“My God, it’s full of stars!”

Hello all.

Just want to post that I will not be online for a few days hence. My unpleasant head cold has turned into a nasty upper infection and I’m now busy going through the chills, fever, aches, pains (it even hurts to type), etc.

Please…..please don’t cry. It’s alright….I will return.

Maybe.

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I had a dream….

Here in the States we just celebrated the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Never mind its origins, it’s mostly about eating a lot of food, hanging out with family and/or friends and for some watching American football on the telly.

This year, like last, we were scheduled to enjoy some time and food with our neighbors Sandi, Bruce and their two young daughters. Sandi puts on a really nice spread and is a most excellent cook and hostess. I was, again and like last year, looking very much forward to the feast and company. But there was more…I was also looking forward to snapping pics of the event. Some pics of the folks enjoying themselves. Some others of the food. And I was hoping to do some nice pics of the spread upon the table….glistening glassware, sparkling wine, moist turkey and the like. Lots of nice closeups with plenty of soft bokeh. Yeah. I had some plans.

But then I got sick.

I had a minor head cold brewing all week, but assumed that since it hadn’t taken a turn for the worse that it would, like so many others in the past, just go away on its own. Nope. Instead it turned into a full-on head cold. I’m so stuffed up that my face and teeth hurt. I’m not sleeping well at all. And don’t get me going about the stuff coming out of my nose. Ewww.

So I was expecting a lovely Thanksgiving feast with great neighbors, wonderful conversation and a lovely opportunity to take pictures, but instead I got the Spanish Inquisition and no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Now no subject is safe from me!

I have in the past recounted my disappointment with having missed what I thought may have been a super picture only because I was lacking access to a camera at that moment. This situation was almost entirely the domain of being inside my car, driving about town, and coming across a particularly lovely sunset, some autumn color, whatever. And it was annoying to no end. I had even considered, if only for 0.0002 seconds, the notion of keeping my camera in the car or taking it with me all the time, but this simply wasn’t reasonable. It’s a fairly expensive bit of kit and I had and maintain serious reservations about keeping such stuff in the car and unattended.

I had been keeping my digital point-n-shoot with me, but the pictures I took, by and large, were insufficient in quality (technical quality mostly) for posting. Yeah, they were pretty much crap. So I started to think about acquiring another camera, something inexpensive, that I could keep in the car at all times. And thus began the process of searching for the appropriate camera.

Say hello to my new camera.

canon-eos-rebel-xti1

So how did I wind up with a Canon Rebel XTi when I had been reading about the Canon G10, the Sigma DP1 and DP2, as well as the Leica D-Lux 4? It is true that I had been reading reviews of and specs for the afore-mentioned cameras. And they were, for the most part, my front-runners, but with reservations, which I will not go into here for the sake of brevity. However, it was the G10 that led me to the XTi.

I was visiting my local camera shop about two-weeks ago and having a great time chatting with my local camera shop guy, Alex. I mentioned to Alex that I had been looking at procuring an inexpensive camera to be kept in the car and further mentioned my interest in the Canon G10, which his story carried. He pulled it down and I fiddled with it, while we talked about it (the G10) as well as my other choices. At some time he looked at me more seriously than usual and said something like, “Hey, I have something you may be interested in. I have a Rebel XTi, which needs to have a minor repair made to the compact flash card pins, but I really don’t have the money to fix it and I really don’t need the camera any longer. Would you be interested in purchasing the camera after the repair?” I replied in the affirmative depending upon the price and he quoted one which was more than fair in my opinion. It was far cheaper than acquiring any of the other cameras and also had the additional benefits of being compatible with my current set of lenses and flash as well as having a far more useful ISO range than any of the other choices.

So…..repairs were made, a camera was shipped and I’m now the proud owner of a compact, entry-level dSLR that will find its home in my car and be ready for any given situation which I may come across. Isn’t it so cute with it’s big brother?
XTi and Big Brother 40D

Finally, I also purchased my first photography specific tripod about a month ago: a Manfrotto tripod with Manfrotto ball head.

manfrotto-with-ball-head

I confess that “Manfrotto” sounds an awful lot like a character from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that’s okay. It’s nothing special in the great scheme of things…it’s not made of titanium, carbon fibre or thermo-plastic, but I decided I couldn’t afford those options. And in the end the carbon fibre version from Manfrotto only shaved off one-half of a pound in weight and that seemed like an awful little weight savings for twice the price. But it does have one neat trick up it’s sleeve:

manfrotto-with-horizontal-arm

The vertical tube can be pulled up and then turned to the horizontal. In conjunction with the ball head it should make macro/close-up photography a real breeze and I have already played with this feature enough to feel it will work well in this particular endeavor. It is the first time I’ve used a ball head and it felt a bit weird at first, but the more I use it the more I like it. It’s so quick and easy to swing the camera into any position: twist the knob to loosen, set the camera, twist back the knob. Done!

So…..new equipment….some nice portraits of the daughter….now I just need inspiration and opportunity, which I suppose I can create myself. Things are looking pretty good right now.

I must have a brain tumor.

Gonna be a short one….

Seeing how I pretty much covered everything of the photo shoot with the daughter at Woodland Cemetery, I really don’t have much to add except for something about the most recent upload to Flickr (10 pictures) and some final thoughts.

Bug20(flash)

In my previous post I mentioned how I frequently took at least two snaps of each pose: one with and one without flash. Some of the pics with flash were repeated at different flash outputs so I may have wound up with five or six flash versions before we moved on to a different pose. On the whole I was more pleased with the non-flash versions of all the photos where she is on the ground with the lovely Ginkgo leaves. However, this isn’t the case for the pictures in the latest upload to Flickr.

Bug18(flash)

The images I took of her against or by the tree (with the Ginkgo leaves still about) looked too dark when first viewed in review on the LCD screen of my camera. I took a number of non-flash images before I realized that maybe flash was the way to go and again began the process of shooting multiple images at different flash output levels until I found that for which I was looking: images that looked natural and without any harsh shadows. This was, for the most part (and keeping in mind this was my first time trying such a technique), a success, but not as complete a success as I would have liked. If you look at the above image you can see a distinct shadow created by her right arm upon her exposed skin. Oh well….I’m not going to worry about it. I still think it’s a lovely shot and the shadow a very minor annoyance.

Bug19(flash)

So…final thoughts. This was a great achievement for myself. I real pat-on-the-back moment if I do say so myself. When at the cemetery I saw the ‘scene’ and realized its potential. I thought about its potential and found a way to exploit it. I opted to work outside my comfort zone and try not just one (portraiture), but two (flash not on the camera’s automatic settings) new things. I had fun. And of all these moments it is the fun part that I will likely remember the best. It was fun because it was new, exciting and different. It was fun because the daughter and I got to spend time together in a positive manner, which is always difficult with a 16-year old. And yes, it was fun because things worked out. I’m not so certain the impact of the fun bits would be so strong if the whole endeavor had led to rubbish.

The only problem now is, where do I go from here? How much of this was simply a coincidence of moments that happened to work together relatively flawlessly? What are the chances I can do this again, but under different circumstances? Can I replicate this bit of good luck without over-thinking it and making it decidedly less fun? I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I’m hoping or the best.

Gonna be a long one…..

Like the title says, this is likely to be a long posting. But I do have lots to say and I think it’s only fair to warn you advance. So settle in, grab a cup of tea or a bottle of beer or a glass of single-malt, and take a journey with me…..

This is the daughter being semi-forced into being my model for an afternoon of shooting at the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

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Nice, eh?

A few weeks back I ventured to the cemetery with some fellow Flickr mates, who also happen to live in the area. We had a great time shooting and chatting, and then followed it up with some nice dinner. While shooting I thought about how nice it would be to return on an overcast day and shoot some images of the various statues and such. You know….pretty common fare for cemetery photography. But as I like that sort of thing I have no problem with running with the crowd. And so I did return on just such an overcast day with pending rain.

While visiting on this overcast day I noticed that the Ginkgo trees had finally shed most of their leaves, which had been quite attached when I was there the week before. Even in the diffuse light of this overcast day the leaves made for quite a splash of colour as they lay upon both lawn and road. While it took a while an idea did eventually develop in my mind that I should return with daughter in tow and shot her against these leaves. I thought that her darkish red hair, pale complexion and penchant for blue-coloured clothing would make for wonderful contrast and compliment against these Ginkgo leaves. And so it was that I returned home with this idea in mind only to find that the weather predicted for the next day was to be more of the same: overcast, but without threat of rain. And so I informed the daughter of my plans for her.

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The next day (Thursday, if memory serves) was indeed overcast and I eagerly awaited her return to home from school. Once she arrived I filled my car with my camera kit, some towels (as it was damp from the previous night’s rain) and a ladder, which was to be used to offer me some altitude by which I might better shot the photographs as the daughter lay upon the leaves.

So far the planning and excursion have been pretty straight-forwarded. But this was, for me, an incredibly stressful situation. I had never before done anything like this. I did manage to cajole the daughter and a friend of hers to semi-pose for me for a series of pictures of them playing Guitar Hero, but this was completely different. I was about to embark upon something new and completely different and my life’s history tells me that such journeys always, not sometimes or almost always, but always end in failure and misery.

We started with a few pictures, but I realized that she was too stiff so I talked her through loosening up and being more natural. Surprisingly it worked. She took well to my directions and relaxed, thus relieving much of the tension that the first few photographs conveyed. I also quickly learned that full-body-length images weren’t working. Not at all. They looked to linear and didn’t pop in any meaningful way (as much meaning as one can gather from the 3.0-inch LCD screen on the back of a digital camera). So I shifted focus (pun completely intended) to shots that were much closer up and here I struck upon success or, at the very least, success compared with what I had been getting.

Concerned that the overcast day was going to leave the daughter underexposed, I had brought along my flash unit (Canon 580EX II) to help me through the shoot. However, I wasn’t certain it was worth bringing as I really have zero knowledge and/or skill with its use. About the only thing I know is that I can regularly obtain better flash images indoors by bouncing the light off ceilings or walls when using it (thanks Strobist!). And I have managed to get better flash pictures in this manner, but I had always set the camera to full automatic mode when doing so. Under cemetery conditions there were no walls or ceilings from which to bounce the flash and full automatic mode for the camera seemed….well….non-experimental. As such I had made up my mind that I would shoot in my preferred mode of Aperture Priority and use the flash to help lift shadow or even tones as I saw fit.

The results were interesting if nothing else…

Bug06(flash)

I knew that full-power flash would not work at all. Period. No way. No how. And I do know enough about the workings of my flash such that I could change it’s output (up or down), which I did. I experimented with different settings: -1/3, -1/1, -1&2/3, etc. until I found a setting that didn’t completely wash out her skin tones or create shadows on the leaves behind her. This was actually quite a bit of fun for me, experimenting and all that, but not so much for the daughter, who had to remain in the same position while I took multiple shots of her at different flash power settings.

In the end I believe that the non-flash images are fine on their own. I do not think she is underexposed or that the images are too dark in general (it was really overcast and being November the sun doesn’t get very high in the sky anyway). As a matter-of-fact, I think lifting the shadows with the flash unit removed a bit of the three dimensional quality that comes from the aid of shadows. However, and in defence of my efforts, I think the flash versions came out far, far better than I had any right to imagine. Some are better than others, but on the whole I think the flash versions stand up in their own right and that there are other pictures not yet uploaded to Flickr whereby the flash version was definitely better.

Upon getting home and going through the pictures I was quite nervous. I was, at first, wowed by my results. They were, on the whole, far better than I had anticipated, especially considering the so many firsts that were involved on this shoot. But I was afraid that as days passed and I looked at the images more closely I would find fewer and fewer with which I was pleased. However, I’m very happy to report that as time went by I became even more pleased and proud of my results.

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In addition, after my wife had an opportunity to view them she passed along a compliment, which both warmed my heart and surprised me as she usually doesn’t make too many comments (much less compliments) about my photography endeavor. She said something to the effect that it seems to her that I have improved upon my framing and composition as the months have passed. I’ll take that, thank you very much!

Finally, there was one flaw with many of the images taken with the flash and that was of reflection in the daughter’s eyes. Granted, as the power-output was low the reflections weren’t overwhelming, but simply distracting: a little pinpoint of light on an otherwise lovely brown. To remedy this situation I took advantage of the clone stamp in my oft-used JPEG editing software, Paint.Net (freeware). Problem solved!

So there you have it. Work with a model. Flash work outside my usual comfort zone. Utilizing photo-editing software for something other than tweaking and conversion to JPEG. A grand adventure in every manner and one which I greatly enjoyed not just because I obtained results with which I am so pleased, but because it was truly a great way to spend an afternoon with the daughter.

On black…..

A few minutes ago I was busy uploading some image files to Flickr and when the upload was complete I elected to add descriptions, etc. as do most folks. When the web page for doing such opened I was immediately struck by how underwhelming my images looked.

“Odd,” I thought. “These looked pretty snazzy in the editing software. I wonder what’s wrong?” and no sooner had the idea burst across my synapses in a wave of electro-chemical wonder I realized the problem: the images are being shown against a light blue background on a white web page.

Yuck.

Look at this image here:

IMG_4136

Against a black background this image has some impact, but when I view it within my photostream on Flickr, against a white background, it loses something. And I think it’s something important.

I will often view other folks photostreams in the slide-show manner just so that I can take advantage of the black background, but it does make me wonder why Flickr doesn’t offer users (especially paying members) the option to have their pages all set with black backgrounds and white text. I guess I really hadn’t thought much about it regarding my own pictures, but as time has gone by since I started this endeavor I have become more conscious of how my images look upon the computer monitor when viewed in Flickr and I must say I don’t like the white background at all.

No. Not at all.