Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 Swissvale Mile Race and Walk

This was the third year for the Swissvale Mile, a one mile race and walk that is a fundraiser for the Swissvale Police Department's K9 unit.  I'm proud to say that we've been a sponsor since the race began.

This year the weather was very cooperative, and we had a great turnout for both the run and the walk.  The first year there was only the one mile walk, and I took a little over 100 photos.  Last year there was both a race and a walk.  Unfortunately there was some serious rain and turnout was low.  I shot around 200 photos.  This year, with the good weather, and having a second photographer (my son), we ended up with almost 700 photos.

I did have one surprise that I wasn't expecting.  After we were done, I discovered that the clocks in the two cameras were off by almost 30 seconds.  As a result, the photos aren't exactly in chronological order.  I thought they had been in sync a month earlier, and once they are set they shouldn't be off by that much.  Moral of the story:  I've added a "Check cameras clock sync" item to my preparations checklists.

The full set of images are here.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

So You're Shooting Film at a Wedding for the First Time

Come to find out, film is making a comeback, just like vinyl records.  Not just for artists and students, but for mainstream wedding and portrait photographers.  Unfortunately, digital cameras have been around long enough that some newer photographers have NEVER shot film.  Here are some tips I've put together, based on the 20 years I shot film at weddings before switching to digital in 2004.  These tips assume you're using a 35mm film body that is compatible with your digital cameras and lenses.

You have to shoot the entire roll at the same ISO.  I know, I know, this one is obvious, especially if you've shot film before you switched to digital.  But the question does get asked by newer photographers who have only shot digital.  You can't switch ISO between shots.  In the pre-digital era, I would have my "regular" film (ISO 100 or 400) in one camera body, and "high speed" (ISO 800) film loaded in a second body.  If you only have one film body, I would recommend using versatile ISO 400 film.  If there isn't enough light for ISO 400, switch to your digital camera.

Always carry a spare roll in your pocket. It is one of those Murphy's Law type of things that you will always hit the end of the roll right before something important, and always when your are not near your camera bag.  One time I totally misjudged how many shots I would take of the processional, and hit the end of the roll just as the bride was about to come down the aisle.  I immediately walked towards the back of the church, and put my hand up in front of my chest in a "stop" motion.  The bride saw it, and yanked her dad back.  Once I knew they were stopped, I pulled out the film from my pocket, dropped to my knees and changed the film in 7 seconds (and this was with a manual rewind crank and having to thread the new film leader into a slot on the takeup reel).  If I hadn't had a spare roll on me, I would have been dead.

Use your digital camera to check your shots.  Back before digital, there was a thing called Polaroid Instant Film.  A lot of photographers would have a Polaroid back for their medium-format camera or view camera.  There was even one enterprising New York camera repairman who developed a Polaroid back for the Nikon F3 pro 35mm camera.  After you took a photo, you would pull the film out of the holder by an exposed tab, and in a minute or less you had a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch print.  The Polaroids were used to check lighting setups, composition, and exposure.  It wasn't a quick process, because you would have to wait 30 to 60 seconds for each Polaroid shot to develop.  Photographers wouldn't start shooting film until they were satisfied with the Polaroids.  Today you can do the same thing with your digital camera, and it is much faster and easier.  Plus, you'll have a digital backup copy of the image, just in case. 

Always be aware of how many shots you have left on the roll.  When I switched to digital, one of the amazing things was the number of photos I could store on a single memory card.  With 35mm film, the most you will get is 36 photos per roll.  Compared to a memory card, that isn't a lot.  You need to anticipate how many shots you will shoot at the next item on the schedule, and make sure you have enough film left took cover it.  If you don't, you will likely have to change the roll before you get to the end.  There's nothing worse than taking the first three shots of the cake cutting (for example) and finding you're out of film and have to change rolls.

Don't forget to rewind the film before you open the camera back!  One big difference between film and digital is that you have to rewind the film back into the light-proof cartridge before you open the back of the camera and remove the cartridge.  Otherwise you'll ruin the film by exposing it to light.  It is one of the most sickening feelings in the world to open the camera back and see the film still on the takeup reel  (been there, done that...).  If you shut the back quickly, hopefully you will only lose the last 6 or so shots on the roll.

Know your equipment.  Film cameras are generally older than the digital cameras you are currently using.  In some ways this is good, because they will be simpler and easier to use than your digital cameras.  But they will be different.  Controls will be in different locations.  Then there is the whole issue of loading and unloading film.  Make sure you've shot some film beforehand, so you are familiar with how it is done.  You might have to change film in a hurry if you hit the end of the roll at the wrong time.  Ideally you should be able to do it in the dark...

Have a system for tracking your film.  Back in the day, Kodak plastic film canisters were opaque, so I used color-coded circular Avery labels to tell the films apart (yellow for color print film, white for B&W, red for Kodachrome, and blue for Ektachtrome).  Unused film had the label stuck on the lid.  When the film was loaded in the camera, the label was transferred to the back of the camera.  When the roll was finished, the sticker went on the bottom of the can, and I wrote a sequence number on it, so I could tell the order the rolls were shot.  Finally, all used film went in a ziplock bag to keep it together (so it didn't get lost) and separate from the fresh film.

Hope this helps.  If you have some tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments.  If I think up some more tips, there may eventually be a Part 2 to this article.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Installing Mastin Labs Presets in Windows 10

I've recently discovered the joys of Mastin Lab's film presets for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  These presets give my photos a look similar to what I had when I used to shoot film.  They're easy to use, and give great results.   The photo at left is from a couple of years ago, and re-edited in Lightroom using the Portra 400 preset.
Unfortunately, the installation instructions leave something to be desired.  The Lightroom instructions for Windows only cover Windows Vista, XP, and Windows 7 (Does anyone even USE Vista anymore?), and are lacking in some key specifics.  The Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop) instructions don't cover Windows at ALL, only the Mac.  I've used computers as long as I've had a camera (43 years), and it still took some trial and error for me to complete the install.  So as a public service to my fellow photographers, here are some step-by-step instructions.  I have the Portra presets, so you will see that in the examples.  I'm using Windows 10, and the Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, so your results may vary if you have something different.

Installing the Presets in Lightroom
  1. Once you have downloaded the presets, you should see the download listed at the bottom of your browser window.  This is a compressed file.  Double click on it to open a window showing what is in the compressed file.
  2. At the top of the window will be a button labeled "Extract All".  Click on that button, select where you want to put the decompressed files, and you will get another window showing the decompressed files.
  3. Double click on the "Mastin Labs Portra" folder, and then double click on the "LR" folder.
  4. You should see three folders listed, one each for Nikon, Canon, and Fuji.  I only shoot Nikon, so I selected (single click) the Nikon folder, and then right-clicked and selected "Copy".
  5. Start Lightroom.  Select "Edit" -> "Preferences".  In the popup window click on the "Presets" tab, and then click on the button labeled "Show Lightroom Presets Folder..."
  6. Double click on the "Lightroom" folder, and then double click on the "Develop Presets" folder.
  7. You should see a list of your develop presets.  Right-click in this window and select "Paste".  The Nikon folder we copied in Step 4 should appear on the list.
  8. Close the "Develop Presets" file window you are in.  The Lightroom "Preferences" popup window should still be open.  Click on the button in the lower left corner marked "Restart Lightroom".
That should do it!  When you go to Lightroom's Develop module you will see your Mastin Labs presets listed in the "Presets" window on the left side of the screen.

Installing the Presets in Adobe Camera RAW (Photoshop)

Note:  These first two steps are the same as for the Lightroom install.  If you have already installed the presets for Lightroom, you can skip to step 3.
  1. Once you have downloaded the presets, you should see the download listed at the bottom of your browser window.  This is a compressed file.  Double click on it to open a window showing what is in the compressed file.
  2. At the top of the window will be a button labeled "Extract All".  Click on that button, select where you want to put the decompressed files, and you will get another window showing the decompressed files.
  3. Double click on the "Mastin Labs Portra" folder, then double click on the "ACR" folder, and finally double-click on the Nikon folder.
  4. You should see the Nikon presets listed.  Click on the "Select All" button at the top of the window, and then click on the "Copy" button.
  5. On the left side of the file browser window, click on your "C:" drive.  Then double click on the"Users" folder, and double click on the folder with your user name.
  6. Double click on the "AppData" folder.  This is a hidden folder, so you might have to make it visible first.  Then double click on the "Roaming" folder, then on the "Adobe" folder, then the "CameraRaw" folder and finally the "Settings" folder.
  7. There probably won't be much in the "Settings" folder, just an "Index.dat" file.  Click on the "Paste" button at the top of the window.  Your presets should now be listed.
  8. Close the "Settings" file window you are in.
That should take care of it.  When you go in to Photoshop and try to open a RAW file, ACR will start up and your presets will be available.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I will try to answer them.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pittsburgh Photographer's Headshot Meetup

I'm a member of a Pittsburgh Photographer's Group on Facebook.  There are people with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, and skill levels there.  Members have started organizing periodic meetups, so people can meet each other face-to-face, and, of course, talk about photography.

I thought it would be interesting if instead of just talking about photography, we could meet up and actually do some photography.  To actually see how other people do things, what equipment they use, and how they go about solving problems (photography is often about overcoming limitations to make great photos).

So I decided to organize a headshot meetup event.  In the age of social media, everyone needs a good headshot.  Unfortunately it is really hard to do a good self-portrait with professional equipment.  Selfies don't count.  Besides, try holding 10 pounds of camera at arms length without shaking the camera.

I suggested the idea to the group, and enough people expressed interest to make it worth doing.   I wanted us to have the option of shooting by window light, so evenings were out of the question.  I decided to plan the meetup for a Saturday afternoon at the Panera Bread in Oakland.  Many Paneras have a meeting room you can use, and the one in Oakland has outside windows in their meeting room, so we had our windowlight.

The meetup was a great success.  We had multiple flash setups for people to try, and various reflectors and other light modifiers.  It was interesting to see how others did things, and offer suggestions to those who were new to headshots and portraiture.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Something Old, Something New, Part 2

Last year I shared an image that was taken using my oldest Nikon lens (a 1983 50mm f1.8 AI-S).  With today's post, I'm going one better.  This image was taken with the oldest lens that I still use, the exotic Sima 100mm f2 Soft Focus lens.  I purchased this lens in 1981, and it predates my 1983 switch to Nikon equipment.  Originally I used this lens with the Konica SLRs I was using at the time.  This lens uses a simple T-Mount adapter to attach to the camera, so when I switched to Nikon, I only needed to swap the Konica adapter for a Nikon one.

The Sima lens is a special-purpose soft-focus lens.  It consists of a single plastic lens element mounted at one end of a tube.  This tube slides back and forth inside a second tube that attaches to the camera.  Sliding the one tube inside the other is how the lens is focused.  The single element is why you end up with a soft image.  When I originally used the lens, I noticed my images had a distinct purple flare to them, so I glued a Cokin filer mount to the front of the lens.  A square UV filter in the holder reduces the purple tint and gives a more natural looking effect.

This isn't a lens you are going to use for every photo, but I find it a useful option for bridal portraits.  This lens gives a romantic, ethereal quality to the portraits.  Last month I was second-shooting a wedding for my friends at Platinum Fire Productions.  We had some extra time prior to the start of the ceremony, so I grabbed my soft-focus lens and asked the bride to stand by one of the large windows in the bridal room (soft window light is one of my "go-to" setups for portraits).  No need for any fill light, and no worries about the side lighting emphasizing imperfections.  A minute later I was done, with the lovely example above being one of my favorites.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bettis 2015 Holiday Party

The first year I did these photos was 1983.  I worked at Bettis at the time, the Holiday Party was something new, and they decided it would be nice if every family would get a 4x6 print of their photo with Santa.  Since I was shooting film, my biggest concern was keeping track of which photos went to which employees.  I had a whole system of name cards, roll and frame numbers, and notations to keep things straight.  I needed two assistants just to keep the paperwork straight.  That first year, Santa and I were set up in one corner of the room.  About two hours into the day, I turned around and was shocked to see that the line of families waiting to see Santa wound around all four sides of the room, and almost back to where I was standing.  In the following years we added a numbering system to the name cards, with the numbers being announced in groups of 10, so no one had to stand in line too long.

Although there was a period when I took some time off, this is easily the longest running assignment I've had.  Long enough that for some of the children I'm photographing now, I also photographed their parents 20 or 30 years ago when THEY were kids.  For the last 13 years I've shot this with digital equipment.  With the advent of online galleries and social media, we no longer supply prints, but rather provide a digital file that parents can use as they wish.  They are in an online gallery for the parent to download, so it is no longer necessary to track the individual photos.  Overall, things are much more streamlined now.

I decided to try a few new wrinkles this year.  Rather than my previous years' setup of an on-camera flash mounted on a flash bracket, I decided to have two flashes firing into 33-inch white umbrellas, using the wireless trigger mounted on the camera.  The wireless trigger was the key to making this work, because I didn't want wires dangling where a child running around might trip on them.  This setup worked like a charm.  The lighting was very even, and the resulting images were very consistent, requiring a minimal amount of exposure correction from image to image.

The second change this year was to use the EyeFi card in the camera to send images directly to my iPad, so parents could get an idea what the images looked like.  This proved to be quite popular with parents, and gave them confidence that their kids looked good in the photos (other than the occasional screaming and crying toddler, of course...).

The photos can be found HERE.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ryan and Georgia's Elopement Wedding

Over the 30-plus years that I have been photographing weddings, I've seen all sizes of weddings.  From a small group crammed into an car on the Duquesne Incline, to St. Paul's Cathedral, and everything in between.

A growing trend in weddings are  "Elopement Weddings".  Now, these aren't the "sneaking out the bedroom window in the middle of the night" elopements I used to think of.  These days, "Elopement Weddings" refer to much smaller weddings, usually held in beautiful locations.  Elopement weddings are less costly and less stressful than a standard big-budget wedding, but at the same time they are often more meaningful to the couple.  Social media also plays a role in this, because you get some great photos taken and you can share them with all your friends who weren't there.

Georgia and Ryan contacted me to shoot their elopement ceremony.  There were only going to be 5 people in attendance:  the couple, their five-year-old son, their mothers, and the officiant, Reverend Dina McGee.  I don't offer a separate "Elopement Package" (since I don't have packages), so I gave them a custom quote that met their needs.  The location that Georgia and Ryan chose is the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, in Oakdale, Pennsylvania. It only opened this year, and it is AMAZING.  I arrived early to scout out the best angles and settings.  The Lotus Pond includes a footbridge, a wooden dock, and a set of stepping stones across one end of the pond.  The photographic possibilities are endless.

Shooting an elopement ceremony is different than a regular wedding.  Other than the 20 minute ceremony, the rest of our time was spent taking photos, and I had complete freedom.  In some ways, it is much more like photographing an engagement session than a wedding.  The couple (and their incredibly cute son) were a joy to work with, and we got some great shots.