Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My first 3-light setup

Finally getting around to experimenting with some lights. Took me long enough, I know.

I have been overdue for a decent self-portrait for a few weeks, so I spent a half hour yesterday making one. I am really pleased with the results, as i learned quite a few things.

First off, the gear.
The classic D300, of course.
50mm f/1.8 lens
My new favorite light: the WorkForce 1.0 million power handheld spotlight

and my two (huge and cumbersome) floodlights.

I originally started with just the WorkForce (WF). I held it at arms length and pointed it at my face. It is a spotlight though, and a very bright one, so once I got my exposure dialed in for what the light gave me, all i had was a circle on my face.
I knew that wouldn't do, so i lugged the floods out of my closet, set them up behind and on either side of me and turned 'em on. Holy cow those things are bright.
Holding the spotlight at arms length again (i need to figure out how to put these lights on stands) I fired a few more shots and called it quits with the camera; I knew I was going to have to do some work in Post.
I pulled up the images in Aperture, did some contrast, saturation and brightness adjustments... and then started fiddling around to see what looked cool. I ended up at the "shadows" slider, pushed it all the way over and nearly fell out of my chair. I have been trying to get this kind of look for months, and only succeeded rarely.
Here is a diagram of my setup (I'm having fun with the Bamboo Fun tablet)

Below are my 2 best shots. Yes, I look a little goofy. I was concentrating on not going blind from the WF spotlight.

Next on my list is to diffuse the WF a bit so the light wraps better. I'm thinking milk carton.

That's all for now!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday revelations

I had a wonderful Christmas! Got some new toys to play with and figured out an issue with an old toy. I wrote a while back that my D300 was having battery issues. I would charge my AA batteries all night and get just a few hundred frames with them before the camera told me the batteries were dead, switching to the internal. Not cool. After analyzing my AA's, I decided that the batteries couldn't be the problem. I did some googling and it turns out that the D300 has issues with batteries making contact with the camera. Both on the internal and the grip. So, I pushed real hard on my battery magazine (for lack of a better word) and voila! I go from a half-dead internal battery to a totally full grip. Cha Ching! Now I just have to figure out how to make it stay like that.

I spent much of this holiday season taking family photos, which has been a rewarding experience. All four of the families I photographed so far turned out fairly well, and I still have a couple shoots to go.

Hope all is well with you, my faithful readers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


First off, Excuse me while I pat myself on the back; this is my 100th blog post!

Second. I've noticed recently that it takes me a while to get in my groove for photography. Most of the time I start off with a basic idea or concept, I shoot and get nothing good, so I change the idea and get something a little better, I tweak that idea and finally get something that doesn't hurt to look at. This process is annoying, but as long as I realize that it is part of my creative process, I can use it to improve my work for myself and for any clients. I find that it usually takes me 20 or 30 minutes to go from the initial concept and gear setup to the final idea where I am producing images that won't burn my eyes out. They aren't necessarily good, but in comparison they are fantastic. My exercise in boredom last night is an excellent example of this.

Photo 1: Lame.

The idea began as isolation. Just a lonely apple in my ridiculously huge dorm room fridge (supplied by NAU). Of course, this picture is lame. We all take lame pictures and this one sucks. so how can I improve it? I tried a few different angles, first shooting up from below, getting the fridge light in the shot. lame. Then from the top, also lame. I brought out my SB600 and tried lighting the apple from a variety of different angles. I played with WB and zoom. nothing was workin for me. Then I spot my new subject, a Gatorade bottle. It is filled with electric blue liquid, which should be a little more interesting than a plain old apple. It becomes my subject.
Once again I try shooting from various angles, different focal lengths, contrasting WBs. Then I pulled out the SB600 again. I stuck it below the Gatorade bottle, 1/120 power and fired it straight up through the blue liquid. Now I'm getting somewhere. The bottle pops out, but the background is still boring as heck. So, I stop down and push the WB to "cloudy". This makes the background super warm/orange and contrasts heavily with the Gatorade:

But I have a funky shadow from the popup flash on my camera and the background still isn't dark enough. I stop down further and dig out a pop-up flash diffuser that I got as a gift. Cha Ching! Things are looking better. I bring the camera up about 8 inches to get a better angle on the subject and fire again. Not bad. But I feel like the contrast is a little too much. Electric blue and orange are totally opposite colors, so I swap out my Gatorade for water. Curiously, I had to dramatically increase my flash output (to somewhere around 1/40 power) to light the water the way I wanted. After all that (22 minutes and 39 images) I got the photo below.
Photo 2: dynamic, interesting.

That's all for now!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Der Fuehrer und das Nikon D3x

Thanks to David Hobby at Strobist for this one.

I laughed my ass off the entire time.
(Yes, hitler was a very bad man and yes, I still like Nikon)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Finally a little fun

Coming back to my room after visiting a couple friends yesterday, I noticed a huge steam cloud exploding out of the side of my building. For a few seconds I actually thought the place was on fire. My first reaction was "where is my camera?" My second was "where are my hard drives?" Not bad instincts for a photographer to have.

I dropped my stuff off in my room, grabbed a camera, a flash, and a couple models. As we exited the building, the huge steam cloud became a wimpy stream of steam. I was prepared to be disappointed, but I set up my gear anyway and we took a few pictures. maybe 15 shots in, the steam vent starts spewing again and a huge cloud engulfs the three of us in a matter of seconds. I was pleasantly surprised that it was warm. Wearing my kilt, I very much enjoyed the steam for about five seconds. After that five seconds I realized I could not see a damn thing. Not my own nose, let alone my hands in front of my face. I escaped the cloud, dragged my models out behind me, and laughed as we all wiped water off ourselves. My female model was wearing glasses at the time, so she wiped them off and we set up for another go at it. Three or four minutes later the steam erupted again. And so it went, probably for 20 minutes.

The image below is actually three different shots put together.

The models and I all think that the black and white version is best, but here is a color version for fun.

That's all for now! Study time!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Holiday Season

Holiday season means family photo season.

Shot the above image in my living room in Boulder. Available light works best when your window is a humongous softbox.

Sadly, at f/5.6 my depth of field still isn't perfect. That translates to my own face being a tad out of focus. Alas.

More later

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Life and stuff.

My mom got a new dog and boy oh boy is she cute.
You don't have to take my word for it though, see for yourself.

Her name is Mocha (to go along with the ridiculous M-naming scheme my parents have going on) and she is a brown and white border collie.

The picture posted here is my least-favorite of the shots I have, mainly because I am saving the good pictures for something of a surprise. Still, cute picture.

This week is "reading week," at NAU, where students get drunk study like crazy before finals next week. If we experience more Blog Lite here at the Vault Blog, that is why. Of course, I get out of school December 12, so bloggage will likely pick up then.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Hello there.

I went shopping on Black Friday, as promised. I was fairly well rewarded for it too!
My purchase of the day was a WesternDigital 750gb hard drive for a mere $88.88.

I also treated myself to a pair of Sony in-ear buds after reading some good reviews on them. I had tried a pair of SkullCandy in-ears on thanksgiving and was surprised by the isolation and sound quality. The reviews lead me to the conclusion that both offer good sound, but SkullCandy's have durability issues.
I used my new sony buds on my 14.5 hour drive from CO back to school in AZ and they performed admirably, though they are not as nice as BOSE. However, I am not ready to shell out $100 for a tiny pair of earbuds. At $23, sony gets my money.

The photo blog-o-sphere is ablaze with news of Nikon's D3x. A monster 24.5 Megapixel camera, the same ISO performance as the D300 (now horribly obsolete) and lower frame rates than the D700. All that, and Nikon is asking $8,000 for them.
Real photographers are boycotting the camera until Nikon can bring down the price. Ken rockwell is demanding the price come down to $5,500, though I doubt we will get that lucky.
Regardless of how far the price comes down, the D3x is not anywhere near my wish-list.
Spend money on glass, not the camera body.

My gear interest these days is Lensbaby (link). They offer inexpensive variable/adjustable focus lenses that just scream creativity.

My computer interest these days is the Wacom Bamboo tablet. Enough said.

Just in case you are hoping to do some gifting in my general direction sometime soon, my xmas list gets updated about once a week. It can be found at (mattbeaty.net)

That's all for now!