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Archive for July, 2012

Lots of Miles in July…

Jul 19

In Travels at 5:35am

Used to be summer slowed down a touch. Not so much this turn of a very hot July. The month started with shooting a simple day or so for Geographic, and then spun into a huge, festive wedding weekend. It was a wonderful event, but one with lots of moving parts, so we put together a team of four shooters and went after it to the tune of 330 gigs in a couple days.

Less than 24 hours later, headed to Canada, and Drew and I were on seven flights in eight days, stopping in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Flew a lot of Westjet, and they did a pretty good job. Spent so much time up there over the great white north I  figured I’d make a quickie Iphone pic of a familiar view.

Was in Canada for Kelby Media, teaching on the “One Light, Two Light” Tour. (Next stop, Miami, Aug. 20th.) It was fun, and I really have to thank everyone who came along to the various stops and helped out. I simply pick audience members out for subjects, and we work our way through the day, keeping it resolutely simple. We do TTL, manual, one light, two light and three light solutions. It’s a fast paced day.

Had some really fun, adventurous people help me out on stage, for which I am very grateful. They took the plunge and were willing to be photographed in front of three or four hundred strangers, and have the results go immediately to big screens. Talk about a leap of faith. The main point of the pix is to shoot  simply, with super basic tools, and not really finish anything, but just keep experimenting. The above grids were just quick selects I made in Aperture and did screen shots of.

I asked at one point for someone small, and a wonderful, expression filled young lady answered the call. She had a terrific range of moods she could project, and we worked our way through a bunch. Her being about the age of my oldest daughter, I asked her to give me a facial expression that might accompany that time honored, exasperated phrase, “Whatever, Dad!”

We had a blast together. And then, there was Nancy, in Montreal. She fairly bounded on stage and before you know it we had quite an array of visuals.  A Montreal based wedding shooter, she was just a non-stop live wire everybody in the room enjoyed.

By the time we rattled through some pix, the audience was laughing so hard that I just looked at her and said, okay, give me the expression you might give a guy who sidles up to you in a bar and hands you a cheeseball pickup line like, “Would the keys to my Porsche fit in your handbag?”

Okay, then! The audience, Nancy, Drew, and I just lost it. Below is a crowd scene, with the big guy from Adorama, Jeff Snyder, tucked in the corner.

Arrived back home just in time for a Welcome to Newburgh party at David Burnett’s new digs. Hard to believe I’ve known David, who is one of the quintessentially important photojournalists of our time, since the 70’s. It’s great to have him and Iris in the neighborhood.

Also, over the last couple weeks, FakeChuckWestfall suggested I had been separated at birth from a sock puppet. I’m okay about that. I’d always wondered where that puppet had gone off to.

It has also been eventful over at, where hell froze over. For the first time in forever, the Strobist site picked up and ran a tip from none other than Gary Fong. It’s a good tip, and the Fongster did well in offering it, and DH responded in kind by noting its usefulness. It’s called “The Red Hallway Trick.” Kudos to both gentlemen.

About that time, Gary also sent out a missive to his fans, soliciting their participation in an opinion poll about the cover of his newest book. He promises to abide by the results of the poll, and run whichever cover folks deem the best.

Here’s the link to vote. I think it’s still active. Weigh your thoughts carefully. These are the kind of decisions, quite frankly, that keep me up at night.

Just arrived a couple days ago in Hong Kong to lots of clouds. Teaching at a wonderful event called Creative Asia, with some excellent instructors. My daughter Claire is with me, and we’ll go on together to Kuala Lumpur, along with Louis Pang and Zack Arias.

Working my way through the fatigue. Had some great dim sum the other night, and grabbed a bunch of that amazing Asian medicine that I have always found to cure all manner of ills, aches and pains.

More tk….

And our Guest Instructor for St. Lucia is….RC Concepcion!

Jul 9

In Seminars & Workshops at 5:32am

Once again we head to paradise this year, to visit one of my favorite places on earth, St. Lucia. I’ve been going there, to the same place, Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain since 1992. We go back again this year for another five day lighting workshop, which over the years have been extremely popular.

We always bring in a guest instructor for a few hours, late in the week, to show different techniques, and this year we are proud to have none other than RC Concepcion, who is simply one of the most multi-faceted, talented, warm-hearted people in the business. How talented is RC? That itself is a daunting question. He’s an extremely intuitive and versatile shooter, a flat out genius at post-production, an accomplished, best selling author, and, quite simply, one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen. He will teach all that stuff that I can’t, namely, post-production wizardry, and of course, HDR. He is the authority about the technique with his most recent book on HDR having sold like hotcakes since it hit the newsstands. He’s just an amazing shooter and teacher.

So, all week, we do on location lighting in all ways, shapes and forms. Small flash in the jungle, with jungle bikers, exotic hotel rooms and balancing indoor/outdoor exposure situations, sunsets on the beach, location portraiture, and field trips. Late in the week, on Thursday, RC joins us and mixes it up by leading an HDR adventure into the jungle, showing everyone how to shoot this technique, and then, on Friday, he will run the class for the afternoon, taking the images created into Photoshop and working them into final form. I will continue right through the whole week teaching lighting, culminating with our sunset extravaganza on Friday evening with models and fire on the beach. It’s a loaded workshop..location small flash, HDR, post processing, with tons of time in the classroom every day for critiques.

It will be a wonderful week of photography in one of the most beautiful places on earth. For the whole skinny on schedule and availability, hit this link. (After hitting the link scroll down!) Read the summation below, and factor in the “RC effect.”

I’m super excited RC was able to make time to join us this year. As of this writing, though, the lighting workshop is almost full. If you might be thinking about it, hit the links above. The hotel will walk you through the discount room packages (only available to the workshop) and the itinerary. More tk…

Coupla Lights Up North

Jul 4

In Tours at 10:55am

Had a great crowd in Vancouver yesterday. In Calgary now, and we keeping heading back east on the One Light Two Light Tour.

Shazmin is standing under an Elinchrom Deep Octa soft box, fitted with a Quadra flash head and pack. An SB900, zoomed to 200mm, set up on SU-4 mode (manual slave operation) is pushing light through a small cucoloris, and splashing some irregular highlights and shadows on the seamless. One light, two light….more tk….

Have a Great Fourth of July Week!

Jul 2

In Advice, In The Field at 9:08am

Hey gang….this was a pretty popular blog from last year, so running it again, in time for the Fourth. On my way to Canada (on Canada Day!) for a One Light Two Light Tour stop in Vancouver, one of my favorite cities. Have a great Fourth, and stay safe everyone!

Summer’s here! Time to shoot some fireworks. Below is a small instructional essay from the Life Guide to Digital Photography. I’ve shot some of the biggest fireworks displays in history, so I just kind of dove back into those to remember things I did right and things I did wrong. And things I didn’t think of at the time, or should’ve remembered to do.

Everybody loves to shoot fireworks. It has lots of connotations—holiday, patriotism, hot dogs, weekend, kids, family. Time to relax. Time to shoot some pictures.

Okay, make a checklist. Camera. Wide angle zoom. Telephoto zoom. Flash cards. Cable release. Spare camera battery. Tripod. Headlamp, and hand held flashlight. Watch with timer function. Black card. (More on that later.)

That’s pretty much the photo kit. What else to think of? Rain gear, both for cameras and you. You can get fancy rain gear designed for cameras and lenses, or just use plastic bags and baggies. Couple of bungee cords to keep the bags on the camera if the wind starts whipping about. Water and power bars—you’ll be out there a while. Bug repellent. Comfortable clothing and shoes. The car might be quite a ways away, and you’ll be walking a fair piece.  Advil. (Advil is always on my equipment list.)

Anything to do beforehand? You bet. Scout the location. Best to know what you are getting into, where they shoot the fireworks from, what the background will be like. How big will the display be? How long will it go for? Most fireworks displays are well over in a half hour or less, and if you are stumbling around in the crowd looking for a spot and trying to setup in the dark, you’ll just be starting to make decent exposures as they light up the sky with the crescendo and say goodnight till next year.

That’s right, next year. Most big shoot ’em ups are yearly events. Argh, the pressure!

So scout. Get your spot. Get there early. I mean early. Like, be the first car in the parking lot. Pack a soft cooler sling bag, throw an icepack in there, and know that in that bag is your sustenance till maybe late at night. For jobs like this, my Ipod and earphones are a must. Maybe a collapsible chair, and a small waterproof tarp. Think your way into this. What could go wrong? It’s a photo shoot, so the answer to that is, just about everything. Try to ensure success by envisioning the shot and the potential problems in making the shot before you walk out the door.

Like, do you need a permit to put your tripod down? Did you have to call the town about this adventure? Most likely not, but in this post 911 world, photographers are often treated as being just this side of a recidivist offender, so it might be worth a phone call.

Okay, prepped and ready. Time to frame up the shot, which is a bit trickier than you might think. First off, when I shoot fireworks, I always get my frame, plus about 20%. I can always tighten up, but I want to give those fireworks room to play up there in the heavens. Frame too tight, you’ll have tracer lines of color going right out of the upper part of your picture, creating lines of interest that will pull your viewer’s eye right out with them.

So give them room to breathe and determine whether the shot is horizontal or vertical. Remember that most fireworks pix, if they are just of the explosions in the sky, are, at the end of the day, an exercise in color, nothing more. Even something as splashy as a pyrotechnic display needs context. So perhaps you can frame up with the object that is being celebrated, such as the Statue of Liberty. Or use the semi-silhouetted crowd as a foreground element. Or boats and bridges out in the water, with the water acting as a giant reflector board filled with color.

The variations that may occur with your framing are the reason to have at least a couple lenses with you. As mentioned above, two reasonable zooms, one wide and one telephoto, should do you fine.

Metering? Yikes, how do you meter a fast moving rocket moving through the black sky? The answer is, you don’t, really. This is a situation to shut off a bunch of the auto this and that on the camera, and go manual. Also, make sure to turn the flash off. Some cameras will read the darkness in in certain modes and activate that puppy. Ever see the opening of an Olympics, where thousands of people are using point and shoots, and their flashes are going off like crazy? Know what they’re lighting? The shoulder of the person in front of them. Fireworks, unless you are trying a radically different approach, are generally a no flash zone.

Okay, now set up manual. Fireworks are brighter than you might think, so you don’t need to open the lens really wide, which is a bit counter-intuitive, I know, ’cause it’s dark. But my experience with fireworks wide open is that you drain the color out of them. They’ll just register as a white streak. Be careful. You can over-expose fireworks quite easily.

F8 is a reasonable starting point. Some photogs I know go even lower on the aperture scale, down to f11 or even f16. Over time, you will find which settings work for you. (I used to take notes at the end of a fireworks job, just to keep myself tuned up for next year. No real need for that anymore, as the metadata tells you what works and what doesn’t.)

Set the shutter to bulb. This mode keeps the shutter open as long as the release button is pushed. But you are not physically pushing that button are you?! No! This is absolutely a job for a cable release. Nowadays, most cable releases are simply electric cables which jack into the camera and activate the shutter. When you punch the button on the cable release the shutter is at your command, and will stay open as long as you want. And, very significantly, the button you are pushing is not on the camera or the tripod. With lengthy exposures, even the slightest jiggle or vibration is the enemy.

This is important, because at f8, the shutter will be open for a while, meaning anywhere from four to 10-15 seconds. (Remember if you have a foreground element in the picture, such as a monument, you have to make sure that lit up monument is exposed properly. In many ways, that foreground object will determine the length of your exposure.)

Again, due to the brightness of fireworks, you can work at a reasonable or even low ISO. Something in the neighborhood of 100 or 200 will do fine. The faster your ISO, the shorter your shutter speeds, which will deprive you of recording those wonderful tracers of light into the sky.

Some shooters time the launch of the rockets and open their shutter accordingly, keeping it open for, say, 8-10 seconds, then closing down. This ensures that they will record the path of the pyrotechnic into the night sky, and it’s explosion. This is a fine approach. Give it a try.

Others use a black card. A black card is just that, a black card. Nothing mysterious or fancy. It can be a piece of black cardboard, or foam core board. Or it can just be an index card covered with black tape. (Be sure it is not shiny tape. That might pick up slivers of light and reflect it back into the lens.  Use a matte black type of photo tape, often called gaffer tape.)

This way, you can keep your shutter open for very lengthy periods of time, and record multiple starbursts. You open the shutter, and shoot one explosion, then cover the lens with the card, and wait for the next. You can experiment with this trick, and produce really terrific results by layering multiple fireworks into one picture.

(Also, say, you have the Brooklyn Bridge as an architectural element in the foreground, and the proper exposure for it is f8 at 10 seconds. This limits your fireworks shooting range, right? Gotta get the bridge right, so the exposure is a done deal. But, with the black card, if you are quick enough, you can uncover just the upper portion of the sky, while blocking the area of the lens which is recording the bridge. This is dicey. You have to move the card quickly, hovering it around where the bridge ends and the sky begins. If you have ever made a black and white print in the darkroom, think of this as burning and dodging right at the camera lens. Can’t keep the card static or it will create a hard line of obvious exposure change. It has to hover, quickly jiggling around that sky bridge borderline. If you pull this off right, you can keep your lens open for several batches of fireworks, extending over 20-30 seconds, filling the sky with color. But—this is an  experiment! Back yourself up by shooting some “straight” frames.)

At the beginnings of the digital rage, this technique was a bit problematic, because seriously lengthy exposures produced a lot of digital noise. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the chip is “on” building up heat with every passing second. That sensor heat would really fray away at the quality of the digital file you would be trying to produce. Bad news. Long time exposures were the Achilles heel of early digital cameras. Predictably, advances in digital camera technology have smoothed out a lot of those problems, but it is wise to experiment with your particular model and see what its’ tolerances are. As you might suspect, the higher end models handle long exposure well, while the more basic cameras will have limitations. Get to know what your camera is capable of. In many current cameras, you can turn on a function called “long exposure noise reduction.” Hugely helpful.

Other bits and pieces: Don’t shoot all night long at one exposure. (If you are on bulb, you definitely won’t anyway.) But this is an occasion for bracketing, and shooting as many frames as possible. Also, shoot right away when they start! Fireworks displays can build up a lot of smoke over a series of explosions, and if you are smack in the wind pattern that blows that smoke towards your lens, you can end up thinking you’re shooting a war zone. So shoot immediately, and fast.

Have a good 4th of July. Try some of this out, and have a hot dog on me. More tk….