The latest assignment at the DPS forum was The Workplace. Since I work out of my house, I spun my wheels a while trying to think of something interesting to photograph that didn’t look like everyone else’s home office. My workstation setup is moderately large, in that I have three screens, a laptop and some iOS devices, and I began trying to capture all the screen real estate. But it was boring.
Then, I realized that one of my pictures contained a previously snapped picture from the same angle, and the idea hit me to show myself ad infinitum on the monitors. Gives the viewer a little more to look at than a bunch of hardware, although you can still get a feel for what the setup looks like. Click the thumb for a larger view.
This is actually slightly old news, but as it happened before I started this blog, I’ll post it now. Back in January, I entered a photo contest at my local library, and had the good fortune to win. There were two categories, namely “books and reading” and “Lake Forest” (the city in which I live), and I chose to address the former.
My photograph, titled The Magic of Books (which has been featured on the front page of this site for the last few months), is of my son Ryan opening a Harry Potter book with a magical glow apparently emanating from the book, and a look of surprise on his face. Actually, we made a point that he “magically” not be touching the book as it opens.
In reality, of course, the glow comes from my SB-600 speedlight, unmounted and triggered to flash remotely, sitting inside the book. It doubles as a means to prop the book open. The only other light present comes from a floor lamp across the room, and with the white balance set for that, the flash appears blue, reinforced by the choice of Ryan’s blue shirt, and contrasting with the red/gold chair and brown bookcase.
Below are a couple shots I snapped with my iPhone of the photo hanging on the wall at the library.
It was a small local contest, but still a nice little boost for the ego.
This week’s assignment at the DPS forum is marketplace, a fairly broad topic, which can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Personally, I decided to use this as an opportunity to seek out people in a marketplace, since first, people are generally compelling subjects, and second, I wanted practice photographing strangers. It sounds simple, but the act of pointing your camera at a complete stranger feels to me a bit like an invasion of privacy. Still, in a public place, there is nothing inherently wrong with this and most people don’t really mind. And in the rare case where someone does mind, you just move along.
So I steadied myself, grabbed my camera, and headed down to the farmer’s market they have across from UC Irvine every Saturday morning. I walked around a bit first, working up the courage to start shooting. As time went along, it got easier. Some of the better shots are in the gallery below.
None of these is perfect, by any means, but my favorites are Preparing the Product and Sampling the Wares. I will probably submit the former for the assignment.
I wandered a bit in the backyard the other day first thing in the morning after a night of rain and snapped the shots below. We don’t usually get a lot of rain in these parts, but this winter has been pretty wet. Well, I guess it’s spring now, but still raining off and on. Anyway, between the soft morning light, the clear, crisp, post-precipitation air, and the water dripping off everything, I felt the need to shoot something.
I especially like “Starburst”. I know you can get an effect like this with point light sources through a small aperture, but I was surprised to get this at f/5.6. I think it may have been aided by the fact that the point of light was very small and very bright.
In the search for new projects to improve my skills, I found a couple of online forums which offer periodic assignments, typically weekly. Any member of the forum can post a submission according to the week’s theme, and the entries are judged in the end by the admin or some other suitably well informed person. The winner and a few runners up are then called out for the whole community to see. The one main requirement typically is that the photo shall have been created during the week of the assignment, and not be something from your archives.
For my first assignment, I have tackled “Geometric Shapes” from the DPS forum. I began by wandering around outside in the neighborhood. The most interesting thing I found before it started to rain and I moved indoors was a bench infused with holes. I shot it close up looking straight down with large aperture, green grass blurred in the background. Definitely geometric. Nice shade of blue. Not too compelling.
Once indoors, I quickly settled on my kitchen, which between cabinets, tiles, and appliances, is full of lines and rectangles, among other things. More interestingly, however, there are a few curved, reflective surfaces, which would allow me to contrast the straight lines that are naturally present, with some distorted versions of the same. In the end, I ended up photographing the tile design behind the stove reflected off a mirror-like tea pot lid. Here is a wide angle view for context.
I went through a number of iterations on this, trying different lenses for different perspectives, moving the lighting around, changing up the depth of field, and so on. As you can see in the series of images below, the size of the tiles behind the teapot relative to the size of the handle varies quite a bit as a function of focal length. Long lens compresses everything, and makes the tiles behind seem larger. Wide angle makes the tiles look smaller.
I felt that the it was best to keep the key light almost at a right angle to the wall, as shown in the pullback shot below, with the umbrella off to the right. This best evoked the texture of the tile by creating shadows in between tiles, and is evident in the two shots in the bottom row of the above grid. Otherwise, the wall feels very flat, as it was in some of the earlier shots.
In the end, I am submitting the last shot in the grid. I like the framing, the complete focus, and the play of the different curves against the regular array of diamonds. Let me know which you like best.
I thought this TED talk was pretty cool.
My son is a Lego Maniac. We seeded his collection years ago with the substantial bucket-full of the Legos I had as a child, and he has added prodigiously to that since then. He is often found sitting on a floor surrounded by bricks of all shapes, building anything from a Jedi space ship to an Olive Garden restaurant complete with customers, tables, food, and wait staff. Nothing is too exotic or mundane for him to want to model it.
Since there are so many Legos floating around our house, I thought I would use some as still life subjects. I asked Ryan to construct a few tableaus that I could light and shoot.
Now, while Ryan’s first preference was to build some grandiose city scape, we decided a small detailed scene was going to work better. For one thing, I have a limited amount of lighting. For another, avoiding any gaps in a large Lego universe would require a large scale construction project, which is beyond the scope of what we were trying to do here in a day or two.
Most importantly, however, we were up against one of the basic rules of composition: whenever possible, move in closer. And then move in again. And again. A small scene cleanly composed has more impact as a photograph than a large jumble of activity. Furthermore, we as humans are programmed to want to watch people (even Lego people) doing things. Its just more interesting than looking at objects. And since Lego people are small, making out any action was going to require tight shots.
Since we were going for detail, I selected my longest lens, a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 zoom. It is certainly not the highest quality glass in my bag, but I wanted to really get in close, and this is the best lens I have for that.
For lighting, I wanted to try two things I had not done before. First, I created a home-made snoot out of cinefoil (heat resistant, heavy duty black aluminum foil). This allowed me to put a spot on the main focus of the first scene, a jewel thief, by creating what amounts to a long tube taped to the front of the strobe.
Ideally, I would use an actual snoot and possibly a grid, but in the absence of those tools, this DIY version works as well. Second, I wanted to play with gels, to add some tint to the light. After I took the snap above, I added a yellow filter to the spot, of which you can see the effect in the final shot below. This makes the spot feel like street lighting, which typically has a yellow tinge. By under exposing outside the spot, the scene appears to be at night, as is appropriate to the subject matter.
Notice how compressed the long lens makes everything in the frame. In the setup shot, you can see how far apart the various features are, from the street sweeper at one end to the policeman bringing up the rear, covering the span of perhaps 18 inches. But in the final shot, this all gets squashed together. Nevertheless, the spacing allows for just the robber to be in complete focus, which along with the spot, makes him the center of attention.
Also notice the laptop sitting next to me in the setup shot. Tethering for immediate feedback at full size is invaluable. The alternative is to take a bunch of shots only to discover hard-to-see focus or composition details once back at the computer. At that point, you either live with the problems (if no reshoot is possible) or in this case reconstruct the setup and iterate. With the laptop, the process is much faster as feedback is immediate.
These additional shots were made with this setup, but for various reasons, none is as strong as the one above. I do like the way the spot is apparently the output of the street light in some of these, but I much prefer the head on view to these bird’s eye view shots. Getting to Lego-man-eye-level makes this feel less like a bunch of toys that you are looking down on, and more like a scene that you are immersed in.
For the second setup, we have a woman dropping a letter into a mailbox in what appears to be a subway station. Here is the setup:
For this one, I got up off the floor. Again, I am using the long lens, the DIY snoot, and the laptop, along with my translucent umbrella on the key light to set the overall illumination. I was experimenting with backgrounds: first the blue, then the black. Finally I decided that I needed to fill the whole frame with Legos. The final shot is here:
Arriving at this point involved this series of shots. The first two are taken with ambient light, just to start to get a feel for composition. In the very first one, we were thinking about having the car blurred with motion. But we quickly decided that we needed to zoom in, making the cars irrelevant. We may come back to that for another scene. Also, early on, we were thinking outdoors, thus the blue background.
Gradually, the scene tightened up, and lighting was added, but the blue did not seem right. For one thing, there would need to be something on the horizon. For another, I wanted to use the spot, but it did not seem appropriate in sunlight. So we moved to the black background for a night shot, and again added the yellow gel to the spot and included the street light. But then there was too much dead space in the upper part of the frame.
So again back to the tight shot (without the clutter of the street light), but now the main character dropping the mail was too dark against the backdrop. Piece by piece, black objects were removed from the background. Also the spot was lowered, making it more of a rim or side light than a spot. Finally, after all that, I decided the seamless black background still looked odd, and added a tiled wall, placing the whole scene in a subway.
Okay, unlike yesterday’s video link, here is one that I actually did myself a little over a month back, before this site was up and running. Actually, it was a collaboration with my kids. My son Ryan had a school project that involved inventing a breakfast cereal according to the theme of a book he read for a book report. His submission was Clue Crunch. As extra credit, he could present a commercial to the class. We decided this would be best done in video form, so we created the following:
This was shot on my D7000 over two different days without much planning, and pieced together with Final Cut Express in another day or so. The lighting is all ambient, and not the greatest, but it gets the basic point across. Apparently, it was a big hit in the 3rd grade.
Back in mid February, I posted about a commercial shoot that I was given the opportunity to assist on. It was for a high end furniture company that builds to order, and the premise of the commercial is that they put as much passion into their design process as goes into a Tango. You can see the finished product below.
Just to be clear, this is not my work. All I did was move a few lights, run some cables, and haul some furniture around, as directed. The director was Adam Forstadt over at The Monocular Group, with Tim Burton (no, not that Tim Burton) as director of photography, along with some others. Good group of folks.