Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I'm back after a few days off

I've taken a few days off. It's very rare for me to have not picked up my camera and I actually had an infrequent visit with my son, daughter-in-law and the grandkids, and left my camera in the car. I wanted to be a participant, not an observer. 
I also attended a wedding last Sunday and while I was interested in watching the technique of the photographer, I had, and still have, zero desire to shoot that kind of event. They did a lot of video and not so much stills, by the way. And they did a lot of shooting from the hip with wide angle lenses. Wonder how those will turn out?
It's not easy for me to be motivated to shoot at this time of year. As I sit here, my light tent is still sitting on my dining room table (it's a lot of effort figuring out how to fold it up!) from when I tested the ring light (below). It's grey and cold and damp outside... but I needed to put down the camera for a few days. 

These first two articles are directed at other photographers. If you're not one, bear with me and try not to be too bored!

Judging Photojournalism

As many of you know, I was honoured to be asked to judge the TCC International Salon, Photojournalism category. It was a great experience, very challenging and really educational at the same time.

We viewed well over 800 images (and re-viewed at least 100 of them!) some of which could easily have appeared in National Geographic. All of the judges instantly agreed on the single best image in the group and after choosing the top 15 images for awards, and about 24 others for honourable mentions, and eliminating 29 out of 100 tied candidates for "acceptances" our eyes were all going in circles.

The category "Photojournalism" is extremely broad. It comprises topical newsworthy images, plus documentary and sports images, making it really hard to stay consistent. So we had to score images captured at a massive and deadly fire somewhere in Southern Asia, cowboys riding bulls at a rodeo, football action, kayakers on white water shots of poverty-stricken families in a Yurt, dancers in flamboyantly coloured costumes and rock concerts! How do you do that and remain consistent?

The only negative was that the organizers had not vetted the images, so we were presented some which were not in-category, for which I felt I had to dock points (it was not our place to disqualify them). That was hard to do since some were really outstanding, just not on-topic!

In the end, out of all these images, there were about a dozen that had the "WOW" factor. So don't be discouraged (fellow club members who are afraid to enter competitions!), this was an INTERNATIONAL SALON! Even here there are images that stand out and some that don't. By the way, when you view 1000 images, there's no provision for comments... I had to bite my tongue a few times!

Two things came out of this as recommendations for you: (1) stay on topic. If the category is "action", for instance, a cow eating a flower isn't going to cut it. Neither is a kayaker paddling in the distance on calm water. And (2) Look at your images as if they were someone else's kids, not yours, as a stranger would see them. I know you think your cat is cute but not to someone who has never met the animal (or worse, hates cats).

I want to take this opportunity to thank the academy, my mother and all the little people... kidding, but I hope I get asked again.

Oh, and one more thing: there's a selfish aspect to being a judge: you get exposed to some outstanding images, you can clearly see the ones that have that "WOW" factor and your own photography can benefit, and you get to meet and spend time with some wonderful people you might not otherwise get to meet!

I Bought a Ring Light

They use them all the time on CSI. But how do you get the details of fingerprints or tire tracks when the light is coming from the same direction as the lens? Turns out, you can. It wouldn't be my first choice, but hey, it looks sexy on TV (ever notice that the serious 'foresnic' folks use Nikons? LOL).

This is the ringlight on the lens. Plus a bunch of sharpening stuff in PS and LR 

In this one I took the ring off the lens and held it at about a 45° angle. You tell me which one shows the detail better.

BTW I decided that if I was going to give you the finger, I'd use the correct one... are everyone's fingers this full of lines and cracks (surface, not the fingerprint)? Or is it because I'm getting old? 

Because you're generally shooting close to the subject, light from the ring will be very soft, despite the fact that it's coming straight from the camera. It's quite interesting.

I like shooting macro and small objects in the light tent (disclaimer: I still don't have a real macro lens. One day...) and the ringlight seems to be a nice way to go. But also, I've seen some portraits shot recently with them and the lighting is excellent, not to mention those great catchlights!

I wasn't able to get the kind of catchlights I wanted, but these are interesting. By the way, I HATE pictures of myself. However today I was testing the new ringlight and playing around, and shot this 'selfie' image. I didn't nail the focus on the eyes so I decided to use Topaz Impression (Degas preset) to make the whole thing painterly. I actually don't HATE this image.

So I found one on Amazon and, for $49, how can you go wrong?
FWIW, here are the links:
     Nikon version at Amazon Canada:
     Canon version in Canada:
     Nikon version at (USA):
     Canon version in US:
(I think the Nikon and Canon versions have different pinouts at the flash shoe)
You know you "get what you pay for", right? In this case it works as advertised but there are some things you have to work around.

  • You mount the 'sender' unit in the hotshoe and the ring on the lens (it comes with a bunch of adapters for different sized lenses). 
  • When you turn it on, the LEDs light up and they'll stay that way as long as you're pressing the shutter release halfway (odd, because mine is disabled, I use back-button focusing). 
  • If you're in flash mode, it will flash about twice as bright as the continuous light. But the continuous stays on.
  • You can adjust the light output continuously over a 2:1 range. The flash output changes too. You can double that effect by turning off half of the lights from the sender.
  • To fool it, so the continuous light is not on, I took the 'sender' off the camera. To make it flash, you have to do it manually.
  • I can't get it to work with my synchronized off-camera flash. But I did use the continuous light together with the flash.
  • The real bad news is that it vignettes like mad. The ring is only 66mm in diameter although the adapter fits up to a 77mm lens diameter; and it extends about 30mm forward of the front glass, so coverage is less than ideal. It works if you switch to DX (cropped sensor) mode.
It's going to be fun to use, though, and I'm looking forward to shooting some people shots with it. Stay tuned!

Here's a macro shot in the light tent. That's not grain, it's the surface of the plexiglass they were on. These are teeny-tiny .22 calibre CB Caps, by the way. 

I set these leaves in the light tent and shot them with the ringlight only. This is actually 4 exposures, focus stacked. Neat lighting!

Here's the actual setup, behind the scene. I shot in continuous mode, 1/8 sec at f/11, ISO 800, lens was the 24-120 at 120mm, but in DX mode.  

If you're not a photographer, your eyes are probably glazed over. Sorry about that!

One more for the Photographers.

Or at least for the photoshoppers! This is an example of how I used Topaz Impression on this image. This is a screen grab from Photoshop.

The intent was to give this shot a painterly look. But I wanted the Christmas tree to be kind of impressionistic, the house to be a coloured sketch and the background to be detailed but muted. So I used several different masked layers. Want to know how to do this stuff? Come take a course! (if you're reading this before the end of the Black Friday weekend, go here; Otherwise,

Here's the actual image 

Here are a couple of fresh images for your enjoyment. I was driving home from Uxbridge on Saturday and came across this row of trees.

I actually made a U-turn and stopped to take this shot because something about it caught my eye. This was along Lakeridge Road just North of Uxbridge. Each of the fields that bordered on the road was guarded by a line of sentinel trees (are these oaks? I plead ignorance). I tried to process this a few different ways but I kept coming back to this charcoal look.  

As the sun started to set, I thought about this shot, a bare tree silhouetted against the colourful sky and I actually pictured this kind of brush stroke effect. I was surprised to discover that I shot this five minutes BEFORE the previous (sentinels) shot. I thought I took it much later. The swirling blend of colours in the sky is reminiscent of van Gogh's style (but a bit more subtle). 

I raced to try to capture something of the sunset but couldn't find a suitable spot to shoot from. As a last desperation attempt, I pulled into the Independent store in Beaverton and there was a small lot in the back. I shot this out the car window because I didn't have time to set up before the clouds hid the setting sun. The foreground uses a heavy Impasto style and the sky is more in the style of Edward Hopper. 

Something that Topaz Impression has awakened in me is awareness of painting styles and the techniques of the masters. I'm moving closer to the day that I might pick up a brush and try to paint myself. Stay tuned!

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