Archive for August, 2009

Long weekend

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Richard Branson @ Virgin Mobile FreeFest

Yesterday I covered Virgin Mobile FreeFest, which was fun even if much of the lineup wasn’t really anything I was interested in. Public Enemy made up for all lineup deficiencies anyway; they were awesome. I’m knee-deep in photos and will have 200+ up by tomorrow or Wednesday. An initial cut ran at Black Plastic Bag today.

There were lots of silly publicity stunts at this thing, including Sir Richard Branson, Flavor Flav of Public Enemy and Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 handing out free beers sometime in the middle of the day. Plus Branson hanging out with DC mayor Adrian Fenty, skydivers dropping out of a helicopter to land on the pavilion roof, etc etc. For a free event there sure were a hell of a lot of bells and whistles.

In addition to FreeFest and the Flaming Lips show I posted about earlier, I also shot a couple rounds of the Chesapeake Open, the area’s biggest Ultimate tournament featuring top teams from all over the country, helping out official photog Kevin Leclaire. I culled 200 of my best shots and sent them to Kevin for cropping and any other post-processing. I normally like to have complete control of my workflow from start to finished, and don’t really like showing people unfinished products, but the prospect of editing those 200 photos in addition to everything else I had to do this weekend was incredibly unappetizing. So I guess I’ll see those photos tonight when Kevin is done with them.

Finally, I hit up a studio workshop in Rockville, which was interesting enough that I’ll post separately about it later.

The Flaming Lips FTW

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

The Flaming Lips 08

Before The Flaming Lips started their set at Merriweather Post Pavilion last Friday, frontman Wayne Coyne came onstage, introduced himself to the folks standing in the front row center, and warned them that he was about to roll over their heads in a plastic bubble.

This probably came as no surprise to many of those in attendance – the Lips are not known for varying their live show all that much, and they’ve been doing this schtick for a while now. Still, it’s hard to describe the sheer madness and visual energy of a Flaming Lips show to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. As a photographer, these guys make me very happy indeed. There’s the aforementioned plastic-bubble-crowdsurfing, but then there’s also the oversized balloons, the confetti, the smoke, the random fans chosen to be onstage dancing in ridiculous outfits, the monstrous gorilla, and more… all in the first three songs. You’d have to be a pretty awful concert photographer not to get some amazing images from this show.

The Flaming Lips 23

I came equipped with my new (used) Nikon 14-24/2.8 ultrawide, which I’m offsetting by selling my 17-55/2.8 and 12-24/4. Boy did this thing come in handy, as above. I spent the entire set with it mounted on my D700, using the 24-70/2.8 on my D300. That combination actually worked pretty well. Most of my successful shots were really wide, so the D700 saw the most use.

Following are just a few of many highlights. Check out the full set, there’s lots there.

The Flaming Lips 05

The Flaming Lips 14

The Flaming Lips 20

The Flaming Lips 29

The Flaming Lips 11

Incidentally, a legitimate argument can be made that while the Flaming Lips are damn near impossible to top visually, Explosions in the Sky actually stole the show musically. I was afraid that an outdoor pavilion would totally destroy the ambience and feel of their songs, but they met the challenge head-on and in fact delivered a set that absolutely crushed the one I saw them do at the 9:30 Club a couple years ago. Bravo.

Explosions in the Sky 3

Putting the studio to work

Monday, August 24th, 2009


I recently posted about slapping together a studio in my basement. This past weekend, I put it to use for the first time, with my friend Kate who agreed to be a guinea pig. Kate has done some completely amateur modeling before, but it was still a learning process for both of us.

I started off shooting on white seamless. I kept the background lit with two SB-600s (each on 1/8 power or so) for a nice high-key look. Many awkward shots resulted as Kate and I tried to work out proper posing techniques, but plenty of good shots came out of it as well. I was keeping things simple, using a single SB-800 to light Kate from camera left. The SB-800 was firing through a shoot-thru umbrella on about 1/16 power, and I also had a Lastolite reflector to camera right throwing a little bit of light back on the shadow side.


This lighting combo was working nicely, so I used it for several poses and outfits before moving the main light over to camera right for a (very) slightly different look. In retrospect, I wish I’d done some different things with the background light. I think I was getting a bit too much wrap, lowering contrast and casting some shadows on the floor that I didn’t want. (Faint reflections I wanted; shadows not as much.) I should have lowered the power on those strobes a bit, and for some shots, just to get a different look, I should have turned them off altogether. Ah, well… next time.

The below shot illustrates both the reflections/shadows issue and the wrap from the background issue:


After a while, we took down the seamless and went for a darker look. In the small confines of my basement I can’t get enough subject-background separation to get a white sheet to go black, so I cheated and hung a plain black bedsheet from my background support. Worked like a charm and I didn’t have to obsessively worry about feathering my light. With this setup in place, I decided to hit Kate from the sides at a really hard angle to emphasize her muscular build (she’s a martial artist). I did do a tiny bit of contrast adjustment in Photoshop – dodging/burning and high pass – but the following image is mostly a product of the light striking Kate almost directly from the sides. Both lights are at 1/128 power, one to camera left and slightly behind Kate and the other at camera right very slightly in front of her. In retrospect, I wish I’d used a touch of hair light as well to add some separation to the top of her head.


I wanted to get a little more interesting so we took down the background altogether, including the stand. I stuck Kate against the wall – an ugly, white-painted brick wall – and put my SB-800 on a lightstand outside the house. I set the SB-800 to its maximum 105mm zoom and stuck a grid spot on the front, then aimed it carefully through the basement window. We have a bush in front of that window that’s pretty, uh, bushy, so I had to make sure the flash was pointed just so to get through the foliage. Between the bush and the bars on the window I got a pretty interesting pattern to the light. Here’s what happened:

Alone in the basement

Then I set up an SB-600 inside, gelled it with a full cut of CTO, and set my white balance to tungsten. This made the SB-800 go blue and cast a warm light on Kate against the cool tones on the wall. That’s what’s going on in the headline photo. These were my favorite shots of the day and I really hope to be able to do some more stuff like this – kind of dark and edgy with a bit of urban decay feel to them. Here’s a wider shot that shows a bit more of the environment (check it out large for best effect):


After the jump, some quick gear talk about this new studio.


Narcissism, part 1

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I’m always the photographer at Ultimate tournaments and games, never the photographed. So thanks to Kevin Leclaire of UltiPhotos for catching these. I now have photos I can show to my grandkids when I’m 80 to prove to them that once upon a time, gramps was in fact ambulatory. I’m in green, playing in the WAFC Corporate B league finals, which my team won for the fourth year in a row. Our opponents were mostly just-graduated alums of W.T. Woodson high school (plus a couple very good ringers), whose team I photographed at the Virginia high school championships not long ago.

Kevin is a fantastic Ultimate photographer, with a great eye for timing. He shoots with a D300 and 70-300, although for these shots I lent him my 80-200/2.8 as the games were at night, under stadium lighting, and the faster max aperture was a necessity. EDIT: The first pic is a poach D, which explains the odd positioning that confused at least one reader. That actually makes the photo more impressive, as I find poach D’s are usually extremely difficult to predict and catch on camera.

(I cropped and adjusted the exposure and noise reduction characteristics of the photos above with Kevin’s blessing.)

Setting up a makeshift studio

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Self Portrait

I’m getting a bit more serious about teaching myself how to shoot people, in the studio/portrait/model sense rather than the candid sense. Part of this involves me setting up a studio space in my basement. There is not nearly as much room as I’d like, particularly with the low ceilings. Still, headshots don’t need too much room, so at least I can do those, and with careful composition and cropping I can manage more.

The above self-portrait: I lit myself with an SB-800 at 1/16 power through a shoot-thru umbrella camera left and a Lastolite reflector camera right, both of them just outside the frame. The background is actually a white brick wall (I just got some white seamless, will play with it soon), but blown out completely with a pair of zoomed-out SB-600s at 1/4 power. There is definitely some wrap from the background light, but I like it because the Lastolite reflector didn’t throw back nearly as much light as I wanted (it’s actually a white diffuser, not a silver reflector, and so not as efficient as it needed to be here).

Once I get the seamless set up I’ll have a bit more flexibility; with low ceilings and just a white wall to work with, I have almost no other framing options that still get me clean backgrounds. I’d like to do some portraits using extreme wide-angle lenses – I know you’re not supposed to distort people but I’m into the whole caricature look sometimes – but I might need a bigger space to be able to pull that off.

So anyway, if you’re in the D.C. area and want to sit in front of a camera, drop me a line :)

PS. Carrying a 9-foot-wide roll of seamless around the D.C. metro is quite an adventure. Try it sometime… just not during rush hour.

What I do with my computer

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Day 252: Fan controller

For the curious, here is my standard post-processing workflow. It is highly inefficient but I’ve streamlined it enough that I can get things done relatively quickly. Nevertheless, I should probably buy a copy of Lightroom, which might (from what I’ve heard) combine a number of these steps into one.

Things to know beforehand: I shoot 12-bit RAW almost exclusively; about the only time I use JPEG is when I’m shooting outdoor sports in good light. I have a relatively powerful computer with dual displays, of which the primary display is calibrated regularly using a Spyder2Express tool. I use an ancient version of Photoshop that I hope to upgrade sometime in the near-ish future (I have several other things higher on my photography want-list, though). I generally process with Web usage in mind rather than print usage, so I live exclusively in the sRGB color space and am fairly clueless when it comes to advanced color management.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Download photos from CompactFlash card to computer using Nikon Transfer. All my photos go in two places: one copy in a working directory on my main hard drive, and one backup copy onto my Drobo. I only use the Drobo for backup, never for working.
  2. Extract JPEGs from NEF files using PreviewExtractor. This is a great piece of freeware that pulls the preview JPEGs from each NEF – the JPEGs are full-size but limited quality and generally come to less than one megabyte each. I extract the previews only on my working hard drive, not on the Drobo.
  3. Browse the JPEG previews and select images to process. I use an old version of ACDSee (v4.01 I believe), which I like simply because it’s fast, completely bloat-free, and I’m comfortable with the interface. Within ACDSee I make copies of the images I want to process in a new directory on my working drive.
  4. Process NEFs using Nikon Capture NX2, and save as JPEGs. This can involve any combination, but rarely all, of the following: exposure tweaks, contrast tweaks (the contrast slider in NX2 is fantastic), white balance, picture control (I use STANDARD and D2XMODE1 probably 90% of the time), and noise reduction. I do this to each NEF individually; rarely am I comfortable with batch-processing since I try to get the best look for each individual image. I save the tweaked files as maximum-quality JPEGs.
  5. Process the resulting JPEGs in Adobe Photoshop 7.0. This can involve any combination, but rarely all, of the following: cropping, rotating, curves adjustment, various local adjustments (sharpening, dodging, burning, cloning etc), application of Noise Ninja, application of any preset actions or global tonal shifts (very rarely), resizing/sharpening/watermarking/saving for web. I save the full-size version as a maximum-quality JPEG, and the web-resized version is generally 800 pixels on the long side, also saved as a maximum-quality JPEG.
  6. Copy the final, processed JPEGs to the Drobo. I back up both the full-size processed versions and the web-resized versions on my Drobo, which has a directory structure organized by date (one folder per month) and then by shoot (one subfolder per concert, portrait shoot, etc).
  7. Upload to web. Generally to either my Flickr site or my Zenfolio site, depending on the intended usage.

Sarah & Matt: The Slideshow

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Testing out Zenfolio’s new embeddable slideshow feature (and finally showing off some more photos from Sarah and Matt’s wedding back in May). This slideshow implementation isn’t bad at all. If you’re interested in these photos, though, I suggest checking out the actual gallery, where the vertically oriented shots look much better than they do in the tiny size above.

One note on this wedding: the ceremony was incredibly brief. From processional to recessional it was all of six minutes long. So I didn’t get all the ceremony shots I wanted – the wedding party, the parents, etc. But other than that, I’m pretty happy with these. Thankfully, so are the bride and groom, which of course is all that really matters!

EDIT: The slideshow won’t show up in your feed reader, so visit the actual site if you’re interested…

Pride parades are different in Canada

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

…in part, presumably, because gay marriage is legal and homosexuality seems to be more widely accepted. You certainly won’t see any military floats at pride parades in the States, but there they were at Vancouver Pride last Sunday, along with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, numerous government officials, the border patrol, and much more (above is Miss Greater Vancouver – who apparently sees things a bit differently from, say, the former Miss California). Also, where most pride parades in the States that I’ve witnessed have been heavy on the G in LGBT, the LBT part seemed to get a solid percentage of the attention at this particular parade.

Vancouver Pride 2009

I used my D700, 24-70/2.8, and a 105/2.5 AI-S manual focus lens borrowed from my brother. Ideally I would have had my 80-200/2.8, but I decided not to bring it on this trip to save weight while traveling. If I’d known I was going to have the opportunity to shoot a parade, I definitely would have stuck it in my bag. Oh well. The 105 served decently for a few shots (like the two shots above), but I’m so out of practice with using manual focus lenses in fast-action situations that I ditched it in favor of the zoom after only 20 minutes or so. If my D700 had a split prism focusing screen it would have been different, but… it doesn’t.

Vancouver Pride 2009

So, 24-70 it was, and unfortunately I wasn’t often able to get close enough to go very wide. So I have tons of shots taken at 70mm, at f/2.8 or f/4.0, trying fruitlessly to get some subject isolation. I just didn’t have enough focal length to get anything but a bunch of ugly, cluttered backgrounds. Damn. I uploaded a ton of photos to Flickr, but only because the subjects were so compelling that I think they’re fun photos, not because the photos are technically great or even anywhere close. Still, there were a few times that a parade participant got close enough to me to make things interesting:

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

As I mentioned in the previous post, during the tail end of the parade I was able to get onto the street and go wide. I still got massively cluttered backgrounds, but at least my compositions were better. As for the rest of my shots, here are just a few favorites, or check out the highlights set for a more concise version of the photoset linked to above.

There was an uncharacteristic heat wave in Vancouver the weekend of pride (really the week before), and lots of people – parade participants and spectators alike – were rather scantily clad.

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Others, though, were seriously in costume (not that the dude above isn’t “in costume” per se!) and I can’t imagine how uncomfortably warm they must have been. There was even a guy wearing a full suit of metal armor (no joke), but I didn’t get a good photo of him.

Vancouver Pride 2009

“Public nudity is illegal” was clearly printed in the guidelines, but plenty of participants – and some spectators – apparently decided that public half-nudity isn’t covered by the law. I felt a little weird taking photos of naked people but most crowd members certainly didn’t seem to have any qualms :) One of my favorite photos has some incidental nudity – this woman was a spectator (as far as I know) but she was dressed up and totally into it, to the point that people in the parade were stopping to get photos taken with her. She hammed it up for me:

Vancouver Pride 2009

OK, that’s enough for here. Go check out the full photoset or the highlights for more.

Vancouver Pride 2009

Clean! Sober! Proud!

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

This was my favorite float, photographically speaking, at the 2009 Vancouver pride parade. They were registered as “Fun in Recovery,” and lived up to the name: they brought the party big-time, with a truckload of dancers, two bubble machines, water guns, giant rainbow flags, and even more dancers in rotation around the truck. Better yet, as they were bringing up the rear of the parade, various crowd members (like me) were able to hop into the middle of the parade route and join the madness.

I’ll post more on shooting this event soon, but for now these are some of the photos I like just from this float. (And here’s a video that I didn’t shoot.)

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Vancouver Pride 2009

Heat wave in Vancouver

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Queen Elizabeth Park

Besides the fact that it was unusually warm in Vancouver this past weekend, I happened to visit on a great weekend. Not only was it BC Day, a provincial holiday complete with fireworks show, it was also Vancouver Pride Weekend and the World Police & Fire Games were in town. So, plenty of opportunities for travel/people photography.

For the first couple days I found myself taking photos of people almost exclusively, mostly my 2-month-old nephew Henry (who between my brother and I will have a very well-documented infancy):


I went out to the bar/club-filled Granville Street late on Saturday night for some more people photos, and was not disappointed. Apparently this is a very popular spot for bachelorette parties, as I ran across at least four of them, most of them engaging in some kind of hilarity involving the police officers who were standing around keeping people from doing stupid shit while drunk.

Granville Street Bachelorette Party

There was no magic trick street performer like last year, but there was a dude who kept putting a boombox on the street and start impromptu dance parties until the cops came to break it up. (Why they had to break them up I have no idea; these things were pretty harmless, just people dancing with a crowd of onlookers watching.) Anyway, after one of these circles dispersed, I caught this moment:

Granville Street

Sunday rolled around, and I took a ton of photos at the pride parade. I’ll leave that for a separate post – suffice to say for now that shooting this kind of thing without the benefit of a telephoto lens was interesting, and required some extra creativity. Come Monday, I was tired of shooting people and finally got around to doing my more usual minimalist/strong subject/abstract-ish stuff. I had 15 minutes in Queen Elizabeth Park and found it fruitful for this kind of thing, where blazing noontime sun prevented me from doing any conventional shots of the gardens:

Queen Elizabeth Park

Then, later, I walked to Stanley Park, where inspiration completely failed to strike and I took maybe one worthwhile photo over the course of a couple hours of walking. But on my way back on Alberni Street, I found several nice shots within the space of ten minutes or so.


Interestingly, it looks like the 50/1.4 has some considerable barrel distortion issues, judging from the above. My ancient version of Photoshop doesn’t have distortion correction tools, but sometime in the future, whenever I upgrade, I’ll have to remember to come back and fix this photo.

One more from that walk to close out the trip. I have a full gallery with 40 photos here.


EDIT: I brought my D700 with 24-70/2.8 and 50/1.4 on this trip, and interestingly, every single one of the photos in this post was taken with the 50. Hmm… maybe I should invest in primes over zooms for travel photography.