Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Opinion Seesaws

Remember my Skate Art post from exactly a month ago? Look it up in the archive bar on the right if you can't. Well, there's a continuing story there. More playground equipment has been installed around our fair city, and it's been making front page news. I've been interviewed and my shot of the mystery playground slide has featured in the Otago Daily Times online and print versions. You can read all about it here:

Does that make me a photojournalist? I dunno, but it feels like start of a crime wave worthy of a Batman character.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nobody Is Paying Me To Say This (But I Wish They Would)

I've been using Photoshop for a few years and find it a pretty powerful tool. So when I heard about Adobe Lightroom and the repeated buzzword "workflow", I kind of thought "Over-hyped Photoshop lite". But having tried it out, I have to say it's a pretty good bit of kit for amateur or pro photographers. From RAW processsing through local and global adjustment, to creating web galleries, it packs plenty of muscle. And if you process a lot of pictures, like I ended up doing with my conference candids, you'll appreciate what it can do for your "workflow".

Of course, it neccessitated doubling my RAM to get it to run properly on my laptop and just like Photoshop, there are features you'll find invaluable that you didn't even suspect it had. Like some very cool composition helper layers like various thirds and golden spirals. The good news is that there are some fantastic free webinars at If you don't mind surfing in live at 7:00 am NZ time, you get an hour of great instruction for free. If that's too early for you, you can always pay for the downloaded recording. Check them out here:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Things Change, Old Cock

Weather Vane

Here's another thing I love about photography: its ability to express metaphors. You can take this shot as a metaphor for my life if you like, or you could just take it as a picture of a tin rooster on somebody's roof (Miller's flat, Central Otago).

Whichever you decide, I haven't been shooting many pictures in the last couple of weeks. I've been concentrating more on trying to sell a few, processing shots and getting the galleries of the conference candids up for people to browse and hopefully purchase. I've had one order so far, which isn't exactly going to make me rich, but the site is getting hits so that's encouraging. This photography thing could actually start to pay off some day.

Then there's the rehab on my knees, which is progressing nicely. Last week I checked out a new mountain bike trail without taking a single picture. Actually that's not true. I took my kit on my back, and I did get my camera phone out for a reference shot, but the SLR stayed stowed for the whole ride. Of course I plan to go back and get some action shots some time - if my new gig writing scripts for a local soap opera allows. As if that wasn't enough, the lovely Mrs C and I are also contemplating a possible shift in our domestic arrangements.

Change in the weather or just the usual load of old cock? I dunno. You decide.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Its Still Not About The Gear but...

DIY Softbox's my little DIY softbox. The diffusion material is a disposable pillow protector, the sides are made from black corflute, a corrugated plastic material which I lined with aluminium foil. The diffusion surface is about 1/2 an A4 in area. For the mk II version I'll at least double that but this is nice and portable and just softens the shadows, especially when close to the subject.

The last day of my ECANZ conference shoot featured an afternoon on ice at our local skating rink. Delegates could try their hand at curling or shooting ice hockey pucks, fortified by a little of the 'amber bead'. For speed I shot with my 580EXII flash bare on camera and set to ETTL exposure control.

Curling Whisky a go-go

Then it was on to the highlight of the weekend, the costume dinner at Larnach Castle. I haven't been into the grounds in years, so couldn't resist the opportunity to get some exteriors, especially as evening started to fall and the nearly-full moon rose over the building. The night was bitterly cold though, so I wasn't going to stick around out there. Besides, all the fun was inside.


Larnach-3 Larnach Castle By Moonlight

I decided to try and get everyone as they entered the venue. Since it was a Braveheart-themed costume event, I figured everyone would be happy to pause for a shot of their costumes, and I was right. I found a spot at the bottom of the stairs and shot away with my softbox in hand. It didn't exactly give me beauty-dish results, especially at the 3 metres or so I was from my subjects, but you can see from the shadow on the wall that it was having a little of the desired softening effect.

Sassenachs Braveheart Guests-2 Team Tartan Cheeky Chappie

If I get the opportunity to do something like this again, I'd pop another flash somewhere above for a bit of rim lighting, maybe set up a shoot-through umbrella to my left instead of the softbox, and even paint up in the background with another gelled flash. Some rim, maybe gelled for contrast, could really make these shots sing.

The meal dispensed with (Nobody wants pictures of themselves eating), there was just enough ambient coming from the stage lights for me to shoot candids with my nifty fifty 1.8 and my highest ISO setting. The images are a little noisy, but considering the event and ultimate use, I can live with that. The bonus is that I got to see some of my muso friends in action with the legendary Dunedin guitarist Jim Taylor. Some say he's the love child of Pete Townshend and Keith Richards. Others know he's old enough to be their dad but whatever the case, he's a Rock God. Gotta shoot some more musos soon.

Braveheart Dance Mike Pearce

Saturday Larnach Castle-5

It's been fun, trying to photograph a large function, to mix in with a crowd and capture some of the spirit of the event. Our next conference isn't until next year, but I'll be putting my experience to work before that on something that really matters... a family wedding. Stay tuned.

It's Not Just About The Gear

Snoot and Grid

...So here's my DIY snoot and grid that enabled me to shoot unobtrusively at the ECANZ Conference opening. Those are ordinary black plastic party straws, stuck together with a hot glue gun. The snoot is some closed-cell foam from an exercise mat and some velcro strips. I also have velcro strips on my flashes for attaching light modifiers just like this. This baby restricts the beam of light nicely, not just lighting a small part of the frame, but going close to unseen by most onlookers.

The second social event of the conference was a cocktail and dinner function in the Atrium of the Otago museum. I got a few shots at the start with my nifty fifty to make the most of the fading natural light.

Friday Night Museum-1 Friday Night Museum-2

As the outside light faded I wanted to catch a little of it to use as a backdrop for some portraits, but I needed to mix in a little flash. To take the edge off the shadows and make people look as good as I could, instead of the snoot I popped a little DIY softbox onto my flash. It meant approaching people to look down the barrel for me, but by now everyone was pretty relaxed about my presence and I got some really nice results.

Friday Night Museum-3

Once the twilight had gone, I decided to shoot candids, wildlife-style with a long lens and the snoot again.

Friday Night Museum-5 Friday Night Museum-4

Then the evening's entertainment began, a demonstration of highland dancing.

Friday Night Museum-7 Friday Night Museum-6

Once the Highland fling had been flung, people were free to wander some of the museum, so I popped the softbox on again, got close and shot a few more groups having fun and exploring the exhibits.

Friday Night Museum-8

Friday Night Museum-10

Friday Night Museum-9
Friday Night Museum-11 Friday Night Museum-12

Despite my trepidations about interacting with people a little more, I started to really enjoy this part of the evening, working more closely with them and starting to get some good shots of them enjoying themselves. By the time I'd had a look at the day's shots and burned some for display at the hotel the next morning, it was the next morning - 2 am in fact, but I was buzzing and really looking forward to covering the next event, a costume dinner up at Larnach Castle. That evening would not disappoint.

Friday Night Museum-14

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Conference

Town Hall Delegate

One of the cool things about being a freelance whatever-it-is-I-do, is that occasionally I get to work with Mrs C in the family business. She's a Professional Conference Organiser - in every sense of the word. This weekend we've been working the ECANZ (Electrical Contractors Assosiation of New Zealand) 2009 Conference. While Mrs C's been ensuring that every little detail goes according to plan, I've been helping with the registrations, filling any gaps and covering the whole thing in pictures.

The key to shooting something like this is to be as unobtrusive as possible, especially during presentations. I guess you have to approach it a little like you're shooting wildlife. The first event of the weekend was the opening dinner at the Dunedin Town Hall, so I mixed natural light shooting with flash.

The natural light part was easy. I dialed up the ISO (for these shots, I can live with a little noise) and screwed on my 50mm f/1.8 lens. Like in the shot above, the ambient lighting lent some cool effects depending on where people were in the room. I had to be reasonably close to my subjects, but without a flash going off, it was easy enough to go relatively unnoticed. Often though, the ambient light wasn't enough and I had to resort to flash.

Even if I stayed back and used my zoom lens, the flash was going to disturb folks, especially at the power level needed at a distance. My trick here was to use a snoot and sometimes a grid on the flash, so that the light hit just my subjects and went largely unnoticed by everyone else in the room. In situations like this you're shooting on the go, so I kept the flash on camera and set to ETTL. I was able to get lots of happy candids without people noticing me and getting camera shy. Before turning in I burned a disc of shots for display at the delegates hotel the next morning and most of them were surprised to discover there had been a photographer snapping away all night. Better yet, most of them were pleased with the happy, un-self-conscious images they saw of themselves.

Town Hall Delegate-2

The other bonus of using the grid is that it restricts the beam so that if you want, you can light just one part of the frame and let ambient do for the rest. That's how I managed to get the shot of guest speaker champion cyclist Ali Shanks (an old friend of Mrs. C's) without my flash washing out the projected image behind her. My shot isn't quite perfect, and you can see a little spill from my flash on the bottom of the projection screen. Close enough though.

Ali Shanks

The snoot and grid trick are straight from David Hobby's Strobist blog . The cool thing is, they're DIY stuff and easily made. I also got to try out another bit of DIY gear over the weekend. More on that later.