Tag Archives: Lighting

Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop


Last Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a still-life and tabletop photography workshop at the Northwest Austin Recreation Center. This was a welcome outing for the month of August, as it was something that we could do indoors, in an air conditioned room!

The workshop was presented by the club’s president, Brian Loflin. Brian had brought along several interesting items that could be arranged on a tabletop and that we could use to photograph, while observing the effects of different lighting techniques.

Brian set-up 4 different still life sets and he emphasized that he was going to light them with very simple setups. The first scene was a bowl of apples in top of a lacey old tablecloth. The light source was a north-facing window to the right of the camera, and a white foam core board was just to the left of the bowl of apples.


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I was using my Canon 5D Mark II camera and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for all of these photos. In the photo above, I had set the aperture to f/5.6 to get a relatively shallow depth of field. Later on, I came back to this bowl of apples and shot it with my aperture set to f/25, and as you can see, the table cloth behind the apples is now in focus, too.


In between the two “bowl of apples” shots, Brian had set up an interesting arrangement of old photography books, a pen, and some reading glasses. He used the light from a window, but used to small foam core boards to block the light into a very pleasing “slit of light” across the objects.


Next, he set up a collection of sewing tools and supplies on a black piece of Plexiglass. He then used one of my Fotodiox 312AS LED lights placed behind the objects (backlight) and used two small white foam core boards on either side to bounce some light back onto the fronts of these objects.


Even though Brian had cleaned that sheet of Plexiglass right before he set this scenario up, when I brought this photo up onto my computer monitor, I was very surprised at all of the dust and scratches that the camera had captured. I spent at least 45 minutes in Photoshop cleaning all of that up….

For the last still life setup, Brian had placed a vase of yellow flowers in front of a dark green velvet backdrop. We all set our cameras to capture some ambient light, while we used a snoot on a speedlite to put a circle of light right onto the flowers themselves.


I was very pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this little workshop. It was a fun thing to do inside, away from the Texas summer heat. I could easily see myself doing much more of this type of photography in the future! Maybe I can convert one of our spare bedrooms (sometimes) into a miniature little product and still life photography studio. Honey?

Thank you for stopping by and visiting my blog today.

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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!


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.


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”!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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….


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.


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.


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.


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!

Samantha and the Fireplace

20130102_Samantha_and_Fire_004This photo shows how things have been around here lately! This is our fat cat, Samantha, who loves to sleep in front of the fireplace – especially when there is a football game on the TV. Since it has been rather cold and dreary outside, and football is in high gear right now, Samantha is spending a lot of time in front of the fireplace.

Since I did my last post, on the photowalk around the University of Texas campus, I have done some photography, but not the sort that I can put up on my blog.

On Sunday, December 16th, Barb and I met friends for brunch at Threadgill’s Restaurant (the one where the old Armadillo World Headquarters was located) and then went over to the Palmer Events Center, where they had the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar going on. The Austin Lounge Lizards were playing, and we got there early enough for front row seats. I had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and my three fast prime lenses with me. I took dozens of low-light, high ISO photos with the aperture opened wider than f/2.0.

I would be thrilled to show them to you, but I don’t have the band’s permission. I didn’t see any “No Photography” signs, but we did pay a $5 admission to get into the Bazaar, so that means it wasn’t considered a public place. Since I’m not sure about the copyright issues, I’ll be safe and pass up this opportunity to show you the best photos that I took during the entire month of December.  Maybe I’ll send a few of the photos to the band and then ask their permission to show them here….. maybe.

20121216_Armadillo_Christmas_Bazaar_111On December 19th, I had a paying event to photography Bonnie B.’s 70th birthday party. It was in a meeting room at the UT Club, which is located within the east side of the DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium. I went there a few days in advance to see what sort of lighting I would have to deal with. Fortunately the 10′ – 12′ (<3m) ceiling was white, so I decided to use my Canon 5D Mark II with a single on-camera Canon 580EX II flash, which I attached an ExpoImaging small FlashBender to. I simply put the camera into Manual mode, set the shutter to 1/200 th of a second, the aperture to f/5.6, put the flash into TTL mode and added +2/3 stop of flash exposure compensation.  I simply bounced the flash off of that white ceiling. The results were great, and my post processing effort was minimal. Again, photos that I’m proud of, but don’t feel comfortable showing here, since I was paid to take these photographs for Bonnie.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_018Reminder: 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.

20121219_Bonnie_Bain_70th_BDay_058On Christmas Eve, my Dad and Rita (my step-Mom) came over for lunch and to play cards. This is the standard “line ’em up in front of the fireplace and take the shot before we eat” type of family snapshot. No flash, just try to get everyone to stand still for 1/4 of a second…

20121224_Christmas_Eve_004Here’s one of just Dad and Rita. I was using my Canon 5D Mark II that day. Again, no flash.

20121224_Christmas_Eve_006Christmas Day was spent over at my Mom’s house, where my cousin Mike and his wife, Janel, joined us. Mom’s house is pretty dark inside. I didn’t want to use a flash, so even though the temperature was a pretty chilly 42 degrees (5.5 C) and breezy, I got everyone to go out onto her shaded porch and got everyone to act like they were not cold for about 3 minutes.

20121225_Christmas_002During the weekend after Christmas, Barb and I drove up to her sister’s house in Coppell, which is a suburb northwest of Dallas. That’s a 3 and a half hour drive for us. Barb’s brother and his family drove in from Sugarland, which is a suburb south of Houston.

The sky was overcast, which would have been great lighting for a family photo, but it was very cool outside, and everyone asked me to see if I could find a spot indoors. Since I was travelling, I had brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5. In my bag I also had a single Olympus FL-600R flash unit, and I also had a small FlashBender.

I arranged a couple of chairs in the middle of Lisa’s kitchen floor and put the camera on top of my little Gitzo tripod and positioned it so that I could shoot over the top of her counter. I put the camera in manual mode, and I put the small flash unit into manual mode as well. It took about 7 trial photos to get the right amount of mix of ambient light and flash that I wanted.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_002I was bouncing the flash off of the ceiling. This little flash puts out much less light than the Canon 580EX II is capable of. Even so, I dialed down the output of the FL-600R to 1/10th of full power.

After that, I simply told each person where I wanted them to sit, stand, or kneel.

20121228_Christmas_in_Coppell_005I’m not entirely thrilled with the results, but given the circumstances it isn’t all that bad. The flash appears to be a little too “hot” on some of the people in the front, and just adequate on the people in the back.

Now, this isn’t entirely appropriate, but a scene like this strongly reminds me of Robert Earl Keen’s song “Merrry Chistmas from the Family”. If you’ve never heard it before, then you should definitely take a few minutes to check it out!

So, as you can see, I have been staying pretty active with my photography. It’s just not the type of photography that would be of much interest to anyone outside of my family. The photo of Samantha in front of the fireplace seems very appropriate to me right now. We’re just snuggled into a comfortable spot during the darkest days of the winter right now.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Portrait Setup at Curves

Almost two years ago, in February 2011, while taking a Lighting and Composition photography class in The University of Texas Informal Classes, one of our homework assignments was to take a portrait of someone. I was less than excited, as I wasn’t interested in photographing people, especially in a true portrait style. Since I hadn’t been interested in this type of photography, I hadn’t given any serious attention on how to go about doing it “properly”.

A couple of years earlier, I believe in the spring of 2008, while visiting my local camera store, Precision Camera, where I had purchased my first Digital SLR  camera, as I was leaving the store, I stopped to look at the books on display near the door. One in particular caught my attention. It was entitled “Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography” by Kirk Tuck.

When I got home, I eagerly started to read this book. Right after the Table of Contents, was an “About the Author” section. It started by saying “Kirk Tuck attended the University of Texas where he dabbled in electrical engineering and English literature before accepting a position as a specialist lecturer teaching photography in the University of Texas College of Fine Arts”.

I found that fascinating. I got my electrical engineering degree from the University of Texas, and I was very absorbed in my hobby of photography, so I wondered if I would ever meet this Kirk Tuck guy.

Anyway, his book was my very first introduction to any sort of lighting techniques for photography. He seemed to know what he was writing about, but as my first exposure to this subject, I didn’t quite grasp it all. Besides, Kirk was advocating using old Nikon flash units and operating them in manual mode, and I had a single Canon 580EX Speedlite at that time.

As a result, I ended up purchasing a very simple lighting kit for about $100 from B&H Photo that included two small light stands and a couple of small umbrellas. I also bought a new model Canon 580EX II Speedlite.

A couple of years later, I read a book entitled “The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters” by Joe McNally. This was a fascinating book to me, as it described the “behind the scenes” stories of how he had captured the portraits of many famous celebrities. He wasn’t taking these portraits in a studio. He was going to where the celebrities were and taking their portraits on location wherever they were.

Joe included descriptions of the equipment that he used for the photos, but most of what he described was a foreign language to me. As I read through the book, I jotted down a rather lengthy list of strange lights (Elinchrom Rangers), stands (C-Stands), lighting modifiers such as reflectors, flags, softboxes, octobanks, etc. At the time, I was very impressed at how Joe made it sound to use all of this “portable” equipment.

Sometime after that, while photographing some of Barb’s Silpada Jewelry display cases, I dropped my older Canon 580EX Speedlite, and broke a switch that Precision Camera wanted $250 to repair. I simply replaced it with the newer 580EX II, to match my other Speedlite.

Back to February, 2011.

For my class assignment, I also remembered seeing somewhere that Scott Kelby recommended putting the subject (model) near a north-facing window for indirect lighting and then bringing a white bounce card in close to the opposite side of the model to fill in the shadows a bit. So I asked Barb to be my model, and I took her picture using the technique that Scott Kelby had described. To make it a bit more visually interesting, I positioned my tripod so that our fireplace was about 8 feet (a little less than 3 meters) behind her, and I had it lit, even though it wasn’t really cold outside.

I cropped the photo a little, and submitted it as my homework assignment. It is the photo shown above. I don’t remember why, but I also took one with her standing. I think it was to show off her new figure, after she (and I) had successfully shed a lot of unwanted weight.

As it turns out, a few months later, the Curves facility on Oak Knoll Rd. in northwest Austin where Barb had been working out had named her their very first “Member of the Month”. That was in recognition of her recent weight loss, which was achieved by working out at their facility and following their dietary guidelines. They asked if she had a picture of herself that they could put on their bulletin board to go along with the Member of the Month announcement. I printed the two photos above on letter size paper and that’s what they used for the display.

When the next month came around, and they had a announced their 2nd Member of the Month, they asked if that lady had a few photos of herself that they could use. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but someone at Curves asked Barb if I would take the photos of the new Member of the Month.

I was “interested” but also terrified. I had never been asked to photograph anyone for money. My initial reaction was very hesitant. I was not a professional photographer! Photography was my hobby. Besides, in most of my photography up until this point, I waited patiently for as many people as possible to get out of the scene before I would take the picture…

After a week of discussing it with Barb, I finally agreed, but I wouldn’t do it for free. If they were willing to pay me for the on-the-job training, I would do it for $35 – and if they didn’t like the results they wouldn’t have to pay me anything.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to use Scott Kelby’s technique, and I would be using my two Canon 580EX Speedlites, and the couple of umbrellas on light stands that I had bought from B&H Photo a few years before.

As it turns out, it worked out just fine, and I had a lot of fun doing it, but I knew that I needed to learn how to do this better. I went to Amazon.com and searched for books that would explain more about the Canon 580EX II Speedlites than the Canon owner’s manual did.

I ended-up finding one specific book that significantly helped educate me in revising my technique and guiding me in acquiring a few more pieces of equipment and how to use it. That book was “Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites” by Syl Arena.

I ended up doing the portraits for the next 10 Curves Member of the Month. Some of those months had groups, or Members of the Month, which meant to me that I had to learn to photograph groups of 2, 6, and even 11 ladies in a group. I added more Speedlites, a few key modifier for shaping the light coming from those Speedlites, as well as a few larger umbrellas.

Evidently, during the year, several of the women who worked out at Curves (members that probably would never be chosen as the Member of the Month) had asked about the photos on the bulletin board – and about the photographer that had taken them.

In November 2011, this Curves facility was celebrating their 9th anniversary, and they were inviting a few local merchants to come and participate in their celebration. For some reason they asked if I would come in and take portraits.

I agreed, and I realized that if I was going to be charging a dozen or so people for taking their portraits, that legally I should also be collecting sales tax. On November 1, 2011 I went to the appropriate state government office and registered myself as an official photography business with The State of Texas. I also obtained two insurance policies; one for insuring my equipment, and another as small business general liability policy.

And so on November 16th, 2011, I photographed portraits of over a dozen individuals, couples, and families that had signed-up for a 20 minute time slot at the Curves anniversary event. During that day I took several very good portraits, and a few not-so-good portraits. I found that I really enjoyed engaging with the people that I was photographing, and that 20 minutes was really rushing things.

I let people sign-up for different levels of print package deals. No one purchased the deluxe package, a few bought the middle package, and the majority purchased the least expensive ($35) package.

During the next few weeks, I ended-up spending numerous hours retouching multiple poses of each person, and ended up printing one or two 8” x 10” photos, and multiple 6” x 4” photos of the numerous poses. I enjoyed the work, and learned a lot, but financially it didn’t make any sense. I earned more money in one day at my engineering job than I did for approximately 60 hours of effort in this endeavor.

Zoom ahead one year.

This November (2012), the same Curves facility was celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they asked me if I was interested in participating again this year. After thinking about it for over a week, I finally agreed, but said that I would need to do a few things differently this time. Randa, the owner, was quite agreeable.

And so it was, just a few weeks ago, on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th), I took the day off of work so that I could take portraits of those who has signed up for 7 of the 25-minute time slots. The evening before, Barb and I went to Curves to look at the sign-up sheet, and I was pleased to see that 5 would be of individuals, 1 was going to be a mother & daughter couple, and one was going to be a mother and her two teenage children.

That was great news to me, as I find it much easier to set up my lighting equipment for individuals and couples. I decided to “go light” and use my Speedlites instead of my Einstein studio flash units.

Here is a crappy iPhone behind the scenes (BTS) that I took in the early afternoon, during a couple hours of time that no one had signed up for.

You can see that I had put up my whale gray muslin backdrop in front of a large window, and there was a lot of light coming in from the left side. The insides of the Curves facility are brightly lit with dozens of fluorescent lights. I was using small Canon Speedlites. All of these light sources emit different spectrum (color) of light.

Here is another photo that I took from further back using the same camera that was on top of the tripod in the previous photo.

I am going to attempt to describe some of the equipment that you see in the previous two photo, and how I used that equipment, in my next blog post. (There is a piece of exercise equipment in the foreground in the photo above that is not photography related.)

So how did it go?  I’ll let you judge that later. But in the meantime, here is a photo that I talked Barb through to take a photo of me later in the afternoon, as I was making sure that I had my lights adjusted how I wanted them, about an hour before the busy evening sessions were to begin.

I know, I know…. A gray shirt with a gray background isn’t very appealing, but I didn’t have any intention of having my own portrait taken when I got dressed that morning.

Texas Longhorns vs. Wyoming Cowboys Football Game

On Sunday, September 2, 2012, Barb and I drove to northern Oklahoma to spend the week with my Dad, his brother, and his four sisters that all met in the little town of Beatrice, Nebraska (which they grew up near). I will probably make a post of that trip in a week or so. This is my explanation for why I didn’t have a new blog post last week.

The day before we left on our 780 mile (1255 km) drive, was the day of the first Texas Longhorn football game of the 2012 season. The University of Wyoming Cowboys were the visiting team.

I have had Longhorn football season tickets every year since 1984.  Every Saturday when the Texas Longhorns will be playing a football game, I go out to our front lawn to put out our spinner. Barb and I truly believe that the faster it spins, the more points the Longhorns will score in their game. :-)

The University of Texas athletic department has a policy of “no professional cameras with interchangeable lenses”, which has always prevented me from taking a “real camera” – especially a DSLR. I have taken a camera to only a handful of games over the years. The last time I took a camera to a Texas football game, it was when Ohio State University came calling on September 9, 2006 for a night game (OSU won 24-7). The camera was a 4 Megapixel Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom, and the auto white balance needed lots of color corrections later in Photoshop – due to the color of the stadium lights.

Now that I have the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, I thought that I would see if I could get into the stadium with it and a single 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 “kit” lens. I did, and here’s my story.

We usually meet our friend Greg Ringer about 1hour and 40 minutes before the game at the UT intramural fields where we get on the bus that will take us to the University of Texas campus.

The bus lets us off about 4 blocks north of the stadium, where we have to walk past all of the tailgaters.

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.

Playing with my camera, I ran a few yards ahead, and waited to snap this photo of Greg Ringer and my wife, Barb, as they caught up with me.

The Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium is just ahead, to the south. Our seats are in the upper deck on the west side. That is at the top of the white concrete portion on the right side in this photo.

Before we go into the stadium, we go to the alumni center, which is directly across the street from the stadium.

I rarely drink beer, but I almost always have a Shiner Bock before a home football game.

While drinking our beers, I raised my camera to take a photo of the west side of the stadium, and Greg decided that the silhouette of his hand needed to be in the photo….

After a beer (or two), we cross the street to enter the stadium. They inspect every single bag that people carry in (no backpacks are allowed). I decided that I might look more innocent if I simply wore my camera around my neck, rather that appear to trying to hide it in Barb’s bag with our seat cushions. The kid at the gate did give this camera and the rather long lens a very thorough look, but he never said anything to me. I acted as if I didn’t realize that he might not allow me to enter with it. I didn’t linger around while they inspected Barb’s bag. I kept moving, and didn’t give the inspector any extra time to think about my camera. (If he didn’t let me in, I would miss at least the 1st quarter of the game while I took the round-trip bus ride back our car at the intramural fields.)

We take the escalators up to the 11th floor.

When we got to the 11th floor, we walked over the wall that overlooks the campus. The sun will be setting just to the left of this photo.

We are about 15 minutes earlier than our normal arrival time – as I wanted to allocate a little time to walk around to take a few photos. We walk to the south of the upper deck (which is on the right side of this photo), and look down onto the field from the northwest corner of the stadium.

The field, and our seats (in the upper deck to the right) are already in the shade, but the seats on the east side of the stadium are still in direct sunlight – a very high contrast scene, which is difficult to photograph nicely.

I zoom my kit lens out as far as it will go, just to see how large the players will look. I don’t expect Sports Illustrated will be calling me anytime soon….

Looking across, I take a photo of the seats on the east side, and make sure that I get the part that lists the years that the Longhorns were the National Champions. The shadow of the west side stadium lights are beginning to crawl up the seats on the east side.

Since it is still nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit  (37.8 Celsius), we purchase 3 bottles of water. If you come down to the concession stand during the game, you can still see the game on the TV screen while you wait in line.

We head into the stadium, and walk up the 12 rows to our seats, where my crazy cousin Mike is already there. Mike is always early. Really early.

We are halfway up the upper deck, on the north 10 yard line. We never miss seeing a play, and even if we do, we can watch the replay on the giant TV in the south end zone. The clock under the TV is counting down the time until the game starts (26 minutes from now). The person in the center of the TV picture is Darrell Royal, who was the Longhorn football coach when they won the National Championship in 1963, 1969, and 1970. He was on a golf cart, waiting to be taken to the center of the field for the coin toss right before the start of the game.

Up until two photos ago, I had the ISO setting on the camera at 200, but now that everything of interest was in the shade, I changed it to 400 to gather one more stop of light.

I knew that the lighting was going to be changing on me a lot – from sunshine, to shade, to twilight, to stadium lights. Here is a look to the south from my seat that shows the evil stadium lights that I would have to deal with later.

Looking across the stadium, the shadow of the upper deck that I was seated in was quickly climbing up the seats on the east side.

People wear all sorts of strange items to show their support for the team.

Twenty minutes before the kick-off, the Longhorn Marching Band enters the stadium through the opening near the north end zone. Here they completely fill the end zone.

They begin to march, and quickly spread out and cover 50 yards of the field.

And then they get into the “UT emblem” formation.

When the band plays the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, we always sing out loud – and everyone else around us does too.

After the nation, the focus of attention changes to our state of Texas. We’ve got a huge state flag that they bring out and spin around before each and every game.

Next comes the school song, which is entitled “The Eyes of Texas”. The fans who are loyal to the school raise their arm and give the “Hook ’em Horns” sign while they sing the words to the song!

With less than 6 minutes before the game begins, the TV screen shows a live feed of the team as they exit the locker room area and prepare to enter the field. All of the players and the coaches swipe their fingers across the tip of one of the longhorns mounted on the wall near the door. (Does this look familiar?)

At the end of a rousing video on the giant TV, the team enters the stadium through a cloud of smoke. The first 3 players always carry the American and Texas flags.

At this point, the stadium is really rocking with excitement and the loud cheers!

The players run all the way to the north (opposite) end zone, where they kneel for a moment in prayer, if they choose to (and the vast majority of them do).

Time for the coin toss to determine which team will get the ball first, and which team will kick-off. They help Darrell Royal shuffle from the golf cart to the center of the field for the coin toss.

Play ball!  The football season is finally under way. Life is good!

As you can see, our seats are on the northern 10 yard line, but we see the entire field just fine.

Cousin Mike sits on the aisle. People walking up and down the stairs in the aisle only block our view of the extreme corner of the south end zone, but only when we are sitting down.

(Honey, Greg Ringer wanted me to take that photo. No, he double-dared me to. Really…)

Half way up the seats in the seats above the northern end zone, they list the years that Texas won the old Southwest Conference, which was dissolved when the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996.

By now the shadow of the upper deck has climbed almost to the top of the seats on the east side.

Since the light is diminishing in intensity, I change the ISO setting on the camera to 640.

There is still some indirect sunlight coming from the sky, but the evil stadium lights are contributing a larger percentage of the light available.

I cannot see the sunset occurring behind me, but the view to the east is rather pretty, so I take a photo of it.

And again.

Twenty minutes later, the sun had pretty much set, and only the evil stadium lights were providing the illumination needed by the players, and my camera. I performed a custom white balance in the camera, and then took a photo of my ColorChecker Passport.

Here is a photo of Texas kicking an extra point after a touchdown.

At this point, I had increased the ISO setting to 800.

Across the way, I noticed that the moon was rising above the seats on the east side, but it was hiding behind the clouds. Here it finally poked out for just a little while.

Half time. The first band onto the field during half time is from the visiting school – if they bring one. The University of Wyoming marching band made the 1044 mile trip (1680 km).

Then comes “The Showband of the Southwest” – The Texas Longhorn Band.

Here they are, in the center of the field.

The next three photos are a sequence from the same original formation, where they write a cursive “Texas” on the field.

When the half time show is over, it’s time for the players to return from the locker room, which of course is done to great fanfare.

After half time, I changed the ISO setting to 1000.

Here was a play where the ball was on the field directly in front of us. Two players later, the Longhorns scored another touchdown.

By 9:18 PM, the moon had made it above the clouds on the horizon. I used the electronic viewfinder to know that an Exposure Compensation of -1 1/3 stops was needed.

Here’s a photo from sometime early in the 4th quarter, when Wyoming was on offense.

After the game, which Texas won by a score of 37 – 17, the players meet at the middle of the field to shake hands.

Moments later, the players head over to the north end zone, directly in front of the students and the band, and the band proceeds to play the school song, “The Eyes of Texas” for the last time of the evening.

Whenever the Longhorns win by more than 10 points or so, many of the fans leave before the end of the game (to avoid the traffic). We almost always stay until the very end – no matter what the score. (I can only remember leaving early twice in 28 years.)

I played with my camera while on the elevator ride down, and decided that I needed to bump up the ISO to 1600, so that I could keep the shutter speed at 1/25 th of a second. I hoped that the in-body image stabilization would do its magic – and it did.

After walking the 4 blocks back to where the bus let us off, we get into the short line to board the bus for the ride back to the intramural fields. This next photo was hand held with the shutter open for 1/5 th of a second.

This last photo, of the bus before our bus, was taken with the shutter open for 1/8 th of a second. That is still remarkable to me, as I could never do that with my Canon 5D Mark II camera!

I know that this story was very long, with a LOT of photos, so I tried to keep the number of words to a minimum. I thought about splitting it into 2 or 3 separate blog posts, but decided this was a story that would be hurt by doing so. I doubt that very many people have actually made it this far, but for those of you who did, I thank you for reading my blog!