Thursday, February 26, 2009


Good news - did the first studio shoot during the day and the late afternoon daylight has some nice possibilities.

Bad news - I need to wash the window first! And maybe move the ladder that's just out of the frame (I cropped it out). And the screen's a tiny bit dodgy in places.

Actually I'm thinking there are some upstairs windows that might be better, but I wanted to see if the bench area in the studio looked natural or not. Not too bad actually.

This is a pretty good example of my iterative approach - just spend a few minutes on it, look at the full sized version and see what went wrong, and next model who's in the studio that time of day gets to sit on the same bench and we see if it got better or not. I'll also get some with the blinds down - they make a great light, but it might be harder to get a natural angle, and it will only work when it's brighter - this was actually with some cloud cover.

It's also an example of yes, I can clone out the dirt in Photoshop, and probably will keep one or two and do that, but going forward it's faster to get it right in-camera (aka "clean the damn window already.")


I just wanted to thank the folks who have taken a moment to go to the Support the Site page (link always on the bottom bar) and who clicked through to Amazon to do a little shopping. There's been a big uptick since I added that. It's still at the level of covering a new photography book now and again but every bit helps in this economy and I do appreciate it. One way to think about it is that I can only spend so much on business expenses, and the more I can lower one category (books, gear) the more I can spend on another (paying higher end models).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chugging along

Moving and hanging art today. I also need to frame or get framed some cool prints that I've traded for but didn't have room to display, including a couple of platinum prints from different photographers. The move/remodel continues to be a long, drawn out affair but the inspector's signed off on all the permit items so that's good news.

I've had some great shoots. I'll probably sit down within the next week and put out another set but it might stretch out a bit. I did have one shoot that looks like we're going to retroactively make a portrait shoot (the model got a kind of cold feet about her shots being on the Internet, but loves the work and wants a copy and I think we've worked out a deal. I'm ultimately going to get a bit screwed because they're worth more to sell but I do try to be flexible - I've had normal portrait clients who were just stunning - it happens.) Anyway, not including that one I still have three shoots banked, one scheduled tomorrow, and the outdoor stuff to process as well.

I just had yet another drawing artist or wannabe-artist ask permission to do something with my work and when I said no to part of it they called me names and said they would do it anyway. This sort of thing happens remarkably often - it's really soured me on anybody using my work as a reference. And really, why even ask if you respect the artist so little as to do something like that?

I've had so many bad experiences with that sort of thing it's crazy. Another twist is that somebody paints your work saying it's non commercial but when they need some cash, there it goes on eBay and they're selling basically a direct copy of your photo for $99. Non-commercial my ass.

But basically I don't have time to think about that stuff. I'm either moving or doing little homeowner stuff, like I just added a hook to the little bathroom off the studio so the models can hang stuff up, and there's some touchup painting where the movers gouged holes in the wall (sigh), and I have to install a new floor/baseboard in the kitchen at some point. You get the idea.

Oh, and a recession note - I've had lots of photographers asking about advice on how to sell prints because they could use some extra income. And of course this is exactly when it's slow. eBay in particular seems to be falling apart - sales there are just plain ugly and I've been checking the competition and it's not just me. In fact many of them have just stopped listing entirely. I'm actually tempted to take a break myself but I think it's better to just continue at a low level and get what sales I can.

I've noticed more wannabe models who basically are looking for a quick buck. I'm not sure this is really a good thing - I've always preferred to work with models who get my work. It also may make it harder to do print trade deals or I may switch to more mixed print/cash deals. But I imagine this summer a lot of college-aged models may not have summer jobs and will have more time to shoot. We'll see. I'm in this for the long haul and I wasn't planning on anything that requires a lot of investment (although there are always unexpected expenses if gear breaks) so it's all kind of moot as long as I can keep the starving artist thing from becoming too literal.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nice morning

Yeah, yeah, there's a bridge growing out of her head. Still, not a bad way to spend a morning - lovely beach, morning light, Golden Gate Bridge off to one side, waves crashing in. Always nice to have a lovely beach all to yourself, but having it to yourself and a lovely companion is even better...

Update: 12 hours later a major storm blew in - there are palm fronds in the yard and there aren't any palm trees on our block...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Behind the scenes

Shot one: this is with a single light. It's fairly high up, to the left and slightly behind. It's maybe a 30 degree grid (if that doesn't mean anything, think "mid sized spotlight").

Shot two: Turn off the strobe, turn on the overhead light, and just take a snapshot. It's a bit blurry because that light isn't very bright. Note all the crap in the background. It was all there when I took the first image, it just doesn't show up in the shot because no light's hitting it. The light that lit the first shot is on the black stand where I described it earlier - to the left and slightly behind. It's not the short one further back, it's the tall one where the actual strobe is out of the frame. (I use two shorter light stands and two taller ones, all c-stands.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Pictures: Lauren

After all that I couldn't stand looking at another moving box or home improvement project today so I sat down and eight hours later here's Lauren.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So slooooowww....

The remodeling/moving process continues to drag on. The good news is that the new place has DSL now (after AT&T lost the order) so I can think about moving the office stuff soon. The bedroom stuff and a few other large items I don't want to move myself are actually being moved right now (I'm sitting on the floor trying to stay out of the way). Which reminds me - I've rented a ten foot truck from Budget a few times recently and I'm really happy with them. I keep hearing U-Haul stories from Hell but Budget's been great and I hear good things about Penske too. The big thing is to check your car insurance to see if they cover a truck - it basically doubles the cost if you have to get the liability waiver.

One outdoor shoot got rained out but we'll do a studio shoot shortly. I have I think four pretty firm studio shoots scheduled. I've made basically no progress on editing and may not until the office stuff gets moved. It's unfortunate to have the rate of new material bogging down like this but this stuff all needs to happen and I do have overhead of having to make orders, package them up, etc. which is ongoing even with no new material. So the regular order flow is going fine, it's just that something has to give and it's turning out to be the editing. I could very easily have a half dozen or more shoots banked before things return to normal...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Oh, yeah, that

A couple of little things I've been meaning to post about...

One is that I'm retiring Shadows on 3/1/2009. It's currently available only direct from the printer. I think I mentioned this when I retired the two older books, so just a reminder. If I remember I'll mention it once more a couple of days before but no promises.

The other is that I fiddled with the shipping a little around a week ago and forgot to post about it. It's easier to get free shipping now, especially internationally. You can see the details over on the shipping rates page. Basically even though the exact dollar values are different, given current print pricing if you're international or domestic it's two 8x10s or one of any other kind of print. The reason I didn't just make them exactly the same has to do with books - basically I don't make much from them and they often end up requiring one of the more expensive shipping options, especially if you combine them with prints. So I'm just giving myself a little extra headroom so the combination of one 8x10 and one book will be free shipping in the US but not internationally.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Post Shoot Notes: Yosemite

As is becoming traditional I ran over to Yosemite for my birthday (actually a bit after). I got lucky and we got about five inches of very light, fine powder the first night and it was cold and clear the next day so the place looked extra special. As with the model shoots I just grabbed a couple of shots that looked nice - I'll probably go through the Monterey shots and these in the next few days and put a few up somewhere or another. I'll post a link here even if they end up on my hobby/travel/whatever site.

Friday, February 06, 2009

New Model: Mischief Vixen

I just uploaded the Mischief Vixen shots. That's the last of the shoots from the old studio.

So the plan going forward is going to be much like what I was doing around the holidays when I had a bunch of shoots batched and then did editing later. Basically I'm going to write post shoot notes when they're fresh but post-date them for some upcoming Monday using the scheduling feature. And then that will give me a deadline to get that set done by Friday. And basically there will be a set every week or two. That seemed to work pretty well.

PS Tomorrow's my birthday!
PPS Unrelated update - CNN has a nice montage of clips and photos related to the crash landing in the Hudson River combined with the air traffic control tape. I know people who went to see Sully Sullenberger arrive back in Danville (he lives not too far from here) and many thousands showed up even though they made it clear it was locals-only and they'd be blocking all parking for miles.
PPPS Coincidentally as I was driving over to Marin to see Kodo the gal I was with mentioned she'd been in Danville just recently and lots of businesses on the main drag have big signs in the window that say simply "Thanks Sully!" Is that cool or what?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My new floors

One of the things on my to do list for today's shoot was to get some shots with the floor in them. It has character but in a good way.

Speaking of which, so does Lauren. For some reason I had it in my head that she's a traveling model, which she is, but she actually just moved to San Francisco so from my perspective not so much. MM# 360189 for those of you who know what that means - hire her. Then thank me. ;-)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Well, the studio works

No real problems. Just got a pretty girl and went through some different lighting setups that I knew should work. There were some little problems (like not everything really has a place yet) but nothing unexpected. I do need to be a bit careful about some wall reflections - I'm used to having this one wall being kind of far from the shooting area and that's not the case anymore. But it's not a big deal, more something just to keep in mind.

I'll look through the images quickly tomorrow to try to spot anything unexpected, and probably do one more shakeout shoot tomorrow since there are quite a few setups that I didn't get a chance to try. Then the shoot after that I'll start exploring some new ideas I have...

A note on studio camera settings

I've noticed some confusion about what camera settings to use in the studio with strobes, even among photographers who are competent outdoor photographers. You can get decent results despite a certain amount of confusion so people can go on for a long time without really understanding this stuff. Maybe you'll get a bit more noise than normal, or a little more post production, but it takes no longer to set the settings correctly as it does to set them wrong so you might as well learn something. (Update: Somebody thought I might have been talking about them specifically in that last paragraph - I was actually talking about me. Remember, I came at this from bird photography. When I started selling prints I was able to go back to my very first outdoor nude shoot and sell prints but when I later started doing studio work, the first half dozen or so studio shoots, ugh, better forgotten. My apologies for causing anybody any angst about this, however unintentional, the goal with a lot of these technical posts is to write down the information I wish I'd known years ago or to answer something people ask me in email so next time I can just point them to the post and that's really all there is to it.)

Note here I'm talking about where all the lighting is coming from your strobes and you want to get rid of any effects from light in the room. If you're trying to mix ambient and strobes that's another article entirely.

Put the camera on manual mode.

Set the ISO to whatever setting gives the least noise. Leave it there unless you have a darn good reason. Note that on some cameras the lowest ISO is not the best. As an example, on a Canon 5D the ISO 50 setting is a bit of a kludge and ISO 100 is cleaner and has better dynamic range. That's why you have to specially enable it. It's for extreme situations, like you're shooting a waterfall and want to give the water time to move and your lens is physically incapable of stopping down any more. If you're in the studio shooting at ISO 50 on that camera it's most likely a mistake. If you're trying to make the camera less sensitive because of ambient light concerns you should be looking other settings first.

Set the time to the x-sync speed of your camera (look it up in your manual). The time doesn't affect the exposure of the strobes (because they're shorter than that anyway). You want it as high as possible so you'll cut out as much ambient light as possible. 1/200 or 1/250 is pretty common for a SLR. Some of my cameras have lenses with leaf shutters that will sync at 1/500. If you have a crappy trigger system you might need to back off on this a bit - you can tell just by taking a few shots. If your setting is too high you'll see a black bar on one side of the frame. The worse your sync problem, the bigger the bar will be. Unless your room is super bright you won't have major problems even at a lower speed, but if you find yourself wondering why your shadows are noisy or just not very shadowy you should be checking this setting first. If you're using 1/125 or even 1/60 because some instructor told you to, that's because they were choosing something that would work with the crappiest camera in the room. Look it up for your camera and stick with it.

Set the aperture to get whatever depth of field you want. If you're doing a fashion headshot and you might want something really narrow with just the eyes really sharp. I usually want the whole body sharp. Another concern might be how you do/don't want the background to be sharp. If you have no idea, set it to f/8, that's a reasonable setting for most things. It will probably leave the model pretty sharp but the background a bit less so. Then adjust according to taste.

Set the light power to match those settings. (If you're just setting some random flash setting and changing your camera to match, you're letting random chance set your depth of field. It's the wrong approach.) You would usually set your main light to read whatever aperture you set in the last step, and any fill lights with some ratio from that. If you have a flash meter it's easy - you just change the power until the meter reads the right thing. If you don't you'll need to keep taking shots and checking the histogram. Don't use the picture - it's not accurate enough to tell you much. Note that some setups really have two mains - doesn't matter - the point is get the camera where you want it and then make the lights conform.

The big exception is that you might want the light at one extreme or another as a backdoor way to control its flash duration. With some lights they actually have shorter duration at higher powers which is a little counter intuitive. So you might want to crank the power and just let the depth of field fall where it may. That's fine, as long as you know what you're getting. I'll do this sometimes with jumping models.

A secondary exception is that if your lights are underpowered or you're trying to improve recycle time you can bump up the ISO a notch or two. That's usually better than changing your depth of field, unless you really don't care.

So there you go. It's not hard, it will give you control over depth of field and remove any ambient from your shadows, and it will keep other photographers from looking at your settings and teasing you. ;-)

Update: I actually wrote the above a couple of days ago and used Blogger's scheduler feature to postpone it. I do that sometimes if I have two unrelated things I want to talk about so they don't appear on the same day. (I forgot that this would appear the same day as the new studio shots above, oops). And then invariably what happens is I read what I wrote and I've thought of something new, sigh. Anyway - another interesting case is when you have studio lights outdoors. It's kind of the worst situation where the ambient light can be very bright relative to your strobes. And basically all you can do is the same as the flash duration trick above - max out the power, hope you're around f/22 or even f/32 if your lens can handle it (if you have a really powerful light here's a case where dropping to ISO 50 would gain you something, but only if you're still out past f/22. If you change it before the light's maxed out it won't gain you anything since both the ambient and the strobe will drop by the same amount). Anyway, if you look at the set with Daniela that's what's happening. Note on the full body shot you can see the ground she's standing on, and I think in a few shots you can just make out some leaves in the background. Obviously that could just be fixed in post processing if you're totally trying to hide the background.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Belated Post Shoot Notes: Mischief Vixen

I'm making progress editing my set with Mischief Vixen. She's a traveling model who was passing through San Francisco a little while ago and I got to shoot her as my last shoot in the new studio. This picture is of her as well.

I had an outdoor shoot that didn't happen (it's being rescheduled) so I had some extra time to start going through these. I'll try to get them up Fridayish. It may very well depend on how the two shoots I've scheduled in the new studio play out..." method="post">