Once In A Blue Moon…

So here we are… on the last day of 2009. The last day of this decade for that matter. This New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a little special though, as we are going to have a Blue Moon here in the U.S.

A Blue Moon is where you have an additional full moon during the year (twice in one month), as normally there are only 12 full moons per year.  Lunar years are not quite the same length as calendar years.  (No, the moon isn’t actually going to appear to be the color blue.)

If you would like to get some shots of tomorrow’s Blue Moon, then I have a couple of quick tips for you to keep in mind.

  • You’re going to want a telephoto lens with a decent focal length, at least 200mm.
  • A tripod is key to getting really sharp shots. The moon is bright enough that you can hand-hold, but a tripod is the way to go.
  • Use your camera’s built-in timer or use a cable release to help get those shots just that much extra sharp. The timer (set to 5 seconds or longer) will allow any movement to cease from pressing the shutter release and a cable release prevents you from touching the camera altogether. You could also use a wireless remote, provided your camera supports it.

2009 has been a blast and I look forward to continuing my photographic journey in 2010 and sharing it with you all. I hope you have a safe and Happy New Year!

Stephen


Christmas 2009: Shot on the D90

Today I’m sharing a short video that I put together for our family, since most of them live far away from San Diego. I shot the video and stills on my D90 and put it all together in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 (which I am really loving by the way).

The convergence of still photography and video is growing more and more everyday. I didn’t buy the D90 for the video, but I have come to really enjoy it and I’m glad to see that Nikon included it on the D300s and D3s. Will we see a D700s? I hope so! I doubt that Nikon will release any new DSLRs that don’t have D-Movie mode from here on out. And the great part is that the video quality will only get better!

Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 has been great to work in thus far, having come from Final Cut Express 4. The look and feel is much the same, but I REALLY like the auto rendering and I don’t have to wait around nearly as much as I did with FCE. I’ll talk more about Premiere Pro in the future and for now I’m certainly a big fan!

That’s it for today, I hope you’re having a great week! The last few days of 2009 are upon us! What’s your creative resolutions for 2010? Share in the comments!


Retouching Old Photos

For Christmas, my little brother e-mailed my other little brother and I a photo of the three of us that my Dad took when we were pretty young… ok REALLY young. Long story short, my brother snagged the photo out of one of my parents photo albums when he was a freshman in college at the University of Missouri.

He scanned the photo and sent it to my brother and I on Christmas day. Scanners really helping bring us into the digital age because of the ability to digitize all of those old prints and film negatives. However, scanners (even the very best ones) bring about another problem. If the owner isn’t meticulous about cleaning it, you’re going to get dust, particles, etc. in your scans.

This was the case with the photo my brother sent, as you can see below:

This is one of those cases where Photoshop is a really great tool to have in your bag. I was able to fairly quickly clean up the dust and other bad artifacts from the scan as well as bring back some contrast and punch the colors a little bit. You could almost consider what I did as photo restoration, but I didn’t have to do anything major to the photo.

Photoshop has kind of gotten a bad name because of all the really heavy retouching and the powerful ability to drastically alter a photo. However, I’m not going to get into an ethics discussion here. My intention with this post was just to remind you that Photoshop has it’s place in photography and as great of an application as Lightroom is, sometimes you still need to go to Photoshop.


Simple Product Shots

Photographers often buy and sell goods online. No matter whether it’s eBay, Craigslist, or any other type of online auction or sales site you want to have good images to represent the product that you’re selling. I can’t tell you how many times that I have been searching either of the sites I mentioned above and found photographers (amateur or pro isn’t relevant) and the images associated with their item are well… less than what you would expect from a photographer.

It comes down to one of two things: laziness or lack of knowledge. The first one I can’t do anything about.

Setting Up
Getting great product shots in your living room, garage, dining room, bedroom, or wherever isn’t all that hard. You really don’t need anything fancy either.

If you’re shooting something really small, you can use white copy paper if you need to. I recommend that you use white foam core boards that you can pick up from your favorite office supply store. They are sometimes referred to as ‘presentation board’. If you’ve only got one flash or strobe, then you’ll need a minimum of three pieces. One to put your subject on, one to use as a background, and the third to use as a reflector for fill light.

If you’re shooting something that is very reflective, like the perfume bottle above, then you’re going to want to get your lights in nice and close. If you don’t have an umbrella or a softbox, you can use a white bed sheet to give yourself a bigger and softer light source. Remember to take into account the angle of incidence/angle of reflection because you don’t want to reflect light directly into your lens, causing lens flare. It also puts a really nasty specular highlight on your product. In most product shots, side light works really well.

Lola
In the shot above, I used two lights. I used an SB800 through a 45″ shoot through umbrella on camera left at 1/4 power and then a Lastolight TriGrip 1-Stop Diffuser on camera right with an SB80DX set to 1/32nd power. Most of the perfume bottle was lit with my umbrella light and the fill came from the Lastolite panel which also provided the pop for the logo.

So for about $20.00 or so you can have a pretty cool product shooting setup. There’s no real need to buy an expensive product table or anything extravagant in order to get professional looking results for products you’re selling online, or even if it’s just for fun.


Demb Flip-It Review

I’m a big fan (and user) of off-camera flash, but I am sometimes left with no choice but to shoot with my flash on camera as I’m running around at an event. Since I’m used to the awesome quality of light that I get with flash off the camera, I was in search of a solution that would give me great quality light with my flash on the camera.

Enter the Demb Big Flip-It. I had read about it for quite some time and a lot of photographers swear by it. At $29.95, I just had to order one and find out for myself. The Flip-It is basically a bracket that attaches to your flash with an elastic strap and some velcro, with a white corrugated plastic panel that attaches to the bracket. Simple, I know, yet VERY effective.

The Flip-It works on the same principle as the Lumiquest 80-20, letting most of the light go to the ceiling to be bounced and reflecting a much smaller volume of light forward in order to help light your subject. What makes the Flip-It so much better than the 80-20 is the fact that it’s completely adjustable. The bracket in which the plastic panel attaches to is on a hinge, allowing me to throw as little or as much light at my subject as I need to. Why is this so great? I can make subtle light adjustments without having to take my eye out of the viewfinder to adjust the power of my flash. (No, I’m not a TTL guy.)

The construction of the Flip-It is very sturdy and it holds in place well on my flash while I’m moving around shooting. Reviews of the Lumiquest 80-20 indicated that it seemed and felt flimsy on the flash, and that’s not something I need (or want) to deal with while I’m shooting an event. The panels are replaceable and inexpensive at $5.00 a pop. I can certainly live with that.

There are three sizes to accommodate just about every photographer, from the small Photojournalist Flip-It to the Mega Flip-It. The PJ model is fairly small and is designed to be fairly unobtrusive and mobile and the Mega is aimed that those who want to use a Flip-It on their off-camera speedlight.

Here’s a photo to illustrate the quality of light that you can get from this great little modifier:

As you can see, the light is much more soft and even than what you would get with a straight flash or even bounce flash. I have been using the Flip-It for about 3 months now and I carry it with me all the time. It works great indoors and even outdoors for some fill flash that beats the pants off of straight flash.

So if you’re in the market for a really great modifier to use on your flash while it sits in your camera’s hot shoe, then I highly recommend that you pick up this little lighting gem. You can buy them directly from Demb Flash Products. Enjoy!


D90 Still On Top of Image Quality Mountain

If you’re a Nikon D90 owner, you’re got something to really be proud of! Oh, and I wouldn’t go out and spend that $1800.00 that you’re about to spend to upgrade to a D300s either. Why? Because in terms of image quality, the D90 is the #1 sub-full frame DSLR on the market according to DxOMark’s Sensor website.

The D90 falls in at the number 15 spot, but the only cameras ahead of it are either full frame DSLRs or Medium Format digital cameras. That’s a helluva lot of bragging rights for anyone who owns the D90 (including me).

(Screen capture of DxOMark Sensor showing the Nikon D90’s rank.)

DxOMark Sensor was created by DxO Labs in order to provide a one-stop shop for photographers looking to find out more about the image quality of camera models, without solely relying on manufacturers websites or literature. Their testing methods were devised with three types of photographic situations in mind: studio and portrait work, landscape work, and finally sports and photojournalism.

Now, I’m not going to go into the whole ‘upgrade or don’t upgrade’ debate here, because the bottom line is it’s your money and if you want to spend it then be my guest. However, if you do upgrade to that D300s you’ll be dropping to the number 19 spot. Oh, the D300? It’s in the number 22 spot. If you have questions about upgrading, feel free to hit me up in the comments and I will be happy to help.

Image quality is what we’re all after as photographers. We want the best possible image quality for what we can afford, and it should be more important than weather proofing, bracketing, frames per second, or any other bell and whistle that a camera may have. Nikon really got it right with the D90, and DxOMark Sensor proves that. Coming from a trusted name in the industry like DxO Labs, you know that the data is accurate and trustworthy.