Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nikon 85mm 1.4G from Penn Camera

Street Mural Buenos Aires

I just got back from Buenos Aires. Over the next week I will sort through my images and put some of the best ones on the site vigorotaku.com.

Just prior to leaving I decided to check with the trusted local camera shop here in DC (Penn Camera) to see if they had by any odd chance a Nikon 85mm 1.4G in stock. I got lucky earlier in the year with a 24mm 1.4G that they happened to by some miracle have in. Well as luck would have it, they were able to locate a lens that had been designated for someone who did not come in to pick it up. Two hours prior to leaving for Buenos Aires, I pulled into the Rockville store and walked out with an 85mm 1.4G. I can't get that lens anywhere, but Penn Camera delivers yet again.

The results that I have gotten from this thing are nothing short of amazing. I would almost give up my Nikon 200mm 2.0. (Just kidding. That one is even more amazing. One of these days I will put up my Istanbul pictures where I used that to capture a traditional music and dancing performance without flash in the dark.)

The above picture is of a street mural. There is a lot of high end graffiti in Buenos Aires.

The below picture was taken in almost total darkness of two tango dancers in motion. Sure this one was at f/4, but look at the color rendition and the sharpness in low light. I was amazed that it focused so well in low light without the red assist light on a flash. (Another great trick. You put an SB-900 on top of the camera, turn it on, but hold down the flash fcn button on the camera which has been programmed to cut off the flash. What you get is the red low light illuminator, but the flash does not fire.)

Tango Dancers, Buenos Aires

Monday, November 15, 2010

Polaroid is no longer in business

This is a fact. Unfortunately unscrupulous vendors are using this to jack up prices on Polaroid instant film, particularly Polaroid 600 film and Polaroid 600 cameras.

Asking prices for the camera on Amazon are:

+ $5.49shipping

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering.

And for the film on Amazon are:

+ $4.99shipping

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering.

You may ask why I am bringing this up.

Well a good friend of mine had the idea that for her wedding she would use an old Polaroid 600 camera at the guestbook station. The idea was that the guests could take their pictures with the Polaroid, stick the photos to the book, and write a short message.

Well, she tested some old film that she had been loaned, which was from 2004, but was well cared for, and it worked. The color wasn't perfect, but it worked. So she decided to order some "new" film on Amazon from "mgiwarehouse". You can see the prices that mgiwarehouse charges for this film and the camera.  She decided to buy a 3-Pack of film from mgiwarehouse at the same prices shown above. That would make it roughly $50 for a pack of 10.

The wedding night came around and she set up the book. The first few pictures from the pack of film she  was given worked fine. Then came the mgiwarehouse film. Not one, not two, but all 3 packs of film failed. The pictures were orange blobs and leaked in the camera. The batteries went dead after 2-3 shots. There she was, on her wedding night, the day she waited for with anticipation for all of her life, and there would be no pictures for the guest book. She was out over $150 dollars, wasted on an unscrupulous vendor who took advantage of her.

Unfortunately, I was not there to examine the base of the packs when they were opened, or it would have been immediately obvious to me that the packages had been recycled. The battery contacts were scratched, mashed in, and clearly used an recharged. There is no telling how old the film was and the foil wrapping appeared to have been reglued.

When she tried to ask for some form of refund or compensation, she received a message stating that it was her fault for buying "expired film".  I am hoping to get the exact response to post here, but what I have for now is that "We have clearly specified that films are expired, plus Polaroid is no longer in business". There was to be no refund of any type. mgiwarehouse said that it was all her fault.

The above listings are a direct copy and paste from Amazon's site this evening! The listing clearly states "New"!

I will post some pics of the packs, once I get my hands on them, to show you what I saw when she quickly showed them to me.

Lets put an end to this now so that no one else has to experience this on their wedding night!

It only takes a minute to go on Amazon and write a review. There are already a few, but somehow they have managed to get buried.

Since I always try to provide a solution, if you want an instant film camera, look at the new Polaroid 300. It is from the "The New Polaroid."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Best way to learn Photography

I am often asked what the best way is to learn photography. Since it is such a broad topic I figured that I would touch on how I learned photography and cover some of the people or things that I have learned from.

For today I want to cover just a few examples of some of the videos, books and courses that I am glad that I watched, read, or attended over the years. I am not selling anything, I just feel that it is better for you to learn from what I learned, than to have me regurgitate what someone else said. I might end up being a lot less eloquent. I will try to mention only the ones that had the greatest impact on me or that I found provided particularly good coverage of a certain topic.

First, for portrait lighting I really got a lot from the Best of Dean Collins. It is a great video set where Dean explains how to do lighting. It may look a bit dated, but it is an excellent set of videos to learn from. Many other videos just copy what Dean did back in the 80's. Dean's videos are now available for free on Youtube. Click here:  Best of Dean Collins

I have to say that I would not have benefited as much from the videos or in general if it were not for Marty Kaplan (http://www.kaplanphotography.com/).  Marty teaches a great set of courses with Smithsonian.
Smithsonian Resident Associate - Photography is the link to all of the Smithsonian photo classes. This January Marty is teaching The Joy of Photography which is a basic course and Introduction to Studio Portraiture which covers studio lighting. I learned a lot from Marty's courses. You get a lot of experience over the course of 1 night a week for 8 weeks. The price is also the best I've seen. If you are in DC take advantage of it!

For Photoshop, in my opinion, you can't beat Deke McClelland. His set of Photoshop training from Basic to Mastery is excellent. It is available from Lynda.com here. I've watched many a Photoshop tutorial. I just wish that I had seen Deke's stuff sooner.

I also got some good tips from a quick skim of Scott Kelby's "The Digital Photography Book." There are three volumes full of tips. I must admit that I just skimmed them in Borders (read them several times really).  The tips were great, I was just too cheap to buy them at the time.

There are also "Hands on Guide to Creative Lighting" with Bob Krist and Joe McNally is also very good if you use the Nikon system.

That's all for now.

Update: I have to add Taz Tally's tutorial on Photoshop for Printing. This tutorial is also very informative. Sections 14,17,18 on using the grey target for color balance in Photoshop are the best that I have seen. Also Chris Orwig did a great job with his latest Adobe Camera Raw set of tutorials.

Update: Due to a request I decided to quickly write up the Best way to learn Wedding Photography with some quick info on some of the books and videos that I learned from.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Best Camera Mount - Manfrotto RC2 Mounts and 200PL-14

I wanted to explain the mounts I use as well as how and why I use them. Many people swear by the Arca-Swiss style camera mounts, but I prefer the Manfrotto RC2 mount with the 200PL-14 plate. On speaking with some of the guys at Penn Camera, they tend to agree. The Arca-Swiss mounts may be durable and precise, but for me they are too slow and require me to look at the mount rather than just slapping the lens or camera on the mount an go. This ability to slap and go has served me well over the years, especially with my 400mm f/2.8.

With the 400mm slung on my back with the camera already on it, I have climbed ladders and run across the ground with my monopod in my hand. I first extend the monopod, which has a flat mounted 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter with 200PL-14 Plate on top, I then sling the 400mm off my shoulder with my right hand on the mount. With my left hand on the grip of the monopod and my right on the lens mount below the lens with my right arm holding up the lens and camera on the top of the outside of my arm, I rock the 200PL-14 plate on the base of the lens mount into place onto the 323 RC2 mount. It is the fastest means that I have come up with to quickly and securely attach the 400mm to a monopod. I use the flat 323 RC2 and not a ball head because invariably I found that the ball head would be in a precarious position when it came time to slap it down. Since I only have two hands, I prefer consistency and precision to a little extra flexibility.

Above, I have pictured the 200PL-14 Rectangular Quick Release Plate with 1/4"-20 Screw mounting bracket and the 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead . I will use these two to show how I setup my mounting and show how quickly and easily the plates snap into place.

Notice on the 200PL-14 the labels LENS and the arrows. Well these indicate which direction the lens should be pointed relative to the plate. I actually use the plates backwards, with the camera in the direction of the arrow and the lens extending in the opposite direction of the arrow. The front element of the lens (where the lens shade is) would then be in the opposite direction of the arrow. I do this so that I can get the back lip on the base of the plate (the smaller lip edge) to slide into place as I rock the plate and snap it down to the mount.

In the sequence of photos below I show how this is done with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens, minus the camera. Notice how I fit the base edge into the back of the plate and just rock the lens forward. As the lens rocks forward it presses down on the brass pin on the mount, causing the locking latch to snap into place. With my left hand I can then check the latch, or I can just roll my right index finger around to check it as well. That is all there is too it.

To remove the lens, I just use the thumb on my left hand to press forward on the locking latch an the lens comes right off into my left hand. (Note: In the pictures below I used my left had to hold the lens because I was taking the picture with my right.) Once the lens is removed, I can easily fold out the ring on the bottom and connect it to my RS-4 Camera Strap by Black Rapid. The strap has a clasp on the end that the ring can quickly attach to. (I don't do this with the 400mm. I keep the strap that came with it from Nikon securely attached to it at all times. No one wants to drop that thing with a camera attached. I liken it to dropping a new car off a cliff.)

These mounts have served me well over the years and I hope that Manfrotto/Bogen will continue to make them long into the future.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

RadioPoppers : How I use them

PX Transmitter
PX Receiver

I would like to go over what RadioPoppers are as well as how and why I use them.

RadioPoppers are Radio Frequency(RF) transmitters that convert the flash signals sent from the master flash into radio signals which are then transmitted to the receivers which then convert the radio signals back to infrared signals so that the remote flashes can interpret the commands from the master flash in the same way they would using the native Nikon CLS system or Canon E-TTL. For the nikon CLS system you can look at http://www.nikoncls.com/ or any of the information from Nikon.

In a small space and ideal conditions I can use the built in Nikon CLS system, which is based on signals sent out from the master flash during its pre-flash sequence and then received by the remote flashes prior to the full flash output. The Nikon CLS will automatically tune the flash level to provide the correct exposure. I say ideal because the remote flashes have to have a direct line of sight to the master flash to receive the signals. This requires placing the remote flashes in a way that their receive window (located on the right side on the SB-900 if facing the rear of the flash) is facing the master flash. At times this can be quite difficult or impossible and the range is very limited.

This is where the RadioPoppers come in. Converting the light signals to radio signals allows them to be transmitted longer distances and through walls and other objects. I have used these things several hundred yards away and inside of metal buildings without a problem. Recently I had to light the inside of a metal building so that the inside and the piece of test equipment was lit as well as the test subjects over a 200 yard area outside of the building in bright sunlight. The RadioPopper PX transmitter and receivers were able to cover the distance and the inside of a solid metal building (The rolling door was open) from 200 yards away.

With RadioPoppers I am able to put my SB-900's any place I want on location, as well as use any type of light modifier without having to worry about line of sight to the receiver window.

The question comes up " What about Pocket Wizards?" Well, they work well too. I use Pocket Wizards as a trigger for my camera. What I can't do with the Pocket Wizards is adjust the remote flashes from the master flash. There are ways to do this with the newer Pocket Wizard MultiMax triggers on specific systems.  RadioPoppers allow me to use my SB-900 flashes in iTTL or any other mode as designed by Nikon. The Pocket Wizard system requires me to go to each SB-900 and set them manually. Since I swap out cameras, flash positions and groups many times during a shoot, the ability to control everything from the master flash is essential. When used properly, using the RadioPoppers allows me to use the Nikon CLS system seamlessly as designed. Currently there is no other system that does this.

The next question is "What about studio flashes?"  Now RadioPoppers has the JrX system that works with the PX system. I have not tried these yet, but if they work anywhere near as well as the PX system, I am sure that I will love those as well.

I frequently travel light, so I carry 7 SB-900's with me in a backpack with 3 umbrellas, 3 Lastolite Triflash brackets, and 3 Manfrotto 5001b light stands. It all fits in a Tamrac Expedition 8x backpack. I also have a Lastolite Trigrip and a bunch of other cables, etc.  For me RadioPoppers provide the best solution by far.

One serious advantage of the RadioPopper PX system is the ability to use the High Speed Sync.  This allows the flashes to sync with the camera at over the usual 1/250th of a second. With High Speed Sync I can set the speed of the flash sync up to 1/8000th of a second. This allows me to absolutely freeze subjects in a well lit area. At a slower sync speed there would be trails from subject motion. More than that, I can literally turn night into day in my photos if I need to. I can set the shutter speed so high that all of the ambient light, even in bright sunlight has no effect on the photo. The flash becomes the only source of light in the photo. For this type of lighting High Speed Sync is the only option, and for the Nikon CLS system that I use RadioPoppers are the only way to do this at any distance outside of the range of the Nikon optical system.  With this setup, I have taken many photos with a 400mm lens over 200 yards away from the subject and the flashes at speeds up to 1/8000th of a second. This works well for animals in the wild and for and high speed tests that require a safe distance.

How I set up the RadioPoppers:

RadioPoppers PX Receiver and SB-900

 While RadioPoppers provides nice mounting brackets for the PX receiver and transmitter, I prefer to use velcro and gaffers tape to secure the receivers and rubber bands for the transmitter. This method allows me to keep my flashes conveniently packed in my old Nikon bag and pull them out ready to go at a moment's notice. I can also put them on any one of the hotshoe mounts or light modifiers that I want.

Above and to the left I show the RadioPoppers PX Receiver on an SB-900. The mount works quite well, but I prefer to use the setup below.

The gaffers tape that I used is typical for how I normally use the RadioPoppers. It may not look pretty, but it works like a charm. The gaffers tape serves to block out any stray light from coming in between the light output port on the RadioPopper PX receiver and the light sensor window on the SB-900.

The Transmitter, as I said, I rubber band to the master flash. I leave rubber bands on my flashes almost all of the time. I use them to hold light modifiers in place. They have also saved me a cracked flash once or twice when I dropped one on the ground. (Pure luck really.)

Below is a picture on my bag with 5 flashes stacked inside. They fit in there with the Radio Poppers attached and ready to go.

I am not sure that the people at RadioPoppers would like the way some of their stuff looks when I use it, but I am sure that no one will argue with the results. These things have saved me time and allowed me to accomplish feats that would have been impossible using any other system.

Update: You can buy the Radio Popper PX system that I am referring to at Radio Popper 

Update: I took a look at Gavin Seim's take on Radio Poppers and Pocket Wizards and I have to agree with him. It is good to keep in mind that it is not the brand, but the product that matters.  Find the product that works well for you and go with that. (Sony made great reel-to-reel tape recorders, and the walkmans and sports walkman, but their stereos were sub-par. A company may make a few good products, but that does not make every product great. Sony does have some really good engineers and lately they are a brand to look out for with innovations in the DSLR arena.)

Update: Due to continued questions on radiopoppers px versus the pocketwizard flex system here are two links:
TriCoast Photography
Pro Photo Show

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ebay Photo Setup

People have often asked me how I take Ebay photos. This is the classic question of how to cheaply do what is somewhere between commercial product and copy stand work.

The simple setup above is what I use most of the time. It is cheap, quick and works like a charm. I use 4 pieces of white foamcore board to make up the 3 walls and the base. It is the cheap kind that you can get from the local craft store in the USA for somewhere between $1-4 a sheet, depending on where you go. To get the curved background, I drop in a piece of white posterboard. It bends pretty well and reflects nicely. I hold the posterboard in place with some rolled tape on the back of the posterboard.

For the lighting, I use one light overhead. This is frequently a SB-900 flash set at TTL +1 stop, shooting through a 24x24" Lastolite Hotshoe Ezybox. I have also used a sheet or an umbrella to shoot through, or another piece of foamcore to bounce the light off of from a window or flash. I have also used a halogen or fluorescent light and even just the room lighting. The softbox is much more convenient for when you want to accent specific areas of the product or just get the highlights in the right place.

If you have an assistant then you can have them hold and move the light around. When I find myself alone then the Manfrotto 420NSB Convertible Boom Stand - 12.8' (4m)  is what I use. It doubles as a really tall stand for when you need 12' of height.

Some tips:
If you want to get the computer or electronic screen look like it is on:
If you are using flash, turn up the ISO setting. When I am using a D700 I turn up the ISO to 1600 and that usually drops the flash, etc. enough automatically so that the screen is bright and shiny and the flash does the rest. You will need to move the light sometimes, relative to the item and camera position to avoid obscuring the screen with the light highlight (reflection) on the screen.  Come to think of it, I used the same solution with my D70 as well.

If you want shine or reflection of the object on the posterboard:
First, get some glossy posterboard. Most posterboard is glossy enough so this shouldn't be a problem. Then, make sure to get down low relative to the object so that the reflection is extended in the camera view.

Really, with just a few pieces of foamcore and some posterboard, you can have a great setup for excellent ebay pics.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Photo booth II

If there was one thing that I might want to modify on the photo booth it would be the background or rim light. I would like to get some strip lights with egg crate grids and place them on either side of the background facing them towards the subjects at a 45 degree angle or less. This would help separate the subjects from the background better, giving them a nice edge of light around them.  I don't want to change from the black background, which looks sweet!

See - Photo booth

Photo booth

Photo Booth

-High Quality photos
-Easy for guests to use at Wedding
-NO PRINTING (this always causes problems)
-Can be linked to iPad or iPhone so guests call all view photos

This is an original photo taken by a user of the photo booth. I even kept the left edge as it was. The tripod and background got bumped multiple times over 5 hours, but they didn't move far.. I have seen some staged and edited photos online, so I wanted to just show you the actual output.  This is one of many great shots that people took themselves.

Photo Booth Setup

This weekend I was asked to set up a photo booth for a wedding. With the dim lighting in the bar, I found a nice corner to set it all up. The main light was a Lastolite Ezybox (softbox) 24x24 inch hotshoe softbox off to camera left. The fill light was a small Interfit Strobies softbox just below the camera. A third flash was located behind the subjects to help separate them from the background. I used a black fabric background, which worked out well. For the flashes I used Nikon SB-900's with RadioPopper PX receivers. The camera was an Nikon D700 with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens. The camera was triggered by a Pocket Wizard Plus II, which allowed the subjects to push the button on a cordless hand-held Pocket Wizard.

There was an extra SB-900 on top of the D700, with a RadioPopper PX transmitter. This allowed me to set all of the flashes right from the main flash on the camera. This can be helpful if you have to change out cameras, etc in the middle. Which I did. I started with my older D70 which worked fine except the remote for it was infrared and not radio so the subjects kept holding up the remote. Due to the sharp lighting in the bar, the IR remote did not work as well as the radio one.

All I had to do was swap in the D700 and slide the flash off the D70 onto the D700. I then set the D700 on 1600 ISO  1/60s  f/10 and we were in business. (Any tweaks to the lighting can be done from the flash on top of the camera and the RadioPoppers will transmit this information to the other flashes automatically, using the Nikon CLS system.)

The main light (softbox) was set at Manual 1/16, the fill at Manual 1/32, and the rim or background light at Manual 1/16.

The background was a Westcott collapsible background that was held up by two manfrotto 8 foot light stands and a Photoflex TELESCOPIC LITEDISC HOLDER - PHLDHT.  Tethered to the camera was a small MSI Wind netbook with Nikon Camera Control Pro (v2.7). I had used Camera Control Pro because it works with the D70. Lightroom 3.0, Capture One, or if you have a Mac, Sofortbild would work fine too. One thing that I like about Camera Control Pro is that if there is some communication loss on the camera, if you swap out a battery for instance, Camera Control Pro just picks up the camera and keeps on rocking. There is no need to go to any menus, or anything. The interface has no frills, so the people who use the booth have nothing to play with other than a filmstrip of pictures and the preview. I use Capture One for studio work because it has that great focus mask, but for this setup Camera Control Pro on a cheap netbook was the way to go.

Keep in mind that I wasn't standing by the booth, so there was no adult supervision on it all night long. (I do want to add that everything was taped down with gaffers tape and the tripod was anchored with a heavy weight.)

The laptop and the camera were on a Manfrotto DOUBLE HEAD SUPPORT (BLACK) (3153B) - MA131DDB   and Gitzo G065 MONITOR PLATFORM - GIG065. This is a great setup. I picked most of my stuff up at BHPhoto, which is by far the most amazing photo store on the planet! My softbox and lighting accessories were from Penn Camera. Keep in mind that while you can buy things online, it is often better to go the local camera store which may have better deals on the larger equipment due to shipping and I have found their advice very valuable. 

The setup worked for 6 hours on 2700mAh AA Promaster batteries. The laptop was plugged into the wall. The new SB-900's are great. I have found that low batteries and recycle times are not as much of an issue. The auto overheat shutoff is great too. When you get a bunch of kids playing with the trigger the auto cool down is a great feature to save your flashes. (It takes a lot of blasts to get you there with this setup ;) )

People had a great time with the booth and that is a real understatement. There was a chalkboard to write messages to the bride and groom. (Whiteboards will reflect.)  You can imagine what type of photos got taken as the night went on. Potted plants became part of the scenery, with heads popping through "out of the jungle" into the frame. I highly recommend it!

This setup makes a great Wedding Photo Booth!
If you have any questions just send me an email.


See - Photo Booth II