Monday, January 30, 2012

New Website, New Look!

Well, its certainly been a long time coming, but I finally got around to updating my website with a new design, new photos (and hopefully) easier navigation.  The blog got a facelift too and hopefully its easier to navigate as well.

With both the main site and the blog, text is bigger and I went with a simpler, "clean" look so that photos would stand out more, and articles would be easier to read.  It was certainly a challenge for me committing to a white website and blog because I always felt that photos looked better on darker backgrounds, especially dark gray ones, but I've noticed over the last few years, that most of the websites I like, have white backgrounds so that's why I went that route.

Also, I have to say that I am definitely not a CSS/HTML guru by a long shot so to get most of the customizing done to the site, I had to spend a lot of time on Smug Mug's help blog Digital Grin.  I certainly could not have made all the changes I did so seamlessly without the help of a few of the Smug Mug "Heroes".  Their support is really incredible and made things really easy on a dumb button pusher.  So I have to say a big THANK YOU to all you guys and gals at Smug Mug who stepped up and helped a fella out!

There are a bunch of new blog posts on deck and should be rolling out in the next few weeks as time allows.  Having an uncanny busy first part of the year so far (which is a good thing) so the blog has been a little sparse but hopefully some new info will be coming down the pipes soon.

In the meantime, I'd really love to know what you think of the new look and layout!  I'm sure I will be making a few more changes here and there, but if you have any input, I'm always all ears in that regard so if anyone has any suggestions or comments, please sound off in the comments section, and thanks for following the blog!

Oh, also for past clients, if you find you're having problems locating or accessing any of your galleries, please send me an email and we'll get that taken care of!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Right Tools for the Job

Many of you probably know my absolute love of my Nikon 18-200 VR lens.  I've blogged about it, always have it with me and use if for almost 90% of the work I shoot.  It simply will do just about everything I need it to.  Its plenty sharp for me, has a huge zoom range and renders colors exceptionally well.  Every now in then though, you have to put aside your "preferred" way of doing things for the "right" way of doing things.  Let me 'splain...

A local artist and a friend of mine recently asked me if I would take some photos of his paintings so that he could get them on the web.  I've photographed paintings before and knew this wouldn't take much time so I told him I would.

He came over with a selection of recent works and I immediately started setting up my gear.  Once I had one shot done, the rest would simply be moving the other paintings in and out.  I know from past experience that when shooting paintings there are three things to always consider.  First off, you don't want to leave a big glaring reflection of your light source in the painting, and two, because it is a painting, you (usually) want to show a little texture in the image.  Lastly, you want to make sure the photo you produce renders the colors of the painting as accurately as possible.

Fortunately for me, my studio is actually my downstairs living room which has neutral gray colored walls (planned it that way) and a glorious, white ceiling (also planned).  I like the gray because that color doesn't seem to throw back odd colors when there is a little spill, and I love the white ceiling because I can easily bounce a light source off of it, creating any size "soft box" feel simply by zooming the flash.

To light the paintings, I decided to use one Nikon SB-800.  I positioned it close to camera axis, zoomed it wide to 17mm (that's with the flip down diffuser in the down position) and raised it up to about 2 feet away from the ceiling.  This light would give me a very large, diffused and even light to light the paintings with.  In order to not let any of that light directly hit the painting, I used a Honl Gobo on the side of the flash facing the painting.  This flash was triggered with my pop-up flash on my camera.  I also held my hand in front of the pop-up flash so it wouldn't add any reflections to the painting either (even though, that light is so minimal, it most likely wouldn't have added any reflections anyways).

After setting my light up, I mounted my camera on my tripod ...HOLY SMOKE I ACTUALLY USED A TRIPOD!!!  Actually, whenever I'm shooting any product photography or perfectly still subjects, I always use a tripod because it makes making adjustments so much easier.  I used a shutter speed that would completely nuke the available light in the room, set my aperture to f/5.6 and ISO to 200, turned off the VR feature on my trusty 18-200 lens, set the timer for 5 seconds (so I wouldn't introduce camera shake when pressing the shutter) and took my first shot.  It was a little dark, so I cranked up the power on the flash a stop.  Bingo, looks great!  Now I'm ready to shoot the other paintings.

Everything was going right along, the photos were looking good, so before tearing down my setup, I pulled the card out of the camera and went to the computer to double check everything just in case I saw something that would need an adjustment.  Glad I did.

After I got the photos on the computer, I noticed right off that the rectangular canvases looked bowed... i.e. not square.  I didn't think about it while I was shooting, and didn't notice this on the LCD but on the computer it was blatantly obvious.  So I put the card back in the camera, and went to try again.  I zoomed that lens to numerous different focal lengths and just moved the camera backwards and forwards, but every single shot looked a little bowed.  Then it occurred to me, that zoom lens is distorting my shots.  See below for an example....

I've read about this many times, that zoom lenses and the wrong subject-to-camera distance can distort your images, but honestly this is the first time I had it happen so noticeably.  Now since my living room is not the most spacious in the world, I only had one other lens that might be a good option, my nifty 50mm 1.8.  So I swapped out lenses and took a few test shots.  It wasn't perfect, but in my eyes (and to my buddy the artist who was right over my shoulder the whole time) it looked way better, see the image at the beginning of the post.

So, in a nutshell, while I know its easy (especially for photographers) to get comfortable using a particular piece of equipment or a certain technique, its always important to consider the right tools for the job.  In this case, I just happened to have a lens that worked and got me away from shooting with my precious.  Always try to let your subject drive the lighting, composition, technique, equipment choices or whatever else to give you the best results, don't always go with what you know you're good at or with.

Hope this post helps a few others out there in some fashion or another.  I know for one that I am a creature of habit (or OCD) so a good jostling of the senses every once in a while is a good thing.

Also, my friend Josh is an extremely talented artist, check out his Facebook page!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rogue Flash Bender Diffusion Screens

Do you already own a Rogue Flash Bender made my ExpoImaging?  If so, then you will definitely want to pick up one of the new Diffusion Screens.  These handy screens improve the light from the flash bender by diffusing the light giving it a softer quality, especially when used in close to your subjects.

The Rogue Flash Benders are handy speedlight modifiers that simply velcro on to your flash, and can then be adjusted and formed to better control and shape the light.  The new Diffusion Screens simply velcro on to your already existing Flash Bender and help to spread and soften that light.  The new Diffusion Screens also come in two sizes, one for the large Flash Bender and another for the smaller one.  The large screen creates a 9" by 8" source of light and the smaller one is 9" by 4.5".

To give a frame of reference of the differences between using a bare flash and the Flash Bender with the new Diffusion Screens, check out the images below.

You can see in the photo above and to the left, what a hard shadow a bare speedlight creates, while in the photo to the right you can see how softer the shadows are and how much more diffused the light is by using the Flash Bender and Diffusion Screen.  The flash used to light both of these photos was the same distance from the subject and also at the same angle.  This modifier also appears to use roughly 2 stops of light.  The only post work done to these photos was cropping, and combining them on one frame.

For something a little more useful, check out this portrait of my beautiful model using just a bare speedlight.  While this particular model looks good in just about any light source, notice how hard the shadow lines are and how there is a little more texture and detail in the face.  Also notice the shadow on the back wall and how sharp it appears.
In this next portrait, I used the large Flash Bender with the Diffusion Screen and right off you notice the better quality of light.  The shadow lines appear much softer and the fall off of light on the background is much more subtle and diffused.  Its hard to notice in these photos, but also the Flash Bender creates a larger catch light in the eyes, especially when using them in closer to your subject.

Another nice benefit of using these modifiers, is that they are light weight, and fold down so that they can be stuffed in just about any sized gear bag.

To see how the Diffusion Screens attach to your speedlight, check out this short video clip below...

The Diffusion Screens are sold separately from the Flash Benders so if you already own a Rogue Flash Bender (or two), you definitely will want to pick yourself up one of these.  Maybe in the future ExpoImaging will come out with a deal for those folks that don't have either, which will include a Flash Bender AND a Diffusion Screen in one package. (hint, hint) :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Need a Good Gear Bag?

Looking for a good quality gear bag that can hold a little bit of everything?  Then this bag might be for you!

I stopped by to see my friends at Outdoor Photo Gear the other day and they had just received a shipment of these bags in.  While I wasn't really in the market for a new bag, I couldn't help but notice the size of this thing and how well made it is (its a Kata --duh).  Its billed as a medium sized bag, but this thing looks like it will hold everything but the kitchen sink!  So I had to check it out.

Its the Kata KT-OMB-75 One Man Band Bag and I believe it would store everything a one man band could possibly throw in it.  Its surrounded by pockets all the way around and on top.  The front pocket zips open to reveal a large, flat storage area with smaller, utility style pockets for everything from notebooks, to pens, chords and all sorts of smaller nick-nacks.  It also has a flat pocket on each side and another voluminous one on top.  On the outside top of the bag, there are straps that can be used to strap on a tripod or light stands.

The inside of the bag has a bay for storing your laptop and two removable, zippered pouches.  There's also another strap inside to secure bigger items from moving around in the bag and has another two interior mesh pouches.  It also comes with a bean bag to rest your camera on while shooting!  On top of all that, the inside of the bag itself is spacious enough to hold several cameras, lenses, another tripod or could be used as a light bag to hold multiple monoblocs and pack-and-head type systems including small battery packs!

This bag is made really well with two straps on the side for easy lifting.  It has an inter-locking rugged handle for carrying and a shoulder strap that looks like something that came from the space shuttle with aluminum buckles, that also has a quick release latch on it.  The bag itself is made of reinforced Nycore grid fabric which basically means its going to outlive you!

Also, this bag isn't only for photographers.  This would make an awesome accessory for videographers, DJ's or anyone else looking to have a quality way of storing and carrying their valuable equipment.

The really, really awesome thing about this bag?  Outdoor Photo Gear is running a special right now where you can get this monster for only $99.95!!!  That is a steal, but if you're interested, at this price I bet they go quickly and the sale is only good while they have stock, so once they're gone, that's it!  Like I said earlier, I wasn't even looking for a bag, but at this price and considering the quality of the bag, I had to have one.  As a matter of fact, I took their demo!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Nikon D4!!!

Ok, I'm not one of those people who have to have the latest and greatest devices as soon as they come out.  I mean, I didn't even get a CD player until two years ago (kidding) and I'm usually the last on the new, cool toy bandwagon.  Even if I was one of those people, I'd have to sell my car to buy some of the new technological marvels that cause me to break out in cold sweats, as I gaze doe-eyed like a kid in a toy store.  I digress

All of that being said, Nikon announced its new, flagship pro level dSLR today, the Nikon D4, and boy does it look sweet!  I haven't had time to read all the tech. goodies, but let's just say I think this camera is going to set the mold for a new breed of dSLR goodness.  Just sayin'

If your curiosity is more than you can bare, then step away from today's activities and peruse the links below.  Be warned though, this information might make you want to cash-in your kids' college funds!

More after the jump!