Yeah, you’re right, I’ve been incredibly remiss in keeping this blog even remotely up to date.  My excuses are legion, some of them even remotely, if coincidentally, connected to some obscure portion of the truth.  The bottom line is my mind has been elsewhere, like in the future… my future.  I came here sure this was the “last hurrah.”  I would use this time to teach, give back stuff that had been pounded into my thick skull of all of those years and miles and then fade to black behind a podium or tripod.

Now I’m not so sure.  But that is a discussion for another post.

Meantime, the Fall Semester started this past week and I was gleefully not there since I am on sabbatical for this semester.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy.  I gave a two part workshop through George’s Camera on shooting and producing video for still photographers.  That was fun and pretty well received but it did mean writing it from scratch which took a little time… and took me down some fun side paths along memory lane.

In August I conducted what has become my annual workshop to the Ancient Bristlecone Pines in California’s White Mountains.  The heavy snows pushed us into August and still the road to Patriarch’s Grove was blocked with a large snow drift.  The weather was overcast and dreary for most of it but that sort of turned the world into a gigantic light tent.  And there were occasional breaks in the clouds creating beautiful pools of light amid the gray.  It was too heavily overcast for good night shooting and it poured one evening so painting with light was not a topic we could pursue.  However this time I did make a sort of quasi-documentary, part show-and-tell for the participants, etc., a somewhat schizophrenic little number you can find on YouTube at this URL

I also have several other projects going on, one of them my “official” project to turn in as part of my sabbatical agreement.  It is a research project exploring the critical issue of just where the world of professional photography is headed in the next few years.  This is really important for our program if we are going to assert that we are preparing students for that “Real” world.  I believe I already know the answer but am now waiting the return of surveys and questionnaires so I can put some statistics to it for my presentation.

The truth is I think it will fall completely on deaf ears here.  The state, technically bankrupt, is trying to shore up the 4 year schools and is putting a full court press on us to increase class sizes and to increase “completions” which to them means a student spending two years then leaving with a degree and a transfer to one of the state’s 4 yr universities.  Of course students who want to enter the world of professional photography have no such interests or needs so that puts us in the cross-hairs (right alongside other vocational programs such as Cosmetology.

Nevertheless I’m hoping it might be of value SOMEWHERE so will try to publish it and might even serialize” it here.  I think the insight is valuable and would hate to see it go to waste as I expect it to do here.  More enrollment is the admin mantra but less money for teachers is making the obvious come true.  Why, when the state says we (education) have money again.  I’ll give you a hint.  We have two NEW Dean positions: one is the “Dean of Student Equity” whatever the Hell that is supposed to be, and we have a Dean for a strong workforce.  In my most demented state I could not have made that up…

Our unhappy solution to the unremitting push for more students per class has been to betray our long standing belief that online is NOT the proper way to teach photography and embrace that online world as best we can.  The only thing we have to show for that is now larger caps on our classes.  Admin is essentially clueless about what it takes in terms of time and technology to give engaging visual lectures and critique 40 students’ work online.  And they don’t care.  When I turn in the final research paper report, along with recommendations for some curriculum and program changes my best guess is they will have a heart attack and then simply turn it down.  Already I had one interim VP tell me we should quit this and simply start our own school.  If that didn’t tell us all we needed to know then we simply were not listening.

And you know what?  She was right… but it is not a practical solution for anyone.  Back in the day, The Darkroom, my business in Denver, was headed that way.  We had 26 courses and 22 instructors and were working on State Accreditation.  But I was younger then… boy was I ever.  Now I’m so “long in the tooth” that my incisors leave drag marks in the dirt.  For years I wanted to start a proper school for serious photographers but now I’ll leave that for a younger generation.  Besides, their world will be far different than mine ever was.  And even more to the point, I have another project that has my focus at the moment.

My “fun” project has been to create a proposal for a 10-episode series for cable TV modeled after Carl Sagan’s original series “Cosmos” but on photography and light.  It is, on one level a course in photography.  But on the other it is an examination of the science behind the art, exploring what IS our only tool, “light,” where does this miraculous “paint” for us come from, and how do photographers in different genres manipulate it to achieve their own unique visions for their work.  It will bring the worlds of astronomy, physics, chemistry, history, art, etc. into focus and show how they are all connected and fundamental to the creation of serious photography.

A script for the first episode has now garnered attention from several photo equipment manufacturers for sponsorship and product placement so we are well underway.  I’m hoping to get the first Episode, also our “pilot” shot before I start back with classes in late January.  I’m now a member of the Discovery Networks producers community and know that their normal fee for programming laid alongside our production budget shows a potential profit of about 37% on investment.  Now with the fundamental documents created and copyrighted it is time to turn attention to just that: funding.

The work for the online courses re-awakened my interest in video and film production with a vengeance, a sleeping tiger came roaring back to life.  I had forgotten how much I had grown to love adding elements of motion, sound… and TIME to my imagery.

And in my spare time…. being bored and all…

I spoke with the lead music professor at City about compositions for the series.  That led to an idea I had kicked around years ago but set aside for lack of any interested co-author: the creation of a combined visual and music piece where the two elements complement each other and are equal partners in the finished piece.  To be clear, NOT a case where the visuals illustrate the music such as in a music video or where the music brings richness to the visuals such as in a movie, but a piece of original music and original visual conceived TOGETHER around some theme.

I’m excited by that too.

And… I REALLY need to go visit my friend Jim, in Santa Fe.  I’m hoping that after this next week I’ll have all of the projects to a point where I can take a week off to do that.  Then back to the grindstone.

I’m going to have to go back to the classroom in Spring to take a vacation!

Meantime I’ll try to be better at keeping you all up on such goin’s on.  I said from the first post this was a sort of travel piece taking readers along on my travels whether defined as normal “travel” or virtual travels in cerebral and visceral realms.  The cool thing, for me, is that these projects may take me into ALL of those definitions.

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Final Judging for San Diego Fair 2017

Bright on early on Sunday the 21st a bunch of us gathered in the Photo Exhibition area of the Del Mar Fair Grounds for the 2nd tier judging of entrants for the 2017 international Juried Photography Exhibition.

It was a beautiful morning, and quite on the fairgrounds.  Workers were beginning to erect the stages and vendors starting to set up booths and eating concessions.

blog Fairgrounds stage set up 01

This is the Paddock area and in the center of the shot, one of the stages is being set up.

In a few weeks this will be a madhouse as fair goers descend on the grounds to see the exhibits, taste the latest in Fair Food (I can hardly wait to see what will be this years gross-out offering though it is hard to imagine topping deep fried butter…).  But the greenskeepers have been busy and flowers are everywhere at peak bloom.

blog Fairgrounds flowers 01

The judging went as per normal.  Here is a shot of a typical 3-juror panel to show you how it proceeds.

blog judging sequence

Here is a judging panel in action.  Sorry for the bizarre look; this was shot on my Canon P&S and I accidentally flicked the setting to one of the presets.  I don’t even know which one it was but it is NOT one I would choose on purpose…

The process is that the work to be judged is in the boxes (1) toward the back; a volunteer or helper then takes them one at a time and shows them to the panel (2) which renders its verdict whereupon the records keeper (3) records the data for that print.

The goal is to determine 1st through 4th place and some “honorable mention” images from among those images that passed Tier One oversight.  Unless some rules infraction is noted or the submitted print simply does not live up to the potential of the electronic version seen earlier, all others will hang n the exhibition hall floor.

Once all of the categories have been judges, the first place winners are laid out and the combined jurors then vote for “Best of Show.”  This year took about 4 ballots to get it down to two and a final round determined the winner. (Sorry you will have to go to the fair to check out the results.)

As usual I took my own notes plus chatted with other jurors to get their input on common problems to pass on to help you all in improving your photography as well as your chances for better showings in this and other exhibitions.  Sadly, the number one issue was…

READ THE RULES.  I’m not sure why this would be necessary to mention but it seems to be.  We disqualified a couple of images and downgraded a few others for the simple problem of ignoring the rules as laid out in the data sheets provided for those wanting to submit work.  And do pay attention to the categories.  If you get approved at Tier One for a color shot, do not THEN decide you like it better in Grayscale and turn it in, still in the color category, as a black and white image.

When the rules clearly state that a digital stoke around the image needs to be black or white, that does not include gold or tan even if it would be a better choice for color compatibility.

After nearly ever year’s judging, the coordinators and judges confer to see what mods might be made to the rules to reflect changing technologies and sometimes even evolving image trends.  No set of rules is perfect.  But for any given year, when the data sheets go out, THOSE ARE THE RULES.  Period. You cannot decide unilaterally that you are above them and expect anything other than to have your work kicked out.

FOCUS.   When some element (or elements) in your image need to be sharply focused, THEY NEED YO BE SHARPLY FOCUSED!  How many of you are aware that your electronic auto-focus lens may or may not come from the factory with dead-on focus capability.  Professional and pro-sumer cameras allow you to use software to correct for this so that what seems to be in focus in the viewfinder really IS in focus at the image plane.  This problem is far more prevalent that you may think and many vendors and manufacturers deny it altogether.  But just like ISO/Noise calibrations and sensor calibrations for color bias require your attention, so does this if it is giving you a problem.  It can happen for any lens but is much more common on zoom/variable focus lenses.  And is especially noticeable in macro/close up work were precise focusing is what makes or breaks the image.

It may look great on your camera monitor or on the screen but when sharp areas are critical, zoom in at 100% or more and check it out.  You may be surprised to see how often the focus is off a little but that is enough to kick you image down a peg or two at judging time.

SIZE.  Bigger is not always better, especially when you enlarge past the point where the file can properly resolve the detail.  Several prints would like great when seen across the judging area but when brought around for closer inspection simply fell apart.  You are far better off making a top quality 8×10 image mounted on the mandatory 16×20 mat than you are trying to do a full bleed 16×20 when all that does is show off file flaws.

FINAL PRINT QUALITY.  A printed image is NOT an electronic image.  The printing process, especially enlargements (as noted above) simply make errors and slip-shod editing more obvious.  There are really two issues here:  (a) Editing of the image and (b) printing of the final image.  Both have an effect on the look and quality of the final but are separate issues.

  • EDITING.  It was irritating how often we saw a reasonably well composed and well shot image that suffered from really shoddy editing.  I think there are two possible reasons for this, each with its own solution.
    • The first is that the photographer simply does not know what can or should be done to improve the image so has to real place to start.  No matter what tools you have available to you, if you do not know what you want to accomplish, those tools are worthless.  The more work you see the more opportunities you have to see good editing, to get inspiration and ideas.  And the more chances you have to apply that to your own work.
    • The second issue is that the photographer knows what they would like to do to improve the final image, they simply do not know the tools well enough to actually perform the appropriate edits
    • Both of these issues are resolved with education: learning more about the work being done by others, the potential artistic options available to you.  And there are classes and workshops flooding the place where you can learn to use the tools with expertise.
  • PRINTING.  Whether you are printing on your own printer or are using the services of some professional printer, it is your responsibility to either know how to properly profile your own printer and properly prepare you file for it, or to be able to direct, monitor, and oversee the work of another printer to guarantee the work quality.  Assuming your file is good, it is still up to you to spot and fix any color biases or mismatches, tonal issues and muddiness, and also any presentation issues.  The judges won’t know and do not care why a print is less than perfect when they are looking at them to determine acceptance or rejection.

So that’s it for this year.  Do try to get to the judges panel and/or critiques for input on how to improve your images; and come up to se the show.




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Judging at the Fair: 2017 Pt 1

Well, a year has passed by and here we are again back at the Del Mar Fair grounds for the first tier of judging for the International Exhibition of Photography.  For the last few years I’ve tried to put my “teacher” hat on and list the things the judges seem to focus on as problems and reasons for rejecting images from moving forward to Tier 2 competition. So here we go again.  But…

Hello out there… is anybody listening?  Oh well, as disheartening as it is for a teacher to be ignored, perhaps some of those who were accepted this time heard the message last year and now a new generation is appearing before us.

There were about 4300 entries this year.  There is room to hang roughly 1/3 of those which means we needed to reject about 2/3 of the entries.  At this first past at them, the so-called 1st tier judging, we are looking closely for the reasons to say “No” to the image and we do not have a lot of time to do it.  There is no time to let a subtle but “tasty” image grow on us; it hits up with that “Wow” factor or it fails.  If it hits us immediately with a problem, it also fails.

Judging at Fair 02

The room full of busy judges are the 1st tier judging for the San Diego Fair International Exhibition 2017. Photo (c) Gene Wild, all rights reserved.

So in the hopes of fostering some improvement so that next year if you were rejected this time you’ll have a better shot at it here is a short list of rejection-generating problems and issues.  They are in no particular order except as seen on the monitors and commented on by other judges.  This year’s complete list was a bit long so these are the ones most often mentioned.

Clipped Dynamic Ranges.  Almost all of the shots entered were now taken with digital cameras (except for those in equipment-specific categories.  And that means that almost all of the photographers had the ability to reference an onboard histogram to check the capture of highlights and shadows even if they did not have a good spot meter.  Make sure, first of all that the highlights are not clipped since those cannot be recovered.  Use the RAW converter to recover savable highlights and open up shadow area.  Basic rule: blobs of blocked up black shadows and blown out white highlights are never a good thing but are even worse when they contain potential visual data important to the image’s message.   If there is no way to capture them in a single file then consider using multiple exposures for an exposure blend or even an HDR.  But do NOT submit files with lost shadow and highlight detail and expect it to be embraced by the jurors.

Centered Horizons.  How often we reject crooked horizons almost mechanically.  But putting your horizon line dead in the center of the shot is almost as big a problem.  That can work when you have a perfect reflection creating an interesting abstract image or when the sky and ground areas are of equal balance compositionally and equal importance narratively.  Otherwise it creates a shot where the point of the shot is hard to determine, i.e. what is it that we are supposed to respond to?  What IS the real subject of the photo? What IS the photo’s primary story?  Is it about the sky or is it about the ground?  Pick one then move the horizon line to somewhere around one of those “Rule of Thirds” lines.  It will improve your shots immensely.

Judging at Fair 03

A fair assistant watches as myself (left) and Ian Cummings view one of the entries. (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved

Multiple Shots in One Shot.  This is a common and recurring error.  Putting more than one neat item or subject or composition into your fame does not make it better, it simply makes it confusing and, worse, each of those cool areas detracts from the other cool areas.  If there are all of those potential shots in the scene in front of you, give each one its own chance and its own image.  Otherwise it is simply too busy and too confusing the deal with.

No Apparent Focal Point.  This is the exact opposite of the problem above.  In that one there were too many focal points, here there aren’t any that can be readily discerned.  Great art and therefore photography is about interpretation.  Editorial photography is about narration.  Both types imply and require that there is something  to either interpret or narrate; some elemental primary subject, someplace where your eye is drawn whether a specific element or simply a contrasting point of color or texture or pattern from the general background, in essence the focal point of the shot.  A snap shot requires none of that.  Technically impeccably snapshots, meaning perfectly focused and exposed shots of nothing or no meaning, are typically not ones to get accepted by the judges.  We saw some images that, frankly, would have made a beautiful scarf; gorgeous watercolor-like patterns with some high commercial potential.  But a keeper photograph requires more than simply a nice design.  If that is what you have it might still be worth money, it still has a place, it is just not in this type of exhibition.

Cropping.  Sometimes we saw shots where there were some potentially interesting focal points but they were so lost in the visual weeds it was almost as bad as having no focal point at all.  Several times comments to the effect that, “I’m sure there is a nice photo in there somewhere but it is not our job to find it.” Were heard.  Finding it and making sure it is THE primary element is your job.  And often that involves cropping the image.  We used to say that some of the best photos were made in the paper cutter and that is true here as well.  The bottom line is, if you make me search for the real photo somewhere in your photo, it is going to get rejected.  If it were a class I’d help you find it, but this level of exhibition is not a classroom per se; this is the real thing, this show is big time stuff.  You will be expected to find it yourself… or get another chance next year.

Judging at Fair 01

THe name tag is in case I forget who I am… some days a distinct possibility. It was clearly a mistake for me to have found the box of doughnuts brought in as treats for us…. note the plate is empty… (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved.

FOCUS.  Really?  You would even consider turning in to an international exhibition a shot that was out of focus?  You would enter a shot that had a focal point and composition demanding a critically sharp area… that was not.  C’mon, this is beyond unacceptable.  Judges don’t care that you forgot your tripod that day or simply didn’t want to carry it.  They don’t care that it was a once in a lifetime moment to capture a rare event.  If the subject is soft and not focused it means you did NOT capture it after all.  If you do not respect your imagery sufficiently to do whatever it takes to get things sharp that are supposed to be sharp, then why should we?

Editorial Images.  We saw a lot of images that would have been perfect in a travel magazine or book to help illustrate the text.  They were narrative types of images but not interpretive.  They were perfectly good material for journalistic/documentary use but not something you would see on the wall in a gallery or museum.  If that is your forte then go for it, get really good at it and there could be some real money in your future.  I do not want to be interpreted as downplaying the value of competence of these images.  It is just that they are the wrong types of images for an exhibition such as this and so were often rejected.

NOISE.  Is there a trend I did not get the memo on?  We saw several where the smooth toned areas, such as the sky, were filled with noise.  In some it was so bad it almost looked like someone had applied a “sand” texture to the image.  It was not the typical color noise but usually mostly black or dark gausian dispersed specs.  We could not figure out where it would come from naturally, it is not a normal compression or sizing or even sharpening artifact.  But it is distracting and ugly and resulted in a surprising number of images getting rejected.  I would love to be able to tell you what causes it and therefore what to do to avoid it but I do not know.  Just really closely examine your files before submission and before (and after) printing where it will be enlarged if in the files and fix it first.

Judging at Fair 04

Another view of the room with the judges for the 1st Tier judging at the San Diego Fair. (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved.

So that is it for the moment.  The Second tier of judging where we will be looking at the actual prints, may reveal other things to watch out for.  That is in about a month.  Meantime, here is a bit of, I think, very sagacious advice… if you are going to insist on reinventing the wheel, you’ll be far more successful if you make your version round and not rectangular…  You can ignore all of this and strike off down your own aesthetic path, but if you do you have to be aware that some issues and their acceptable solutions predate you.  You will not win the tour de France on a bike with square tires; you will not win an exhibition like this one with images exhibiting these types of problems.

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Class Demo: Food

Thursday (4/20) I did a demo of food photography for the Lighting Class.  In a class lecture on the previous Tuesday we discussed plated vs. studio food issues and advertising vs editorial style shooting and I showed them a number of examples.

The studio demo gave me a chance to also demo and discuss a “tilt-shift” lens when one needs to tilt the plane of depth of field.  For this demo I used a Canon 90mm Tilt Shift f2.8 on my Canon 5DSr body.  The truth was I didn’t really need it for this shot but it was passed time to show it to the class.  I discussed how to apply the famous (infamous?) Scheimpflug Effect — which is a misnomer by the way but that is another story — to alter the plane of depth of field to make sure that this shot, to be done “advertising style” had the product all in focus.

One of the students in this class is a chef so at my request brought in the food to shoot, an egg white cheese omelet breakfast plate.  To add some sport to it, when he asked what I wanted I told him to surprise me.  It did.  Because it was a sort of “comfort food” dish I decided to use the old side of one of our much abused “apple boxes” as my table top.  He did the arranging/styling/food presentation so about all there was for me to do for the class was light it and shoot it.

Here is the plot…

Food demo omelet -light plot for blog

Lighting plot created with

All of our studio lights are on overhead grids so it is easy to work around this small set area and not worry about tripping over cords and ground clutter which, if anyone will do it, it will almost certainly be me.


A small softbox overhead and slightly to the rear provided the primary light.  A larger softbox from the front and slightly left of camera provided the fill.  To make the food items stand out and provide some “sparkle” to them, accents and back lighting was created using  two of the monolights and standard 7” reflectors with attached honeycomb grids to control the spill.

I’ve used these lights so often now I cheated and just guessed at the setting.  A first test shot was amazingly right on.  I did have a little more shine added from spray vegetable oil and turned one of the sausages to better show the shine, rechecked it and then did the shot.  I looked at that in the monitor, slightly turned one of the sausages to better catch the accent light and took a second version.   I took some bracketed insurance shots as a precaution but the shots here are from that second shot.  I turned the plate slightly to see if I could get a slightly better accent on everything but decided against it.

This version was very straight forward to edit.  Here is the initial shot right out of the camera.

Food demo omelet - v1 for blog

Hmmmm… well it IS sharp and exposed OK but to me it needed some “life” added to make it more appetizing and appealing.  To edit this in Photoshop I slightly cropped it, added a vignette and cleaned up the edge of the plate.  The only ‘non normal’ thing I did was selectively sharpen the omelet filling.  To do that I borrowed a technique from L.A. photographer Manny Librodo who created a sharpening routine yielding a very hard edged result almost like the original “Dragan Effect” but without the modified  and selective desaturation.

On a separate layer I applied the Librodo sharpening and then, with an inverted layer mask just painted it over the elements in the omelet stuffing in the front of the shot so the individual items stood out better.  (Below are the steps for that effect)

I also extended the wood table top to fill in the surrounding area simply using the clone/stamp tool.  And that gave me this version…

Food demo omelet - V2 for blog

All in all it took about a half hour shooting plus another 10-15 minutes to edit it.  In the film days all of what you see would have to be accomplished in the shoot itself (except the selective sharpening) so using snoots, scrims, and very, very tightly controlled lighting it of course could be done, but I’m thinking maybe an hour’s shooting and to keep the food looking fresh that would have had to be done with “stand-in” food until it was right, then bring in the hero food, tweak it all, and shoot FAST. The reduction in effort, energy, and brain damage afforded by the digital options makes studio life so much easier and, I think better.

Now after my demo and it was the students’ turn to shoot, the student who brought in the food, rearranged the items and added some additional elements he had also brought to the plate of food, placed them all on a marble tile we had available and produced this final shot for his own assignment.

Scotts versionor blog

Photography (c) Scott Sargent and used with permission

Its a nicely done version…!!!  For my own sense of style for food photography I might have used fewer items on the plate so the main item could be seen better with less distraction — somewhere between the two versions.  I do really like the additional splashes of color he added!  But this is a lighting class not a class specifically in food photography and styling so from that standpoint I think he did a very nice job.

By the way, as promised, here are the steps to the Librodo Sharpening I used.

  1. Create a Duplicate Layer
  2. Apply an Unsharp Mask from Filters->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask with these settings:
    1. Amount 18
    2. Radius 40
    3. Threshold 0
  3. Apply a second Unsharp Mask with these settings
    1. Amount 150
    2. Radius 3
    3. Threshhold 0
  4. Apply Edit->Fade Unsharp Mask with these settings:
    1. Opacity 100%
    2. Mode Darken
  5. Apply a third Unsharp Mask with these Settngs
    1. Amount 150
    2. Radius 3
    3. Threshold 0
  6. Apply Edit->Fade Unsharp Mask with these settings
    1. Opacity 50%
    2. Mode Lighten

You can then blend the sharpened and original unsharpened layers back to where you like it if it is a little too much and/or do what I did which was to selectively apply the sharpened area I wanted (the filling) using a layer mask.  I often use this to make small items such as rice grains or corn kernels stand out in a food shot and not look all mushy and run together.  I made it into an action to make life easier in the edit bay.

See you next time…



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For my Lighting Techniques class, the next assignment is jewelry.  For the first demo I decided to do a watch since it combines issues of reflectivity (metal band and bezel) and transparency (the face) for a fairly simple starting point.  I used to have a great collection of watches but during the “Tewa” project in the New Mexico Pueblos I stopped wearing them altogether.  But I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away so for this demo I selected a Seiko Chronograph.

I collect potential backdrop material whenever I see something interesting.  For this I used a piece of glittery gold tile I got at a local craft store (Michael’s).  I used the light table/sweep simply because it is at a handy height as a table top and it rolls around so is very handy.  The camera is mounted on a heavy studio camera stand arm so I could swing it out over the table and shoot more or less straight down on the watch.

Here is a lighting diagram of the set up.


light plot

Light plot courtesy of Lighting

The main light is a medium soft box placed over the watch and aimed straight down to give a flat reflective surface.  That is what is lighting the metal parts of the watch and also the face (though it created a glare problem in the flat crystal face we’ll deal with a few steps below.

The strobes around the side are low and used simply to create some of the specular edge reflections on the watch to give some live and a sense of shape.  The small reflector is used to bounce light back onto the front of the band where it folded under and did not receive any light from the softbox.

I used a Tamron 180mm Macro lens on a Canon 5DSr to allow me some working room but also to nearly fill the frame for good resolution.  I wanted better control of depth of field in the shooting to make the glittery tile go soft but everything was so close, even with the strobes dialed down the required setting was at f-25 so depth of field just became an editing issue.  I could have created a stand and put the watch on a glass sheet a few inches above the background, which would have been the solution for a film shoot.  But this was digital and I could get on with it for the class.

Here is shot number one.

Watch Demo w blare on face

All photos in this post are (c) by N. David King, All Rights Reserved.  Shot with Canon 5DSr and Tamron 180mm f6.3 macro lens.

Well, except for the sharp glitter on the tile it is pretty close.  There is only one problem.  The overhead softbox is creating a glare in the watch crystal that is dulling the detail on the watch face.  Usually when dealing with highly reflective items we want to use and control that glare but in this case I wanted to remove it.  Since it was created by the reflection of the softbox, the solution is to selective remove the softbox.  Think of dodging light from a print in the darkroom.  Here in the studio, instead of a dodging tool I used something called a “Gobo” (standing for “go-between”).  I could have mounted one on a wand just like a dodging tool and fastened it to a stand or boom.  But because of the softbox there was an easier solution.

While I was looking through the camera, I had my student assistant move his hand around under the softbox until I could see the shadow block the light on the crystal.  I then had him place a small patch of blue masking tape where his hand had been, et voila,   the glare is removed selectively. Here is that shot.

Watch Demo w gobo

Well, that’s about all I could do in the studio, it was time to head to the computer.

This was for a simulated ad so the first thing to do was crop the image to an 8 ½ x 11 ratio.  Then in addition to the sharp background tile issue, I thought the camera shot was a bit flat so needed to do a couple of things.  I needed to soften the background (using Photoshop’s “Lens Blur” so the specular highlights retained an optical look), and I darkened and vignette the background (using layer masks and “Multiply” blend mode) to help make the watch stand out from the background.

Watch Demo pre copy final

Finally I wanted to add some “copy” to the simulated advertisement page/poster and used Photoshop’s Text function along with the Layer Styles function to do that.  And here is the final image..

Watch Demo final for blog

I did not have an exact match font for Seiko’s logo.  Were this a real assignment I would have had them supply one to use.  The Tag Line and shop name/locations are fabricated in my own fevered brain so there is no one else to blame for them.  The font for the shop name reminded me of the filigree of gears in a watch and it would be fun to design a real logo blending this into a shot of watch innards.

Next assignment will be food so that should be fun to demo!

Meantime, the “Video for Still Shooters” seminar is this Saturday so if interested look at the data by clicking on the link in the banner above and get signed up.

See you next time.


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Darkroomers Workshop in Focus Stacking

A few days ago (or so it seems) I was touring some beautiful and new-to-me countryside with a great tour guide and helper for extricating the vehicle from a malevolent snow drift.  Yesterday (Saturday Apr 8) I was inside, at the Darkroomers’ meeting hall in Balboa Park to deliver a workshop/seminar on the process known as “Focus Stacking.” 

As I’m sure most of you know, this is a technique used to stack and blend frames taken at various points of focus in order to obtain a final image with a greater depth of field than possible with a single exposure taken at the lens’ aperture “sweet spot.”

This is not a new technique; I first saw it used for a landscape shot in a magazine column devoted to “Thinking Digitally” years ago where the author manually blended multiple exposures of several gazillion birds at New Mexico’s Bosque Del Apache wetlands.  Doing it manually was an exercise in extreme masochism but now applications can make short work of it, assuming the photographer has done their part in the capture phase.

I was surprised to be asked to talk on this since I assumed every photographer in the galaxy knew how to do it but it seems there is some interesting misinformation floating about… and not just here but in a number of areas of digital photography as well.  The ‘clue’ is when it doesn’t work, especially when either the images do not align properly or when sections of the subject from the front to the back of the desired depth of field plane turn out to be soft or apparently out of focus.

In the seminar I tried to cover most of the issue areas at least as I’ve experienced with several years of giving a focus stacking assignment to my classes at City.

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Some old guy talking about Focus Stacking to the Darkroomers Photo Club in San Diego.  OR… he might be directing a hip-hop opera or practicing for a role as a T-Rex.  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with permission.

The Program director, Jeff Booher was kind enough to not only ask me to come do the presentation but also was able to take some photos during the event.  Although he captured some frames of some really old guy who appeared to be talking to the group (which could not have been me since when I see myself in the mirror each day I’m a LOT younger), it does give a sense of the group size and facility.

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Participants in the Focus Stacking Workshop.  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with permission.

It was fun to be able to do a “class” with only a few participants (10) compared to a classroom full of students (20-30) because it allowed time to really interface with individual participants both during the shooting phase and also in the editing/post production phase of the process.

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The old guy in the first picture seems to be amazed (as is the participant) that the process actually worked… or he might have stabbed himself in a delicate place with the car keys in his pocket but is trying, with marginal success, to stifle the scream…  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with Permission.

If you live in the San Diego area, and are looking for some fellow photographers in a good group dedicated to improving their work, The Darkroomers is a really good place to start.  You can come to a meeting and ask for Jeff Booher . They meet the 1st, 3rd and 5th wednesdays at 7:30pm at the photo arts building (next to the entrance to Spanish Village) in Balboa Park.  There is a $45 membership fee and they fill out a membership application and that’s pretty much it.

Next week I’ll be giving the Video for Still Shooters workshop for George’s Camera.  You can check out the page for that workshop under the banner at the top of the page.  I think there are still a few seats left.  Hopefully the old guy will stay home.


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A Yosemite Adventure… Just Not in Yosemite…

Did you ever have one of those trips that was planned out in a certain direction but as it got underway, the world changed out from under you and you took a different path than planned… and it turned out better?  I just did.

I needed a break, a vacation.  I have to admit, teaching, which I have always loved, was turning into a rat race with the existential threats to non-academic programs being foisted in community colleges across the state.  But our program in professional photography was so good that we were feeling, frankly, betrayed by the state, the district and the admin.  The rats were winning.  And the constant flow of just something or other to jab us in the ribs, the academic version of “death by a thousand cuts” was taking its toll on me.  The sheer joy that teaching always brought was fading fast.

When Spring Break became a welcome escape on the horizon I contacted a great friend of mine and former student, Nikko, who lives in Oakhurst, a small l town just outside of the south gate to Yosemite Park.  Yosemite is a very special place for me, full of natural spirits and energy; a wonderful place to recharge batteries and try to get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.  I had initially contacted Nikko to check on local lodging (spring break in the park is insane) but it turned out she had some time off and I thought it would be great to do some quiet shooting with someone I liked and knew was a good photographer.

So lodging was arranged, and off I went for a few days escape.  I arrived late afternoon, we met and had an early dinner.  When discussing possible routes, she mentioned the area south of the park as being quite nice too.  I’ve been to Yosemite almost a dozen times and never had a clue what lay around it.  We took a short drive after dinner and even though the light was fading fast, it was clear that here was some beautiful terrain and I had never seen it —  or even heard of it.

So we had breakfast and headed out, turning off of the road to Yosemite and heading south towards Bass Lake.  Now I always have lots of camera gear with me but to be honest, I was not in a very creative mood.  I thought if I saw something new it might jolt those creative juices into flowing again.  And if I didn’t take a shot it was OK, the scenery was absolutely new to me, I had a most pleasant companion that knew the area so I was driving but essentially just along for the ride. And… I can always go back.

The forest was in trouble.  Beetle kill was everywhere and taking over.  Huge stands of standing dead beetle kill pines were everywhere. It was very sad but also, to me, a little frightening.  Evidence of past but ferocious fires was everywhere and all this dead wood was simply a disaster waiting for a chance to happen.  Crews had been working like an army of rabid beavers bringing down tree after tree but at this point, most were simply laying where they fell with a few bucked into shorter lumber length stacks.

In Colorado that would have been an incredible mistake since once the sap stopped flowing the beetles would just leave for better feeding.  Perhaps here they are different…???

The sun was out and streamed through the trees as we arrived at a trail head leading to an overlook of Bass Lake that Nikko wanted to show me.  As I said before I was not all that enthusiastic about shooting but could not break old habits and put my 17mm to 40mm on the 5DSr body and off we went. That has always been my general purpose lens for landscape types of opportunities.  As we went on I grew sorry I had not put another lens or two into my vest pockets.

The first things that caught my eye were small, tasty little visual jewels where pinpoints of light picked out small pockets of forest life.  Here is an old stump proving that there is a continuum of life from death

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Or here is a drop of sun on some cedar branches.

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The forest was thick, primeval, and the lichen and moss growing on the rocks also proves that life will find a way.  It was like a magical forest filled with mythical beasts who were wisely staying just out of range.

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The whole forest was a virtual labyrinth of tangled fallen logs and moss covered trees.  This area had been virtually deluged with rain and vibrant spring green was everywhere.  Tall grasses abound everywhere.

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The trail led to a huge outcrop overlooking Bass Lake and a sole fishing boat out on the water.  Nikko had no trouble outdistancing me and was already up there checking out the view.  Oh to have the legs I had 30 years ago at her age.

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On the far hillside you can see the areas of standing dead wood from the beetle.  After following a loop back to the parking lot we went to a little village called North Fork for lunch then headed on south/easterly toward a road that allegedy loops back to Oakhurst.  On the way was a delightful overlook to another lake down below.

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While I was gathering some video B-Roll footage, Nikko used my idle DSLR and managed this interesting selfie in my vehicle’s very dirty window.

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This was gorgeous terrain that was a lot like my beloved Rockies.  We did however drive through a horrid scar on the land, the footprint of a giant burn.

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Then the adventure started…

We had already driven through some small snow drifts but nothing of real concern.  There were tricky sections where 1/3 of the road had collapsed or blown down trees covered a good half of the road, but they were easy to negotiate.  We found the loop back toward Oakhurst and started down it.  The forest service gate was open while others we passed were closed.  It seemed like a good sign.  But based on litter and debris on the road it was clear no one had driven this road for several days.  We powered through a small drift but around another corner was another, somewhat longer and deeper drift. (GPS 37.510058–119.301494)

There were old tracks through it and it did not look all that tough.  My mind was back on off-roading mode but alas my car is not a 4-wheeler.  I made a classic mistake, I entered the tracks like a wimp and about half way through forward motion ceased and we were stuck.  And we were a very long way from any help.

I got the shovel from my emergency kit and started digging around the buried wheels and Nikko gathered sticks and debris to provide some traction.  Nikko climbed on top to add some weight over the drive wheels and we gave it a try.  This time we made it another yard or two then bogged down again.

More digging, more sticks and this time we crawled forward, tires spinning, slipping sideways and back as the wheels hit packed ice and snow.   And suddenly we were out of the drift and on solid ground.

The hope was that the road was better as we were losing elevation and perhaps would soon be dropping out of the snow line.  A couple of simple low drifts were no problem until we came around a corner and there it was… the mother of all snow drifts laid out ahead.  (GPS 37.511508 – 119.313103)

There was no way we could beat our way through it.  With my one little emergency shovel it would take days to shovel though it.  I normally hate backtracking, but reality was pretty clear; there was no rational way forward and we had no idea what lay beyond this drift even if we got through it.

So we turned around and made our way back up the hill to the drift that had grabbed us the first time.

We had to get through it but this time we were going slightly uphill. The problem was not only the snow and icy base, but we could see where it had actually high centered the body and undercarriage.  The only reasonable option was to dig out our tracks BEFORE we got stuck.  Nikko grabbed the shovel and started attacking one side’s track.  I told her to trade off but she was devoted to this task.  So I went and started gathering boughs to lay down in the tracks she was creating.  She was a trooper… including giving herself a major blister.

I’m sorry I did not take any photographs, but the sun had less than 15 minutes to go before it dropped behind the mountain so there was no time to dally or commiserate.  Soon Nikko had dug a set of tracks and I had padded them with boughs.  There was really little else to do so it was time to take a deep breath, a deep seat…  and go for it.

Nikko climbed back up on top, I backed up to give us a good run at it and after being assured she had a tight grip, floored it and off we roared.  I am not sure who was the most surprised when we roared on through Nikko’s tracks almost like we were on dry ground.  We were both amazed…  but there was no time for self-congratulations, the sun was failing and we needed to get back to a reasonable road so we could negotiate back through the road hazards.

We were lucky.  Well let’s be honest…  I was lucky to have had such help on board.  I’m  sure I could not have both dug the tracks and padded them before dark; it is not inconceivable that I would have had to spend the night.  My rig is equipped for that kind of emergency but there was no way it would have been a pleasant evening.

The rest of the trip back was quiet as night fell and we wound our way back to Oakhurst.  In the twilight a small herd of deer crossed into a beautiful meadow and bounded off into the twilight.  A very peaceful moment.

This was not at all the trip I had planned but it was, as it turned out, vastly better.  I had seen terrain I did not know existed, spent time in great conversation and company, and was not in the least pleased that I had to head back south, during an appropriatly gray rainy day.  These mountains felt most like “home” to me of anything I’ve experienced here in California.  There are things here one could get very used to.

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