Sunday, April 25, 2010


Last weekend I ended up doing a small headshot session with this guy.  He asked this his name and likeness be kept out of any public posts, so oddly enough, all the pictures in this post were taking by him (likewise, I took all the headshots of him).  I'll refer to him as Fred (not his real name).

The goal was to keep it simple, with relatively basic lighting, and just get some decent headshots for internet and/or business use.

We started out about as basic as you can get.  Medium soft box as the key light at upper camera right and a single light on the background to send it to completely white.  Luckily (for me), Fred had plenty of strobes, some good triggers, the softbox, stands, etc., so we ended up using much of his stuff.  If memory serves me well, we used an SB-26 in the soft box and an SB-24 on the background.  We also used his flash-meter to ensure that the exposure was good and the background was correctly exposed (if I remember correctly, he had the background a stop above the subject setting).

It honestly made me interested in getting a flash meter, because it definitely sped some things up, but we could have done the same thing with a little more time using the histogram on the camera.

The above shot is a decent, basic, but professional quality head shot I can use for generic "I need a picture" situations.  Those come up way more than I would expect, and it is good to have something like that on file.  Minimal processing, since we got the exposure good out of the camera -- just a little bit of levels, and a bit of *ahem* blemish removal *ahem*.

Then, we decided to kick it up a notch.  We added an SB-24 on each side to do some rim lights and add a little kick to the image.  It took a little tweaking to get the exposures right, especially because we had been shooting at ISO 400 (a soft box loses a lot of light and we wanted f/8), and our first pass with the back lighting caused some nasty overexposure.  So, we moved the soft box closer, dropped the aperture, and feathered the side lighting a little bit to reduce the blown edges.

I ended up really liking the result:

I also made sure to take a few with the back light off.  The white seamless goes to a nice neutral gray, and you get a completely different look with the same setup for free!

One of my favorites was an out take as we were tuning things up.  We had the backlight too low, but I like the edge to it, and it might soon become my avatar on one or two popular photo sites...

In brief, here are a few other lessons I learned on the shoot:
  • Shooting tethered is pretty cool.  I loaded the newest Canon EOS Utility on my laptop and turned it toward the subject so that we could see the results while shooting.  EOS Utility now has a handy preview window that makes it really, really easy.
  • Setting up the lighting and things was easy.  Maintaining conversation while giving myself time to think through the technicals yet get my subject to give good expressions is quite difficult and it is something I really need to work on.
  • It is definitely motivating to have someone with you on a shoot, even something simple like this.  Fred was great, and I hope we can work together again.
 * * * * *

In the bigger picture, you may have noticed that I changed the theme of the site.  I may be changing a few other things around in the near future too. 

In terms of shooting, I've set a goal to shoot at least once a week for an hour or so, with a group shoot once or twice a month.  Snapshots do not count for the once a week goal; it needs to be something that stretches me as a photographer.  For instance, today I shot a couple of innings of my son's baseball game, but I shot using my 400mm lens, so it was definitely different.

I'll get some shots up from the baseball in the near future.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Getting Serious Again

Boy, it has been a while.  My full time job has pretty much taken over my life and I've had little time for photography along with waxing and waning desire.  By the time I get to the weekend, I'd almost rather just chill on the couch than get out and shoot, but at work all week, I dream of getting out and shooting.

So, I've decided to force my hand a bit, and I put out a call for a few other people to start a small meetup group (on Bay Area Strobists).  My impression is that a ton of people want to do meetups, but they rarely happen because no one is willing to commit to organize them.  So if I organize a meetup twice a week, keep it focused by having a client and specific deliverable each time, I think we could keep a meetup going for a while meeting at least twice a month.

So, we'll see what happens.  I intend to use this spot as a place to discuss my thoughts and a venue to display my work.

Ultimately, I think I'd like to get to a spot where I do a shoot or two a week professionally.  Before I can get to that spot, though, I need to do a shoot or two unpaid a week; that's what I'm hoping the meetup will give me, plus a way to learn and collaborate with a few other people.  It will also be a good way to network with other photographers and to keep me motivated.

Friday, December 25, 2009

7 Days of G7 (7 of 7): Christmas Morning

How handy it is that this seven day series ends on Christmas.  You almost might think I planned it that way!

This year, I planted two fixed lights (a la Strobist) and switched between the G7 and 20D.  The images in this post are only from the G7.  (Last year I did something similar, and the year before I used bounce flash).

The way it was set up, I was shooting at 1/4 power on a Nikon SB-20 and 1/4 on a Sunpak 383.  That gave me around f/3.5-f/4 at ISO 200 on the G7 and f/6.3 at ISO 400 on the 20D.  Note that you can use a larger aperture on the G7 since the chip is smaller and depth of field is larger -- the smaller aperture also allows lower ISO, which is necessary for avoiding noise.

Overall, I thought it went well.  The G7 is quite responsive and performs flawlessly in manual mode with off-camera flash.  The one thing that really bugged me was shutter lag -- from what I could tell, using the off-camera flash actually slowed down the G7 shutter and I often missed shots that I would have gotten on my 20D.  It was long enough to be annoying (I'd estimate 100-200 ms) but not a huge deal.  Without the flash, the G7 seems to respond faster -- I wonder why they do that?  Maybe the G7 tries to talk to the flash (and fails because it is a dummy) before it takes the shot?

Aside from that, I liked the combination quite a bit, and really love the G7 for situations where I'd like to proof a flash setup, especially for a film camera.

Well, here ends the 7-day sequence on the G7.  I can't believe I made it the whole time without posting any macro shots!  Stay tuned for more next year!

7 Days of G7 (6 of 7): Low Light Shooting

I took the G7 as my only camera to the Christmas Eve service last night.  In the past, I've used both my 20D and a Sony Videocamera for the job, but this time, I figured I'd just depend on the G7.

Before I go further, let me explain the conditions -- the church is very, very dark.  For instance, 1/6s at F/4 and ISO 400 is about as good as it gets.  It really is a situation that exposes the limitations of a camera.  Add to that the necessity of reducing noise, and it is really hard to get a camera to work well if flash is not allowed...

My experience with the G7 was mixed.  There were a number of good things:
  • The G7 is super quiet -- I could shoot away without worrying about the click-Ka-CHUNK of the 20D bothering people.
  • The zoom on the G7 along with IS makes a very usable combination, even at very slow shutter speeds.  By doing a minimum of bracing my arms in a sitting position, I was able to get a decent number of keepers around 1/10th or 1/20th.
  • The G7 was quite good at acquiring focus quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised.
  • The built-in video mode was very handy and easy to use, once I figured it out.  The key is to set zoom, acquire focus, then depress the button fully to record.
  • The optical viewfinder is pathetic, but that is made up for with a very good implementation of live-view.  I never missed the optical viewfinder (accept for the cases where I wanted to steady the camera well).
But there were also a number of bad things:
  • Let's face it -- the G7 has a relative large chip for a point and shoot, but it still has pretty abysmal noise performance compared to a dSLR.  Below is a 100% crop from the shot above -- I believe this is ISO400.   
  • You can't shoot at high ISOs in RAW...  I know I am repeating myself, but my 20D is at least serviceable at ISO 1600 and quite good at ISO 800 for web-size images.  The G7 just craps out past ISO 200 and even shooting with RAW you can't save it.  (Disclosure -- I haven't tried RAW on the G7 since it isn't natively supported, but the reviews for it haven't compelled me to install the hack to make it work)
  • You can't zoom during videos (well, you can, but it is only digital zoom).  That is probably because the zoom would be super noisy...
  • You can't autofocus during videos -- this is a big issue.
  • The autofocus light is a light green, VERY directional light that can be quite distracting if you shine it towards, say, your kid, while he's trying to say a line.  If it was possible, I'd love an infrared autofocus light (not sure it is possible with this technology).

Overall, I know there's some things I can tweak in my technique, but I know the G7 is not going to be a good low-light camera for anything but snapshots.  I've heard that the G11 is the first in the G-series that has improved high-ISO performance -- in fact, the G11 at ISO 800 looks better than my G7 at ISO 200! -- and I might look into getting one used sometime down the road.  The G7 will remain for me a beater-camera for snapshots that has some advanced features too.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (5 of 7): Self-Portrait

    Many great plans have unraveled due to one or two unconsidered issues.  For instance, the Russian winter completely blindsided Napoleon and ultimately lead to his downfall.

    (Actually, that's not true -- apparently the weather only got him during his retreat...  Well, the analogy still works as long as you have a warped view of history...)

    In this case, I've had this idea of getting a shot of my new G7... with the G7.  Sort of a self-portrait.  In the end, the results were both sub-par, and better than I hoped...

    The general idea was to set up a shoot in my bathroom since I have a mirror on my medicine cabinet that can be swung to provide different angles with respect to my main bathroom mirror.  Using mirrors in that way, it is possible to use the G7s flash to actually illuminate the G7 from the side and take a picture from an off axis.  I considered a lot of factors -- cleaning the mirror, a second light to better illuminate the G7 (triggered optically with a snoot on it), etc. 

    But I forgot one big issue -- bathroom mirrors have the silver on the back of the glass, not the front.  As a result, there's always two reflections -- a slight one from the glass, and the main one behind it.  In this case, with very bright highlights, this causes very distracting issues as shown above.  (FYI, the mirrors in an SLR or TLR have the silver on the outside of the glass, avoiding this double reflection but making them very fragile!)

    Yeah, so that didn't work.

    But, as I was processing my images, I found the very cool image I opened the post with.  This is a shot of my G7 (twice) and me (twice), illuminated only by my G7.  I love the look of the shot, although I'm not wild about the composition (needed more space on the right).  I'd try to tweak it, but honestly I couldn't do it again if I tried.

    Anyway, another happy accident as I get used to my G7!