Thank You Glazer’s Camera

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As most of you are likely already fully aware, Glazer’s is a fantastic resource in Seattle for photography gear, both retail and rental.  We are very lucky to have such a great resource in our community.  Becker and I would like to thank Glazer’s for extending their generous support by sponsoring our trip to the Philippines; Bruce and Rebecca have been so supportive of our work, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude in helping to make our trip a success.  Thank you Glazers for constantly going above and beyond to support photographers, and thank you for helping us raise awareness about the exploitation of women and children in the Philippines.  It’s exciting to see what we can accomplish through art and a collaborative community.

I have some fun projects lined up in the near future where I will be teaming up, and joining forces with Glazers, and I couldn’t be more excited!  Keep your eyes peeled…


Hasselblad H3DII-31 Review

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Hasselblad H3dII-31

I have been getting a lot of emails lately about my thoughts on the Hasselblad H3DII-31 camera and what my experiences with it has been.  Seeing as how the camera is on sale right now, and the sudden interest from many of you, I thought it would be helpful to do a little review.  Not to mention I don’t have time to write back to everyone in great depth.  I am not going to get super technical or compare images at 100% with different cameras.  There are plenty of sites already doing that, but I can tell you about my experience of using this camera for the past year and a half.  For those of you not familiar with the H3DII-31, it is a 31 megapixel medium format camera.  This is not just a digital back you put on a medium format film camera body.  The entire camera was designed together so the end result is a very impressive piece of equipment.  The sensor on this camera is much larger than the sensor on a 35mm format DSLR, and this delivers details not previously seen on a digital camera.

After I made the decision to take the plunge, it took me a few weeks to get used to the H3DII-31 and learn to trust it’s auto focus.  During those first few weeks, I shot everything with the H3DII-31 and my Canon just to be safe.  I needed to get to a place where I could trust the Hasselblad as much as I trusted my Canon (most of the time) and know that it was focusing where I wanted.  Six years ago, I had a Mamiya 645AFD which is an auto focus medium format film camera.  I hated that thing.  I am not a fan of manual focusing, so the auto focus feature was what drew me to that particular body.  I can’t remember exactly what the focusing screen looked like on it, but it was impossible to choose a precise point to auto focus on.  Like my subjects eye, for example.  It was just as likely to focus on the tip of a nose, or the back of an ear as it was the eye, and it was really difficult to tell what was in focus through the view finder.  I think that experience with an auto focus medium format camera is what made me so hesitant about the Hasselblad at first.

Thankfully, my experience with the H3DII-31 has been amazing in contrast to the Mamiya, and to this day it has never focused anywhere I didn’t want it to.   Not only is this camera accurate, but the sharpness and clarity is incredible.  After all this time with it, I still get excited and amazed by the detail and richness of my images.  The out of focus areas in the background are smooth without banding, and the detail areas of the images are so crisp and brilliant.

The LEAF Shutter in the Hasselblad H3DII-31 is a feature I especially like.  What this allows for is the ability to sync with strobes at shutter speeds up to 1/500th of a second.  I have found this to be most helpful when shooting outside and I don’t want to shoot at f16.   And it gives you more options if you want to shoot with strobe and maintain a shallow depth of field.  Shooting at 1/500th also gives you better protection from camera shake and helps keep everything sharp.

A feature of this camera not often discussed is the aspect ratio.  It is medium format after all, so it is 6 x4.5 as opposed to 4×6 on 35mm DSLR’s.  Making the switch back to medium format for me was a breath of fresh air.  I feel like 645 is how I see things, and composing in the H3DII-31 is much more enjoyable for me.  Some people like square format, and some of you will prefer 35mm.  It’s just a matter of personal preference, but this was a big deal for me, and one I was happy to switch to.

I have found the color on the H3DII-31 to be much more accurate and rich than on other cameras I have used.  Shadow detail is also something that really jumped out at me.  When working with my Canon, I became used to flat shadows with little detail, but the Hasselblad seems to have a much better range between darks and highlights.

The resolution is also amazing.  Frequently, I will come across details in a picture while using Photoshop I never could have seen with a different camera.  For example, I was photographing a CEO on the 45th floor and the city was in the background.  When I was working with the images, I zoomed to 100% and noticed there was a man standing in a window of another building several blocks away, and his face and clothing were clearly recognizable.  The man in the window didn’t do anything to make the picture better, but it was just really cool in a tech nerd sort of way.  The size of a H3DII-31 image is 6496 pixels x 4872 pixels.

The Hasselblad Phocus software has been my only complaint about the H3DII-31.  For a while I was stuck converting all of my images into DNG files before I could work with them using an old version of Hasselblad FlexColor.  For about a year, I was not able to use Phocus, and I was stuck using an old Hasselblad program to convert to DNG before I could work with the images.  Thankfully Phocus 2.0 was just released, and I will say the new version has been working very well.  I wish the camera would create a file that was supported by other software options, but Hasselblad claims one of the reasons their files are so great is because they can completely control them through Phocus.  Maye that is true, and I do agree that the H3DII-31 creates amazing files.  I guess I just wish there were more options for working with the raw files.  In the scheme of things, this is not a huge deal for me, especially considering the final product produced by the H3DII-31.  That being said, the new version of Phocus is a good program.  It just takes getting used to, as does any new program.

Something else worth mentioning is the excellent support and customer service I have received from Hasselblad.  While I was having problems with Phocus, Hasselblad techs have always stayed on the phone with me or emailed me right back when I had a problem or question until it was resolved.  Just today I had a question about batch processing and I got a detailed email response within 15 minutes.

Some of you have asked about the workflow with a Hasselblad.  I copy the Hasselblad 3FR files from a compact flash card to my server.  Then I open Phocus and import the images.  This essentially creates a duplicate file of the images you “imported” and the new imported files (3F or FFF files) are the ones you work with in Phocus.  I then make my selects, and delete the imported (3F) files which didn’t make the cut.  I still have all of the original 3FR files though, so I haven’t truly deleted everything yet.  In Phocus you can make a number of RAW adjustments just like you would in Bridge or Lightroom.  From there you can export to any file type and then it’s off to Photoshop.  If you shoot tethered, then the files are automatically imported and you don’t have to go through that process.

In conclusion, I really like this camera.  I would buy it again in a heartbeat, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take their photography to the next level.  It would not be a good camera if you shoot live sports or anything requiring rapid shooting simply because it does 1 frame per 1.5 seconds compared to several frames per second with Canon and Nikon DSLR’s.  Rarely do I ever need anything that fast, so it’s not an issue for me or photographers who shoot products etc…

I have seen a huge jump in the quality of my work since I began using the Hasselblad H3DII-31.  It feels like an extension of me when I am shooting, and has made photography much more enjoyable.

So there you go.  I hope this information is helpful.  Feel free to leave questions or start a discussion in the comments.  And again, (HERE) is where you can get the H3DII-31 for a killer deal.  $6,000 off is a lot less than I paid, so I consider that to be a deal.


My Photography Portfolio And Self Promotion

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* If you are using a blog reader, you may need to visit my actual (blog post) to see the slide shows.

Click the button in the lower right corner of the slide shows (the four arrows) to see a larger full screen version if you are interested.

As I mentioned in an earlier post.  I worked with designer Greg Lutze this year to create my new website and marketing materials (business cards, postcards, e-promo templates).   It was a long process, but well worth all of the hard work that went into it.  I recently took some pictures of the final products, and submitted everything to PDN’s 25th Annual Self Promotion Awards.  It would be really exciting to be selected, but even if we aren’t,  I feel really proud of what has been done here.

I remember the first time I was asked to send in my portfolio.  I didn’t even have one, much less know what it should look like.  I had been networking, trying to get people to hire me.  Then someone actually answered the phone and wanted to see more than just my website.  I didn’t know any photographers at the time, but I was fortunate enough to know Roger Feldman, who is an incredible artist.  He took the time to look at my small body of work, and helped me put something together.  Looking at my new portfolio, I can see how far along I have come, but there is still much to improve and work on.

I did quite a bit of research before I decided how I was going to put this portfolio together.  It seems like everyone has a different opinion on how how a photography portfolio should be made, and what it should look like.  Which doesn’t help the decision making process.  Each portfolio option has it’s pros and cons.  I feel like this is the most beautiful presentation, but the downside is that I can’t change the pictures.  I decided that I was fine with that for now, although I do think that I will still make a portfolio with pages that I can change.  This just shows so well, and I wanted to try for something a little different.  Especially as I started out on my national meeting circuit in June.

If you are interested, I printed the portfolio pictures through White House Custom Color.  Then I sent the prints to Leather Craftsmen, and they made the book.  They are actually a wedding album company, but that seemed like the best solution for what I wanted.


Lighting Technique: Three Lights and the Sun

Posted by / Filed under Lighting Technique, Personal Work, Tools Of The Trade

Portrait of a retired university professor and his wife.  Photo by John Keatley.

A month or so ago, I was hired to photograph several people for a marketing publication.  They were looking for lifestyle type portraits.  So I shot most of them in natural light, often with a reflector or two.  Warm, happy, and beautiful was my direction, and so I was looking for bright colorful backgrounds.  When I arrived at this couples home, I went through the usual introductions and before long, I was taking the grand tour of their home.  It’s always funny to me that as a photographer, I can walk into a strangers home, look around in all of their rooms, and tell them what to wear.  Years ago, this took a bit of getting used to, but now it feels somewhat normal.

There was not much in the house that lent itself to what I was looking for, so I decided we would head to a park.  As we were leaving, I took notice of this room with the piano, the old lamp, and the bright sun streaming through the window.  For a moment, I turned off the filter in my head that was only looking for commercial lifestyle type portraits.  The muted colors and the overall feel of the shot that began forming in my head was not something that would interest my client, but I decided that it was worth exploring for myself.

This was a really fun lighting process, and there were some elements that I don’t often get to work through.  I know a lot of you are often curious, and email me about my lighting, so how about a lighting walk through.  Take out a sheet of paper and a number 2 pencil.  Here we go.

Direct sunlight was coming through a large window on the left side of the frame.  You can see the bright spot on the floor pointing toward the piano.  There were soft rolling shadows all over the wall and furniture from the sunlight bouncing off the white carpet and other light surfaces.  It was beautiful light, but the range between the light on the floor and the shadows was too wide to capture with detail.

I took several frames with just natural light, to get a rough idea of what the shot could feel like.  After I felt confident that something interesting could develop, I ran out to the car and brought in all of the lighting that I had with me.  Three strobes in this case.  I almost didn’t even bring them because I didn’t think I would be using lights that day.   The first thing I did was get an exposure that had some detail in the  sun spot on the floor.  I wanted it to be bright, but not blown out.  My goal was to mimic the natural light, but bring the range from highlight to shadow down to something that is within the camera’s range of capturing.  I shot at ISO 100, and the exposure was 1/125 at f/9.0.

Exposing for the brightest spot in this case made the rest of the frame very dark.  The next step was to add in light and bring up the shadows.  I like to add and work with one light at a time when I am building my lighting setups.  I start with the brightest light source.  The sun in this case, and work my way down to the fill lights.  I feel like this gives me more control, and allows me to better see the results and consequences of each light that I am using.

Equipment: Before I get into how I used my equipment to create this shot, here is a list of the actual equipment I used along with links to the product pages.

Camera: Canon DSLR
Lights: Elinchrom Ranger Battery Pack and Head x2
Extra Elinchrom Ranger Free Lite A Flash Head
Light Modifiers: Photoflex Large Softbox
Wescott 45” Umbrella x2

The Key Light: I set up a large softbox on camera left, in front of the window.  There was a lot of furniture and items in the room, and although I did rearrange quite a bit, I didn’t want to make a complete mess of their home.  There was not enough floor space to set up a stand where I wanted the key light, and even if there was, it would have cut into the frame of the shot.  So I set up a C stand with a grip arm and mounted the softbox on the end of the arm.  I swung this over the couch and up against the window so that it was angled down toward the floor and feathered away from the wall (pointing across the frame toward the right side of the room).  The reason for feathering the softbox from the wall was because I wanted to create a darker shadow in the upper left corner of the frame.  The more the softbox is pointed away from the wall, the larger and deeper the shadow in the left corner becomes.  I also wanted the light to be a little more even across the frame, and feathering gave me more reach.  You can see a slight shadow with a hard edge on the floor on the very far right at the base of the drawers.  This shadow was from the softbox.  If I had the softbox pointed directly toward the couple, the light would not have reached that far.  And finally, let’s not forget.  It is kind of important to actually light the subjects with the key as well.  So I made sure that the light was hitting them how I wanted.   The head and softbox were actually a little too large for the C stand arm, so I did have to do a little work with some tape, clamps and an extra light stand to keep the softbox from pointing straight down.  Clamps and tape are a must if you ask me.  Now we have a floor highlight that is not blown out, and properly exposed people on the piano bench.  But, the right side of the frame was still really dark.

Fill Light #1: The goal for the fill light was to control the shadows.  I don’t want this light to be even with the sun, or the key (softbox).  What I want out of the fill is to bring up the dark shadows to a level that has detail, but still looks and feels like a shadow.  I used a 45” umbrella with black backing that I bounced a strobe into.  So the strobe is actually pointing away from the subject into the umbrella and bouncing the light back onto the frame.  I experimented with a number of positions for the first fill light, but I ended up placing it about a foot or so behind me, and two or three feet to my right.  The height of the strobe head was about a foot above the subjects head, and the umbrella was not angled much.  The umbrella rod was about parallel with the ground.  You can see the shadows created by this light on the ground behind one of the piano bench legs, and the right piano leg.  There is also a very soft and subtle shadow on the wall to the left of the drawers.  This tells you that the actual strobe head was just to the right of the edge of the drawer, but the umbrella just swept over the edge to create that soft shadow.  If I would have moved the light further to the right, the shadow would have grown and become darker.  If I would have moved the light more to the left, the shadow would have disappeared completely.  I left the shadow in to create some depth on the right side of the frame.

Fill Light #2: I also set up a second umbrella for fill light.  I placed this about 9 feet away from me on the right side of the frame, and used it to fill in the shadow on the wall to the right of the drawers.

And then it was time to start shooting.  After a number of different poses, I decided on this one.  I really like this shot.  The man is a retired professor, and it turns out that he taught photography for a few years.  This was many years ago, and the program eventually was shut down when funds became tight.  But it was a lot of fun talking to him about cameras and equipment.  It was also the first time I had a subject offer to set up and take down stands and actually know how to do it.

I hope you found this interesting, or helpful.  Feel free to post any comments or questions.  I will do my best to respond and answer any questions you may have.


Backup Your Digital Photography

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Today I would like to talk to you about a subject that is often uncomfortable, and even a little confusing at times.  Using protection.  Now I know what you are probably thinking.  “Why should I worry about protection? I’m smart about it, and I try to use safe practices.  Besides, that could never happen to me.”  I used to think that too, but yesterday I had quite a scare.  I realized hard drive failure and data loss can happen to anyone, at anytime.  Even if you have a RAID server and a backup system.  

It’s embarrassing to think about how I used to store my pictures.  External hard drives all over the office. Random pictures here and there.  Finally I realized that I needed to get serious and invest in a RAID Server. This thing has 8 hard drives in it, and it is possible to lose one drive without losing any data.  It’s happened three times now in the last year, which I am told is not uncommon for running that many drives.  I heard that Google has a hard drive go bad every three minutes.  Crazy! After the second drive went bad a few months ago, I decided to add an additional backup system to the server.  So now every few days, a copy of the data on the server is captured onto two external hard drives. 

Now for one of the scariest moments of my career.  Tuesday I heard a noise coming from the server.  My network admin said that it was a drive, but I should be fine to keep working until he could swap it out the next day.  Not long after, several hard drive lights started flashing red.  I tried to access the server, and in the root directory, I was greeted with, “0 bytes.  No files available.”  What!?  

It turns out that I didn’t lose anything.  One drive went bad, and after putting a new one in, everything went back to normal.  But this has me thinking I may need to add another RAID server to backup the one I already have.  I am also going to be keeping backup drives at off site locations.  No more taking chances.  I do not want to go through this again.

Even if you aren’t a professional photographer, it can be devastating to lose all of your personal pictures.   So many people have pictures on one drive, or on a disc.  Discs and drives go bad!  Always keep multiple copies of your data.  External hard drives are very affordable these days, so there are no excuses.  I seriously recommend taking the following steps to everyone.

1: Keep your pictures organized by creating a filing system that makes sense.
2: Never store data on the C: drive.  If you need to reformat, or reinstall your OS, this can be a problem.  Have a separate drive for your data.
3: Backup your data!  Make sure that everything you save is on at least two different drives.  I do not recommend CD’s or DVD’s.  They go bad!
4: Keep a backup of your data at a second location.  This might be extreme for some people.  But if it’s your career, like it is mine, do it.

There you have it.  Please talk to your loved ones about the importance of using data protection.