Dani is a local model I've been wanting to work with for some time. Again, it became a game of matching schedules so luckily last month we were able to find a time we were both available. This is also the first time I've used my home studio. There's still work to be done to get it full ready for clients and other work but it's getting there!
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I'm not a fan of downtown between jobs so I try to stay as busy as possible. Inevitable there's still times when I'm caught up on everything, all my e-mails and responses have been sent, all photos have been edited and delivered, and there's just nothing business related to do. It's rare, but it happens. I try to fill these times with creative or personal shoots but things come up so that's not always possible. So last week when I had a day of down time I decided to work on product photography.
Although I have no real intentions of getting into product photography, it is good practice on lighting. Light placement, ratios, spill, power, and fall off are just as, if not more so, important on products then they are people. So the considerations made to ensure the product is lit exactly how you want are easily extrapolated to lighting a person. It's also a great way to learn how a new modifier or piece of kit works, how you can apply it to get the results you want, and then having that information to inform shoots later on. There are differences, of course, between the two genres but my approach is not to have a deliverable to a client. Rather, its more of a way to practice with lighting that only takes up my time instead of that of a subjects as well. Plus my Sekonic l-308 complains less than most live subjects even when pulling double duty as a tool and a subject.
A few weeks back I accepted a job that required shooting tethered. I don't normally shoot tethered so I didn't have the cables or a place to set my laptop that would keep it secure and accessible. Now Tethertools is a company that offers solutions explicitly for this problem. The reviews for their products are always glowing, I constantly see them recommended for tethering, and all things considered they seem to be the best route to go for regular tethering. But for someone like myself it doesn't make sense to spend that sort of money for products I'd rarely use. Luckily, with a bit of searching, I found these alternatives below.
The Samson LTS50 is sturdy and fits my 15" Macbook perfectly. It comes with a sticky pad to adhere to the tabletop to keep the laptop from sliding around. I still used a long piece of velcro around the laptop and tabletop for extra peace of mind. I paid roughly $50 for it.
Oddly a long USB 3.0 cable was hard to come by at the time but Amazon does appear to stock them now. I went with a similar 15' cable in blue for a few dollars cheaper on Newegg but with Amazon's free shipping it's about equal in price. I paid around $5.
Lastly, when testing out the setup there were some instances of the USB cable become loose from my camera causing photos to drop. I used a velcro cable tie around the cable and into the neck strap loop on my camera to secure it. Worked surprisingly well and no longer had an issue with the cable coming loose. Paid roughly $5 for mine but you can get find them in any quantity it seems.
All in all, I paid around $60 for my whole tethering setup and it worked great. The stand extends and pivots for great viewing, the cable transferred D810 files in seconds without dropping any files, and everything was secure with velcro strips. For me and my needs, these offered an affordable solution that worked without issue.
This year I began to get serious about photo storage. It's not that I never worried about it in the past but with getting more and more work this year being sure my photos were safe and available became increasingly important. Having everything stored on my computer's HDD was not only unsafe but was become literally impossible due to limited disk space. My first solution was simple, store everything on an external HDD with this year's photos duplicated on the computer's HDD. I would import new photos to the computer's HDD and then copy the raw files to the external HDD. The problem with this solution is that it's still incomplete and unsafe. One power surge and both HDDs could be fried and I'd lose the entirety of my work. This is often why a 3-2-1 solution is suggested. 3-2-1 breaks down as follows:
- 3 different backups
- 2 different types of storage
- 1 offsite storage
I had 2 backups but both where of the same type, HDD, and both were onsite. Not a great start to a 3-2-1 solution. The reason cloud storage is so important is because it's not only a 3rd backup of your files but also it prevents a local disaster, such as a house fire, from completely wiping out all your files. There are any number of services to choose from for cloud storage but I decided on Amazon Cloud.
Several months ago this entire part of the blog would be a frothing at the mouth rant about the Amazon Cloud service. Sure it was a "free" unlimited cloud storage service but when I first started to use this service it was well... bad. The upload speeds were terrible, large files would halt upload for days, and managing files after upload was slow and tedious. To Amazon's credit, many of these issues seemed to have been alleviated with updates and improvements. File management after upload still isn't the greatest but it's more of an annoyance now rather than completely unusable. I've managed to upload all of my RAW files to their cloud in roughly one to two months rather than taking a month to upload a month's worth of photos . What I like about this service, that other's may not like, is that it's simple or, more accurately, rudimentary. As far as I'm aware there's no automatic backup, there's no easy restore, and there's no syncing drives. I might regret this one day but those aren't features I want. I simply want to upload folders and have them available to download if another drive fails. It's simple with no flairs and it works well in that space.
A quick aside on this service being "free." As far as I'm aware, Amazon Cloud started as a service that accompanied an Amazon Prime account. So it's "free" in so far as you're already paying for a service and this is a bonus to that service. So sure, "free." What's changed over time is that this service was "free" unlimited storage for all files. This has recently changed to being "free" unlimited storage for photos only with unlimited storage of other file types becoming a paid service. Luckily, unlimited storage for photos, currently, includes RAW file types so paying for this service in addition to paying for a Prime account hasn't become necessary.
Covering the 3s
With the 2 and 1 portion of a 3-2-1 solution covered I still wasn't happy with using both external and internal HDDs especially after switching to a laptop with a 256gb SSD. Also with switching to a laptop, portability became a new concern. Working with smart previews is great at times but they do have their limits in usefulness. Not only would an portable HDD allow me to work on the go but also act as a third backup. Since it's portable and thus always accompanying my laptop it's become my main storage device with the 4TB desktop unit above becoming more of a "deep storage" device rather than one that's used daily.
To recap, the 3 storage devices in use is a 4TB portable external HDD, a 4TB desktop external HDD, and Amazon cloud storage. There are 2 types of storage types in use, HDD and cloud. And 1 is permanently offsite. So 3-2-1 accomplished! For importing files my work flow looks something like this:
- Import RAW files using Lightroom to 4TB portable HDD
- Once conversion to DNG is complete I copy the folder to Amazon Cloud
- Beginning of the week, I merge the files from the 4TB portable HDD to the 4TB desktop HDD
- Once a week, I backup my Lightroom catalog to the cloud
I'm currently happy with this setup and confident that I'll have my files regardless of any circumstance. Would something like a drobo or a raid setup be better for deep storage? Maybe, but I think that's a beefier, not to mention pricier, solution than I currently need. But what's important is that my files are multi-duplicated, safe from local disasters, and readily accessible. One last thing to note, brand and service isn't terribly important as long as they are reliable. Seagate currently seems to be the leader in reliability but I've had very good luck with Western Digital HDD in the past. Amazon Cloud is one of many cloud services and seeing as Amazon won't be going anywhere anytime soon I feel confident in the service being available for as long as I need it. Ultimately, brand and service isn't terribly important but what is important that you actually utilize whatever devices and services you go with.
I want to start this off with making it clear that this shoot wasn't bad in any part due to the model. It was actually her patience, skill, and enthusiasm that made coming anyway with anything from this shoot possible. The sole originator or source of any and all issues was myself. With that clear, let's begin with the story of my worst shoot ever. The idea for this shoot was simple, use Christmas lights to create an interesting background and foreground to put a model in. Cool bokeh + pretty model = Success! That's about as complex as my thinking was for the shoot and, as far as ideas go, that's really as difficult as I thought it needed to be. Execution on the other hand apparently needed an entire dissertation in order to work.
Christmas lights. If you're used to dealing with these every year than you know where this is headed. There was the usual issue of tangling, strands not fully lite, and just general lack of cooperation on their part. I detangled the strands and ensured they all were working correctly before the shoot which means they still managed to tangle themselves and some of the strands now mysteriously had portions out when I began setting them up. What I didn't count on was not having enough lights as I had well over 100ft of lights which seemed plenty until I began trying to create a background and foreground. After the first couple of attempts I realized I had greatly underestimated the amount of lights I would need. I abandoned having any in the foreground and still felt the lights were too sparse in the background to give me the visual interest I wanted.
There's two routes I could have gone in correcting the lights issue. First, was just bringing more lights. I should have brought double or even quadruple the amount of lights I did but this would also double or quadruple the time spent hanging/fighting these lights (more on that later). Second and the solution I went with, layering multiple shots together in post. This is the approach I should have taken from the very beginning. Sure it requires a bit more time in post but reduces the time and hassle in hanging and dealing with Christmas lights on set.
Christmas lights. Seriously, @*$! these lights. Hanging the lights and structuring them in a way to get an interesting foreground and background is part of the planning I thought I had down. My initial thought was using three light stands in a triangle formation with the model in the middle of the triangle. With the light stand behind the model lower than the front two to fill the entirety of my frame with lights. My folly was thinking the lights would in any way agree to this plan. With light stands in place, sand bagged for support, and spring clamps for days I began stringing the lights along the stands and then restrung the lights along the stands and then again restrung the lights along the stands. Spring clamps be damned the lights would fall, sag indiscriminately, make remarks about my mother, and any tightening or straightening of the lights threatened to topple the sandbagged light stands. It was at this point I moved the lights and stands aside and shot a few portraits of the model to stop from losing my shit.
Don't work with Christmas lights? Honestly, I'm not sure what a solution would be without using 3 massive C Stands and a whole roll of gaffers tape to ensure everything was near permanent in placement. Actually, I suppose that is the solution. C Stands and rolls of gaffers tape.
These two problems, although important, really stem from a lack of proper planning on my part. Yes the Christmas lights were aggravating and weren't cooperating but ultimately I should have tested the setup first and found solutions to these issues long before the shoot. It was unprofessional and, honestly, rude for me to have the model wait while I fought with these lights and there's no excuse for that. Before this I had multiple shots that went spectacularly so hubris got in the way of me considering the plan I had in my head wouldn't hit any hiccups. Finding solutions to problems on set is a great skill to have and one I think I do well with but this should work in conjunction with, and not in place of, proper planning and testing.
I'm a sucker for bags, backpacks, and cases so I was the perfect target for Amazon last year when they ran on sale on Pelican cases. These cases are marketed as watertight, crushproof, and dustproof and I'm inclined to believe them without testing it myself. I went with the 1510 case which is a mid-sized case made to fit within FAA carry on regulations. Ironically, I've only flown twice in my 30 years so I'm not sure why it became so important that it fit within these regulations but I suppose I'm covered for future flights. I've used this case extensively over the year and I'm always surprised by the amount of gear I'm able to pack into it. This time around I was packing for photographing an event at a local restaurant. I knew the location but was unsure of the amount of room I would have to set up in and if outlets would be available. I still had two Alien Bees and another light stand in the car if needed but everything I ended up using fit within the case.
Before I unpack this, I will admit that I constantly overpack for every shoot. I'm of the mentality that it's better to have it and not need it then it is to need it and not have it. I also tend to pack redundancies for nearly every item that I think I'll need. If I'll need one speed light, I'll pack two and an extra set of batteries for each. 3860 shots per battery? I'll bring two! My blower and cleaning pen always find their way into every bag I pack and have been necessary on a shoot or two. I trust my gear and it hasn't failed me yet but I still see no reason to leave anything to chance.
Unpacking shows the amount of gear I was able to pack in this case and I probably could have fit a prime lens in if I had really needed to. While I used maybe a quarter of the gear in the picture I would still bring along the same gear on a similar shoot. For me, this is as close to a perfect case as I may be able to get. If I had to make one complaint about this, it's that the case is a bit heavy. But it's a decent trade off with the level of protection the case offers, not to mention it does have luggage wheels if I need to pull it rather than carry it.
While working on a photo for the weekly On Taking Pictures (OTP), a wonderful podcast I highly recommend, assignment my dogs decided they needed to be where I was shooting. Unfortunately, the original idea didn't work out as expected, see above, but, as luck would have it, I did get a few shots of the dogs being still. Not what I had originally intended but, admittedly, probably better than what I would have gotten anyways.
Not to be outdone, my other dog got a shot of his own the next day.
I don't count on it and I don't expect it but sometimes luck gets you the shot that technique can't.
This video has been making its rounds on the internet and not without good reason. It's great that NASA, along with other national space agencies, have taken to youtube to not only renew interest in these programs but also give a glimpse of what it is like to live in space to those who would otherwise never get to experience these things firsthand. As to how this relates to photography, well... GoPro!
An interesting thing happens when working to create a themed photograph, freedom becomes oppressive and restrictions offer the greatest opportunities to explore. This seems counterintuitive at first but makes more sense when considering direction. Imagine for a moment you stop to ask for directions to a certain restaurant and you receive the simple answer of "drive east." Vague at best but it would at least get you headed in the right direction. You again stop to ask for directions and although the answer you receive is still vague you are told which streets to take to get to the general vicinity of the restaurant. Neither answer is incorrect as, sooner or later, they would get you to your destination but with the open ended answer of "drive east" you'll spend more time worrying about actually getting to the restaurant then anything else. In contrast, if you had a more direct answer, such as how to get to the general vicinity, you'll be able to explore more around your destination without too much of a worry that you'll actually get there.
To wrangle in this metaphor, my 'restaurant' in this case was a Halloween themed photograph. This, of course, is very open ended and having a general idea of wanting 'something spooky' might have gotten me started in the right direction but it was still too broad to get me where I wanted. I knew there were a few aspects I wanted to incorporate into a photo such as using an 85mm focal length for a tight shot, including a skull or bones in a subtle manner, smoke, and using different blend modes in photoshop to better learn how to use them. To get back to our metaphor, these restrictions directed me to the general vicinity of what I wanted and I was able to play around with what I could get there without worry of not getting anything at all. In the end, I decided on the photograph below: