Tag Archives: Equipment

Experimenting with Outdoor Macro Photography Using Flash

20130510_Flash_Macro_089We haven’t been working very late into the Friday afternoons at the office lately. So, last Friday (May 10, 2013) I headed home about 2:00 PM. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, even though the temperature was above average – it was going approaching 90 degrees (32 C). I didn’t want to just sit around in the house surfing the web… I wanted to go out and make some photos!

The sky was a clear blue, with virtually no clouds. I thought that might help make some great downtown photos, but I didn’t want to deal with the hour long Friday afternoon rush hour traffic to get home. It was fairly breezy, so I didn’t want to try and do some macro photography of flowers wagging madly in that wind. Or did I?

Earlier in the week, I had attended Syl Arena’s Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop that he held here in Austin. Syl is universally recognized as the world’s renown guru on Canon Speedlite flash photography. If you are a Canon shooter, you simply must buy, read, and re-read his Speedliter’s Handbook.

Now I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be walking around my neighborhood with my heavy Canon 5D Mark II camera, the 100mm (non-IS) macro lens, and a 580EX II Speedlite. I was however, willing to try something new with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. I thought I’d go out and try to stop the flowers in their tracks by using flash….

Now the rest of this blog is aimed toward my photography-oriented friends. If that’s not you, then feel free to stop reading right here and just scroll down through the photos. I’m about to describe the gear and the technique that I used to make these photos….

Since it was nearly 2:30 PM, with the sun high in the sky and no clouds in site, I doubted that I would need the f/2.8 aperture of my new Olympus 60mm macro lens. Instead, I decided that I would take my more versatile Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, which also has a macro mode. (When in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm; 86mm equivalent on a full frame sensor camera.) On top of that, since it was so dang bright, I put a circular polarizer filter onto it.

Using a low ISO of 200, a small aperture opening (higher f-stop number), and a circular polarizer would normally require the shutter to stay open much longer than one would normally want – if their goal was to stop the motion of a flower wagging in the wind.

I intended to find out if using the very short duration burst of light that a portable flash emits could be used to stop that motion. I grabbed my Olympus FL-600R Wireless Electronic Flash and strapped a Small ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders reflector onto the top of the flash unit.

Since I didn’t want to use the flash while it was mounted in the hot shoe on top of the camera, I also grabbed my Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord. One end of the cord attaches to the hot shoe of the camera, while the other end attaches to the base of the FL-600R flash unit. And yes, the Canon cord works perfectly with the Olympus camera and portable flash.

(I also have a virtually identical cord; the Vello OCS-C6, which is about half the price of the Canon cord. I keep the two cords together in identical zip-lock baggies, and I just happened to pick up the Canon cord.)

I put a spare camera battery into my right pants pocket, and 4 spare AA batteries in a holder into my left pants pocket.

OK, so that was my gear. My camera settings were to operate the camera in manual mode. I wanted the lowest ISO, which is 200 on this camera. I wanted the highest shutter speed, while not exceeding the sync speed of the camera, so I set it to 1/200th of a second. (The sync speed of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is actually 1/250th of a second, but I couldn’t remember that, so I played it safe and set the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second.)

OK, so ISO was 200. Shutter speed was 1/200th of a second. What was my aperture? That was the variable that I played with!  I adjusted the aperture until the meter reading in the electronic viewfinder indicated anything from -1/3 stop down to -2 full stops below a proper exposure. In other words, I was simply underexposing the photo – until I got the flash involved. (Yes, I suppose I could have operated the camera in shutter priority mode and just dialed-in some negative exposure compensation.)

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Before heading out into my neighborhood, I went out our back door, onto our deck (patio) and set a custom white balance in the camera. I thought that the direct sunlight would have the same color temperature as the flash, and that they would be about 5500 degrees Kelvin. My WhiBal card indicated differently, and later Lightroom agreed with the camera that there was no color cast with the Temp slider at 5950 and the Tint slider at +3. That’s where I left the white balance on all of the photos that I took later, except for the ones with bright yellow petals. On those, I cooled down the temperature to 5350 degrees Kelvin.

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You can see in the photo above how dark (underexposed) the background is. That is what I was trying to do. I was intentionally adjusting the aperture so that the background would be slightly underexposed like that.

The magic happens when I turned on the flash. By putting the flash unit into the automated TTL (Through the Lens metering) mode – instead of manual mode – the flash puts out enough light until the camera thinks it has seen enough light needed for a proper exposure at the current aperture setting. When the camera and flash working together in TTL mode seemed to underexpose or overexpose the object in the foreground, the only control that I had for me to alter the result was by dialing up or down on the Flash Exposure Compensation setting.

I also had to aim the light. In the photo above, it’s pretty easy to see that I was just learning how to deal with this technique. It appears that I was holding the light too low, which resulted in some less than ideal shadows on the petals themselves.

The flash head will automatically widen or narrow the beam of light that it emits in order to cover the field of view that is seem though the lens. The flash was being told by the camera that the focal length of the lens was set to 43mm, so the flash was auto-zooming it’s head to create the relatively narrow beam of light to cover the area that would be seen through a 43mm (86mm equivalent) lens would see. The flash unit had no way of knowing that it was not mounted into the hot shoe on top of the camera, though. I changed the setting on the flash unit to manual zoom and changed it to a much wider beam of light by changing the zoom setting to 25mm (50mm equivalent). That gave a much softer bounced light off of the FlashBender.

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This is two-handed photography. I was following a technique where Robin Wong recently described how he does his fabulous macro photography of insects in Malaysia. (Be sure to click that link to see how he does this.) Robin appears to trigger his flash wirelessly, and although the flash that I was using could also be triggered wirelessly, I was using the Canon OC-E3 cord – the camera and flash don’t know that there is a cord between them.

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With the FlashBender mounted onto the flash unit, I was bouncing the flash off of it. Just like bouncing flash off of a ceiling or a wall, which makes the light source (the flash) much larger than when aiming the flash head directly at the subject. While I do have the Large size FlashBenders, I was using the much smaller Small size. Unfolded, the Small unit measures 10” x 7” (254mm x 178mm). I had the ends curled in, but not to the point that I had made a tube, or snoot, out of it.

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I mention that for two reasons. First, the size of the white surface that I was bouncing the light off of was still about 6″ x 7″ (152mm x 178mm). When I brought it in close to the flower or bee that I was photographing, the relative size of my light was getting to be huge in comparison to the object that I was photographing. That results in very soft shadows. And remember, these photos were all taken in direct sunlight, in the middle of the day!

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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.

The second reason that I mentioned the shape and the closeness of the FlashBender is this: The shutter speed of 1/200th of a second was not what was responsible for stopping the motion of the very busy honey bee. Instead, it was the much shorter duration of the burst of light emitted by the flash that was freezing his motion. Since I was underexposing the photo between -0.7 and -1.3 stops in most of the photos, the flash only had to add enough light the bring the exposure up by about 1 stop.

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Since that flash unit was being held very close to my subject, it didn’t really have to put out much more than just a puff of light. The less light it puts out, the less time the flash tube is emitting light, and therefore the duration of the burst of light was probably only about 1/1000th of a second. That is what was freezing the motion of the very busy bees and the constantly wagging flowers!

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Again, the only two adjustments that I was making were the aperture (to get me to an underexposed ambient light exposure) and the Flash Exposure Compensation (to manually influence the automated TTL operation of the flash unit). Sometimes I significantly underexposed the background, and sometimes not so much. Sometimes I wanted the flash to put out more light, and sometimes I didn’t.

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In the photo above, I had my flash unit underneath the flower, and was bouncing the light up onto the underside of it. You can see the black Velcro edge of my FlashBender in the lower right corner of the photo. I could have removed that in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but then I wouldn’t be able to show you this “trick”!

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In this photo, this blossom was on the end of a very long, spindly stalk, and it was wagging back and forth very wildly. It was coming toward me, and then going away from me. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was having a terrible time of trying to focus on it. I just stood there and ripped off a dozen or so photos of it, and hoped that at least one of them would look sharp on my computer monitor. (Two of them did.) So, even with an electronic flash to help freeze motion, the dang camera has to focus on what you want it to!

I also had another new to me experience with this camera while shooting this way. I could see the results of my underexposure in real time by looking into the electronic viewfinder. Obviously that made everything pretty dark, so at times it was difficult to see what was going to be in focus. But, the instant that I would push the shutter button down halfway, two things would happen. First, the image in the electronic viewfinder would instantly get amplified and lit-up by the electronics to what would appear to be a normal exposure, and then (if you were lucky) you would see the focus lock indicator blink (which I had fixed to the center of the screen).

I don’t normally have the Autofocus Assist Beam turned on, but it was about this time on this walk that I decided to turn it on. It didn’t seem to help much… with my setting the autofocus to Single Shot Autofocus, it just didn’t help much with quickly moving objects – and with a macro lens, everything seems to move rather quickly. I seemed to have the most trouble focusing on red colored flowers.

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Just to play around with the flash in a different way, I set it to FP TTL Auto mode, which is what Canon calls High Speed Sync flash. The photo above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second, and the next one was taken with a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.

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In FP TTL Auto mode, the flash unit turns into a very high frequency strobe light. I don’t know how fast the Olympus FL-600R pulses, but the Canon 580EX II pulses at 30,000 times a second! That effectively turns your little flash unit into a strobe that starts flashing before the first curtain of the shutter opens, and continues flashing until after the second curtain has completely closed. Of course, the flash unit cannot pump out its maximum intensity of light while it is doing that, but like I said before, I had my light so close to my subject that I just needed it to put out a puff of light anyway.

You can tell in the previous photo that my light was just outside of the left side of the photo. The Inverse Square Law is definitely in effect here!

That last photo, the flower of the plumbago plant was just 6 inches (15cm) off of the ground. This is when I was really glad that I didn’t have to get down on my knees, bend over and look through the viewfinder while holding the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left hand. Instead, I tilted the rear LCD (it’s really an OLED panel) up, let the camera strap around my neck hold the camera at the desired height, and used my right thumb on the shutter button.

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OK, so the FP TTL Auto works just fine, but I didn’t really need to use it, so I set the shutter speed back down to 1/200th of a second. As the photo above shows, even at f/11, and on a Four-Thirds sensor, you just don’t get a lot of Depth of Field when using a macro lens at close range.

The one thing that I really need to improve upon is my composition. Almost all of these photos have the subject in the center of the frame. In self-defense, there are two factors that also lead me down this monotonous path…. First, I set my autofocus point to be the one in the center of the  frame. If I didn’t do that, the camera would tend to focus on the part of the flower that was closest to the camera. In general that would be OK, but that makes it virtually impossible to focus on a bee, or other object that is not the front object. The second factor is that these flowers, and bees, were almost in constant motion. It doesn’t take much movement, when shooting at these close distances, to have 1/3 or more of the flower end up being cut-off as the wind quickly accelerates the flower from where it just was. There were several flowers that I tried to photograph that afternoon, where I was not successful in getting the entire flower into the picture – so centered in the frame is what I usually walked away with.

Now this next photo is unusual to me. A cloud came over us, dimming amount of sunlight. To get my ambient exposure down to about -1 stop, the aperture was f/10 and the shutter was a relatively long 1/50th of a second.

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As soon as I took the photo, the review image that shows up in the electronic viewfinder showed violet flower in an electric, iridescent color. I don’t know if the slower shutter speed had any effect on that or not. It seems that the white balance contribution between the ambient and the flash was the same as all of the other photos, but something was making the flash turn these flowers into something psychedelic. Maybe I had spent too much time photographing the poppies down the street….

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This is the yellow flower of the prickly pear cactus, and they look like they are going to put on a spectacular showing this year. Cactus flowers are easy to photograph, simply because they don’t move very much when the wind blows!

Not knowing what the heck was going on with the colors (all of a sudden), I bounced the shutter speed back up to 1/250th of a second to capture this trio of lantanas.

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I was almost home, so just to get familiar with the modes of the flash, I set the shutter speed to 1/500th of a second (aperture f/6.3), and had the flash in FP Auto TTL mode for this single lantana bloom.

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It is worth repeating this: these photos were taken in the middle of the day, under what is considered to be extremely hard lighting conditions. Look again at the photo directly above, and see if you can spot the hard edge of the shadows. I can’t.

I was pleased to see that I had found a way to freeze the motion of the wagging flowers, without having to take a dozen photos and the toss out the blurry ones later. As long as the camera would achieve focus and then snap the shutter before the flower (or bee) had moved out of the range of focus (depth of field), the flash would freeze them in place for me.

I would like to mention that this was the very first time that I have ever wished that I had a more substantial grip area on the camera. I’m sure it was because I had been shooting for nearly two hours by holding the camera in only my right hand. My hand was beginning to get stiff and somewhat sore. I had been holding the camera with two fingers and a thumb – while my third finger was on the shutter button and my pinky finger was curled into my palm underneath the camera body.

Next time I will attach my Really Right Stuff BOEM5 base plate for the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Maybe it will be enough extra area to hold on to.

Just three houses from my home, I spotted this “camo lizard” on my neighbor’s driveway. I popped my lens out of its macro mode zoomed it all the way out to 50mm and walked as close as I thought I could get to this little guy and snapped this photo. Even the soft sound of the shutter on this mirrorless camera was all that it took to have him scurry off to safety under their car.

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The last thing that I would like to mention here is about my batteries. I took over 340 photos in under 2 hours. All but about 5 of those photos were flash photos. I never had to change the battery in my camera, or the AA batteries in the FL-600R flash unit. I never would have predicted that! It just goes to prove that you can overpower the mid-day sun with little puffs of light.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

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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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Size Comparison: Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs. Canon 5D Mark II

My last several posts, except for the CowParade Austin cows, have shown photographs that I have taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera that I acquired in late May, right before Barb and I went to Ruidoso, NM for a week vacation.

This past Saturday morning I went to the Austin Shutterbug Club workshop on macro photography, and we were told to bring a camera, tripod, flash, and a macro lens (if you had one). I decided to bring my new little Olympus system with me.

Right before the workshop was to start, one of the other members, Jane, walked over and asked me if that was the Olympus camera that I had written about in my blog. I said well yes it was, and I took the camera off of my tripod and handed it to her to look at.

Jane had previously commented on Facebook how sharp the images from this camera had been, and she asked about that. I said that the amount of sharpening that I had done in post processing was basically just the default amount that Adobe Lightroom gives to this camera model.

Other than the sharpening, Jane was completely taken by surprise by the size of this camera. It was much, much smaller than she had anticipated, and I believe that she said “but it’s so small” at least three times during our brief conversation.

That’s when it hit me that most Nikon and Canon DSLR shooters hadn’t yet realized what these new mirrorless interchangeble cameras were all about. I know that I personally hadn’t given them even a glancing look before I had read Kirk Tuck’s blog about a year ago, when he made me aware of the Olympus PEN cameras, but he also stressed that the Electronic View Finder (EVF) was a big part of the “magic” that these cameras provided.

I have been firmly entrenched in the Canon 5D system for 6 years now (first the 5D, then the 5D Mark II). I have slowly acquired a collection of 8 lenses, 5 Speedlites, and all sorts of other accessories that go along with it. I have always liked these full-frame cameras in every respect, except for when Barb and I travel on vacation. Taking the camera, just a couple of lenses, and a tripod was still a significant amount of gear to pack and haul around.

In an effort to “lighten up”, I bought a Canon PowerShot G11 in the spring of 2010, and was going to see how well it could deliver on a vacation to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, that camera never made it to Niagara Falls. It was stolen at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Good thing that I had also brought my Canon 5D Mark II, three zoom lenses, and my tripod.

We later went to a friend’s 50th birthday party in Las Vegas in November 2010, and I knew that the casinos wouldn’t allow a big DSLR inside (even if I promised that I wasn’t going to take any photos), so I went without any camera at all. I saw so many fascinating photographic subjects while I was there that I vowed never to leave town without a camera again. When I got home, I ordered a replacement for the stolen camera; a Canon PowerShot G12.

I never have liked that camera. I don’t really know why. There are several reasons, but they all seem to distill down to the fact that it is inferior in every respect to the 5D Mark II. I used it only when I went somewhere that I didn’t think a big DSLR would be allowed (like on the tour of the Monrcrief-Neuhaus  Athletic Center).

Anyway, I finally solved my travel camera problem this past May, when I bought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, four lenses, an external flash, and a small Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod.

Now here’s the big surprise – to me, anyway. This little camera system has quickly become my camera of choice. It’s because of the size and weight. The Canon 5D Mark II takes a slightly better photo, but you could never tell that by the size (resolution) of the photos that I post here on the web.

I do still use the Canon 5D Mark II for all of my commercial work. (But admittedly that is only about once a month). But for everything else, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is “good enough” in image quality at 16 Megapixels. It is smaller, lighter weight, and quite frankly, more fun to use.

Now I have deviated somewhat from my original purpose of writing this blog post. Like Jane, and myself until recently, I don’t think a lot of “serious amateur” photographers, fully realize what’s going on with these physically small, mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras popping up everywhere.

I am not going to try to convince anyone of anything in this post, but I do want to clearly show the difference in size between a full-frame DSLR camera and lenses to a “functionally equivalent” mirrorless interchangebale lens camera, specifically my Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Before anyone leaves flaming comments, yes I realize the DSLR can produce a higher resolution photo – but not by a huge margin. And yes, the full-frame Canon can produce a shallower depth-of-field at the same aperture setting. But if you’ve looked at the photos in my previous blog posts, you will clearly see that the Olympus can easily blur the background due to depth-of-field.

Other than that, the lens comparisons that I will show are indeed very, very close to each other. All that I am trying to show is the difference in the physical size, and you can infer the weight difference.

I have already written way too many words about this! Here are a few more photos that show the difference in size between the camera bodies themselves.

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.

Note that in the next photo that I placed the Olympus slightly in front of the Canon, which make it appear larger, due to the perspective of the lens on the camera taking this photo.

In the next photo you can see the buttons on the back of the camera. Many reviewers on the internet feel that they are too small and too close together. I don’t feel that way at all. It is a bit awkward to get my thumb to hit the Play button, to the left of the Fn1 button, but I don’t need to press it very often. I do think that the buttons have a squishy or spongy feel, that I am not crazy about, but I do not have any trouble using any of them.

You can see just how much thinner the little Olympus is.

And here’s a nice feature that the Olympus has over the Canon – the OLED screen on the back tilts up about 75 degrees, as shown here, and it can also be tilted 45 degrees downward (handy when you want to hold the camera way above your head to shoot over the crowd).

In the next photo, I show the two “kit lenses”. For all practical purposes, they give me equivalent results. The Olympus lens is a 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3, which is equivalent to a 24-100mm f/3.5-6.3 on a full-frame camera. The Canon lens is a 24-105mm f/4.0, and of course I use it on a full-frame 5D Mark II. The Olympus has a wider aperture when the lens is zoomed to wide-angle, but it has a smaller aperture (f/6.3) when zoomed out to 50mm. I prefer the Canon’s constant aperture, but have always wished it were f/2.8 instead of f/4.0 – but to do that, the lens would have an even larger diameter!

And here you can see the difference in length and diameter between these two functionally equivalent lenses.

Here are the same two lenses mounted onto the cameras.

Remember that the object in front will appear larger than the object behind it in the photo.

And finally, here they are as I normally would use them: complete with lens hoods, and plates attached to the cameras for mounting them on tripods. The Canon has an L-plate, so that I can mount it in either landscape or portrait orientation without having to reposition my tripod ball head. The Olympus just has a base plate that runs the entire length of the camera. I like the ones made by a company named Really Right Stuff.

Here are a couple of prime (non-zoom) wide-angle lenses. The Canon lens is a 24mm f/1.4, while the Olympus is a 12mm f/2.0 (which is 24mm equivalent on full-frame).

Here I just stand them up, with the camera mount end facing up.

Put on the lens hoods, and mount them on the cameras.

By the way, here is my Behind the Scenes (BTS) photo. I used the Olympus with the 12-50mm lens to take this photo of the Canon G12 camera that I used to take all of the other photos in this post. I was using all natural light coming in from a large window to my right. I did use the G12 in Manual mode, and used my Sekonic light meter to tell me what to set the aperture, shutter, and ISO to on the little G12. I still had to add +1 stop of exposure to ALL of the photos in Lightroom for this post. Just another reason why that G12 and I don’t get along very well…

Now here are a couple of “identical” lenses. The Canon is a 50mm f/1.4, while the Panasonic is a 25mm f/1.4 (which is exactly equivalent). Yes, the Panasonic and Olympus Micro-Four Thirds lenses are completely interchangeable between their cameras. Both of these lenses are very sharp and produce excellent photos. Canon does have a 50mm f/1.2 lens, but it costs a fortune, and this one leaves nothing for me to desire!

Here they are with lens hoods and mounted on the camera bodies.

Now if I have ever taken your portrait, there is a very good chance that I used the lens on the left in this next photo. It is the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. On the right is the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens (which is equivalent to 90mm f/1.8). Like the previous two lenses, these lenses are extremely sharp and give great results!

Here they are mounted to the cameras. Note that I have removed the Really Right Stuff plates from the two cameras.

Let’s add the lens hoods.

Speaking of lens hoods, this is an area where Canon is definitely better than either Olympus or Panasonic. The Canon lens hoods are much deeper, so they function better. The Canon lens hoods can all be “reverse mounted” (turned around), while none of the Olympus or Panasonic lens hoods can do that. This makes them much easier to store in your camera bag. Finally, Canon provides the lens hood with the L-series of lenses (those with the red ring around them near the end), but even on the non-L lenses they are not terrible expensive. Panasonic did include the lens hood with the 25mm f/1.4 lens. But Olympus doesn’t include a lens hood with any of the 3 lenses of theirs that I have, and they are very expensive. On top of that, I ordered two of my lens hoods directly from Olympus, and they took 9 weeks to deliver them to me.

While I had those two lens hoods, that could keep the camera supported upright, I added the external flash units to both cameras.

Neither of these two cameras have a built-in pop-up flash, although the Olympus does come with a very weak removable “pop-up equivalent”. The Canon 580 EX II flash unit is significantly more powerful, in terms of the amount of light that it can produce, over the Olympus FL-600R flash unit. In all other respects, they both seem to have pretty much the same amount of functionality and features.

In the next photo, I show the macro lenses that I have. The Canon is a 100mm f/2.8, while the Olympus is the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 that I showed earlier. Huh? What’s up with that?

Well, the Olympus lens also includes a very ingenious mechanism, where you push the button on the side of the lens, and then slide the zoom ring forward until it “clicks”. That puts it into a 43mm macro (86mm equivalent). The Canon is capable of capturing a life size, 1x magnification image, while the Olympus only states that it can then focus down to 0.66 foot (7.92 inches, or 20.1 cm), and does not state its maximum magnification capability.

I thought it interesting that the Canon 100mm macro lens seemed to be about equal in three dimensional volume as the Olympus lens WITH the camera attached.

And here are both macro lenses, with lens hoods and cameras attached.

Here are 6 of the 9 lenses that I have shown earlier (I forgot to include the 45mm Olympus and the 85mm Canon – I never intended to put the Canon 100 macro in). The Micro-Four Thirds lenses are in the front, while the Canon EF lenses are in the back.

It is pretty easy to see that when you drop in 3 or 4 lenses into a camera bag, and carry it around on your shoulder for several hours, the difference in weight quickly becomes significant. It forces you to pare down the full size lenses, while there is very little penalty to “bring the whole set” of the Micro-Four Thirds lenses…

And also worth noting is that I usually also carry a tripod when I go out shooting. Now that I have a smaller, lighter camera, with lighter lenses, I can use a much lighter tripod too!

Here the Canon 5D Mark II, with 24-105mm f/4.0 lens is perched atop a Gitzo G1327 Studex carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head with B2-AS II lever release clamp holding the B5D2-L plate screwed into the base of the camera.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5, with 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens is perched atop a Gitzo GT1542T Series 1 carbon fiber tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-30 ball head with LR clamp holding the BOEM5 plate screwed into the base of the camera.

This little Gitzo GT1542T tripod is sturdy enough to comfortably hold the Canon camera and lens, it folds up to only 16.7 inches (42.4 cm), and only weighs 2.2 lb (1 kg). Now THAT will easily fit into my suitcase.

So it took me a few years to come up with my “travel camera system”, but as you can see, I finally found something that I am very happy with!

Thank you for reading my blog.

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My First Photo Walk in Downtown Austin – Part 2

This is the continuation of my story of my first time to visit downtown Austin, with my camera, with the intention of simply walking around and taking photos of whatever seemed to catch my eye.  I had no agenda, no time requirement, and no plan.

I was walking with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, my four lenses, and a flash in my little Domke camera bag, but I had left my small Gitzo Traveller tripod back at the car. I had the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens with a circular polarizer on. This was my first time at this game, and I wanted the versatility that the zoom lens would offer.

During Part 1 of my story, which you can read here, I had travelled the route shown here:

I had just made it through the Farmers Market in the park between 4th and 5th streets, just west of Guadalupe, and was heading toward the corner of San Antonio and West 6th Street. This entire post is only going to take me west on 6th Street to Lamar Blvd., as shown on this map:

It was still before 9:00 AM, but the sun had been up for 2 and ½ hours already. The summer haziness in the air was still keeping a “warm glow” to the morning sunlight – but I knew that would quickly end.

Now moving west, I had the sun coming up from behind me. Just a half a block east of San Antonio St, I passed  the Austin Wine Merchant store.

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.

Across the street, looking to the south, you can see the 44 story 360 Building with the 360 Condominiums.

At the next corner, which is Nueces Street, sits the Star Bar.

While standing in the exact same location, I turned around to look back toward the buildings that I had walked beneath earlier (in Part 1). That’s the 56 story Austonian on the left.

Moving just 100 feet or so west past Nueces St, and looking toward the southwest, I zoomed my 12-50mm lens all the way out to 50mm (100mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) to compress this view of the 29 story tall Monarch Apartments above Walton’s and The Hoffbrau steak house.

The next intersection would be Rio Grande Street, on the northeast corner, sits Katz’s Deli, whose slogan is Katz’s Never Kloses. The only problem is that they went out of business a couple of years ago! That’s too bad, as it was a very popular place to go after the bars on East 6th Street had closed. I believe a lot of people got sober enough to drive home after eating some great New York style deli food at 3:00 AM.

From that same intersection, I crossed 6th Street to walk on the south side of the street, and as soon as I got across the street, I saw this unusual scene.

That is the Monarch Apartment building towering over Gatti’s Pizza. I wanted to get the tennis shoes in the previous photo, but I liked the composition of the next photo much more, so here it is, too.

Now, just behind Gatti’s Pizza on 6th Street, I came upon this faded set of stairs, complete with graffiti, a ripped poster, and littered with plastic drinking bottles. I intentionally put my shadow right where you see it in this next photo.

No, that’s not a cowboy hat. It’s an Australian Barmah Canvas Drover hat, which I bought from a street vendor at The Pecan Street Festival way back in May of 2007. It has served me very well, and I could tell lots of photography-related stories about that hat, but not in this blog post!

Standing in virtually the very same spot, I simply turned around to see this magnificent little mural on a concrete wall that is only about 6 feet tall (2m).

I don’t believe that I had ever seen that piece of art before, simply because the traffic on 6th Street is one-way going west, and you have to look to the east to see it.

Just a half a block ahead is West Avenue, and one lot south of 6th Street on West Avenue is Frank & Angie’s Pizzeria. I’ve never eaten there, but I liked the way the still early sunlight was illuminating the colorful sign, and the shadows of the non-lit neon tubes.

Back onto 6th Street, a half block ahead, just before Shoal Creek is the historic Hut’s Hamburgers. I’ve heard about this place for decades, but I’ve never been there….  and probably won’t for quite some time, given that Barb and I rarely eat red meat anymore.

It was now 9:00 AM. Every photo in this post so far had been taken in 11 and ½ minutes (and I had been walking for exactly one hour now). I am not bringing this up to impress anyone, other than to reveal just how much there is to see in this crazy town in just 3 and ½ blocks on one street – and not even in the heart of the city. I have shown 12 of the 24 photos that I had taken in that brief time, and 17 of them are worth keeping.

It is worth mentioning right here that this is not “art photography”. At least I don’t consider it that. If I was attempting to create art, I would not be buzzing about like a bee, jumping from one flower to the next in rapid succession. The vast majority of the time, I use a sturdy, bulky tripod when I photograph. I use it not just to keep the camera rock steady, but by using it, it forces me to slow down and be much more deliberate in my approach. This handheld flitting-about was something relatively new to me, but I was having a very fun time doing it!

Even though I wasn’t thinking of “creating art”, I was trying to create somewhat pleasing compositions, and proper exposures. My real goal was just to get a feel for what it’s like to shoot in an urban setting, and get to know the lay of the land. I was definitely a tourist in my own town!

Just past Shoal Creek and the next intersection, which is Wood Street, is GSD&M. This is a local Advertising and Marketing firm which is known internationally.

Checking out the GSD&M web site reveals a very impressive array of clients!

And here’s their front entrance.

Directly across 6th Street from GSD&M, on the south side of the street is the world headquarters of Whole Food Market.

Whole Food Market occupies and entire city block, bounded between 5th and 6th streets, Bowie Street on the east, and Lamar Blvd on the west.

Barb and I have only bought our weekly groceries here one time. It was quite an experience! We came on a Saturday morning, and parked under ground in their parking lot. It was very enjoyable, and the food is great, but this is a 25 minute drive from our house, and there is another one of their stores up in “our neck of the woods” in northwest Austin. Even so, we only shop there for very special occasions, like when we have a dinner party.

Walking a half block west, toward Lamar Blvd, I came to these stairs which take you up to the front surface parking lot. I thought the ironwork was interesting, so I tried to make an interesting composition that included it.

And just before 6th Street and Lamar Blvd, at the northwest corner of the entire block that Whole Foods Market sits on, there was this beautiful Pride of Barbados plant (thanks Diane!). Even though it was in direct sun, and I knew that would “wash out” some of the color of its very vivid flowers, I still thought it was worth photographing.

Across the street is one of Barb’s favorite stores, although she rarely makes it to this downtown location. (For the very same reason why we don’t come to this Whole Foods Market.)

Standing at the corner of 6th and Lamar, and looking northwest, there are two other businesses that are iconic to Austin: Waterloo Records and Amy’s Ice Cream.

Yes, we have an honest-to-god record store here in Austin, although I’m sure that they sell many more CDs than they do vinyl records. Everyone who lives in Austin has heard of Amy’s Ice Cream, and it is very highly regarded by all proper citizens. :-)

Walking about 50 feet south on Lamar Blvd, and looking to the southeast, you get a very nice view of the 41 story Spring Condos building. It’s nice to see the construction cranes rising into the Austin sky again.

This was as far from my car as I knew that I was going to get. I had been walking for only 1 hour and 10 minutes. I had been using the same 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens, with a circular polarizer, for the entire walk so far. I had been carrying my small bag with 3 other lenses in it, and there was a reason that I had brought them with me. So it was here that I sat on a little bench and put on a different lens.

To be continued…

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Beginning Construction of a Window Factory

This is my story of how I have witnessed the construction of this building to this intermediate state of completion. The photo above was taken yesterday evening, on July 18, 2012. This is the future home of Ringer Windows factory in Taylor, TX.

This might not be terribly interesting to my photography friends, but I still wanted to make this post, as there are several people in my life that this will have meaning to. I will also probably bore many of those people by also describing many of these photos using “photographers techno-babble”. I’m sorry, but this is my blog, and I make the rules.  :-)

Greg Ringer happens to be a very good friend of mine. Here’s a photo of Greg and I, taken on January 4, 2006 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA – just moments after Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns defeated the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans by a score of 41 – 38.

I still get goose bumps thinking about how that game finished!  But, this is not a story about great friends, or about football…

On Saturday morning, March 3rd, Greg and I drove out to Taylor, TX to look at the location for the future home of Ringer Windows. Ringer Windows has run out of room at its current location in Pflugerville, and the city of Taylor gave him some great incentives to build his new factory in their city.

The engineers had already bored some holes into the soil to see what how firm the foundation was. They didn’t have to go down very far to find water.

Before we left, I asked Greg if I could take his photo. Since he was backlit, I did put my Canon 580-EX II flash on top of my Canon 5D Mark II camera, and took this photo of Greg. I did later have to use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to add a bit more brightness to him in various amounts to his face, his sweatshirt, and his jeans.

That was the one and only time that I have visited the site with Greg, but I have been back several times by myself (and once with Dad). The next time that I returned was nearly 6 weeks later, on April 14th. They had dug out the area for the building’s foundation where they were going to add back some caliche dirt – a surface deposit that would not expand/contract due to moisture changes like the native soil would.

While I was taking photos from the back of the site, the tractor operator showed up and started leveling the bottom of the pit near the northeast corner of the “building”.

When I returned two weeks later, on April 28th, they had the caliche down and leveled.

Three and a half weeks later, on the evening of May 24th, they were inserting the rebar and plumbing into the caliche foundation, and then covering it all up with a heavy-duty black plastic.

They had also poured concrete into the rebar-enforced support columns, which I believe Greg said would go down about 14 feet (4.25m).

When I returned on Sunday, June 17th, they had already poured the concrete slab, and had it covered with a white plastic to allow it to cure (more slowly than it would if it hadn’t been covered). This image was created from 11 individual photos taken in the portrait orientation and then merged into one huge 21084 x 5478 pixel panoramic image. Here it is in a much reduced 1000 pixel wide version.

Helpful Hint:  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 Gregg’s story.

The next time I drove out to Taylor was early in the morning on July 4th. That was the only opportunity that I had to make it out there on that holiday. I had to shoot into the light of the rising sun, but I wanted to be sure to get a couple of photos of the bare steel structure.

The photo above was taken from Carlos Parker Blvd SW, where it rises to cross over the railroad tracks, just south of US Hwy 79. I wasn’t really very far away, and I only had my 70-200mm f/2.8 II lens set to a focal length of 80mm.

I then drove back down to the street in front of the building, and took this photo, which is a panoramic made from 8 photos. The original pano is 18403 x 5553 pixels in size. Here is the 1000 pixel wide version:

Now that takes us to yesterday evening, July 18th. As you can see, the light was MUCH better for photography, and they had the red metal skin up surrounding the front office and showroom area. (This was also from Carlos Parker Blvd SW.)

It was 6:50 PM, and sunset would be in about 80 minutes later. For the shot above, I used my Canon 24-105mm lens, and it was set to 73mm.

As usual, I drove down to the street in front of the building, and took this photo with the lens zoomed wide to 32mm. I cropped off much of the bottom of the photo, as you really don’t need to see that much of the street. (This is the same photo as the one at the top of this blog post.)

I moved a bit closer, and zoomed the lens as wide as it could go, which is 24mm.

Now how the heck am I going to make this partially complete building something interesting to look at in a photo? I didn’t know exactly, but I was going to circle around inside and outside of it – just to see what it looked like from the various perspectives.

I entered the front door, immediately stopped, moved 2 feet to me right, and planted my tripod. People will never see this view of the inside of the building once the interior walls are up, so I thought I would document it.

The photo above is actually an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image, which is created by taking the same picture with four different shutter speed settings and later combining them together using software. I used Photoshop CS6 to merge them and do some initial tweaks, and then finished adjusting it in Lightroom 4.1. It still looks a bit “flat” to me. Maybe that’s partly because there simply wasn’t any color in this scene to start with.

Here is a view from the back right (southwest) corner, looking back toward the office/showroom area.

This is an HDR image that I made from 6 bracketed exposures, and then cropped off the bottom. I did not want to tilt the camera up, as that makes the vertical objects to the side “fall backward” toward the center of the image. Instead, I just kept the camera level, which put a lot of the concrete floor in the bottom of the photo, so I later just cropped it off.

I think the floor has a blue-ish tint to it, as it is simply reflecting that color from the sky.

My 3rd and last HDR photo was taken while looking into the office/showroom area from directly under the peak height of the roof.

That HDR image was made by combining 8 images bracketed one stop apart. That’s a huge dynamic range! The reason was because the sun was poking around the support beam in the upper left corner, which was very bright, and I also wanted to see well into the dark shadowy office area.

The only colorful objects in this photo are seen outside of the front windows. Because everything else is basically devoid of color, there just isn’t that much to make it “come alive”. Be that as it may, I believe that this is a rather faithful reproduction of what I actually saw while I was standing there.

I wanted just a few more photos, and then I needed to go.

Here is the view of the front office/showroom area, as seen from under the covered loading dock area, which is in the left front (northeast) corner of the building. This was a strongly backlit situation, so I did use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 4.1 to add 0.8 stop of exposure to the red siding.

After walking out into the “parking lot” a little bit, this is the view of the northeast corner of the building.

At 7:18 PM, less than 30 minutes from when I took the first photo that evening, I took this parting shot before I left.

I wanted to leave this photo for last, as I envision taking a photo from this same angle when the building is complete. I think it will be taken when the sky turns a magical blue, just after sunset. I’ll ask Greg to selectively turn on some of the interior lights, and I’ll have my 4 Einstein stobe units to really make the red siding glow.  I see it in my mind. We’ll all see how it actually turns out a sometime this fall.

OM-D_Manual_051

Setting a Custom White Balance in the Olympus OM-D E-M5

This is a short discussion/tutorial on how to go about setting the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The scanned image above shows my handwritten notes on the page in the owner’s manual that explains how to do this.

I have been wrestling with myself as to whether I really wanted to create a post such as this one. In the end I convinced myself that it wouldn’t hurt anyone, but might be helpful to a fellow photographer. So here goes…

Everyone who knows me and/or reads my blog posting, knows that I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in late May, and that only two days after I received it we left town to spend a week in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We had rented a house, and didn’t fill up all of our time doing all sorts of touristy things. That gave us plenty of time to relax, and more importantly, it gave me lots of time to read the owner’s manual and to practice with this new camera.

It’s a good thing, as there are a LOT of settings that you can change, to allow you to customize the camera to the way that you prefer it to operate.  I am certain that I spent at least 20 hours that week with the owner’s manual in my lap, marking it up with yellow and red highlighters. The manual seems to have all of the information that you need, but it is not organized very well. You spend way too much time flipping back and forth making sure that everything is understood correctly.

At the end of the week, I felt like I understood all but three features. I sort of understood how to set a Custom White Balance and also how to focus using the Zoom Frame AF. I never did figure out how to wirelessly trigger an off camera flash unit from a flash unit mounted in the camera’s hot shoe.

As I said at the opening of this post, this is a short discussion/tutorial on how to go about setting the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

But before I get into the details, I need to show you which of the menu items that I changed from the default settings.

First, you need to know that this camera has only 5 main categories of menus, as shown here.

Helpful Hint:  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 Gregg’s story.

Looking down the left side, you see them listed as Shooting Menu 1, Shooting Menu 2, Playback Menu, Custom Menus (which is selected), and lastly the Setup Menu. There are 11 subcategories of Custom Menus, labeled A through K.

Here are the scanned pages from my owner’s manual that show the default settings for each of the menu items. In the right side margin you will see my handwritten notes showing what changes I made, if any.

I have no intention of explaining why I made each and every one of these changes. If you have this camera, you have the full manual (which you can download from here), and you can read the descriptions yourself.

It is worth mentioning that the changes to the Dial Functions at the bottom of Custom Menu B were done to move the Exposure Compensation to the rear wheel (operated by my thumb). This makes this camera behave like my Canon 5D Mark II, and it is what I am used to.

In Custom Menu D, in Control Settings, for P/A/S/M, you will see that I have both Live Control and Live SCP (Super Control Panel) turned on. Later on, you will see that this causes trouble when trying to perform a Custom White Balance. (It gets much simpler if you only have the Live SCP set to On.)

Further down in Custom Menu D, for the item named LV Close Up Mode, I changed it to Mode 2, which was recommended in the excellent user guide put together by R. Butler and Timur Born of DPReview.com. That mode helps a lot when trying to get the Zoom Frame AF to work (page 45).

Note that in Custom Menu J, the Built-in EVF Style mode was changed to Style 3. This has the Electronic View Finder (EVF) display the same items that you’ve chosen to display on the rear monitor (but not simultaneously). Once again, thanks to the two at DPReview.com for that one!

And there you have it. Yes, I changed several of the menu items, but ony 5 or 6 of them really made a real difference to how the camera behaves.

Now, down to the real purpose of this post: how to set the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

First, you need to know that this is not what the owner’s manual calls it! Look closely at page 50.

In the manual, Olympus named the feature Custom White Balance the one where you simply set the color temperature (Kelvin) as a numerical value by using the left and right navigation arrows.

No, Olympus chose to name the feature that I want to use “One-Touch White Balance”. That’s really bizarre, since I haven’t figured out how to do this in less than 6 button pushes!  So, forget the name One-Touch White Balance – everyone else refers to it as Custom White Balance.

OK, so here is how you do it:

If you really want to read this, click on the image to show it full size and then right-click on it to save it to your computer. You can then print it out and put it behind page 51 in your manual.

I realize that this is a rather unorthodox approach. If you really cannot read it, leave a comment to this post stating that, and if you want, you can contact me and I might be persuaded to actually type it up.

Just to help in understanding my handwritten instruction, this is what the Super Control Panel looks like:

And this is what the Live Control looks like:

20120601_Ruidoso_Downs_001

Ruidoso Downs Horse Races

This post contains lots of photos, but I think that I need them all to tell the photography story that I want to tell. As you can see in the photo above, it was nearly 5 weeks ago on Friday, June 1, 2012 when Barb and I visited the Ruidoso Downs horse racing track in the town of Ruidoso, New Mexico.

I had never been to a horse race in my life, before this day, but many of the people that we had visited with that week in Ruidoso had highly recommended it. We had spent a pretty leisurely week up to that point, where I had spent most of my time studying the manual for my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. We had only scheduled one “tourist activity” for each day, and today was going to be the horse races.Even though Barb had been there once before, many years ago, frankly, I had no idea what to expect.

Walking only a few yards from where I had taken the photo above (just off the highway), you can see the grandstands across the narrow valley at the base of this small mountain.

Helpful Hint:  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 Gregg’s story.

As we drove up their entrance drive, I just had to stop to take this photo showing the large bend of the oval dirt track.

I was rather surprised that there was no entrance fee, and that the parking was free, too. We only had to walk about 100 yards (meters) from the car to the closest end of the grandstand. That’s where the entrance to the Jockey’s Club was. I just assumed that the entrance that we went through in order to pay to get into the grandstand.

The friendly group at the door let me know that we were welcome to pay to come into the Jockey Club, but if we just wanted to get into the grandstand, we just needed to walk 20 yards to our right. We did exactly that, and I was completely surprised that we could just walk right in – for free – and sit wherever we wanted to!

We had arrived just as the first race of the day had finished. There is a 25 minute delay between each race. (I think there were going to be 9 races that afternoon.) During that delay, they water down the track, and then drag an implement behind a tractor to get the dirt just how they want it.

While we were waiting for the next race to begin, an usher asked to see our tickets. Tickets? What tickets?

I know that I had a dumb expression on my face as I told him that we never encountered anyone asking us to pay for a ticket. He told us that we were sitting in “Reserved Seating” and that if were welcome to sit in the bleachers down below – which were indeed free.

OK, so we moved about 10 feet closer to the dirt track, but our legs were in the direct sun.

And they’re off!  What the heck?  The next race had started and I hadn’t even prepared my camera! Just get what you can…. I raised my camera to my eye, saw the that Olympus instantly focused on the lead horse, so I snapped this photo just as they crossed the finish line!

Wow! We were 30 feet (10 meters) or so from the track, and you could FEEL the horses pounding the ground with their hooves!

Checking the OLED display on the back of my camera, I saw that I had indeed caught the lead horse just after it had crossed the finish line, but wait just a darned minute… horses do not have 8 legs!

Hmmm… The camera was in my default settings: ISO 200, f/8.0, aperture priority, which resulted in a shutter speed of only 1/160 second. No wonder that fast moving horse had 8 legs!

While the grounds keepers prepared the track for the next race, I had some time to think about which camera settings I wanted to change.

I had read in the camera owner’s manual that the camera could shoot 9 frames per second (fps), and this seemed like a great place to try that out! I also changed to Shutter Priority mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/1600 second. To keep a good depth-of-field I didn’t want a wide aperture, so I had to increase the ISO to 800 just to keep the aperture to f/10. I also changed the autofocus to Constant autofocus mode. Lastly, I changed the Image Stabilization to mode IS2, which is for horizontal panning when following moving objects.

After the water truck and the tractor, the jockeys and the horses for the next race always ride past the grandstand and then double-back to get to the starting line.

The races today did not go around the oval track. Instead, they were straight line races, just like at a dragster race – but with about 10 horses at the same time!  As they got the horses into the starting gate, I simply walked down to the railing at the edge of the track, and positioned myself so that I had a good view of the finish line. I zoomed my 12-50mm lens all the way out to 50mm.

And they’re off!  It doesn’t take these race horses long – maybe 7 or 8 seconds before they get close enough that I push the shutter button halfway and lock focus onto the lead horse, and instantly push it the rest of the way and take the following sequence of photos.

Now that you have had a look at this sequence, I want to let you know that I only showed you every other photo (I skipped the odd numbered photos, and only showed you the even numbered photos). Even at the 4.5 frames per second that I am showing you, you should get a sense of just how fast these horses are moving as they came flying past me!

Also worth noting is that as I kept the shutter button held down, and since I was shooting RAW + JPG, the buffer in the camera filled up, and there was a delay between that last shot and the next shot.

Also worth noting is that I did not understand at the time that when the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is shooting a 9 fps sequence, it locks focus at the time of the first shot – even if the autofocus is set to Constant Autofocus. What saved me here is that my aperture was f/10, which gives a fairly deep depth-of-field, especially on a Micro Four-Thirds sized image sensor.

As we waited for the next race, I reviewed the photos on the back of the camera. I didn’t like my composition. I had kept the lead horse in the center (where my focus point was), and so all of the horses were on the left side of the picture, with the right hand side being empty. I made a mental note to try and improve on that. I also told myself to wait until they got a little closer to the finish line before I started machine-gunning RAW + JPG images onto my UHS-1 speed-class SDHC memory card.

It began to get darker as rain clouds approached, and I refused to increase the ISO setting above 800, but that meant that I had to open the aperture form f/10 to f/6.3 AND lengthen the shutter from 1/1600 to “only” 1/1000 second.

Finish line!

The previous 5 photos were taken consecutively – I did not leave out every other one this time. I reviewed this sequence on the back of my camera while they paraded the jockeys and horses for the next race.

It was raining to the south of us, and those rain clouds were blocking the sun. I was going to have to change my settings to compensate accordingly.

Fortunately, the rain was passing us to the east.

Even so, it was getting darker. I was already at the widest aperture that this lens was capable of (f/6.3), but I had to do something. I lengthened the shutter to 1/800 second, but still needed to do something in addition. All I could think of at the time was to zoom the lens to a wider angle, which would support a wider aperture of f/5.7 that I needed. That resulted in a 36mm focal length, equivalent to 72mm on a full frame camera. (Later that evening, I realized that I should have just switched to my 45m f/1.8 lens!)

I decided that I now felt comfortable enough with my timing to wait for them to get closer to the finish line, that I also decided to change to the “low speed” Continuous Shooting Mode of 3.9 fps.

I can’t remember why I made that decision at that time. Maybe I remembered reading in the manual that the OM-D E-M5 will focus between each shot at this lower speed, or maybe I just got lucky. For whatever the reason, it really helped, because I now had a much narrower depth-of-field due to my wider aperture setting.

And they’re off!

So I follow the lead horse, keeping my focus point in it, until I think I’ve timed it just right.

Things move very fast, and I just saw another horse enter the left side of the frame….

Wow! Horse #10 wins the race!

Too bad that I didn’t even know that horse #10 existed until it went thundering right past me – only 3 or 4 yards (meters) away….But the continuous autofocus had locked onto the front legs of horse #3, not horse #10!

Maybe, just maybe I’ll get a good sequence before we get rained on!

The rain was staying east of us, but it just kept getting darker. I had to to open the aperture some more – to f/5.3, which meant that I was now zoomed to only 28 mm.

I also didn’t like the limited number of frames that I captured when using the “low speed” continuous shooting mode, so I went back to the 9 fps rate.

This is the photo captured as they crossed the finish line.

Notice how the horses change their stride immediately after they cross the finish line. They don’t stop instantly, just like you need several steps after running full speed before you slow down and stop.

We could smell the rain coming, and we didn’t want to walk the 100 yards back to the car in the rain, so we decided it was time to go now.

Just before we left the grandstand, I turned around and took this last photo. Barb and I had been sitting on the bleacher in front of the two guys in the white cowboy hats near the left edge of this photo.

I never really got the sequence of photos that I was hoping to get, but I had a really fun time trying, and I’m still amazed that it didn’t cost us any money at all!