Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Photography from 10,000 ft

Roughly speaking, photography is about seeing 20 stops of light, capturing 10 stops with a camera and printing 5 stops on paper.

Twenty becomes ten which becomes five.

I've started thinking that photography is less & less about capturing what I see and more about interpreting that view into a new creation. Sometimes details get lost in translation. The tricky part is to insure that the important details are retained and expressed the way I want them. That's what makes me a photographer and not a guy with a P&S.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Random photo with my 43 Limited

Here's a random image from my new 43 Limited. Credit to Keitha McCall for her cool PP technique.

Quote of the Day

"Good light must be credible, interesting or flattering to your subject."

Mark Robert Halper

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Portrait

Thanksgiving Portrait with my FA 43mm Limited. Main thru a Shoot thru umbrella. Hairlight via a human powered lightstand.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

"A great portrait is a wonderful conversation that happens to have a camera present."
Jock McDonald

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The faculty of creating is never given to us all by itself... It always goes hand in hand with the gift of observation."
Igor Stravinsky via Tony Corbell

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remote Flash, PTTL & Strobist(ism)

I've been asked several questions regarding remote flash units using a Pentax system. Below is a summary of your options and the benefits of each.

There are only 3 ways to fire an off camera flash that I know of.

1) Wired connection between camera & strobe
2) Wireless optical trigger between camera & strobe
3) Wireless radio trigger between camera & strobe

PTTL is only supported by certain wired & wireless optical methods.

Now with the Pentax K100D and a single flash unit, you can pretty much eliminate any wireless optical option unless you need very little power (less than 1/8 power on most flash units) due to PTTL triggering the flash prematurely. You can add an AF540 (or AF360 & Sigma EF500) to your hotshoe to achieve PTTL optical triggering or upgrade to a K10D. The Pentax K10D obviously will optically trigger an AF540 from the on board flash. The range of the optical triggers varies depending on light conditions but 30ft is a good average.

For a wired connection, you'll need a hotshoe to pc sync adapter to put on your K100D or K10D hotshoe. Then a pc sync cable to the strobe. If I remember correctly the AF360, AF540 nor the EF500 have a pc sync port, so you need another adapter for the hotshoe of your remote flash. This is not a PTTL option so everything is set manually. However this is usually the cheapest manner to trigger off camera strobes.

The other wired alternative is to buy a PTTL specific flash adapter & cord to move your AF540 off camera. This is not terribly useful unless your goal is to use a flash bracket since the cords have a maximum distance of a few feet. Plus its expensive but it is PTTL.

Okay now for the main event, radio triggers. Radio triggers come in different flavors and at different price points. There are cheap Ebay triggers for like $40 and real expensive Pocket Wizards Multimax and a bunch in between. None support PTTL so you are back to manual settings.

Radio triggers come in two pieces. A hotshoe transmitter that fits in your camera hotshoe and a receiving unit that is connected to your strobe. Depending on the brand you purchase you may also need an special adapter/cable from the receiver to your strobe.

The cheap Ebay units are unreliable and its a gamble that they will work properly. Sometimes they do sometimes they don't. But at $40-60 you could buy several units and still spend less than the more expensive units. Range is around 100 feet and they can be interfered with by other radio devices like microwaves or cordless phones.

At the top level are Pocket Wizards. Most people would use the Plus II units which are around $200 each (and you need 2). These are industry standard, always work and have a range of up to 2/10 of a mile.

In between are a couple other products. One new product is called Elinchrom Skyports. These are about $200 for the transmitter/receiver package (half the price of PWs) and from the reports I've seen work very well. Their range is up to 300 ft and are quite reliable. However they use a common radio frequency so they are also eligible for interference. There are also Tamrac Microsync units which functionally are very similar to the Elinchrom.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quote of the Day

Bad light plus bad light does not equal good light.

Mark Robert Halper

Friday, July 13, 2007

Checking your LCD monitor for hot/ dead pixels

I thought I would follow up the last post with a simple way to check your LCD monitor for hot and/or dead pixels. This process is especially handy when you purchase a brand spankin' new unit.

The first step is to create a completely white picture and a completely black picture. The next step is just to view & fill your screen with white.jpg & black.jpg respectively. Using white.jpg look for anything that's dark (a dead pixel). Using black.jpg look for anything not black, usually blue, green or red (hot pixels).

Check the max resolution of your monitor and create an image in Photoshop that large or slightly larger. 1600x1200 should be fine for most people. Next take the paint bucket and paint the image white. Save your image as white.jpg. Next select black as your paint color and using the bucket make the entire image black. Save this as black.jpg.

Hmm, just realized I'm not sure how to do the next step for a Mac system. Well you need to completely fill the screen with your image. Maybe some nice Mac person can post how to do that.

For Windows users, open your white.jpg in the Windows Picture & Fax viewer (right click and hit preview or open with...). Hit F11 to start the slideshow and hit pause in the upper right corner. Move your mouse off screen and in a few seconds the control panel will disappear leaving you with (hopefully) an entirely white screen. Spend some time staring at the screen (I usually check it as quadrants for ease). Spotting individual pixels is not easy so don't rush. Next switch to black.jpg and look again. This time look for pixels that aren't black.

And that's pretty much it. A couple of minutes and you learn quite a bit about the condition of your LCD monitor. If you find 8 dead pixels you LCD is considered defective per most manufacturer's policies. However I always try to get a product with zero.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Testing New Lenses for Defects

I feel it important to mention that while all major manufacturers have some sort of quality control, there will always be few products that don't meet expected standards. It's ultimately up to the consumer to verify you got what you paid for.

I'm not defending the manufacturers. Quite the contrary; I want to empower you to inspect your products for typical errors.

Regardless of manufacturer, when I buy a lens I run a couple of quick tests to determine its working the way it should. I'm sure there's better and more elaborate ways to test lenses, but this works for me. If you have suggestions, I would like to hear them.

First I shoot a focus test. If you have never done one of these, everything you need to learn is here: http://www.focustestchart.com/chart.html It only takes a couple of minutes (after the first time).

Next I do a sharpness test. I lay a newspaper down or hang one up (usually the stock listing in the business section) and shoot it at various apertures in good light. I view the results on my PC and compare the various corners to each other. Is the left bottom as sharp as the right bottom, et cetera. I do the same with the sides and even check the center to make sure nothing seems odd. If there is a bad corner or an unbalanced lens you'll notice it quickly. And again it doesn't require much time or energy to do this test.

You should also do a quick physical inspection of the lens, making sure the glass is clear, the movement of components is proper and even jiggle the lens to make sure nothing rattles or is loose.

I usually do these tests right away while I'm still within the return period from my retailer. If I spot something that looks suspicious I return the lens and request a new one.

I recently purchased a new Sigma 24mm 1.8 and noticed it front focused. I sent it back to B&H received a second unit that tested perfectly. Sure I was bummed I had to do this but the alternative is not buying anything new or wishing on blind faith that the lens is perfect.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Other side of the lens

It's not often I wander out to the other side of a camera lens. But with a wedding in my near future I need the practice. My buddy Tom was good enough to volunteer his services for an evening at the Griffith Observatory.

The Future Mrs. & I's engagement shots can be seen here:

Credit: Tom Yi

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Q & A #2

"Dear Al,
I saw your galleries in pBase, and I was impressed by your photos! I have a film SLR. But, I am thinking of getting into digital and am in the process of evaluating several DSLR's.
I am torn between Canon EOS Digital Rebel xti and Pentax K10D. I really like the build and ergonomic of Pentax K10D. But, as I read in dPreview, the K10D does not have as good a image processing as the competitor. As a result, the image is not as sharp!
Although, if taken in RAW format to bypass the image processing in camera will give Pentax K10D performance as good as or better than the competitors, but it will be more time consuming!
Do you have any comment/advise on the sharpness issue with Pentax K10D? Thank you in advance for your time!"

My response:

Just to clarify my qualifications to answer your question, 2 of my best friends have Canon 30D's which I've used several times & I've shoot with a 5D and XTi before.

The sharpness issue of the processor is much overrated. Your shutter speed, choice of lens and IS/SR will have a greater effect on the sharpness of your photos than the image processor. In this day in age, almost any processor is going to yield a sharp image. Are the JPEGs from the K10D softer than RAW? Yes, but not a bunch. A little Unsharp Mask sharpening is going to make the photos virtually impossible to distinguish from Canon, Nikon or Oly's.

Of all the issues between Pentax & Canon systems the processor sharpening is not what I would consider important. I think the differences on issues of price, lens availability, ISO noise, SR vs IS, ergonomics, body & lens weight are far greater between these systems than the processor sharpness. I really think you should look at those issues to make an informed decision.

At the end of the day make sure you are happy with your decision. Nothing is worse than investing in something that causes you to second guess yourself.

Q & A #1

I've been getting quite a few questions regarding photography lately. I thought it'd be helpful to post them here along with my answers. Here's the first:

"It looks like you did great stuff with the 16-45 as you continue to do
with the others. I take it the combination of a dedicated WA Sigma
10-20 and midrange 28-75 zoom appealed to you more, but I'm curious as
to why?"

My response:

You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I had the DA 16-45 and the Tamron 28-75 which is a great combo. The overlap was nice because you don't have to change lenses every 5 seconds. I used them together for about 9 months and was very satisfied.

But I found that I was taking a lot of photos at 16mm and still not getting the photos I wanted. It wasn't until two of my shooting buddies told me that I needed to get an UWA lens because the 16-45 was cramping my creativity that I realized I needed something wider. So I sold the the DA 16-45 and bought the 10-20.

The DA 16-45 is a great lens. I never had issues with it and it was a pleasure to use. However I get so much more out of using my 10-20. In fact I really don't miss the gap between 20-28mm that much. And as you can see, I've been able to produce great shots with the 10-20 that I would have never been able to recreate at 16mm. The 10-20 is probably my second most used lens after my 28-75.

For my style of photography the 16-45 is neither long enough nor wide enough, so I'd rather carry two lenses one wide, one long to give me better options.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Starting my 101 in 1001 List

So I've been inspired by photographer Jessica Claire to start my own 101 in 1001.

What's 101 in 1001? It's like a New Year's resolution on steroids. Essentially you list 101 goals you'd like to accomplish and perform them in the next 1001 days (which is about 3 years for those of you counting on your fingers).

Jessica's 101 is listed here: http://www.jcsphoto.com/101in1001.html

Jessica was inspired by her friend Jen, whose list is here: http://www.fallensouffle.com/101.html

I really like this idea as opposed to NY's resolutions cuz they are more about what you hope to accomplish in life compared to what do you want to do this year.

So I've started my list. I say started because I've gotten to 29 and am stuck thinking of more. This is definitely not as easy as one would think.

So I'll post again when I'm done with my list. Then I'll update the blog whenever I've completed a task.

First item on my list... Complete the 101. Just kidding, kinda.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Visiting UCLA

The Future Mrs. & I visited UCLA today. It was a fairly nice day and we had
fun walking around seeing how much the place has changed.

Didn't get to shoot as much as I'd like (constuction) plus there was
student group using Janss Steps so I couldn't shoot that. Mostly hung
out at Ackerman & Royce Hall.

But I got a new hat and some nice interesting shots. Nice time I'll
bring more lenses.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cleveland 114, LA Lakers 108

My company organized a function at the Laker game last night. I was excited to go, since I've never been to a Laker game at the Staples Center before. I'd been to half a dozen Kings games at Staples, but never a Laker's game.

The Future Mrs. & I arrived a little late but as we walked in the door of the banquet room, we were handed raffle tickets. It seems the Lakers were giving away prizes and we are the last to get tickets. Well you know where this story is going so I'll just cut to the chase. The Future Mrs. won a very nice Laker polo shirt. I'm sure it'll look good on me. As for me, well I just won a basketball; an autographed basketball; an autographed by the entire Laker team basketball that has a letter to authenticity.

It's pretty cool and looks really nice. I was pretty darn tired by the time I got home but I quickly took this photo of it before going to bed.

The Laker's lost but the Future Mrs. & I made out like bandits.

Old review - Wolverine 80GB MVP Multimedia player

I wrote a review a while back on another site re: my Wolverine 80GB MVP multimedia player.

I'm posting it here because its still pertinent and it an easy spot to reference.

I have a Wolverine 80GB MVP Multimedia player. It's the lower cost competitor to the Epson units.

I took it to Europe with me and it worked like a charm. Downloaded 16GB of photos and still had all my music available to listen to when I wanted. One nice thing about it is if you take the video cable with you on vacation, you can share your photos on a TV with friends, relatives etc. I have the optional AA battery case, which allows me to recharge/run the MVP from AA batteries without a AC charger. Very convenient when in foreign countries since you don't need power adapters.

Lately I've been using it in my car to listen to podcasts during my hour commute. This thing really is the the Swiss army knife of storage devices.

Here's what I wrote about it in April '06...

I recently bought the Wolverine MVP 80GB Portable Multimedia unit from
Costco. All in all, I think this device is a great jack of all
trades. Although it does a decent job as an MP3 player and video
player, it really shines for photographers out in the field. Think of
it as a Video Ipod with a built in card reader and fast transfer
rates. Bye bye laptop, hello Wolverine.

First things first. The thing is bright orange/red and quite a bit
larger than an Ipod. Once you get past that you can get down to
enjoying the main features of the MVP. The MVP comes with an 80GB
standard 2.5" laptop drive in the unit along with a 2.5" color display
screen. It has a 7 in 1 card reader interface, reads RAW files from
almost any manufacturer and is a USB2 plug & play portable drive ready
to plug into almost any computer. In my limited testing I found it
downloaded a 1GB High Speed SD card in about 4 1/2 minutes. The MVP
allows you to read your JPEG or RAW files from either the media card
or hard drive. Its not blazing fast with 2 second delay between
photos when viewing 10mb RAW files, but it gets the job done. The
screen is sharp and the colors reproduced are of good quality. You
can zoom into your photos, read the EXIF information and start a
slideshow from the built in menus. It lets you chimp on the road and
even delete any offending photos.

The built in OS is simple and easy to use. The buttons/interface and
not going to win any awards but they get the job done with minimal
fuss. I've read the battery lasts for 6 hours of consistant use but I
think this is misleading as under normal usage you'd find it lasts
longer. When using the unit, it often powers down the hard drive and
loads items into RAM to conserve energy. While playing music it will
likewise power down the screen for the same purpose. Recharging the
unit is simple with its AC charger or via a USB cable. There is an
additional car charger and battery pack you can buy for it if you need.

Overall the unit is a pretty good idea and pretty good execution. I'm
happy with it and recommend it to anyone who needs portable storage
space but doesn't want to haul a laptop around (think weekend trips or

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day

The Future Mrs. & I spent a nice quiet evening at home on Valentine's Day.

We did the whole candles, flowers & homemade dinner thing. I'm not much of a Hallmark holiday guy (mostly because I feel coerced) but I have to admit it was really relaxing and I got a good night's sleep for a change.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Queen Mary & the Getty

I've posted some pics from the QM (my first time) and the Getty (far from my first time) at the usual spot:


The last 11 photos are the new ones.

QM thoughts: I was testing the Gorillapod so I didn't bring a tripod. Next time I'll bring a proper tripod. I had many "almost" shots that didn't quite make it. I do like the Gorillapod but if you are going to be using a tripod for every shot its not the best means of accomplishing your task.
My favorite of the bunch:

Getty thoughts: I brought my 70-200 to the Getty for the first time and didn't really think I'd find much use for it. Ironically I used it like 75% of the trip. I decided to stay outside the art galleries all day and focus mostly on people shots. Not all my shots turned out the way I hoped but I'm still a little rusty so maybe in a week or two they'll improve.
Favorite of the bunch:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lowepro Squared

So today I picked up a couple of Lowepro bags. One new, one preowned but both Lowepro.

For a little bit now I've been thinking that my current bags weren't quite meeting my needs the way I'd like them too. I got tired of living with compromises and decided I've had enough.

My daily bag couldn't quite hold my K10D body with the grip & lens on while in my bag. Plus trying to squeeze my 70-200 2.8 into the bag posed problems in of itself. While I have really enjoyed using my Canon Gadget 10EG bag for a couple of years, the time has come to part ways.

At home I have a large backpack that I've been using to store my inventory of photo equipment. I have a second goal for this bag too. I occasionally use it when I need a large amount of gear on location. Although it holds lots of gear, using it around the house to hold gear & using it on location weren't quite what I had in mind. I finally decided I needed something that was more convenient both at home & on location.

After doing some research (read as lots of research) I settled on getting a Lowepro Pro Roller bag. It looks like luggage but seems to be the best option for what I need in a home storage solution. I especially like that it can be leaned back onto itself and you can work from the bag without having to lay it down. I found a good deal on the Pro Roller 2 on ebay and took the plunge. It should arrive in the next week or so.

Finding a storage bag was difficult but deciding on a daily all purpose camera bag was near impossible. It seemed like I had a set of features I wanted that couldn't co-exist in a single bag. After a couple of weeks I settled on the Lowepro Stealth Reporter series. It seemed like the one bag that could nearly do it all. I originally thought the D200 model would hold enough for my purpose and if not the D300 certainly would. But after doing some quick math I determined that if I wanted my 70-200 2.8 to fit properly I'd have to bump up to the D400. Luckily the D400 is only $20 more than the D300. The couple extra inches of room it gives though are worth much more than that. The bag holds everything I want it to with some room to spare. I just have to remember not to pack it to the brim since it'll be too heavy to carry.

I was able to find the D400 locally at Canoga Camera. If you're in the market for a bag I highly recommend them. The pricing is decent but what really makes the difference is they allow you to bring your old camera bag full of equipment in and test out their models to make sure it fits/works the way you want it. Several other stores I've been to have you check your bag at the door before going in. I don't know about you but I'd rather stuff a new bag full of my lenses, camera & batteries to make sure it fits than guess on a model and hoping it fits when you finally get home.

Today was a good day for me. Two problems solved which really means 2 less things to think about. I'll be selling my two old bags in the next couple of days. If anyone's interested in either bag, just let me know.