Monday, March 31, 2008

Strobist: Overclock Your Speedlight for More Power

Hats off to Strobist for this one. I was trying to put something together myself, but this is far better executed than anything I had in mind. For those of you who really are pushing their flashes to the limit, you have to check out the new amazing article on Strobist, and see what happens when MIT engineering students get hold of a couple of flashes and start playing around.

Strobist: Overclock Your Speedlight for More Power

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Feeling a bit lost...

I want to put out a few updates on what's been going on with the blog, and the business, because I know it's been a while since I've posted anything here. I promise, there won't be any more droughts like this anytime soon. Oddly enough, I check my own blog fairly regularly and seeing the same post on top for nearly two weeks has really been bothering me. More detail, and an action plan, after the jump.

Most of the reason I've gone dark has been my work schedule at the real job. You know, the one that pays my bills (most of the time). I was transferred back to day shift two weeks ago, and I've been trying to catch up on a lot of things there, which has tied me up from 4am until about 5 or 6 pm every day since then. We've had a rough couple of weeks. So leaving for work at 3:15 am, getting home at 6:30 or 7pm, and trying to be a dad hasn't left much time for business building.

My landlord and I reached an agreement and he signed the forms that will allow me to operate a business with my rented house as the listed address. I have to fix a couple of appliances, but at least my rent isn't going up (for now).

I still need to contact the city and find out what documentation is needed to certify my disabled veteran status, which will eliminate most of the filing costs for the business license. Once I've got this taken care of I'll file and Cycle 61 Photography will be official!

I've been playing quite a bit with the small softbox, and the more I use it the more I love the light it gives me. The little 12x16 job is easy to handhold, and for individuals or small tabletop setups it's awesome. It's also light enough to dangle on the end of a thin lightstand, like I did for the kids painting easter eggs here. Pricey for the size at ~$70, but the light is much better controllable than a shoot-through umbrella. I'm definitely addicted, I want to try a bigger one!

I'm going to get back in gear with the business stuff over the next week (hopefully I'll be able to cut back to less than 14 hour days at work) and there will be many updates as things continue to evolve. Thanks for your patience, all!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

At least somebody's feeling good

We get the coolest clouds around here
After a brief day of respite yesterday, my flu is back and really kicked my butt this morning. I've got to get over this thing, I can't afford any more time off of work, and I've hardly been able to think photography for well over a week now. But there have been a few things happening. More after the jump...

As I mentioned earlier, my landlord and I finally came to an agreement regrading use of the house to operate a business. This had been a major sticking point, and it meant that I'll be official by the end of March, where I had hoped for February. Oh well, at least the ball is rolling again. Next up is to get my paperwork from the VA to let the city know I'm a disabled vet, which will save some $$$ on the paperwork.

Next up is some more tabletop product photography I've been working on. I'm really enjoying the little PhotoFlex 12"x16" softbox for this kind of stuff, it's a cinch to work with and gives great results. No shortage of power either, with an SB-800 at 1/4 power I get f/11 to f/16, ISO 100 at 12-18" working distance. Much better control too, there's no way I could get the light to fade off like this into a black background with an umbrella.

By the way, I'm cleaning up my camera bag a bit, if anybody local is interested in an SB-600, a 50/1.8, a 105/2.5 AiS, a GorillaPod, or the above pictured F4, check the link here.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

A few hours out of the sickhouse

Our whole family has been hit hard by this flu that's going around, and after a week of trying to sleep it off every hour I'm not at work, I took the kids out to the park for a few hours. It feels great to be out of the house, but I sense I may be buying another day or two of misery. Hopefully not. We'll see.

The wedding album from Bryce and Danielle's wedding came in from Blurb on Friday, and is being delivered to the couple today. It's 20 pages hardcover, and it looks pretty nice. Next time I'll definitely include more pages, as the cost doesn't go up by much for an additional 10-20 pages.

My daughter's team took first place in their division at the regional tournament yesterday, and they're moving up to state in a few weeks. Pictures and more detail later, if I'm still feeling OK when we get home.
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Oh, Nuts!

Okay, the title is a bit of a stretch to connect the picture above with any sort of subject that I'm going to write about today. This picture is the first of what will be a series of six, using these great cups we picked up at Cost Plus World Market. Each is a different color, they have this nifty stainless steel caddy that carries them all around, and they've been begging me to do something creative with them since the moment they came home. This series is a self-assignment to keep the creative juices flowing, and to keep me looking for color-coordinated foods...

In business news, it's been a very slow week for me. I've been sick most of the week, and between work and trying to recover from a nasty flu, there simply hasn't been much photography going on.

One important breakthrough, I've reached an agreement with my landlord to sign the paperwork so I can file for my business license with the city. I also found out there's a possibility that as a disabled veteran, my license fees may be waived. Not a huge cost savings, only $85 or so, but every little bit helps.

And thanks to all those who have been leaving such great supportive and informative comments! Your words of encouragement are greatly motivating to me, and some of the resources you've pointed me towards have been invaluable.

Gotta go. More to come soon.
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Strobist Assignment Review

Just posted on the Strobist Blog, the results are in from Strobist: Lighting 102: Discussion - Double-Duty Light and I'm thrilled to have my "Nest Egg" image make the list! Please take a moment, check out the post and some of the images, and see the amazing things that can be done with a single light...
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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Senior Portraits

William Davis, originally uploaded by cycle61.

From today's senior shoot for my cousin. Two SB's, camera right and left with CTO gels, slow shutter (1/5 second!) to burn in ambient light behind on the stage. I've got a few more from the shoot on my Flickr.

Copies of all the portraits I shot last week are posted in the theater lobby at 5x7" matted on 8x10" paper. It was interesting standing back at the wall during intermission, watching everybody gather around them, pointing out their pictures, their friends, which shots they liked or didn't like, etc. My website address wasn't there, but it's now posted along with the pictures, and I'm listed as the "Production Photogrpaher" in the program. Pretty exciting stuff for me. Now I've just got to get some business in a town that's less than 80 miles away...

I also got in some shooting during the "12th Night" performance. Conditions were far from ideal, but considering I'm shooting with a shirt wrapped around the camera, from the back row, wide open at f/5.6, ISO 3200, I think the shots came out pretty nicely. It certainly would have been nice to have a 70-200/2.8 and a body that doesn't make such a mess at high ISO's, but you get to use the camera you have, not the one you dream about...
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Friday, March 7, 2008

February business review

rearview mirrorJust going to take a few minutes to look back over the last month here...I’m not sure what the expected financial “break even” point is for a fledgling photographic business, especially a part time one, but I’m certainly not there yet. Cycle 61 Photography’s business plan in the early stages of development, and at this point my photographic activity is primarily to be involved with everything I can. February’s progress report and upcoming events, after the jump.

Total photographic income for February is $60.00, which was my “thank you” for shooting the wedding last week. Please note again that this was a personal job, and this is not going to be my normal rate… Also, no stock sales as yet but I'm not in a hurry, I have 99 images online at PhotoShelter now and I know that stock is a numbers game as much as anything. My goal for this is to double my collection to 200 images live by the end of March.

Expenses, mostly mileage on the car and purchasing “The Moment it Clicks”, a new 4gb memory card, the LumiQuest softbox, some rechargeable batteries, and a parking ticket, were considerably more. (Can I count my parking ticket?) I also need to start factoring in the cost of the data plan for my cell phone and a few other items.

I've been leaning on my landlord to sign the permission to operate a business from my residence, apparently his lawyer advised him he should raise my rent if he lets me base my business here. I'm trying to explain that my business basically fits in my backpack, and the city just won't let me use a PO Box or I'd pay the $39 and be done with all this hassle.

I’m shooting senior portraits for my cousin this weekend, along with (possibly) a group shot of the “12th Night” cast. Next weekend is a regional tournament for a bunch of the local elementary schools, I’ll be shooting events for two of the teams. I shot this last year as well, and produced a book for the parents through Blurb, which sold out immediately at $20/copy. The Saturday after that is the meeting of our Bay Area DPR photography group, and I’ll be working as an assistant and behind-the-scenes shooter on a professional fashion shoot in San Francisco that afternoon.

I also finally finished the post work for the wedding I shot last week, the gallery is online and ready to go!

Read more: Full post and comments here.

I've been DAM busy this week

Remember that post a few days ago about 814 Photographs? Well, post processing of those photos and some backend work on my image archive is the reason you've been looking at that ASMP camera for three days now. Thanks, by the way, to the couple of people who put in a few words of support on Chase's website. It should be interesting to see what happens with that. More about my DAM week, after the jump.

First off, let me say that I am absolutely in love with Adobe's Lightroom, and the powerful tools it brings to the table with regards to image editing workflow, cataloging, and archiving. The bad news is that I am now painfully aware of how woefully unorganized my image library is, and that it's going to take a lot of boring, unglamorous work to get a handle on ~52,000 images from the last two years.

My thanks to Josh McCulloch, who wrote in a comment late last week:

- Post Production workflow: Check out the DAM book and the DAM forums at The DAM Book Website. This is a great resource for anything related to PP workflow. They have forums for all different software, including Lightroom. Definitely worth checking out, they're a great group of helpful people. I wish I had learned PP and set up my image archive well when I started shooting, instead of 2 years and 15,000 images later. It's much easier to do it as you go!

I burned an hour or two in the forums there, learning a bit about Lightroom and a lot about how little I really knew, and decided to pick up a copy of the DAM Book. It arrived 48 hours later (Thanks Amazon!) and I've been digging through it earnestly the last few nights.

Without going into too much of a review, I'll recommend this book for any photographer who finds themselves with an ever-expanding library of photos, and wants to be able to use their images to the fullest, rather than have them simply taking up space. I know that I can't remember everything I need to know about 50 thousand images, and my archive is going to need some serious work to get up to speed. However, I think the end product will be worth the effort.

In related news, I managed to turn my clean Lightroom library screen into a multi-colored, multi-categoried mess over the last several days, trying to get an initial edit of the wedding photos put together, then select the group shots and candids that needed minimal processing, then working with the wedding party portraits to clean them up and make them beautiful. By now, all my initial ratings are jumbled, I don't remember what color is supposed to be what, which version of which picture I uploaded, which still need to be edited, and which ones I can make available for prints. Oh, and I still need to put together a CD of the selects and embed some kind of slideshow.

I definitely needed to think this one through a bit more before plunging headfirst into selecting, editing and uploading pictures, and now I get to go back and clean up after myself. The good news is that I have not deleted or overwritten anything, and I have a backup copy of the selects offsite. If my house burns down tomorrow, I can still deliver the pictures.

In the meantime, I'm going to try and get a bit of sleep.
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Monday, March 3, 2008

Help send me to ASMP!

As you all know, I'm building a business here, and now I need your help. This will only take a minute of your time, and won't cost a penny. Thanks in advance. Here's the deal:
Chase Jarvis, master photographer, outdoor guy, and businessman supreme, has posted an offer on his blog to send one fortunate photographer to the ASMP Strictly Business II Conference in Chicago on April 11-13, all expenses paid. More about the conference, from their website:

ASMP’s Strictly Business 2 is a weekend conference that will teach you real-world business skills and help you thrive in our highly competitive industry. SB2 brings you consultations, lectures, video presentations, a keynote address, workshops, hands-on negotiating training, and social gatherings to share and learn from your peers. This weekend will change the way you look at your business — join us.

The contest is a two step process, first you nominate yourself with an essay, up to 100 words, then you get friends, family, co-workers, associates, etc to post their support for you. This is where I need your help.

If you're reading this blog, if you like the concepts and premise of what I'm doing, if you believe that passion, beauty, art, and business can coexist and thrive, then please take a look at Chase's offer, and then hit the link here to post a comment on his page in support of Cycle 61 Photography. Be sure to include my name, website (this one) and why you think I should be chosen to attend the conference.

My essay is simple. It's the opening paragraphs of "Welcome to Cycle 61 Photography" I believed in it then, and I believe in it now. Here it is again:
My name is Nick Davis, I'm an amateur photographer with professional aspirations, and I have committed to building the entity known to me as Cycle 61 Photography into a real, legitimate, licensed, legal, profitable, and above all, sustainable business. In keeping with the wonderful open-source, open book, free sharing mindset that has developed in the photographic community in the internet age, this process is going to be open for all to follow along the way. There will be pitfalls, setbacks and triumph, challenges and conquests, anguish, stress, beauty, and light. Always light. Photography is about light, after all.

Thank you as always for your help and support. My endeavor would not be possible without it. Cycle 61 exists, in large part, because of and for you.
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Theater group shoot complete.

The shoot for my cousin's drama group at Davis High School is a wrap, and considering the madness associated with theater the week before opening night, I think everything went very smoothly. I started right off by telling the director Gwyn that my first priority was to stay out of her way, and when she visibly relaxed, at that moment I knew we were gonna be okay. The shoot was a lot of fun, more technically challenging than I had imagined, and very educational. What worked and what didn't, along with more pictures and thoughts from the day, after the jump.

After quick introductions with the director and some of the cast and crew, they busied themselves setting up the stage and preparing lines, while I did a few quick lighting tests to see what I could get on the stage. Short answer: not enough. With two flashes shooting diagonally in towards the stage at 1/2 power, I had f/4 at ISO 800, but only if my subject had line-of sight to BOTH flashes. The light was bad, the shadows were terrible, and I was getting nothing usable at they practiced their sword fights and choreography.

Finally, in desperation, I asked one of the lighting guys if I could mount a flash in the rafters. He pointed me to the service ladder, so I grabbed a clamp and my SB-800 and headed for the catwalk above. Spent a moment finding a clean shot for the flash amongst a battery of stage lights, but once it was in position, it worked great. At 1/2 power, zoomed to 50mm, it more than doubled the light I had available on stage, and eliminated all the shadow issues. Now I was free to use the second flash for accent, rim light, etc as the flash above filled in the stage.
With my new-found lighting skills, I got some decent shots as the group went through their scenes again, and I was able to roam a bit more as the director was on stage constantly making small corrections here and there. After about two hours of rehearsal, they called break. I was informed that they would be doing smaller scenes afterwards, and this was my to be my only chance to shoot portraits.
I ran back up the ladder, grabbed my other light, and quickly set up in the corner for the best portrait background I could find on a moment's notice. Beth quickly helped me test my light, and we were on our way. She did a great job of holding the reflector, calling "Next" as they queued up for their shot, and being cute enough to relax a bunch of high schoolers.

As I have almost no experience shooting portraits, I think these came out quite well, but I would definitely value any input from some of you more experienced people photographers (Kent, Mike, hello?) I do have to share one that I screwed up, one of the tech guys Steve, who has great hair and the coolest glasses, which he even offered to take off. The umbrella was reflecting awfully in his glasses, but I was so damn sure I could find an angle where I would miss the reflection that he was called off before I finally relented. Sorry about that one, I owe you a re-shoot!

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wedding day reflections

Note to self #1 : Leave early and check traffic. I was panicked for a few minutes when a motorcycle accident brought I-880 to a grinding halt 45 minutes before the ceremony.

As I spent several hours today going through the photos from yesterday's wedding, some of the random thoughts swirling around in my mind finally started to settle into place. A few observations from the day, after the jump.

Weddings are definitely not for the faint of heart. You get one chance at the shot, and one chance only. I got very lucky in this regard several times yesterday. For example, I missed the kiss. Yes, that kiss. But the first one was so quick that several members of the family immediately called for an encore, for which I was able to squeeze off three or four frames.

The bride announced, much to my relief, that they would be walking three blocks down to the lake to shoot pictures. I had thought about doing this, but I didn't dare suggest it with her so far pregnant and several members of the family in poor health. I'm not sure how I would have handled the situation had she not suggested it first. Meeting with the couple ahead of time would have provided an opportunity so sort this out.

I need to try to pay attention to details through the viewfinder. I had a bit of a spotty record for this yesterday. I have several otherwise nice shots ruined by hairs across the face, lamps growing out of people's heads, strange objects in the near foreground that are hard to crop out, etc. I got a good laugh out of the couple when shooting one portrait by the lake. I was standing there, camera to my eye, and after several seconds they started wondering what I was doing, as I hadn't shot anything yet. Obviously they couldn't see the fire engine that was driving through their heads in the background...

I found I'm actually more comfortable with off-camera flash than on-camera. I was cautioned that I would find myself shooting on-camera TTL out of necessity and speed, but this didn't turn out to be the case. The shots I did use on-camera were, for the most part, outside in direct sun before the ceremony, and that inside, I was far better off with the Pocket Wizards and a flash on a lightstand.

I need to watch my gear. I nearly walked away from an SB-600 with a diffuser on it sitting on a bench in the chapel room. Miraculously, I made it through the whole day without losing anything at all.

I know painfully little about post-processing workflow. I'm using Lightroom, which I purchased last week after a month trial, and it's great, I just have no idea how to sort out what I'm trying to do. I made a quick pass through the shots, choosing about 250 out of the original ~800, and then went through again and gave all those pictures star ratings, 1 to 5. I edited down to 50 shots that tell the story of the wedding, did some cropping, sharpening, and color correcting on those, and they're now uploading to my Zenfolio account.

There are probably two dozen other good shots, individual portraits and group shots, that will be retouched and uploaded shortly, but they're going in a different category as they're not really part of the wedding story.

The couple and family can buy prints directly from Zenfolio, which should generate a bit of residual income from the shoot, and I'm toying with the idea of putting together a nice album for them as well. Promised deliverables are a cd/dvd with the images, and a slideshow. I'll get that wrapped up later, they know that the first place they'll be able to see their photos is online.

I need to put together a basic contract for the couple to sign, stating service, deliverable, image copyright, payment, and release. We don't have anything written at all. Even though this was done largely as a favor and for the experience, I need to make sure I cover my a$$.

I'm going to do a trial order of the prints from Zenfolio and see how the quality looks. I'm pretty much guessing at print sharpening, etc. If it's not up to standard with the files I sent, some re-work may be in order.

All that fun, and I got paid too! Just enough to cover my parking ticket...

Real Official Photography Job #2 is tomorrow. Portraits and cast shots for my cousin's theater group. Goodnight!

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

814 Photographs

That's my total count for Bryce and Danielle's wedding and reception. The rest of the wedding, by the numbers:

  • 21 people total
  • 58 minutes behind scheduled start time
  • 5 different people assisting me at various times
  • 8 extra AA batteries
  • 2 camera bodies
  • 3 lenses
  • 3 memory cards almost full
  • 9 hours total from ceremony start to photographer exit
  • 2 hours that I was gone to deal with an emergency
  • 1 guinea pig that didn't make it through the night
  • 167 number of pictures taken with my camera while I was gone
  • 34 of the above pictures made the select list (Thanks Rina!)
  • 50 dollar parking ticket (stupid!)
  • 2 sore feet
  • 1 relieved photographer, and most importantly,
  • 1 happy couple

I arrived at the courthouse about half an hour before the scheduled start time of 2:15, scouted around a bit, checked out the wedding room upstairs, and went back down to meet the wedding party. The party trickled in over the next 45 minutes of so, and we all basically milled about in front of the building waiting for Bryce and Danielle's number to be called. I shot with both bodies quite a bit out here, one with the 85/1.8 and no flash, and the other with the wide zoom and an SB-600 with the Demb diffuser. With direct sun on one side and a giant polished white building acting as a 12 story reflector, it was fun to shoot the 85 close to wide open, making the traffic behind us fade away while the building filled in the shadows.

We were eventually ushered inside, where my job suddenly got much more challenging. Here's the scene: Dark wooden walls, tiered ceiling with track lighting and fluorescents, weird patterned carpet wall thingy where the people stand to get married, and two freakin' humongous windows behind the wedding party. And the place is a wedding mill, so you've got almost no time. We were in the room for 14 minutes total. Doesn't leave a whole lot of time for setup and test shots. I think we did okay, all things considered.

The formal ceremony complete, the party decided they wanted to walk down to nearby Lake Merrit to do some semi-formals and group shots. I am glad they did, because it's exactly where I wanted to go, but I didn't dare ask everybody to make the hike. They did it gladly for Danielle however, and the results were certainly better than anything we could have shot on the sidewalk by the court.

Back to the house for a moment, then it was on to the Outpost, a little beer/ dinner/ sports bar/ casino place in San Ramon, where everybody was settling in for dinner just in time for an emergency phone call from home.

We lost another guinea pig. Crap. This one was having seizures, and as this was an unpaid wedding, I set my camera on aperture priority at f/5, slapped on the flash in TTL mode with the Joe Demb diffuser, and handed it over to Rina, the friend who asked me to shoot this gig in the first place. I bailed and headed home to do the good dad thing, while Rina did a great job shooting the cake cutting and bouquet tosses. Hey, Joe McNally couldn't be in the plane with John Glenn, and I couldn't be at part of the reception. But I got the shots I needed anyway.Ha!

Once things had calmed down a bit at the house, I headed back to see what was left of the party. Arrived in time to get a bunch of drunk looking group shots, and the car with the "Just Married" sign in the back window. I used my mini-softbox quite a bit, it makes good light at arm's length, and we partied until everybody was done. I'll have another post tomorrow, with some follow-up thoughts and reflections. I'll tell you this right now, I had a blast tonight. Everything was unfamiliar, fast moving, a little bit overwhelming, and it pushed me to make the best images I could under constantly changing and constantly challenging conditions. And I liked it. I will definitely be doing this again.

Congratulations, Bryce and Danielle! Enjoy your honeymoon, and give me a call when you need baby pictures!

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