Very quickly…

I just added a page on a seminar happening THIS WEEKEND: THe Digital Artistry Workshop.  Its in conjunction with the upcoming Adobe Max Event in San Diego and features some great Adobe gurus talking about various Adobe applications.

I’ll be giving a 2 part presentation on video production for still shooters so if that interests you, check out the page linked in the banner above.

OK, got to fly…

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Another Long Dry Spell…

Well, I know, I know, it’s been another long dry spell. From early summer until now I’ve had no new posts. That’s not because stuff wasn’t happening, but it was stuff that took me completely off the rails.

First, as you may recall, I had a total knee replacement. Finally my right knee gave out completely and I could barely walk even with a cane. But unlike normal folks, in my case the initial damage was July 27, 1967 when I was blown up. The impact and joint trauma seems to have initiated severe osteoarthritis in most of my major joints and as that has progressed and my movement and flexibility have decreased steadily over the ensuing years, so has the quality of the soft tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and supporting muscle tissue involved with those joints.

Replacing the knee was pretty standard procedure these days. But the soft tissue was so atrophied and damaged trying to get back any even semi normal range of movement has proven much more difficult than I imagined even though the doctor did forewarn me.

An incredibly good friend from back in the New England days flew out to help and only that help made it possible for me. I’m a terrible patient; I do not do “helpless” with any degree of patience or acceptance so care-givers for me need to be extraordinarily long suffering and thick skinned. I hated every moment of it. But I could not have gotten through it without Don’s help even though it was a terrible time for him to be away from his family. I will be forever grateful.

So my plan for getting completely ready for the new world of online courses ran headlong into an unexpected (for me) reality. I planned on digging out my video gear and shooting some pro-level intros for the various modules because I am appalled at the “talking head” and terminally boring videos I watched from other instructors. Those would have me, as a student, asleep in my chair in mere seconds. But due to the slower than expected (by me) knee recovery, the new semester was virtually ready to start before I could seriously plan some location shoots at all.

A couple of opportunities had arisen, such as during a workshop, but that help fell through and I do know one cannot do pro-quality as a one-man band especially if that one person is also the on-camera talent as is mandated by the State who wants students to be able to feel more connected with the actual instructor and so wants us to use video to help in that connection. I so desperately wanted to use a “spokesperson” for the class instead of myself. I’m very comfortable producing the videos but I have zero interest in being on camera and am most uncomfortable at it.

But there was no help for it. Then the second slap in the face by reality came when my plan to use student help fell through with no one interested in spending the time and effort. Finally my shooting partner, Cynthia was free and we did the first ones. But, I was unable to walk well and so ended up doing what I hate, being a talking head except at least I was out on location and not in my office using the pathetic little computer camera and built-in microphone.

Finally by the 3rd module I was walking a bit more steadily. Cynthia was busy but Steve Burns agreed to help and we shot an intro for the first editing module that was closer to what I wanted. By the end of the day my leg was totally shot but at least we had one done. The next week Steve was busy but Cynthia was free so we did the intro to the module on depth of field and my walking was much improved. But now I am literally trying to create content and do the videos the week before they “air.” The mandatory captioning is a major pain and YouTube’s auto caption function (the district OLS, “Blackboard,” has some tie-in with YouTube so we are supposed to use them to host the videos) is essentially worthless. Oh well. Since, as was always my habit, I work from a script, I also have something to copy and paste as a start unless I flub some line.

The good news is that once done, I have made sure they are timeless and can be reused though I do want to completely re-do the first ones over the long holiday break.

Anyway, for your amusement, here are some of the intro/welcoming videos. They are about 2 minutes each. I think of them as a combination commercial and trailer for the modules they introduce, and as a way for the students to have some virtual “face time” with their instructor. I’ve also had fun trying to pick locations where the viewer had to think about the possible connections between location and topic. Creativity is very largely a unique juxtaposing of otherwise disparate things (words, picture elements, etc.) so this lets me have some fun with their minds as well.

Here is the dirct YouTube URL for the intro on motion rendering:

And here is the welcoming video for working with Grayscale.  (In the preview it looks like the sound synch is off but I’m not sure how that is possible…)

I did get some still shooting completed on the Bristlecone Pines trip but that too turned chaotic when on Thursday, as we were driving to our first rendezvous, I got a call from the Research Station where we were staying that they had to close because of a tick infestation. Wow, it was a panic filled moment. Then on Friday as we were leaving to go up for a night shoot I got a message from school saying we had to immediately get a revised schedule in due to cancelled classes or the admin would just decide on more cuts themselves. So while my friend Lee Peterson, who knew the area well, led the students up the hill, I stayed behind on my computer and emailer to help resolve that issue.

We did get to spend some time at the Laws Train Museum (slightly north of Bishop, CA) and that was very cool. Here is a shot from there.



Side of an old boxcar showing the extreme weathering of the painted wood.  I liked how the smoother rungs contrasted in both texture and direction.  Canon 5DSr


But since I’ve been back (that was early August) I’ve not had a chance to do any more than to download those images and think, frustratingly, about them. This is the only one worked on.

So that brings my terribly busy but horribly unproductive last few months more or less up to date so you all know I’m still alive. It looks like there will be no let up any time soon. Over the Thanksgiving Break I plan to go see my friend Jim in Santa Fe for a very seriously needed few days “off” but would also like to be able to do some work on that trip. Hopefully over the long winter break I can return to a more or less normal routine.

Meantime I promise to try to do a little better. We’ll see…



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Repost on Fireworks

Sorry for the long absence.  Some of you know I’ve had some “issues” with various joints, especially my legs, since my play time with the Army in the late 1960s. Over the least couple of years one shoulder and a wrist have been attended to but the elephant in the room has always been my knees.  Finally, one of them simply failed completely.  Spring semester saw me go from painful walking to painful walking with a walking stick to…walking in deep pain while looking like Walter Brennan on a bad leg day.  There was no position I could be in that did not hurt… standing, sitting, lying down, life quality was diminishing fast so it was time to do something.  So last week I had the worst of the knees totally replaced .

I can tell you categorically we are not — NOT — having fun yet!  But with the Bristlecone Pines workshop coming up in August I was rapidly running way short on maneuvering room.  Among the things falling through the cracks were this blog.  I have several posts almost written but have been unable to shoot the illustrations and photos   I was also able to complete the mandated Online Certification Course and in Fall 2016 will begin some online offerings at City.  These are not “tutorials” or what we used to call “correspondence” classes which are largely asynchronous presentations like enhanced versions of the “How-to” and demo presentations or “canned” lectures.  The State mandates that if we are to give credit bearing courses they must, as closely as possible, provide student-teacher interactions and feedback simulating the classroom environment.

Meantime the 4th of July is coming up with grilling out, fireworks, parties, etc. so here is the link to a previous post on shooting fireworks that should make sure you get some good images after the BBQs… which I WILL MISS!!!!!


I’m assured by many that these first 2 weeks are the hard ones then it begins to accelerate getting better.  I am SOOOO ready for that next phase I can hardly tell you.  There is much to do to get ready for Fall semester with new presentations, etc. So hopefully in a week or so I’ll be back on schedule with this blog.  Thanks for your patience.

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TWO OLD CAMERAS… Painted with Light

This past Tuesday I did a demo for the lighting class at City College involving Painting With Light.  There are several photo techniques that go by that name but the one used by product shooters and photo illustrators involves taking a (relatively) small light and carefully “painting” the subject/object with light from various angles, mostly the sides and back then combining those separate shots into a single one.

Light may spill over onto the front surfaces but it almost always comes from the side, raking across the front surface.  this allows for the texture and surface detail to really stand out and not risk flattening it as would happen with normal lighting and a fill.  The result is a unique look with loads of detail and contrast and often, lighting that could have only been accomplished with normal studio lights if there was actually a light in the shot.

By taking multiple shots, stacking them as layers, and only using the parts of each shot/layer needed, lights in the shot (and occasionally the photographer in the shot) can easily be eliminated.  Over the past few years you’ve seen several examples I’ve posted here of both still life and even landscape images created and lit in this fashion.  This time I used a small table top still life composed of two old Kodak cameras and an old Weston meter.  It was set up in a studio.  The composition is a little loose but I wanted to leave space so that during the demo I could show various ways of moving the light around to pick out specific areas

This first shot below is of the arrangement simply shot with the overhead lights.  This lets you see what will be the item(s) to be rendered.  To make sure the camera didn’t move it is mounted on a heavy camera stand.  If you are using a normal tripod you must take special care to avoid moving the camera AT ALL or it will be an incredible pain to line up.  Photoshops “Auto-Align” feature will be of little help when the visible parts of each file are in different places with very little overlap.

Basic studio set up for demo.  this is simply seen with the overhead fluorescents.

Basic studio set up for demo. this is simply seen with the overhead fluorescents.

I used a small Cree-powered flashlight as the only light source.  The shot is against a black backdrop.  Moving around the set-up and taking exposures with the light covering individual spots on the cameras, I worked my way starting on camera left and ending on camera right.  The shots were all taken with a Canon 5DSr and a 24mm Tilt Shift lens.  Each frame was at f11 @ 5 seconds.  I prefer to work with longer exposures to give me more time with the light but the flashlight was simply too bright.

I had intended to bring a normal AA cell flashlight from home but forgot and had to use the light I carry in my school briefcase.  In the light plot below, the lights are there just to indicate the arc around the set up I generally followed in lighting it.  I also took a couple of shots with the light spilling over from the top.  In all I took about 24 separate frames.

Light plot for demo.  The light, a flashlight, was moved all around the composition.  In all, 24 shots were taken.

Light plot for demo. The light, a flashlight, was moved all around the composition. In all, 24 shots were taken.

I tend to over shoot when I’m doing this.  I’d rather have frames I do not need instead of discovering a “hole” in the lighting after it is all broken down.  And since this was a demo done in front of students I really did not want to risk not having every possibility covered.  I shot a number of very small angle changes just to be sure.  And because I was talking to them while shooting I lost track and ended up re-shooting some lighting positions I had already taken.

Of the 24 shots I took, I actually only needed 10 of them to assemble the final shot.  The assembly procedure is easy: start with a shot and then layer each successive frame using the “lighten” layer blend mode and a layer mask to delete things undesired such as lights in the shot, light flare, etc.  They almost build themselves.  The issue with this particular shot was too much light, i.e. the width of the beam and the incredible brightness of the Cree LEDs actually worked against me.  Even though I opened up the composition for some room, I could not get in tight without blowing out the exposure; I would have needed to shoot with a neutral density filter…  Oh well, it was the technique I was demo-ing.

Here are a couple examples of the individual shots that were used in the final assembly.

One sample frame with the light coming from the left side.  This is 1 of 24

One sample frame with the light coming from the left side. This is 1 of 24

Here is a sample file with the light coming from the right side. This is frame 12 of 24

Here is a sample file with the light coming from the right side. This is frame 12 of 24

However because of the beam of the flashlight and the small stage, there was a lot of light spill, especially on the wood I used as a base (an old, beat up bottom to an “apple box”) so once the frames were all assembled, I added a curves adjustment for a little more contrast and then took the flattened file and vignetted it to eliminate the too bright light on the base and simulate more of a pool of light.  That resulted in this image…

Final assembly and edit.  Almost done...

Final assembly and edit. Almost done…

But… it was clearly lacking something… and to me it was that boring black background.  So I found a texture shot of an old wall to drop in behind the cameras to create some atmosphere. I blurred it a little to simulate depth of field since the back of the apple box top is starting to go out of focus and a sharp background would have been visually inexplicable.  Here then is the final image with a new background…

Final shot with wall texture.

Final shot with old wall background.  Zoom in (click and click again on the image) to see the fine texture in the leather, bellows, metal, even the wood that is brought out with the strong sidelighting from the PWL technique.. 

In the old days, shooting film, there was no way to stack files as we now do digitally.  So Painting With Light could be done but it was a chore.  You had to plan it out and get it with one long exposure.  You could meter for exposure but you had no way of knowing if your aim and timing was good until you saw the final and then it was too late to fix it.  A device with the improbable name of “Hose Master” was often used for small product work.  It was a fiber optic light source.  Very cool… very frustrating at times though it would have been perfect for this shot and set up.  Now, with digital editing making it practical, this technique is used for all manner of work.  Here are some photographers to research/Google to see Painting with Light at its finest:

  • Harold Ross:  Beautiful still life and landscape work.
  • Eric Curry: Incredible tableaus including a B24 Bomber!
  • Nick Nacca:  A San Diego pro shooter whose work is stunning, as is his website.

Have fun!!!

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Meantime… A Little News…

Yes, yes, I know it has been a long dry spell since the last post.  But things have been a bit chaotic as the District seems to have launched a full-on assault on all non-academic programs with new rules and requirements seemingly designed knowing we could not meet them.  It has been beyond frustrating and taken a major toll on Dave’s and my time and energy… and general outlook.

The interesting news is that in order to try to deal with enrollment mandates we are now seriously planning on gong on-line with some classes.  A Photo 105 this summer as sort of a “proof of concept” and practice run, then next fall we’ll expand a little and grow our way into more and more starting with Photo 143 Beginning Digital.  For me the delightful idea is that if it all actually works (and some of you know we fought this for years) it means we could teach from anywhere we had internet access… ANYWHERE.  Hmmm, for a photographer with a Motorhome that has some real appeal…

The major news is that the data is in on this summer’s workshop to the Ancient Bristlecone Pines forest in the White Mountains of California.  We’ll spend all but the first night in the high altitude research station which is beyond cool.  To see the specifics on it including dates, fees, itinerary, etc., click on the link in the banner at the top of this page.

I’m also working on several new posts — a couple including some lens tests and lighting demo for this blog and a continuation of the “knife” series on my other blog.  But it has been so busy I’ve not had a chance to finish them or do the photos for them either.  Bummer.

Oh well, I wanted to let you all know I was still alive and kicking.  Now back to the battle…

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Boot Demo for Lighting Class 

This week’s assignment for the lighting class was to create a catalog cover shot of something solid and textured. It could be anything but had to be larger than a watch and smaller than a suitcase — basically something that could be shot on a tabletop.  The students were also allowed to add “props” to their composition and would be given extra credit for producing a complete sample layout.  This is an advanced class so they were allowed — and expected — to show their editing skills as well.

For the demonstration, I picked a pair of fancy dress boots, tossed in some western-y props including some spurs, a hat, and a belt, all sitting on a saddle blanket for “flavor.”  A black seamless was used behind the setup.  Based on the items I used, I decided to make this a fantasy cover for a Sheplers™ (a real company specializing in western clothing and gear) special catalog.

The shot was done in the studios at City College during a class demo using our Photogenic grid-mounted mono-lights. It was shot in RAW format with a Canon 5DSr and a Canon 85mm f1.8 lens.  The conversion was in Adobe Camera RAW and editing was done in Photoshop CC 2014 on the computer at my teacher’s station in the classroom.

The light plot contained a KEY LIGHT in a 7” reflector positioned behind and to screen right to create some highlights and shadows from the light raking across the boot’s toe bringing out the texture of the leather.   FILL was provided by a 3’x4’ softbox from front left. A RIM LIGHT and ACCENT LIGHT were added from the back and side screen left.  Specular HIGHLIGHTS to make the leather shine were created from a light placed screen right in front.  Using some flags and other modifiers to more tightly control the lighting would have been called for normally but this demo was not intended to overwhelm students on their first studio product shot so I tried to keep it simple, explaining what each light was to accomplish as it was placed.  Though not as dramatic as is my normal style this is a far easier concept to grasp.  As the class progresses and students gain proficiency and confidence with the lights we’ll play more but for assignment number 1, this will do.

Lighting plot for Boot Demo courtesy of LightingDiagrams.com

Lighting plot for Boot Demo courtesy of LightingDiagrams.com

The first shot below is the conversion directly from Adobe Camera Raw with no editing. The histogram was skewed to the right with specular highlights on or just over the edge.  That allowed more shadow detail and mid-range tonalities to be captured minimizing noise.  It is better to darken selected areas in post as needed than to risk enhancing signal noise if you need to lighten dark noise-filled areas in post.  I would rather have a fairly flat file that captured all of the potential detail.  I can always darken selected areas if I need in post.

This is the shot as it came out of the camera.

This is the shot as it came out of the camera.

That shot was then cropped to the cover dimensions/ratio of 8.5″ x 11″

Step One in the editing process

Step One in the editing process: cropping to layout.

By darkening the items behind the foreground boot, and adding some warm tone. they become less distracting.

Step 3 in the editing process

Step 2 in the editing process, dropping the luminosity around the main boot and warming the surrounding areas a little.

The shot is then tweaked a little to further vignette the foreground, soften the surrounding items to create the effect of a more shallow depth of field so they fight less with the main boot for attention, eliminate some small tonal problems, and then made ready for the text.

Step 3, soften the supporting elements.

Step 3, soften and tweak the supporting elements.

Shepler’s logo is added along with some fantasy text to make the final layout.

Version with Text

Version with Text and layout

The problem for me was that the black background was B O R I N G !!!!!.  So I dragged a texture into it to give it some ‘life.’  I thought I had a good barn wood texture file but it is apparently on another disk at home so this leather-ish look will work for the demo.

Final version with some texture added to the background.

Final version with some texture added to the background.

The difference is subtle but has a major effect on the “feel” of the final piece.

And now it will be time to start planning the next demo…

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Sand Scars and Sunsets

There was only time for one last run out to make some photos before the Spring Semester lands on me with both feet.  I really needed just a breath of fresh air and to see someplace I had not been for quite a while so it was out to the Imperial Sand Dunes near Glamis.  I really did not want to go alone so my shooting partner, Cynthia, agreed to come along.

Unfortunately every dune buggy/ATV driver in this quadrant of the galaxy had the same idea and there was almost no escaping them.  I know the wind will quickly erase the scars of their passing but while we were there the once smooth dunes looked more like the back of some poor wretch being scourged for some awful crime.  The backs of the dunes were slashed open in some places so deep that if they had had any bones they would have been laid bare.  I kept telling myself it doesn’t matter as they will heal themselves quickly.  Indeed by later in the day as we were leaving some of them were already softening as the evening breezes filled them in.  Still…

Additionally the light was mostly from overcast skies and was F L A T !!!!  That light would have worked in some places but it is not all that good for sand dunes.

I took advantage of that to drag out a 35mm film camera I had brought along to shoot a roll of B&W of patterns and details of cracked mud, etc. to give me something to demo for the Photo 100 class the Dean has me teaching.  I’ll process them this week but for the moment I’ve nothing really to show from that.

However,  as the sun was setting a couple of shots called out for attention.  The clouds began to break up over the western horizon and a bit of that golden light streaked through an opening to rim light a bush against an abstract background of dunes and mountains.

As the sun sets it painst shapes and forms on the dunes and desert bushes

As the sun sets it paints shapes and forms on the dunes and desert bushes

Looking the other direction revealed a very unexpected scene.   This sunset was very beautiful.  Not breath-taking-spectacular but soft, pastel, peaceful, and very, very soothing to my spirit, fried by the inanity of school administration seemingly dedicated to killing all non-academic programs including the one Dave and I have worked so hard to create. The breeze was cool as the night temperatures started to fall.  If you stood very, very still you could hear the rustling of the sand pebbles as they scurried like blood cells to repair the wounds in their skin.  The desert can be all things from frightening to incomparably peaceful.  Tonight was one of those peaceful times.  I needed that.  I needed the lesson from that self healing sand.  But while was soaking in that peace, something else caught my eye.

Now usually I watch the riders racing around madly and assume they are oblivious to their surroundings.  But to my surprise a number of riders stopped their vehicles on high spots, shut down the engines, and just drank in the beauty of the scenery.

ATV riders find high dunes to watch the sunset from the Imperial Dunes near Glamis, CA

ATV riders find high spots on the dunes to watch the sunset from the Imperial Dunes near Glamis, CA.  In the foreground you can clearly see their tracks in the sand.

Riders and photographers, sharing a moment and a sense of awe.  Very cool!

One 3-wheeler in mid ground (you have to look close to see him since he is in shadow) and several skylighted on a far dune, all sat and watched almost reverently until the sun had fully set and then fired up their machines and headed back to their camps in the twilight.

And that meant it was time for us to head back to town as well.


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