I’m psyched about the new Apple iPad and the upcoming iBook Store. The reason I’m not completely bent out of shape about the new device centers on the fact that it does what it is supposed to do and that’s it.
“It doesn’t multitask!” So what? About the only thing I would likely really want to multitask would be iTunes and maybe something like Pages or Keynote. The big thing is a lot of Apps, especially the games, now allow you to pull your audio over and run it in the App. Problem solved. Seriously, if I wanted to do major multitasking on the fly I’d pack a laptop.
Remember, this thing is not going to run major third party Apps like Photoshop or Office. So having several things open at once is not a major concern for most users. At work I often have Final Cut Pro, LiveType, iTunes, Safari, Photoshop and Indesign all running in different Spaces simultaneously. But that’s on an 8-core system with 16GB of Ram and a heck of a graphics engine. When I want to do major manipulation to photos, video or even extensive work with something like Keynote, it’s going to happen on the desktop.
The main things that I would see myself using it for are as follows: Sharing my portfolio. Apple pushes the idea of sharing your vacation and family albums from iPhoto with friends and family on the run. It also works nicely as a digital photo frame when charging on the optional dock. But what Apple failed to hit on is the possibilities this device offers working graphics, photography and video professionals. It just might be the best portable device for sharing your work with potential clients.
It’s a sleek and sophisticated device and perfect for the mobile professional. I’d use it to display wedding portfolio images, slideshows, marketing graphics and even film to clients and potential partners. I often meet clients in a relaxed atmosphere like a coffee shop. Pulling this small, light and highly capable device out of a portable sleeve would make the presentation both beautiful and unique. Tons of multimedia professionals are going to pocket (almost literally) these things as tools of their trade.
It is obviously going to be an excellent iTunes video playback device for road trips. For someone who travels often to cover sporting events throughout the southeast and internationally to work with orphans and communities in need, this could prove an ideal travel companion. Checking email, surfing the web, sharing photos and using Apps can all be done with supposedly excellent battery life in a light weight and small profile tablet. The optional photographic accessors which include an SD card reader and USB connection hub should prove valuable to photographers of every style. Ideally either Apple or a third party should create a Compact Flash device since all professional cameras use these media cards. I don’t see pros using it as a proofing system for immediate image feedback, but it would be a useful tool on the go as long as it is used within the limits of the devices storage capabilities. For travel and vacation work it should be an exceptionally good tool. If Apple ever rebuilds a full or scaled down version of iPhoto for the device like they did for the iWork suite that would just up the ante for such purposes.
Using the apparently incredible calendar, contacts and notes applications. Without personal experience with these apps it’s tough to say exactly how good they can be, but everything points to a far better experience than even the iPhone can deliver. For someone who has to keep up with the schedules of ten athletics teams, my personal work assignments, social activities and my freelance photography and videography work, the calendar application would prove invaluable. I’m also a fan of the Notes app on the iPhone and using it on a larger display could also prove helpful.
The Pages, Numbers and Keynote applications will appeal to a lot of people. For me, Pages would be a definite yes with Keynote coming in a close second. I don’t do a lot with Keynote in my line of work, but for $10, you never know. I do use it for teaching photography class and I use it as a large preview/remote device for those presentations. Pages would prove a great productivity application for writing articles on the fly, logging field notes and keeping a travel journal.
And finally, iBooks. This could be cool. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of reading on the Kindle or the Sony Reader. I really like the technology, especially in bright light, but they did such a good job of making the displays look like pages, that, well, it’s just like a page. Maybe I’m an odd duck, but I really like reading articles on my iPhone even though the screen is small. It’s backlit and easy to read in the dark. And, oddly enough, it’s easier on my eyes than the previously mentioned devices. So, regardless of your screen type preference, the interface on the iPad is exceptional. Not only can you change the font size and the font, the interactivity of the book and pages is just play cool and natural. With books being able to embed not only photos, but videos, it brings new life to a once stagnant medium. Now, how could they make this better. Well, if I were smart enough to design my own App that could add usability to the iBooks application, I would add highlighting and the ability to embed notes. The major reason why I have not left the paper book world for the digital counterpart ,even though I love the Green appeal, is because I highlight text and write notes in the margins. If Apple or someone were to add these two features to iBooks then I’d be far more likely to buy the titles of interest in the iBook Store. The features seem rather easy to implement. Just have an opaque color option in the menu bar that you can apply with the touch of a finger. You could simply use the same feature that Apple uses to Copy on the iPhone. Simply tap and hold and then drag the bars where you want them to start and stop and then fill it with the desired color. Adding a note could be simple too. Adding a toggle or pin that when tapped would expand into a note window for making notations about the text, responses or ideas would further enhance the usability of iBooks. It would also likely help promote the addition of college and professional text books to the iBook Store. The last thing, and perhaps the main thing that users are most potential buyers are likely curious about is what titles will be available. When the iTunes store first launched it was difficult to get older tracks and many new releases. That has been improved greatly over the years. With the popularity of iTunes it is likely that publishers will catch on and fast. We will see in the coming months just how many titles – other than major best sellers which will undoubtedly be available – will make their way into the iBook Store.
My final thoughts? I will probably get one. I will, for a time, use it in place of a laptop since I have plenty of power on my desk. Personal use always reveals the strengths and weaknesses that we either didn’t know existed or under or overestimated in our preliminary thoughts about the item. Only time will tell, but I’m looking forward to getting one and putting it through the paces. If I had to predict now, it will likely be one of my favorite devices for both productivity and entertainment. The only question now is to 3G or not to 3G. For complete versatility and resale value (just in case) the 3G build is the way to go. But the extra $130 plus the monthly data plan does leave room to question this. But, hey, we have 60-90 days to ponder it. Until we all get our hands on one, we can only wait and hope that it’s as well executed as we’ve been led to believe.
I recently ventured to the other side of the world to visit some friends and help with some work in the beautiful country of Turkey. Our travels would take us to Antalya and Olimpos (Olympos) on the Mediterranean Sea and Istanbul to the north. Because the nature of my work there was not photographic, I decided it best not to carry tons of expensive gear with me. I would normally pack my D700, at least four fast lenses, multiple flashes with off-camera triggering equipment and a tripod as a minimum. This time around I was rock’n a Nikon D40 with a 16GB Kingston SD card ($34 via B&H) – no laptop to dump to (crazy I know), an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, my trusty SB-800 and an Alien Bees wireless transmitter and receiver set just in case. I decided to preorder the new 35mm f/1.8 DX lens (for a very reasonable $199 I might add) for it’s speed in low light and its relatively wide focal length, especially for a DX prime. I figured this would be the best bang-for-buck lens for interior pictures, especially those in museums, etc.
The first thing one will notice about this lens is its size. Its short, well constructed and very light. It comes with a securely locking lens hood and couples perfectly with the D40. The AF is quick and quiet thanks to the AF-S motor and under all but the absolute worst lighting situations its spot on.
Inside a Mosque in Antalya – shot at f/2 in available light.
I did notice some chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) in some images with extreme contrast. This is particularly noticeable inside buildings with brightly lit windows. Lens flare is also common in similar situations, but nothing particularly damaging, especially for a $200 lens shot wide open.
Tablet in the Istanbul Archeology Museum - shot at f/2 in available light
Jesus from the The Deësis Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – shot at f/2 in available light
The lens is well suited for standard focal length shooting. The crop factor produces results very close to those from a 50mm on a full frame camera. The lens is so small and light weight that it is superbly convenient to leave mounted on your camera. However, the lens really shines in low light photography. Given that most shooters will be accustomed to their 18-55mm with a maximum aperture of f/3.5, the added stops capable with the f/1.8 aperture are truly stunning. The faster glass will allow users to shoot at lower ISOs and faster shutter speeds, both of which can dramatically improve image quality and shooting time.
My very good friend Andrew in front of the tear-drop style column in the Basilica Cistern (532 AD) in Istanbul – shot at f/1.8 in available light.
This lens is not perfect, but given the new arena now available to DX shooters it can easily be considered a must-have. The few minor issues I experienced (fringing and flare under harsh contrast) in no way deter from the exceptional speed and performance of this stunning little lens. It wont give you the widest focal length, but for the speed, it is virtually unmatched and at $200 it’s a steal. I would highly recommend this lens to anyone how travels or often finds themselves looking for shallower depth of field or in low light situations. It may be out of stock when you look for it, but it’s definitely worth the wait.
Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern – shot at f/1.8 in available light (camera steadied on railing)
I was thinking about the lighting setup I discussed on March 2 and was contemplating the hard directional light put out by studio strobes when coupled with honeycomb grids or barn doors. We want the tight, directional light to chisel, highlight, rim light and otherwise focus on specific elements within the photograph. The problem, is that light is still a hard source.
Think about it, it’s a bare bulb flash in a highly reflective dish projected directly outward. Even though it has a controlled spread, it is still not a diffused source. How can we improve on this? Now, maybe I’m behind in the game, which is entirely possible, but I experimented with some solutions that actually worked pretty well.
To diffuse the light, we need it to pass through some sort of opaque material. This will soften the light, creating softer shadows. This will really come in handy when working with models and skin tones and textures in general. The object then is to figure out how to get a diffusion material in front of these modifiers.
Now, some lighting companies may have already solved this problem, but as of today, Alien Bees, the brand I currently use, doesn’t offer anything in this arena. Paul C. Buff does offer a diffusion sock for the 22″ Beauty Dish and they recently added a 40 degree grid, but there is nothing for the standard reflectors and grids and barn doors, etc. So, how do we create this softening?
Well the first thing we could do is go with the idea that is offered by Alien Bees with the Beauty Dish and that is to add a diffusion material, or sock, over the front end. This will work, but I’m not sure how much spread will be gained – and this is what we don’t want when using a grid – by having it on the outside of the grid. This would basically create a small softbox, but even though softboxes are far more directional than, say ,an umbrella – which is sort of like comparing an open reflector with a gridded one – they still produce light spill and wrap. The solution even for softboxes is to put the grid in front of the diffusion screen. That way the already softened light is passing through the focusing grid. So, for me, the sock idea was sort of out since it somewhat defeats the purpose of what I was going for.
The second, and perhaps most logical and effective method, is to place a diffusion material behind the grid and barn doors, etc., much like we do on a gridded softbox. To do this, I went to my local Home Depot to look for some diffusion material and what better place to look than the actual light diffusers. Large fluorescent light fixtures that you often find, say, in a kitchen or a garage come with plastic diffusion screens to diffuse and spread the light. Perfect.
These come in a variety of finishes and sizes. The most common seems to be the prism texture. It features a series of little pyramids that help diffuse the light. This might work fine, but I was looking for something thinner as the space in the lip of the reflector dish is very shallow and the grid still has to fit. I couldn’t find what I was looking for so I asked and the gentleman directed me to the back of the store in building supplies. There I found the same prism material, but also the cross hatched elevator light coverings – which might make a good grid for a DIY light source! - and a different diffuser for lights that looked like fine stained glass or small stone (see image below). This pattern was slightly thinner than the other so I picked up a 2’x4′ sheet of the acrylic material for about $9. This is way more than you’d need, but its also very brittle – in fact mine broke from slightly folding it by accident when trying to put it in the car. Big deal, I’m going to cut it anyway.
Before I could get back to work to try out the idea, I had to stop by Wal-Mart to pick up a few things and while there I traveled through the kitchen appliance isle and came across cutting boards. Now, I had noticed them before, but it hadn’t occurred to me until then that the thin, white cutting mats would make great little diffusers. So, I picked up a pack of three (about 14″x18″ or so) for $3 just to compare the two.
Acrylic material cut to size
Cutting mat cut to size
Once home, I took out one of the 7″ honeycomb grids and used a Sharpie to trace the edge onto both materials. I then used scissors to cut the mat – very easy – and heavy duty hand shears to cut the acrylic. Note: you can do it with scissors, but it’s very brittle and cracks easily. Try the shears if you choose to work with this material.
I did not have a human subject so I used an orange. It’s got a dippled surface and is moderately reflective so I figured it would give me some feedback. Below are the results.
Alien Bees 800 w/ reflector dish – no diffusion
Alien Bees 800 w/ reflector dish – acrylic diffusion
Alien Bees 800 w/ reflector dish – cutting mat diffusion
The first picture is of the orange shot with an Alien Bees 800 strobe with the standard reflector only. The second picture is with the acrylic diffuser in place and the third is with the cutting mat diffuser in place. As you can see the diffusers pull the highlight intensity down and soften the shadows. I did various tests with barn doors and grids – and yes they both fit well behind the grid – with similar results. I chose to use the non-focused images so as not to create any misguided shadows, etc. from the accessories.
I then took a meter reading to compare the differences. The settings on the 800 were not recorded as they are not essential for this test since I was just looking for the output difference between the non-diffused light and the two diffused sources. No settings were changed between the three meter tests.
The bare flash with reflector clocked in at f/11. Both the acrylic diffuser and mat diffuser produced very comparable results right around f/8. It would be a safe estimate that the diffusers reduce the light output by one stop which is pretty respectable. The results were not surprising since the images of the two are so similar.
For me, I’d go with the cutting mat. Why? It produced nearly identical results both in quality and light loss and is much easier to cut and store. The acrylic that I used was good, but simply too brittle for long term use, especially when travel might be involved.
CAUTION!!!: I have no idea how long term or high intensity use will effect the integrity of these materials! The cutting mat material is not designed for use with lighting and the acrylic, though used with lighting diffusion by nature, is NOT designed for strobes or high temperature modeling lamps. Florescent lights give off almost no heat so are very tame when it comes to material eroding. I use 100 watt light bulbs as modeling lamps and when you couple them with the grids the diffusers come very close to touching the bulb and might actually make contact in some cases. If you’ve every pulled a metal grid off of a strobe after even 5 minutes of use near a modeling lamp, you know that the temperatures are quite hot. For safety reasons, I’d recommend turning off the modeling lamp completely or removing it all together. The strobe will generate heat, but in short controlled bursts. You are still best served by checking the integrity of the diffuser from time to time. Alien Bees does not recommend such diffusion materials and will therefore not cover any problems that might be caused by this lighting setup. Use at your own risk. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the possibility of fire as a result of strobe misuse. Always follow the instructions provided by your equipment manufacturer. As with any DIY project, homemade solutions can present risk of equipment malfunction or failure and personal injury. Though I feel this solution is safe under the listed circumstance, I am not an electrical or mechanical expert and am not responsible for any problems that may arise from improper use.
I thought I’d take a break from the lighting setup posts to do a bit of commentary on equipment. No, I’m not an authority on equipment, nor have I obtained or worked with the variety of gear that many professionals have, but I do have some comments that I’d like to throw out there just for fun.
I am a Nikon shooter, as you know, and the biggest complaint disappointment I currently have with the Nikon line is its lack of vast prime lenses. Now, Nikon does have a bunch of legendary glass that still outshines a lot of newer gear by some manufacturers, but it’s about time that Nikon kick the line up a notch and introduce some new optics.
This may very well be in the works, but it has taken the company a painful amount of time to bring this to the table. Nikon has introduced two new AF-S primes as of late with the 50mm f/1.4 and the newly released 35mm f/1.8. The price of the AF-S 50mm is nearly double that of it’s predecessor, but does give users the AF-S feature. Why is this good? Three primary reasons; faster focusing – especially in low light, quieter focusing and compatibility with the intro bodies like the fabulous D40/D40x and D60.
The newest release, the 35mm, is unfortunately, a DX format lens, making it specifically geared toward the D300, D90/80 and lower end bodies. This isn’t a bad thing exactly, but it limits FX (full frame) users to the older 35mm f/2D lens that lacks the AF-S feature and is a bit slower wide open. It’s a great play by Nikon – introducing a DX specific lens to the masses, but it leaves pro shooters and owners of the FX cameras scratching their heads. Yes, the high ISO output is better on these cameras, but that does not help low-light AF and quieter performance.
I would have loved an FX compatible version of the 35mm. It acts like a 50mm (give or take) on the DX bodies, but would have provided FX shooters with a nice wide angle alternative. It is also $300 cheaper than the 50mm and given the focal differences would have been a nice alternative for FX shooters – though the price would likely have been higher for the full frame version.
Other than these two lenses, Nikon offers NO fast AF-S glass. The stunning 85mm f/1.4D is likely the next target for the revamp and the lens would likely find itself on back order before it even hit shelves. Nikon also has older 105mm and 135mm f/2 DC lenses that many would love to see in a state of the art format. One of Canon’s most popular telephotos is the 135mm f/2L USM. It is fast, quiet and tack sharp and can be had for just under $1,000 – a steal for such and optic.
Nikon jumped out with the staggeringly good 200mm f/2 AF-S VR lens very early in the game. They did not create it for FX sensors specifically because the lens predates that release (thought it was a fine pairing with film), but it offered fast AF, stunning bokeh, and VR in a rock solid housing. The lens costs $4,000, but for those with the need and the cash, it’s a must have tool.
Nikon has other lenses that can certainly use a makeover like the 80-400mm VR, which was/is very popular even though glaciers move faster than the AF motor. The excellent 70-200mm f/2.8 VR could use a tweak as well with the advent of the very good N series lenses like the 14-24mm and 24-70mm as well as the pairing with the FX sensor where this lens exhibits pronounced vignetting.
So, in a nutshell, what would I, and I believe most pro shooters (especially portrait, sports and wedding photographers) really like to see released?
- 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VRII N
- 85mm f/1.4 AF-S N
- 135mm f/2 AF-S N (VRII ? – unlikely)
- 28mm f/1.4 AF-S N (or something wider than 50mm and at least at f/2) – this sucker would be expensive
This might be a wish list, but I know that virtually all of these would find their way into 90 percent or more of the pro kits out there. Nikon has promised more lens releases this year. Let’s hope that they update the prime line in the process.
It’s been a bit since my last post, needless to say, I’ve been crazy busy. This will be a relatively short post and will take the topic of the last post on two source beauty lighting in a different direction.
Last time, I talked about “clam shell” lighting. Basically, it consists of a diffused light source at 45 degrees above and below the subject in the portrait environment. Here, I’ve moved the sources into a cross-lighting setup. The interesting thing about this particular setup is that it incorporates no diffusion. The main light is positioned to camera left at about 45 degrees. The light is an Alien Bees 800 series strobe with a standard reflector and a 30 degree honeycomb grid attached. This concentrates the light, allowing for both limited spill and less power. One could use a beauty dish in this setting as well, though, without a grid, it will produce a larger light cast.
The second light is also and Alien Bee’s 800 fixed with a standard reflector and a set of barn doors. The vertical doors are closed down allowing only about a two inch beam of light. The top and bottom flaps (the horizontal doors) are wide open. I find this allows more directional light over a longer plane than, say, a snoot or honeycomb grid. I wanted the light to travel from the head down the back and arm to provide a more complete rim light.
The lighting setup was the same for both models, but arranged in opposite directions for each subject. Eden (top picture in the post and last) was shot using the setup shown below. Erin (above) was photographed with the main light to the right and the rim light to the left. Note how much coverage the barn doors allow down the back of the subject. It is especially evident in the pictures of Eden as I have her positioned at a harder angle to the camera. Both models have easy-going and bright personalities which makes working with them easy and fun. The poses were done from a run of the mill school chair. The glare that the legs and back of the seat produced in some of the images was removed in post.
I failed to record the power output settings on the strobes, but it was significantly less power than required with diffusion. The images were shot with a Nikon D700 in RAW mode with a 70-200mm lens at f/8 at 1/250th. They were rotated and a few minor tweaks were performed in Aperture before dumping them off to Photoshop CS4.
The great thing about this setup is that it introduces virtually no light spill onto the backdrop. That is further controlled by the fast shutter speed. I have to admit, this was an improvised scenario. We began the shoot with the clam shell configuration – but this time in the vertical orientation (i.e. the lights were 45 to the left and right than from above and below). That setup produced some wonderful images, but I really wanted to go a different route, so for the last 30 minutes I decided to try this setup and loved it.
When you have photogenic subjects, more than half the work is done for you, and when you throw in a talented makeup artist like Wendy Riley (whom I also had the pleasure of working with on the previous shoot on beauty lighting) things get even easier. But even the world’s top models have their images retouched (heavily) for print and advertising work. These images needed some attention, but nothing super serious. Mostly I just removed a few distracting flyaway hairs and then evened out the skin tones. This was done using Photoshop CS4 with the healing brush, the clone stamp tool and layer blending with the blur filter, etc. I’m not a Photoshop expert, I just try to learn the techniques that best serve my style of photography and work with them. Photoshop geniuses like Scott Kelby and others are the defacto source for learning better Photoshop skills. Give them a Google to learn more tips and tricks.
This is a super simple lighting setup that is capable of producing some magnificent results. You have to be more careful with you r light placement and subject position when dealing with non-diffused lighting as it drastically increases shadows as well light hardness. The end results are worth the extra attention to detail as it produces a classic Hollywood sort of elegance, perfect for less traditional beauty lighting.
Until next time, be safe and happy shooting.
Over the weekend I had the pleasure of working with two models on an independent photo shoot. With nearly every click of the shutter going toward university work or wedding events lately, I have had little time to work on shooting for my portfolio – and perhaps more importantly, just for fun.
Shirley DeArmas and Nikki Jagt were kind enough to trade half of their Saturday in exchange for some free images. I in turn gained two models and a collection of beautiful images. We opened the studio doors around 9 a.m. and we wrapped about 2 p.m. I hauled lighting gear and worked on the setup and calibration while the girls were in makeup, courtesy of the very talented Wendy Riley. The actual shoot went about 2-2.5 hours and the shot selection produced was incredible.
For more than half of the shoot, I used a classic beauty lighting setup that provided smooth, elegant lighting. All of these shots were focused on the waist up. For the final third of the shoot I adjusted the lighting to a four light setup to cover more full body shots. The four light scenario may be discussed in a future post, but for now I’d like to focus on beauty lighting.
Beauty lighting is a general title assigned to shooting scenarios where the main purpose is to provide even illumination from top to bottom, and at times, from left to right. It can be used for a variety of subjects, but is typically used on females in 2/3 portrait or tighter. You’ll see it in advertisements for makeup and skin cleansers as well in model portfolios. This can be achieved in numerous ways and different photographers favor different approaches. Some setups include a beauty dish over head with a fill card below the face, a ring light with diffuser and what is referred to as clam shell lighting – which is the setup discussed here.
Clam shell lighting consists of a pair of diffused light sources positioned above and below the model and tilted about 45 degrees toward the subject. The setup looks like an open clam shell, hence the name. The lights will obviously be in front of the model, and the tilt of the lights will cast overlapping light on the subject, providing a nice, smooth, even illumination. To further enhance the setup I added a pair of white reflectors, one on either side of the model, to kick some light back into the sides of the face and body.
The diagram below shows the setup from the side. As you can see, the softboxes are positioned about 45 degrees above and below the model with the two reflectors on either side. Note that the closest reflector has a reduced opacity to allow for a more three dimensional look at the scenario. The setup works best if the upper light is placed on a boom because the images are actually shot throw the opening between the softboxes and the obstruction of a light stand will prove extremely frustrating. It is worth noting that this same setup can be achieved with off-camera strobe like your Nikon, Canon or other portable flashes. Keep in mind, it will be harder to parallel the power of the studio strobes, but you can certainly compensate for this by adjusting your exposure settings. These images were shot using a pair Alien Bees 800 lights in the foldable medium and large softboxes. The reflectors can be anything from poster board to foam core to collapsible reflectors. I used a pair of Photoflex light panels with the diffusion surfaces to bounce the light. The images were shot at ISO 50 at 1/250th at f/8. The lights were set to approximately one quarter output, but were adjusted using the Alien Bees LG4X wired remote control for the variation in skin tones and wardrobe color and materials.
A little retouching was done in Photoshop. The basics apply here. I removed the blemishes not concealed by the makeup, improved contrast a bit around the eyes and softened the skin. Ta-da! It’s really the same thing you would do for any portrait retouching, with the exception (maybe) of the skin softening. It’s really just a duplicated layer with 2-2.5 pixel Gaussian blur added. Then the layer opacity is reduced to 30-40 percent and then the important features – i.e. everything but the skin – are erased, revealing the original layer, and then the layers are flattened. Presto. You may use other methods for this, but I’m not a Photoshp expert. I just use what seems to work for me.
As you can see, the lighting is breathtaking, but having beautiful models certainly doesn’t hurt. This is a relatively simple lighting setup and it can produce spectacular results. Combine this method with elegant subjects and a laid back, fun atmosphere and the results will certainly not disappoint.
Until next time, happy shooting.