Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gone in 60 Seconds (Give or Take)

A tow truck driver uses a lockout tool to unlock the door of a car while a security guard watches in Los Angeles, Wednesday, August 31, 2011. The car was towed for illegally parking.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Blue

In yesterday's post I mentioned using a Honl "Just Blue" gel to turn a white wall into a blue background ... so here's that gel. You buy a velcro strap (Honl sells a good one, or Opteka makes a cheaper but not-quite-as-good "clinch band") and put that around the head of your flash. Then you stick the gel -- which has those little velcro fasteners on it -- on the flash head, attached to the velcro band. Honl sells the gels in little kits, so you can get color correction gels, color effects gels, or a "sampler" with both.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Living Room Self Portrait with a Softlighter II

Ted Fisher

I needed to make a quick self-portrait photo, but I wanted see if I could do it without heavy, full-size studio equipment. So I decided to try an all-hotshoe-flash technique using just what was in my camera bag and only lightweight, portable gear.

I grabbed my Nissin 466 first. That's a small, lightweight flash designed to work with Micro Four Thirds cameras. It's got a reasonable Guide Number of 36 and decent features, but is scaled down to match M43 cameras. I put it on its base stand, and wrapped a Honl Speed Strap around the flash head. That let me velcro on a Honl "Just Blue" color gel and point it up at a boring white wall to create the background blue I wanted. It has two "optical slave" modes -- you can set it to fire when it "sees" a flash pop, or, because TTL flash often uses a "pre-flash" you can set it to work with that.

Then, I wanted a softbox look without feeling like I was putting together a camping tent. So, I grabbed my Softlighter II. It packs small (it's really like an umbrella with one extra piece of fabric) and it is really lightweight despite being really large -- its the 60-inch model, which can light two people reasonably well. (More importantly, it sets up fast -- open the umbrella, attach the diffusion cover and you're done.)

What light to put inside? I didn't want to drag out a monolight kit. So, after I put the Softlighter on a lightweight light stand, I put an adapter on the top of the stand and attached my Metz 58 hotshoe flash. It's bigger than that Nissin, but it's got plenty of power -- Guide Number 58, a match for the Canon 580 ex II or the top Nikon flashes. It's enough, at a setting of 1/8th power, to easily fill the Softlighter at the level I'd need for a portrait and it's still relatively small and lightweight compared to a monolight.

How to trigger it? I put a Cactus V5 transceiver under the flash and set it to "receiver" -- then I picked a channel, grabbed another Cactus V5 and set it to "transmitter" and the same channel. I put that on top of my Panasonic GH1 and set the camera on a lightweight tripod. The GH1 was right in the spirit of what I was doing -- it's tiny, lightweight, good at reasonable ISO settings, and I particularly like it because of its video capabilities.

For a head-and-shoulders portrait, I like my Leica 45mm f/2.8. This is a fantastic lens that is underappreciated in the Micro Four Thirds community. (If you read the photo forums, you'd get the impression that this is the most unusable, expensive lens ever -- and nothing could be further from the truth. It's a great lens, priced at a match for its quality (but not expensive compared to most Leica lenses), and really really usable. Small, lightweight, sharp wide open at f/2.8, and just perfect for this type of shot.)

I metered using a Sekonic L-308DC. That's the newer model that does ambient, flash and now "Digital Cinema" mode, which makes metering for recording video with your DSLR or mirrorless camera a bit easier.

I forgot to include one detail in my lighting diagram below: if you check out the catch lights in the eyes, you'll see I also threw a small reflector on the floor to add a touch of fill.

Now: I just need a good retoucher....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

f/8, 1/2500th

Two people dance during a performance of the Justo Almario Afro-Colombian Ensemble in Los Angeles, Saturday, August 27, 2011.

Justo Almario

Justo Almario steps into a late-afternoon ray of sunlight during a performance of the Justo Almario Afro-Colombian Ensemble at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Saturday, August 27, 2011.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Heat Wave

Two women dance during a performance of the Justo Almario Afro-Colombian Ensemble in Los Angeles, Saturday, August 27, 2011. An "excessive heat warning" was issued for Southern California earlier in the day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

And Talk About The Weather

A group tours a garden on a hot summer day at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., Friday, August 26, 2011.

Friday Flower

Today, at the Getty Villa. There's a bee inside.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cap'n Crunch

A while back, I explained how to use color correction gels to match your flash to the color temperature present in a room.

Another quick-and-dirty solution: flash caps.

Using your flash in a room with "tungsten" lights? These have a color temperature about 3200k, and your flash puts out light about 5500k. To match the two sources, use an gold or amber or yellow cap to "warm up" your flash, then set your white balance to "indoor" or "tungsten."

Using your flash in a room with overhead fluorescent lights? These are often 3800k, but with a greenish cast. Use a green cap to make your flash match the fluorescents, then set your white balance to "fluorescent."

That's kinda simple. It's effective, though.

Use the gels when you need precision -- when you just have to get the color perfect -- and the caps when "close enough, but fast" is the way to go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Susan Meiselas: Expanding the Circle

Above: a six-minute video in which Susan Meiselas discusses "documentary photography's potential to connect and move audiences."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pistol Annies

Pistol Annies (from left, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and Miranda Lambert) perform at The Grove in Los Angeles, Monday, August 22, 2011.

Pistol Annies perform at The Grove in Los Angeles, Monday, August 22, 2011.

Ashley Monroe of Pistol Annies performs at The Grove in Los Angeles, Monday, August 22, 2011.

Post 1402

I've been blogging for five years. So, I've decided to consolidate all the blogs onto this one.

You can see my posts from August 2006 here. (There will be a compare and contrast exam later.)

Above: A 1/8th-inch grid velcroed onto my Metz 58.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Above: A Richard Serra sculpture sits outside the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center on the University of California, Los Angeles campus, Friday, August 19, 2011.

Que? Serra, Serra


Perfect for Rush Hour

Saturday, August 20, 2011

LACMA Jazz, August 19

A saxophonist performs with the Cross Hart Jazz Experience at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Friday, August 19, 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jazz Friday: The Cross Hart Jazz Experience

Bassist Ryan Cross performs with the Cross Hart Jazz Experience at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Friday, August 19, 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Golden, Part Two (Kodak Millennium 2000)

I wanted a quick snap of my Kodak "Millennium 2000" camera -- there's a long story I'll tell about that camera another time -- and decided the best way to bring out its gold color would be to put a dash of electric blue right behind it. But ... how?

I grabbed my Metz 58 hotshoe flash, two Opteka straps, my Opteka 1/8th inch grid and a Honl "Just Blue" gel. First, I attached the two Opteka clinch bands to my Metz. (Why two? With just one band, the grid doesn't really secure all that well. It stays on, but doesn't instill confidence at all.)

Then, I attached the Just Blue gel to the upper band (it has velcro hooks) and put the Opteka Grid on over that.

I set the Metz to manual mode, the zoom setting to 105mm and the power level to 1/256th. (My camera exposure was ISO 400, 1/125th of a second, f/2.8.)

Well, okay. But ... why?

Here's the idea: a "grid" attachment modifies light usually to form a nice circle with soft edges. That is, if you send light through the grid and point it at a wall, the light is full strength in the middle, then falls off in a circular pattern -- usually falling off gently. So, it's a great way to make a circle or oval of light or color behind someone or something. Want more of an oval? Put the light low and angle it up onto the background or wall (or do the same thing from the side or above.)

Here's the set up:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Action on the Hot Wheels track at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Sunday, August 14, 2011.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Next Year, Plaid

My wife's tomato plants. The tough part is getting them to grow with that pattern on the leaves.

Why So Serious, Skulls?

Dire Wolf skulls at the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles, Sunday, August 14, 2011.

No, I don't know why they are called that.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Am Number Four

The 4th Place medal winner walks off the stage during the Miss Fitness Hollywood Pageant 2011 in Los Angeles, Saturday, August 13, 2011.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011


A model poses for a photographer while a young bystander strikes her own pose at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Friday, August 12, 2011.


A trumpet player performs with the Tall & Small Band at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Friday, August 12, 2011.