Nichole Paschal of Topaz Labs to Present Webinar
Most digital photographers know about Topaz Labs’ powerful suite of software that can turn photos into amazing art with a single click. And, most photographers know about Nichole Paschal, Topaz’s outstanding webinar guru. A wonderful photographer in her own right, Nichole has agreed to present a custom webinar to the Wickenburg Art Club Photography Group and you’re invited.
On Monday, May 4 at 6:30PM Arizona Time (6:30PM Pacific, 730PM Mountain, 8:30PM Central, 9:30PM Eastern) Nichole will present a webinar custom designed for new photographers as well as advanced dSLR photographers. She has even added in a segment for cell phone photographers. Stripped of all the jargon and techie “stuff,” this webinar simply focuses on “Creating Beautiful Photography.”
Although the webinar, with my input, was created especially for our Photography Group, Nichole has graciously allowed me to invite my blog readers. To register, simple follow this LINK to receive your log-in code. DO NOT share that code as it is unique to you. Using that code, on Monday, May 4th at 6:20PM Arizona Time (about 10 minutes early,) log-in to the webinar. Once you’re logged in, you be able to hear us as we prepare for the webinar.
Anyone with a PC or Mac and high-speed Internet access can participate. There will be a Q&A period at the end where Nichole will field questions. There will also be a random “door prize” of a free Topaz software license of your choice. Be sure to review the complete line of Topaz Labs programs so you know which one you want if you’re the lucky winner (the complete suite is not eligible, just single licenses.)
To get a sense of Nichole’s presentation style (outstanding!) check out some of the 200+ Topaz Labs videos on YouTube. Even if you don’t use Topaz software for some reason, the basics are all there and you can learn a ton.
This Old Blog is Gonna Change
I want to thank the nearly 1000 subscribers who have helped make this blog successful over the past 10 years. But, as with everything in life, things change and it’s now time for this blog to change. Up to now, my focus has been on landscape, nature and birds with a smattering of other subjects thrown in from time-to-time. However, you may have noticed a shift over the past few years. First, I started photographing pin-up models like Tylor and Tina. Last November, I photographed glamour models at the Arizona Shootout. In between, I photographed Alyssa Caitlain at the junkyard and in a studio.
Last week, I photographed more models at the Spring 2015 Arizona Shootout and, for the first time, made fine art nude images. This isn’t to say I no longer make landscape or nature photos, just that my interests have expanded and I’m now photographing subject matter that may not be to everyone’s taste. Here are some examples.
For the moment, I’ll keep my more explicit images in my Model Mayhem account. But, as readers get used to the new genres, I may post some here. I hope my readers know me well enough by now to know that I won’t be posting erotic or pornographic images but only what, in my opinion, are artful images of the human form.
If you choose to stop reading my blog because of this change, I thank you for your past readership and wish you the best in all your future photographic endeavors.
If you choose to continue reading my blog, I thank you for your acceptance of change and hope you’ll enjoy the new disciplines I intend to pursue.
The photos of Amelia Simone (above) were made using Canon 580EX II and 550EX Speedlites (buy them cheap on Craigslist,) Impact 60″ umbrella, David Honl speedlite grid and Interfit COR751 light stands. The backdrop was a piece of mottled velour from Walmart and she was posed on a standard folding table with a piece of black cloth draped over it.
A cool device I bought specifically for studio work is the Yongnuo YN-622C-TX kit and two YN-622C transceivers for a $155 from Yongnuo on eBay. I’m not a fan of Chinese goods but, in this case, my concerns were unfounded because these E-TTL compatible triggers (yeah, you heard right, E-TTL) are well made, 100% compatible and easy to use. Even the Chinglish user guide was rewritten by New Zealander Clive D. Bolton. In the end, this was much ado about nothing because I’ve never had to read the manual.
So, what’s the big deal you ask? Let me count the ways. First, regardless of whether you’re using one flash or 10 flashes, the YN-622C-TX (C = Canon, N = Nikon) lets me control the flashes from my camera. I can twiddle around with the flash control in the camera’s Menu but that’s a lot of twiddling. I can also control the flashes using the switches and menu on the flash but that’s a lot of walking back and forth. Using the YN controller I can assign different flashes to different Groups (A, B or C) and adjust each flash output from 1/1 (Full) down to 1/128 power. For people just learning about flash photography, I can set everything to E-TTL and let the camera do all the thinking.
All native Canon modes are supported including E-TTL, 1st Curtain, 2nd Curtain, HSS and, even, Multi-Mode. Each Group can be turned on or off so it’s easy to test which lights are producing too much or too little light. And, the best feature of all is the simple, intuitive control interface. As I mentioned earlier, I unpacked the triggers from their boxes and began using them within 10 minutes.
For studio portraiture, where I want the key (main) light to fill light ratio to be about 3:1, I can set the Key to Group A and the Fill to Group B. If I want a hair light, that can be Group C. The triggers can be set to one of 8 channels so you’re not firing someone else’s flashes or vice versa. There’s a Test button to check your configuration. In the category of really, really cool, one of my 3 transceivers can be used as a transmitter if my controller should croak. In other words, I have a YN-622C-TX controller and 3 YN-622C receivers. If the TX should be dropped and stepped on, I can use one of the receivers as a transmitter. I’ll be down one flash but that’s not usually a big deal because I can set my LumoPro to Optical Slave mode and let one of the other flashes trigger it.
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.
A Little Light is Wonderful, Too Much is Yucky
On my Meetup site, we recently scheduled a shoot at Cruisin’ Grand, a summer weekly hot rod show on Grand Avenue. I like events like Cruisin’ Grand because it’s a fun, challenging opportunity to practice PJ skills. The crowds make it nearly impossible to make photos without lots of “extras” in the background. Because it starts late in the afternoon and closes after dark, it’s also an opportunity to practice making fast decisions with my flash.
The first two shots of a fire truck are with and without fill flash. Both shots are SOOC (straight out of camera) without any editing except resizing and compressing. Although my main focus was on the flag above the truck, the second shot with fill flash is better because the lighting is more balanced. However, notice how the flash turned the reflective lettering on the trucks white. These won’t win any awards for artistic merit but they clearly show the value of fill flash. The third photo demos use of the catchlight (kicker) panel on a Canon 580EX II. I pulled out the kicker and angled the light at 45°. That gave me enough light to fully light up the engine without harsh shadows. If your flash doesn’t have a kicker, you can do the same thing with a white business card rubber banded to the top of the flash.
You can see more “real” photos on my Meetup site.
The Absurdity of Burning Man
For those who have never heard of Burning Man, it’s an annual “counterculture experience of self expression and discovery” in the Nevada desert (read that as a drug and alcohol fueled orgy.) For those who have heard of Burning Man, here are some interesting thoughts to ponder.
For a “counterculture experience,” the organizers raked in over $15,000,000 dollars this year. That’s fifteen million US Dollars. So, for that kind of dough, what does one get from BM (an apt acronym?) You get the right to squat on a piece of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) property for a week with absolutely no amenities except porta-potties. You also have the right to buy (that’s right, BUY) water from the organizers. Everything else has to be hauled in by yourself.
You are NOT allowed to buy or sell anything other than what is offered by the organizers, after all, this IS a counterculture experience. The party line is that BM is a “gift economy” and everything is to be freely given without expectation of anything in return. Of course, this “gift economy” doesn’t apply to the organizers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against any entity establishing their own rules. After all, this is a capitalistic society. What amazes me is the number of dolts who actually pay to attend such an event. Included among these dolts are professional photographers who sign a contract that gives BM all rights to all their photos PLUS 10% of all revenue generated by the photograher. In other words, photographers are BM employees working on straight commission.
Here are some interesting reads on BM baloney:
Fun with Flash
Most hobbyist photographers never take full advantage of all the bells and whistles in their fancy external flash, aka Canon Speedlite or Nikon Speedlight (I guess Nikon has a better spell checker!) Here are three things you might do with your flash.
A Canon 550EX and Canon 7D was used for all these photos but this can be done with most any modern digital camera and flash. Caveat: most advanced features are only available on dedicated flashes (made by the camera maker.)
Bounce the Light: If you’re just blasting light straight ahead, you may as well get closer and use the pop-up flash on your camera. Of course, with the greater power of an external flash, you might be able to get some really cool redeye effects. To soften the light and cast shadows that add depth, texture and character to your photos, bounce the light off a (low) ceiling or a handy wall. The bounce surface should be white to reduce odd color casts unless you’re into that look!
The flash in the first photo below was bounced off the 10 foot ceiling in my office while the second photo was with the 550EX pointed directly at the subject. Notice the harsh shadow directly behind the subject. Regardless of whether the subject is 6 inches or 6 feet tall, there will always be a harsh shadow. The bounced photo has a soft shadow that is less objectionable. If the subject is 6 ft tall, the shadow will be barely perceptible. For small subjects/objects, read on for a tip near the bottom.
2nd Curtain for Motion Effects: Many people have read or heard about 2nd curtain sync but haven’t quite figured out the purpose. In the default 1st curtain setting, the flash fires as soon as the shutter opens. This is usually of no consequence when the shutter speed is brief (<1/30 second) or the subject is static. However, if the shutter speed is >1/30 second, subject movement may show unnatural aberrations.
The first photo below shows a moving car captured with 1st curtain. The flash fired as soon as the shutter opened so the body of the car is to the left of the frame while the headlights extend forward as if the car was firing photon torpedoes. In the second photo, setting 2nd curtain caused the flash to fire just before the shutter closes. Now, the headlight trails are behind the car, a more natural image. These were handheld since the crowded sidewalk wasn’t conducive to deploying a tripod and I actually like the blurred lights. For a more traditional 2nd curtain image of automobile light trails, use a tripod and a stronger flash output.
Freeze Frames: This last photo is an example of Multi or stroboscopic flash where the flash is fired repeatedly at a set rate. In this photo, the Canon 550EX was set to fire at 4 times per second. The camera was set to 2 second shutter timer and the toy was released shortly after the timer was tripped. As the toy swung in front of the camera, the shutter opened for 1 second and the flash fired 4 times.
Now, remember in the first part where I described bounce? The small size of the subject showed a large, albeit soft, shadow. Here’s a previous Monday Morning Tip where I describe using Multi Mode to produce small product shots without a shadow.
Photography Classes at Palomar College
Did you know you can register for my Palomar College classes regardless of where you live? Even if you’re in Moosebreath, Montana, you can attend my classes via webinar. Check out Digital SLR for New dSLR Owners on Tuesday and Thursday, September 13 and15 from 7PM to 8:30PM Pacific Time or Photoshop Elements for Digital Photographers on Tue/Thu, Oct 11 and 13 at the same time. All you need is a PC or Mac, high-speed Internet and $59. Register today to get the most out of your digital photography.
Why Manual Flash is Sometimes Easier
This past weekend, I photographed Celestina, Pinup Model, Makeup Artist (MUA) and Hair Stylist. This was the third time I’ve photographed her and I should have the lighting down pat by now. Yet, I still managed to make rookie errors that ruined many images and will require a reshoot. BTW, notice the cool NBA blouse. That’s Natonal Bowling Association, not basketball.
First, the excuses. We only had two hours so I was rushed. Celestina was delayed getting there so now we only had 90 minutes. I tried two poses which required moving the backdrop and wasted more time. And, the biggie: I took a shortcut and let E-TTL handle the intricacies of a four-flash set-up. This isn’t to say E-TTL couldn’t have handled it but it takes a lot more smarts on my. I would have been better off manually setting each flash instead of letting E-TTL try to figure out what I wanted.
Here’s a finished photo of Celestina striking a pinup pose. I wanted a white background in the tradition of true pinups. The BG isn’t pure white as I wanted but it’s better than the original (after the jump.) My first thought was to mask Celestina and drop in a white BG. I immediately realized that was a dumb idea because of the fine hairs where I was backlighting her beautiful red hair. More