Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Photocamp Utah 2010: Wrap-up

At Photocamp Utah 2010 I presented a workshop demonstrating high-speed photography. As promised, here are my notes (pdf). The video from my presentation can be seen here; the first little bit was taken during setup so it takes a bit before it really gets into the presentation itself. All the videos can be seen here.

Some points of clarification

I was asked a couple questions afterward and thought I'd share them to help clarify what I talked about. If there are other questions, please leave a comment and I'll update this post.

What kind of camera can I use?

For the first setup, any camera that has continuous fire mode and a means of firing a flash will work. Typically this means something with a hotshoe connector on it.

For the second setup, any camera that can be set to a long enough shutter speed to allow you to trip the shutter and then cause the event will work. Since the trigger fires the light which causes the exposure, you just need to be able to have the shutter open when the light goes off.

For the third setup, the camera needs to have a remote shutter release connection.

Can I use the built-in flash?

This will only work for setups one and three and depends on the model of your camera and how much control you have over the flash. My camera does not have a power adjustment for the built-in flash so it won't keep up with drive mode. I think some cameras do have the ability to adjust the power and so they may work.

Will any battery powered flash work?

The key is to have one that has multiple power settings; the lower the power setting the better. I have an older flash that I've used for relatively slow things that works acceptably with it's lowest setting of 1/16th power. It probably would be too slow for things faster, like BBs or bullets.

Regarding setup three, how do I connect the triggers to the camera?

I had a cable that connected the trigger to the shutter release. This will probably involve a custom cable. This was easily done with my camera model since the shutter release plug is a standard size commonly used in audio applications. Some models of cameras have a plug unique to that camera manufacturer. In these cases, you may have to buy a shutter release button and cut the end off to connect the wires to the trigger.

There are also setups where you could use a radio to connect the trigger to the camera. This will require cables to connect the trigger to the radio transmitter. (This is the same as for setup two.) And you'll also need a cable to connect the receiver to the camera's remote shutter release. What this looks like is highly dependent on the radio and camera models.

Setup diagrams

Diagram templates courtesy Kevin Kertz.

Setup 1

Setup 2

Setup 3

Other wrap-up blog articles

In no particular order, here are some other Photocamp Utah wrap-up blog articles. If there are others, let me know about them and I'll add them to the list.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Auto-mode: Yes or No?

The other day, my friend Nicole Young (aka Nicolesy) published a thought provoking article entitled Just Say No to A-U-T-O. In this article, she discusses the results of an informal twitter survey where she asked:
When would a photographer want to use the "Full Auto" mode? (Original here)
(In addition to her article, there are some good comments in response; you might want to check it out.) Her conclusion was:
If you ultimately want to have more creative control of your images then it’s my recommendation to say “no” to the green square.
A mutual friend, Bryan Jones, mentioned in his response that he shoots in Program mode 30% of the time. Now Bryan is a brilliant guy and an expert on things optical. As a post-doc vision researcher and a freelance photojournalist, if anyone is capable of shooting without auto mode, it's him. The amount he used it surprised me enough that I thought a bit about the advantages for an advanced photographer to use auto mode. As I pondered, one reason for a knowledgeable user to use an automatic mode occurred to me.[1] (And there are probably other reasons that haven't occurred to me.)

Those who know me know that in addition to programming and photography, one of the things I enjoy is going fast. Since I also don't like to spend lots of money, the best way to go fast cheaply is on a motorcycle. So, I ride. In my education on the topic, I've read Keith Code's books A Twist of the Wrist and A Twist of the Wrist 2.

As part of Keith's instruction, he introduces the concept of attention cost. The theory is we have a fixed amount of attention. Minor distractions reduce the amount we have to devote to important tasks. For example, as it relates to motorcycle riding, an air leak in your helmet will cause a tickle on your cheek, diverting attention away from the more critical shifting, braking, cornering and accelerating tasks. Fix the air leak and you will go faster around the track because you can pay more attention to the tasks that are important for speed.

I think this is directly applicable to photography and the question of whether to use auto mode or not. What is important to your shot? Where should you spend your limited attention?

© Nicole S. Young - All Rights Reserved
Used with permission
For the stock and creative shooting Nicole does, things controlled by the various manual modes are critical. They are vital components of making the shot. If something unrelated to these things, such as composition or lighting, is not exactly right, she can adjust and retake the shot. Auto mode simply does not give her the technical control she needs.

© Bryan W. Jones
Creative Commons License
For the photojournalism shooting Bryan does, I doubt things like ISO, f/stop and shutter speed are as important as they are to Nicole. On the other hand, the situational awareness to anticipate shots, move into position, frame and snap the shutter to get the once in a lifetime event are critical. For his style of shooting, auto mode eliminates distractions and allows him to focus on capturing the moment.

My conclusion: automatic mode has its place. The key is to know how to use all modes of your camera, evaluate each situation you're shooting in to determine what's most important, and then choose the mode that's applicable.

1. To be clear, I have not talked with Bryan about this. I don't know his reasons. It's just his doing it that caused me to think about why one might do it in general.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photochallenge 2010: Week 5

The second month's topic for the yearly photochallenge is Natural Landscape. In this context, "Natural" is defined as having no man made objects in the scene. I live in a beautiful area of the country, with gorgeous mountains on all sides and two large lakes nearby. However, being a fairly built up metropolitan area, it does take a bit of a drive to get to locations without evidence of human habitation. I may have to bend the concept of landscape at times to make some images this month.

In any case, my wife and I took a drive this afternoon with the intent of finding a good spot with the evening's sunset for this week's challenge. I planned to at least start with an image that didn't push the definitions too much. Heading out of town, we planned a quick errand. Unfortunately, it took much longer than anticipated and we didn't make it out of town until after sunset had already started.

A while later, as she drove down a back road, I watched a barely visible mountain range slide by my window with city lights illuminating the clouds from the other side. Wondering what the sensor might see, I picked up the camera and clicked. Fifteen seconds later I had nothing but a colorful blur. Hmmm. Looked like possibly some potential.
I had an idea for a composite image, but needed some additional raw material to work with. So much for a standard landscape shot. With peaked interest, I asked her to pull over at the next wide spot. I got out, set up the tripod and made some more exposures. Nothing too spectacular, in and of themselves, but I thought they might work well enough for what I had in mind.
When we got home, I loaded the images into the computer and went to work. With some experimentation, this image finally emerged. It's not what I had visualized; it has a completely different feel to it, but I like it more.
Hidden City Lights

After I finished this first version, I decided to go back and edit the images again to attempt what I had pre-visualized. It was much easier to do and my wife actually prefers it over the previous one.
Landscape Dream

So, two very different final products made from the same two base images. Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to watermark your image

My friend Nicole Young (aka Nicolesy) posted a great video tip the other day on her blog: Two minute tip: Watermarking Your Images. Additionally, one of her photos on twitter has quite a discussion on the pros and cons of adding a watermark. Inspired by these two items, I created a Photoshop action to automate this task.


The action file can be downloaded here.

To install it, click the link above and save the file to your computer.

In Photoshop, on the Actions menu (A), select Load actions (B).

In the open file dialog, go to the location the file is saved, select and open the file. You should get a action group called HP3's watermark (C) with an action in it called Add watermark (D).

As installed, this action will add watermarks with Your Name Here. To change this, first open an image; any image will do. Then click the arrow next to the action (E); this will list the steps in the action. Double click on the line that says Make text layer (F). Text that says © Your Name Here will be added to the image with the text tool selected. Click on the text and change it to what you want your watermarks to say. Then click on the check box in the tool bar. The action should now be setup for your use. Now, close the image without saving.


To use the action, open an image, highlight a layer, typically the top one, click on the action and run it. You should get a new layer with your watermark on it. It will be active with the move tool. You may now move and/or change its size as appropriate for this image. When it is where you want, click on the check box in the toolbar. If you want to change any of the settings, you can do it on the new layer in this image. (If you want to always have a different look, then change the settings in the action on the appropriate line that you want to have different. Follow the same pattern as was used to change the name previously during installation.)

For a full understanding of how this works and the various settings you can change, be sure to watch Nicole's video.

Go here to see other actions I have shared.

If you have any questions, problems or suggestions, leave a comment and I'll try to address the issue. Have fun!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Photocamp Utah 2010: Inexpensive High-speed Photography

Apple splash
Two months from today, over 300 photographers will descend on the Miller Conference Center for a day-long conference filled with workshops, networking, learning and fun. It's the second annual Photocamp Utah event. In spite of a larger venue with room for 50% more people and a technical problem just before registration started, tickets sold out in six hours.

I will present a workshop again this year. To keep with last year's McGyver-ish theme of doing things cheap, I will talk about the basics of high-speed photography and how to do it with equipment most photographers already have or can get inexpensively, such as the HiViz kits I recently built. A live demonstration will illustrate the points and show how to set things up for a shot like the one above.

I hope to see you there. If you see me, be sure to say "Hi".

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sometimes you take what you can get

Path to the sun
Around here at this time of year temperature inversions set in. The valley stays cold while warm air stays at higher elevations. A lack of vertical air movement results in really bad air quality. This causes a heavy layer of mixed smog and fog, particularly noticeable in the mornings and evenings. While very bad for health, it provides some spectacular sunrises and sunset.

Over the course of the last several mornings, I've noticed this layer of air makes conditions for some potentially interesting images. I can see how it could be used to separate foreground elements from background elements with a nice layering effect. I thought the river bottoms at the edge of town might provide some nice foreground elements with the mountains in the far background. So, last night I decided I'd get up early and head down there on the way to work. I checked the time for sunrise, set the alarm and headed to bed.

When I got up this morning, the wind was blowing. Hmm. When I looked out, sure enough, the haze that has been the norm was gone; blown away in front of an approaching front. I decided I'd head out in spite of the changes and see what I could get anyway. The image at the top is what I came away with. Not at all what I pre-visualized, but an image I like none the less. Sometimes you just have to take what life gives you and make the most of it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Photochallenge 2010: Week 2

I've decided to participate in this year's photochallenge organized by Trevor Carpenter and Jeremy Brooks over at PhotoChallnege.org. This year the challenge is to post one image a week related to a topic that changes every four weeks. Last week, with only two days in it, was too short for me to get anything up; I didn't actually find out about it until Saturday. So this week is my first entry.
Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.
Resolution is first topic of the year. One of my life goals is to spend time on a daily basis in Bible reading and prayer. I must confess I don't do too well keeping a daily schedule with anything from brushing my teeth to working out to time with God. (This is the primary reason I didn't do last year's challenge. It was a daily challenge and I knew it'd be too much.) In any case, I plan on doing better than last year in setting aside time to listen to what God has to tell me.