak Nikon's CLS ("Creative Lighting System") language, which can be really useful in certain situations.

Anyway, the majority of the time, I use these lights attached to light stands or other off-camera mounting contraptions. The primary method of mounting a light onto a stand is usually via a bracket, not unlike this one.

I've got a few of these, and some of them came with the exact kind of flash shoe shown in that picture - a little hunk of metal. For my older lights (the SB-26s, and anything older than them as well) which have the all-plastic shoe style, with the screw-down type locking ring, they're fine.
But for the newer, modern speedlites (like the SB-80DX and SB-600), which use the metal shoe with the locking pin mechanism, the metal shoe mounts do not offer a secure platform. In fact, my SB-600 took a nasty spill after slipping out of one of these guys, and is currently at Nikon being repaired.

So I did some research, and found these guys. They are made of a very sturdy plastic - so they won't mess with the other pins on the bottom of the hotshoe. This is significant for a few reasons, including the potential for shorting out the flash, and (at least in the case of my SB-80s) causing the flash to think that it's attached to a camera hotshoe, and overriding the flash's standby and power settings - super-annoying.
So I got a pair of these, one for each of the SB-80s, and they work perfectly.

I think I'm just going to leave the cold shoes attached to the flashes by default, as I always seem to be taking them off and putting them back on again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Timelapse with the G7

Since I've decided to use point-and-shoot class cameras for my time lapse work, I decided that - as much as I love it - my little Canon SD630 wasn't really giving me the kind of quality and performance that I'd like.

One of the things using that camera did open me up to was the Canon Hackers Development Kit (aka CHDK) - an "upgrade" to the existing camera firmware that offers several cool handy features, including (in my case) an extremely versatile intervalometer.

After doing a bit of research, I decided that Canon's top-end PowerShot series - the "G" series - was where I should be looking for my next TL camera. The current offerings, the G10 and the G9, are both really fantastic little cameras, packed with some great features like full manual control, a hotshoe for off-camera flash, a nice big lens, and extremely solid build quality.

I decided that since I'm going to be shooting frames for video, extremely high-resolution images aren't really that big of a deal to me. So I aimed a bit lower, and found that the PowerShot G7, at 10 megapixels, would probably suit my needs.

Price watching on ebay showed me that the going price for a G7 is about $250 - close to half the cost of the currently available G10. The final determining factor, however, was the fact that there has been a version of the CHDK in development for the G7 for a year or two. I know they're working on versions for the G9 and G10 right now, and I'm sure they'll be available soon enough.

So I received my ebay-bought G7 yesterday, which came with an additional (third party) battery, and jumped right in. Another feature I was pleased to discover was the fact that this camera didn't seem to have any issues with SD cards larger than 2GB (the 630 didn't recognize the larger cards for some reason).

After some trial and error, I got the CHDK installed and working on a 4GB card, and ran upstairs to my roof to run some tests.
My first trial was using the "continuous mode" trick, clamping the shutter button down and letting it run perpetually. To my surprise, I was able to capture around 3500 frames at around over a period of about 25 minutes or so - at which point, the SD card had filled up! I was also delighted to find that the battery appeared to have been only 50% depleted. My hunch is that being able to turn off the rear LCD while shooting has a major impact on battery life.

Next, I decided to try capturing a sunset using the CHDK intervalometer. [one of the downsides to the continuous mode technique is that the focus and exposure settings are locked into place for the entire run. This is fine if you're working with consistent, continuous light (like in the middle of the day), but if you're trying to capture a dynamic transition in light (say, a sunrise or a sunset), then it's no good.]
After a little experimenting, I figured out how to get the CHDK routine working with the LCD powered off, and let it run.
I let it go for well over an hour, and was shocked to find that the camera was still shooting - mainly because I hadn't had the chance to recharge the battery from the prior test, and it started this run at around 50% capacity. It captured another 1200 frames or so before I stopped it. At that point, the battery was practically at 0%, but still - I am extremely pleased with the battery performance at this point.

Here is the shot I made of the sunset:


A couple of issues, yes, but for a first run, I'm pretty happy.

As I type this, the camera is shooting the sunrise. Stay tuned on my flickr feed for the results (assuming they're presentable).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

eye in the sky

Years ago, when I was using my CoolPix 5000 to photograph bands performing, I came up with a neat idea - stick the camera at the end of a pole (in this case, it was a monopod), and get above everyone's heads - maybe even on the eye-level of the folks on stage (depending on the venue, of course).

The first iteration of this technique relied on the articulated viewfinder of the CoolPix, which I would angle facing downward so I could at least get a vague sense of the composition I'd be getting (I say vague cuz that screen is the size of a large postage stamp, and seeing it from 5+ feet away isn't exactly useful). I'd also need to use the camera's self-timer to trip the shutter.

I used to think of this technique as a kind of "fishing"; you angle the viewfinder, set the timer, and then hoist the camera up into the air, hoping you get a decent shot in the time it takes for the camera to make the exposure. Once you see the LCD flicker, you hoist the camera back down again to see what you caught. Repeat.

I don't think I got any award-winning shots from that technique, but it definitely proved itself fun, at the very least, and somewhat useful.

Some time after that, I added two more elements to this technique - a remote control (you could call it a cable release, of sorts; Nikon called it the "Remote Cord"), and one of those little hand-held television/watchman gizmos. When all of these things were put together, I'd have the ability to leave the camera up in the air, and be able to compose and review my shots on the remote screen, tripping the shutter with the remote cable. Pretty cool.

Recently, I purchased a 5 foot boom pole so that I can hang lights directly over things that I'm photographing. Just this morning, it occurred to me that I could replicate my old CoolPix "camera on a stick" rig with my D90.

Here's how I did it:

First, I used a standard umbrella bracket to mount the camera to the end of the boom. I might consider using something lower-profile, like a ball head or some other sort of clamp, but for now, this works just fine.

Next, I pulled out the successor to the little Casio handheld tv I mentioned earlier; this little Coby handheld tv. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for with these things, and the image quality is quite awful. It also seems to have some issue with the proportions of the image, and stretches the D90's 4:3 image to fit the 16:9 screen. But it still works.

Using a super clamp and a spring clamp, I fastened the tv to the bottom of the boom pole. I then ran the 1/8" to 1/8" cable (which came from an old set of computer speakers) from the tv's input to the D90's NTSC output jack.

Lastly, I connected the poor man's alternative to Nikon's cable release for the D90 - this guy - which I got a few weeks ago for another project (which I'll write about later).

The key to really rocking this system is the D90's LiveView mode. When the camera is in LV mode, the image on the built-in LCD is sent through to the video out(s), as well. So I can now compose and review my shots without having to use the "fishing" technique.

The only downside I see to this system is the relatively slow and weak autofocusing system that is used in LV mode. I would imagine that if I were to make serious use out of this rig, I'd probably work at a relatively high aperture, and set the focus manually.

Here are some crappy shots I took of the rig as described above, only using a monopod instead of the boom pole:

Periscope Cam

Periscope Cam

Next time I'm out shooting an event, I'll definitely be giving this a try.

moving forward

I've been catching up with a few old friends lately, and telling them "how I'm doing". I don't know about you, but when I find myself telling the same basic story over and over again, I start to feel like I might as well write it down. So here it is.

After breaking the news that I've decided to move away from doing the Mac thing full time and that I've decided to take a crack at doing the Photo thing instead, the next follow-up question is usually "so what kind of stuff are you going to shoot?"

That, my friends, is an excellent question. It's the biggest question on my plate right now.

I've been doing a considerable amount of research an thinking in regards to "how to make it in the photo business". Check out the post I did about the whole Craigslist thing, for example.

Many professional photographers out there have been kind enough to post blogs, podcasts, and videos about "how to make it", and, for the most part, it seems that the recipe for success is pretty simple:

Find something that you can do really well.

Put together a portfolio showcasing that thing that you do.

Hustle your ass off getting gigs doing that thing.

Under-promise and over-deliver (manage expectations).

Show up on time.

Profit. (heh)

One of the advantages I've got going for me is the fact that I've already developed the last bunch of those ingredients. Working as an IT guy supporting creative professionals has taught me a lot about how to work with people and make sure everyone's on the same page. From what it sounds like, this is the stuff that seems to separate successful photographers from not-so-successful ones.

What I have to do now is sort out the first two items.

I know that having a good-looking portfolio is the first step in getting work. Having it easily accessible online is key. My problem is that I don't really have what I'd consider that strong of a portfolio yet. Or a decent-looking website to present it.

So the plan right now is to pick a few basic photography categories - I've narrowed it down to "Product & Still Life", "Portraits", "Artists" and "Time Lapse" - and build as good a selection as I can, showing off my stuff.

Once I have the online portfolio put together, I'll pick out a few shots and put together a postcard-sized printed mini portfolio, which I'll carry around with me wherever I go, to make with the hustling. I've found that having an iPhone is also handy for showing off my stuff to random people I meet.

In addition to putting together my online persona/brand, I'm also hopping at any and every opportunity that presents itself to work with friends, family, friends-of-friends, etc. I'll shoot anything, at this point, save for maybe weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

I'm also on the lookout for particularly beneficial internships or assistant gigs - I figure it can't hurt to spend time working with someone who's already made it.

With some luck, within a few months, I'll be a little closer to getting there myself.

A little background...

It occurred to me that some of you might not know much about me, so I decided to write a little bit about myself for the n00bs.

I was born in Manhattan in 1974, and shortly thereafter, my parents relocated to the lovely suburbs in New Jersey. We ended up in a small town called Wyckoff, where I went through the same public school system K through 12.

Some notable points of interest during that time included:

First camera (Nikon FM2), first computer (PC's Limited 286 6/8Mhz (see also Dell)), first drumset (Yamaha).

I also had a few interesting jobs. During the school year, I landed a gig as an assistant/gaffer to the guy that shot my sister's Bat Mitzvah pictures, who, at least according to his website, is still in the business. I would work a wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah every other weekend or so, sometimes as often as two or three in a row. Looking back now, it was pretty a invaluable experience, although it has definitely soured me a bit on big fancy events.

Once I had figured out that "art" was the direction I wanted to go with my life, I was fortunate enough (through connections from my father) to land a summer internship at BBDO - one of the larger ad agencies in the US at the time - as a 16 year-old junior in high school. This was in 1990, right around the boom of "desktop publishing". At the time, Apple Computer happened to be a client of BBDO. As I understood it, Apple was very interested in BBDO being on the cutting edge of technology, and made a point to keep several of their top-end products (Macintosh II's primarily, with OneScanners and LaserWriters) in good supply on any willing art director's desk, fully loaded with all of the latest versions of the cutting edge software of the day - Adobe Photoshop (2.0), Illustrator (3.0), and QuarkXPress (3.0). They also had some fantastic color printers and photocopiers, like the Tektronix Phaser, and the Canon CLC 500 (that projector-looking thing let you copy slides/negatives - badass).

When things were slow, I would keep myself busy playing with one of the public computers sitting in an empty cubicle. This was my first exposure to Macintoshes (and cubicles, for that matter), and I totally got it. By the end of my first summer there (I did it again, the following year), I was showing the art directors (and anyone one else who was interested) how to use the scanner, or plot some type along a spiral in Illustrator. It was loads of fun, and at an extremely early age, I was exposed to the world of "big advertising".

It seemed obvious that Art School was the way to go for me, and I applied and was accepted to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Since I wanted to be a graphic designer, I enrolled in the Visual Communications program. At the time (1992), the computer revolution hadn't really taken a firm hold on the entire school yet (this is pre-internet, mind you), and the only Macs that were available were in one small computer lab, and in the Art & Technology department. Other departments had one or two machines for students to share on, but once I set foot onto the Art & Tech floor, I knew that this was where I wanted to be spending my time.

I was still taking pictures at this point, but it didn't take long before I was seduced by the wonders of "multimedia", and "3-D graphics", and the instant gratification of video. My trusty FM2 spent most of my college career in its bag, unused.

Fast forward to around 2001. I had made the transition from Artist to Technology Professional, and was really hitting my stride. I loved the fact that I could relate to creative professionals and speak their language, and help them do their work better, smarter and faster, using the cool technology tricks I had come to know and love. I was still paying attention to the camera scene, but it was more as a bystander than a user. I remember when Nikon first announced the D1 (with a firewire 400 port!), and knew in the back of my head that some day, I'd get back into photography with something like one of those. But not at an entry price of over $5000. Besides, I was at the height of my career as a gigging musician in Chicago, and didn't have time for that stuff.

One day, while visiting one of my regular clients, I was introduced to the Nikon CoolPix 900 camera. What blew me away was the fact that - when good light was used - the images that this little 3 megapixel camera produced looked really, really good. So I started paying attention to the other options that were out there as far as digital cameras were concerned. About a year after its release, I bought myself a CoolPix 5000 for about $500. This is where things changed for me. I was seeing things photographically again. It felt great. The groundbreaking aspect of the little CoolPix was its form factor - the fact that it had an articulated flip-around LCD viewfinder gave me a whole new way of seeing things. I could compose and shoot without my head stuck to the camera. For the following year and change, I would shoot at least a picture a day, posting them to my .mac picture gallery for friends and family to see. Holy shit, it's still up!

Moving forward, I continued to maintain an interest in photography as a hobby, shooting friends' gigs here and there, and just having fun with it.

For my 30th birthday, my folks got me a Nikon D70. The first affordable, high-quality "prosumer" DSLR that Nikon released since the D100 a few years earlier. Things got a little more serious for me then, but I was still very much in "hobbyist" territory.

It wasn't until after I had moved to New York City in 2006, working the night shift at the then-new Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, that I had heard about David Hobby's now-famous Strobist blog. I realized that I was missing out on an entirely different world of photography - lighting. I'd always known about it, but never considered that it was something that I could actually do. After all, I turned my back on photography when I was in school, and didn't really know the first thing about how to light stuff. But slowly but surely, one purchase after the next, I had put together a nice little kit of old Nikon Speedlites and modifiers, and next thing I knew, I was actually "doing it".

About a year into it, I started to realize that I really enjoyed setting up shots, and trying to make them happen. I would jump at any opportunity to make a portrait, shoot a friend's gig, sell something on ebay... I was definitely hooked.

Which brings us to the present. Thanks to this lovely economic climate, I was laid off from my full time job as an IT professional, and decided that it was time for a change of pace. I'm kinda burnt out on helping people with their computers. I still love helping people, and I've been doing lots of little IT "odd jobs" to make ends meet, but a couple of months ago, I decided that it was time for me to try returning to my creative roots, and see if I can actually do this.

In the spirit of giving back to the community that's been so inspiring to me, I've decided to start sharing my thoughts and experiences as I attempt to make it as a Professional Photographer.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Storage and organization

I have always been a sucker for a good bag. Over the years, I've probably had dozens of different camera bags, laptop bags, backpacks, messenger bags, man-purses, and even luggage. And don't even get me started on gig bags for my drums..

Since I've been spending a lot more time at home, I've begun to realize that I haven't been maximizing the potential of my space and equipment. In the spirit of spring cleaning, I decided to spend some time reorganizing and rearranging my storage facilities.

I've been collecting photo gear on and off since I was back in high school, and things got a bit more aggressive once I dove into the world of digital photography back in 2001. Once I got my first DSLR in 04, things picked up a bit, and for the past two years or so, since I started learning how to light (thanks, Mister Hobby!), the gear acquisition curve has definitely gone way up.

Since I haven't chosen a specific area of photography to specialize in (and honestly, I'm not sure if I ever truly will), nearly every time I leave the house with my camera, my "pack" is always a little different. When I say "pack" like that, it's short for "pack job" - the specific selection of equipment I've picked out for that particular outing.

I've read articles, listened to podcasts, and spoken to all sorts of people about different philosophies on "what to bring". In my opinion, there is no answer; it boils down to "whatever works best for you is the answer". My thinking is that as long as I keep experimenting, some sort of pattern or routine will probably settle in, and that'll be the way I do it normally. But for now, I'm still experimenting.

Here's how I'm handling things currently:

I've got one large camera case - a Pelican 1510, with dividers, specifically - which holds a _ton_ of gear. I treat this case as my home base for all of my lenses, cameras, and speedlites. They don't all fit in there at the same time, unfortunately, but the overflow fits easily into any of my other bags. But the general idea is for everything to have its own home when not in use. This way, I'll know where to find it when I need it (duh).

From there, I've got my camera bags/cases - all empty. I haven't gotten everything just the way I like it yet, but my idea is to have three basic bags - small, medium, and large. Right now, my small bag is the very same Domke F-3 bag that I used back in high school and college. It's made out of canvas, so it's super-light (but doesn't offer much in the way of actual protection), and I can pack the hell out if it.

I don't have a good medium-sized bag just now, but I should be able to "borrow" my dad's old Domke F-2, as he no longer uses it. My concern with this bag is that since it's got so much space, I'll be able to put 30+ pounds of crap in it, and as an over-the-shoulder "walking around" bag, that's not a great solution. I'm thinking it'd be good for short trips in town where I won't be on my feet lugging gear all day long.

For those kinds of situations - say, when traveling out of town, for instance - my current tactic has been to use either the Pelican case, which has wheels and a handle, or to use my bigass Kelty backpack (which is the largest non-frame-based pack I was able to find), stuffed with an old Crumpler Bucket (not that specific one, but very similar), and either the small Domke on top of it, or various pouches and smaller bags, full of different bits of gear.

The only bag I think I'm missing is a medium-sized backpack. Something I can feel comfortable with on a bike or walking around for long periods of time. The Kelty pack has done a reasonable job, in this duty, but sometimes it's just too damned big and bulky. So I'm still on the lookout for the right backpack.

Anyway, as a rule, I try to empty out which ever bag I just used as soon as I get home. And I mean empty - every pocket. Ideally, everything I carry around - cables, cords, adapters, batteries, caps, clips, triggers, gels, modifiers, etc - should have its own little place on my shelving unit here at home.

Maybe at some point, I'll have a standardized set of gear that I find myself using time and time again, and will just leave it all in the same case, all packed up and ready to go. But for now, I kind of enjoy the little ritual of packing and unpacking, and always going for that "perfect pack".

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Continuous" timelapse shooting

For some time now, I've been into making timelapse movies using several different digital cameras.

Here's a quick rundown of my timelaspse history:

My first digital camera was a Nikon CoolPix 5000. Nikon made an accessory for it called the MC-EU1, a "remote cord". It functions as a cable release, but also has a nifty little intervalometer built-in. Only downside to it is that the shortest interval available is 2 minutes. Good for long-term stuff (like, a full day), but not so much for the short stuff that I've been into lately.

Next, I got a CoolPix 5400, which, for all intents and purposes, was the same camera as the 5000. It used the same remote cord, and the same power adapter (another necessity for the long-term shot.

Then I got my D70. Being one of the earlier Nikon DSLRs, it didn't have the handy-dandy "accessory" port that its successors did, so there was no way to trip the shutter remotely, save for the dinky little infrared remote, which is very finicky about line-of-sight. And easy to lose (I lost my first one).

This is when I started thinking about using Lego to me out. I went through various phases of experimentation, using motors, variable speed controllers from the European train sets, and elaborate gear ratios, in order to both physically trip the shutter (with a little mechanical "finger"), and even animate the camera - having it roll across my windowsill, for example.

Finally, I wound up getting a Canon SD630. The thing that really makes this a great camera for timelapse work is something called the CHDK - the Canon Hacker's Development Kit. Using this alternative firmware, I can utilize a really nice and simple intervalometer program (a script, technically), and set intervals as low as 3 or 4 seconds (basically as long as it takes for
the camera to focus, expose, and record the image).

The bulk of my recent timelapse work has been done with this camera/software combo.

Which brings us to the topic of this post.

Recently, I came across a video on Vimeo that was shot with - get this - the very same camera I've got (the 630), but using a totally different technique than anything I'd tried in the past. (I can't seem to find it right now, otherwise I'd link to it)

Anyway, in the comments of the video's post, the creator mentions that he used the camera's "Continuous" mode to shoot rapid-fire frames, by _manually_ holding down the shutter button for minutes at a time.

As soon as I'd read this, I busted out my camera and experimented a bit, and found that at the resolution I tend to shoot at (about 1600x1200 or so), the camera grabs about 1-2 frames per second. I filed this info away, and sort of forgot about it.

A few weeks later, I came across a good deal on a pair of small ratcheting bar clamps, and figured that they might be the perfect way to hold down the shutter button on my camera for longer periods of time. It turns out that I was right.

The other day, I ventured up to my roof, and set my camera up like this:

Empire timelapse setup

I figured I'd let it go for as long as it could take it - either the battery would die, the card would fill up, or the camera would just freak out and crash. Guess what happened.

Nope, the card filled up.

I was kinda sad, because I really loved the way the clouds were moving, and wanted to get a few more minutes of motion in, but I was really psyched that it actually worked. Now, the only problem I have is that the camera doesn't seem to like SD cards larger than 2GB, and the only 2GB card I have is my Eye-Fi card. The problem with the Eye-Fi card is that it consumes more battery power than a regular SD card, and - assuming this is because it's trying to broadcast the images it's capturing as it's capturing them - it seems to inhibit the write speed of the images to the card, which yields a lower (slower) frame rate.

Oh, here's the result of the test:


I think this combination of frame rate and cloud motion worked especially well.

So. Stay tuned for more "Continuous" mode timelapse stuff in the future.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Geartalk: Hoodman products.

Today I purchased two pieces of gear from Hoodman (via Adorama, as they were the only folks that seemed to have them in stock).

I got the Hood Eye (for Nikon cameras with square viewfinders), and the HoodLoupe 3.0.

The original idea for these purchases came from Joe McNally. While reading his newest book, the Hot Shoe Diaries - in which Joe talks a lot about how he makes the shots he does; naming names, and highlighting the specific pieces of gear by make and model. It's written in a very candid, frank style, as if Joe was narrating a documentary on "the making of.." the particular shot on the page.

In one of the "entries", he makes mention of how useless the LCD on the back of your camera is if you're shooting in bright/direct sunlight. Not a situation I find myself in often, but it has made things difficult for me in the past.

His solution - the HoodLoupe.

So I paid a visit to Hoodman's website (which has a charming, late-90's feel about it), and checked out some of their products, along with the little videos about each one. Pretty cool.

The one that really spoke to me was the HoodEye.
When I was first starting out as a photographer, my dad gave me a Nikon FM2 for my birthday. I became obsessed with Nikon gear at that point, and immersed myself in all of the various models of cameras, lenses, and oh, the accessories. Nikon really knew what they were doing when it came to appealing to the gearhead. Their higher-end cameras were so modular, and they made all of these great different special purpose products. Way more than what's available today, I'd say.

Anyway, since the FM2 was a pretty low-end camera, it didn't really have a lot to offer in the way of pimping out - only a few different focusing screens (hey, at least they were interchangeable, right?), a motor drive, and some other generic stuff. But the one thing that really jumped out at me was the rubber eye-cup. This little fellow really rocked when it came to seeing what's in the finder clearly.

Recently, I got my hands on my dad's old F3 (which also had an eye-cup), and I was surprised but just how much bigger, brighter, and clearer that camera's finder is than that of both my D70 and D90. It was like, a 50% difference, at least. I could actually focus the lens without any issues, whereas manually focusing on the DSLRs was a total pain/crap shoot.

So when I saw the HoodEye, it just jumped out at me, and I knew I must have it. And now I do!

Even though I haven't taken it out shooting yet, I'm very excited about it. I've caught myself many times bringing my left hand over to my eye and blocking out whatever glare or light was prohibiting me from getting a clear look into the viewfinder. Never again!

So that's the exciting news for today.

Craigslist, part 2

The ad I posted was looking for a photographer to do some simple product photography for items to be sold in a store, and online.

Twenty four hours later, and I have received over ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY replies to my ad. This has turned into a much more fascinating and enlightening experiment than I ever thought it'd be.

I haven't read each one yet, but I did skim through them all, and I'd say about 80% of them included rates and quotes. I was surprised at the extremely wide variance from one to another.

I'd say about half of them quoted me half and full day rates (ranging from as little as $100 to $1500), and many included hourly and/or per-item rates, ranging from $20 per hour and $5 per item, up to $250 per hour and $50 per item.

Nearly everyone had a link to a website or some sort of online sample of their work, but I was surprised to find that only half of these had actual personalized domain names; the rest were all over the place, ranging from ISP-hosted sites (Earthlnk, Tripod (!!), and even .mac/mobile me), to various photo hosting/sharing sites like flickr and smugmug.

Some folks included full resumes.

I'd say about 30% included pictures/attachments in their emails with samples of their work.

A few of the replies were definitely copy-and-pasted form letters, but the majority of them seemed to be genuinely hand-written (so to speak).

What I'm taking away from this right now is that replying to ads on craigslist is way more of a crap shoot than I had expected. I mean, think about it - if I were really looking for someone to do this job for me, and I received over FIFTY replies within the first four hours of posting it, who's to say which photographer I'd pick?
I mean, sure - not all of the respondents were great (product shooting isn't exactly rocket science), and I could easily filter out the bad ones, but even so - having to choose from like, 20 or 30 different photographers would still be pretty time consuming.

I'm not ready to give up completely on craigslist, but I can say that my hopes of finding actual gigs have definitely gone way down.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Finding work: Craigslist

I've been making a reasonable effort to network myself - every time I leave the house for any kind of social event (going to see a band, attending some sort of performance, etc), I've been bringing my camera, and trying to make a point of meeting potential clients and/or leads. Showing people my work on my phone, exchanging contact information, brainstorming - all good stuff.
As of right this second, none of these leads/contacts have bared any fruit.
I'm not extremely worried about it (yet), as I know that the name of the game is quantity. As long as I keep making contacts, one of them is _bound_ to lead to something.

One of my favorite tricks for finding stuff online - in this case,  jobs - is to set up RSS feeds based on cragislist searches. [If anyone is interested in how to do this, let me know; it's the bomb.] So I've set up a handful of various search feeds looking for various iterations of "photographer wanted" in the NYC metro area. I've replied to about half a dozen or so in the past two weeks, and, for whatever reason, I haven't heard back from a single one.
Now, this isn't entirely shocking to me, because I still have to put together a professional looking website, with a good-looking portfolio. But I figured that it couldn't hurt to get started by being frank and casual in my emails, and include some links to some of my work on flickr.

Earlier today, I started thinking: "Obviously, if they're not getting back to me, then they're getting back to someone else. What have they got that I don't have?"

So I had an idea - "I'll post an ad of my own, looking for a photographer! That way, I can see what the competition looks like." And that's exactly what I did. I used the most recent ad I'd replied to as a base, changed a few things around, and posted it.
Within 30 minutes of posting the ad, I got two replies.
Within five hours, I've gotten over a dozen.

While I believe that this little ploy of mine was a stroke of genius, it's also been quite an eye-opener. There are LOTS of folks out there gunning for this kind of work.

There are several interesting things I've noticed as well: some people reply with very detailed messages, going so far as to include pictures in their emails, while others keep it super bare-bones. One guy replied with his rates as the subject of the email, and the body of the message was just his signature with his contact info. There were a surprising number of poorly written messages (by which I mean grammatical and spelling errors), as well.

So right now, part of me feels a little discouraged and daunted, but another part of me is kind of excited - as if I've cracked some sort of system, and now I've got all of this juicy data to sift through.

I'm going to leave the post up for a full 24 hours, and then spend some time sorting through the competition's replies.

In the time that I've been writing this (on and off for the past hour), I've received another three replies.


First Post.

After a month of reading blogs, watching/listening to podcasts and doing some thinking, I've decided to start writing about my attempt to become a Professional Photographer.

I'm going to write about the various things that happen to me, from meetings to shoots and who knows what else.

Let's see how long I can keep it up.