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Group Photos at the Family Reunion

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Every year, on the 2nd Sunday in June, my wife and I go up to Crawford, Texas to attend her family’s reunion. This is the Wiethorn family reunion, which is Barb’s father’s family. At last year’s reunion (2012), during the “business meeting” that occurs after everyone has been through the desert line, it came up that it had been more than 25 years since anyone had taken group photos at the reunion, and thought that it was long overdue to do that again.

After the business meeting, Barb and her sister thought that I should volunteer to do the group photos. I have done several group photos, but not with lots of people in the groups, so I told them that only if they couldn’t find someone else to do it, and if they came and asked me to, that I would consider it. Of course within 5 minutes of that short conversation with Barb and her sister, one of the senior family members was paying me a visit and said that he “had heard” that I had a strong interest in photography, and asked me if I would please be so kind as to take some group photos at the next year’s (2013) reunion. So, how could I say “No”?

(If you are a Wiethorn family member, this blog post will probably not interest you. I’m not going to discuss who is in these photos. Instead, I am going to discuss how I took these photos. If you want to see the little web gallery that I put together for you, just go to the very end of this blog post, where I give the simple instructions to view it.)

I had this assignment hanging over me for an entire year…. This wasn’t going to be simple. This reunion is held indoors at the Crawford Community Center, which is nice for everyone mainly because it is air conditioned, and there are plenty of tables and chairs. But I have brought my camera to this event in the past, and I knew that the only lights were fluorescent lights. These fluorescent lights create photos with a weird, sickly, green color cast that I later had to correct in my photos. Crawford is nearly 100 miles from our home in Austin, and I wasn’t going to able to go on a scouting trip up there just to determine the color of the current fluorescent bulbs that they were using. (The photographer who took the photo on their web page had wisely chosen to turn off all of the fluorescent lights.)

Also, it seemed to be in everyone’s expectations to group the people according to which of the “original” family members they were a descendant of. I had no idea how large or small these groups would be. The largest group of people that I have ever photographed before, using lighting equipment that I brought, was only 12 people. I was told that there might be up to 25 people at a time in one of these groups.

While I have read several books, and watched many on-line videos about lighting, I don’t ever remember seeing any advice on how to properly light a large group of people when photographing them. The only advice that I ever remember seeing (and I do not remember where I saw or read this) was to put the people into a “large uniform field of light”. That’s all I had for instructions, so I started thinking about how to go about doing just that.

I gave serious consideration to bringing my 4 Einstein studio strobes, with two large 86-inch Parabolic Umbrellas in front of the group, and possibly one or two Einsteins to light the background and/or the group from behind. In the end decided against this approach mainly for only one reason: these flash strobes run off of AC electricity, and I didn’t want to have electrical cords running everywhere across the floor. Children, and I mean a dozen or more pre-school kids, would be running free while the parents visited before, during, and after lunch. (And really, they should be able to do that at a family reunion!) So, even though I have two of the Vagabond Mini Battery Packs that could power all 4 lights simultaneously, (each battery pack can power two lights), there would still be long extension cords for people to trip over. I suppose I could have used 50 feet of gaffer tape to tape the cords to the floor, but people can still trip over that hump in the floor.

As an alternative, I had 5 Canon 580EX II speedlites, and a ST-E2 wireless transmitter to trigger them, and thought that I might be able to light a large group using them. After a lot of thinking about how I could do that, I decided that if I used 3 of them, bounced back from umbrellas, in front of the group could give me a large, uniform “wall of light” on the front of the subjects, while 2 of them placed behind the group and shot through white translucent umbrellas might help separate the people from the background (and what was that background?). In case the 5 speedlites were not powerful enough to completely overcome the fluorescent lights, I would have to “color balance” my speedlites to produce the same color spectrum of light as the fluorescent lights. I ordered both the “plus green” and “half plus green” sheets of Rosco gels and cut them to the same size as my ExpoImaging Rogue Gels.

I drew out my lighting diagram, and that is what you saw up at the beginning of this post.

For the three “bounce umbrellas” in front of the group, I would use my somewhat unusual 46″ Bowens Silver and White umbrellas. The two “shoot-through umbrellas” that I would use behind the group came with an inexpensive lighting kit that I bought from B&H back in May 2008.

I wanted to set the power level of the middle umbrella in front of the group independently from the others, so I put that speedlite into its own group, Group C. I thought that I would have that center front umbrella close to my tripod, but as high as I could get it (all three umbrellas in front were on 13 foot light stands).

What I couldn’t figure out was how to get the little ST-E2 wireless transmitter mounted on top of the camera to be “seen” by all 5 of the 580EX II speedlites simultaneously. These units communicate with each other using infrared beams of light, and therefore require all 5 of the slave units to in a “line of sight” with the ST-E2 transmitter unit. The ST-E2 shoots its signals straight ahead, and there was a very real possibility that with that lighting arrangement, that not a single one of the other speedlites would have a direct line of sight to the transmitter.

Maybe I should just scrap this whole speedlite approach and go back to using the Einstein studio strobes and use a roll of gaffer tape to prevent the people (pre-schoolers) from tripping on the extension cords….  Maybe my whole “wall of light” idea would result in horribly flat light…

After weeks of decision and indecision, I decided to bite the financial bullet and to upgrade my Speedlites to the new Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites and the ST-E3-RT transmitter. These new devices use radio signals to communicate with each other (and they still retain the infrared method, too). I was able to get right at 50% of my initial cost of the old units back when I sold them, and the price on the newer units had fallen substantially, but it was still one heck of a price to pay for a lighting system that I wasn’t completely sure would produce enough light that I would need to completely light-up a large group of people. (I sold my old units, and purchased the new units from Adorama.)

I completely read the manuals for my new speedlites and transmitter. I was very glad that a couple of years ago I had read Syl Arena’s excellent book twice – even though the new radio controlled units came out after Syl’s book, it made it very easy to understand the new Canon flash system, too.

I set up everything in my living room just like I had planned to set up in the Crawford Community Center (only on a much smaller scale). I practiced. I set everything up and took it back down twice. I made sure that I knew how to control all 5 of the speedlites remotely from the ST-E3-RT transmitter. I also made a very nice discovery!

With the new 600EX-RT speedlites set to “manual mode” (not E-TTL mode), and using the radio signals to communicate (instead of the infrared beams of light), I could use my Sekonic L-358 light meter to measure the amount of light falling onto my subject. It would even tell me the percentage of flash-to-ambient light that was used for the exposure!  Now, this was simply not possible using my older 580EX II speedlites, as when the master would send out the signals to the slaves (before the actual flash occurred), the Sekonic meter would mistakenly measure that “pre-flash” of light.

This was a HUGE advantage, and one that I had not seen mentioned by anyone, anywhere. Not even Syl Arena has mentioned this in his on-line instructions covering these new radio controlled units! (Part 1 and Part 2) This allowed me to meter the flash power outputs just like you normally would with studio strobes, such as my Einstein lights. (Again, to do this, the flash system must be operating using radio signals, and the flash units must all be in manual mode, not E-TTL mode.)

On the morning of Sunday June 9th, we arrived at the Crawford Community Center about 9:40 AM, and made 4 or 5 trips each to carry all of my equipment in. The ambient fluorescent lighting looked bright and even pretty much everywhere… Maybe I would not need any lighting equipment after all!

I pulled out my Sekonic light meter and walked around taking some simple ambient light meter readings. At ISO 100, f/8, I would have to leave the shutter open for 1/4 to 1/3 of a second. That was way too long. People move around a lot in that much time – even when they think they are being still. No, I was going to have to use my lights.

I had a couple of options in my head as to where we could set up, and expect the groups to just walk into. (See this photo of the Crawford Community Center.) If I set up in a corner, I could block the area off from the kids. But I didn’t know how big the groups would be. The chairs and tables are along two sides of the facility, with a rather large, open “dance floor” area between them. At the end of this dance floor is a slightly raised “stage” area. It is raised only about one foot (0.3m) above the dance floor, and it is a favorite play area for the young kids. At the back of this raised area is a white trellis.

After thinking about the situation, and discussing with the other family members who had arrive early to get things set up, it seemed like that raised stage, with the white trellis background would be the most “picturesque” of my three options. If we could just come up with a way to keep the kids away from everything…

It then occurred to me that we could get everything set up, get my lights adjusted, and put gaffer tape markers on the floor where everything belonged. We could then turn everything off and drag it into a corner of the building so that the kids could play on the stage. Then, after lunch and the business meeting we could drag everything back into place, turn it all on, and quickly be ready to take the group photos. It was a great solution, as long as everything came back up without any problems. I knew that there was some risk to this plan.

I started by designating a specific area that I thought I could get 24 people into rather comfortably. It was an area wide enough for 6 chairs. 6 kids could sit in front of the chairs. 6 adults could stand right behind the chairs, and 6 more adults could stand right behind them on the slightly elevated stage.

I quickly determined that if I was going to get the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second, I was going to have my lights putting out about 5 stops of light above the level of the ambient fluorescent lights. That means that my speedlites (if they were capable) would be providing virtually all of the light for the exposure, and I could ignore trying to balance their color temperature with the fluorescent lights. I did not need to use the “plus green” or the “half plus green” gels that I had made.

It took Barb and I right about one hour to get everything set up. I do have equipment and liability insurance, but have not, and do not plan to use it. For safety, I had two 13 pound (5.9 kg) sandbags on the base of the two light stands behind the group. For the three heavy duty light stands in front of the group, I had them weighted down with 18 (8.2 kg) pound bright orange colored sandbags. Lastly, somewhat for safety, but mainly for stability, I had another 13 pound sandbag hanging from the hook on the center column of my Gitzo G1327 tripod.

I wanted, and needed, a depth of field of 8 feet or more. With my lens zoomed to 75mm, an aperture of f/8 would provide that depth of field, as long as I had at least 17 feet (5.2 m) between my camera and the nearest person. With a shutter at 1/100th of a second and an aperture of f/8, I grudgingly had to raise the ISO to 200 on my Canon 5D Mark II camera. Why? This was all that the 5 speedlites were capable of. I had Group A at full power, Group B and Group C at 1/2 power.

I had Barb walk back and forth within my designated area while I triggered the flashes and she took flash meter readings with my Sekonic meter. I found that I could get a consistent, uniform field of light that allowed me to change the aperture to f/9, which gave me an additional foot or so of depth of field.

The camera and the flash were both in manual mode. I didn’t want any exposure changes that E-TTL can produce as people with different brightness of clothing moved in and out of the picture. And I sure didn’t want that white trellis behind everyone to have anything to do with determining what the camera and flash combination thought a proper exposure should be!

As a final set of tasks with my lighting set up, I made sure that the exposure was correct by photographing the “gray card” side of my Lastolite LR1250 12-Inch Ezybalance Card.

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I also took a photo of Barb holding up the opposite side of that Lastolite Ezybalance card, to make sure that I could achieve the proper white balance setting later in Lightroom.

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I also took the camera off of the tripod and walked right up in front of Barb, got down on one knee and took another photo of the white balance target and then set the custom white balance in the camera itself.

Lastly, I handed my ColorChecker Passport to Barb and took a photo of it. (Using that photo and the software that came with the ColorChecker Passport I could create a profile of my Canon 5D Mark II camera under this exact lighting situation.)

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It was approaching 11:00 AM, and I felt pretty good about the situation. I got out my roll of gray gaffer tape and marked where each leg of all 5 light stands and my tripod were. We then turned everything off and I drug it all over to a corner of the building, where I built a wall of chairs around everything.

About 12:15 we had another excellent Texas BBQ feast, catered by Curtis Wiethorn. There were just over 100 people there, and the organizers thought that there would be 5 groups to photograph. Hey, I was all set for 5 groups of 20 people!

Then came the business meeting, where at the end it was announced that the photographer would be ready for the first group after about 10 minutes or so of getting set up. I immediately went to work on getting set up. One of Barb’s nephews helped drag the stands back out for me. It didn’t take very long to get everything turned on and into position.

As a final check, I once again had Barb walk back and forth in my designated area that I thought could hold 24 people. As she took each reading, I actually took a picture, just to trigger the lights. Although Barb hates this next photo, I think it is pretty funny, and I want to show it here to demonstrate just how even my “wall of light” was across that area.

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Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

That photo above is a simple Photoshop composite of three individual photos. Yes, Barb can stand the same way more than once – especially when 100+ of her relatives are all sitting around watching her help me out!

As a side note: If you zoom into that photo, you will see that Barb is slightly out of focus in the two photos where she is not in the center. That’s because in those two photos, the camera was auto focusing on the white trellis in the center of the frame. Likewise, in the center of the photo the white trellis is out of focus.

OK, so the call goes out that Gregg is now ready for the first group to come up to the stage to get their photo taken.

People started walking through my forest of light stands and tripod, and I was glad that everything was heavily sandbagged. Everyone was careful, and nobody bumped anything. When they stopped coming, there was an army of people standing around everywhere! 24 people? No way!  And they were all talking to each other. And no one was paying much, if any, attention to me.

I knew that I had to quickly get ahead of this and take charge. I had to raise my voice a couple of times to get anyone’s attention, and I just started pointing and telling people where I wanted them to sit or stand. Everyone cooperated just fine! I put the most senior people in the chairs, and built the rest of the group around them.

OK, so after a couple of minutes I had everyone where I told them to be, making sure that no one was blocking anyone else out. I then walked back to my camera and looked through the viewfinder.

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Uhh oh… I had arranged them to the left of the centerline, and this group of 32 people was much larger than I had planned and prepared for. I had to move my camera closer, just so I wouldn’t have two of my light stands blocking some of the people’s feet in the front row. That also made me zoom the lens out to only 55mm, which was OK, but not near the 75mm I had set things up at.

What a mess! I had light stands, umbrellas, and unused chairs all in the frame. I found myself saying something I never thought I would say in such a situation: “I’ll just have to fix it later in Photoshop”.

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OK, so it took me over an hour to remove all of that unwanted stuff in Photoshop, but it still wasn’t what I wanted the family to see. I just needed to crop off some of the extra space on the left side to balance it out a bit.

OK, so I tell that group that they are free to go. At that point I am told that that should be the largest of the 5 groups. I’m thinking “thank God for that”!

The call goes out for the next group. There were only 9 people who came forward this time. Again, I had the senior members have a seat in the chairs, and the others fell into the positions that they wanted to be in. I probably should have had a shorter adult stand behind the child in the chair on the right, but the way that the heights of the tops of everybody’s heads created a strange “upward zig-zag” was kind of interesting.

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With this smaller group, I now had something new to deal with. Stuff became visible in the background that was hidden by the previous, larger group. There was a wall socket to the left of the guy in the blue shirt, and the wireless PA (public adress) system that had been brought onto the stage after I had set up and adjusted my lighting set up. This required another trip from Lightroom into Photoshop.

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It’s very noticeable that I didn’t get the “shadow” of the PA system completely removed, but that was OK, as I knew that I was going to crop off both sides of this photo. (How much white trellis is too much white trellis?)

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OK, let’s get the 3rd group up here for their photo! What? 30 people? OK…

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I must have been rattled by another large group. The way that I arranged them is OK, until you look at how scrunched together everyone in the back on the left side is. It doesn’t seem balanced with what is going on in the back on the right side. I apologize for that!  Let me get those unsightly light stands out of the picture.

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Let’s crop that off some of that empty space on both sides, too.

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OK, with just over 100 people total in the room, and with 70 of them in the first three groups, I’m hoping that the next two are close to 15 people each.

What’s that? I’m in this 4th group? OK, 18 people, including myself. Let me get everyone arranged, and then I’ll have someone else push the button on the remote shutter release.

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Note to self: when you look through the viewfinder, and everyone is arranged just how you like them, don’t push your niece behind someone else as you push yourself into a good position….

This photo didn’t require any Photoshop work, just a simple crop in Lightroom.

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Let’s get the 5th group up here. What? Only 5 people? (That didn’t add up to 100…)

Five people leaves a lot of room, but that’s easy to crop. Cropping this one to a perfect square seemed to look the best.

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OK, so that’s all 5 of the groups that were planned, but I have saved the best for last!

Someone suggested that we get a group photo of all of the family members who are 90 years old, or at least close to 90 years old.

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All 8 of these people made it to their chair under their own power, although the two women sitting at the right had to be helped from their walkers into their chairs.

That power cord for the PA system was really distracting, so I took the time to Photoshop it out. I didn’t attempt to remove the entire PA system, though.

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I think that it is something very special to have a group photo of such senior family members together. I also think that those of us that would like to make it to 90 years old should look closely at the people in this photo. People who are overweight do not make it to their 90th birthday… Think about that – often!

OK, so that is my way-too-long rambling story about how I “got volunteered” to photograph groups of people at this year’s family reunion, how I did it, and the mistakes that I made when I did it. I always learn a lot by doing stuff like this. At least the mistakes I made were correctable. Lastly, I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional.

If you would like to see the on-line web gallery that I put together for the family members to view, you can. Just be aware that it was created in Lightroom and it uses Flash, so you will not be able to view it on your iPhone or your iPad. If you are using Internet Explorer for your web browser, you will get a pop-up warning about “Active X controls” – just click on the button for “OK” or “Allow”.

Also, be sure to have your web browser window maximized, so as to fill your monitor (and see the photos as large as possible).

Click on this link:  http://greggmack.com/gm-galleries/Wiethorn_Family_Reunion_2013/

Thank you for reading my blog post this week, and I promise that the next one will be almost entirely photographs, with very little reading!

The Old and The New on Congress Avenue

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A couple of weekends ago, we had a lot of rain here in Austin. We were all constrained to indoor activities on Friday, Saturday, through Sunday morning, June 2nd, 2013. Nobody complained, as we are always grateful when it rains in Austin, especially in the summer months.

When the rain stopped, and the clouds had parted, I decided to head out and take some photos. I was somewhat tired of the macro photos of the flowers in my neighborhood, so I decided to head to downtown Austin. It was almost 2:00 PM when I parked my CR-V on Willie Nelson Blvd (2nd Street), just east of Congress Avenue.

That put me just south of the construction site of the J. W. Marriot luxury hotel, and 1 block east of The Austonian (seen in the opening photo, which is currently the tallest building in the City of Austin at 56 stories – 683 feet (208 m) tall.

I was travelling light. I brought only my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, with the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, and my WhiBal card. No camera bag, no tripod, not even a spare battery. Absentmindedly, I left my hat in the car.

I crossed Congress Avenue to get to the west side of the street and started heading north.

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Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Now I must mention here that the photo above isn’t really how my camera captured the image. I used the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5’s Develop Module to remove most of the perspective distortion that you get when looking up with a wide angle lens. Not bad for a one-click correction!

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I was pleased to see that the overcast sky had pretty much dissipated into the partially cloudy sky.

Here is a photo looking up the side of The Frost Bank Tower, which is 33 stories – 515 feet (157 m) tall.

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I always find it interesting how the new architecture and the old architecture co-exist within this relatively small area.

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But “old” in Austin, Texas isn’t really very old, as compared to most large cities. Even though Austin is now the 11th most populous city in the United States, it did not even exist before 1839.

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Even the iconic Littlefield Building (see with the American flag on top) didn’t start construction until 1910, and was completed in 1912. This 8 story building became the financial center of Austin, and was the height of opulence when it opened.

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Here is the out-of-focus One American Center building behind an interesting business sign.

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At 6th and Congress, I paused to take this photo looking south.

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This is the only other photo that “straightened-up” by using the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5.

I continued heading north until I reached 8th Street, and then I turned around. Between 7th and 8th Streets, the historic Paramount Theatre (1915) sits just to the south (right) of the Stateside Theater (1935).

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There isn’t very much traffic in downtown Austin during the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

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I crossed over to the west side of Congress Avenue when I got to 7th Street.

At the corner of 6th Street, at the base of the Littlefield building, I had a nice view of the Austonian, 4 blocks to the south.

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I was standing at the same corner with this iconic clock.

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Looking across the street, I thought that this view of the base of One American Center was interesting enough to spend a minute to capture a few photos of it.

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Here’s another one of those “old meets new” images that seem to be everywhere along this stretch of Congress Avenue.

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At the entrance to The Frost Bank Tower, I noticed three or four of these large succulent plants.

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Now I know that this is not a particularly pretty picture, but I included it just to give you some context for the setting of the next photo, which is part of the same plant, just from the opposite side.

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It was getting pretty darn warm, and I had forgotten to bring my hat. I was glad that it was only a 2 block walk back to my car. As I got to the construction site of the new J. W. Marriot hotel, I couldn’t help but look up and take this photo of the three cranes.

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Thank you for visiting my blog!

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The Austin Lounge Lizards at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_111This blog post will be quite a bit different from my previous posts – and it might not stay up long. If asked to, I will remove the photos of the band, but I’ll just leave my story here in place.

Barb and I have a social group that consists of us and two other couples. We get together every 4 to 6 weeks and rotate whose house we have dinner and play table games at. That is, except during December. Everyone is always so busy during that month that we don’t want to add any extra burden on whose turn it would be. Instead, every year, for the past 6 years, we have met at a local restaurant for a meal and then afterwards we head over to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar and enjoy seeing a local Austin band perform in a rather intimate setting.

This year we met our friends at Threadgill’s Restaurant on Riverside Drive for brunch on Sunday morning, December 16, 2012. We were finished eating by 11:00 AM, so we drove the 2 blocks over to the Palmer Events Center, where the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar has been held for the last 3 or 4 years.

The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is one of those things that helps “Keep Austin Weird“. It is a place where all sorts of artists come together to sell their wares to those who are shopping for different or unusual Christmas presents.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_022As a means to help draw in more shoppers, they have local musicians perform 2 or 3 times a day. The talent that they bring in is great!

In the past, we have seen some outstanding shows by Marcia Ball, Albert and Gage, Jimmie LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, and one my very favorites – Ray Wylie Hubbard!

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_021I have brought a camera to a couple of the shows in the past. I have some pretty good photos of Eliza Gilkyson (2010) and Ray Wylie Hubbard (2011) that I took using my Canon PowerShot G12. In 2009, I used my BlackBerry to get a few shots of Jimmie LaFave, but the image quality was pretty darn bad.

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Eliza Gilkyson – December 2010

 

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Ray Wylie Hubbard – December 2011

After buying my Olympus OM-D E-M5 this past May, I have been able to take what I consider a “nice camera” with me into places that I never would have attempted to take my Canon 5D or 5D Mark II into. Maybe you read my earlier posts about the Tour of Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Complex, my adventures at Ruidoso Downs and Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub in Ruidoso, New Mexico, and the Univ. of Texas vs. Wyoming football game. I am rather certain that I would not have been allowed to bring in a large DSLR camera into any of those places, and take the types of photos that I did manage to get with my little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

In previous years, I never tried bringing in either my Canon 5D or Canon 5D Mark II into the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. I just didn’t believe that I would be allowed to bring it in. On the other hand, when I did bring in my Canon PowerShot G12, I made sure I had it hanging from the strap around my neck – and in plain sight. No one said anything at all about it – not as I entered the building, or when I used it during the show.

So it was with all of this in mind that this year I thought I would see if I would be allowed into the event with my Olympus camera hanging around my neck. If not, I would only have to walk a few hundred yards (meters) back to the car to hide the camera and then return to the Bazaar.

Now I knew that the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens wasn’t going to be very useful in this environment. I was going to need some lenses that would allow in much more light than that otherwise very useful zoom lens would. I put the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens onto the camera, and wrapped the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lenses into some Tenba 10 inch square Messenger Wraps, and dropped them into Barb’s suitcase-sized purse.

As we entered the front door, I scanned the lobby for any “No Photography” signs, and didn’t see any. We purchased our two US$8.00 tickets, which I’m pretty sure the only words printed on them were “Admit One”. We walked all of 8 feet (< 3m) from the ticket counter to the person that we handed our ticket to. Everyone was very friendly, and nobody said anything about the camera hanging around my neck.

It was only a few minutes after 11:00 AM, and while the shopping was all open for business, the band wasn’t going to start until 12:00 noon. We headed straight for the area where the stage was. We were in luck, as nobody was sitting in any of the chairs yet.  Barb went straight to the front row and claimed 6 chairs just to the right of the center isle!

The photo below was taken right at 11:30 AM, as the Austin Lounge Lizards were performing their sound check. I show you this photo just to get the “big picture” setting for where we were. Notice the person sitting on the left side of this photo with the orange cap? That chair on the front row, in front of his cap, is where I would be sitting for the show. Barb is the blonde in the front row, and those are our friends Diane and Stan sitting next to her. (Holly and Bryan had to head back to Threadgill’s where they had accidently left their credit card…)

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_020The photo above was taken with the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens. I had the ISO cranked up to 1600, and had the aperture almost wide-open at f/1.8. I had the exposure compensation cranked down to – 2/3 stop. Even with all of that, the shutter was open for a relatively long 1/20th of a second. The 5-axis in-body image stabilization of this little Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera is incredible!

I went to the restroom, just to make sure I wouldn’t need to go later, during the show. On my way back, I stopped to talk to the person manning the sound controls. After a few moments, she walked off to take care of something. Even though the lighting was very dim, I thought the sound board looked pretty cool, so I snapped this photo.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_0231/20 second, f/2.8, ISO 1600 and the sliders in the lower left are due to the depth of field, not due to camera movement during the 1/20 second.

OK, now it’s show time!  The next photo was taken with the Olympus 12mm lens and the aperture set to f/2.8. 1/50 second and ISO 1600. I was sitting in my chair, and I had the camera to my eye. The electronic viewfinder made it pretty easy to tell that I needed some negative exposure compensation to keep the black curtain background black. The 12mm lens could get all four musicians into the frame of the photo, but I could tell right away that it wasn’t going to get in close enough for some really interesting photos….

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_027Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are a very talented band! They have been around for quite some time, and have gone through a few personnel changes. The current members, from left to right, are: Conrad Deisler (guitar and mandolin), Bruce Jones (bass guitar), Hank Card (rhythm guitar), and Darcie Deaville (fiddle and mandolin). They play some very lively songs that always contain funny lyrics or satirical views. Every song makes you smile – big – and most of them actually cause you to laugh!

During the “sound check” photo that I showed earlier, they were playing a song that explained what was the cause of the sorry state of the American economy today. That song is entitled “Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs”.  Yep, I think that pretty well set the tone for the rest of the show!

After you finish reading the rest of my post, you really should go check out their web site by clicking here, and then clicking on the “Listen” link right above their group photo (but don’t select “Lyrics” under “Listen” – just click on “Listen”). Scroll down to just the 2nd song (highlighted in purple) and you can listen to “Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs”.  That’s pretty representative of the type of energy that they produced on stage – just a few feet in front of us!

While you are there, be sure to check out the songs “Old Blevins”, “Stupid Texas Song”, and even “Shallow End of the Gene Pool”. Great music with funny lyrics!

OK, so enough of my ramblings… Let me show you some of the photos that I took. Remember this, though. I never stood up, I remained in my chair, and I didn’t dare use a flash!  I put on the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens, set the ISO on the camera to 1600, and took a photo of each member of the band.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_033Darcie Deaville on fiddle – 45mm, f/2.0, 1/60 second, ISO 1600

I left the White Balance setting on the camera at Auto. They all came out very close to the Tungsten setting in Lightroom, so I took the average of all the temperature and tint values, and set every photo in this series to the same values (temp = 2750, tint = +5).

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_036Bruce Jones on bass – 45mm, f/3.2, 1/80 second, ISO 1600

I set the auto focus point to be the area dead-center in the middle of the frame. I would aim the center of the view finder (the frame) right at the musician’s eye, push the shutter button down halfway (which would lock the focus and set the exposure), then move where the camera was pointed to that would give me a more pleasing composition (i.e. not having their face always being in the center of the photo).

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_038Conrad Deisler on guitar – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/60 second, ISO 1600

I left the metering mode set to what Olympus calls “Digital ESP metering”, which is the same as what Canon calls “Evaluative” metering, and Nikon calls “Matrix” metering. That got me close to a “correct” exposure when I had pushed the shutter button halfway (to set the focus). From there I used the extremely useful “Highlight & Shadow Display” mode of the electronic view finder (EVF) to tell me how much exposure compensation to use to “fine tune” the exposure.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_043Hank Card on guitar – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/125 second, ISO 1600

On all four of the previous photos, I had dialed in -2/3 stop of exposure compensation, to keep the blacks in the background very near black. (I didn’t know it at the time, but I would later add back between +1/3 and +1/2 stop of exposure during post processing in Lightroom 4.3.)

What I did realize though, was that I was getting a faster shutter speed than I was expecting. I could drop my ISO to a lower sensitivity setting, which would result in less noise in the image, but it would also mean that I would be using a slower shutter speed. I have shot enough with this camera to know that the image stabilization would allow me to do that. I would just have to time my shots to the moments when the musicians wouldn’t be moving quickly – or that movement would be blurry in the photo.

OK, so I dropped the ISO sensitivity from 1600 to 1000, and opened the aperture as far as I could, which is f/1.8 for the 45mm lens. After reviewing the photos later on my computer, I was really glad that I had changed the ISO to a lower setting. When viewing the images at 100% magnification on my 24″ monitor, the amount of graininess is much less, especially in the facial skin areas of the musicians. You probably cannot see the difference by viewing the small, highly compressed images here on my blog post, but the difference is certainly noticeable when viewed “large” (on my monitor and on 19″ prints).

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_055Hank Card on guitar – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/80 second, ISO 1000

Bio from their web site: Hank is one of the founding Lizards. He grew up in Oklahoma City, went to Princeton, where he met Conrad Deisler, and graduated from The University of Texas School of Law. Hank is one of the main songwriters of the Lizards.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_059Darcie Deaville on mandolin – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/50 second, ISO 1000

Bio from their web site: Starting at 16 as a street performer in Toronto, Darcie Deaville is an accomplished actor, singer, writer, producer, musical director and coach. She’s collaborated with artists including Ani Di Franco, Tom Paxton, Ray Wylie Hubbard, John McEuen, David Lindley, and Eliza Gilkyson. Darcie’s toured from the Yukon to the Yucatan and throughout Europe.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_066Darcie Deaville on fiddle – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/40 second, ISO 1000

Now you can clearly see the motion blur in the photo above, and it gives you a real sense of just how smoking hot of a fiddle player that Darcie is!

OK, that gets us to intermission, where I put the 12mm f/2.0 lens back on.12mm, f/3.2, 1/15, ISO 1000

I agreed with my previous assessment that even though I was very close to the stage, it was just too wide angle of a lens for this situation. I later learned something very valuable about this lens when I had this photo up on my computer monitor. Nothing in that photo is very sharp. It is supposed to be a very sharp lens. The depth of field on a wide angle lens usually extends from just a few feet away, all the way out to infinity. The aperture was set to f/3.2, which should give the equivalent depth of field that a 24mm lens set to f/6.4 on a full frame sensor camera would.

It should, but it wasn’t. What I later learned, by reading a review of this lens by Ming Thein, was that this particular model of lens has a ring around the barrel that you move back and forth to change from auto focus to manual focus mode. As you are putting this lens onto the camera, it is very easy to move that ring back towards the camera, which puts it into manual focus mode. That’s what happened, and I didn’t realize it until after I was at home.

Still during intermission, I changed back to the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_08125mm, f/2.0, 1/40, ISO 1000

I then wandered to the back row of the seating, and waited patiently in the small line to purchase CD and other souvenirs of the band. While I was standing there, I took this photo, looking back into the shopping Bazaar. You can see just how big of a place that we were in.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_08325mm, f/2.5, 1/25, ISO 1000

I bought two of the Austin Lounge Lizards’ CDs: Small Minds (1995) and Employee of the Month (1998). I’ve listened to them both several times now, as still enjoy them very much. I played them in the car when we went to Barb’s sister’s house the weekend after Christmas, and Barb quickly recognized the songs that we had heard them play live, just two weeks before hand. The lyrics just make you laugh out loud at times!

OK, intermission is now over, and the band is back on stage! With the 25mm lens, the field of view was now wide enough to get two musicians into the frame, so I took a few photos of the musicians in pairs.

First to my right….

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_085Hank Card and Darcie Deaville – 25mm, f/1.6, 1/60, ISO 1000

And then to my left.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_086Conrad Deisler and Bruce Jones – 25mm, f/1.8, 1/50, ISO 1000

I was pretty sure that I had at least a few good “keepers” by now, but just for good measure I put the 45mm lens back on and occasionally took a shot when things seemed to get “interesting”.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_097Conrad Deisler on mandolin – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/50 second, ISO 1000

Bio from their web site: Another founding Lizard, Deisler has been monkeying around with music and electronics since the first grade. One of his earliest memories involves singing along with his mother’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner. His first paying gig came in eighth grade. In 1974, he woke up at the Union Grove Fiddlers’ Convention in North Carolina. Since then, he has been devoted to bluegrass and (real) country music. Influences include George Jones and Spike Jones, Frank Zappa and John Hartford, and Bela Bartok and Emmylou Harris.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_098Conrad Deisler in ski mask and on guitar – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/60 second, ISO 1000

The Austin Lounge Lizards really have some unique entertaining talents!

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_103Bruce Jones on bass guitar – 45mm, f/1.8, 1/125 second, ISO 1000

Bio from their web site: The newest Lizard is Bruce Jones, a Texas Songwriter who spent 16 years playing bass with Omar and the Howlers. This involved a lot of bad behavior, close calls and lucky breaks, including an album on CBS records and tours around North America and Europe with artists including Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Johnny Winter. In 2004, he released his first album of original songs, including “Fight Like a Girl,” which won Second Place in the Austin Songwriter’s Group Songwriting Contest in the “Rock” category. In 2008 he released another album of original songs called “Rough Tough Game”.

Lastly, this next photo with Bruce Jones really “getting down”, is one of my favorites of the whole bunch. I suppose that I could have cropped out Conrad and Hank, but in the end I chose not to do that.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_106Bruce Jones on bass guitar – 45mm, f/1.4, 1/100 second, ISO 1000

Man, Bruce has played with some GREAT Austin bands. Omar and the Howlers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Wow! I have at least 2 CDs from each of these three artists.

This post has taken me quite a while to put together. I went to the Austin Lounge Lizards web site and obtained their email addresses to contact them. On January 3rd, I sent a message requesting their permission to post these photos on my blog. After I didn’t get any response from them, I sent a follow-up message on January 7th. I never got a response to that request either. After another week, I had changed my thinking to “well, they didn’t say yes, but they certainly didn’t say no, either”. If I am ever contacted by the Austin Lounge Lizards asking me to remove their photos, I will do so without any hesitation. If you have read this far and you do not see the photos that I referred to in my blog post, now you know why you don’t see them!

I certainly hope that the photos stay. We really enjoyed the show, I continue to enjoy the CDs that I bought, and I hope that others that see this blog will someday go to an Austin Lounge Lizards concert. I am sure that you will enjoy the show as much as we did!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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Photo Walk on the University of Texas Campus

20121215_UTexas_Walk_003I’m still trying to get into the new rhythm of how we will operate going forward at the office, but my weekends have been just fine. This past Saturday, on December 15th, before the sun came up, I was in my car headed toward downtown Austin. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was headed, but I was eager to do some of what Robin Wong calls “Shutter Therapy”.

Now Robin lives in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia – which is a densely populated city. As a result, Robin has become an outstanding “street photographer”. I am anything but that. At any rate, I was hearing the siren’s song to go out and photograph whatever seemed interesting to me at the time.

Although it had not rained in Austin since October 26th, it was drizzling enough that I had to use my windshield wipers while heading south on U.S. Interstate 35 just as the skies began to light up from the quickly approaching sunrise. The temperature was unseasonably warm – it was 66 degrees (18.9 C), so even though it was drizzling intermittently, I knew that I wouldn’t need my jacket. I decided that instead of heading to downtown Austin, I would check out The University of Texas campus.

I was glad that I had my weatherproof Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, and the equally weatherproof 12-50mm f/3.5 -6.3 lens. That’s a “dark” lens, and the sky was dark with clouds, so I knew that even though the image stabilization of this camera is outstanding, I was going to use my small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod.

I got out of the car at the Joe C. Thompson conference center parking lot right at 7:15 AM, which was 5 minutes before the official time of the sunrise.

Since I was going to be using a tripod, I set the ISO to 200, which is the lowest sensitivity that the E-M5 allows, and turned off the fabulous image stabilization. I set the mode dial to Aperture Priority, set the focus mode to Single AF, and turned on the self-timer for 2 seconds. I put the White Balance on Auto, and started walking toward the LBJ Library and Museum. I took the photo above at the official time of sunrise, which was 7:20 AM.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

I had no plan for a route. I was just going to go where my feet followed my attention.

This is from the southwest corner of the LBJ Library.

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Stairs heading down.

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Reflection of UT Tower

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There was nobody around. I literally mean nobody. The street beside the Performing Arts Center was like something out of a post apocalypse movie.

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This is where the Texas Longhorn play football. It is the Darrel K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium. This is the view of the northwest corner of the stadium.

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Across the street, out front of the Performing Arts Center is the interesting arrangement of bells.

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The official name of the stadium.

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At this point, I decided to do a custom white balance in the camera. I use a simple WhiBal card to do that.

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This photo was taken just after I set the custom white balance in the camera. I might just need such a photo to see how closely the camera and Adobe Lightroom agree. I also used this photo to set the white balance for the photos that I had already taken (but I didn’t do it for the opening photo).

High on the east side of the stadium.

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To take the photo above, I had climbed up to the top floor of a parking garage across the stadium. I had never been up there before, so I walked to the south while still on top of the garage. As I approached the south end of the stadium I got a pretty nice view of downtown Austin, which is about 15 blocks from where I was.

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Going just a little further, I could now see the Texas State Capitol Building, which is about 8 blocks away.

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Looking back toward the stadium, I was surprised at just how much I could see “inside” the stadium!20121215_UTexas_Walk_055

 

Here’s a view of the inside and the outside of the east side of the stadium.20121215_UTexas_Walk_062

 

This is the back side of the GIANT scoreboard, which is also a video screen.20121215_UTexas_Walk_064

 

Back down on the street, I looked back to see the garage I was on top of, and the stadium across the street from it.20121215_UTexas_Walk_070

 

Walking around the south end of the stadium, I passed the truck that carries the football team’s equipment to many of the away-games.20121215_UTexas_Walk_071

 

Pedestrian ramps on the west side of the stadium.20121215_UTexas_Walk_081

 

Time to leave the stadium, and head west on 21st Street. Across from Gregory Gymnasium, I caught this view of the UT Tower.20121215_UTexas_Walk_085

 

As I passed the Red McComb’s School of Business, this statue in front of the autumn colored trees caught my attention.20121215_UTexas_Walk_088

Another 1/2 block took me to the east side of Littlefield Fountain, which is a monument by Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini.

The fountain was built with money from a $250,000 trust established by Major George W. Littlefield as a war memorial.  It was unveiled in 1933, at a time when the Old Main Building was still in use.20121215_UTexas_Walk_100-Edit

The bright gray sky and the light stone tower, with the dark live oak trees, seemed like I good opportunity to play around with the camera a bit. The photo above is an HDR photo.

A view from the side shows the cascading fountains.20121215_UTexas_Walk_127

Up the stairs to the tunnel of trees.20121215_UTexas_Walk_112

 

The main administration building is at the base of the UT Tower.20121215_UTexas_Walk_155

 

Turning around, you see the George Washington statue in the foreground, and the Texas State Capitol Building, 9 blocks away.20121215_UTexas_Walk_157

 

This is an HDR photo of the southeast corner of the UT Tower.20121215_UTexas_Walk_159-Edit

 

Architectural details are always interesting!20121215_UTexas_Walk_166

 

Rusty balls (with pennies glued to them).20121215_UTexas_Walk_169

From the East Mall Fountain, which is under renovation, I saw this view of the northwest corner of the stadium. It was 10:15 AM, so I had been out for exactly 3 hours – and my camera battery had finally ran out. After I changed the battery, I decided to try and get a better photo of the stadium from this position, but I was shooting almost directly into the direction of the sun, and the sky above the stadium was very bright, while this side of the stadium was in the shade (well, as shady as it gets on a very overcast day). The result was the rather unartistic HDR photo.20121215_UTexas_Walk_181-Edit

 

At the base of the northwest corner of the stadium, it is revealed where the “Texas Memorial Stadium” name comes from.20121215_UTexas_Walk_189

Here there is a statue of a World War I soldier, and on the wall behind him is a metal plaque (bronze ?) that has etched into it all of the names of the American soldiers that were Texans that died in World War I.20121215_UTexas_Walk_201

 

Walking across the north side of the stadium, you pass the emblem of The University mounted on the doors to the north entrance.20121215_UTexas_Walk_209

 

As my journey was coming to an end, I stopped and took another look back towards the UT Tower.20121215_UTexas_Walk_215

 

Up the stairs at the base of the LBJ Library and Museum.20121215_UTexas_Walk_225

 

My lonely Honda was waiting patiently for me, after my 4 hour walk.20121215_UTexas_Walk_231

This was certainly not my usual aerobic Saturday morning walk, but it was a fun one.  I like being a tourist in my own town.

Later that same evening, the Lady Longhorn volleyball team won the National Championship, by beating the lady Oregon Ducks in 3 straight sets. Congratulations!

Whenever a team wins a national championship, The University of Texas will light the entire UT Tower top-to-bottom with orange colored flood lights.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

20121106_Curves_Portraits_028

Lighting Set-up for Portraits at Curves

This post describes the equipment in my portable “portrait studio” that I set-up at the neighborhood Curves facility for their 10th anniversary celebration. To walk through it, I’m simply going to describe what you see in the photo above, and the crappy iPhone photo below.

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

Before I get into the equipment, I want to draw your attention to the far right side of both of the photos. There, affixed to the large mirror on the wall are several of the photos that I had taken for the Curves Member of the Month photos back in 2011. If you look close, you may even spot the two portraits of Barb that I showed at the beginning of my previous blog post.

OK, now on to the lighting. As you can see, my whale gray backdrop was positioned halfway in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that was allowing lots of morning sunlight to come streaming in. To make my backdrop more opaque, I simply draped a king-size bed sheet behind the backdrop, and used 4 red handled A-clamps to hold it in position.

The facility was brightly lit with probably 100 banks of fluorescent lights in the ceiling. The sunlight was streaming in from the window on the left. I wanted to use my small portable Canon 580EX II Speedlites to illuminate the people in the portraits. To complicate things further, all three of those light sources emitted a different color (spectrum) of light. How the heck was I going to make these women look good under such conditions?

To start, I put up a round reflector on the left side of the photos above, to block the sunlight from coming in from the window and directly hitting the model, who would be sitting on the posing stool that you see in the middle of the set-up. The round reflector is a Creative Light 5-in-1 Reflector, which is 47″ in diameter. I put the black cover on this reflector facing the posing stool. I used a Paul C. Buff RBH2566 reflector kit mounting arm to attach the reflector to a standard light stand. I have wasted good money on three other such arms in the past, and this one is not only the best that I have used, it is also the least expensive!

As for the fluorescent lights, I borrowed the step ladder at Curves, and climbed up to disable the two light banks that were directly overhead of the set.

At this point, the ambient light was what it was, and I was just going to have to deal with it. The way that I deal with it, is to “kill it in the camera”. What the heck is that?

I wanted to underexpose any picture that would be taken with just the ambient lighting. To make the digital sensor of my Canon 5D Mark II the least sensitive to light, I set the ISO to 100, which is where this camera also captures the most detail that it is capable of. The “sync speed” of this camera is 1/200th of a second, so that is the fastest shutter speed that I would be allowed to use later, after I turned on my flashes.

With the ISO at 100, and the shutter speed a 1/200th of a second, the only thing left that I could use to control the exposure was the aperture (the diameter of the opening in the lens that light passes through).   So before I turned on my flash units, I took a few test shots, where I adjusted the aperture down to a small enough opening that any photos that I took would be severely underexposed – effectively killing the ambient light “in the camera”.

The photo above was taken with the aperture set at f/ 5.6. Notice that this is the same photo at the very top of this post – except in this photo, the flashes were not turned on. You can see the white bars of the exercise equipment, and you can see the gold star balloon on the right in both versions of the photo. So, even without the flash, there was still some of the fluorescent lighting that was going to contribute to the exposure, but it wasn’t going to be very significant.

I could have made the aperture smaller by setting it to f/ 8 or even f/11, but that would mean than when I did turn on my flashes, they would have to put out twice (from f/5.6 to f/8) or even 4 times (from f/5.6 to f/11) the amount of light. That would drain the 4 AA batteries in each flash unit twice, or 4 times, as fast.  By  leaving the aperture at f/5.6, I was expecting to get at least 100 flashes before I would have to change the batteries.

So those were my camera settings: ISO 100, shutter at 1/200th of a second, and the aperture at f/5.6. About the only other thing to mention about the camera itself is that I put the camera into “mirror lock-up mode”, and I use an electronic cable release to trip the shutter.

I put the camera on the tripod, and put a Speedlite in Master Mode into the hot shoe of the camera. This Master was set so that it would communicate and send commands to the 4 Slave units I was going to use, but this Master would not put out any light that would contribute to the actual exposure. I pointed the Speedlite up towards the white ceiling, so that it could bounce its control pulses of lights to the Slave Speedlites that I was about to use.

The lens that I chose to use that day is a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. This is not a high end Canon “L” lens (L for luxury), but it is still a wickedly sharp lens. The 85mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera, like the Canon 5D Mark II is a allowed me to back up about 6 to 8 feet (2 to 3 meters) from the models, and that’s about all the space that I had to work with before I would be bumping up to the exercise equipment.

At that distance, with that 85mm lens set to an aperture of f/5.6, I was going to have to pay careful attention to what the camera would focus on. I wanted to use autofocus, because even though I was going to have them sit on the posing stool, I was expecting that they would be swiveling back and forth as we experimented with more than one pose. I was going to be dealing with less than 1 foot (~10cm) of depth of field (front to back in focus). If the camera focused on the front of the model’s blouse, her eyes could be 6 inches behind that, and therefore not very sharp – and her earrings would certainly be getting blurry. I also knew that I would have to really be paying attention to this later in the day when I had a mother and daughter couple shot, and that the last time slot was the largest group of the day – a family of 4.

Since the camera and lens were set-up, the next thing that I worked on was the background lighting. I wanted the gray backdrop to be lit consistently (the same for every shot) and I wanted a vignette effect (a darkening of the corners of the photo) to surround the head of the model.

I put a Canon 580EX II Speedlite on a small light stand (the right-most stand in the two set-up shots above). I put it into what Syl Arena calls “free agent” mode. This is a mode that allows you to shoot with both E-TTL and Manual control of Speedlites at the same time. This is all described on page 148 of Syl’s book “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites”.

To get the vignette effect, I first put a large ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders onto the Speedlite and bent it into a shape that I thought would create somewhat of a spotlight onto the backdrop, directly behind the model. I never could get the somewhat uniform spotlight effect that I was after, and so after about 10 minutes of trying, I took off the FlashBender, and replaced it with a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid unit.

I used the 45 degree honeycomb grid, and the spotlight pattern was easily obtained!  All I needed to do now was to dial in the amount of light (intensity) that this Speedlite would put out each and every time it fired.

Even though it is a trial-and-error effort, because I was using a whale gray backdrop, it is a very simply process. I would simply put the camera on the tripod, and take a photo of the backdrop. Since it was gray, I wanted a large spike on the histogram (on the back of the camera) to be positioned a little to the right of the center of the graph. (I wanted it to be brighter than 18% gray.) So I would take a photo, look at the histogram, walk over to the flash and dial up or dial down its power setting, and go back to the camera and take another photo, look at the histogram, rinse, and repeat. It only took a couple of shots to determine that I wanted this Speedlite set to 1/4 power.

Normally a well lit backdrop is sufficient to separate your model from the backdrop, but I like to do a little more. I like to use a “hair light”. This is seen in the two set-up photos above as the little light on the end of a small “boom arm” that puts it high, near the middle of the backdrop. The stand that I use, is a black Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom Stand, which Syl Arena had recommended. You definitely need to use a sandbag as a counterweight to the boom arm, and I also add another one at the base, since the entire rig begins to get rather top-heavy.

I also put this hair light Speedlite into the “free agent” mode, and attach the ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid to it, using the 45 degree honeycomb. I used the same method described above to get the power level set the way I want. I used a small step stool so that I could change the power lever on the back of the Speedlite, without changing the position of the light (which can be very frustrating). I asked Barb to be my model, and had her sit on the posing stool while I took several photos to try and dial in the power setting of the hair light.

In the photo above, the hair light was still a little too “hot”. You can also see how the light on the backdrop is creating a big spot of light centered behind her, and that it is creating the vignette effect (darkening of the corners). This photo is actually out of sequence, (because I had my main and fill lights also firing, which I will describe shortly), but I use it here to support my story.

With the camera in Manual mode, and the background and hair lights in free agent mode, they were not going to change – ever (well, not until the batteries in the flashes were run down).

Now it was time to set-up the main and fill lights. These two lights are “inside” of the two black umbrellas that you see to either side of the posing stool in the two set-up shots above. Instead of shooting the flashes through a white umbrella, I like to bounce the light off of the inside of the umbrella. I use a somewhat unusual 45″ Bowens Silver and White umbrella.

If I put these lights into manual mode, I could put them in position then use my light meter and dial in the amount of flash output they would need to produce to get a correct exposure with my camera’s aperture set at f/5.6. There are two problems with this, though.

The first problem is that my Sekonic L-358 light meter doesn’t work well as a flash meter with my Canon 580EX IIs. When the master Speedlite sends out the “pre-flash” burst of light, it triggers the flash meter, instead of the “real flash” that occurs just milliseconds later.

OK, so I could simply dial in the exposure by having Barb sit on the posing stool a bit longer and adjusting the power of these two lights (which can be done from the back of the camera – unlike the free agent mode slaves) – but there is another problem. I tend to move my main and fill lights around a lot. It seems like I’m either trying to avoid getting their reflections in the model’s eye glasses, or I want to bring them further up or farther back, depending on the features that I want to accentuate (or diminish) on the model’s face.

For these reasons, I like to keep my Speedlites in E-TTL mode for these two lights. I always set the lighting on the main light to be twice as bright as the fill light (a 2:1 ratio). Sometimes to “fine tune” that lighting ratio, I’ll simply move the fill light closer or further away from the model (than the distance of the main light to the model).

OK, so now with all 5 Speedlites on and operational, I had Barb sit on the posing stool, and I made my final adjustments to the lights. I dialed down the power of the hair light to its final setting of 1/8 -0.7 power. (That’s a funky way that Canon uses to describe a power setting that is 2/3rds of the way from 1/8 power to 1/16 power.) Her blond hair no longer seemed to be “blown out” at this power level. I also added +2/3 stop of Flash Exposure Compensation, which only effected the main and fill lights, which were in E-TTL mode.

I photographed one lady late in the morning, and two more in the early afternoon. During the late afternoon, during a two hour downtime, I recharged the batteries in my Speedlites. After that, as I was turning everything back on and making sure that my settings were all “good to go” for the two groups that were coming in, I sat on the posing stool and talked Barb through how to capture this portrait of myself.

The main light was to the camera left (my right side), and was set to twice as bright as the fill light, which was to the camera right (my left side). You can see a hint of the hair light on the top of my head – it really lights up my gray hairs – but more importantly, that hair light also lights up the top of my shoulders, which separates my gray shirt from that whale gray backdrop. Lastly, you can also see that the light on the backdrop is fairly well centered behind me, and is producing a nice vignette in the upper corners of the portrait.

Now I realize that my efforts are very “amateurish” as compared to any experienced and talented professional, such as Kirk Tuck. But I’m sharing what I have already learned, as maybe it will help someone less experienced than I am. I realize that I didn’t mention anything about posing, and I suppose that it’s because admittedly, that is something that I still need to learn more about.

I have heard back from all 5 of the ladies that I took portraits of, and they all seemed to be very pleased with the photos that they have seen. I am choosing not to include the photos of my clients in my blog posts, but I will soon include them in the “Studio Portraits” section of my “Photo Gallery” that you can find under my large banner at the top of my blog home page.

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CowParade Austin Calendar – September – Partying with Pi-COW-sso

If you have my 2012 CowParade Austin calendar, you probably flipped over to September, saw a very colorful cow, and headed on over to my blog site to see what the story is with the cow named Partying with Pi-COW-sso, which was painted by Allison Gregory.

I count 14 artists that painted 2 cows, no artist painted 3 cows, and Allison Gregory was the only artist to paint 4 cows! I thought I’d use this opportunity to show all 4 of her beautiful cows in this one post. As you will soon see, Allison not only produced in quantity, she also excelled in quality!

You can visit Allison’s web site here, and you can see what she has to say about her herd of cows here.

Besides at the Preview Party in late July 2011, the first time that Dad and I found one of Allison’s cows on public display, it was on the very hot morning of August 20, 2011. It was a cow named Partying with Pi-COW-sso, and it was on display of the front lawn of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Obviously this cow’s name involves a play on words involving the famous artist Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973).

Reminder: You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to my story.

This was the same bright, direct sunlight that I talked about in my previous post about the cow named Cowmaro.

I really liked the bright colors of this cow, but didn’t like how the harsh mid-day Texas sun was washing out those colors.

The next time we found one of Allison’s cows was 2 weeks later, on September 3, 2011. We found 2 of them that morning. The first one was named A MOO-sical MOO-saic.

This was one of only a handful of cows in the entire herd that were in the laying down position.

This colorful cow was located on the west side of Congress Avenue, just south of 6th Street, and at the front entrance of One American Center

Even at 9:35 AM, the Texas sun was wreaking havoc with my attempts to photograph the left side of this cow. When I went around to the cow’s right side, it was in the shadows, so I put on my external speedlite and took this photo.

I would have loved to had the opportunity that Kirk Tuck had to photograph a cow such as this using studio strobes and white seamless background. All of the specular highlights from the reflections on this cow really do an injustice to Allison’s work of art.

About 40 minutes later, we found Allison’s cow named “A Psy-COW-delic COW-ssword Puzzle”.

There is a discrepancy in how this cow’s name appears on the plaque underneath the cow, and how Allison spells it on her web site. The plaque uses the word “Crossword”, but her web spells it “COW-ssword”. I’ll assume that the plaque is incorrect.

This cow was located at 419 Colorado St. – at Emmis Radio (KBPA).

Wedging myself right up against the corner of the building, and looking at the cow from the other side, the bright background was incredibly bright. I dialed down the exposure compensation by 1 full stop, and took the next photo. I still had to use some Highlight Recovery (+20 in Lightroom 3) to somewhat tame the very bright background.

The next Saturday morning, September 10, 2011, about 10:30 AM, we found Allison’s cow named “MOO-sy In the Sky with Diamonds”. (I’m sure that’s a play on words from the title of a Beatles song from their psychedelic era.)

This cow was located at East 1st Street & San Jacinto Blvd. – at front entrance to The Four Seasons Hotel. There were a lot of cars, patrons, and bell hops between this cow and the front entrance, which made it difficult to get a photo of this cow without distracting cars or people behind it. I sort of got out in the drive between 2 cars and took this photo with a very bright background. I did use the Adjustment Brush to bring down the exposure by ¾ of a stop on the white car and pavement to the right of the cow.

After the car in front of me moved on, I was able to move a few feet to my right to get this photo with a somewhat more pleasing background. I still had to resort to using the Adjustment Brush to reduce the exposure of much of the bright pavement behind the cow by 4/5 of a stop.

After standing in the direct, hot Texas sun for about 4 minutes, I finally had a very brief moment where there were no people, and only the front of one car protruding into the background. This was my only shot from this side of the cow that was worth keeping.

It was a week later, on September 17, 2011 when we once again ran into Partying with Pi-COW-sso at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

This time the light was much more favorable. Even though it was 11:05 AM, it was overcast, and so the sunlight was very diffused. Here you can see the base of the large Texas Star behind the cow. This is the photo that I used for “Miss September” in my CowParade Austin 2012 calendar.

As you can see, Allison Gregory uses bright, bold colors. Her use of pseudo-psycheledic patterns and colors really seem to draw me in - about like a moth attracted to a porch light. I personally thought that all 4 of her cows were outstanding works of art!

Thank you for reading my blog. While I know that I am bouncing randomly from subject-to-subject in what my blog posts are about, I would really appreciate hearing from you to find out what you think works well for me, and what you think I should do less of. Just click in the “Leave a Reply” link immediately below (or on the cartoonish “word bubble” way back up at the top of the post – if there is a number in that “word bubble” it indicates how many readers have already left a comment).

July Calendar - Udderly Austin

CowParade Austin Calendar – July – Udderly Austin

August 27th, 2011 was the 2nd hottest day, of the hottest year ever on record here in Austin. We were also smack-dab in the middle of one of the very worst droughts ever experienced in Central Texas.

Dad and I still had to hunt down a few dozen of the 72 CowParade Austin cows.  The weather reports told us that is was going to be very hot, so we got started early that Saturday morning, and we were photographing our first cow by 9:00 AM.

This is a short story about our encounter with our 10th cow we photographed that morning. “Udderly Austin” was painted by Patti Schermerhorn, and was sponsored by Schlotzsky’s. Patti has a very nice web page showing the art projects that she has done for charities. She even has a photo of Jay Leno auctioning off Udderly Austin. [here]

Even though we had moved quickly and photographed 9 cows in just over two hours, we were already starting to suffer, as the temperature was already well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not going to go into great detail in creating a story about just how brutal it was, but I was genuinely concerned about Dad’s ability to deal with this kind of heat – because I was also suffering from the stress of being out on the streets and sidewalks that were too hot to touch.

Udderly Austin was on the northeast corner of the Schlotzsky’s at the corner of South Lamar Blvd. and Toomey Road. This is adjacent to Zachary Scott Theater, just south of the Colorado River in downtown Austin.

As you can see by the shadow underneath this very colorful cow, the sun was almost directly over us at 11:15 AM that morning.

The scene painted onto this side of the cow is the view of downtown Austin that you would have if you simply walked a block to the northeast of where we were standing. That’s the Texas State Capitol Building on the face of Udderly Austin.

It was hot. Very hot. The sun was blazing. The heat radiating off of the sidewalk was cooking my sneakers. This was going to be done quickly, or someone was going to be taken to the hospital. I was going to circle this cow once, take a few photos, and get the hell out of there.

This was the photo that I used in my CowParade Austin calendar.

As I finished photographing the left side of Udderly Austin, I noticed that Dad had taken shelter in the shade of a nearby tree – and he didn’t look good.

I went around to the other side of the cow. This is the view that those inside of the Schlotzsky’s restaurant had of the cow. To me, it looked like a completely different cow than I had seen from the other side. Also, this side was in the shade, and background was nothing but blinding glare from the sidewalk street, and concrete pad that the cow was standing on. I popped my flash unit on top of my Canon 5D Mark II, and took this one photo.

You can see the reflections of the flash, and I knew that under different circumstances that I could have done much better. I also knew that we quickly needed to seek shelter somewhere, so there wasn’t time to dilly-dally. I walked up next to the cow and took a photo of the plaque underneath her.

It was too dang hot to even think about walking across Lamar Blvd. and the half block to our car. I suggested that we go inside of Schlotzky’s and get a iced soft drink. Dad would rarely ever go for such a suggestion, but this time he quickly agreed.

We spent nearly 30 minutes inside the air conditioned restaurant, and had nearly finished our second iced soft drink, before our body temperature returned to something near normal.  We had come dangerously close to heat exhaustion.

After we walked back to the car, we turned on the radio, where we learned that it was already 108 degrees (at only 12:00 PM). Now we have lived in Austin for 40 years, and we have seen our share of hot weather, but rarely does it ever got THAT hot here. I’m sure that we could count the number of times that it has been 108 or hotter on one single hand….

We did stop and photograph 3 more cows before we returned home, but I was able to park the car within 50 feet (16 meters) of each one, and the car’s air conditioner did its best to attempt to blow cool air on us between each stop. By the time that we got home, the temperature had reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

The record highest temperature ever recorded in Austin, TX is 112 degees. It has reached that mark twice. The 1st time was Sept. 5, 2000. The 2nd time it did so was the day after we photographed Udderly Austin (July 28, 2011).

I associate this cow with the incredible summertime heat. That is why she appears as “Miss July” in my CowParade Austin 2012 calendar.