Night Shoot of the Challenging Variety
Yes, the four co-founders of Heady Hoop Tribe (HHT) are attractive young ladies and all are very talented but those aren’t the only reasons they’re hot. After 30 minute sets of dancing, prancing, jumping and cavorting with a variety of LED props, they’re literally HOT as in working up a sweat and panting like a race horse. At my age, it was the only way I was going to have a young, good looking woman sweating and panting next to me! It was fun to shoot subjects far removed from my usual fare of birds, critters, landscapes and old rusty stuff.
A friend in the Wickenburg Photography Group invited me to be 2nd shooter for this gig which included free admission to the Phoenix Botanical Garden Chihuly Exhibit. The women were great to work with and took direction well. It was fun to work with young people again. The most challenging aspect was getting the exposure right without including bystanders in the background.
I didn’t know much about the assignment until we got to the Desert Botanical Garden. It turned out the performers were among the crowd, a’la street performers. In such situations, if you give the crowd an inch, they’ll fill it two and three deep with spectators. I went with my 5D MkII and 50/1.4 so I could get in close. I wished I had brought my 17-40/f4 but you know what wishing gets you! To avoid shadows across the neck and below the chin, I handheld my flash low on an off-camera shoe cord (OCSC) to throw the light upwards. That also guaranteed no red-eye issues. Focus concerned me but I ran the numbers through a Depth of Field Calculator and felt comfortable with DOF at 6 to 10 feet. I culled about 33% OOF (out of focus) on my first review but I was happy with the results. With shutter speeds ranging from 0.4 to 0.6 seconds, the camera was on my small Gitzo 1228 tripod but I also experimented with handholding. In those photos, the stationary background lights are blurred. The trick was using a long enough shutter speed to capture lots of action without completely blowing out the LEDs. The flash was strictly to freeze the performer.
I set my Canon 550EX to Manual Mode and dialed in between 1/8 to 1/4 power depending on the distance to the subject. There was a certain amount of “By guess & by golly” to dial in the proper power but, after the first 30 minute set, I felt pretty comfortable making adjustments “on the fly.” By midnight the troupe had performed 4 sets with 30-minute breaks between each set. In the future, I’ll use my
cheap inexpensive LumoPro LP120 ($130, no longer available) because mechanical switches are much easier to adjust and re-adjust “on-the-fly.” The eagle-eyed will notice the flash cast harsh shadows but, I hope, judicious cropping and dodge/burn minimized them.
All photos were processed through LR4 but beyond Straighten/Crop, Levels/Saturation and minor Dodge/Burn, all these photos are pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera.) I ended up with about 24 keepers out of 167 frames, a 14% keeper rate so I can’t complain. Here are some more
Next time, I’ll post an article about the headshots WPG (Wickenburg Photography Group) did for the local police and fire departments. I’ll cover gear, set-up, posing and post-processing.
OK, so the fire was a controlled burn training exercise but it was still fun to get in close and play PJ (photojournalist.) The original destination was the Old Miners’ Cemetery in Jerome, AZ, a hippy-dippy artists’ colony in a historic mountain-top mining community. Jerome, like Bisbee, AZ, is a mining town that has successfully reinvented itself after the mines were tapped out and closed in the early 1950s. Today, Jerome is a cool little town filled with artists’ galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and tourism money. It’s a great example of a town that moved into the future rather than dry up and die like so many small towns that cling to a forgotten and, ultimately, insignificant, past.
OK, pontificating over, on to the the photos. I saw the black smoke from the Old Miners’ Cemetery and immediately knew it was a structure fire. In old mining towns like Jerome, fire is an ever present danger so I knew the local FD would pull out all stops. I hustled over there only to discover it was a training event. Still, I was able to get in close for some great PJ shots. In fact, I was so close that when the wind suddenly shifted, hot cinders rained down on me burning my shutter finger.
The first shot is just as I got there. I was using my Canon 5D Mark II with the 24-105/4L for landscapes at the cemetery and didn’t have time to swap out for my Canon 7D so I went with what I had ready. The moral of the story is, “Don’t over think the scene, just start shooting.” This was when the fire was at its tallest and wildest. After I got several keepers “in the can” (does anyone still say that?) I moved positions to get the old mine head in the frame (2nd shot) to make it look like a mine fire. As I was taking the shot of the bearded FF (#3) I noticed the second hose handler was a woman. I know there are female FF but this was the first time I had photographed one in action. The only way I could tell she was female was when her ponytail flipped out from under her helmet. On the last two photos, I briefly considered moving in front of the FF to get their faces but discretion won out. Getting old certainly takes a toll on my spontaneous stupidity!
Jerome, AZ Old Miners’ Cemetery
The real reason for being in Jerome was to photograph the Old Miners’ Cemetery. This is an old, semi-cared for cemetery that seems to have been last used around 1916. The rest of the group met up at 7:30AM but I wanted to catch the first light so I got there at 6:30AM. There’s a reason they call it the “Golden Hour.” Unfortunately, it was a typical clear Arizona day so the “Golden Hour” only lasted about 15 minutes. The cemetery scenes were perfect for BW conversions. I started out using Topaz Labs B&W Effects but found I could get faster and better results by first converting in LR4 and adding the finishing touches with TL B&W Effects.
In the first image, I used the Transparency slider in BWE (B&W Effects) to bring back a hint of the underlying colors. To do this, you have to do the whole conversion in BWE because, obviously, if it had been converted in LR4, there wouldn’t be any underlying color to bring back. The remaining three were converted in LR4 and tweaked in BWE. I don’t recall the exact steps but I usually started with one of Topaz Labs presets.
All photos were made with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105/4L on my Gitzo 3530LS with a Markins ballhead. Now, I know some of you will automatically wrinkle your nose at the thought of lugging around a tripod but, trust me, there’s no way you’re going to be making good photos at Oh-Dark-Thirty without something to steady the camera.
Yesterday, Saturday, Feb 8, I joined 20 other ‘togs from the Prescott Photography Club for a shoot at Reed’s Farm, a huge junkyard in Wittmann, AZ. The weather was beautiful and the junkyard was a target-rich environment. Not only did I meet a bunch of fun people but I also got a chance to put my new Canon EOS-M mirrorless through it’s paces. Later that evening, I got to hear Hal Linden (aka, Barney Miller) at a “Conversation with the Artist” event of the Del Webb Center in Wickenburg. All in all, it was a great day. Here are some photos from the junkyard as well as my review of the EOS-M.
I used a combination of Lightroom 4, Topaz Labs Adjust 5 and Photomatix HDR software to process the above photos. Can you identify the 3 that are nearly straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) from the Canon EOS-M? If you have any questions about post-processing, post them here.
Canon EOS-M Mini-Review
I finally broke down and sprang for a mirrorless camera. For those who don’t pay attention to this stuff, a digital SLR (dSLR) has a mirror and pentaprism to project the image coming through the lens to the viewfinder in the correct orientation. As the shutter is released, the mirror springs (reflexes) out of the way and allows the image through to the sensor. Of course, by that definition, P&S cameras are also mirrorless but what sets them apart from mirrorless cameras are several critically important differences. First, mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses. On the Canon EOS-M, using an adapter, I can attach any of my current lenses to the M. HERE (8th image down) is a cool shot of an M on a SIGMonster and the next photo shows it on a Canon 800/5.6. More importantly, mirrorless cameras use much larger sensors. The M uses an APS-C sensor, probably the same one found on the latest batch of Canon Digital Rebels. The image quality is outstanding. P&S use tiny sensors that result in tiny photosites (light collecting buckets) which produce noisy (grainy) images. Finally, the M incorporates a Canon DIGIC 5 processor, the “brains” of the camera. This is Canon’s latest and greatest and is instrumental in producing that outstanding Canon image quality.
I was totally prepared to hate the M and send it back to B&H. Surprisingly, the M fits my hand and feels like a “real” camera.” Even my wife’s Canon G11 has always felt a bit cramped but not the M. The 22mm (35mm equivalent) kit lens is outstanding and the images are clear, crisp and fully detailed. When I receive the Fotodiox adapter, I plan to test my Sigma 10-20 (16-32 equivalent) as well as the 50/1.4 (80mm equiv) and 85/1.8 (136mm equiv.) I’ll post photos at that time.
All the negative press about slow focus on the M has been pretty much put to rest with the new firmware. Because the slow AF issues caused M sales to crash and burn at introduction, it’s now available for under $400 (I got mine for $379.) If you’re a “latest & greatest” type, the new Canon EOS-M2 has been announced and should be available in 3-6 months.
That’s not to say the M isn’t without compromises. The lack of a viewfinder is annoying in bright light. I’m sure there are aftermarket LCD hood, a’la Hoodman, but I’m too cheap for that. I’ll probably fashion something out of an index card. The LCD-based controls take a bit of getting used to but, surprisingly, I found it was very easy to manipulate after an hour or two with the camera. I really, really wish Canon had incorporated an articulating LCD. In the above photos, numbers 1 (crane), 4 (hubcaps) and 10 (steering wheel) are from the Canon EOS-M and, are, for the most part, SOOC. As always, all Comments are welcome.
Bisbee, AZ: The Definition of Quirky
Bisbee is an island of long-haired, hippie-type liberal Democrat artists in an ocean of Red conservative Southeastern Arizona. This town is the very embodiment of “reinventing” oneself in the face of adversity. When Phelps-Dodge Corporation (PD) closed the copper mine in 1975, the town was on the verge of extinction but for a visionary mayor, Chuck Eads, who, with help from PD turned part of the world famous Copper Queen Mine into a tourist attraction to keep alive the rich mining history of the area. In the ’70s, Bisbee started to attract artists who established a quirky, thriving colony that continues to this day. I was in Bisbee in mid-January and made the following photos. Again, I got a little carried away with Topaz Adjust and Simplify.
Like most tourist attractions, the Copper Queen Mine had some anomalies. I liked the old mine equipment and gear for tourists taking the tour but the dynamite fuse can label looked a bit too neat to have been around much longer than say, 2 months! St Pat’s Church was interesting for all the stained glass but churches aren’t really my thing. Old Bisbee had very nicely re-purposed building like this old stock exchange and the Central School Project, now an artists’ co-op. Lowell used to be a separate town when traveling 3 miles took all day. Now, it’s a funky “suburb” of Bisbee and home to Bisbee Breakfast Club, one of the best places for breakfast and lunch.
My purpose for being near Bisbee was to photograph sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw. Based on my experience at Bosque del Apache, I thought I understood the fundamentals of sandhills but, alas, I didn’t have a grasp on the basics of controlling the weather. First, I never realized it got so cold in southeastern AZ. It was 20F in the mornings as I got out onto the playa. I’m sure it’s been as cold at Bosque but I wasn’t expecting it in Arizona. Second, the sight lines are only from the east side of the playa. That meant the wind had to be from the east for the cranes to take off and land facing me. Of course, the winds were always from the west so all I saw were crane butts. Third, the closest I could get to the cranes was about 100 yards, much further than Bosque. At that distance, I needed 600mm just to get a crane in 1/20th of the frame. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the arthritis in my left knee kicked in and I couldn’t hobble the 1/4 mile to the playa. You can also add to this litany of excuses the fact that while some cranes flew overhead from the east as they returned from the feeding fields, there were no clouds in the perfectly blue sky and I already have lots of photos like that. Here are a few of the photos out of several hundred.
The first image was made with a 300/2.8 with a 2xTC resulting in a 600/5.6. That’s about as close as I could get to most of the cranes. There were more Northern Shovelers at Whitewater than I had ever seen anywhere else. I’m surprised they haven’t dug their way down to China by now. The coot was slipping and sliding across the ice, trying to get to open water. Every so often, he’d peer down through the ice. Not the brightest bulb in the pack. As always, comments are welcome. All comments are published (except outright SPAM) regardless of whether I agree or not.
A Boring but Necessary Chore
I recently replaced my 6 year old colorimeter with a new Datacolor Spyder4Pro from B&H Photo Video and was amazed at how much the technology has improved. I lucked out and stumbled across it during a sale and got it for US$125 versus the regular price of US$169 but I can honestly say it it’s worth every penny of US$169. Currently, B&H is offering a memory card worth $30 if you buy the Spyder4Pro.
This was prompted by problems I was having printing a photo for a friend. It’s a sunrise filled with subtle yellows and reds and, no matter what I tried, the colors just weren’t printing correctly so I wanted to be sure my 4 year old monitor and 6 year old colorimeter were correctly displaying the image. Also, a new colorimeter was cheaper than a new monitor. Monitors and colorimeters are prone to drift as they age. Like people, an old colorimeter or monitor doesn’t work as well as internal parts begin to age and degrade. Lastly, software is a key component of colorimeters like the Spyder4Pro. As you might imagine, vast software improvements have occurred since my last consumer colorimeter was introduced 7 years ago.
The following screen grabs show some of the features in this low-end colorimeter. The first image is the opening splash page that shows the different info and test modes. The first time you’ll need to do a Full Calibration (FullCAL) where the software requests basic info about the monitor and checks the monitor’s capabilities. After that, it’s only necessary to do a Recalibration (ReCAL) as all the basic info is already in the software.
The next three images show one of my favorite features, selectable test images that can be enlarged for closer inspection. Clicking on the 4×4 matrix enlarges a 2×2 segment. Clicking again on one of the four images displays a single image at full size. For my purposes, I tend to check the Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker because I have one and can compare the screen directly against the “real deal.” I also like the four people images in the upper right corner because skin tone is universally understood.
The final image shows a graphical representation of gamut. My LG E2250T, a relatively inexpensive TN (twisted nematic) LCD monitor can display about 90% of all sRGB colors and 69% of Adobe RGB 1998. This type of chart helps me visualize what I can or can’t see on my LG. When I bought the LG about 4 years ago, TN was the most cost effective technology but IPS (in-plane switching) produced the widest gamut and best color representation. Unfortunately, IPS monitors were very expensive at that time. Today, good IPS monitors can be had for less than $500 with some in the sub-$200 range. My next purchase will be a good IPS monitor but, for the moment, the LG is still working well enough and the Spyder4Pro confirmed that for me.
The biggest problem with the Spyder4Pro is the lack of a manual so, if you buy one and run into difficulties, either view one of the videos on YouTube or, if you’re desperate, e-mail me and I’ll try to help.
Gamut, Color Space, Monitors and Oh My!
I’ve been spending a lot of time researching, reading, studying and trying to understand how colors captured by a digital camera sensor are handled inside Lightroom and, most importantly, how is color displayed on different output devices ranging from monitors to televisions to projectors to prints. Normally, I’m the sort who likes to tackle the whole gamut (pun intended) of issues at once because what I learn in one area can often trigger an idea or understanding about another aspect. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been practical for these subjects because 1) this has turned out to be a HUGE area of study and 2) my brain can’t keep up with complex, technical details anymore. I hate to admit it but I can no longer keep multiple (6 to 10) complex thoughts or details in my mind and retrieve them on cue. If it gets much worse, I’ll probably have to report to the Soylent factory! (If you’re too young to know about Soylent Green, Google it. You may be surprised how much us old fogies knew about the future.)
Anyway, I’m writing a future article about color space in Lightroom. I’m sure anyone who reads this blog is aware of sRGB, Adobe RGB 1998 and ProPhoto RGB. Well, allow me to throw out a few tidbits that I’ve learned in my research. Lightroom histograms use Melissa RGB, a ProPhoto variant named for Melissa Gaul, one of the original Adobe LR team members. This is the same team that included George Jardine, the LR instructor from whom I’ve learned more than any other instructor, period. Melissa RGB assigns a gamma of 1.0 instead of the usual 2.2 because 1.0 is the native gamma for most digital cameras. However, the LR Develop module uses ProPhoto RGB with gamma 2.2.
Why the difference? We have to understand the purpose of each. Histograms are literal representations of the pixels in an image. Therefore, mucking (a technical term) with gamma can change the actual histogram. However, in the Develop module, we’re trying to adjust the photo for human consumption.
Human eyes see things differently than a camera sensor. If a camera captures a scene that is twice as bright, it duly records twice as much light. A human eye, on the other hand, automatically compensates by toning down the bright scene to preserve shadow details. In order to produce an image that mimics what a person sees, a gamma curve is applied to tone down bright areas and bump up dark areas. Ergo, Melissa RGB produces an exact representation of what the camera captured but ProPhoto RGB produces what the human eye would have seen.
Sorry I don’t have “purdy pitchurs” to illustrate my points. I hope to have some by the time I finish the article. Also, sorry if this is too techie, geeky for you but I’m only writing about what interests me anymore. Have a great 2014.