Archive for April, 2011

A little lighting mojo

Gatorade and a few other sporting brands have taken to dramatic lighting in their ad campaigns for several years now. The number of times I’ve read questions about how to achieve such lighting answered simply with softbox has grown so large I’ve decided to go ahead and answer the question with an explanation I hope someone will find more useful than softbox.

First of all, you don’t need a softbox. Any spill-controlling light source you can get close to your subject will do. Zach Arias likes to use a collapsed bounce umbrella and a hotshoe flash like a small softbox. You can make a softbox out of a cardboard box lined with foil and covered with a white trashbag if you really want to. Do you have a large beauty dish with a diffuser? That will work too. Your options are only as limited as your imagination so long as you’ve got a means of providing a large apparent light source that controls spill and can be placed very close to your subject.

Why does the light source need to be close to your subject? If you take light intensity as a function of distance the value decreases rapidly as distance increases. Outside of my engineering courses I don’t know very many people who even remotely care about the science behind that fact, or the math used to describe it, so I won’t go there. If you want a quick practical example turn the lights off in your room and shine a flashlight at your hand, then shine it in the far corner of the room. It’s going to be significantly brighter against your hand. Your flashes emit light, and light is light. It all behaves the same way.

Now, let’s review some basics of flash photography. Aperture controls flash. Shutter speed controls ambient light. Shooting at your max sync speed (1/200s on my Canon 5D Mark II – ask Google if you don’t know your max sync speed) will kill the ambient light, leaving your flash to do all of the work. To make this work, go with a small aperture – say f/8 or smaller. Combine all of that with a light source very close to your subject and you’ll get light that goes from bright to dark in less distance than the width of my head.

Example #1 – ISO 250, 1/200s, f/8, 50mm, 2x Vivitar 285HV hotshoe flashes @ 1/4 power into collapsed Westcott 43″ Soft Silver umbrellas:


Two Lights

Lighting Diagram for Example #1:

Lighting Diagram

Lighting Diagram

Example #2 – ISO 100, 1/200s, f/8, 50mm, 1x Einstein 640 @ 1/96 power (-6.5f) into a 28″ Fotodiox beauty dish with diffuser:


Beauty Dish

Lighting Diagram for Example #2:

Lighting Diagram

Lighting Diagram

There you have it. Get in close with a large apparent light source, shoot at your max sync with an appropriate aperture. If you want more light to spread across your subject open the aperture up, if you want it to spread less close it down. Alternately, you can control how far the light travels across your subject by varying the power of your strobe. For reference sake, you don’t need a huge room with black walls to do this. Both shots above were taken in normal bedrooms. The first was taken during the day with a window open, and I forgot to reduce the ISO from the product photos I took moments earlier. Post-processing was limited to a preset that simulates Kodak Tri-X black and white film. Honestly, the preset overdrives the highlights far more than it kills the shadows. Control the spill, and get in close – you can get this effect nearly anywhere.

Real Magic

Illusionists have been wowing people for centuries with their sleight of hand. Sometimes their trickery is entertaining, but it is never permanent and you cannot take it with you and hang it on the wall. Enter the darkroom. Here, you can watch things appear before your very eyes and hang it on the wall later.

I had dismissed darkroom printing as a waste of time and money for several months. Why bother? Sitting just to my left is a pretty nice film scanner. How often do I view images in print? Who knows, but the vast majority of the time I’m viewing images on a screen. Now, few are unaware of my preference for black and white images. Printing black and white on an inkjet with anything resembling a successful result requires a good deal of time and monetary investment. Purplish-blue and bluish-white is easy. Grayscale? Not so much.

A few weeks ago, the opportunity to take a look at high quality darkroom prints presented itself and I took it. Two binders live in my dark closet. Several of the negatives residing within those binders ought to find their way onto my walls. Seeing the level of detail in these enlargements was enough to push me over the edge: I am building a darkroom. Wait a second, I have never even been in a darkroom before! A kind member of the Texas Photo Forum volunteered her time, patience, and darkroom to show me the ropes. After several hours of playing around in the dark and getting a feel for the process I left with pleased with several prints. Two of my favorites are below. I recommend clicking and pressing ‘L’.





… against all enemies, foreign and domestic …

I’ve used the words in my title before. They’re in the oath of enlistment, and even before I left the military I started to wonder if that oath has any actual meaning. My conclusion? No.

I never met an enemy to our constitution in Iraq. I’m not even sure what a foreign enemy to the constitution really entails beyond perhaps an invading force seeking, explicitly, to impose their rule over the United States. No such enemy existed in Iraq. One could make a very weak, and logically unstable, argument that such an enemy existed in Afghanistan but poking such an argument full of factual holes would be easier than lighting a half-empty barrel of gasoline on fire with a blowtorch. I was, however, ordered by the President of the United States and the officers appointed over me to deploy to Iraq (twice) based entirely on fiction. That fiction was supported by a majority of Americans. There is no room to point fingers at any individual party regardless of how Congress voted. The majority of the allegedly empowered people in the United States supported our invasion of Iraq. Period.

That leads to the second key part of the oath of enlistment. It says there must be defense, by those who swear into the armed services, against domestic enemies. Domestic enemies? I’m going to take that to mean groups within the United State who wish to circumvent the constitution or otherwise dilute its position in our government. Those groups have certainly been encountered. The most prolific happen to bear the titles of United States Senate and United States House of Representative. The senators and representatives within those two bodies were elected by the people to act as their representation in government. Instead, they act with no regard for their stated powers or limitations as defined by Article I of the Constitution of the United States of America, or the subsequent amendments. They act with no regard for the often vocal will of their constituents. Instead of acting as a representative body, they meet alone to decide what they will do and what they will not do. There is no room for individuality; the party line is rarely crossed regardless of the very clear will of the people. They act, as our founders feared, as if they are better than the public and are alone in their unique ability to determine any appropriate course for the nation.

Ah, but we have checks and balances right? On paper perhaps, but the Supreme Court does nothing to check the abuse of powers by Congress nor does the President. For as long as I’ve been alive, and indeed for the entire history of this nation, it tends to be the President requesting that Congress circumvent the constitution. So, my question is this: why are there thousands of troops deployed around the globe fighting a non-existent foreign enemy to the constitution but none in the halls of Congress fighting the very real domestic enemies who are busy bickering about who gets to assault the constitution more this year?

There is no easy answer to that question, and frankly deploying an entire division to D.C. won’t change anything. The real problem is the people in this country do nothing to exercise their powers. Oh, sure, people vote. People vote for the same establishment that mocks them every two years. People do not hold their representatives accountable. Most people don’t even bother to educate themselves on what it is their representatives are supposed to be doing. The vast majority of the voting population in this country has never even attempted to read Article I. As such, the people have given up their power entirely – and that is why the out-of-control government is shutting down. Congress failed because the people allowed it to fail. My oath had no meaning because the domestic enemy destroyed the constitution while it ordered its defenders off to fight fictional beasts for decades – and nobody noticed.

More fun with Fujichrome Velvia 100

I loaded up my Kodak Retina IIa and a borrowed Bronica ETRSi with their very own rolls of Fujichrome Velvia 100 to take some bluebonnet photos. The scans don’t do the slides justice, but they’re still pretty nice.

Adelaide in bluebonnets

Adelaide in bluebonnets

Adelaide in bluebonnets

Adelaide in bluebonnets 2

120 bluebonnets

Bluebonnets on 120

Bluebonnets 35mm

Bluebonnets on 35mm

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