Pearls luster photographs

Pearls have been one of the most difficult things to photograph I’ve run into yet.

Milky pearls
Milky pearls

Bison being aggressive toward me were nothing compared to these tiny little round spheres.

My first photos were too milky and bead like, as you can see in the photograph at the right.

Although I created the nearly perfect light tent with no particularly hard edges, this ended up being a total failure for pearls.  Many objects are very nice with uniform smooth lighting but not these.

According to what I saw on, I was making these nice pearls look like they were of low quality.  That is because the edge of the reflection is not sharp.  “You should be able to see your reflection in the pearls.”  For many things, I work hard to put a nice, smooth gradient on.  Pearls are just the opposite.  The harder the edge of the reflection, making the pearl look more mirror-like, the better.

Fail on the first attempt.  Oops.

So, after studying pearl images from Mikimoto, I figured out their image magic of

Same pearls with luster
Same pearls with luster

how they make the pearl look round and lustrous.  It’s a combination of their pearl quality and using one of the types of classic portrait photography.  In many of their images, they use what is termed butterfly lighting.  Not all of their pearl images are like that but most are are a variation of it.

Of course, making this style of image requires a softbox and reflector.  As my awesome parents are shipping me my softbox, I’m going to have to figure out how to get by with what I have for now.  Using very non-photography items like paper, cardboard, posterboard, and the like, I’ll be able to create a make-shift softbox.  As you can see with the second image, the same strand of pearls as above looks much more lustrous.

Like all photography (and really, everything else), you have to keep working it and studying what was done.  Then you can match and maybe even go beyond what anyone else has done.  This takes lots of effort and keeps you up late at night.  But if you keep at it, chances are you will succeed.

Just don’t give up.

Diamond Necklaces

I’m enjoying studio photography and had the chance to photograph Kelly’s

Kelly's diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.
Kelly’s diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.

diamond necklace by Christian Tse today.  I made the first image on black to make the piece stand out.  It was actually pretty easy to get the background to go within 3 points of complete black.  This will be part of my intermediate photography and strobe photography class in spring 2014 put on by the Jackson Hole Art Association.

The second image was done on white, similar to what most jewelry companies do.  Although almost all products are done on what, PSOW, I prefer the black for this sort of piece with white gold and diamonds.  Even though the image on the metal is the same in both

Kelly's necklace by Christian Tse on white
Kelly’s necklace by Christian Tse on white

images, the effect of a black versus a white background is pretty dramatic.  It’s really a personal preference.  Most clients prefer things on white because they can cut the background out in Photoshop and then do whatever they need with it.  I prefer to get everything right in the camera and not have to do hardly anything in PS.  The less time I spend in post, the happier I am.

The photographs I’ve done for By Nature Gallery have required a pure, 0,0,0 background, meaning I have a LOT of work to do in photoshop.  Even though I can control the light really well, getting a true zero black background is essentially impossible.  So, their work always requires a lot of post.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which one you like better.

Necklace setup shot
Necklace setup shot

I’ve also included a setup shot so you can see what goes into making one of these images.  I really wish I had one more Nikon Speedlight to give me an extra edge and ability to sculpt the image.  It’d only be another $500.  Haha!

Death hike into Grand Teton National Park

For the first night in nearly a week, the sky was clear in Grand Teton National Park.

Questionable weather
Questionable weather

With the storms and snow blowing through in late September, hiking up and around the Teton Crest Trail had looked pretty dubious from continuous poor weather.  But there was a break.  It was supposed to be clear for two days and then a storm was to move through the area.  I had a very short window to make this happen.

I had wanted to hike the Teton Crest Trail straight through from the Granite Canyon trailhead to Jenny Lake via Paintbrush canyon for some time, as I am training to climb two 18,000′ volcanoes in Mexico.  It required me to do a death hike, that is, a hike that is done straight through without camping or sleeping.  I’ve done two in my life.

Grand Canyon
Notice the tiny trail on the right side cliff face. That goes up the north rim.

The first was hiking the Grand Canyon rim-rim-rim in 2006 from the south rim to the north rim (8,000′) and back to the south rim (6,000′) in 24 hours.  This is a classic must-do for distance runners.  Using the Bright Angel trail both down and up, I completed the 49 mile round trip in exactly 24 hours, starting at midnight and finishing at midnight.  I had to stop and tape up my ankle on the way back down from the north rim, as I had twisted my ankle on a rock.  That was by far the longest distance I had ever hiked in 24 hours.

My second death hike was off Highway 395 in California, just south of Independence and Lone Pine in 2010.  After chaining my bike up at the Onion Valley campground, I drove back around to Symmes Creek.  Starting at 7am, I hiked from the Symmes Creek trailhead, over Shepherd Pass (12,050′) , to Tyndall Creek

Forester Pass at midnight
Forester Pass at midnight

(10,870′), to Forester Pass (13,160′), past Kearsarge Lakes, over Kearsarge Pass (11,823′) and arrived in Onion Valley at 9am, a full 26 hours straight hiking.  I then picked up my bike, rode it down the massive hill and back to Symmes Creek.  Even though this trip was only 26 miles, it had far more vertical relief and higher altitude than Grand Canyon.

Now, I wanted to do the Teton Crest Trail as a straight through hike in 2013 (I had backpacked it in 2007). Realizing my time was very short, I went over to Smith’s in Jackson Hole and bought a small mountain of food to fuel me.  I had lots of calories in a relatively compact form.  I did not take any butter with me this time, though.  Lara Bars, Pringles, Smokehouse Blue Diamond almonds, Chex Mix, and a few more food bars made up the $33 of 3,200 calories I took with me.  All I had to do was fill up my Platypus water bladder, a generic 0.5L bottle and I was ready to go.  That was, except for sleep.

This week is the series of talks at Photography at the Summit.  I did not want to miss the

Teton Village streaking clouds
Teton Village streaking clouds

speakers that evening, meaning I wouldn’t get home until at least 10pm.  Heck, I had traversed the Grand Canyon on 4 hours of poor sleep.  I figured I might do it again.  And, I wanted to do it in the same style as I had done the Crest Trail before, leaving from the trailhead rather than cheating and starting off on the Jackson Hole Resort Tram.  As I was leaving early, the tram was not an option anyway.

Granite Canyon morning
Granite Canyon morning

Leaving Jackson, my girlfriend Kelly dropped me off at the Granite Canyon trailhead at 6:15am and I was off like a shot.  I had a lot of miles to cover and the sun had just begun to barely brighten the sky.  Wandering through the brush with a headlamp and a bottle of bear spray was fun but disconcerting.  Even though I had the bear spray in my hand, ready to fire off at a moment’s notice, the early morning sounds of the forest spooked me.  There have been a few grizzly attacks lately and my biggest fear was running into one in my haste.  So, every minute or two, I yelled out, “No Bears!”  The best part was the bold warning sign about being bear country right at the trailhead warning not to hike alone.  Yet, here I was.  I couldn’t scare anyone else up for a death hike, so this was a solo activity.

The hike up Granite Canyon is pleasant compared to Death and Paintbrush canyons.  The

Thin clouds coming in
Thin clouds coming in

grade is evenly spaced, so as to not feel like going up a massive set of stairs.  I spent the first 45 minutes in the dark, listening to the elk bugle.  It’s an ethereal sound normally, but by yourself going into the dark woods, it’s downright spooky.  It did not take too long to make it into the canyon and begin ascending the long grade.  The weather was pleasant for the first few hours.  But soon, a thin layer of clouds came in from Idaho.

On the way up, I ran into an entire herd of moose with one bull.  They were quite close to

Bull moose stealthing around
Bull moose stealthing around

the trail and I did not even realize I was in their midst until one of them spooked.  The sudden motion spooked me, too.  With bears on my mind, I was vigilant.  But moose are not to be trifled with, either.  Telling the large beasts, “Nice moose, I just have to slowly pass by you, moose,” I tried to charm them and let them know I was no danger to them or the two calves wandering around.  It was good none of them flicked their ears or stomped, as there were not too many trees to hide behind.

As I reached Marion Lake at 1030am, thicker clouds had begun to move in, cooling the

There are bears out there
There are bears out there

temperature down considerably.  It felt like when I was in Antarctica.  The moment the sun’s warmth is taken away, the perceived temperature drops rapidly.  I was doing pretty well on 4 hours sleep thus far.  I found dog tracks (coyote, wolf?) of some sort following deer and also a single bear track.  That was rather disconcerting.  Though the paw mark looked more like a black rather than grizzly bear.

I forged on toward Fox Creek Pass.  Hiking up Snow King with a 35 pound pack 3-4 times a week was really paying off, as I was able to push and hoof it without having my legs burn out.  Very soon, I started to get into a little bit of snow.  With only trail gaiters on, I knew that if it got too deep, there was no way I was going to make it very far.  But I had hopes.  Then, one of the trail drops had a cornice of snow and I went in up to my bare knees.  That was not very pleasant.  And, by this time, even thicker clouds had rolled in, the type that portend snow.

Fox Creek Pass
Fox Creek Pass

At Fox Creek Pass, I had to make a decision.  With satellite phone in hand, I was able to connect with Kelly and get an up-to-the-minute forecast.  Not good.  There was an increasing chance of rain in the valley with highs in the 40’s.  That meant there was going to be freezing rain or snow up at this elevation.  Even though I had all the right gear with me, I was still pretty cold due to the lack of sleep.  I wasn’t sure of the intensity of the storm coming in and didn’t want to get buried.

Even though I had been over Paintbrush Divide in a storm, I was not sure how deep the

4 backpackers on Paintbrush Divide in a storm, 2007
4 backpackers on Paintbrush Divide in a storm, 2007

snow was going to be on Hurricane Pass.  If Hurricane was impassable, I would have to backtrack 4 miles to reach this junction again.  Looking north, I saw snow and knew that it was pretty risky.  The trail going up Hurricane was tight, so with snow on it, there was real danger, as I had never been on it with ice before.

The lateness of the season conspired against me.  It had snowed a week before and had melted off pretty well.  But the farther north I looked, the worse things looked.  I just didn’t want to get trapped with no way out.  As I was lightly geared without a shelter, I would be in trouble if I got stuck.  So, I decided it was time to cut this one short and head down Death Canyon.  As I had wanted to take this route at one time or another, it was a bonus.  Plus, I had recently read a geology report of the area and learned of several caves on Death Shelf, so had the chance to scout those out.

For the sinister name, Death Canyon is beautiful
For the sinister name, Death Canyon is beautiful

After slipping on one steep, snowy slope, I felt better about my decision.  Getting smashed up prior to a big trip was no way to go.   I knew I had been over the north side of Paintbrush in snow with a backpack, but the forecast freezing rain was another matter.  I had no backpack to keep me warm, even if it slowed me down.  I’d rather have it snowing and 20 degrees than raining and 40 degrees.  It’s much easier to deal with blowing snow than rain.

On the way down Death Canyon, I ran into a small group of deer.  And I saw one pika, though I heard several higher up.

Late season flowers
Late season flowers

They’re just so fast I only hear and rarely see them.  By the time I exited Death Canyon neared Phelps Lake, the rain had started coming down, making me quite cold.  I decided to head toward the park’s south entrance to be picked up around 730pm, as Kelly was unable to come much earlier anyway.  Moving fast kept me warm, though barely.  It was ironic that carrying a pack made me slower but kept me warmer.  For a death hike, I need to move fast but can’t generate as much body heat.

The rain went from a drizzle to a steady gentle stream.  With the wind, it was getting a bit

We see you...
We see you…

unpleasant.  When I stopped to prepare for night travel by pulling out my headlamp, I was able to get a cel phone message to Kelly.  She would be able to meet me at just the right time when I would be coming out of the park.  Since my shorts were fairly wet by this point (yes, shorts….it seems crazy but it’s not that bad), I had to put away my camera to prevent damage.  I mentioned in the last video recording that once I put the camera away, something interesting would happen.

Sure enough, I ran into a bugling bull elk with six cow elk.  Classic.  It was so dark I would

Phelps Lake color
Phelps Lake color

have had a grainy, cruddy picture, so I just enjoyed the sight.  I wondered how they dealt with sleeping in freezing rain.

Reaching the Granite Canyon trailhead again, I began walking toward the south entrance in hopes that Kelly would find me.  Sure enough, her FJ’s headlights shone through the rain and I was out.  The thermometer showed 38 degrees F.

It was only a trip of 26 miles over 13 hours.  It wasn’t nearly the 35+ miles I had hoped to do.  But with sketchy conditions and a very long walk back

The pika's view
The pika’s view

through the park, I thought it was the prudent thing to do.  I’ll just have to wait for a better weather window next time.  Much to my surprise, I only ate two Lara bars, a Ziplock full of Chex Mix and half a Ziplock full of Pringles.  When I’m going downhill, I hardly stop to eat.  Knowing this, I’ll carry far less food next time.  As a bonus, the next morning I saw I had shed a full pound just from this hike alone.  This is a way better way to lose weight instead of dieting.

Death hikes rule.

Prep for teaching: Watch at the South Pole

One thing I had been meaning to do for a while was photograph the

Casio G-Shock ProTrek PRW5100 that went to the South Pole
Casio G-Shock ProTrek PRW5100 that went to the South Pole

watch It’s Jackson Time, one of my expedition sponsors, provided me with.  Ted, the owner, was very good and made sure I had an excellent expedition time piece to trek across Antarctica with.

Although the Casio ProTrek PRW5100-1 is no Rolex, it has certain features I loved.  Having analog for checking time at a glance was wonderful.  It had been forever since I had an analog watch and I never realized how much more quickly I could watch my time during skiing.  Also, the analog face does not develop lag like an LCD nor does it turn black when looking at it with polarized glasses.  And, I could leave the watch out and still read it.  LCD-based watches would turn to unreadable mush at -40 deg. F.

One of the purposes for photographing this watch was to fine-tune my product shooting skills for a few classes I’m teaching at the Art Association of Jackson Hole.  I will be teaching four different classes.  Stay tuned for their description, purpose and audience.  I will be targeting intermediate shooters with one course and have a class on strobe (flash) photography.  Hence the above photograph.

The class dates and exact description will be forthcoming.

ProTrek PRW5100 unretouched
ProTrek PRW5100 unretouched, what it looked like after the south pole

Note: The above watch went with me to the South Pole.  It’s a little more beat up than the above shows.  It took a sick amount of Photoshop work to take out most of the dings, scratches, fuzzies, and specs.

Here’s the original image before editing:

Repaired Nikon 18-105mm lens plastic mount

Nikon makes great lenses.  Except for those plastic mounts.  The bayonet mount on my

Nikon 18-105 broken and new mount
Nikon 18-105 broken and new mount

18-105 broke some time last year and I’ve been able to get away with 2 tabs.  I could see some image degradation and didn’t want to risk further damage.  So, I purchased a ring on Amazon, found a few YouTube videos on how to repair it and, in 20 minutes, the lens is reassembled and working.

Having a broken mount on a lens is really irritating considering the lens cost in the $400 realm.  I would have happily paid an extra $30 for a metal mount.

Good thing I didn’t break this off in the woods or on a shoot.  It would have been bad, should this have been my only lens, as it was in Guatemala.  There aren’t too many Nikon shops down there.

The cost to replace this was $5.  The shipping cost far more than the part.  With 25 minutes of my time so I didn’t wreck the aperture spring or the tiny wire connector, the lens is back up and working.  Repair shops wanted well above $100 to make the fix.

Tools for the job
Tools for the job

All you need is a small 00×2-1/2 Phillips screwdriver, fine needle nose pliers if you don’t want to wreck the spring,  couple bowels for screws and patience.  Don’t make this repair over carpet.  Once the screws fall down, recovery is nearly impossible.

This repair can be done on the Nikon 18-105, 18-55, and the 55-200 lenses, all of which sport this breakable mount.  There are two machine screws holding the lens communication pins, three plastic/ sheet metal thread screws holding the bayonet plastic mount to the inner metal lens casing, three larger screws mounting the back base to the lens body, a spring holding the aperture control lever and a fragile little wire attached with another plastic/sheet metal threaded screw.  My biggest worry was dropping a screw inside the lens or on the floor.  The former meant major recovery and the latter meant lost screw.  Amazingly, neither happened.

Standard disclaimer – I am not responsible for you breaking your lens by following this description.  If you are not competent or confident, take it to a repair shop.

Is this camera good?

Last night one of my former coworkers asked me about a starter camera for his daughter.


She’s looking at getting into photography.  As with all kids, do you go all in and get something amazing or will it collect dust in the closet with the guitar, keyboard, science kit, etc?  That’s a parental prerogative question and for you to answer.

However, I’ll post the text of the email.  It’s low risk to start with a $130 camera and if your child gets into it, great, keep it, buy her a much nicer once to dramatically improve her photographs.  And, if she really gets into it, the choice will be easy.

Ultimately, you’ll want something with at least aperture control so you can take over depth of field.  Here’s the email text:


The Nikon L610 looks like a fun starter camera.  No guarantees on quality as I’ve not used it, though but it reviews well:

 The only negative on it is shutter lag.  Article here on how to deal with that:

 It uses AA batteries, so buy a pack of Eneloop batteries – love those things, as they’ll last a long time.  Alkaline will die immediately and Li are terribly expensive unless she’s going to a very cold place:

I use these batteries on my product shoots all day.  They don’t lose their charge sitting on the shelf like regular NiMH batteries, either.

I used this (gf’s camera)

in Antarctica – highly recommended, cannot recommend it enough.  It’s a lot more $ than the Nikon but it takes amazing pix in difficult conditions, has a great zoom.  It’ll take better shots than my DSLR without photoshop.  It’s discontinued, so when Amazon is out, that’s it, it’s gone.  It’s not discontinued because it’s bad, just a Sony thing I’m sure.  Maybe the Sony HV-50V is a good replacement.

But if you want to spend more $$ and get an awesome camera, the only one that’s better is the Sony RX-100.  If she doesn’t get into it and finds the L610 is not enough camera, then you have an upgrade path.  But, if she doesn’t get into it, you’re only out $130 with the Nikon.  Parental risk/reward assessment.

Let me know if you have a camera question – I’ll do my best to answer it!

Specialized HP floor pump with Switch Hitter II head

Alright, I thought I was pretty competent with bike floor pumps.  Until last night.  It was

Specialized HP floor pump
Specialized HP floor pump

rather embarrassing, really.  My Blackburn pump has served me well for the better part of a decade but it’s a 1,000 miles away from me right now.  So, a new pump was in order.

The Specialized HP floor pump looked to fit the bill.  It is almost all aluminum construction, so it looks like it will last.  And the parts are replaceable.  Good enough.  And Hoback Sports in Jackson Hole was having their 15% off sale, so I couldn’t resist.  The pump head is supposed to support both Presta and Schrader valves without any selection, adjustment or fiddling with adapters.  Great!

Except when I went to pump up a tire and nearly flattened it trying to connect the pump to the Presta valve on my Specialized Allez Elite.  And, this was at 10:30pm at night.  As an engineer, leaving a problem unsolved is an anathema to me.

So, I web surfed madly and found only this page describing the procedure for attaching the pump.  Immediately I tried reconnecting the pump and, surprise, it worked as advertised.  It was merely a matter of being too tentative attaching the Schrader valve to the Switch Hitter II pump head.

As it seems other people run into the same problem or complain about the complete lack of instructions for these floor pumps, I decided to make a short video explaining how to use the Specialized HP floor pump.  As I’m a cinematographer, that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

After a morning of shooting, foley work, color grading, and editing, I now have a video that will (hopefully) help others in the future.  I certainly didn’t want to return to Hoback Sports and ask how to use this $50 pump.  Death before the embarrassment of admitting ignorance in this case.

The video does not show screwing back down the nut on the Presta valve nor replacing the dust cap.  Make sure to do this!

Getting somewhere in rough conditions

Tire footprint at 7.5 PSI
Tire footprint at 7.5 PSI

Several years ago, I made a study of tire surface area versus inflation pressure.  This information was most helpful when driving in sand and in extreme off-road conditions.  Many times my brother, his family and I went out to the southern California desert to roam and drive around.  It was a good time.  More than once, I pulled someone out in either a 2-by or who hadn’t reduced their tire pressure to something that would work in sand.

My short article on tire inflation actually shows the tire footprint relative to the inflation pressure.  This graphically shows how different the footprint can be.

This article here by Harry Lewellyn is a more complete mini-tretise on why reducing tire pressure works.

Tacoma grill
2013 Tacoma grill

Granted, I’ve never taken my 2005 Tacoma up Elephant Hill in Utah.  That would have been an ultimate test of tire inflation vs grip.  It’s a notorious vehicle wrecker.  As I walked up, I could see serious scrape marks on the rocks with lots of drained oil or other vehicle fluids.  I’ll stick with simple sand driving and medium off-roading.

Expedition Questions

Now that the expedition is over, there are still many questions to be

At Union Glacier
At Union Glacier

answered. Sorry I was not able to get to them during the trek!

Questions from Roy and Debbie Takeda on the expedition

Would you consider doing it again? If so, how much additional corporate sponsorship?

That’s something I’ve debated for the past month and the answer is still no. There are plenty of things I’m chasing after, like the Expedition Grand Slam and being a person who has done the full distance rather than a last degree trip or just flying to the pole. For me, just flying to a pole, checking your GPS and flying home isn’t too much of an expedition, though it can be an adventure.

Also, I am considering the North Pole as a solo, too. Though I’d rather do this as a team based on the increased risks in the Arctic, I’ve not come to a good conclusion yet. Yes, I will pursue mutually beneficial relationships with corporate sponsors for my future expeditions.

Since you will complete your expedition soon, would it be easier to obtain corporate sponsorship for a second expedition to the south pole?

Ready for flight to Ronne Ice Shelf
Ready for flight to Ronne Ice Shelf

Yes, I’ve been told it’s much easier to work with sponsors once you have completed a major expedition on your own, such as a pole or an 8,000m peak.

What would you change in your physical preparation for the expedition?

I will definitely purchase a pair of skate skis on sale. That is one thing I think will help me next time. Towing the tire was still the best but adding the skis to it will enhance the reality of the workout. Also, I’ll go all out on leg weight lifting workout. I did some but in retrospect, not as much as I could.
But first I need to get completely healed from my Antarctic trip.

What would you change in the equipment/clothing you purchase or take?

I’ll have an avalanche rated shovel and it’ll have to be modified for the north pole. There are other items unique to there, like firearms, that are unnecessary elsewhere due to the wildlife.

What changes would make in your diet?

Endless bags of food
Endless bags of food

The amount of chocolate will be dramatically reduced & replacedI still don’t like eating it.

Would you do it at a different time of the year? Maybe a little earlier or later in the summer season down there?

No, there is no choice but to trek during the time of year I did. Both earlier and later are not possible at the poles due to the weather and transportation restrictions.

If you don’t do this expedition again, would you consider a different expedition in the future to some other location?

Yes, I’m evaluating expeditions to the arctic and Denali.

If you don’t do this expedition again, what advice would you give to someone that would like to follow in your foot steps and attempt the solo unassisted expedition to the south pole?

Desk of stuff at Condor del Plata
Desk of stuff at Condor del Plata

You have to travel six sessions of 75 minutes with 10-15 minute breaks. When going through sastrugi, you have to plow directly through it, not around it. Don’t bother putting skis on Paris sleds, they’re a hindrance unless you’re doing a last degree ski. And, most importantly – pray for good conditions. All of us this year were thrashed by crazy conditions.

Which time zone did you start your expedition in, i.e. pacific time zone, mountain time zone, or do any of the time zones as we know of them have any bearing down there?

I started in Santiago, Chile time. The only bearing for a time zone there is for calling into ALE and the home base. As the sun is up 24 hours a day, the only desirable time requirement is to have the sun at your back, limiting your time zone choices.

Will you cross both international date lines during your expedition?

When I was at the South Pole, I walked around the pole enough times to relive my 38th birthday plus a few spare days.  So I crossed the international dateline many, many times.  As I got closer to the pole, my longitude began varying wildly, as only the slightest movement east or west would alter multiple degrees of latitude.  It was the weirdest thing every, as I’m used to North America where things are relatively consistent.

Update – This was my third attempt to answer all of these questions!  The first got me half-way through, then I had the entire blog database go down, then my iPhone wordpress app ate all my answers.  What a production.