Photo 101: Open Shade is Your Friend

When you’re shooting outdoors it can be hard to find good light. Most of the time the sun is shining overhead and that light is hard, unflattering, and casts some nasty shadows. Not to mention that you’ll be lucky to get your subject to hold their eyes open long enough to get a decent shot.

So how do you remedy this? Well, if you don’t have a ton of money to spend on a huge silk (I certainly don’t) then your best bet is to find some open shade. Remember that tree location that my wife scouted for me last week? I went out there yesterday with my family to check it out for myself. No flashes, no softboxes, just the camera. It was an overcast day in San Diego anyway but this tree location really rocked because it is like a natural canopy providing lots of open shade.

Open shade will give you a much softer, window-like kind of light that is simply awesome to shoot in. One thing to keep in mind is if you’re in a location like this and it happens to be a bright, sunny day out be sure to watch out for dappled light on your subject. Dappled light is where you have a combination of hard and soft light falling on your subject. It’s ugly! Avoid it like the plague.

I shot the image above with my D90, Nikon 16-85mm VR lens, at f 5.6, 1/30th, 85mm, ISO 200. I had VR on to help ensure that I got a sharp shot. Also, another trick I used was to set my camera to shoot in Continuous Mode and let the shutter fly a few times. When you’re hand-holding at slow shutter speeds, this will help you get a sharper shot. If you shoot five you’re much more likely to have one be sharp than you are if you’re shooting them one at a time. And with digital, the film’s free!

That’s my tutorial for this Monday. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and come back again this week for more great photo tips and news!


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My Wife Goes Location Scouting!

So my wife was out hiking around yesterday, but I didn’t know that she was also scouting locations for me. She sent a text to me midday and said that she found an awesome place to shoot portraits. When I got home she showed me the photo (above) that she snapped with her cell phone! I was blown away! Not only did she think about me (which she always does) but she found a really cool location! Thanks Baby, for supporting me. I think your going to have to go location scouting hiking more often!


Some Fun iPhone Photos

The iPhone photo bug has really bitten me and I’ve been snapping a lot more images than I ever used to with my iPhone. I find myself constantly looking around for something cool to shoot and I can usually find something within arms reach just by looking around. I know personally that I don’t do that enough. What I’ve learned from the experience is that it’s opened up my mind and gotten my creative juices flowing.

Here’s a couple of my recent iPhone photos. Take a look, let me know what you think, and I encourage you to go out and shoot your own images with your iPhone (or other phone equipped with a camera). As most of you already know, the camera isn’t anywhere near as important as the photographer using it and the best camera is the one that’s with you! (And I’m never without my iPhone.)

A shot of my son in our car at tennis practice.

Tennis practice.

Saw this and thought it would be cool processed with the Helga preset in Camera Bag.

Same as above.

I saw this and immediately had to shoot it.

The last three photos came about while I was walking around my ship. Remember when I said that there are lots of interesting things all within arm’s reach? Perfect example.

That’s a wrap for today. I hope you have a great day and don’t forget to back up your photos!


Let Us Never Forget

I wanted to wish you all a Happy Memorial Day and to also remind you to think about those who have gone before us and have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the very freedom we share. I hope you all have a great day today and a big “Thanks” goes out to all my brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces who have served and currently serve by my side.

I also want to thank all of the families who support their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters in all that we do. My wife Kelie and my kids Benjamin, Abbigail, and Daniel do so much to support me. THANK YOU!

I’m off to spend the day with my family. See you guys tomorrow!

Stephen


Lastolite Ezybox Review

Alright, it’s time for the long-awaited (for some of you) Lastolite Ezybox review! I’ve been playing with this amazing softbox for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I am VERY impressed. There are lots of things I like, and really nothing that I don’t like. Without further ado, onto the review! (Lame, I know.)

Portability
I have the 24″x24″ Lastolite Ezybox, which one would think would take up a lot of space. Lastolite fooled us though because it doesn’t take up hardly any space at all! It comes in a little zipper bag that measures 10″ in diameter, which easily fits into most medium-to-large camera bags. The Ezybox is much like Lastolite’s Tri-Grip diffusers and reflectors in that it folds up nice and neat. Think “Magic Shade” for your car and you’ll know what I mean. If you buy the kit with the speed ring and hot shoe bracket, they’ll both fit in the zipper bag with the Ezybox for an ultra-portable softbox solution.

Setup and Breakdown
Once again, the Ezybox really shines here. The first setup takes a couple minutes because you have to open all the plastic bags and whatnot. After you’re first go around, you can set it up in less than a minute. It quickly unfolds into it’s softbox form and all you have to do is slip the speedring into place on the back of the softbox. It attaches in a somewhat unusual manner, but don’t confuse that with dysfunctional because that’s certainly not the case. The speedring is held into place by the outer support pieces of each side of the softbox, at the back of the softbox, and basically held into place by friction. Don’t worry, it won’t go anywhere. It’s pretty sung. I leave the hot shoe bracket attached to the speedring all the time to maintain an ultra-short setup time.

The diffusion panels velcro into place and they stay put. You won’t have to worry about them falling off thanks to the super industrial-type velcro used by Lastolite. Very well done here. Also, when it’s time to break the Ezybox down, you can simply un-velcro and fold one corner of the diffusion panels to the other corner and fold up the Ezybox with the diffusion panels in place. Again, this will make your setup more efficient.

Speaking of breaking down the Ezybox, once the diffusion panels are folded then you can slip the Ezybox off of the speedring and fold it in until it’s flat. Then fold it in half (like a book) and then with the longer side facing you, fold it again just like a Tri-Grip and it’s ready to go into it’s zipper bag. Simple and efficient… which I really dig!

Quality of Light
All I can say is WOW! The light quality from the Ezybox is amazing. It’s soft, beautiful, and flattering! Add the fact that you get more control over your light because it’s a softbox and now we’re really lighting! I’m sorry that I waited so long to get one! Check out the shot below:

I love the big, square catchlights in the eyes! Much better than an umbrella as far as I’m concerned.

Accessories
Lastolite offers an array of accessories for their Ezybox line including a telescoping handle. It is a great thing to have when working alone or with a VAL (Voice Activated Lightstand). The hot shoe bracket that comes with the kit is sturdy and you won’t have to worry about your flash going anywhere, but make sure you have an umbrella swivel bracket if you want to be able to tilt the Ezybox. The way that the bracket is designed is great because you can tilt the box to point straight down on a regular lightstand, which is handy.

Overall, I’m really in love with the Ezybox. It’s amazing, simple to use, quick to set up and break down, and you get the best possible light you can out of your hot shoe flash. Price wise, they list for $217.00 at B&H Photo and they are even less when you add it to your shopping cart. I won’t publish that price as I don’t want to get B&H in trouble. Bogen Imaging, who distributes Lastolite products in the U.S., is offering a $35.00 mail in rebate on the 24″x24″ Lastolite Ezybox Hot Shoe Kit too! I plan on adding a least one more of these to my lighting arsenal.

For more information and videos be sure to check them out on Lastolite’s website.

If you want to get one, here’s where I got mine and so can you!

That’s a wrap for today, I hope you enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!


BlinkBid Software Review

Amateur, semi-pro, or full-time pro, if you’ve ever billed a client for services rendered we all want to present ourselves professionally. We as creatives typically do not want to spend hours slaving over some fancy pants accounting software.

I recently came across BlinkBid, an invoice and estimating software that was designed for creatives by creatives. Web designers, photographers, and graphic designers will love the fact that there is already items and services built into the software that we frequently bill clients for. This reduces the amount of setup time and you can literally be up and running in less than ten minutes.

The invoices and estimates are professional looking right out of the box and there is no tricky customization in order to get everything that you want (or don’t want) on our invoices. It’s all done via simple drop-down menus. You can easily add your company logo and even choose whether or not your company information shows up on estimates and invoices if your logo is present.

Adding contacts and clients is very quick and easy. It’s all done from one screen, a feature you won’t find with fancy accounting software. There is usually multiple tabs and that’s nothing more than a hassle. It’s also easy to add and customize items and services too.

BlinkBid is completely customizable with tax rates, what’s taxable and what isn’t, receiving income, terms and conditions, and more. It’s got a very slick interface and it’s easy to use. It doesn’t feel like a burden to open it up, create estimates, and print invoices.

One thing that some might see as a down-check is that BlinkBid doesn’t keep any type of register like accounting software would. For me, my finances are simple enough that it’s not an issue. Most freelancers would probably agree. But if you’re a big studio with a lot more to track, you’re probably are using accounting software or have an accountant. That wouldn’t preclude me from using BlinkBid though. I still like how easy it is to get an estimate out or get an invoice together.

Check out the video on how to get started with BlinkBid. It show’s you a good overview of all the features. I didn’t do a screencast myself because I liked their video so much.

BlinkBid offers a free 14-day trial so you can check it out for yourself and see just how great it is. It’s priced moderately at $229.00, which is about what you would pay for some fancy pants accounting software. The amount of time and effort you will save over accounting software makes the price very much worth it.

If you’re looking for killer software to create estimates and invoices and don’t want to spend hours setting it up for your business, then BlinkBid could definitely be a fit for you. Download the trial, check it out, and let us know what you think here in the comments!


“What’s Up” Wednesday

Welcome to “What’s Up” Wednesday, a new weekly event in which I let you know what’s happening around the industry, as well as some cool stuff that I’ve come across along the way. Let’s get started, shall we?

  • Last week, Scott over at WeeklyPhotoTips.com featured my DIY Gridspot tutorial on their website. Be sure to check out Scott’s site, as there is always a lot of good gouge to be read.
  • Wade Heninger, photographer and fellow Lightroom evangelist, gave a shout-out about my new FlashStrap and Gel Kits. For those of you wondering who Wade Heninger is, open Lightroom and read the dialog box. Or you can check out his website.
  • I recently started using twitter and I have to say that I really dig it. If you also twitter, you can follow me.
  • I am now using a new piece of software for estimates and invoicing. It’s called BlinkBid. Very exciting software, designed by creatives for creatives. Full review will be up tomorrow.
  • What in the heck is the shot above for? I’ll tell you. I recently started taking a couple of college courses in pursuit of my Associates Degree in Electronics Technology. So each week I spend some time in the evenings working on my English Composition and Intro to Psychology courses. Once I complete my AAS, I intend to pursue my BA in Business Administration! The book shot came about when I was playing around with my Lastolite Ezybox. Oh, that review will be up on Friday!
  • A friend of mine asked me to shoot his wedding in November… in Chicago! What?! More to come on that.

That’s it for today. I hope you guys are having a great week! I’m looking forward to a long weekend, getting in some shooting, and relaxing. See ‘ya tomorrow!