Friday, May 30, 2008

Monopod Use #392

So, I'm back from ICRA and I'm still trying to get my act together and organized. Posting at this location will be slow, but I need to decide between Lightroom and Bibble ASAP so I can get all my baseball shots processed before the end of the season. I'll try to keep a trickle of short posts going even though I'm massively busy; today, I'll tell you about a non-obvious use for a monopod.

At the last conference I went to in Korea, the cheap hotel (still $150 a night) had a break in. Apparently, the robber (likely an insider at the hotel) had key cards and crept into about ten rooms while the occupants were sleeping to steal wallets and other valuables. Luckily, I was in the expensive hotel which had sliding chains on the doors so we had no such problems.

I'm not paranoid by nature, but when I got to Pasadena and didn't find a mechanical lock inside the door, I got a little nervous. Then, I remembered the old chair under the doorknob trick used in monster movies to keep the monster from opening the door (the fact that said monster usually just crashes through a window or cuts the door with a chainsaw I won't mention).

Of course, the chair the hotel provided was on wheels.

But I did have a handy adjustable post with me:

Sadly, this was the only use my monopod got all trip.

Although, my monopod also doubles as a nice club, so I'll never leave home without it!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Show Us Your Food (Documentary Photography)

Turns out, my last post wasn't as off-topic as I originally thought. On the Freakonomics blog I found a long post interviewing the authors of Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. It's easiest to just let Freakonomics intro the book:

"Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio sat down to a meal with 30 families in 24 countries, photographing their one-week food intake and talking to them about food, dieting, and shopping habits for their 2005 book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats."
If you're interested in the book, here's an Amazon link:

The photographic connection is the documentary photography involved. Instead of just writing down what each family ate in a week, the authors actually posed the family in their home with all items that were eaten in a week. There's a lot of other nice images in the book too, from what I can see (I haven't read it yet, but it has gone on my wish list).

For instance, the Caven family from the U.S.A. ate what you see below (click to see it a little larger):

Go ahead and read the full interview -- it's got some really eye-opening information. Turns out the Caven family has a very similar diet to my own (although we don't get corn dogs much!).

What would your food portrait look like?

Friday, May 16, 2008

OT: Freakonomics and Monkey Chow

This is way off-topic, but I thought I'd share the Freakonomics Blog with you. If you aren't reading it, I recommended it; it's got a ton of random, interesting, thought-provoking posts on it.

BTW, if you are living under a rock, Freakonomics is a book which looks at social problems (and other things) from an economist's point of view. If you haven't read it, buy (or borrow) a copy ASAP.

From the Freakonomics blog, I stumbled upon a diary of a guy who ate monkey chow for a week. Complete with videos!

What got me there? Let me leave you some breadcrumbs:

CC's post about food
-> Freakonomics post -> Freakonomics food posts -> Monkey Chow!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mid-pitch Baseball

Six months I saw a really cool MLB baseball shot where the photographer captured the ball mid-way to the plate. You could see the ball in razor-sharp focus, but the pitcher was out of focus, and I really liked the way the ball popped out of the image and puts you in harm's way. Sadly, I wasn't able to locate the image again (I thought I saw it on SportsShooter, but I couldn't come up with the right search terms).

So, I decided to try to mimic the shot.

Turns out it is pretty hard, especially in a little league game where pitchers aren't that... consistent.

The key is to use a very fast shutter speed; the shots on this page are at 1/2000s, and honestly, I could (should) have gone to 1/4000s to really stop the ball. Even at 1/2000s, there is visible blur on the top of the ball (but not the bottom) due to the ball's rotation and motion. A 100% crop of the ball is at right.

The second key, probably harder than the first, is timing the ball. 9-year-olds pitch slow enough that there is a lot of arc and the window to capture the ball is pretty small. It was weird -- I knew I got the ball when I didn't even see it in the viewfinder because the shutter blacked it out.

Other important details: I pre-focused on a spot about three feet in front of the plate because that's where the ball seemed to drop into range. I also used a 1.4x teleconverter at nearly 200mm to get the right perspective, an aperture of f/8 (the camera said f/5.6, but the TC adds a stop) to give me larger depth of field (and make it easier to catch the ball), and ISO 800 to enable 1/2000s. Obviously, this is all in manual mode, and I metered the grass at -2/3 stop to gauge my exposure.

The best image is at left -- note I missed the composition, but I'm ok with that. A rotate and a crop later, some sharpening on the ball, smoothing on the rest to reduce noise, and you end up with the image that started this post. Click any image to see larger.

Below is another shot I liked -- this one was around 130mm, and I liked that I could include more of the pitcher (but, as a tradeoff, the ball is smaller).

Next up in baseball shot gimmick department: long shutter speeds or multiple exposures!

(FYI I love that first shot with the long shutter speed, and the second link describes how to do multiple exposures)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Muir Woods

I haven't updated in a while, and I suspect I won't be updating that much in the coming months. Mostly that is because I added a third job to our already busy lives. Actually, the funny thing is, I've spent the day at Job #1 (Grad Student) yet primarily worked on Job #3 (editing textbooks) and a little of Job #2 (tutoring... today was organization stuff, not the tutoring part). Job #3 has really fried my brain today, so excuse any grammar mistakes.

If anybody has a seed for a money tree, let me know!

Anyway, I wanted to get a short little post up with some photos. Last week my parents visited and on Sunday we took a trip to Muir Woods which is a beautiful, magical place... even if so many tourists are there you have to park half a mile away. It is hard not getting beautiful shots with the monster trees all around.

On the flip side, Muir Woods is a great demonstration of large dynamic range. Even shooting RAW I had a lot of shots with blown shadows and highlights.

BTW, I'm starting to play with Lightroom now -- why is it so hard to output the edited photos? Although, I love LR's highlight recovery feature!

Anyway, I'll leave you with a cute shot of my daughter...