Monday, January 28, 2019

Buy Cheap, Get Cheap

"There Is Hardly Anything That A Person Can't Make A Little Worse..." and sell a little cheaper. While I prefer to call myself "thrifty", there are some purchases that you shouldn't cut corners on. This inexpensive case is an example. It was manufactured in China and marketed through a company with the trade name of "Norazza". I bought it for a "garage" sale price because I needed something that moment to protect a small piece of equipment.  Once the crisis was over, I never bothered to replace it with one of my more expensive, "named brand" carrying pouches.

On the morning of a outdoor assignment, I decided to use it to carry my Fuji X70 on my belt. As luck would have it, the stitching gave way while I  was moving from one location to another. Luckily for me the padding was enough to protect the camera when it went airborne. The camera appears to be fine (I used it to make this photo), and I'll be removing the beltloop from the case to prevent me from making the same mistake twice.

Just remember that some items are "supply" items, things that you don't expect to last very long. Things like color correction gels should be consider supplies, as they will be frequently replaced as they get wrinkled or torn. But carrying cases should be considered "durables", as they are expected to last longer than a single accounting period. My main camera bag is made by Domke, a manufacturer with a solid reputation for durability and utility. My J1 carries 2 DSLR bodies, three  2.8 zoom lenses, and two or three speedlights, plus spare batteries, gels, cables, and other little stuff. The Domke and the full Nikon kit isn't used much since I've started carrying a lighter and smaller Fuji kit housed in a Think Tank bag (X100 system) or a Vanguard Veo 37 for the X-T kit. All are well made bags, and while each can be a little quirky, I have absolute faith that my equipment will be well protected and readily available.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Transitions In Lighting - More on the Godox AD200

Godox AD200 flash with bare bulb attached
My retirement has spurred some changes in how I look at my equipment. Since I no longer have a convenient base of operations in San Mateo, I have to be more careful about the portability of my lighting equipment, as I must now schlep light stands, flashes, and other bulky accessories all the way from San Francisco. And with the dwindling number of full service camera stores, the possibility of purchasing equipment that I might have forgotten is no longer an option. Once, I made a frantic phone call to a camera store where I was a regular customer, asking if they would un-box and check a Nikon D90 body and a Nikon SB-900 speedlight, and to be prepared to swipe my credit card the moment I walked in the door. This they did, and in less time than it takes to describe the transaction, I was on my way, and an hour later, using the camera and flash. That was cutting it close.

Today, I can't rely on being able to acquire needed equipment on such short notice, so I force myself to check, then double check, my assembled kit, especially after this near disaster. And above all, always have a backup for when the impossible happens, as it did here.

1/180 second F 8.0, ISO 400  18-55mm F 2.8- 4.0 set to 18mm. Distance about 10 feet.
Click here for details
I used a Godox AD200 flash for this shot. I had installed the accessory round head, which has a small, parabolic reflector protected by a frosted translucent cover. I could have used the OEM bar bulb head (shown at the top of the post) and clamped a Quantum parabolic reflector to it, but it makes for a bulky and somewhat fragile arrangement. When installed, this head is sturdy enough to ride around in an equipment bag providing shares the ride with smooth, non-metallic accessories.

For this group host, the Godox is mounted in an umbrella adapter mounted on a light stand extended to 9 feet. I am standing directly below the flash, essentially hugging the stand to insure that my shadow doesn't appear in the photo.

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations: When it comes to making a shot like this, one's greatest challenge is time.  It's easy to fall into the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" funk after the fact, but every group situation is a little different, so you play the shot where it landed and move on to the next hole. In this case, the enemy is time. I had about five minutes to get the light set up before I started arranging my subjects into an acceptable composition because I had to make a group photo before I could start setting up the lights. And when you have twenty families anxious to take their kids home, every minute is precious. 

This session went smoothly because I had a workable plan in place.

  • Step #1: Announce Where And When: I made sure that the MC announced at both the beginning and the end of the presentation that a photo of the entire group will be made in the courtyard.  This put everybody on notice to stick around afterward. I also tell them to make sure that each child has their certificate with them for the photo.
  • Step #2: Announce Time Schedule: When most of the parents are in the courtyard, I explain that once everybody is posed, they will have five minutes to make their photos before I make mine. This assures them that they will get to photograph their munchkins after I've had a chance to properly arrange them
  • Step #3: Explain The Rules: I make it a point that there is to be no photography once I start shooting. I explain that the moment Mom or Dad raises a camera or cell phone,  the kids will instinctively look towards them and I let them know they their kid may be the only one looking the wrong way when the final shot is made.
  • Step #4: Give Them Their Five Minutes: When everything is arranged, step back an announce that their five minutes starts now. This will give you a chance to catch your breath, or plan for any last minute posing changes. I also make it a point to not make any photos myself.
  • Step #5: Start Photographing The Kids: This is actually the easy part. Since my expectation were made clear a the beginning, everybody knows that I'll be the center of attention of the next few minutes. I try to shoot a couple of shots on the off chance that somebody blinks. I also check to be sure that all of the certificates are visible.

  • Step #6: Photographing The Certificates: When using higher resolution cameras, it is often possible to actually read the names directly from the final image. But to be sure, I make closeups of small groups of kids so the  names are  more easily read. I make it a point to tell them to cover their faces for the photo, which adds to the silliness of the request, but pretty much insures their cooperation. Also, you need to be sure that you overlap the photos to make sure that nobody is left out. Finally, get a roster of all the subjects, just in case.
If you're wondering about the dark area near the lower left hand corner, that's my shadow being cast on my subjects. Remember that the closer you get, the greater the chance this sort of thing will happen, another reason to using a tall light stand, and hug it when my make the photo.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Too Have Fallen For Emily Blunt

Yeah, yeah, Mary Poppins Returns. Big Deal. Just a re-make of an old Disney flick.

Hathaway (left) with Blunt. Click here to see source
I wasn't an Emily Blunt fan, since I only knew her as the snarky office assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, a film in which I was actually rooting for the Anne Hathaway character. Come to think of it, I don't remember being enchanted with the original Mary Poppins, although I totally adore Julie Andrews, more for her performance of the Jewish Wedding Song in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Did I mention I like Klesmer music?

This posting is about some really magical things. From a photographic standpoint, the promotional image manages to distill the most essential elements of a themed portrait, one that manages to isolate the important visual elements of Ms. Blunt's characterization of the iconic nanny. By framing the face with the brim of  a Poppin-esque hat, the viewer's attention is drawn to a single eye,  while the red color accentuates her mischievous half-smile. This portrait is a beautiful distillation of the basic facial features that evoke the whimsical nature of the character and the film.

From an emotional standpoint, the music of the 2018 release plays proper homage to the songs of the 1964 original. However, the music and lyrics are, in my opinion, written to a much higher level of sophistication, so much so that one song in particular, "The Place Where Lost Things Go" reaches deep to where the emptiness left by the loss of a loved one hides. Performed as a lullaby, it served to frame one's sorrow as a void to be filled by one's treasured memories, presented in a way that a child might understand.

I've listened to the song enough times to not tear up as I try to understand why life seems to have stopped giving me things, and started taking them away. Take some time to hear the song all the way through, and maybe it will provide some comfort in dealing with the changes you didn't choose to make.