Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Puppy Photo Shoot For A Friend

I love it when friends ask me to photograph their kids or their pets. It sounds silly perhaps, but I think there is a such a leap of trust and faith... to ask someone to fall in love with your family or your family pet. Cute puppies could be my bread and butter and I would never get tired! The level of cuteness was off the scale today. Madison is Demetra and Eddie's latest addition to their menagerie.

Did I say she was cute?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bending the Light to the Right

This is what my pottery shooting setup looks like. Pretty darned crude. You have a simple grey paper backdrop. Held aloft by two tall stands and a crossbar. The main lightsource is coming from a cheap Strobelite strobe popped into a medium softbox, held over the subject on a boom. Simple.

Any light that can be scooped up and pushed under the bottom edge of pot is done so with foamcore reflectors or cardboard covered in tin-foil. Cheapo solutions.

When there is simply not enough directional light to create the mood that I want, or to highlight a particular aspect of a form, I bring in my strobe with a snoot on it. Inside the snoot is a honeycomb gridspot. This helps collimate the light (not sure what that means? parallel rays of light, less splashing of light) into a night tight beam. The problem here is that the snoot holds heat against the strobe, so I can't make use of the modelling light. Kind of have to just sight it, and test. Figuring out power settings or ratio is also sort of by eye. I am sure there's a way of doing it with a light meter, but I haven't figured that out yet.

Anyone have any great tutorials on using a Sekonic light meter?

One thing you'll notice is that the snoot isn't actually pointing at the subject. Instead, I bounced the snooted strobe off the tinfoil reflector in hopes of pushing just a touch of light under the belly of this vase. I think this is one of those areas as in cooking, when you add just enough to taste.

I dont think this could be more ragtag. Some folks have asked me if there are products they can buy that will do the same sort of thing as my DIY kit... yeah, sure. Flag and gobo kits can be found on Amazon.com or B&H or Adorama.com. They sure as heck aren't cheap though.

The one thing that I am surprised by is how much I learned from David Hobby at his FlashBus workshop. He made the comment that light is additive. Simple enough right? For me, that has come to mean: Establish the darkest darks with ambient light.... then bring in just enough light to establish midtones.... then add other lights or reflectors for depth and contour... for final shaping you can pop in some tiny highlights, rim lights, hairlights, etc.... and that's it. Now I just need to figure out how to measure these things, so that setting it up each time is less trial and error.

Does this help? Does it make sense? Other questions? Does anyone want more details?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Woodfired Pots from Cary Joseph

A few weeks ago, Cary Joseph stopped by and asked if I could shoot some of the latest pots he pulled out of the anagama kiln that they fire over at Corning Community College. One glimpse into his box of pots and I was hooked. Rich saturated reds, blacks, yellows and ochres. Wicked color!

I am still putting the finishing touches on Cary's new website. My hope was to be done last weekend, but as usual, life infringed. Maybe this weekend I will get a couple hours of uninterrupted detail oriented website-design time. I'd love to add these new images.

I have been trying all sorts of new ways of utilizing my strobes in the studio. For years, I have adhered to a pretty standard boring static softbox from the top, shooting downward sort of position. With these new light modifiers, I have been working with multiple white cards and diffusion fabric, and shooting into the white cards to create a bigger light source... which it turn makes the shadows softer and it cuts down on the glare (although there tends not to be much glare with Cary's pots).

Next week we start the transition into more portrait work as the Fall gets underway and kids are heading back to school. My plan is to talk about some of our new ideas for high school (and college) portraits, as well as family and holiday portraits... over the next couple blog posts. Should be interesting hearing what folks have to say.

Which begs a question... does anyone care about the technical aspects of how these were shot? Does anyone want to know camera settings? lenses that were used? light modifiers and placement? Does anyone care? Let's hear about it in the comments.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Special Kind of Hell

I haven't written a whole lot since Winter passed into Spring. I think my optimism overshot my reality. As has been my habit for most of my life, I have spent the Summer wishing for Fall. I know nearly everyone else seems to find summer this great time of being outdoors and loving the long days. For me it has always been a struggle with the heat, the humidity, the bugs, and all the vacation-ish stuff. In the past decade, Nancy and I have had one true vacation, and it was made a hundred times better by NOT happening during the summer.

In short, Summer heat makes me a grump.

I try hard not to take it out on folks, but more often than not, I fail. The ones closest to me know it all to well. When the thermometer hits 80 and the humidity makes everything stick to itself, that's when I start to fall apart.

Last year, I spent a good chunk of July racing back and forth to doctors and hospitals, trying to figure out why my heart kept freaking out. This year, we managed to keep me out of the emergency room by keeping my activity levels lower on the hottest days of summer. We even installed a small room air-conditioner in our living room to help keep me cool during the day.

The biggest imact though, was in my photography. For the most part, I photographed zilch this summer. I stopped shooting on a daily basis back in June. Three months of only shooting occasionally and I felt like I was losing my mind. I would forget little stuff. I did a shoot a few days ago and forgot to check my ISO... got home and found that I had been shooting a very normal setting at ISO 1600. Not many of the images were worth keeping. Little stuff. Just out of practice.

Fast forward to last week: the heat finally broke and with it, plenty of rain. I know most people aren't terribly excited about rain. I love it. I always feel better. A good thunderstorm makes me downright giddy. Throw in some wild winds and torrential rain and I am thrilled beyond words.

Last week I spent one day at a hearing in Syracuse and another day meeting with a surgeon in Rochester. Two days with long drives and high anxiety. Trying to explain all the in's and out's to Nancy and Aurora after dinner each night was nigh on impossible. One night, Nancy and I went out to the studio to talk a little more. In part, I wanted to try some new ideas out with my wireless flash units. More in part because we needed time to talk, time to cry, and just time to be together.

As I was setting up, I shot these two images.

I think they say more than my words can say.

Summer has been hard.
This last year has been hard.
We keep pushing onward, but it's hard.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What is the Speed of Dark?

Once again Nancy and I were outside at dusk, playing with my Pocket Wizard wireless radio triggers. Seems like such a simple idea.... shoot in the falling light, but bring enough light to make sure the subject is well lit. Once the weather gets back to normal (under 80F) I'll be more inclined to play with this setup in the daylight hours. Right now, just setting up and getting some test shots has me soaked in sweat. This humidity can pass anytime now. Really.

Part of what I have been exploring is the idea of trying to decrease the ambient exposure behind my subject so that the skies aren't so blown out. Usually, in the summertime, the skies around here are downright boring... blah, overcast, glaring, grey, very unappealing.

What I found was that if I decreased the ambient exposure a few stops beyond what the camera would have metered as "normal", I could get some more color from the whitewashed sky. Then the problem became lighting my subject so that they weren't jet black. Two SB-600s rigged to Pocket Wizards made that a quick fix.

By the time Nancy and I wrapped up a half hour of shooting, it was dark enough that we probably should have brought some flashlights outside to help us find our way back into the studio. Soon, I want to try this sort of shooting in a more picturesque setting... maybe Seneca or Cayuga Lakes, as the sun is setting. I saw a very cool brick building in Waterloo that would make for a great backdrop. Need to find the time to make that happen while the weather holds!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Picnic Down By The Lake

When you wake up and realize that your friends are still there, it makes the nightmare so much easier to withstand. We have great friends, who have stood by us through all sorts of obstacles, trials and tribulations these past few years.

This past weekend we had a chance to spend the afternoon at Taughannock State Park with the Lyon family. This meant piles of fabulous food, frisbees being tossed, and as always, stories being shared. For an afternoon, I was able to let go and just enjoy.

This gives you an idea of how impatient Aurora was to get in the water. She has her teenager-scowl on full-force. Grrrr.

Sean has the right idea. Just kick back, relax, and enjoy that lakeside breeze.

There was not-even-sort-of enough time to talk with Stephanie about her trip to Tanzania. Having been away a year, she has so many stories and so much joy to share. Rather than try to get it all in one sitting, we got together the following week while Stasia played hockey... we sat around and looked at some of her images from Africa. Absolutely amazing story. My hope is that she and I will be able to collaborate on a book/video of her images so that she can share with her audience at large. She wrote weekly updates on her life in her village in Africa, which the Ithaca Journal published for quite some time. It would be wonderful to be able to combine her writing and her images into a cohesive story of her experience. It is definitely an eye opener!