Category Archives: Still Life

Cruise Ship Folded Towel Art

It has taken me a lot longer to get into the mood to put up this post than I originally thought that it would. I finished going through the 805 photos that I took on our Bahamas Cruise vacation, and cut it down to the 475 that I decided were keepers. But then I got all tied up in researching everything and anything that an engineer “needs to know” before ordering his next computer. I finally ordered everything this afternoon, so now I can finally turn my attention back to getting this blog post up!

Here is one of the first photos that I took on that vacation. This is our cabin on the Carnival Magic – our home for the next 7 days.


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

I took that photo right after we unpacked our luggage and neatly put everything away into the storage areas that they provided within our cabin. Barb had some time to relax with her Sudoku puzzles, and I got to play with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

I only show that photo above to show the setting for the rest of the photos in this post. The rest of the photos were taken on the bed. Now get your mind out of the gutter!  This is a “family oriented” blog (or at least G-Rated)…

Living on a cruise ship is very much like living in a hotel or motel. While you are out and about during the day, people come into your room and clean the place up. They make the bed, change your towels, empty the trash, and in the evening, they always leave a folded towel on your bed.


Now they do not fold the towels that they leave on your bed the same way that you or I fold our towels. No sirree…


When I went on my first cruise, which was our honeymoon in 2000, the room steward did this same thing. I really thought that we had a really special room steward! But now that we have been on our 10th cruise in 13 years, I can only say that EVERY room steward on a cruise ship does this. It must be a mandatory requirement for their job.


I brought my Gitzo GT1542T Traveller tripod with me on this vacation, but it never left our cabin. I only used it for the photos that I took of these folded towel works of art. All of these photos required a shutter speed of between 1/4 of a second up to 1.6 seconds in duration, so the tripod was a must.


This next photo was the only one (besides the opening photo showing our cabin) that was taken during daylight hours, where diffused sunlight was coming in from the windows, backlighting my subject.


The room steward left this one for us in the afternoon, while we were Segway riding along the beach in Nassau, Bahamas. Later that evening, he left this one for us.


The main consideration to be taken into account when photographing white towels is to remember to override the camera’s light meter, and overexpose from what it suggests. I added +2/3 to +1 stop of exposure. When I used Aperture Priority mode, I just added some Exposure Compensation. When I used Manual mode, I just “overexposed” from what the meter indicated.


If I didn’t add the extra exposure, the towels would have turned out gray in the photos. If I had added too much exposure, the entire white towel would have turned completely white, and you would not be able to see the texture in the towel.

I wanted to share these photos with you, but didn’t want to spend the hours to write up a big story to go along with them. So, I’m keeping this short and sweet!


Now when will that UPS delivery guy get here with my new computer?

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.


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

I 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.

Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year again, when on October 31st some people in the United States celebrate a silly holiday known as Halloween.

Well, that’s not entirely true. It seems what they are really celebrating is trick-or-treating.

At any rate, Barb and I don’t do anything to celebrate this holiday, except to be home from about 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM and hand out to the neighborhood kids that ring our doorbell. We don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters; some years it can be as high as 120, but lately it’s been dwindling down to between 50 and 70 kids.

The photo above was taken on October 20th, an overcast Saturday morning here in Austin. I was out on my normal Saturday morning walk, and had my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with me. I was curious as to what types of flowers were still out after mid-October, and that’s why I had my camera. It turns out that there a surprising number of different plants that are still producing flowers at that time of year here. I’ll probably show many of them in a post next weekend. I’m getting sort of tired of photographing flowers right now (but I’ll never tired of their beauty). I think it may be about time to head back downtown Austin for another of my solo photowalks.

A Book of Flowers

For the last four weeks, I have been attending one of the Informal Classes at the University of Texas in the evenings. The course is titled “Publishing Your Photography”, and the instructor is Brian Loflin. Brian is also the president of the Austin Shutterbug Club that I have been a member of for over 5 years now. Brian has been a great teaching influence on me, as I have taken at least 5 or 6 of his classes over the years. Here is a link to Brian’s blog.

This Wednesday evening is our last class of this course. Our exercise for this last class is to create a book of our images, using the free BookSmart software that we downloaded from

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.

For last week’s assignment to the class, we had to write a proposal for our book. Here’s what I submitted:

Proposal for a Blurb Photo Book, by Gregg Mack.

October 8, 2012

For our assignment for the class “Publishing Your Photography”, I propose to put together and publish a small coffee table style of photo book. This book would contain 20 photo of close-up photos of plants and flowers that I encountered during my frequent walks around my neighborhood, during the summer of 2012.

My intent would be to have approximately 35 to 40 of the books printed, where my wife and I would hand them out as Christmas presents to our family and close friends. I may even use a few of them as promotional material for my future photography business.

The book would be mostly photos, with minimal captions. This is not a scientific study of plants, and so the captions will be more of what thoughts I may have been thinking, or what photographic technique that I was attempting to use, when I took the photo. No attempt will be made to accurately identify the plant or flower.

Now to be honest, I am not certain that I will follow-through with what I stated as my intent in the 2nd paragraph. I usually produce a calendar that contains images with an Austin theme. But I had to come up with something for my class assignment. 🙂

All of the photos contained in this blog post have been shown in some of my previous blog posts. I am including them again here, simply because they are the photos that I have selected to put into my Blurb book.

All of the photos in this blog post were taken by me, with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. All of these photos were taken as I walked around my neighborhood, and I did not bring a tripod with me on these walks. For the photos above, I used the 45mm f/1.8 lens, and I tried to keep the aperture open to create a shallow depth of field. The smallest aperture that I used in the above photos was the one with the two cacti in it; and the aperture was f/3.2. All of the other 6 photos used f/1.8 to f/2.8, and yes that does blur the objects in the background quite nicely.

All of the remaining photos were taken while using the 12-50mm f/3.5 – 6.3 lens. The aperture on that lens is capable of opening up to f/3.5, but the widest aperture that I used on all of these next photos was f/6.0; and that is what I used for these very next two photos.

As you can see, even a lens aperture of f/6.0 can result in a very shallow depth of field, when the object is fairly close to the lens.

I do not know what the plant above is named, so I just refer to them as Dr. Seuss Plants.

This next plant is called the Pride of Barbados, and they seem to grow exceptionally well here in the central Texas climate.

Now I am not a botanist, or even all that interested in studying plants. As I result, I really do not know what variety of plants that are shown in the majority of these photos.

I do know that the following yellow flower is from a Prickly Pear Cactus that was just blooming here in mid-August.

I think this next cactus is a Barrel Cactus, but I should probably ask my instructor, Brian Loflin, as he and his wife Shirley have published a book on Texas Cacti.

For this next little purple flower, I changed my position so that the white limestone landscaping brick was in the background.

Here’s a nice red one, with a few strands of a spider web attached to it.

I don’t know what these massive yellow flowering bushes are, but they are still in full bloom 2 months later in mid-October.

The blue color in the background of this next photo is a neighbor’s swimming pool. Our neighborhood is rather hilly, so I was able to see over their 7 foot high fence, while I was standing on the sidewalk! (There is only a 4 or 5 foot area where that is possible.)

These next little white flowers were hard to capture, as they were swaying freely in the gentle breeze. Even my shutter speed of 1/320 of a second didn’t quite eliminate all of the motion blur.

I’m pretty sure that these next red flowers are from an Oleander bush. They are popular landscaping plants here, as the deer will not eat them.

And finally back to the Dr. Seuss plants right outside of our front door.

I’ve got all of these photos gathered up and put into a folder on the desktop of my laptop, and ready to take to my class this Wednesday evening. If the book turns out nice, I may actually order a  few.

If you have actually read all the way down to here, then I simply want to thank you for stopping by and looking at my photos!

A Gardening Shot with LED Lights

This week’s Project 52 assignment was to Welcome Spring with A Gardening Shot – with a focus on gardening. Supposedly the client is simply looking for something to catch the eye. They are a small hardware store and the image is for their “Get Ready for Spring” store promotion.

I wanted to bring a LOT of color to my gardening shot. I envisioned a “wall” of flowers behind some hand tools and some colorful seed packets.

So after work, I headed to my local nursery and cruised around looking for the most colorful (and somewhat color coordinated) flowers, hand tools and seed packets that I could find. My total cost was $56, which was well under the client’s budget of $1100.

I knew that I would have to shoot them that evening, as I had chosen the flowers for the way they looked right then, and didn’t want to risk any of them wilting over the next day or two. Although there was still more than 2 hours of daylight remaining, it was very windy, and I wanted the flowers to remain still while I photographed them.

So it was into the garage I went and simply arranged the items pretty much how I had envisioned them onto a folding table. Since I was going all-out for color, I brought out my blue backdrop cloth, instead of my boring gray one. For lighting, it occurred to me that this might be a perfect opportunity to try out the new Fotodiox Pro LED 312AS panels that Kirk Tuck had recommended.

These continuous lights (as opposed to “flash” lights) have a knob to adjust the color of the light being output from 5600K (color of daylight) down to 2300K (color of a tungsten lamp). I set the knob to the 5600K setting, and set the white balance in my camera to 5600K.

Notice the strong magenta color cast in the gray card (by definition, gray is without any color cast).  Something wasn’t right!

In his LED Lighting Book, Kirk had cautioned about the “green spike” in the color spectrum that these LED lights would produce, so I was very careful to perform a custom white balance in the camera. After making that adjustment in the camera, I took this photo, and you can see that the camera completely neutralized the magenta color cast!

Now I admit that I’m not sure why the color cast was magenta, and not green.  I know that the two colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. Kirk had to use “minus green” gels (which are magenta in color) over the face of his LED lights in order to neutralize the “green spike”. I can understand that concept, but I don’t understand why when the light was set to 5600K and the camera white balance was set to 5600K, the resulting initial image had a strong magenta color cast. (At any rate, I have ordered some 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and Full MinusGreen gels made by Rosco to put over these lights in the future.)

OK, so I can’t explain the science, but I was glad to see that setting a custom white balance in the camera corrected it. Now on to my Project 52 assignment!

This first photo is very much how I had originally envisioned it.

It was certainly colorful, and would catch your eye at the hardware store, but I thought it was “too busy”.  To simplify it, I removed the gloves and the sprinkler head, and moved in a little closer.

That was better (to me), so I knew that my lighting was getting close to its final arrangement and power levels, so I took a photo with my ColorChecker Passport in it. Using this photo later in post processing, using software from X-Rite, I could create a custom “camera calibration” for my camera using these LED lights at this 5600K color setting.

The photo looked better but the angle didn’t seem right, so I got a little lower and took this one, which I liked the best (and it’s the same at the first photo in this post).

And finally, here is my set-up shot, which shows the 3 LED panels that I used.  Note that the top one didn’t have a fabric diffusion panel. It was there to light up the tops of the three colorful flowers in the back. It was positioned close to them, using a boom, and the power was turned way down in relationship to the other two lights.