REVIEW : Fundy Designer - Professional Albums and Wall Art

REVIEW : Fundy Designer - Professional Albums and Wall Art

I believe that a photograph that is not printed is incomplete.  An image that is not printed is sentenced to death on a hard drive somewhere, or buried in an endless stream of snapshots on a tiny phone screen.  Given the alternatives, death is bad.  In many cases, a single print, however wonderful, does not tell a complete story.  This is where a proper album comes into play, and to solve that problem, we have Fundy Designer.

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Focal Length Comparisons

Focal Length Comparisons

Let's say you are out shopping for Boxing Day, or are so crazy to be shopping today (the 24th) and just aren't quite sure which focal length prime or zoom range to choose.  I was out doing some test work with Nikon's new 200mm-500mm today (more on that in it's own review) and put together this simple sequence to give you a sense of what different focal lengths will deliver with the same camera position.

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Safari and Squarespace Not Working Well Together

Safari and Squarespace Not Working Well Together

As many of you know, Squarespace is my platform of choice for web hosting and I typically use Safari as my default browser on all my Macs.  Apple has continually enhanced Safari, and while they have a Safari Dev channel, sometimes other developers cannot always keep up, or a change is not clearly documented and this causes problems, hence the current issue between Safari and Squarespace.

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Get a Head Start When It Comes to Shooting Portraits

Get a Head Start When It Comes to Shooting Portraits

For many photographers, shooting people is where it's at, or at least where we'd like to be.  Even if we prefer nature, or landscapes or wildlife, we all need to be able to make great portraits of people, even if only our friends and family.  After all, we do have a really good camera, right?

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Studying EXIF IS NOT Helping You

Studying EXIF IS NOT Helping You

I've been a photography educator for a long time and a photographer for much longer.  On a saddeningly regular basis, I meet folks working hard to improve their photography trapped in what I call the Well of EXIF.  There are schools of thought that say studying other people's EXIF can help you make better images.  I violently disagree.

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Supporting Those Who Support the Critters - Jungle Cat World

Supporting Those Who Support the Critters - Jungle Cat World

I spent the day at Jungle Cat World near Bowmanville today.  It's a small private zoo at Taunton Road and Highway 115/35 in Clarington County Ontario.  There are those who are opposed to zoos, but seeing what these folks do, without government funding or "help" to preserve and help endangered species persevere makes me disagree.

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2015 : 10 Ideas to Improve Your Photography

2015 new year background.

As artists, we all want to improve our skills, to improve our abilities with our craft, and to grow as artists.  For your thoughts and perhaps inspiration, I offer the following 10 Ideas to Improve Your Photography in 2015. 1.  Don't trap yourself in filler projects.  A 365 sounds like a good idea until you get tired of it.  Same thing happens with a forced deliverable such as shoot everything with the 50mm.  Forcing your creativity into a box never spawns more real creativity.

2.  Find and tell your own stories.  Repetition may be the mother of skill, but if all you do is replicate someone else's hard work, you cheat yourself of your own innovation and interesting ideas.

3.  Post only your best work.  There's no award for volume, so set your own bar very high.  If you like it, it's worth posting.

4.  Get out of your own comfort zone.  Shoot something you would never normally do.  If you mostly do still life, go shoot sports.  If you shoot only action, shoot a still life.  The steps you go through to master the uncomfortable will make you better at the things that you like.

5.  Assign yourself projects.  Certainly clubs, communities and myriad groups can keep you busy with topic of the day, or the week or the month challenges, but they aren't your projects.  You are building them for someone else.  Build for yourself.  A project can be simple such as shoot to get 10 keepers with a 24mm focal length, all at different lens openings.

6.  Take a notebook with you when you photograph.  Write down jot notes about what you were thinking when you made the photograph.  Don't worry about recording settings, they are in the EXIF data and in the long term won't matter much anyway.  Record your mental perspective or the feeling you had.

7.  Take an image you really like and produce 5 completely different interpretations of it using your digital darkroom to tell 5 different stories with the same core image.

8.  Using only a flexible desk lamp, experiment with different lighting positions on the same subject, using light and shadow to tell different stories and to set different moods.

9.  Carry a camera everywhere you go for one week, shooting anything that you see that is interesting to you.  If something catches your eye, shoot it, and try to use a focal length that mimics your eye, something in the 35mm to 50mm effective focal length range.

10.  Shoot video clips.  Don't worry about the audio.  Shooting motion will give you a greater appreciation of the power of a great still.  Make a hybrid project containing your clips, some stills and overlay some music.  Your computer likely came with all the software you could need to do this.

Above all else, have fun, and make photos.

Q & A : How do I make a High Key portrait?

To ask a question simply send an email to Reader Jens sent in the following question. "I have seen some portraits called high key on the web.  The picture looks very light and the background is completely washed out, but there is still lots of detail.  How do I do this?  I have a Nikon D7100, a 105mm micro and a SB-910 flash.  I think I need a background and more flashes but I am not sure.  Is this an expensive method? Can you help?"

Thanks for writing in Jens and yes I can help.  High key as a style has come in and out of favour over a long time.  I like the look myself and it's pretty easy to do.  You will need at least one, probably two, more flashes but you don't have to spend a ton of money on the other flashes since purely manual ones will do.

It will help if you have a flash meter but it isn't completely necessary.  I will tell you how to do it without a flash meter using all the flashes in manual mode for simplicity.  You will definitely need a white background, preferably a paper roll to reduce wrinkle shadows, a background stand of some kind and a diffuser of some sort for your SB-910.  Fortunately you have a D7100 that supports Nikon's Creative Lighting System so this gets easier to get your flash off camera.

Let's work back to front.

Start by putting your paper roll on the background stands and rolling it out to make a smooth backdrop right to the floor and forward on the floor a bit.  You want white on the ground for more reflection.

Put a simple manual flash head on either side of the background and angle them so the beams "cross" each other to make even light coverage on the white paper.  Set the flashes at full power to start and make sure that their slave mode is enabled.  This will cause them to fire when they detect your main flash going off.

Put a mark a few feet in front of the flashes where your model with stand or sit.

Put your SB-910 in manual mode at say ¼ power and put it on a stand and use a soft box.  If you are doing only head shots, a 20" x 20" soft box will do the job, go bigger for more coverage.  A good place to start is the Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe.  I recommend the Joe McNally version for high key because the box is lined with white instead of silver, producing a softer light.  The box comes with the bracket for your flash, you will need a light stand and tilter bracket as well.  If you already have a flash diffusion system, you can get by with what you have.

Position the soft box so it is in front of the model and aiming down towards the model.  This produces a sort of beauty dish style light but one that is softer.

Set your D7100 to Commander mode so the popup unit will trip the SB-910 but not contribute to the light.  You might need to fiddle with the sensor orientation on the SB-910 to get it to read the popup.  If this is a hassle or you are shooting right under the soft box, you will need a set of radio triggers.  Get the Cactus V5 system and you are good to go.  They don't do TTL but you will be just fine without it, and it doesn't really work for high key anyways.

What you want is the light on the background to be AT LEAST two stops brighter than the light on your model.  So if your test exposure says that you get a very nice exposure of the model at 1/125 and f/5.6, you want the exposure on the background that gives completely white response to be at least 1/125 at f/11.  This is why you turn the back flashes up high and the front one down a bit, to help get this ratio happening.  You aren't using TTL because your camera would be trying to turn down the background making the model silhouette out.  This is where manual is best and actually easiest.

I've attached a simple diagram so you can see what I mean.  Keep your main light close to the subject so it's really soft.  You may need to dial down the power on the SB-910 to get the right ratio, just keep adjusting until you get the initial exposure on the face right and then manipulate the power on the two rear flashes so they are at least two stops brighter.  This will give you the washed out background, some nice spill around the model's periphery and that high key look.

Now start experimenting with some over exposure of the main exposure.  If the "correct" exposure is 1/125 at f/5.6, shoot at f/5, f/4.5 and f/4 to see which you like best.  You'll be overexposing the background as well but there's a lot of subjectivity that goes into what the "right" exposure from your main light is.

Lighting Diagram for a High Key Setup


Now, if you have a flash meter, it gets easier because you just meter the light coming off the background when the rear flashes fire and then set the output level on the main flash to be at least two stops less.  What does this get you?  It saves you time getting to your starting point.

Ideal Gear Scenario

  • 3 Flash Heads of similar output, manual mode, output power control, slave function
  • 2 Light Stands with hotshoe flash mounts
  • 1 Light Stand, Boom optional
  • 1 Softbox, flash bracket and tilter head
  • 1 Background Stand Kit
  • 1 Wide Roll White Background Paper
  • 1 Radio Trigger Set from Camera to Main Flash
  • 1 Flash Meter

Note that the gear listed is going to be useful for a lot more than just high key portraits and will be valuable for all kinds of different shooting scenarios.  I've recently discovered the Lastolite Hilite, a dedicated popup background specifically for high key.  It's a 6' x 7' pop up system with an outer white diffusion panel and an inner white reflector stitched together by separators about 16" wide.  It comes with four 16" rods to hold the front and back sections apart and has zippers on all four sides that open to allow you to get the front of the flash heads inside the enclosure.  It's not inexpensive but it is readily portable and collapses into a disk about three feet in diameter.  I've just ordered one in and will provide a review in the future.

Thanks for the question, I hope that this has been useful.

The Joys of Being Frustrated - Developing as a Photographer (pun intended)

I think I may be one of the most frustrated photographers around.  Of course, it's probably not true and many of the photographers I admire and respect say the same thing,  I think it's important. There's a developmental philosophy that espouses that to grow, you should be open to frustration, what I call being "hopefully discontent" (with all thanks to Neil Peart).  I believe that this can really work when you want to grow as a photographer.

I noted in my 2013 challenge that I am frustrated.  I've been thinking on this and have identified a number of "itches" that if worked on, could make me better at my craft.  I have the luxury that photography is not my job, as it once was.  It is now a pastime, and without the monetary pressures and fiduciary responsibilities that depending on photography for one's livelihood, I have more latitude than some.  I am fortunate in this regard.

So without further ado, here's my frustration list

1.  When I go out, I capture lots of images, many of them identical.  Subtle exposure differences or minor repositionings make the editing process longer and more tedious.  Can I make fewer captures, without fear of "missing" something and spend more time working on things I like?

2.  Gear does not make one a better photographer, but proper use of gear can help a photographer make better images.  I'm fortunate that I have pretty much all the gear I need, although the want list is lengthy.  Am I getting a good return on the gear that I own?  Do I use it properly?  Am I leveraging the effectiveness of the tool?  When I was doing cabinetry I forced myself to cut dovetails by hand, because it was harder and required more attention, instead of using a more accurate and faster jig.  Should I take this approach with photography.

3.  I was working on landscapes and then got caught up in the whole HDR thing.  I've had an intervention fortunately and now am much less inclined to HDR images since it actually gets stale pretty quick for me.  As a decent generalist, can I pick one or two specialties and focus on them for a year without being distracted by the next thing?

4.  I'm not a people photographer.  Yet, that is an area I want to get better at.  I've taken the courses in portraiture and lighting, and been successful at it.  What steps can I be taking to do more people work?

5.  I capture shots that I think will be good, but upon review, end up deleting a lot because i don't care for the composition, or because I have missed some critical element.  Shooting film was very much a process, digital has become less so.  Should I force myself to go shoot film in a very workflow intensive manner to build my eye and ability to see properly?

Being frustrated should create a vehicle to become a better photographer.  I'm going to work to answer my own questions, as another photographer, why not take a shot at answering your own questions.


VIDEO : Introduction to Night Photography

I recently prepared a class to help people get started on Night Photography.  Response was very positive so I am including it here for anyone to watch.  


I would also like to recommend Lance Keimig's book as a terrific resource for Night Photographers.  You can support the site by buying it through the Amazon link here.


How to get great audio for your video projects

As they used to say in the movies, "it's a trap!"  Getting good audio in your video projects shouldn't be that tough but it often is.  While many consumer and prosumer level cameras have external microphone inputs, they are often of dubious quality and only work with high impedance (short cable length and noisy) microphones.  Pro grade video cameras have balanced low impedance inputs of the XLR format allowing for long cable runs and superior noise control.  Fortunately there is a solution for the rest of us. Now I won't tell you this is a simple process, because it isn't, but it will give you great audio.  Do record audio with your video camera.  AND do record audio with a separate audio recorder.  For less than the price of a bolt on XLR input, low to high impedance, mic converter, you can get an amazing audio recorder and it is the Zoom H4N.

The Zoom H4N (pictured) is a brilliant piece of kit.  In addition to really excellent stereo microphones it also has two XLR mic inputs, as well as line input capability.  It has integrated meters and level controls.  It can mount on a tripod or on a mic stand.  The internal mics have excellent directional control and you can put a windscreen over the tops of the mics to reduce wind noise if needs be.  The unit can record in uncompressed WAV or compressed MP3 file formats and stores content on standard SDHC memory cards.

So here is a simple workflow that anyone can use.

1.  Set up your video camera as you wish, tripod or handheld

2.  Position the Zoom appropriately if using the built in mics, or if using external mics, plug them in and run them out to your sources (i.e. a "stand-up" style interviewer)

3.  Start the recorder and the video camera, synchronization is nice but not critical

4.  Use a clapper, or hand clap or other sharp noise to put a spike in the audio track for the Zoom and the video camera's audio track

5.  Complete your recording(s) as necessary

6.  Now import your footage to your computer as you normally would and copy the audio files from the Zoom's card to your computer as well

7.  Launch your movie editing software and import the content from your video camera onto a track/timeline/project whichever your software uses

8.  Import the audio track from the Zoom onto a separate track

9.  Now select the content from the video camera and separate the audio and video tracks.  This is a pretty common function in most all editing apps, so you can delete the audio, or add a voiceover or otherwise manipulate the audio

10.  View both your audio tracks as waveforms, and adjust them so the "spike" you recorded earlier is aligned.  You might have an editing tool that performs audio alignment automatically (Final Cut Pro X does this wonderfully), but if not the spike is very helpful.  If you can expand the waveform track to spread it out, this becomes much easier

11.  Once aligned, play the project, if your alignment is solid, you will hear only "one" audio track, not two, although it may sound a little thicker than the originals did due to small delay

12.  If the project looks right, meaning the lips are in sync with the audio, you are finished moving tracks in the timeline

13.  Mute the entire audio track that came from the video camera and play the project.  If you are happy with the outcome, delete the muted track to prevent it coming back by accident

14.  Link the audio and video tracks together and do your editing, cutting, rippling, adding titles, whatever you need to do

15.  You're done.  It's not like using a mixing desk and big screen editing decks, but it is a LOT better than using the built-in mics on the video camera or trying to get good audio out of crappy high impedance microphones plugged into the questionable audio stage of a consumer video camera.