Monday, May 30, 2011

Roswell Georgia Remembers

Take you camera with you this holiday--you will be glad you did and sorry if you left it at home.  While many of today's events are situations you cannot stop and have to go with the flow, you have to think more to clean up the backgrounds and get the right angle to tell a story.

While these are not going to win the Pulitzer they do keep me shooting and looking.  This exercise of the eyes and brain will lead you to better photos.

Do you see the variations in types of photos below?

First woman guest speaker, Captain Donna C. Rowe, Army Nurse Corps Vietnam 1968-69, hopes her talk helps them invite more women veterans in the future.

Crowd of about 6 - 7,000 listens to Guest Speaker Captain Donna C. Rowe.

Veteran pauses for a portrait after handing out flags to children and adults.

Roswell Faces of War Memorial

Crowd at the celebration

Pledge of Allegiance

Presenting of the colors by Piedmont Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tent Lighting

Lighting cube shot with Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5.  It triggers the studio strobes with it's built in flash.  The pre-flash fires and sets the exposure and then second flash takes the picture.

If you are doing product photography you need to know how to do tent lighting.

You may remember as a child taking some chairs and throwing a sheet over them and getting inside to play. If you used a white sheet you have a pretty good idea what tent lighting does—it diffuses the light.

If you already own a white tent with a white bottom then you can just set this up and you are pretty much good to go.

You can buy a cube tent like I have. I use the Interfit 4 foot cube tent. Here is a link for you Click Here

The basic idea the white material diffuses light passing through it and bounces light off of it inside back on the subject.

You need at least 2 lights to get a really even light and often I use 4. I put two lights on either side then one on top and one on the bottom. I like to literally wrap my subject in light. The best objects to see the results of tent lighting are black. You can see detail all around the object.

By the way, I used a point and shoot Lumix camera and the flash on the camera set off my studio strobes and there you have it—a perfectly lit object.
Simple shot of binoculars which are black and give you example of how evenly the light is around the object using the tent lighting. 

straight flash
Example of flash built into Panasonic Lumix.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stop shooting from standing height only to improve your photos

Getting low not only gave a different perspective, but let me tie the people in the foreground to the signage in the background to help give context to what is going on with them.
Most of us all take pictures from standing height. It's convenient more than any other reason.

So few people vary their shooting position relative to subjects, so that when you do your photos have stopping power. There are basically 2 approaches that I recommend trying every time you photograph a subject: 1) bird's eye view and 2) worm's eye view.
I put the camera on the floor for this photo.  This takes some practice to be able to shoot this low and compose.  I have worked on this and can see what I am getting without always looking through the viewfinder.
Get as low as you can and shoot up to the subject. This is called the worm's eye view for obvious reason.
At almost every Chick-fil-A grand opening, the first 100 customers arrive 24 hours and camp out to get Chick-fil-A for a year for free.
Get up above the subject to help give us the overall perspective. This is called the bird's eye view.
To get the birds eye view I rented this crane for me to go up above.  I like using helicopters for this, but the helicopter would have created such a down draft of wind on all those tents it just wasn't worth risking it.
When you get low and high also vary the lens you choose. Shoot a wide, standard and tight shot from each perspective of low and high.

If you do this regularly you will find that as you explore the subject you may discover the unique angle not only has stopping power, but also may give you a decisive moment and perspective that tells the whole story in one photo.

Remember if a subject made you stop and take a 2nd look with your camera it most likely stop other folks as well—if you work at it to find the most interesting perspective.

Photos used by permission of Chick-fil-A

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Off Camera Flash – Blog post 3 of 3

You can see the blur in the volleyball even with strobes being used due to the 1/250 sync limitation.

TTL Flash offers some advantages over manual flash. I use the Nikon speedlight system that has helped me have an edge over many other photographers not using the system.

There are three things that make me choose my Nikon Speedlights over the manual flash: 1) I have no sync speed limitations, 2) quick—I don’t have to pause to take readings and then set the camera, and 3) I can shoot at very wide opening f/stops.

You can see the blur of the basketball due to slow shutter speed with the strobes.

Unlimited sync speeds

When you can shoot at any shutter speed then you open the possibilities for so many things.
  1. You can shoot at high shutter speed like 1/2000 or 1/8000 of second to stop the action.  You see when the shutter is open at 1/250 sec for manual flash there is enough movement is sports to have some motion blur.  You see this is hockey and basketball.
  3. You can control the background—outside! You can crank that shutter speed up and underexpose the background by say 2 or 3 stops and then up you flash output 2 or 3 stops to properly expose a subject, yet underexpose the background.  Great to get those dark blue skies behind a subject.

The TTL flash easily figured the correct amount of fill flash on the fly here.


You don’t always have time in some situations to take the time to take flash readings and then set the camera.  News events are a good example where you need to be ready.  Recently I photographed the founder, president and son of the president for an article.  These folks are known to change their mind at the last second and ask you to photograph them just about anywhere—this is when having a TTL portable flash let’s you adjust on the fly.

Taking a flash into the rain forest where coffee is grown in the mountains of Mexico lets me pull it out under all the shade to make the photo look like sunlight.

Wide-open f/stops

Many photographers today are shooting with an f/1.4 lens.  If you go outside to shoot you cannot use a manual flash because shooting at f/1.4 means you will have to shoot at a very high shutter speed.  The TTL high-speed sync lets you shoot with a flash. 

To be able to shoot large groups outside you need those high f/stops that will often require the manual flash.  To be flexible and use high sync shutter speed you need the TTL system.  What I hope you now know is there are advantages to both systems.  Don’t buy both systems right away.  Buy one and learn how to use all the advantages of the system.  Once you find you cannot deliver photography to clients because the system you have is limited—buy the next system and learn all it can do. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Off Camera Flash – Blog post 2 of 3

(8+ Nikon SB900s) = (1 Alienbees 1600)
(8 x $510 = $4,080) vs ($360)

Comparing my AlienBees 1600 manual flash to my Nikon SB900 TTL flash can be tricky.  It is more like apples and oranges they would say.

One thing you can compare is the guide number.  This translates into what the f/stop would be at say 10 feet.

The guide number for an AlienBees 1600 is 354 with a standard 7" reflector. That means it will provide f/22 at 10 feet, full power at 100 ISO. The 11" reflector will get you f/45 at 10'.  The Nikon SB900 provides a guide number of 132 giving you about an f/13.2 at 10 feet full power.

The Nikon SB900 has a zoom head, which is like having a few different reflectors build in.  The f/stop can go up as you zoom from 14mm to 200mm.

Manual Flash Advantages
  • The studio strobes system AlienBees has more available modifiers, ie. Soft boxes, grids, etc.
  • Modeling light for studio work, letting you see approximately what you will get before you fire the flash
  • Can be used with an inverter, when away from available AC power. While this does cost more you will be able to use it just about anywhere.
  • Faster recycle times.
  • No overheating issues as compared to the Nikon SB900.  They recommend you stop shooting after 10 shots on SB900 to let it cool.  (I just sent my unit in for overheating)
  • It would take 8+ SB900s to equal the output power of 1 AB1600.  With SB900 running about $510 it would cost $4,080 to equal the one AlienBees 1600 priced at $360.
If you need to shoot at f/16 outside the only way to do that is to either buy 8 – SB900s or 1 – AB1600.

TTL Flash Advantage

  • Works on "AA" Batteries
  • Can shoot above the sync speed of 1/250.  You can take flash photos outside at 1/8000 second if you choose.
  • Can shoot at lower f/stops outside life f/2 or even f/1.4
  • Light and much more portable than studio strobes
  • Small enough to hide behind objects in the scene of a photo, verses the larger studio lights
Stay tuned for more information.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Off Camera Flash – Blog post 1 of 3

Alienbees 1600 Manual Flash

You are ready to take that next step in photography—getting your flash off the camera.  Today there are basically two directions to choose: 1) Manual Flash or 2) TTL Flash.

When I made this jump there was only the one choice of “Manual Flash.”  If I were starting over and having to make that decision it would be very difficult one to make.

Nikon SB900 TTL Flash
This first blog post will give you an understanding how each system works.  In the blogs following this I will go into the advantages each system has over the other.

Manual Flash

There are 3 settings on a camera that impact the photo when you push the shutter with flashes.
  1. ISO – This is the light sensitivity setting.  The lower the number the more light is needed to make a good exposure and conversely the high the number the less light is needed.  As a general rule the lower the number the less noise in a digital image, so the idea is to always pick the lowest number you can.
  2. Shutter Speed – this is what controls how long the shutter stays open.  The longer the more light that will reach the sensor and the shorter time will decrease the amount of light on the sensor.  The longer the shutter stays open the more existing light will be factored into the exposure.
  3. Aperture – This is what controls how much light is passing through the lens to the sensor.  This is an algorithm that is expressed as a fraction.  The number you see is actually the bottom number of the fraction.  The larger the number the smaller the opening.  Think of it like getting a piece of a pie.  If you get 1/8 of the pie you have a lot less than the person getting ½ of the pie.

If you had the camera set to take a perfectly exposed and in focus photograph and then added a flash, the flash will most likely over expose the photograph.  You must take into account the flash output to get a well exposed photo.

The easiest way to know what the settings on your camera will be with a flash is to use a flash meter. 

To keep everything simple, we will first use a room that is totally dark.  If you stand where the subject is and fire the flash you can use the meter to tell you what to set your camera.  You need to tell the meter two pieces of information:

1) What is your sync speed?  What is the fastest shutter speed your can take a picture with a manual flash?  This will be in your owner’s manual.  Many cameras use 1/125 or 1/250 sync speed. 

2) You need to tell the meter what ISO you will be using.

flash meter
Flash Meter

Once those settings are put into the flash meter you just need to put the incident dome facing the flash and where the subject will be sitting or standing for a portrait.  You can plug the sync cable into the meter to trigger the flash or a different mode letting you just first the flash and it will sense the flash.

After you fire the flash the meter will tell you what f/stop or aperture to set the camera.

TTL Flash

To figure all the above you just put the camera flash on TTL mode and take the picture.  You will pick the aperture on the camera and the camera will tell you if the photo is under or over exposed.  For all the same reasons your camera may over or underexpose photos without a flash will be pretty much the same reason it does it with a flash.

Check back for more posts on flashes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Welcome Home for Local Hero James Hogue

Last night my neighborhood, along with those from the surrounding community, welcomed home U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer James Hogue after serving in after serving two years in Afghanistan.

This is one of the few events happening around America where in the crowd are truly a mix of this country. I was seeing those from the left and right of politics and a blend of faiths all welcoming a soldier who was defending our rights to disagree and for this reason we all were gathering in agreement that this hero needing a warm welcome home.

While the pictures cannot reveal the differences politically they do show the common joy of appreciation for Hogue’s service to our community and country.

Welcome sign donated by Sign-a-rama

Hogue returns to his home in my neighborhood with a police escort and The Sons of Liberty.

Dorie Griggs, my wife thanks James Hogue for his service.

State Sen. John Albers was on hand to present Hogue with a proclamation.

Sons of Liberty Ridersgave presentation to Hogue and his wife as well as a gift certificate for dinner.

More than 100 folks turned out to welcome Hogue home.  Many had never met him before the event.

Sons of Liberty Rider, officials and Hogue with his daughter

One of the boy scouts was so excited to meet Hogue and find out he was a former boy scout. The scout is reciting the scouts pledge to Hogue.

Probably no one is more grateful for Hogue's safe return home than his daughter.
June 8th our son Nelson will report to Fort Benning to start his journey of service as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.  I am thankful that our community supports our troops and am proud to have him make this sacrifice for our nation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Emotional Intelligence

I really enjoy picking up books and reading from all aspects of life. The latest book I read was Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves.

Here is a link to it on Amazon:

What strikes me as a photographer is how my experiences with other photographers seems to support the notion that emotional intelligence does predict your success as a photographer better than your IQ does.

There are 4 areas the book covers:

1) Self-Awareness
2) Self-Management
3) Social Awareness
4) Relationship Management

I personally feel that this is a great book to read for the photographer who wants to grow. People skills are extremely important and I believe can make or break your career. 

Emotional Intelligence is the dimension of intelligence responsible for our ability to manage ourselves and our relationships with others. The culture you grow up in can help give you an advantage here.  What was amazing in the book was how China's managers from business tested higher than Americans.  The book attributes this to their culture.

The good news that the book gives us is that while our IQ doesn't change all that much, because it is more about your capacity to learn the emotional intelligence is more about how you choose to react to situations and events and that over time you can change this.  

The research showed how over many years American's tested higher each year than before until 2008 when the economy affected us in so many ways.  It is difficult for all of us to know how to respond when your career choice no longer exists and you have to remake yourself overnight to survive.  

If you are a person who likes to follow the rules and when following the rules hasn't always led to success then this is a great book for you.  It will help you to see how logic isn't the only way to problem solve.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hire a professional photographer for technical and for the artistic

When you hire a professional photographer, they show up with the right equipment to deliver high quality images.  One thing is a seasoned pro shows up with is flashes to use outside with group photos on sunny or cloudy days.

I used a flash on this overcast day to help with being sure you see everyone's eyes.  If you don't use a flash you will often have raccoon eyes, where those with deep socket eyes have shadows covering the eyes.  The flash also gives a catch light.  One more thing is often on overcast days the color shift can rob a photo of the color that the flash can put back.

This is the time of year for diploma presentations to graduates as in this photo.  A seasoned pro will be sure the background is appropriate and the lighting looks natural and you can see everyone's faces.

While posed photos are often the ones chosen, today people always like to have a "fun" shot.  While you would never have a person who is part of a group photo up above everyone else for the "fun" photo it can work.  Again the photographer needs to be ready for the moment when it happens.  This is not a 1, 2 and 3 count off photo and then fire the camera--you have to anticipate.  If you wait until you see it--it is too late.

Using flashes effectively comes from years of not using a flash like in this photo.  You have to see the light before you can make it look natural.  It is also another reason to hire the seasoned pro, they will deliver "moments" rather than just lining people up and getting good expressions in a group photo cannot replicate.  This requires a photographer to feel the moments and capture the mood. 

Graduations are ceremonies for change.  We need them to help us say goodbye to the way things were and help us to prepare for the future.  Weddings are as much a funeral celebration to the single life as they are to the future as husband and wife.  Graduations are a time when people are saying goodbye to the friends they shared for the past year or years on a journey.

Photography plays a really big part in helping us with these transitions in life.  They give us something tangible to help us remember.  We will remember the friends and maybe want to reconnect after looking back at the photos.

If you hired the pro rather than having your friends with cameras take the photos you are more likely to have memories that tell the story to future generations. The professional photos capture your personality and tell something about you to your grandchildren that words alone would not capture.

Is it real or is it Memorex?

Back before digital Memorex ran a commercial asking the audience, "Is it live or is it Memorex?"

I have found that when instrumentalists are warming up for a concert is a great time to make photos.  The look is the same for the most part, but you can get closer to the subject with the camera.

Some of the photos bellow are from the actual concert and others are from the time warming up, can you tell the difference?

Student stands up during his solo

I like showing a perspective to put the musicians in context

It is important to keep your eye on the conductor and look for his tempo

Conductors use all their bodies to communicate what they want from the musicians.  Here the conductor uses his face expressions in addition to his hands.

Not everything has to be about them playing.  The conductor letting the audience know something is just as important.

OK you can tell this wasn't during the performance, but I like it because it communicates that music is fun.

Get close and show the intensity of the musicians.

Use the background to help complement the foreground.
Next time you are at event, especially for your children, don't wait to take pictures when they start to perform.  Take photos of them warming up.  Be sure you don't wait till the end, because they all leave right away.

Want better photos then start early.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

"Photos Keep the Memories Alive"

Just some photos from this past weekend capturing the moments of Nelson Lalli, my step-son, graduating from the Citadel.

"Photos keep the memories alive," is what I heard one of the Citadel seniors during graduation. My son's friends came up to me over and over this weekend thanking me for the past four years of taking pictures of them at the Citadel and sharing them with them.

Parents came up and told me often they couldn't be at an event and really appreciated the photos we would post for them to see.

What I had reaffirmed this past weekend is that photos help make emotional connections and keep them alive.

My son was ambivalent about graduating. He was thankful he had accomplished his goal and done so with honors in so many ways. He was sad that next fall he will not be joining his friends for another year at the Citadel.  I hope that as the years go by the photos I made will help him remember and stay connected to his friends from school.
Nelson, my son, and his graduating senior friends from Bravo Company
John Ogle and Nelson Lalli goofing around like close friends do.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC

Figure 1

We are in Charleston, SC this weekend to celebrate our oldest son graduating from The Citadel.

We had some time to stop by the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and just wanted to share with you some of my sights while here.

Which ones are your favorite?

Figure 2

Figure 3
Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11