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:

Just because he has a fancy home and talks fast…

While doing a little reading on the Spray and Pray photography method

Spray button
Spray button

people always joke about, I came up with a name – David Jay.  After a little reading, it seems he (used to) sell a 10 step approach to theoretically making megabucks in photography.  One of the techniques was just shooting wildly at an event and praying something comes out.  It seemed that whatever he charged for his system (code for scam) on this site, thephotosystem.com, gave you little.   Yet Jay figured out how to get people to pay for his “advice” and has done well for himself.

If you think just holding the shutter down will get you  something valuable, you are sorely mistaken.  Especially at weddings – those are the most sensitive events you could ever photograph.  Apparently David Jay photographed one couple’s wedding and he made a neat little slide presentation during the reception.  It all seemed to go well.  Then the couple received the DVDs of their wedding and were shocked.  The vast collection of images they received were junky, poorly exposed and motion smeared.

Read the email traffic between Stacy and David Jay.

Now there is the chance that this email traffic is all bogus.  Maybe.  But here is Jay’s response page:

David Jay’s response page

So this at least appears to be true.  You will have to be the judge of that.  If I had majorly blundered a shoot, I would never try to sell the customer additional web products, I would just try my best to amend a poor situation.

The system
Why are all things labeled “system” a scam?

But then notice that David Jay’s photo technique site is down for “revamping”.  And it’s very easy to find other forums talking about his photography methods.  And, he’s no longer doing photography.  Read Gary Fong’s (Lightsphere inventor)  commentary here about these methods.  Fong indicates that though he does not agree with Jay’s teaching or shooting methods, he does admit that Jay is a brilliant businessman.

The theory is that press, regardless of good or bad, is essential to making money.  Keeping people on your website and selling purportedly valuable products is one of the ways Jay made his money.  But looking on his site, you’ll see that he’s positioned himself as a speaker and must get plenty of invitations to do talks, even though his actual product is questionable at best.  No doubt the guy has charisma, but so do….well, you know.

Compare this to the Teton Photography Group symposium held in Jackson Hole on September 7, 2013.  Here, the presenters did not sell fake techniques of just shooting a bunch of random stuff and hoping that something comes out of it.  None of the presenters, all professional photographers, advocated doing anything of the sort.  Instead, each of them presented methodical techniques for improving images.  The 70 attendees received a full day of ideas and inspiration for their photography and, at least I hope, came away with something valuable.  Based on the feedback I received as a speaker, that was the case.

Jay’s suggestion of not bringing a lot of fancy equipment to your first few events seems

Untested weapon
Untested weapon

well founded.  You don’t want to be overwhelmed.  But why in the world would you show up with gear you are unfamiliar with and put someone’s special event on the line?  I for one would never do that – I would feel horrible if someone relied on me to make beautiful images of their event and then came back with yellowish, blurry junk.  My rule has always been:

No untested weapons in the field.

If you want to learn more valuable techniques, there are far better out there.  Photography at the Summit (Sep 29-Oct 4, 2013) is one of them.  It’s expensive but you get to work with real photographers who produce real products.  They don’t just talk but can and do deliver.

***

Since there seems to be an amazing demand for this information, I have begun work on a photography DVD series.  It won’t tout bogus spray and pray methods or other junk.  It will get you away from the Green Mode or P setting, though.

Fong related a horror story (half way down on this page) about a photographer who went

DVD
DVD

to an international shoot, tried manual instead of P(rogram), and blew it.  She tried photographic basics at the customer’s expense.  Again, it may not be true.  But the potential is there.  This DVD series will be full of useful information on improving your photographs and stepping up your game.

Masters of the darkroom

These two articles bring me back to my 4×5 and 35mm darkroom printing days:

Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing

Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom

B&W dodged and burned Arizona Memorial
B&W dodged and burned Arizona Memorial

My dad, brother and I converted my old bedroom at my parents’ house into a dark room.  It took some time to get the setup right but we finally got it going in the late 90’s.  I had quite a good time in there developing film and printing negatives.

There was a lot of work to black and white printing, as you see in the above two articles.  It’s not just getting the film to the right density and then cooking some paper through it.  These articles talk about the dodging and burning process but don’t go over the paper grading, test strips, water washing and all the other minutia that goes into making a great print.  As I worked in the dark room, I soon realized that it would take a great deal of time to become very good at it.

Power Retouche B&W convert
Power Retouche B&W convert, no darkroom work yet

We had the enlarger, several lenses, and a complete processing system to get water into and out of the bedroom.  It took a little piping and rerouting but end the end it worked brilliantly.  Thank goodness for powerful sump pumps.

Ultimately, once I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D70, my film days ended.  As much as I liked shooting film, the cost of it (without processing!) during a 3 week trip to China matched the cost of the D70.  On top of that, the $7/roll processing cost for the Fuji Velvia, Kodak E100VS and rolls of high-speed B&W made the D70 cost a no brainer.  Then there was the joy of scanning and tweaking each one of those slides.  Onto digital I went.

Now, with great Photoshop CS6 plugins like Power Retouche B&W Studio, I can harken back to my black and white film days.  The only thing missing is the smell of the chemicals.  There was just something about it that made you feel like a mad chemist and physicist artist all at once.

How I miss those days.

Jackson Hole Roller Derby

Last night the Jackson Hole Roller Derby Juggernauts, normally the Valley Vixens and Grizzly Belles, became the Heros and Villains in what

I said stay down!
I said stay down!

was their last match of the season.  They have competed all throughout the summer of 2013 with different teams.  To make things interesting, each team dressed up as either super villains or super heros.  It made their normally entertaining costumes absolutely outrageously funny.

One of the photos I ended up with is on the right.  The fun thing about photography is that sometimes you end up capturing something that totally did not exist.  In the photo, it looks like the super hero is going for the knock out punch on the super villain.  The best part is the super hero looks like she is just going to clock the super villain more as a slightly irritating job and without anger.  It as though she said, “Look, I have to defeat you and then get back to my newspaper job.  Don’t take this personally.”

Team costumes
Team costumes

The technical

Photographing roller derby is fairly difficult, as the rink is dark and the racers are tightly packed in, so there are a lot of blurry and out of focus pictures.  One trick I did was to shoot in 12-bit raw, intentionally underexposing a stop, allowing for a faster shutter speed and slightly wider depth of field.  The plan was to get sharper images and sacrifice a stop of light.  Since I was shooting in raw, I would easily be able to recover one stop of exposure in Lightroom and just apply it across the board.  I have used this technique when shooting bands, too.

Most of the shots were done at 1/320 sec at f3.2 and at ISO 1600.  On the Nikon D300s, ISO

Pain of blurry shots
Blurry shots are painful

1600 is fairly grainy.  Although that is not ideal, blurry images from a slower shutter speed or shallower depth of field is far worse.  Grain can be fixed or ignored, blur cannot.

I shot with the Nikon 180mm f2.8 and the 85mm f1.4D lenses.  Although I would have liked to use a 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, that lens is a little out of the budget at $2300.  Since I don’t shoot too many sporting events, it really isn’t an issue.  Plus, the new lens is a G version, meaning there is no aperture ring, making it impractical to use the lens for time lapse videos.

Getting the technical moon shot

To get the moon shot using Ansel Adam’s oft-quoted exposure formula, used for his

Sailing the moon
Sailing the moon, Snow King, Jackson Hole

famous Moonrise over Hernandez:

Take the square root of your ISO – that becomes the aperture.

  • ISO100 = f11
  • ISO200 = f14

Then, take the luminance of the object.  In this case, the full moon is 250 cd/ft^2, relatively low on the horizon.  That becomes the shutter speed to put the object in zone V, 1/250 sec.  To bump up the moon to zone VII, a more desirable target to make the moon bright but not blown out, cut the shutter speed to 1/60 sec.

In the digital era, people probably don’t use the zone system too much any more.  But, being a former B&W photographer with a dark room, I still think that way.  And, it still works.

Moon exposure
Moon exposure

I have used this setting with proportionate variation to the ISO and aperture, to great effect over the years.  It’s much easier than trying to meter the moon.  Interestingly, the moon is the exact same exposure as daylight for zone V.  I’ve seen websites reporting luminance measurements that well exceed this calculation, yet it works well every time.  My Sekonic L-508c light meter does not have enough zoom to fill the meter area, as the moon is about a half degree wide and the meter area is one degree.

Also, a full moon is 250 cd/ft^2 when full.  The exposure drops quickly as the moon enters its gibbous, half and crescent phases.  Yet, the above shot is very close to the above calculation.

The shot was taken at f5.0 at 1/500 at ISO 200.  Lets see if the math works out.  My Nikon D300s was set to ISO 200 = f14.  Let’s just say the moon was full, so that’s 1/250

Moon exposure on D300s
Moon exposure on D300s

sec.  To get the moon to zone VII, I want to shoot at 1/60 sec.  (1/250 – 1/125 – 1/60).  Since I was shooting with a 180mm lens, 1/60 of a second would have gotten me a nice, blurry image.  So, I needed to shoot at a higher speed.  I chose 1/500 of a second, 3 stops above 1/60 (1/60 – 1/125 – 1/250 – 1/500).

That meant I had to open my aperture 3 stops to keep the exposure equal.  Lets Just fudge the calculated aperture to f16 for easier calculations for a moment. Drop the aperture to f5.6 (f16 – f11 – f8 – f5.6).  I wanted just a tiny bit brighter on the moon, so I dropped the aperture to f5.0.

Hence, the above shot was taken at 1/500 at f5.0 at ISO 200.  Conveniently, the sky metered just right to make a rich blue, so I just ran with what the camera gave me.  Had the sky been completely dark, the above calculations still would work.  My paraglider would have just been, had he/she been in front of the moon, a nice silhouette.

***

Over 70 years later, Ansel Adams was still right.  I always wonder where he got that equation from.  Probably an optics professor (or friend at Kodak) buddy of his.

One handy reference for shooting the moon is this site, Solar Calculator 2.2.  Find your location, click the moon tab and you’ll be able to see what the moon’s azimuth will be.  It’s pretty handy.

There are lots of phone apps out there to do this, too.  I’ve not figured out which one I’ll purchase, as they’re not cheap.  But once I decide on one, it will be posted here.

Is this camera good?

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

Sony-HX-20V
Sony-HX-20V

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:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/886605-REG/Nikon_26345_COOLPIX_L610_Digital_Camera.html#ReviewHeader

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

http://aaronlinsdau.com/gear/articles/digisnap1.html

 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:

http://www.amazon.com/eneloop-Pre-Charged-Rechargeable-Batteries-Position/dp/B004RP2VNI/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1370527627&sr=1-4&keywords=eneloop

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)

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-HX20V-Digital-3-0-inch/dp/B006K551WQ

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!

Non workout weekend

This weekend, I am playing cameraman and director of photography for a short film my dad is working on. It is pretty interesting work, though it sure wears you out after a 14 hour filming day.

Once everything is set up, the work is not physical. Getting all the lights, rigging, and scrims placed so that everything is correct, is. Fortunately I have a lot of help, so I can concentrate more on the lighting and the camera work. Even though running a camera is not physical, it wears you out standing around for that long, fiddling and concentrating.

Watching audio levels, making sure the person did not look at the camera or in a wrong direction, and all the other details on a higher end camera demands energy and attention.

Since I am running both set lighting and camera, there was a chance that I would make a mistake in the key direction. Sure enough, when we were downloading video last night, I saw that the key on one of the scenes was not in the correct direction. It could be explained away as a practical (light in scene), though there’s not one in view. At least he was on the right side of the frame – that’s a way worse screwup. I guess you can’t do everything.

These sort of details look fine when you’re shooting. The key light was lit well and you think that’s all good. But no. When it comes to editing, days or weeks later, this is when these details show up. Having a fine-grained shooting plan or a person who watches those details is very important. On an extremely low budget film, sometimes you just do not have that leisure.

The one huge thing we had yesterday was my aunt Diane’s cooking. She did all the catering for the filming day and totally saved us. She didn’t serve up hot dogs and fruit cups. The stuffed French toast was nothing less than awesome. I could eat that all the time. She made a real feast for nearly 20 people. It was a lot of work and was greatly appreciated. Thank you!

On the subject of the expedition:

It is good to lay off for two days on working out. The insides of my calves were still killing me after I wiped out my five fingers shoes. I always wondered if the shoes actually died. The last pair I had did this, though I wasn’t sure if it was me or not. Now I know that they do come to a point where they need to be replaced.

20120617-080443.jpg