A lot of photographers get intimidated by the thought of using flash for portraiture. Taking that step from existing light with reflectors, creative exposures, and fancy Photoshop plug-ins can be a big one, but once you get the basics down, it can really expand your creative possibilities. Here’s a short video that shows how you can take a single inexpensive speedlight (or speedlite, in Canon-speak) and trigger it wirelessly with your camera’s pop-up flash. In this video, you’ll also notice that I used a shoot-through umbrella to soften the light from the flash. Umbrellas provide an excellent high-quality diffusion, and they are available dirt cheap. I highly recommend this type of setup for jumping into off-camera flash photography. See my gear recommendations for specifics on the gear that I use for portraiture.
I’ve always felt that tractors never get their due respect, those amazing workhorses that just go on and on, doing their chores day in and day out. But even less-respected are the little tractors: the garden tractors that seem to wind up being left out behind the shed after they lose their charm, only to rust away in the weeds. But my friend Jeremy has a soft spot in his heart for these little mechanical marvels. He lovingly restores them and treats them like the little gems they are. So I only thought it fitting to start a series of old-school pinup shoots with them. Our first shoot features Brooke, all 5’10” of her. Shot entirely with battery-powered speedlights (or “speedlites, in Canon jargon), here are a couple of my favorite shots.
Big fan of tractors? Posters are available by request.
Literally! We went out in the field and tried this thing out! Here’s a 10-minute video we shot of our little demo.
Here’s an easy link if you’d like to buy one:
Amazing new technology allows photographers on any budget to really step up their game in lighting, whether for portraiture, nature, or product photography. Flash technology has been around for decades, but the latest models have really stepped things up for just about any shooting conditions.
Learn what off-camera flash can do you for you at our first all-day seminar to be held in beautiful downtown Franklin, Pennsylvania. Click here for the details!
Back in 2014, Google announced a new grassroots platform for DIY virtual reality viewing. They called it Cardboard, because the most important part of the process is the viewer, which is based on a design that Google created and now provides free to the public. In the spirit of DIY and grassroots development, the traditional material for this viewer is simply cardboard, hence, the name. In all honesty, while I was vaguely aware of the Cardboard project, I hadn’t actually delved into it; it was sort of one of those things I’d “get around to” when I had some spare time. Having nearly 30 years of experience in stereo photography, I should have known better.
This past New Year’s Eve, I was talking to my friend Lee, who is himself an amazing visual artist. I told Lee that he should check out this new Google Cardboard thing, because it looks pretty neat. Two days later, I got a message from Lee telling me he was at the local Wal-Mart, and he found a bunch of overstocked View-Master viewer kits that were Cardboard-compatible and they were marked half-price. He asked me if I wanted one, and I said, “Sure!” Thus began my addiction.
For the uninitiated, here’s how Cardboard works:
The first key component is the Cardboard (or Cardboard compatible) viewer. These are available from dozens of vendors, and range anywhere from $5 to $30, or more. The most basic viewer consists of a fold-up cardboard box with a cutout for your nose, and a bit of a hood to partially block ambient light. There are two plastic lenses that are inserted into the eye holes, and there is a magnet or a conductive lever that helps with navigation within the Cardboard app.
The other key component, actually the most important and most expensive component, is a smartphone. Both Android and iOS phones work, but you’ll need one that’s new enough to have the compass/gyro functions. Download the Google Cardboard app, and you’re ready to go. Your phone mounts inside the viewer, and once the app is launched, you’re ready for some fun virtual reality viewing on the cheap. What you’re going to see is stereoscopic, 360° imagery that feels very “immersive.” There is both still imagery and video imagery available, with more content being made available daily. If you have the latest Youtube app installed, there are dozens of videos that are now Cardboard-compatible.
One disclaimer, before the gamer folks jump all over me: This is by no means the best virtual reality viewing experience available today. Current systems such as Oculus Rift and Sony’s Playstation VR, among others, are much more immersive and sophisticated. But they are also much more expensive, because you’re buying into a whole VR system. The beauty of Google Cardboard is that the main investment is within the smartphone that you already own.
Back To the View-Master Connection…
So back in the fall of 2015, Mattel got on-board with Google Cardboard and offered a viewer system called View-Master VR. The supported content for the viewer comes in the form of “Experience Packs” that feature 360° images of exotic locations, cities, animals, outer space, and all those other exciting things we grew up enjoying with traditional View-Master viewers. While all that stuff is cool, I’m much more excited about the ongoing growth of what’s available in Google Cardboard. And what’s great about the View-Master viewer is that it’s 100% compatible with Google Cardboard, and it’s a really rugged plastic viewer. So now I have the Cadillac of viewers, for less than the cost of most Cardboard viewers that are actually made out of cardboard. (After Christmas, Wal-Mart cut the price of the View-Master VR from $30 to $15.)
The Real Reason Why I’m Hooked!
Just viewing stuff is pretty cool, but I’m a photographer, and I like to create. So imagine my excitement when just last month, Google offered another app, called Cardboard Camera. Using your smartphone’s camera, you can create your own 360° panoramics that actually get converted to 3-D. Now we’re talkin’! It’s not perfect; seams show up at the start-finish point, and the 3-D can get wonky, especially if there’s lots of movement in the scene, but it’s pretty cool to be able to take someone to the exact spot you were standing in that looked so gnarly when you were there. On top of that, as you capture the panoramic image, a snippet of audio is recorded at the same time, so the viewer can experience some of the sounds from the scene.
The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Cardboard
While primitive by current VR standards, it doesn’t look like Google plans to orphan this technology anytime soon. It is pretty well-established already, with an army of content creators quickly growing. As smartphone resolution continues to improve, so will the viewing experience. Now, admittedly, it won’t take long before I’m ready to move on from Cardboard Camera. You can’t edit the JPEG files it creates, and it doesn’t use all the features that are on my smartphone’s default camera. But just in the nick of time, there is Vuze. Shut up and take my money.
Here’s a project I’ve been working on for quite some time. Over the past couple years, I’ve had access to some valuable early Oil Boom collections. Among these collections are old photos, stereo views, and some really interesting documents, such as a Borough Ordinance from Pithole City, regarding wild hogs running loose. There’s also an unused train ticket from Oleopolis to Pithole, and several invitations to exclusive Pithole social events. There’s a stereo view of the famous John Mather photo of Edwin Drake, which I never even knew existed as a stereo. All of these items are worth a small fortune; but you can now hang them on your wall as a high-resolution 24″x36″ poster, which presents the items at nearly 1:1 size. This is the perfect one-of-a-kind gift for all history buffs! See below for ordering.
The price is just $24.95, and $8.95 for shipping.
“Your stuff should be hanging in galleries!”
Recently a friend who doesn’t know me very well made these comments. I know they were meant as compliments, and I truly do appreciate them. But folks who don’t know me well are not aware that my photos do appear in magazines. Nothing real prestigious, but magazines nonetheless, and some of them have even paid me for my work. I am also featured in a couple small galleries.
Getting photos into magazines is not very difficult, you just have to find a match for your work. Any magazine that covers events is always on the lookout for quality photos they can use. Once you’ve established contact with them, you can become a regular contributor. Tourism magazines love to get submissions, especially the kind that show people having a good time. Nature-oriented magazines, particularly those that highlight local game and flora & fauna welcome submissions from nature photographers. There are trade-specific periodicals that are always looking for photos, and local newspapers that accept a wide range of photo submissions.
I suspect what my friend meant was that I should be featured in something bigger, with widespread circulation. That would be nice, and could definitely give a struggling photographer a career boost, but it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. It can take a lot of time and commitment to promote one’s self in an industry that is flooded with aspiring photographers who have some pretty amazing talent.
Galleries provide a whole different set of challenges. Knowing what sells vs. what you have to offer can often be a painful dose of reality. Many of the smaller galleries are only interested in photos that connect with local themes, like historic landmarks, familiar scenery, etc. Others may only be interested in more abstract themes. The up-front expense of showing in galleries is definitely daunting; you need to make the prints and have them mounted & framed, at your own expense. You’re counting on your hunch that the photos you choose to exhibit will sell, otherwise you’ll never recoup those costs. A good compromise is a gallery that also does framing; they’ll stock just the prints, then customers can pick out their framing options and have everything done there, with the only out-of-pocket expense from the photographer being the print itself. But the costs can add up tremendously when you start spreading dozens of prints over several galleries.
Friends and family can be great supporters for an aspiring photographer. Sometimes they may not be aware of the effort and cost that it takes to promote your work, though, and it can be frustrating. A good photographer can see where they stand in the real world, regardless of the accolades of those closest to them, and make decisions based on their own knowledge and experience. But I think I’m going to promote myself more in 2016.
I set out to do a senior portrait the other day with the lovely Alyssa. She had actually just helped me shoot an engagement series, and the whole time I told her she’d be getting the best light if we waited. Under a perfectly clear sky, we picked out a nice location and then just waited out the sun. When it was still bright, I had a bit of difficulty autofocusing on her, so I switched to manual focus. I’m pretty much blind, but I thought I was doing ok, until I showed her some previews and she promptly replied with, “That’s blurry.” Yikes, she was right! By then, the contrast of the sun had subsided, and autofocus had no trouble locking on, but I had to hustle to capture as much as I’d missed before we lost the afterglow entirely. But we were pretty pleased with the end result.
Tech: Canon 7D Mark II; Sigma 17-50 f2.8 @28mm, f3.5; 1/250, ISO 125; Canon 580 EXII; Canon 430 EXII.
Sometimes concepts work as planned, sometimes they go awry, and other times, they just keep getting better as the session progresses. Here is one such case of the latter.
I recruited the super-talented Ariana to help me attempt to fulfill the concept of a light-up hula hoop at night with some subtle strobe lighting. This was pretty much a standard-recipe night shoot, except for the glowing hula hoop that we wanted to add. So the balance between ambient light and strobe had to be a delicate balance, or it wouldn’t work, and the shutter speed had to be dialed down enough to blur the hoop. It had been a beautiful sunny August day, but then as we were gathering up our stuff to do the shoot, rain came. Luckily, most of the rain passed to the east, so our very brief shower was pretty short-lived. As the darker clouds moved out, the lighter clouds followed, providing just enough blue pastel to provide an interesting canvas. While I was hoping for some pink, the blue cast was quite lovely. We got everything into place and then awaited enough darkness to give the glowing hoop some contrast. I decided to point the camera to the southwest, to catch a little of the afterglow of the setting sun.
After a good bit of trial-and-error, I settled in on f8, with exposures ranging from 1 second to 4 seconds, at ISO 100. This provided just the amount of blur from the hoop that I wanted. Then I lit Ariana with a Canon 430 EXII Speedlite at about 60°, triggered by a Canon 580 EXII on-camera. I fired them at ETTL the entire time, with ratios of 1:4-1:8 fill/main. Toward the end of the shoot, I opened up the aperture to f6.3 for some consistency. As the clouds started moving through, the big surprise was a wonderful crescent moon suddenly appearing over Ariana. We were both quite pleased with the results; what you see here is a very small representation of the shots we got.
Tech: Canon 40D, Sigma 17-50mm f2.8, Canon 430 EXII, Canon 580 EXII; f6.3-8, 1-4 sec., ISO 100; flash 1:4-1:8 ETTL ratio.