Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday - Setting Up a Home Photography Studio - Intro

There has been a significant interest in this subject judging by your comments and emails; however, I've struggled about how to approach this topic here on my blog.  My challenges and my goals are to:
  • Summarize a large amount of information so as to be readable, understandable and doable for those of us with no experience in studio photography.
  • Condense that information to put in the small format of a blog post.
  • Give specifics rather than general information so we feel we can actually do this and have a starting place.
  • And my biggest challenge, is this is a Tech Talk Tuesday where I'm the teacher and the student at the same time.  So, the following will be my biggest disclaimer ever!!!  I profess no expertise whatsoever in setting up or using a home photography studio.  I am, however, in the process of doing research, taking classes, and interviewing people with home studios, as groundwork for setting up my own home studio, and I'm happy to 'bring you along' and share what I learn.
With all the above in mind, I've decided that for me to pass along meaningful information, this subject will need to be handled in several separate posts.  Also remember that this is about setting up a studio on a 'shoestring' so not only will I be talking just about the basics, but additionally, how to save money with bargain buys and do it yourself projects.  So below are the main topics we must talk about, and I'll tackle each one in a separate Tech Talk Tuesday:
  1. Finding and determining adequate space, and preparation of that space
  2. Basic lighting equipment and support equipment and where to find it
  3. Backdrops and props, and great ways to save money and be creative
  4. Understanding how to actually operate your lighting equipment to produce your desired effect
The other night I was thinking about how to even begin, when I had a brilliant idea.  I know a lovely lady who is a great family and portrait photographer who lives nearby and recently built a home studio in her basement.   I called and told her of my blog project, and asked if she would help me.  She graciously said yes and I have an appointment with her today.  I will tour and take pictures of her studio to show you her set up, ask questions about the cost, the do's and don'ts, and what advice she would give us as we contemplate this venture.  I will also pass along some great information I learned during the all day portrait lighting class I took recently from a master photographer in our area but known in many countries, Dave Newman.

For someone who is learning while I'm writing, this seems like a pretty tall mountain to climb.  But, I'm always encouraging beginning photographers that their abilities will grow when they stretch and get out of their comfort zone, so I guess I'll take my own advice!  So if you are willing to learn along with me, next week we'll dig into specifics and talk about finding space in your home for photography, and  how to prepare that space.  (And for those of you who've dismissed the idea of a home studio because you don't think you have enough space, check back next week because you might be surprised!)

See you next Tuesday, and I'll leave you with another studio portrait taken at the class I recently attended.  Notice the beautiful soft shadows studio lights produce on her face.  (But remember, studio lighting is not just for portraits.  It's also for macro photography, product photography, still life photography, stock photography and so much more.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Creative

A Sunday bonus!  It's not common for me to post twice on the same day, but I wanted to join Justine today.  (Be sure to jump over to her blog to see all her talented friends.)  She is getting our creative juices flowing with a one word prompt, and today that word is 'material'.  My definition of material, was 'fabric', and this is my interpretation.  This is a beautiful wedding quilt made by Jan, the groom's mother.  She is also very creative!

Sunrise Sunday

What a Way to Start the Day!
 (camera settings: 1/160 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200, 15mm fisheye lens, tripod on gently rocking houseboat.  Several of you ask me to post my camera settings.  Usually I don't because by the time I tweak in PS, add an action or effect, the settings are not so relevant.  This shot, however, was SOOTC)

I really need to simplify my life.... you know cut out more stuff that isn't photography related!!!  (I'm just kidding, just the opposite, I really need to get my 'hobby' under control.)  You see, I take the photos but sometimes get so busy it takes me forever to download them to the computer.  Instead, when I'm ready for another photo op, I just get a clean CF card and move on.  This often results is a nice little stack of full cards sitting next to my computer getting lonely and waiting for me to give them attention.  The good news is, when I finally get to them, it's a surprise and I relive the event all over again, and usually with a fresh eye after a little time has elapsed.  Now I'm certainly not advocating this, but sometimes I get a nice surprise.  Like yesterday I was lamenting to myself because I had run out of images to use for Scott's Sunset Sunday, but later that day when I decided to download some of the 'patiently waiting' cards, I discovered our October Lake Powell trip, and yes, more brilliantly colored sunrises.  I'm enjoying those early mornings on the lake again, and even more so since I woke up to a snow covered wintry day here in my neck of the woods.

P.S.  On another subject.  We tried the turkey recipe I posted several posts ago and we're sold!!!  This was the best turkey we've every roasted.  Nice to finally learn how to do it after 40 years! 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Phun Phriday - 'Head Shot"

(1/125 sec, f/7.1, 200 ISO, 68 mm focal length)
As promised, here is another shot taken at the studio portrait lighting workshop I attended last week.  (See second post below.)  Put a cap on this handsome man, (who was a participant in the workshop), and he looks very 'dapper' indeed!  Check out his website HERE and his blog HERE to see some of his fabulous photography! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Mr. Turkey usually graces our table around Thanksgiving time.  It's a fun decoration for the grandkids and uses a perfectly good pumpkin left over from Halloween.  Speaking of turkey, last Friday I took my daughter and daughter-in-laws, (I feel bad that we were missing my oldest daughter who lives out of state), to a cooking class taught by a master chef who has more initials after his name than I could count.  He taught us how to make a perfect Thanksgiving dinner, and then of course, we ate that perfect Thanksgiving dinner after the class!  We all agreed, it all was absolutely heavenly!  Everything from the best stuffing, to rich bread pudding, to fresh cranberry sauce, to yams that anyone would love, to the moistest, most flavorful turkey we had ever eaten.   He says the main problem in cooking a turkey is that it often is very dry.  I want to share with you his secrets for roasting turkey:  

  • It doesn't matter what brand of turkey you use, or whether it is fresh or frozen.
  • The first thing to do is rip the self timer out.  He says they are often set way too high, to assure there won't be any lawsuits resulting from undercooked poultry.
  • Use your own meat thermometer put in the thickest part of the breast meat and set it for 165 degrees.
  • Always roast your turkey in an open roasting pan sitting up on a rack in the oven at the oven temperature suggested on the turkey wrapping.
  • Never cook your turkey in a bag, or upside down, or sitting in the juices because this is a different method of cooking, i.e. braising or steaming.  Turkeys should be roasted as indicated above.
  • Now comes the most important part.  The secret of a moist turkey is to submerge it in a brine mixture for at least 4, but not more than 24 hours before you cook it!  The basic recipe for the brine solution is one cup of kosher salt and one half cup sugar dissolved into one gallon of cool water.  The amount needed will depend on how large your turkey is.  You can use a stock pot, a bucket or whatever fits so the turkey is submerged and the container can sit on the lower rack of your refrigerator.  If room in the refrigerator is not an option, you can use an ice chest that you have thoroughly cleaned or one of those throw away Styrofoam ice chests, put in the coolest place you have and keep ice on top.   When you are ready to cook the turkey, rinse then rub on your favorite spices, eliminating the salt, since the turkey will have already absorbed a significant amount of salt and any drippings you use for gravy will already be salty.
We are going to give this a try to see if we end up with a moist turkey that is as mouth watering as his was.  I wish I had time to tell you how he made dressing, gravy and yams.  It was all yummy!

Well, tomorrow I hope all your tummies are full of good food that you will be sharing with family and friends.  I hope you take the time to tell your family you love them and to say a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude for all the blessings you have been given by a Father in Heaven who loves you and watches over you.  And,

Studio Lighting at Home - Something to Think About

I have always been a natural light kind of photographer.  I could say that I choose natural light because it is the prettiest light, and being outdoors is much preferred to being in a studio, plus I can't take pictures of mountains, and fields and far away places indoors!   Plus with all the lenses I want to buy, there's no money for lighting equipment.  All these things are true.  But there is another truth that keeps tickling the back of my mind and it has to do with being on the back side of middle age.  And that is, there might come a time down the road when I won't be able to traipse through the woods, or climb mountains to take pictures, or shoot bridals out at the lake.  And even though I hope this is years into the future, when that time comes, I know I will still be interested in photography, and I will still have grandkids to take pictures of and relatives and friends asking me to do family portraits, graduation pictures to take, etc.   And, I'm still thinking I might try some stock or still life photography.  I'm thinking as I type this.... when we are in the middle of a blizzard.... that it would really be nice to take pictures without having to postpone because of the wind, the rain, the mud, the cold, the whatever. 

So this means setting up a home studio.  Now if you're like me, and have no desire to be a professional portrait photographer, it's easy to dismiss this idea quickly.  After all, first you need the space, then the money to invest in lights and stands and softboxes, and backdrops, etc.  And another big deterrent is that you have to learn a whole new set of skills, which doesn't seem possible or practical when there's still so much to learn about basic photography and editing skills.  Still, wouldn't it be nice, to have a place available all the time, with perfect light and exposure control, that is only a few yards away???

Thinking about this was tempting enough for me to take an all day studio lighting workshop with one of about three legendary portrait photographers living in my area.  I learned so much that would be impossible to discuss in a short blog post, but here are several important things I can share:       
  • I realized why photographers who spent the majority of their careers in the studio, (before it became popular to have environmental portraiture), LOVE their studios.  It's because they have absolute control over their environment.  They can create beautiful light with every shot.  No guessing, no changing settings because the sun went behind a cloud, no stopping because the wind is creating havoc with the bride's elaborate hairdo, etc.  (Unless you want wind, then you turn on the wind machine, the fog machine, or any number of other devices to create interesting and moody scenes.)  
  • I learned that if you have a space in your basement or spare room or garage, it is not as expensive as I thought to set up a basic home studio.  There are ways and means to get everything you need for a very modest price, and many ways to save money by being creative and innovative.  I learned that Home Depot (or Lowes) can be your best friend!
  • Most importantly, I discovered that learning how to set up and use studio lighting is not as difficult as I thought, and with minimal training, anyone can master the basics.   And once you have your lights set to your liking, your shots will turn out perfectly exposed with beautiful lighting, every single time!
Some of the class participants at the workshop acted as models for the rest of us, and then we had a ballerina come to pose for us.  With a simple lighting set up that we all learned quickly, I shot the following image, and about 10 more of this lovely young lady, and every one turned out perfectly exposed and beautiful!
Beautiful Ballerina
This photo was taken in our classroom after it was quickly transformed into a 'studio'.  The windows were already  covered with non see through fabric, a backdrop was quickly taped to the plain wall behind her, then three lights moved into place.  A fill light at the back of the room, a main or key light to her right side and slightly behind her and an accent light to her left.  Voila!  This is what I shot!  Tomorrow I'll post some of my other shots of our class 'models'.  
So, bottom line, I'm sold and will slowly start buying, gathering and/or making elements to set up a VERY modest home studio.  Next Tech Talk Tuesday I'll tell you some of the tricks I learned about how to do this on a tiny budget!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday - Raw or JPEG

The challenge of this Tech Talk Tuesday will be:   to give you a basic understanding of the difference between RAW and JPEG formats;  to help you determine what's right for you;  to do so in a brief summary; AND, not to bore you all to death!!!  A tall order but I'll give it my best shot.

Remember, this is just the basics for beginners, so first a little background.  Many digital cameras today allow you to choose different formats to use, the most common being JPEG, then RAW and sometimes TIFF and PNG.  Deciding which format to use should be determined by your shooting style and what you intend to do with your images.  Today I'm just going to talk about RAW and JPEG, so first let's list some basic comparisons:

A Raw image
  • is not really an image, but a format of an individual camera, and not the final product, in other words, not a picture.  Think of it like the digital counterpart to a film negative
  • contains raw data that is uninterpreted and unaltered
  • contains the complete data, so no information is lost
  • captures a higher dynamic range from bright highlights to dark shadows
  • has lower contrast, low color saturation
  • is not tack sharp
  • must have special software to open the file, so an image cannot go immediately from the camera to printing or internet
  • creates a very large file
A JPEG image
  • is a standard format readable by all computer imaging programs
  • is compressed to a fairly small file size that contains less data
  • loses information or data every time the file is opened and edited or manipulated
  • is higher in contrast, lower in dynamic range and sharper
  • can be suitable for printing or posting on the web right out of the camera

In a nutshell, RAW images must be edited in a computer program to be usable.  The files are 'neutral', and you the photographer/artist, must make the editing decisions as to sharpness, more or less contrast, more or less saturation, etc.  In addition, one big advantage of Raw, is that you generally have more leeway in adjusting exposure and white balance, so if you over or under expose the shot,  for example, you have a better chance of 'repairing' or making a proper correction if the image was shot in RAW.

JPEG images come out of the camera ready to print or display on the WEB, and are more what most photographers want their end result to look like, namely, sharp and colorful.  They are a standard format, universally accepted by all computer editing programs, and the file sizes are more manageable, but they have less data and can lose data which will potentially degrade the image.

What's Right For YOU???

There is no right or wrong answer here.  
But, you might want to consider shooting in RAW if you say:

  • I'm often unhappy with the exposure and white balance of my images and end up making adjustments in Photoshop
  • I really enjoy editing and tweaking my images on the computer and the time I spend is not an issue
  • File size is not a problem because I have 16 GB Compact Flash cards and a ton of storage space on my computer
  • I might want to submit my image to a stock photo site, or blow it up to fit over my sofa, so I want the highest quality possible.
On the other hand, you might want to consider shooting in JPEG if you say:
  • I'm pretty confident of my photography skills and usually don't have a problem nailing the exposure and white balance
  • I really want to spend my time shooting pictures and not sitting in front of the computer
  • I need to conserve on file size because I don't have a lot of storage space
  • I shoot mainly to post on my blog and rarely print anything out
If you fit into one of the above categories, then your decision is made.  But for most of us, we sometimes fit into one category and sometimes another.  For example, if I'm taking candids or informal photos like I did last night for my son's birthday dinner, JPEG would be just fine with me.  But, if I'm shooting bridals, then I will always shoot in RAW, because I don't know if the bride will want a 5x7 printed or a 24x30 on canvas printed.  In RAW I've got all my bases covered.  If I'm shooting an image only to display on the blog and nowhere else, (rare for me), then the smallest JPEG file would do just fine.   And cameras, now days, make it easier to decide, because many models have settings that capture both RAW + JPEG in the same shot, so you get the best of both worlds.  Or if you decide JPEG is right, you can set your camera on either a Small, Medium or Large file size, giving you even more versatility.

So what do I choose you ask????  Usually I choose RAW because I like to leave all my options open, especially by having the highest quality image I can get, (more data), and not worrying about degrading my image if I do a lot of editing and manipulations.  (Incidentally, some 'authorities' say that data is lost on a JPEG if you do as little as cropping or resizing, or if you use the command "Save As" in Photoshop.  That's not a lot of editing and doesn't even take into account exposure correction, white balance correction, let alone any artistic embellishments you might make.)   JPEG proponents will tell you that the amount a JPEG is degraded is negligible and is not even noticeable, but in my experience I have found if I add enough actions or presets, or corrections, or artistic treatments, I can see the difference, especially when viewed at 100% resolution.

Thanks for sticking with me to the bitter end!!  I hope you understand RAW and JPEG a little better now, and have a better idea about which format is right for you.  

P.S.  Thanks 'SouthernSass' for suggestion this topic, and as always, if anyone needs further clarification, or help, just zip me an email.  Also, I'm open for new topics to discuss on 'Tech Talk Tuesdays'.  Again, just zip me an email.

(Today I took an all day studio lighting class, (definitely a weak area in my photography skills), and learned a ton of stuff.  Most exciting was to know that one can set up lighting at home that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.  This was a 'hands on' workshop and I'm excited to show you some of my shots with spectacular lighting, so tune in tomorrow!) 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunset Sunday

O.K. Chad, see what a little guilt will do????  I must have had a senior moment forgetting to post a 'Sunset Sunday' photo so here it is.  For Scott and Chad, this is the view from my side of the lake, and you can only imagine how beautiful the sunset was based on the beautiful light reflecting on my son and daughter in law.

Dance Fever Winners!

I changed my mind.  I think this is my favorite photo of my current wedding edits.  Aren't they darling?  
(See runners up in the previous post!)

Dance Fever

I'm still editing wedding photos and this is one of my favorites.  I love how these young people are really 'in the moment' and I love their expressions.  (This is not the bride and groom, but their friends who were definitely enjoying the festivities.)

P.S.  Remember you can still upload a photo to my last post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NOT so Phun Phriday

If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Again!
(Check out last post before reading this)
Well, I tried something new on my last post and it didn't work!!  I didn't do my homework.  I learned that 'Mr. Linky' only posts URLs, and does not post thumbnails of photos.  Well, who wants to look at a bunch of boring URLs???   Will that entice anyone to visit your blogs? I don't think so!!  I want people to have a glimpse of my talented blogging photographer friends' work, and make it an easy one click to get to your blog.   Now I've discovered 'Inlinkz' that posts thumbnails and your name, so I'm going to try again.  And for those of you who commented, but said you don't do fall decorations or you don't have a mantle,  so you couldn't participate, I'm really going to make this easy.  Just create a post with a photo of your choice.  Then come to my post and follow the directions below the following photo.   I really need some help to see if I can make this work!!!  If I say "Pretty Please"???  

Are You Talking to ME???? 

Phriday Phun - Something New (at least for me)

Well, this is going to be a really Phun Phriday for me because I'm going to try something new!
One reason I started a photography blog was because I wanted to connect with other photographers.  I wanted to learn from you and maybe teach a few things as well.  With the invention of technology making linking from one blog to another simple, (Mr. Linky), we can not only easily see a group of each other's images at a glance, but with a direct link to your blog from my blog, we all can make our blogs visible to more blogging photographers.
If this is fun and helps us make new friends then it'll be worth learning how to do it, so here's how I HOPE this will work:

Below I've posted a photo of my Mantle Masterpiece with fall decorations.  As a side note, I'll tell you why I took a picture of this.  From year to year, I can't seem to remember how I decorated.  I'll think, "I know I really liked how I decorated for Thanksgiving last year, but darned if I can remember what I did!"  So now I try to take pictures of the decorations I put up for each holiday.  It's fun to remember, and it's nice if I want to do the same thing for another year.  I thought this would be a good first attempt for this post, because all of you who would like to participate, can take a picture of what's on your mantle, or on your table or any other fall/Thanksgiving decoration.  It's a simple project, plus, it'll be fun to see how you welcome fall at your house.   I hope you'll help me see if this works...... I offer no contest, no prizes, just my friendship!  (And in return, I hope more visitors will find your blog!)  

First, post your image on your own blog.  Then after my Mantle Masterpiece below, there should be a place for you to click and follow the directions to add a link which will appear on my blog to your Mantle Masterpiece post on your blog.  If enough people participate, we may all meet some new photographer friends! 


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wedding Photography-To Edit or Not to Edit????

From DULL..........

........To DAZZLING!

Wedding photography preferences are as unique and individual as the people you photograph.  Couples may say they want very traditional poses and images, some may want photojournalism- candid style photography, some may be in love with black & white, and some may want to be on the cutting edge of the latest photography trend.  What I've found, is, that regardless of what they tell you, most couples really don't know what they'll like until they see it.  Here's what I've learned to do.  I present all their wedding photos in classic color with little editing.  Then I take some of my personal favorites, duplicate them, and add my own 'photo art'.  I vary my edits from simple sepia and black & white to more dramatic creativity like the image above and the image two posts back.  They get to see the original and compare it to the artistic version.  They will then know instantly what they like and don't like,  and are thrilled you have taken the time to give them a choice.

Side note:  dark gray days with low contrast lighting will produce flat, dull looking pictures.  No matter how pretty the location, or great the pose, if the lighting is dull, your photos will not pop.  This is a great time to practice and add some creative flair. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday - 10 Things To Check Before Snapping the Shutter

Below I've listed ten important questions to ask yourself prior to taking your picture.  I think if you will mentally run down this list, your photography will improve and you will take more memorable pictures....you know, the kind that you, your family and friends, and your bloggging buddies will find interesting, creative and memorable:

1. What do I want my viewers to experience?

Do I want them to experience an emotion? Do I want to tell them a story? Do I want to give information? Do I want to inspire them with the beauties of nature? Do I want to make a political statement?
Your image should have a specific purpose.

2.  Do I have a strong subject or focal point that supports the purpose of my image?  (And maybe additional elements that support the main subject?)

 Have I made the main subject of my image stand out in some way from all the other elements in the composition so my viewers are certain what I'm trying to emphasize or draw attention to?  You can do this in many ways, such as: where in the composition you place your subject; keeping the subject in focus while blurring the background: using contrasting colors to set your subject apart....just to name a few possibilities.

3.  Have I tried to simplify my composition to emphasize the important subject or focal point?

As you look through your viewfinder, mentally decide if there are distracting elements that can be eliminated by shooting from a different angle, zooming in or out, blurring the background, or simply moving objects out of the frame, if possible.  A simple composition often makes for a stronger statement with more impact.

4.  Am I close enough to my subject to really make an impact?

One of the biggest mistakes beginning photographers make is not getting close enough to their subject.  'Up close and personal' means just that.  The closer you are, the more intimate and personal your viewers will feel about your image.  

5.  Does the available light source contribute or detract, & do I need additional light?

What is the direction of my light and is it strong enough?  Do I need to bump up my ISO or use a faster lens or add some fill flash?  How does the color and direction of the light affect the mood and impact of my subject and composition?

6.  Would moving my camera make a stronger composition?

Would my composition look better in a portrait orientation or a landscape orientation?  Could I tell my story better and make a more interesting image if I changed my perspective, point of view and/or angle?  Can I think of a way to be more creative than just holding my camera at eye level?  Can I lay down on the ground, climb up on a ladder, or tilt my camera to show a view of my subject that would be unique and interesting?

7.  Do I want the background to be sharp or blurred?

How will the background add to my image and subject rather than detract from it?  Do I understand the functions of my camera well enough so I can make the creative decision to have the background sharp or soft?  Do I understand the functions of various lenses so I can make the decision to have the background recede or be prominent in my image?  

8.  Have I carefully inspected all elements in the frame other than my subject?

Have I carefully looked at my composition to see what else I've included in the frame in addition to my subject?  Are there trees growing out of the subject's head, or unflattering shadows hiding part of my subject's face?  Are there other distracting elements in the frame that take away from, rather than add to the main subject?  How can I eliminate unwanted elements to create a stronger image? 

9.  Have I identified something unique about my composition that sets it apart? 

What is different about my image that will make my viewers find it interesting, creative and unique?  No one really wants to look at boring pictures.  Great images have what I call the 'WOW' factor!

10.  Have I developed a simple 'check camera settings' list to run through before I go on a photo shoot? 
  • Shooting in RAW......check
  • ISO set to 200...........check
  • White balance set to cloudy........check
  • Exposure composition set to 0....check
  • Empty CF cards and extra charged battery packed.....check
  • Flash, extra batteries and reflector packed.......check
  • etc.
  • etc.     
Spending a few minutes to check your list could mean the difference between ending up with a card full of beautiful images, or ruined ones! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Coming Soon...I promise!!!

Daniel & Kenzie

It was a lovely wedding, and although the sky was gray, it did not dampen the spirits of this happy couple.  And today, it's a gray, snowy, Monday morning where I live and I just felt like taking a break from my 'normal' editing, and because I'm thinking in gray I wanted to have a little gray texture fun.  Don't worry D and K, your wedding photos will not be gray..... but I am including some great B and W shots.   And, you'll be happy to know I'm almost through!)

Wedding photography is most always a wonderful experience, getting to share probably the happiest moment in a couple's life, and making memories they will treasure forever.  But wedding photography can be stressful and unpredictable as well.  Take a look at a video where this wedding photographer was having a gray day I'm sure he would like to forget:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunset of Life


In the sunset of life,
The shadows are dim;
The years orchestrated,
By life’s fickle whims.

Where once there was brightness,
A life filled with light;
It drifts toward the sky,
On shadows of night.

The sweetness of youth,
Is a memory now;
Yet holds all the sweetness,
My heart will allow.

For memories fade,
And 'tho time slips like sand;
My time is dictated,
By God’s simple plan.

In the sunset of life,
I have found joy and peace;
I shall celebrate life,
'Till my sunset has ceased.

Allison Chambers Coxsey
©2004 ~ All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 12, 2010

"ze plane, ze plane"

Bell Tower, Queen Anne Cottage

Around 1877, Elias "Lucky" Baldwin purchased the 8,500 acre Rancho Santa Anita in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley in southern California for $25 an acre, which was the largest real estate transaction recorded up to that time in the Los Angeles area.  In the following years he continued to purchase more land and by 1879 Baldwin owned 46,000 acres of prime land in the beautiful and fertile San Gabriel valley.  He is probably best known for the racetrack he built on his property, the Santa Anita Racetrack.  He built this beautiful and fanciful cottage for his wife and to entertain their guests.   The house is set next to a beautiful lagoon bordered by a lush tropical jungle and has been used for several movie sets.  Probably the most well known, however,  was for the opening scenes of the TV series in the 70's called Fantasy Island.  Can't you just see Tattoo up in that bell tower yelling down to Mr. Roark, (Ricardo Mantalban), "ze plane, ze plane".    Now the cottage and surrounding acres belong to the County of Los Angeles and is now a beautiful arboretum.  I grew up about 10 minutes away from here.

So now that it's all coming back to you, here's a short clip to help the memory:

(You may have to start the video, then pause it until it loads, then click several times to start it again.)

Congratulations to Tanna and my daughter Amber who guessed correctly, although my daughter probably doesn't count since she's too young to remember the series, and probably remembers because we took our family there many years ago.

Phriday Phun-Familiar Place???????

Here is a little memory jogger for those of you old enough to have a few gray hairs.  Who can tell me what this place is and what was it used for??????  I'll tell you after I have a few guesses.

(I did not use HDR on this image but uploading has caused some haloing in the sky.  Don't know why.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Left My Heart........

..........In San Francisco

A lazy, hazy, late afternoon, spent walking along the water's edge.  Lighting was not so good for photography, but saw this photo op, so pulled out my camera anyway.  There were tons of other people around this couple, but as I was standing there noticing how aesthetically pleasing the meandering 'stream' was in the foreground, the couple in the middle ground and the Golden Gate Bridge towering in the background, all the other people walked out of my composition, and I used that split second to snap the picture.   (Because of the lack of contrast and neutral tones of midday, I used a Lightroom preset to add a bit of additional snap and color.  HDR would not have been a good choice here.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday - Flash Photography

As per several requests, I'm going to talk about the basics of flash photography on today's Tech Talk.  WAIT!  Don't click to the next blog on your blog list just yet!  I promise this will be even simpler than the basics.  I know many photographers are clueless about how to get decent photos when using an on camera flash so they stick to only shooting during the day.  It is true that natural lighting, IMHO, is the prettiest, most desirable light for photography, but that really limits when, where, how and what time you can take pictures.  Using flash will give you more photo opportunities and more chances to be creative.   Learning to use a flash takes some time and practice, but is well worth the effort, because you will certainly improve the quality of your photos when you understand some of the basics.  

If you have a point and shoot with a built in flash, your options are limited.  You can, however, see if you have a control that will allow you to decide when to use the flash rather than letting the camera decide.  For example, if you are shooting a dark and mysterious scene and you want it to look that way, your camera will still think the scene is underexposed and will flash, ruining the desired effect.  Or if you are taking a portrait in bright sunlight, your camera will not flash, but what if you want to add a little fill flash to brighten up the shadows under your subject's eyes.  If you can control when the flash goes off,  there are some options for point and shooters.  The trick is to know exactly what your camera will allow you to manually control.

But this post will be mostly for those of you who have a dedicated flash that you can attach to the hotshoe of your SLR camera.  First some basics about using any kind of flash.
  • Normally a flash on your camera will produce a harsh, unflattering light
  • Often a flash on your camera will cause people to have devil eyes (red eye)
  • Often a flash on your camera will create unwanted shadows everywhere
  • Remember that a flash will only light up a short distance  (it always strikes me funny when I'm at a stadium at night and thousands of flashes go off.   I really wonder if these people think their flash is lighting up the field below)!
So the first thing to know about using flash, is how to set the controls on your flash.  I will only show you the very basics, because remember, my posts thus far are for beginners.  I use Canon equipment and this is a Canon Speedlite 580EX II, so I hope all you other camera users can adapt this discussion to your flashes. 

First you need to decide on the "mode" you want to use.  "ETTL" means the camera senses the scene and makes the exposure/flash decisions for you.   "Multi" means that you are using that particular flash in conjunction with 1 or more additional flashes.  "M" means you are shooting in manual and you decide the flash output.  To set the mode you just push the mode button (3) and with each push, it cycles through the three options.  Here (1) it tells me that I'm in ETTL mode.

After you decide on a mode you can then fine tune the flash output by increasing it or decreasing it.  First you push the button in the center of the wheel (4) and then turn the outside wheel (5) clockwise to increase output in 1/3 or 1/2 increments, or counter clockwise to decrease.  The numbers on the LCD screen will flash until you push the center button again (4), which saves your settings.  In this picture I have set the flash output to increase by +1 (2).  You can fine tune the flash output like this in all the modes.

With this kind of sophisticated flash unit there are tons of additional settings to learn and use, but this post is to get you started, and too much information is confusing.  Just with the above basic information, you can use your flash in almost every situation.  My advice for beginners is to put your flash in ETTL mode, take a test shot to see if the camera can get the flash output correct.  If it needs to be fine tuned for a little more flash, or a little less flash, then fine tune as described in the above paragraph.  You may never need to know any more than this to get the perfect amount of light out of your flash.

(One addition bit of useful information to note, is the numbers at the bottom of the LCD.  Depending on your settings and lens, you will be able to see the maximum distance an object can be to be properly lit by the flash.)

Second, you need to learn how to make your light pretty.  Photographers spend a lot of time trying to make artificial light look natural, and with pleasing shadows in just the right places.

Because most flash light is harsh, the first thing to consider is buying some sort of a modifier to attach to your flash.  They come in all sizes and shapes, from simple to elaborate, but all have the same purpose - and that is to soften the light.  In addition to this, often photographers will attach colored cellophane type paper to the flash head to imitate the type of light they are looking to achieve.

Another way to soften light and make the light more flattering, is to not point the flash directly at your subject.  If you are indoors, turn your flash head to the ceiling or to a nearby wall, and 'bounce' the light back onto your subject.  This will broaden and soften the light and take away the 'deer in the headlight' look, and create nice catch lights in the eyes.  It will also help to avoid hard shadows on the wall or whatever else is behind your subject.

Speaking of eyes, one problem with flashing light straight at the face, is that it often creates red eye.  Most cameras have settings to reduce if not eliminate this problem, but often this is at the expense of a delay in the shutter opening and closing.

One way to avoid red eye, and to take more flattering portraits with nice shadows and shading, is to take the flash off the camera and have the ability to move it away from dead center above the camera.  Some photographers use a bracket which solves both of these problems.  This, however, only allows the flash to be off center by a small amount. 

When you are really ready to 'rock' with off camera flash, you will invest in some nifty little radio transmitters called Pocket Wizards.  You attach one to your camera and one to your flash.   Then you have the freedom to stick your flash on a stand and move it anywhere you want, independent of where your camera is.  This gives you the freedom to see where your shadows are and the ability to create beautiful light.

This is just the start of learning how to use flash to give you more versatility in creating lovely lighting for your pictures.  Maybe you should give it a try!!

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Sunset Sunday - California Gold Coast

    California Gold

    There's a reason why it is called the 'golden west'.  We were enjoying the afterglow of the sunset and I was waiting for a photo op.  These three pelicans(?) flew past just at the right moment when the floating kelp and the rocks all color coordinated with the golden glow of the sky.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Phun Phriday - Calico Ghost Town

    Bottle House

    Becky says she's been to Calico and remembered the bottle house and Sandra requested more photos of the town, so this post fits both.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Calico Ghost Town Cowboy

    Henry Fencepost
    songwriter, singer, pianist, entertainer, cowboy

    Henry entertained us while we were eating lunch.  He sang popular and original songs.  One song he wrote was called the "Whistle Song".   While he was playing it on the piano he told us he couldn't sing it anymore since he lost all his teeth!  We visited with him, I asked if I could take his photo and I told him I'd send him a copy.  In turn he gave us a free CD of his latest songs.  

    (Don't you just love natural light for portraits!  The sun was out, but he was sitting in a shaded area with the sun streaming in perfectly to add dramatic shadows and contour to his face.)

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Tech Talk Tuesday - Photo Art Using HDR

    Preacher at Calico Ghost Town
    (walking out of the saloon!)

    Last week in Tech Talk Tuesday, (click HERE), I did a review of HDR programs and I hope what you got out of that post is that with the programs now available, anyone can produce interesting, fun and/or realistic photos and art with very little time and a short learning curve.  This week I thought I'd show you one of the ways I often use HDR.

    We just got back from another quick trip to California, (my last few images were pre posted before I left), and we stopped at Calico Ghost Town, (a tourist trap), on the way.  We were sitting on a bench and this character walked out of the 'saloon', and turned around to talk to us.  My camera was in my hands, (of course), and set to bracket 3 shots at different exposures, and my 2 second timer was on.  I had no time to fiddle with any other type of settings.  In about 2 seconds I asked him if I could snap his picture.  He said yes, and with one click of the shutter button I had my three images.   (I braced my arm as best as I could to avoid movement, because I didn't have my tripod with me and I was sitting down.)

    The above photo is what  I ended up with after about 5 minutes on the computer.  Here's what I did:  I exported the three images into EFex HDR Pro (which I still have in 'trial' form).  It is so fun seeing what all the presets do that I quickly tried different effects on the image.  I came across one that I think was called "Granny's Attic" which gave this old west look to it.  I knew I wanted this type of look and I usually use a Photoshop action to produce something similar, but this preset did almost the same thing.  I then fiddled with some of the sliders to add clarity and a bit more definition to make his weathered face stand out, and that was it.  Then I imported the image into Photoshop and used an action to  sharpen his eyes.  The last (and trickiest) thing I did was remove his name tag.  That all took about 5 minutes, and I like the end result.  To me it is much more fun and interesting than any of the originals.  Below are my three SOOTC shots.   What do you think?