When life gives you lemons…

Yeah… so… I have this thing about photography wherein I tend to have something in mind which I wish to accomplish. I call it project photography.

Instead of simply picking up my camera and photographing stuff I get an idea into my head, plan it out and then go and do it. I meet with varying degrees of success as is painfully obvious when one views either this blog or my Flickr account. There are those who strongly support the shoot every day mentality, but I can’t get behind that for myself. It’s like those 365-projects you see so often on Flickr. The pictures often seem forced, if that makes any sense and I’m not into forcing myself to snap pictures if I’m not inclined. But I sure do love setting up for a photography outing and so it was I did such last month.

I had been searching for a new model when at a local art festival I ran into a young lady my daughter knows. I had thought about asking her before, but never got around to it, but here she was. And I was. And there you go. Numbers exchanged I began making plans for a project with her. And I had it all planned out… the location, time of day, what I wanted to actually shoot, etc. And so it was the day came and I arrived early to scout the location, which I had been to before, for our photographic get-together.

But there was a problem. Actually… two problems.

First, the incredible graffiti, which covered a lot of the walls around this set of buildings in downtown Dayton, was gone. Painted over. And fairly recently. So much for my cool-as-shit backdrops. Second, my model was late. By over an hour. Not really being a model she wasn’t aware of the great importance of the waning daylight I had intended to make use of. We were off to a poor start. But instead of being dejected (too dejected I mean) I opted to make do with what I had of the remaining daylight and the fact I had brought my single-light kit.

And so it was we tackled my first selected location with the now fading ambient daylight…

Sarah in Doorway I

Sarah in Doorway I

I had noticed this tiny green door surrounded by the red-painted bricks and thought it might make for a nice background. And I think I was right, but I had no small amount of difficulty figuring out how to arrange her within the space. So many of the poses looked tense or even awkward… as if she was just a bit too big for the small doorway, but we continued in hopes of finding some sort of magic.

Sarah in Doorway II

Sarah in Doorway II

While I’m not certain I was actually aware of the thought-process, I eventually came to settle upon two styles which seemed to work better. The pose in the above picture seemed to work well. I mean, if the space is vertically challenged then go horizontal, right? Seems pretty self-evident in hindsight, but at that moment in time I was having issues with seeing this. And the other style which appeared to work better was to get in close and let just a part of the doorway be the backdrop.

Sarah in Doorway III

Sarah in Doorway III

Alas… the sun was setting quickly and at this location we were already shooting in strong shade brought about from the shadow of the building. I was loath to let my model go after such a short period of time… hell… I had been there longer in advance of her than we had been shooting thus far. And so I suggested, if she didn’t mind, we try and make something of the evening with the flash, stand and umbrella I had dragged along.

Sarah being game she helped me get the equipment out of the car and we moved on to another spot I had selected. And here was where things became more complicated as I hadn’t planned to shoot with just the flash and I’m really not adept at it in any way. I mostly use the flash and umbrella for fill-light and the like and not as the sole source of illumination. Add this to the general complications which come from photographing a model when you don’t really do that sort of thing anyway and it’s more-or-less a recipe for disappointment.


Sarah on Escape Ladder

Sarah on Escape Ladder

I think the above is my fav of the entire evening. It may not be my most favorite pose, or lighting, or framing/composition, but I think it possesses the best overall qualities. Kudos to Sarah for having been so cooperative too as we spent most of the rest of the evening working on the escape ladder, which couldn’t have been particularly comfortable.

The ladder had presented a unique problem in so much that she was up fairly higher than I and my light, while on a 9-foot stand, just wasn’t tall enough to throw light on her in a more or less 90-degree angle to the plane of her face. In other words: I was often throwing light up to her at an angle, which led to some really weird and undesirable results. In the above image she had come down onto the steps and I was able to get the light thrown more directly upon her.

Eventually we wondered off to one last spot in front of a solid brick wall. Just her and I standing there with me trying to find a way to get light on her in a way which might be pleasing. I didn’t want her to be lit face-on as she was in the last image, but nor did I want anything which cast large portions of her face into too much shadow. After a great number of attempts I finally found a pose and positioning on my part which seemed to work.

Sarah at Wall

Sarah at Wall

There are still some things I could do to this image in editing which I think will make it even better (like adding some light to the dark side of her hair), but in general I’m rather pleased. Of course this sort of thing gives me just the excuse I need to dump the file into my recently purchased Adobe Photoshop CS5 and try and make the image more the way I really want it to be.

But boy… CS5 sure is a complicated bit of programming.

It’s about the batteries you know…

Modern dSLR photography has a great number of advantages to it, but one I doubt many folks consider is the battery. I think it is quite possible the rise of digital SLR photography was made significantly better by the rapid improvements to rechargeable Lithium batteries.

If you previously owned a straight-up 35mm SLR film camera built more than 8 or 9 years ago then you probably remember having to deal with specialty batteries which powered those cameras. Simple AA batteries were not used, but more expensive types. The same was true for many flash units as well.

But dSLRs were, are and will remain far more power-hungry than their film counterparts. Besides many of the electrical needs shared between modern dSLRs and the last few years of SLRs were metering systems, in-the-viewfinder graphics and turning the in-lens focusing system. But dSLRS threw more needs into the power pot in the manner of charging the sensor, transferring data from the sensor to the CPU, transferring data to the media card, lighting the LCD screen, and, later, jiggling the anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor in an attempt to remove dust.

I truly believe that without superior battery technology the world of dSLR photography would never have gotten off the ground. And yet we still find ourselves using plenty of AA batteries in all sorts of ancillary photography equipment. I myself use them for my flash, my wireless firing electronics for the flash as well as my point-n-shoot digital camera which still gets something of a workout.

Some years ago I made the jump to rechargeable AA batteries via the folks at Energizer. I don’t really know if Energizer is better than Duracell is better than Rayovac is better than…., but I had experienced good life with their non-rechargeable AA’s and figured I’d stick with the devil I knew. To be fair I was impressed with them as well. They lasted longer than regular alkaline batteries and the like. They were rechargeable, which meant they should be better for the environment and as I purchased plenty of them I was never without some on hand, charged, and ready to go.

But I soon realized not all was well in Energizer-land. I quickly discovered the batteries didn’t hold a charge very well if they weren’t used. Place them into my flash and not use it for a month or two and when I need it to work the batteries would fire for what I thought was too short a time and then die. I wasn’t impressed. And for all the advertising about how many times they could be recharged I didn’t find the picture as rosy.

But then one day I read about these…

Sanyo Eneloop Batteries & Charger

I no longer recall where I read about them (some photography blog), but the author claimed they were THE battery to own, especially if you were a photographer in need of AA’s. I had neither heard of them before nor seen them to my recollection, but I filed this bit of information away. And not a few weeks later I found myself in the hallowed halls of Costco and stumbled across a package of Sanyo Eneloop batteries.

Said package included the charger, 8-AA’s and 4-AAA’s all for something like $26. A quick check on the phone at Amazon showed $35 or so. Well… what’s a guy to do? I felt a bit silly spending $26 on batteries and chargers when at home I knew I must have had 16 or so Energizer AA’s and two recharging devices. But the words of the author and my experience thus far with the Energizers said “Buy it. Do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.” And so I did.

And let me tell you I’ll never go back.

I don’t pretend to understand what it is Sanyo does to make these batteries so awesome, but awesome they are. And mind you, my associations with Sanyo go back to childhood in the way of cheap and crappy car stereos, bedside clock/radios and the like. Sanyo was not a company who’s name I held in high esteem. But these batteries rule.

Perfect example… right now, sitting in my flash, are four Eneloop AA batteries I fully charged about a month ago. I’ve used the flash maybe twice and one time included an outing lasting about an hour and included over 150-images being taken. “Staggering” is the word which comes to my mind based upon my experience with other rechargeables.

Those others would barely have lasted the month sitting there doing nothing, much less worked through two outings. No way. No how. Thoroughly and completely impressed I am.

It’s funny… I, like many I imagine, have come to expect nothing less than thousands of shots from their rechargeable Lithium camera batteries, but probably don’t think much about the poor AA’s they stuff into flashs, point-n-shoots and accessories. But if more knew about the Eneloops I’m pretty certain they would see those pretenders out there in a very different light.

And so it sweats…

My last post discusses the beginning salvo of my SoBoFoMo project revolving around the feral and homeless cats I watch over and feed. Since then I have encountered two bits of ‘fun’ I thought I’d share.

Here’s fun number one:

The weather...

Yeah. It says “90” right now (and ‘right now’ is almost 9:30p.m.), but it was 96 at the peak today with a heat index of around 110. You know… I left Florida to escape this sort of thing.


It has been like this all week and will remain like this through tomorrow, as you can see in the above picture. While things will cool-off over the weekend and into the week it’s still scheduled to be warmer than average. Just not stupid-hot. Needless to say working with a dSLR in this heat, with this humidity, in a small wood which only serves to trap the humidity under the leafy canopy (and between the two humidity is far worse than direct sunlight) I’ve been reluctant to shoot pictures.

The cats look and act distressed (lethargic) and I don’t blame them. It’s nasty. I myself looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower as I returned to my car to come back home. And into a real shower.

(heavenly sigh)

So this first week of photography has yielded precisely three-days of photographs when I had planned at least six. Kid you not… the camera actually slipped out of my hand the other day as both it and my hand were so covered in sweat.

Gross… I know!

But I did learn something yesterday while out with the camera and I apologize for not having the pictures to prove it as I’m entering this blog post from a different computer. What I “discovered” is when trying to photograph cats in a small wood with a flash attached to the camera there is a very good chance the flash will highlight… even over-expose… the leaves and branches that lay between the cat and me; the humble photographer.

This does not lead to the sort of results one had hoped for. It also begs the question: does forkboy have the slightest clue what he’s doing?

It’s probably best we don’t answer that…

And so it begins…

Solo Photo Book Month.

31-consecutive days to create a PDF book for upload to the SoFoBoMo site. Said book containing at least 35-newly taken pictures.

Text? If you’d like.

Fancy or plain? Doesn’t matter.

It’s something to do. Something to try. A new way to express myself centered around photography, but creating something more than a finished JPEG for upload to Flickr.

And so it was I began photographing on Thursday.

As these books typically revolve around a theme of some sort I opted to go with one close to my heart: the feral and homeless cats. It’s a shame I cannot use the plethora of pictures I already have, but that isn’t the purpose of the project. Not that I have any objection regarding taking more photographs of the cats, but there is a difference between just snapping pics because I want to versus needing to.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get some nice shots anyway.

I have already noticed a difference in my temperament regarding shooting as a need: I’m not real patient.

I suppose part of the issue is that I feel I will need to spend more time on the book creation part than the principal photography so there is an impetus to get the photography out of the way, so to speak. However, like most any creative process (and undoubtedly photography is a creative process) there will be great days and not-so-great days. These first two days have provided some good pictures, but not as many as I had hoped for.

Granted, part of the problem is lighting. Specifically: the lack thereof.

As the homeless and feral cats live in a small wood and as this time of the year the wood is in full-leaf there is not a whole lot in the way of light on the forest floor, where the cats reside. Certainly shooting at higher ISO’s is possible, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind for quality photos for this project. Still.. not all has been lost.

It occurred to me I should submit the idea to SoFoBoMo for having these projects sprinkled through at least three portions of the year. This way those who elect to participate are not trapped into one season and one season only, such as we are currently. For my purposes mid- to late-Autumn would be a far more ideal time as sunlight reaches the forest floor quite readily with the disappearance of the leaves. There is also the problem of it being particularly warm to hot at this time of the year meaning we photographers who elect to work outside find ourselves sweating for our work.

Blech. (oh… and not to mention the issue with mosquitos, which are a major issue at this time of the year)

So I snapped almost 200-pictures in two days and of that I felt maybe 5 were real keepers for the project. Granted…I kept more than that: 63. But I kept those additional 58 only because I may find myself in need of them to make this project work as principal photography time winds down and book creation gears up.

However, while I was becoming rather frustrated with the natural light situation in the wood, it occurred to me that I could try to rectify the situation by introducing some of my own lighting. While this may require fiddling about and experimenting a bit, and thus costing me valuable shooting time, it may be a solution to my lighting problem.

Bringing my own lighting could help immensely in getting the shots I both want and need for the project. Sure… things aren’t so bad without the addition of lighting…

But instead of shooting a bunch of pictures and having to dump 95% of them simply because there is blur (thanks to camera shake and/or moving subject), I could salvage a lot of those shots and then find myself in the enviable position of having to select the best composed and framed instead. Not such a bad deal after all.

Of course it does mean making some decisions about what is both useful and practical in regard to bringing in some lighting. I could go with the most basic and simple solution: on-camera flash. Let the camera make all the decisions and hope for the best. Or I could shoot as I typically do (aperture-priority) and shoot the flash manually, just adding fill. Or so I hope.

Or I could take it a step further and bring my portable light kit with me and drag around a light stand, umbrella and electronics in hopes of getting the most effective use of my flash. While this route sounds very appetizing for what it could bring to the picture quality it also has the horrible down-side of meaning dragging a bunch of equipment through a wood rife with shrubs, trees, thorny-things, etc.

I confess it sounds like more work than it may be worth.

I suppose the solution is to try the on-camera options and see what results I can obtain. Ultimately I want great photos, but I must temper this desire with expediency as well.

Such is the life of a photographer, eh?

Light, camera, model…. action!

A couple of posts back I introduced the world of WordPress to my new & portable, single-light kit. Nothing fancy, of course. Just my Canon flash, a stand, an umbrella, the do-hickey that connects the flash and umbrella to the stand and a wireless firing bit of hardware (not PocketWizard or Radio Poppers – perish the expensive thought!).

I did spend the extra few bucks to acquire the 9-foot light stand as opposed to the 6-foot variety. It seemed a reasonable investment and actually turned out to be the right choice when put to use the very first time. Can’t get much better than that, eh?


Back in September I finally corralled my model, Jenna, into an afternoon shoot on what turned out to be a too-warm Sunday afternoon. The weather, being unseasonably warm, made the excursion less than ideal, but I was anxious to give this new bit of kit a try and I was really excited about my location. Well… some parts of the location that is.

Jenna had never modelled before and other than the shots I took of the daughter a few years earlier I had zip for experience as well. So we were both in good hands undoubtedly. We started off with some shots by a neat tree on the premises of the Dayton Art Institute. I actually worked these with my flash affixed to my camera and set to manual, thus leaving me the chance to work with some fill light. Fun, but not the real crux of my we were there. Still… the results weren’t bad. Not great, but not bad.

We moved away from the tree and over towards the spot I was most excited about. The front of the Dayton Art Institute includes a long set of winding stairs leading from the street to the actual museum, which sits up fairly high from the street. About half way up the staircase is a landing where once must have been a small fountain and some statues set into three curved alcoves.

At some point the fountain was turned into a planter and the statues removed, thus leaving their lovely spaces quite open. “Perfect for a model,” I thought when I first came upon them during a recce of the grounds around the Institute. The beautiful yellow, brown and gold tones of the sandstone combined with the intimiate location seemed perfect for my plans.

We set up the light stand such that it faced her rather directly. Perhaps not the best thing, but choices were limited. There was little space in front of the alcove in which to work so straight-on was about the best we could do. In addition, the choice to go with the 9-foot tall light stand paid off handsomely as the alcoves were all about three or so feet off the ground. Add to those three feet a five-foot-plus model and you can quickly deduce the extra height was a wise choice. Well…. see for yourself.

Not too shabby a spot, eh? And not to shabby a picture if I do say so myself.

This whole endeavor was really one giant experiment. Because this area was in shadow I knew some lighting would really help lift things nicely and help me avoid having to use apertures that were too big or shutter speeds too slow. Letting the camera meter the scene I would then dial down the flash in manual mode to some setting… say 1/4 power…. and shoot. Checking my results on the camera’s LCD screen I would, if needed (and I always needed) adjust the flash’s output up or down and try again.

This went on for maybe 45-minutes or so when I felt I had exhausted my model’s good natured willingness to pose and suggested we call it a day. It didn’t help that this mid-September day was touching upon 80F (26.7C) and I was getting tired of sweating (I don’t like photographing in the heat). But ultimately this was all a big test and I had felt things went about as well as one could expect and I’m not displeased with the overall results.

There was one minor incident which occurred very near the end of our shoot. I was standing closer to Jenna discussing what I wanted her to try next when this pained look quickly spread across her face. She raised her hand to point behind me and seemed to be trying to get words out, but they simply weren’t coming quickly enough. It wasn’t necessary though. My brain, being a bit more on-the-ball than usual, quickly surmised what was happening: the light stand was falling over!

And indeed it was. A small gust of wind had struck, and between the umbrella and the teetering height of the stand, it was just enough to topple my inexpensive, but priceless-to-me, light stand. I lept to grab the whole contraption and with no small amount of luck managed to capture it before it all crashed to the hard and merciless cement.

Crisis averted.

Unfortunately, Jenna and I were not able to get back out again for another try at this thing before our cold weather kicked in. She is a senior in high school and has an awful lot on her plate between courses, work and just being a teenager. However, my neighbor across the street, who offers violin lessons, has a student named Emily who I met the other day. She has this whole teen-hipster look and vibe going on and while it’s not quite my thing it does have a strong visual component. I offered her one of my quasi-business cards and asked if she’d like to model and she replied in the affirmative. I have yet to hear from her, but I remain hopeful I will once the holidays are put behind us.

Let there be light…

Notice I said “light”. As in singular.

Very exciting, eh?

Some months ago through the generosity of my parents I was able to purchase a basic indoor, two-light studio setup. Just the basics. Lights. Stands. Umbrellas. Light boxes. It’s nice. But I haven’t had a chance to use it. It is, after all, primarily made for photographing a human subject(s) and my then subject, the daughter, decided to do a one-eighty in terms of cooperation. Typical teen, eh?

And so my lovely kit has sat rather abandoned in the upstairs closet while I pondered what the devil to do about it all. But that’s not completely true. I sort-of knew what I needed to do: find a new model. But finding a model isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless I put my mind to it and a few months later (no surprise at the time line, right?) I contacted an acquaintance who has a daughter about my daughter’s age.

I have seen her daughter a handful of times at our community’s pool and across the street at my neighbor’s, where she receives violin lessons. She’s long and lean. Pretty, but not pretentious. And so it was I thought she might make for a good model. Her mother thought Jenna, that’s the daughter, would be interested and promised to speak with her about the idea. Soon thereafter I had my answer: Yes! Saints be praised, I had a new model.

I explained how I would like to do some outdoor work as well as indoors seeing how I had these nice lights and such and she was completely fine with it. Very good thought I. And so it was I scouted a few locations out-of-doors last weekend, settling upon one particular place where I sincerely hope we will find good shooting.

But during the course of my recee I discovered that lighting was a bit of an issue. Earlier in the day it would be far too sunny, but in the mid-afternoon it might be a tad too dark. Clearly some lighting would be helpful, but I couldn’t use what I had and while a camera-mounted flash can be better than nothing… let’s just say it’s not ideal.

A down & dirty strobist kit seemed the best way to go and as I already had the flash and umbrella I only needed a better stand (something more solid for working outdoors), an umbrella attachment device and some electronics to fire the flash. And so it was I found myself heading over to see my fav camera store guy and he hooked me up. Basic, but sturdy 9-foot light stand. Cheap (i.e. plastic) umbrella adapter (which he’ll swap for the better Manfrotto one when it’s again in stock – go Alex!). RPS radio flash firing electronics (more reliable than some of the others they carried, but no where near as nice or expensive as the Pocket Wizard stuff). And what may be the real winner is that I have a second flash in the house! I had completely forgotten about the small Nikon flash I purchased with my last film camera. Another stand, umbrella holder and electronics and I will have a two light kit!

And so now I’m ready to experiment. A model. A capable, if modest portable light kit. A location. I’m hoping for great things and I don’t mind if that great thing is simply knowledge (as in what NOT to do!)

Just So Much….

Damn if things haven’t been exciting lately. Well…. photography wise they have been exciting. Around the house has been much less so, what with the death of the compressor for the HVAC system. Say goodbye to USD3,224!


Oh well…. at least it didn’t die during the depths of winter or middle of summer, right?! Bright side…. gotta look on the bright side.


But what about photography, eh? “Exciting stuff?” you say. Hell yeah! I barely have enough time to get through any of it, but here we go….

Just enjoyed the fifth of ten online & free photography classes via http://www.creativelive.com. In hindsight I will confess that the first four classes really felt more like ones oriented towards helping someone trying to decide what dSLR camera to purchase (four-thirds, APS, full-frame, etc.). They were informative, but really didn’t cover the things for which I was hoping. That isn’t to say I didn’t learn things. Nope. I clearly did. Those first courses helped reiterate things I knew and had right; further explained things I knew, but didn’t understand fully; and introduced me to information I hadn’t yet seen or read elsewhere. But in the end I believe (and hope) that it is the upcoming courses that will really provide me with more information, which I hope to use in the field. (Update: After reviewing this post-uploading I realized I didn’t say things quite the way I meant. The first four classes were very informative about modern digital SLRs and how to use them (and lenses). I think it felt more like review for me because most of what was covered was already known to me. I still say the classes would be very, very helpful to anyone looking to get into modern dSLR photography, but I’m afraid I made it sound like the courses weren’t as useful as they could have been. Truth is they were useful, but I’m not quite a newbie and these courses were intended for such. This latest course on Exposure was much more informative and handy and as such I anticipate future courses to also be such and less review-like.)

For some time I have coveted a strobist lighting setup so that I could branch out into lighting. I preferred the strobist route if only because you can go strobist both indoors and outdoors, and I had plans for some outdoor portrait/model type work. Alas, that route was simply too expensive for me on my own or for my benefactor. So what does one do when they money isn’t there? Well, you go cheap and take what you can get!


My benefactor was able to spring for a basic studio flash kit (USD500) to help me get started and while this kills off the versatility of shooting outdoors it DOES give me the opportunity to: (1) learn about lighting, (2) do some nice model/portraiture work, and (3) do a better job lighting-wise than I have been able to do thus far. The nice thing about this particular kit is that not only does it come with lights, umbellas, etc., but a bonus set of soft boxes and mounting brackets. Now I have four soft boxes…… which means I need to figure out what to do with them all! And that’s a good thing….. I like learning new stuff.

Next up to bat is a quick mention regarding some auto racing shots I took two weekends ago. Actually…. they weren’t really racing as it was one of those test and tune events, which is really neither here nor there. Cars. On the track. Going round quickly. But I’m going to save my thoughts and reactions to this event for another distinct post so you will just have to wait for a bit.

Now a quick change of gears to the Apple iPhone. One of which I own. Lovely device. And one of the bigger markets of apps is the photography arena. Many apps in the App Store are geared towards editing and/or processing your shots. But of late I’ve discovered that there are a number of utility-type apps, which are meant to help photographers with the process of creating shots. One area that concerns me in particular is depth of field.

I shoot almost exclusively in Aperture Priority mode. For me controlling the depth of field is a more important aspect of the way I prefer to shoot and how I like my images to come out. It’s what I like, so it’s what I do. However, depth of field is kind-of a hit or miss issue in photography. For any given aperture setting, millimeter focal setting and distance to subject one can change the depth of field in an image, but knowing what will and won’t be in focus is often a guess.

Sure, there is the depth of field preview button on our cameras, but I always found them to be relatively useless. And one can, of course, review the taken image via the LCD screen to see what is and isn’t in focus, but why guess and check afterwards when you can know in advance? Why indeed!

DoF Master (iPhone App)

Meet the DoFMaster app for the iPhone. It is one of about eight I reviewed in the App Store and selected it based upon favourable reviews and it’s simple nature. I confess to better liking the UI of another app, but I’ll try this one for a while and see how it works. If I’m disappointed I’m only out the price of a candy bar, so what the hell. I’ll report back later on my experiences with this app.

And finally, my dear readers, I had an unusual experience a few months back when my Canon 40D was displaying an icon I had never seen before in the LCD panel atop the camera. Confused and without my user’s guide I consulted the Internet via my cell phone and found a PDF version of the user’s guide, which I bookmarked and browsed in an attempt to solve the mystery of the icon. Jump forward to yesterday when I again had need of the user’s guide, but couldn’t find such here at the house. (Why it wasn’t where it should have been is a bit of a mystery as I’m usually very good ’bout these things)

“No prob,” think I as I still have the PDF site bookmarked in my cell phone and to the iPhone I go. Pull up the site, which even on the Wi-Fi takes a few seconds and then begin scrolling through the document. Scrolling ever so slowly. Painfully slowly. Especially slowly seeing how the page I need is nearer the end of the manual.

Damn irritating to be frank, which is sort-of funny considering how amazing this whole experience really is when you think about it.

Anyway…. I quickly realize that the secret to getting through this PDF document is to have it stored on my iPhone as a PDF and view it in a PDF viewing app. A few minutes later I have found and downloaded the free GoodReader Lite by Good.iWare. While free it is limited to five PDF documents, but who am I kidding? That’s just fine by me! Say hello to the reader…

GoodReader (Lite)

I follow the directions within the app to pull the relevant PDF file from the Internet and attach it to the app. Now I’m cooking….. The app provides all the sorts of benefits of a PDF reader that simply didn’t exist when viewing the PDF in Safari. I can turn pages one by one. I can rapidly scroll through the document. I can view in portrait or landscape mode. It really is quite amazing. And for free!

Seeing how I always have my cell phone with me I now always have my camera’s user’s guide with me. Sure, I don’t need it often, but I’m not out anything to have it on-hand 24/7/365. Amazing…. really amazing. If you own a camera AND a phone which can save & view PDFs then this is a brilliant way to have important information at your fingertips at a moments notice.

Why Is She Putting Her Finger Up Her Nose RIGHT NOW?!?

There is some saying out there in the photography world about never work with kids or animals as both are unpredictable. I don’t think that is precisely true. It is their unpredictable nature that is predictable, right? Huh? No. That makes no sense. Let’s try this again…

Photography and kids do not mix.

There. Short. On-point.

But add a rank amateur to the mix of photography and children and you have a recipe for something akin to a disaster. Or, at the very least, a lot of pictures being taken with only a few worth keeping. But I’ll take a few keepers…

A few weeks back our friend and neighbor Sandi asked if I would consider shooting her family’s Christmas pictures. They like to have a few family portraits in celebration of the holiday season and send out one of those family picture Christmas card things. Very suburban of them. I wasn’t certain I wished to get involved and not because I’m either difficult or uncooperative, but because I really have no fucking clue what I’m doing. Just look at my photostream for the evidence.

And this “no fucking clue what I’m doing” thing is particularly true of family portraiture as I haven’t ever done any. And I’ve barely used my quaint (i.e. inexpensive and incredibly basic) light kit so I haven’t yet quite got a real feel for it. So….no experience with family portraits. No experience working with kids. No experience working with posing. And no appreciable work with my light kit.

A recipe for failure if I’ve ever heard of one.


As I elected to do this favour and opted to look at it as a learning experience, what precisely did I take away from it?

First, kids are difficult. Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong…Kendal and Elise are lovely children, but there is something about dressing them in Sunday finery, setting up overly bright lights and placing a camera in front of them that makes them…no….FORCES them to stick fingers up their noses. Or to not smile. Or to look over at the interesting thing happening somewhere else. Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ! Smile and look at the camera!


Second, difficult kids mean you don’t pay enough attention to the parents. While trying to help focus the girls on my needs for the picture-taking extravaganza, I inadvertently stop noticing to what the adults are doing. Suddenly Sandi is slouching. Or Bruce has lifted his chin and now his glasses reflect the overly-bright soft boxes. Or that lovely smile previously upon Sandi’s countenance is now a grimace as she struggles with a child.

You can begin to see how we managed to burn through 146 images in less than 25-minutes.

Third, while smallish soft boxes are better than nothing, larger soft boxes would have been ideal. Looking over the images (including the keepers) I distinctly felt that larger boxes would have cast light over a larger area, thus reducing the difference in light fall between the adults and girls (the height difference). And a third would have been handy…something higher up and above me (centered upon the subjects). During moments like this it frustrates me to think that I could use more and better lighting, but dollars being limited I have to be thankful for what I have. But what I have clearly shows its limitations. However, between the limitations of the checking account and the lights, I’ll have to defer to the checking account as it, like the Ring, rules them all.


This should, or one would hope, seem rather self-evident, but it is so easy during the heat of battle to forget the simplest of matters. In this instance I genuinely believe I might have noticed how much dead space I was leaving above them had I not been frazzled by the dealings with the kids just moments before. And it’s this sort of image that just leaves me so frustrated. Even though they took at as a keeper, I think it’s awful. They look fine. The composition is for shit.

All that said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Because it was Bruce, Sandi, Elise and Kendal it was fun. They are such a nice couple and family. I always enjoy spending time with any of them. And it was, like I had hoped for, a learning experience. And the single greatest thing I learned was to take my fucking time.

Not wanting to seem slow (in both speed and mental capabilities) I pushed instead of taking my time and letting the pictures come to me. Instead I pushed to move through everything so that we could get in a lot of pictures from which to select. Had I been patient and took some time we very well may have taken fewer pictures and had more keepers.

Live and learn, eh?

ISO 1600 was my friend

Two Saturdays ago my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a voice recital that had been put together by our friend and neighbor Jerome Kopmar. He has been the Cantor Emeritus at a local synagogue and has performed around the globe. He is also a voice instructor and one of his better/best students also performed this particular evening. Last year’s recital (which I saw without my wife due to her being out of town) was just as nice, but a little smaller in scope and held at a different location. I did not bring my camera to that performance, but did ask if I could bring my 40D with me to this one and Jerry agreed.

The one caveat I was given was that I could not use a flash. This seemed quite reasonable considering how the flash popping on would no doubt have blinded him, if only momentarily, making it rather difficult to read his sheet music.


Once my wife and I arrived at the synagogue (this was his former synagogue, if I understood matters correctly, and they had asked if he would put on this year’s performance at the synagogue) I took some preliminary shots within the room the performance would be done. Poor results. The lighting was chaotic in that there were both compact florescent lights as well as incandescent sprinkled about the recesses of the ceiling. But to add real insult to injury was the fact the room was fairly dark. Well, dark as far as cameras are concerned.

It’s amazing how much more light is needed for a camera to capture an image at a lower ISO. Lighting conditions that seem quite fine and reasonable to our eyes can be total shit for the camera and it’s sensor. I knew this fact, but really hadn’t been exposed to it until this particular evening. I had brought along my trusty Canon 70-200mm f/4 zoom (constant f/4) and even it had one helluva time gathering enough light to make the sensor happy. During my pre-performance practice shots I kept bumping up the ISO in an attempt to obtain at least a 1/60 shutter speed, which I felt was necessary considering tonight’s performers would not be static forms upon the stage. About the best I could ever achieve was 1/30 when using my highest standard ISO setting: 1600.


First: thank the heavens for Image Stabilization. A tripod was unreasonable for this endeavor and I do not own a monopod. Image stabilization saved my ass (and photos) on more than one occasion and I am so glad I spent the extra dough to get this feature in my lenses.

Second: ISO 1600 on the Canon 40D is usable, but just. Noise was a common problem throughout the range of pictures, but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Yet it was bad enough.

I also became acutely aware of how loud is my camera. I’m not saying it’s louder than any other dSLR, but when all eyes and ears are focused upon a performer onstage, the sudden sound of a dSLR mirror flipping up, shutter curtain opening then closing, and the mirror flipping back down sounds like…..well…..like a cannon going off. I don’t think it disturbed anyone and I did check with Jerry during the intermission, asking if either my movement about the room or the sound of my camera irritated him. He quickly dismissed such notions and thanked me for not only attending, but for taking pictures (which I have, of course, shared with him and his wife).

Without having yet done any research on the issue of shooting under such circumstances, I have a hard time imagining what sort of thing I could do to obtain better results that wouldn’t involve adding lighting, which is out of the question. Shooting wide open with a pretty decent f/4 lens…..other than bumping up the ISO what is one to do?

I mean, other than purchase a Canon 5D Mark II which can shoot at even higher ISOs with less noise!


Educating the barbarians

While in Florida for my sister’s baby shower I took it upon myself to play “staff photographer” for the event. Mind you, nobody asked me to do such, but what sort of amateur photographer would I be if I didn’t drag along my equipment and blind everyone with a firing flash?

I did take plenty of pictures (about 400) and I will eventually upload some to Flickr, but I took so many and I have an important project to undertake with them such that Flickr will have to find itself on the back burner. Sorry about that folks.

During the opening of the gifts portion of the party I had seated myself on the floor not ten or so feet from my sister so that I could take picture after picture of the lovely gifts she received from all in attendance. Being that this part of the party was indoors I had to resort to flash and was making best use of what little I know about flash work (on camera to be specific). During a brief lull in the gift opening one of the younger family members in attendance (an approximately 12 year old niece of my brother in law), who was seated right by me, asked why it was that I had my flash pointing at the ceiling and what was the little white thing poking out the top (the bounce card built in to my Canon 580 EX II).

I was rather intrigued that this twelve year old little girl was asking such a smart question and felt it deserved a real answer….as real as I could give that is. I said to her “Let me explain it by first taking a couple of pictures,” which I did in quick succession while making changes to the flash unit’s settings for each photograph. The pictures follows:

straight flash

straight flash



Using the camera’s LCD screen I showed her each photograph and asked her which she thought looked better, hoping she would select the right photograph such that my explanation would make more sense. Fortunately she did indeed select the second photograph and so I asked her why she liked it better. Being a clever young lady she suggested it was because the lighting looked better…”…more even….” being the main thrust of her commentary.

And she’s right. As such I took a minute to explain how bouncing the flash off a white surface (the ceiling above) spread out the light more evenly and thus more gently on the subject; my sister. I further explained that the pull-out white card on the flash directed a bit of the flash’s output directly towards my sister to help lift any shadows that may have been created by the flash’s main light being bounced from above onto my sister-the-subject (mostly for the area around the eyes and under the chin).

It was really a pleasure to spend a few moments explaining what I was doing and why I was doing it the way I was to someone. I’m certain other folks (and by “folks” I mean adults) must have wondered the same thing, but perhaps they were simply too afraid to ask the question for fear of feeling dumb, which is simply absurd. Had I not read about bouncing flash off walls to create a better effect I would have wondered why the crazy guy with the camera was pointing his flash at the ceiling instead of at the gift opening woman in the chair.

Or maybe they just didn’t care.