Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Missed Pictures

A few days ago, I took a long-ish walk to the library, and decided to bring my old Nikkormat with me. I shoot film very slowly, as I'm getting used to it, and I want every picture on the roll to be as good as it can be. Wishful thinking, I know. I was walking down a rocky trail of sorts when I came upon the cutest puppy I've seen in a while. I'm no dog expert, but I'm sure there was some German Shepherd in it, and a very bushy tail. It trotted slowly, was very curious, and seemed to meander a bit, as though it was taking in the world around, paying little attention to the two women accompanying it. I didn't want to seem too conspicuous around the owners, and didn't want to be put in an awkward position of "Hey, why are you photographing my dog?" (a question that would have never bothered that guy who doesn't give a crap and shoots street photos with flash and stays in the same small town and documents it to death whose name escapes me). I got one snap off and should have gotten another, better composed one. I waited, I doubted, I let my inhibitions get in the way. Gosh that dog was cute. Next time, next time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

US vs. Them (i.e., us, wait, this is way too confusing)

I dropped into one of the camera stores I frequent on my way to the craft store that I frequent to do something I do frequently: window shop. I can't help it; it's fun. Sometimes I feel sort of awkward when items that I want to look at are behind the counter, and you ask about them, and you are totally unprepared to buy them, but you want to get your grubby little hands on whatever it is you can't just look at. This was the case with the Westcott Apollo Micro. I saw one at B&H in New York for $30. I thought about buying it then, but with my raft of other purchases (and the lack of a flash at the time), I thought better of myself. It looked interesting, with its metal frame. It seemed too good to be true at $30.

I saw the same small softbox behind the counter in my hometown, and so I asked him if it was like, $50 or something (given the fact that everything in Canada is more expensive for some reason). He laughed a little and said $90. I was sort of shocked. Since when did the Canuck markup equal 200%? I told him the cost at B&H and he looked much as I did a few moments earlier. All this after another mini softbox (the Aurora Minimax) cost only a few dollars more in Canada than it did at B&H ($40 here).

As Seinfeld might say: What's the deal?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Celluloid Adventures

High school photography class led me to purchase a 1978 Nikon Nikkormat FT2 for $40. High school friendships led me to receive an old pre-AI 50mm f/2 lens. This was the beginning of my film adventure.

A single roll of black and white Ilford did not convert me to film, but it piqued a curiosity. Slow pictures were a foreign thing to me, and to an extent, still are. Curiosity led me to shoot my own last day of school with an expired roll of Konica VX 200, a decision that, in hindsight, was a mistake. My inexperience with film allowed me to improperly insert the film leader into the slot in the take-up spool, meaning I wasn't advancing the film, meaning that I did not shoot on celluloid, but on the film pressure plate. My roll came out blank. I had looked forward to many shots of happy students on their last day of high school with faded colors and such, but that was not to be.

While at B&H Photo in New York, I picked up a roll of Kodak Ektar 100, the finest color negative film produced today, for a few bucks (which is, consequently, a few bucks cheaper north of the 49th). I didn't want to buy too much because of X-ray concerns at the airport. I have inserted it properly, I think, into my Nikkormat FT2 after a lengthy consultation with the manual and much trial and error. I look forward to some very high quality prints in 36 exposure's time. Here's hopin'.


I will readily admit that posing people is not something I'm used to doing. Sports shooters have it easy in this regard. It's just a Nikon D3s on each shoulder on a harness thing, 300mm on one, 70-200mm on the other, maybe a third body around the neck with a 24-70mm. Easy (sports shooters will kill me for this). People skills aren't really necessary. For portraits, however, you have to verbalize and build rapport with models. That is something I have some improvement to do.

Neil van Neikerk and Joe McNally seem to have a very easy attitude with their models. Their experience in wedding and general portraiture, respectively, allows them to know what they want quickly, and the ability to verbalize (or in Neil's case, act out) the pose. I think I need some inspiration. Neil suggested clothing catalogues and practicing the poses yourself in a mirror. I just might do that.

I've seen videos of Annie Leibovitz posing people, and she does not look as comfortable. It's strange, considering her end result. Perhaps it is because of her reputation that she does not need to relax her subject; they are already relaxed. I remember her saying that she still does not feel particularly comfortable building a rapport with her subject. It doesn't show in the pictures.

I guess I have more work to do. Hopefully you won't find me striking poses anytime soon. I can guarantee it won't be pretty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Duct Tape Gel Wallet

As a starving teenager with extremely limited resources, sometimes one must get creative and re-purpose wholly inappropriate materials to serve your needs. In a blog post many months ago, Joe McNally discussed the method he used to sort gels for his flashes. The king of TTL small flash, Joe needed a better way to sort the myriad of colors he had, from a quarter-cut CTO to 2-stop ND filter. He was using leather business card wallets to hold them, but he felt he could do better. A local shooter found a solution in the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket memory card storage system. Designed for pro shooters with 10 Compact Flash cards at a time (unlike me, with only a single SD card and a spare inside a compact camera), this storage system was re-purposed by Will Foster simply by cutting the seams out of the middle of the memory card wallet (eliminating the compartments) and using that to organize gels. Very clever. Still, each Pixel Pocket Rocket is something like $20, which I was loathe to spend. Besides, it's sort of overkill since you don't really need padding around sheets of plastic. Until I did this, I was carrying my gels in my actual wallet, each one nestled beside a debit or library card. That was not working out. I wanted to stick little Velcro (sorry, hook-and-loop-fastener) bits on the sides of my gels so I could use my speed strap to attach them instead of gaffer's taping them to the flash, which was quite a fiddly and time-consuming operation. Alas, the fasteners were too thick for my wallet.

With that in mind, I created my duct tape gel organization system. I modified the instructions for a duct tape wallet I found online simply by sewing down the middle. I had no regular gray duct tape around, only camouflage, so that is what I used. I also found that regular thread was far too thin and delicate for sewing layers of duct tape, so I used a running stitch (the only one I remember from 8th grade sewing class), a very sturdy looking needle, and mint waxed dental floss (double "thread"). Besides, it's not like "quality workmanship" was what I was aiming for with this late-night project. All I wanted was something that worked. This works. It's not pretty, and I hope to move on from this to a more visually-appealing solution when I have cash to burn on visual appeal instead of food or handheld softboxes.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Image Dissection

Occasionally, I'll post images which have particular stories attached to them. Usually these stories involve exerting too much effort on my part for a very unremarkable result, but that seems to be the nature of photography.

This image took at least 12 hours in Photoshop. This is mainly because of my incompetence in Photoshop. I have always been a Lightroom person. My last job as a high school yearbook photographer required such fast turnaround times I never had time to really edit pictures, and I was not expected to. I shot as a photojournalist, meaning I couldn't exactly edit the hell out of stuff anyway. Now with my new portrait photog hat, people need to actually "look good", and this means no random stuff sticking out of people's heads.

After many hours of begging and trawling forums, I found the answer from a far more competent friend. Many more hours of clone stamping, edge refining, and exposure adjustment later and I had a good enough rough image to apply some final touches in Lightroom. The picture doesn't quite stand up to inspection at 200%, but at anything up to 11x14, it should look natural. It would have been better if I had adjusted one slider differently during the edge refining stage, and if I had the patience to figure out how to get rid of a pesky halo around the hair, it would have been perfect. Alas, my patience was worn extremely thin by the literal 11th hour, and I needed to deliver it to the client some time, so that was that. I'd like to believe she was satisfied with it, but I will do better next time. Mainly, I'd just avoid the problem in the first place, though I put them there to avoid a very busy thoroughfare in the Inner Harbour. Still, I think inconveniencing a few people for a few seconds would have been a lot better than inconveniencing myself for half a day. Well, I was bound to learn eventually...

Cheap vs. dirt cheap frames from Michael's

Top: Cheap-ish but reasonably nice Michael's 8x10 frame (with included mat)
Bottom: Unbelievably cheap Michael's 11x14 frame with an 8x10 photo in it (mat an extra $5)

Michael's, the mecca of compulsive scrapbookers everywhere, has been seducing me lately with extremely well-priced picture frames. While many of their products are surprisingly good for the price, avoid the value-pack frames like the plague. Even though they're ridiculously cheap and even of an acceptable quality, they seem to cheapen the picture inside of it. I have this 3-pack of 11x14 frames I got for something like $20 after several coupons. While they are thankfully not shiny, even after I put a mat in it, it still doesn't look quite as good as the other frames I bought in singles (made of real faux-wood rather than plastic). It just seems to lack visual "weight". It became painfully obvious this morning as I was framing one of my better "big city" shots (i.e., one of my only "big city" shots, since I live among feral deer and rabbits in suburbia).

I shot one of my first HDR pictures on top of the Empire State Building, and though I am not usually a fan of HDR, I was quite proud of this one. I could have bought another 8x10 frame, but I remembered that I had that 3-pack of 11x14's, so I decided to print it 8x10, mat it, and put it in the 11x14. The result was acceptable, but certainly not as good as I would have hoped. Now, instead of placing it in a more prominent area of the house, I have relegated it to a dark corner in an upstairs hallway. It's too bad, really. I mean, I could get a better frame, but ultimately, laziness prevails once more.