Last Few Links of '08

If you have a few minutes, this short slideshow from MSNBC is really moving.

Also, Yuri Arcurs and the Fotolia team got together in Berlin for a photo workshop, and they produced a short video that's worth four minutes of your time.



Thanks for a good year!

How do you pack your gear?


I posted this over on Flickr, and thought maybe it'd make a good post for the ol' blog.

This is most of the camera gear (on the electronics side) I own. Check notes on the Flickr page for details.

In the Pelican 1550 (center), I carry my cameras & glass--everything except the 70-200 f2.8 IS. Still trying to figure out whether to stuff it in here or not. I'll probably end up getting the padded divider kit for a little more stuffing room.

In the Seahorse SE520's, I carry all the miscellaneous stuff--wires, filters, spare clamps, bungees, Pocket Wizards, whatever. I usually only travel with one, so it's my "useful" case and the other is mostly for storage.

I throw a reusable silica pack in each box just for good measure.

Most of the time I pack out what I need in a Lowepro Vertex 300AW, but this is how I store everything when I won't be shooting for a while, or going on long road trips.

I originally got these boxes when I was the ship's photographer onboard USS LOS ANGELES (SSN 688). They were much safer being stowed in the belly of the beast, since it's near impossible to move about without banging against everything. Plus, in a submarine atmosphere (which contains multiple known carcinogens, and is a generally oily and unpleasant environment) the airtight seal protected my gear from contamination from airborne refrigerant, oil, polyamine, and paint fumes.

Not included is my laptop & paraphernalia, other travel options, and my light stands & modifiers. Stay tuned!

HDRI, making tough shots easier since 1850!

Tone-mapped image from three exposures using Photomatix

HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) is a relatively new trend in mainstream photography, but I bet there are many who don't know it actually began as early as the 1850's by Gustave Le Gray and his use of multiple negatives in the printing process.

It's the process of combining different exposures of the same scene into one image that shows the entire luminosity range of the exposures. And while it can't turn a bad composition into a good one, it can make a good picture really pop.

So what's so special about it, you say? Can't I just use a neutral density filter--which reduces scene contrast, and therefore increases the effective dynamic range--and get the same result?

Well yes, and no. Using an ND filter will allow your camera's sensor to capture a larger tonal range. But the inherent drawback in that is the increased amount of time that the shutter must be open to gather enough light. That lends itself to more sensor noise and motion blur, which may or may not be desired.

By not using a neutral density filter, shorter shutter speeds may be used, which will result in less motion blur. On the other hand, since multiple exposures are required, this may be a moot point since acquiring those exposures may take the same amount of time as a single shot with an ND. And what if you need to capture ten or more stops? That would require some pretty serious filtering.

HDRI was only introduced to the general public a little over ten years ago, but it's an increasingly popular trend these days. There are several programs specifically made for processing HDR images, like Photomatix or FDRTools. I encourage you to try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes. And if you've never used a neutral density filter, well, those are pretty good too, so I'm told. ;)

Tuesday Speed Link...

...literally. Check out Mark Rebilas' recent work in the drag boat racing world. His amazing shots scored him some nice double trucks in a handful of magazines.

Mad About the D3x


Video by Sam Vert

Free Calendar of the Month - December 2008

With the holiday season approaching, I've decided to start a new project--free desktop wallpapers!

Please feel free to download and enjoy this month's wallpaper. And please don't use it for anything other than a desktop background without asking me, okay? Awesome.

Thanks for reading!

You Don't Have To Travel

What's an easy way to get those creative juices flowing?

Step outside your comfort zone. Do something that you wouldn't normally try. Something that you don't have a lot of experience with.

My father-in-law has recently gotten back into photography, and one of his photographic interests is in shooting macros. Myself, I've never been very intrigued by them. I prefer shooting the bigger picture--landscapes.

A couple of years ago I made a DIY extension tube out of a body cap and a rear lens cap glued together, but I never really played around with it. So yesterday I decided to give it a try. Armed with my macro rig, I hopped over the fence in my backyard and spent about half an hour snapping away. Came back with a few decent shots, and it reminded me that even though it's easy to think those great shots are miles down the road, sometimes there are gems hiding in your own backyard.





Happy Turkey Day

I keep trying to remind myself that part of Thanksgiving is being happy with what you have. That's why B&H is officially off limits to me for a while! (But my wishlist is public, however, soo...hintady hint hint.)

As Thanksgiving comes and goes, I want to wish all of you a happy holiday season. Spend time with your loved ones, be kind to those around you and remember what the day is all about.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

This Marina Made My Hit List

I've been fighting back a mental block all week. I mentioned in an earlier post that changing where I worked was having a big impact on my ability to make images. Not just to shoot, but to really create something meaningful.

Charleston is a foreign place to me. I have no idea where the "good spots" are. In Hawai'i I had a list of the places from which, barring some major disaster, I would return with a good amount of keepers. But not here. That convenience isn't available to me yet, so it's tough trying to find places to shoot. Just kinda have to pick a spot and play hit-or-miss. If it's a hit, it makes the list. If not, well...I'll just try it again with different light until it is!

I've driven by the Charleston City Marina several times now, and each time I had the time to stop and shoot, I didn't have the camera with me. But today I checked it out. The sun was beating me and I ran out of light before I wanted to, even shooting f2.8 @ ISO1600.

The marina is on the west side of the Charleston peninsula, so I was shooting into the sun, leaving me little option (since I packed light and didn't bring a strobe) but to shoot silhouettes. And it's surprisingly hard to shoot a marina packed full of sail masts and make a decent silhouette!

I know there's a lot of potential here at this marina, so I have a new entry on my hit list. And I'll be going back soon.

More Fun With Nugget


Work has kept me pretty busy the last couple of weeks, so I haven't had a chance to get out and shoot. I've been playing with my pet Nugget, though, and although he isn't a star athlete yet I managed to get a good action shot of him. He wears out pretty quickly though, so the "shoot" gives me plenty of opportunity for changing moods.

Star Trails: More Than Just Pretty Lights

I have to share a really cool post I stumbled across late last night. You know those articles that inspire you to actually get out of your chair and go shoot pictures? Yeah. One of those.

Dan Newton, a 25-year-old Nevada-based shooter, calls himself a hobbyist. Although from the looks of his images (and what magazines have featured him on their cover) you wouldn't believe it. This kid is putting out some truly amazing star trail images and you have to check him out. In this article he lays out his process for shooting them. In the digital world, shooting long exposures is a little different than in the days of film. Locking open your shutter for hours usually means enough noise to kill a shot, but instead by capturing a series of short images and later blending them in post-processing (with help from an easy program called StarTrails), you can end up with a beautiful image.

Okay, so I went out earlier and tried his technique. I'm no seasoned expert on star trails so my first attempt looks pretty bland:

Today I want to find a better spot. Something with an interesting foreground. Any Charleston readers want to hook me up? :)

Seriously, though. Advice or comments would be greatly appreciated. Star trails are one of my most favorite displays of frozen motion and I think with practice I could make some decent shots.

Dark Chocolate

Nugget is quickly becoming a great little model to work with. He's so eager to explore the world, and so intrigued with my camera lens that it's easy to capture his wonderment.

I shot this picture earlier this month with available window light, and after tweaking it for a while I finally have a print I'm happy with. The original image left much to be desired, but then again, taking the picture is just the beginning, right Ansel? The making of art is done in the [digital] darkroom.

My creative brain is beginning to wake up again; being on a busy submarine schedule never really left much time for creating images I was happy with. Near the end of my tour there I found myself disappointed more often than not when I would come home from a day of shooting. Now that more free time is available, I'm starting to have more ideas.

What do you do when you hit a mental block? When you can't come up with an interesting idea to save your life? Share your right brain-boosting remedies!

New Uploads


I've started a new collection of images, "South Carolina Lowcountry," that is available in my gallery. All these were shot with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, the one I raved about in my previous post. What a great piece of glass! I'm thoroughly impressed.

At Long Last...


After years of listening to everyone else rave about one of the SLR industry's all-time best lenses, I've finally had enough. I've drooled my last drop in envy. Yesterday I dropped the biggest single chunk of change yet for photographic gear, and I'm not looking back. My Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS USM lens came this morning (oh yeah, you think I wouldn't overnight this one? I was like a kid on Christmas morning.)

I'm not one to buy something big on impulse. The more something costs, the more research I have to do on it to make sure I get as much of a rounded opinion as possible. I went to B&H and literally read through all 375 reviews of this lens, and I could count on one hand the number of people who didn't say (to some extent), "buy this lens and you won't regret it."

The singularly overwhelming con for this lens? Its weight. Lots of people gave great reviews yet had to throw one parting shot about how the weight is tough to deal with but worth it. At 3.5 pounds, it's a hefty piece of gear to tote around. Oh well. Guess I'll get started on that workout. :)

I'm beside myself, honestly. This is my first "L" series lens and definitely not my last. At least now I have no shame in admitting what this lens is replacing: my beat-up, worn out old Canon 75-300 f4-5.6 that's as sharp as a bowling ball, with AF as fast as a cold jar of molasses, and sounds like someone put a handful of screws in the dryer. Hopefully this lens lasts me a very, very long time. As soon as I get a chance I'll put up new pics!

Introducing the World's Largest CF Card - 100GB


If the prospect of never having to change out your memory card on a shoot excites you, then check out the latest CF cards from Pretec. Their last records for the highest capacity and fastest CF cards have been bested by the newest offerings of yummy storage goodness in 64GB and 100GB flavors. They both offer 233x speeds, transferring up to 35MB per second.

But some say it's not size that matters, it's how you use it. And for you who say it, satiate yourselves with the new 333x 32GB CF card. That's up to 50MB/sec read/write speeds. Just be careful you don't hurt yourself when you lay eyes on the $630 price tag.

Dawn at Folly Beach


Yesterday morning found me itching to shoot pictures. Karen & I have been living in Charleston, SC for a little over two weeks now and I've been looking forward to shooting the change of scenery that this place offers.

There's a lot of lowcountry here to see--miles and miles of lush wetlands along the eastern seaboard just begging to be captured. Thousands of estuaries slowly snaking their way through the marsh and seagrass. And in this vast expanse of swampy goodness, I've found Google Earth is a great tool to help narrow down my choices. I can pick a location and instantly see photos posted by others--snapshots and pro images alike--and get a real feel for that scene at all times of day, in every season. That's not to say I look for photos I can duplicate (where's the creativity in that?), just that Google Earth is a window into the world of wherever I want to shoot.

Okay, enough product placement for now.

In Hawai'i, since the islands are closer to the sun's path, sunrises and sunsets don't last nearly as long. The "golden hour" is a mere thirty minutes on a clear day. It's not a lot of time, and you have to work fast if you want to get several shots off. So being back in South Carolina is great. Even though the light is still changing between each shot, I have plenty of time to set up and move around.

This shot was 6sec@f11, ISO100. I exposed for the brightest part of the sky which left me with too much of the pier's woodwork underexposed. I fixed that by walking around camera left with a 580EXII and popping it twice at the pier on full power--once near the camera, and once further down the length of the pier. It still left the underside of the walkway dark, but I think that adds boldness to the leading lines.

Away in a Flash


What is it about creative lighting that gives meaning and depth to an image?

Okay, so that question has a pretty simple answer. We wouldn't really have an image in the first place if we didn't have any light. I guess I'm just in a reflective mood today, wondering where my camera will lead me next...

Fun While It Lasted

My wife Karen is probably going to get jealous after reading this post. Forgive me for getting off topic a little bit, but I snapped this picture a few weeks ago with my phone and so that conveniently allows me to write about it in a photography blog.

My friend and I have known each other about a month and a half now. We get along great; we like to go places, see the sights, hang out in the hot sun all day, and push our limits. I've been underway most of the last month, and this weekend was the best weekend I've had in months. We had a chance to explore some new roads--although one was still wet from the rain and she talked me out of it--and we really dug into the asphalt today. One road had small golf-ball-sized rocks strewn all over it, almost like someone had done it on purpose. I ran over one of those in a left turn and it was a little scary having the front tire losing traction while I was leaning into it so much.

I made some new connections this weekend just meeting up with people. And it wasn't until after I got home today that I realized I had just returned from my last joyride on this island. It saddens me to think about leaving, like moving away from a best friend. All those roads just begging to be ridden--13 Turns, Snake Road, Kunia Road, the Sandy's run...and more. Then again, I'm looking forward to getting to the mainland, where roads know no bounds and I can drive to any curvy run I want.

This island and all its roads were fun while they lasted.

Navy Publicity

Being the ship's photographer for almost two years now, I really have to kick myself for not submitting pictures to Navy News. I have shot almost ten thousand images of life aboard the USS Los Angeles (SSN 688) and how many of those have made it to Navy News? An embarrassingly small handful. Nevertheless, I have been supremely appreciative of the command allowing me access to document life aboard the Navy's oldest active fast-attack, and it has doubtlessly made me a better photographer.

That being said, although it's a little late in the game (Karen & I are transferring to Charleston this month), I sent a few shots in from the recent Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercise. This one actually got picked--out of the entire Navy--for one of the Images of the Day, July 31, 2008. It was just the photographic ego boost I needed!

There were 10 countries represented this year. In this picture, the CO, Navigator and TM3 Vandal are looking aft at the 23 surface ships that teamed up in a massive grid formation for a photo exercise. We were one of three submarines in front. (They just put us subs in front so you can actually see us in a photo.) They stationed helos all around to shoot pics, and then flew two P3's and four F-18's in low through the middle. It was by far one of the most impressive experiences in my naval career!

VIP Tour: Results


As I wrote earlier, I was home grabbing gear for a quick tour today. We had a few NFL players come down to the boat for about an hour to experience the extravagant life of a Navy submariner and all our lush surroundings. Thick, fluffy mattresses, saunas, music lounge....right. The first thing we did was warn them about all the sneaky scar-making metal in the overheads.

I ended up bringing along more gear than I needed, but that usually happens. I'd rather haul too much than find myself needing something i haven't brought. My first idea was to stage a couple of flashes along the supposed tour route with Pocket Wizards on different channels, but that was squelched due to the fact that I had to use my 580 EX II on-camera. (I don't have a bracket that will accommodate an onboard flash and a PW. Yet.) The reason I chose not to use Canon's wireless system was that I wouldn't always be facing the slave flash and it would have been highly unreliable.

The guys were really cool. They were also really huge, and the thing they were most surprised about was the size of our racks. I tried to get DeMarcus Ware to attempt crawling into a rack, but he didn't want the 'coffin' experience.

I don't blame him. Somehow I don't think he would have fit anyway.

One thing I did notice was that a 1/4 CTO gel on my flash blended better with the lights than the fluorescent gel did, probably because we have warm "daywhite" lamps.

We took them through the entire forward compartment. The engine room is off-limits for security reasons for people who aren't cleared. Even for the forward compartment, there are plenty of things we have to do prior to bringing tour groups onboard.

Today I scored some new shots of NFL players. Cool. If there's one good thing my boat has done for me, it's given me an opportunity to be exposed to people like that. Last year it was the city council of Los Angeles, CA. I've gotten experience shooting people on the fly, managing my camera settings quickly, and working quickly in limited space. Tomorrow we're getting a couple more players and hopefully they'll be as photogenic as the guys today.

VIP Tour

Well, it started out as a normal workday. All the chiefs and officers have their morning pow-wow, and then they scatter to their respective divisions like ants whose hill has just been kicked over. In the midst of that, the captain told us that three NFL players are coming down this afternoon to tour the boat.

I didn't catch the names, because morning quarters is nigh indistinguishable from a fast-paced livestock auction, including the smell. But I am home to grab my camera gear. I'm the ship's photographer and even so, it's rare that I hear about events like this more than six hours in advance. Ugh. Hopefully I'll have some good shots to post later.

The hardest part about finding room to set up lights on a submarine is that there is none.

Passageways are barely wide enough for two people to slide by one other, so using a light stand is out of the question unless it's in the crew's mess. And fat chance using an umbrella. Most of the time, a diffused on-camera flash is the only option. (sorry, Strobist readers!) I have to say, though, that my Gorillapod has become invaluable in this kind of situation, where the bulkheads and overheads are lined with plenty of pipes, valves, and structural supports for me to wrap it up on.

Time to head back to work...more to come later.

PHOTOGS - BEWARE OF SCAM!

Don't fall for scams. Do your homework, keep your private information private, and most of all, don't do anything without signed agreements.

The following is a scam e-mail that you should watch out for:

Hello,

I am Rev. Pastor Edwin Donko, District pastor of International Central Gospel Church, Greater Accra Region. I got your details from the USA tourism directory, we will be coming over to Hawaii, our silver jubilee wedding anniversary with family coming up on the 14th of February but we will be arriving on the 13th of February 2008. I will need the services of a professional photographer that will cover our entire vacation from the 14th through to 20th of February.

Could you please send me more details about your work and what the cost of your services for the 7 days coverage will be? ICGC GHANA will be paying you in advance of our visit as they will be covering the total expenses for our wedding anniversary so that we will be assured of a photographer during our stay. An early reply will be appreciated.

Please acknowledge if you can offer us your services and give me a call on my direct line (+###-###-###-###) as soon as you receive this email, so we can conclude on all other arrangements ASAP, as time is not really on our side.

God bless you,
Rev. Pastor Edwin Donko, ICGC GHANA.
Direct Line: +###-#########
E-mail : xxx@xxxxx.xxx

I received this e-mail yesterday from a guy who is in the employ of a church in Ghana. (first flag--most scammers will hail from somewhere outside the U.S.)

He's coming to Hawai'i just shy of two weeks from now and wants to hire me for a week-long event. (second flag--a rush to plan this event, and he's in a hurry to pay me in advance.)

He wants me to call him ASAP on his 'direct line' in Ghana to make other arrangements. (third flag--a direct call to Ghana is about $6/minute, and by other arrangements he intends to extract as much of my personal information as he can. In order to pay me, of course.)

Don't fall for these guys. They are pros and they can back up every bit of their scam story until the moment they get enough of your personal info to steal your identity. The church, ICGC, is real and with a real website you'd be tempted to trust him, right?

These types of scams almost always work the same way. You deposit the phony money. Then, what do you know? Oops, we have to cancel our event. Please refund our money we sent you! So you cut them a check for the same amount as theirs. No harm done, you'll break even when their check clears, right? Only it doesn't. The bank calls you and says no dice. Now the scammers are paid, and you owe the bank five large.

So what can you do to stop these guys? Not much. But you can slow them down. I came across a website dedicated to attacking scammers by wasting their time--www.thescambaiter.com. If these guys are involved in a conversation with you (a dead end since you won't give them anything), they can't spend that time fooling someone else. The idea is to get them chasing dead ends to keep them from focusing on other unsuspecting people.

Keep a weather eye on your inbox for these kinds of deals that sound too good to be true. They usually are. And above all else, never give out any personal information, especially through e-mail!

Have you experienced something like this? Do you have a story to tell? Let's hear it!

Quick and Easy Boom


Here's a quick DIY alternative to buying an expensive boom for your studio strobe lights. You can use this pretty much the same way you'd use a normal boom, except you're limited to a 90˚ boom angle. Other than that, it's easy to achieve overhead lighting without having to shell out a hundred bucks or more for a good boom stand.



There are a couple of important points to keep in mind, though. If you plan on using larger studio strobes or heavy softboxes and the like, this method probably isn't for you. Also, never use a boom without an adequate counterweight or your model may feel like they're working under pressure. (Okay, I officially suck at telling jokes.)

A Bogen Super Clamp is all it takes to load up a lightweight stand (a Manfrotto 3330 here) as the boom. Clamp it right above the leg section. Since the only adjustment you'll be able to make is rotating the boom parallel to the floor, go ahead and set up whatever equipment you want on the boom before you raise it up. And you should probably load a counterweight before you raise it up, too. In this picture I used a 3-pound ankle weight that you can find in most fitness equipment stores.

The base stand is a Manfrotto 3336 and at 11' it has enough height to accomodate shooting through an umbrella directly over a 6' model. Having a tall stand also buys you a little more stability with its wide legs. And even with a counterweight, it's a good idea to always keep the boom hanging directly over one of the legs.

That's it for now. Have you done anything like this? Let us know!

Quick and Easy Gels

I ordered my first sets of flash gels a few days ago from a place called PhotoGels, and the process was so simply easy and quick I wanted to share it with everyone.

I placed my order on the evening of the 12th--evening Hawai'i time. My gels arrived on the morning of the 14th. How quick! I never get packages that fast. (For things like 2-day air shipping it generally takes one extra day to get here.) The gels came just in a standard business envelope, with each set double wrapped in tissue paper and regular paper. Can't wait to have fun with these.

Lens For Sale

...for only $99,000. :)

Check it out here.

60 Frames Per Second Not Fast Enough? How About 1,200?

Absolutely stunning, that's all I can say. I can't wait to get my hands on one of these bad boys and try it out.

Sixty full-resolution (6MP), high-definition frames per second video in this stunning hybrid camera beats out Canon's new 10fps 1Ds MkIII (unofficially, the "uzi") by leaps and bounds. And, as if that wasn't enough, you can get up to twelve hundred frames per second--that's no typo--by dropping the resolution as far as 336x96.

An Insider Look at 1-Hour Photo Labs

For a long time, I considered 1-hour photo labs--"minilabs"--to be a place with a nebulous box full of chemicals and machinery that spat out generally acceptable but not always great or consistent prints.

Of course, technology has improved vastly since the early days of 1-hour photo, and now it's as easy as uploading an image to a store's website and have it ready for pickup in an hour. (On a side note, isn't it amazing how our technology has made it astoundingly easy to spend more time in front of the computer screen?)

Anyway, Steve Elliott has posted a nice article about some often-misunderstood ideas about minilabs. If you frequently use a local minilab then this article is for you.

Adobe Lightroom: Masking Your Sharpening

There are a lot of valuable tools in Lightroom's arsenal that have saved us hours of tedious work and the trouble of constantly switching between Lightroom and Photoshop. The sharpening tool, specifically, has an added time-saving bonus with its built-in masking slider that allows you to apply the effect to specific parts of the image.

Nicholaus Haskins has put together a great short video that explains how easy it is to save yourself another trip to Photoshop.