Lighting Andrew's Portrait

I mentioned in Andrew’s portrait post that I had some low battery issues in my main light which caused me to have many pictures where not all of the flashes fired. While I was disappointed that some of the good expression shots were marred by improper lighting, I found it quite instructive as to what each light was doing. So I dug back through the pictures and found a couple shots that I think represent the various lights well. As a reminder, the fully lit and edited shot looked like this:

I covered the lighting scenario pretty comprehensively in the previous post so I’ll just jump into the pictures where one or two of the flashes failed. The following shots are straight out of camera with no raw processing at all.

First up, here is a shot where the main light (to camera right) failed to fire:

This shot had two lights still working — the fill light (a large umbrella high and to camera left) and the hair light (a bair flash set on the floor “above” and to the right of Andrew’s head). It is noticeably darker which is appropriate as the main flash provides much of the illumination. The fill is supposed to provide the base of the exposure — nothing will be darker than the fill exposure. The hair light is supposed to provide just a little kick of light to separate the hair from the floor and skim across the dinosaurs.

Speaking of the hair light, I managed to get a shot where both the main and fill lights didn’t fire. That left only the hair light which looked like this:

Obviously neither of these shots were the look I was going for. But I thought it was an interesting example of what each light was actually doing. A lot of times I have just a rough idea of what I want for lighting and I don’t have a lot of time to test the setup with each light individually so I was happy to have these shots for my own education.


Portrait 6/52 - Andrew

My son Andrew turned four over the weekend. He’s a lively fellow and, as four year old boys are apt to do, he’s taken an interest in dinosaurs. So we had a fun dinosaur themed party to celebrate. To commemmorate his birthday, I decided it was fitting to make him my subject of the week. I had found an idea on Pinterest for a boy portrait where his toys were arranged in a semi-circle around his head. In light of his dinosaur party, I decided to go with little dinosaurs:

I was hoping to get some different expressions — especially something beyond the typical “cheese” smile. I was pleased to get a more contemplative look:

I also got some more, shall we say, “enthusiastic” expressions!

We had fun and Andrew enjoyed trying to block my view of his face with his two dinosaurs in hand. But after not too long, Andrew’s cooperation had definitely started to drop off so we called it a wrap.


Technical Details

This shoot presented some unique challenges as Andrew was lying on the floor. There was no separation between him and the background (floor), so my lighting setup needed to reflect that. To provide nice soft, even illumination to the whole length of his torso, I opted to use my 8x36 strip light as the main light. The flash was set to 1/2 power and it was positioned above and to camera right from Andrew. I then had a large umbrella positioned pretty high and to camera left from Andrew to provide fill and to generally keep the base level of illumination up. This was set to 1/4 power. Finally, I decided to add a little kick of light to his hair and grazing across the floor/dinosaurs so I added a third bare flash lying on the floor “above” his head and set to 1/8 power. Camera settings were 1/160s, f7.1, and ISO 100. I had some dying batteries in my main flash so I have quite a few pictures that do not include all flashes. This was unfortunate as it meant I didn’t have good exposures for some good expressions. You might notice the shadow goes the other way in one of the above pictures. That is one of the good expressions that I rescued in post. The interesting thing about flashes not firing is it is very instructive about what each light is doing. I think I’ll post some straight out of camera shots later illustrating this.


The point of this shoot was to get a fun portrait of Andrew where he was having a good time and not giving too much “cheese”. I like some of the unabashedly gleeful expressions we were able to get. With kids it seems especially important to try and introduce some fun. That also requires rolling with some not ideal poses such as dinosaurs completely obscuring the face! I’m pleased with the pictures but next time I’ll be sure to have fresh batteries so I don’t lose good expressions to bad exposure.


One Picture Saves a Life

Megan Griffo, for Huffington Post, on the power of photography for homeless pets

A terrified dog walks into a rescue shelter. He’s dirty, disoriented and unsure of what’s about to happen. A person he doesn’t know stands over him with a camera, snaps a photo and posts it on an adoption website.

Most likely, no one will call about him.

Liz Baker of Greater Good and photographer Seth Casteel decided to do something about the bevy of sad shelter animal photography. So began One Picture Saves a Life.

The results are amazing. At least for the animals they photograph, a single picture can truly change everything.


Suffering Artist's Syndrome

David Williams, writing on his site PHOTOS4U2C, on the common milestone of photographic development he calls “Suffering Artist Syndrome”:

If you’ve read this far, you’re the type of person that has the requisite drive to learn the technical side of photography. When we get to it, you won’t have any problems understanding how the camera’s aperture setting effects shutter speed. And, I’m guessing, you also have the tenacity to learn the dark art of photo composition. You’re gonna be fine. You’re on the road to seeing. So why are you so anxious? What’s eating at you? I think I know what it is. You’re feeling the first affects of “suffering artist’s syndrome”. The first symptom is an endless line of questions — questions like, “should I be spending so much time thinking about photography?” or “Am I any good? Maybe nobody else like my photos.” Know that these are common thoughts. A stream of questions and doubt is one of the traits of a creative mind. The trick is to turn your mental grinder outwards towards the world rather than letting it drilling back into you. Trust me, once you set it free, this energy will create art. Get up off your butt and take your camera into the world.

It was for this reason that I embarked on my 52 Portraits project. There is nothing more motivating than going through the images from a shoot and really loving what came out. On the flip side there is nothing more demoralizing than looking at a bunch of recent images and not finding anything worthwhile. I’ve had my share of both but I was feeling like my growth as a photographer was not keeping pace with my appreciation of good photography — my photos weren’t up to the standard I could see in other people’s work. And so I decided to embark on a photo project to keep me learning and growing and to turn my focus from consuming to creating.


Portrait 5/52 - Rick

This week I got to shoot my father-in-law, Rick. He enjoys gaming on his Xbox and has a collection of guns, so I thought it would be appropriate to take a more cinematic approach and play up his gaming alter ego Mr. Frost. I had been concocting this idea for awhile in my head and was excited to see how it played out. The basic idea for the scene is that Mr. Frost is awaiting an unknown assailant that could arrive at any moment. He knows someone is coming and so he sits, silent with guns ready, looking out the window at the moonlit landscape.


When Rick pulled out his gun with a laser sight, we switched it up a bit to take advantage of that red streak of light.




Technical Details

The main light was a good sized umbrella just outside the window to camera right. The flash was set to 1/2 power and had a mild blue gel on it to simulate moonlight. My second light was an 8x36 gridded strip box at camera left from Rick set at 1/16 power. This was positioned at an angle to light his face, arm, and hand. Finally, I had another flash set to 1/8 power pointed up at the ceiling with a blue gel to try and fill in the shadows a bit. Camera settings were 1/160s, f4.0, and ISO 200. I had to adjust a bit from my typical settings as there was less overall light to deal with.


This was a fun shoot. This was the first time I went into it with a specific idea in my mind. While it didn’t come out exactly as I envisioned it, I’m pretty happy with the result. I have found that it is harder to deal with the darker shots (Rick, Cody, and Tracie) as I have to watch out for noise and it is hard for me to leave large areas of the frame almost black. However, in this case I think it is important to leave a lot of darkness to convey the moonlit feeling. This was definitely a challenging shoot for me but I am pleased with the results and I’m glad to have expiremented.


Happy Valentine's Day from Andrew


Andrew’s pre-school had a Valentine’s party yesterday and Jamie wanted to make his Valentine cards based on an idea she found on Pinterest. She had me take a picture of Andrew with his hand out as if he had something he was giving the camera. We had those pictures printed and then she made a little slit above and below his hand. She and Andrew slipped lollipops into the slits and the effect was complete.


Disneyland is the New Coney Island

Neil Flanagan, writing for Greater Greater Washington, explains why an ordinary strip mall was designated a historical landmark:

While it may look like an ordinary strip mall, the Park & Shop was one of the first examples of retail architecture designed around the automobile.

In the May 1932 Architectural Record, the author praised the Park & Shop in contrast to a traditional main street retail strip, which he derides as “Coney Island Architecture.”

While the article in general was an interesting look at the beginnings of a movement towards auto-centric development, it was an image from the referenced May 1932 Architectural Record that really grabbed my attention. Particularly this quote regarding a vibrant main street scene:

This unrelated “Coney Island Architecture” suggests the need for cooperative and unified planning by architects.

This main street scene was then juxtaposed with an image of the new strip mall with a description lauding its improvements over a traditional retail district:

A planned grouping of shops with parking space that does not interfere with traffic of main thoroughfare. The design by one architect of buildings for a variety of uses results in uniformity.

And so began an era in which the automobile reigned supreme, uniformity paved the way to monotony, and style was reduced to “rationality” and functionalism.

As for “Coney Island Architecture”, it is not surprising, yet still somehow shocking, to see the strength of the architectural establishment’s collective disdain for traditional architecture and the historic urban fabric at such an early point in the 20th century. This is the first seed of the arrogant attitude that begat the insidious “Urban Renewal” which wreaked havoc on many downtowns and established neighborhoods across the country in the name of “rational” traffic patterns and increased uniformity. As Disneyland had yet to be conceived, “Coney Island Architecture” apparently was the derision du jour for traditional design.


Portrait 4/52 - Cody

This week I enjoyed changing it up a bit. My nephew Cody turned 3 and had a super hero themed birthday party over the weekend. I thought it would be fun to have him get back into costume and take a few shots of him as Superman. He was into it for a few minutes and we got some fun shots:

Unfortunately I didn’t get the focus quite right on that one but I thought the expression and posture were just too good to pass up.

Tracie, Cody’s mom, had made these great cityscapes for the party that we were able to repurpose as backdops for the shoot. After the initial running shot, I got Cody to do some jumping for me:

 I had been anxiously awaiting a chance to try out a fog machine I had received at Christmas time. This seemed like the perfect shoot to add a little ambiance to.

 Of course with three boys around we couldn’t just shoot one! Cody’s brother Jake and my son Andrew got in on the lighting tests:

And Jake wanted in on the jumping action too!

Overall it was a fun shoot and even the subject(s) managed to have fun.


Technical Details

The main light was a 24” softbox at camera right with the flash set to 1/2 power. The rim/hair light was my typical 8x36 gridded strip box set at 1/4 power with a blue gel (to simulate moonlight) set behind the subject and to camera left. After reviewing the images on the computer I think that this light should not have been gridded and probably would have been better as an umbrella to really let the blue light spill around the scene. I also had a bare flash behind and to camera right set pretty low — I don’t think it had much effect. Camera settings were 1/160s, f7.1, and ISO 100.


My primary conclusion after this shoot is that the most important thing when photographing kids is to get them having fun. The pictures come out so much better than the stiff “cheese” smiles. I could have adjusted the lighting setup as I mentioned above. I wish that there had been more fog — it really seemed to dissapate quickly! And I really wish I had nailed the focus on the running shot. But otherwise I had fun and I’m happy with the pictures.


Employee Portraits

A few years ago, the marketing director at work had a professional photographer come through and get some shots all the employees. These are used for new employee announcements, proposals/resumes, and (most importantly) the annual digital holiday card. As new people came in, the marketing director asked if I could take some shots of the fresh faces that matched the general aesthetic of the professional photographers photos. I told him I would be happy to try!

As I had paid attention when he was around and I had access to the exif data from some of his shots, reverse engineering his recipe was relatively easy. He was shooting with a 50mm pretty wide open on a full frame camera using only available light. His style was slightly overexposed/washed out with pretty neutral colors. So I grabbed my “thrifty fifty” (50mm f1.8, not nearly the 50mm f1.2L the professional had but close enough), set my exposure compensation to either +1/3 or +2/3, and got to work. The shots turned out well — so well that the marketing director determined it was time to reshoot the whole company to get some new photos rather than keep recycling the years old previous ones. And so this year’s holiday card featured all my shots!

Since then, we have added some more new employees. So, it was time to bring out the camera and get the employee photo collection up to date. Today was the day and I’m pretty pleased with the results. Here are a couple of my favorites for the day:



Although I’m pretty happy with the results, I’ve found that employee photos can be pretty tricky since many of the subjects don’t really enjoy being photographed and are anxious to get it over with. In addition, taking the photos is pulling them away from work so there isn’t a lot of time to develop a rapport and try to pull out good expressions. It can be pretty tough to come away with just one good shot if the subject isn’t too interested in the whole process. Luckily most of my fellow employees were only just a little uncomfortable and were able to relax and settle into some nice expressions.


A Night out on the Town

Recently we had a family funeral in Lodi, CA. I took along my camera and documented the service and subsequent dinner in downtown Lodi. After looking through the pictures of the day, I felt I had a set of pictures that told a nice story — together. I wanted a way to present the set as a visual story and remembered hearing about an app/service called Storehouse. I decided to give it a shot and I’m quite pleased with the results.

So, without further ado, I’m pleased to present A Night out on the Town, my photo essay of taking the kids downtown.