Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Could this be considered regressing?

So, I've been keeping an eye on some of the "Through the Viewfinder" (TTV) groups recently over on Flickr (like this one, and this one), and I thought "that looks neat, I'll have to give it a go sometime".

While hunting around for a suitable camera to use, I've been astonished at the prices some of these old cameras are still fetching over on eBay in the UK, averaging anywhere from £100-200 a piece.  Most of the American TTVers I've seen rave about the excellence of the Argus 75 (aka Argoflex 75) for this use, which seem to sell for a mere £10-20, although with about a £60 shipping cost to the UK as they only seem to be for sale in the US.

Still a little more than I want to pay for an experiment and a little bit of fun.  Whilst browsing the auctions last night I ran across a Kodak Brownie Reflex like in the image at the top of this post (which isn't mine, it belongs to Purple Monkey Dish Washer and is used here in accordance with the CC license - he's got a few cracking shots if you dig through his photostream, you should head on over and take a look.  Thank you Roy!) for only a tenner; just under £13 with shipping included, bargain!

Anyway, the example I bought isn't quite as pristine as Roy's on the exterior, although it should suit my needs just fine.  I will have to build a "contraption" (yes, that's the technical term) in order to be able to shoot from my D300s through the Brownie's viewfinder, but I have an idea of how I'm going to be putting it all together (which I'm sure will fail in no time at all).

Once it arrives, I might see if I can get a couple of rolls of film to put through it before I start to wrap it with foamcore and gaffer tape; If I don't get too impatient and just start at it right way that is. :)

Edit : on a completely unrelated topic, this is brilliant. Translated by a DJ at Radio 1, this had me laughing the whole way through (thanks Lenz!)

Edit 2 : Back to the original topic, also just got a Voigtlander Brilliance for an absolute steal, so I'll have a couple of cameras to experiment with now.  Also picked up some extension tubes to be able to make a shorter contraption using my Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens.

Edit 3 : Ok, so I have a Kodak Duaflex II coming as well. I wish Royal Mail would get off their backsides, get back to work and deliver my packages to me.  Anybody would think it was a holiday or something. ;)

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Gellin' like Magellan

I've had a number of people over the past few weeks ask me about gelling speedlight flashes, and how I do it.  What gels do I carry around?  How do I attach them to my speedlights?  Are there any technical issues I need to think about? and so on.

Then today a thread was started on the Strobist Flickr group regarding the storage and organisation of gels and attaching them to the flash, so I was going to fire off a couple of pics.  Well, I ended up shooting more than a couple, and decided to finally write a bit of a blog post about it.

I will use the terms "gel" and "filter" interchangeably throughout this post, but please note that when I say "filter", I'm talking about gels for your flashes, not those that you screw onto the end of your lens. :)

So, to start with, I use Nikon SB-900, SB-600 and Yongnuo YN460-II flashes.  The SB-900 comes with its own gel holder, and a small selection of common gels which work well if you  happen to need exactly those gels, but sometimes you don't (although there is the Nikon SJ-3 filter kit available for the SB-900 to give you a little more variety).

In the image above, you can see the three models of flashes mentioned, as well as my "gel folder".  It's actually a business card holder, but it works perfectly.  In the front of the folder is a pouch containing my four Lumiquest FXtra gel holders.  Beyond that are pages of gels, ordered in different strengths, grouped according to colour.

On the first page of gels, you can see double CTO at the top, then full CTO, then 1/2 CTO and 1/4 CTO.  The slip with information from the Rosco swatchbook is contained in the same pocket, and each gel has an address label attached to the end for quick and easy organisation when packing things away.

Above you can see a selection of CTO, CTB and Neutral Density filters that I pop over the flashes. Why neutral density filters? Well, sometimes, lowest power just isn't low enough, especially if you're working in close quarters with really tiny subjects.

To attach these gels to my flash, as mentioned, I use the Lumiquest FXtra gel holders. They can seem a little pricey, but I believe they are definitely worth it. It makes adding, removing or switching gels an absolute breeze, and using the cinch straps, there's no bits of velcro glued to your flashes and no sticky residue to deal with when they fall off.

Here are the Nikon SB-600, SB-900 and Yongnuo YN460-II flashes with the Lumiquest FXtra gel holders attached. The image on the left shows the coverage over the front of the flash, and the image on the right shows the potential for light leakage on the sides.

As you can see, the FXtra's opening completely covers the flash head of both the SB-600 and the YN460-II when viewed from the front, which makes them idea for flashes with a head this size.  It is a little tight on the SB-900, and the gel holder itself doesn't cover the full width of the flash, but not enough that it's ever bothered me.  You can see on the image on the right, that the YN460-II gets the closest to the flash head for less leakage potential, although its head is fixed at 35mm, whereas the SB-600 and SB-900 can zoom their head for longer reach and less risk of spill.

Again, light spill out the sides from these has never really bothered me, and I can't really say it's affected my images, however thoes gaps at the side can easily be covered by a bit of black gaffer tape.

A couple of things to note when using it with an SB-900.  Firstly, as mentioned, the FXtra doesn't cover the full width of the SB-900 flash head.  This, in and of itself, is not a huge problem, as the gels are wide enough to cover the entire head.  The other thing is that you've picked your gels out of a swatch book, they will have holes in them.  You will need to either cover these up, or source gels that do not contain holes, such as those found in the strobist collection.

There is another reason I chose to go with the FXtra gel holders, and that is as well as having velcro on the inside for attaching the holder to your flash, it also has velcro on the outside too, meaning you can attach further light modifiers.  This makes it very handy if you need to use a flash on-camera with a gel, but still wish to use something like a Lumiquest 80/20 bouncer, a snoot, or a small honeycomb grid.

This light modifier allows 80% of your flash's output to continue straight on to bounce of a ceiling or a wall or whatever, while 20% of the light hits the bouncer and is directed at your subject in a slightly diffused manner.  This essentially allows your flash to be its own key and fill light, although with varying degrees of success depending on your surroundings.  It's not really all that cheap considering what it is, but it's something I wouldn't be without in my bag for those times when it's really needed.

So, that's a little more on the how, and what I use to attach flashes to my speedlights, and a bit of why I chose to go the particular route I went - essentially speed of use and the ability to add extra modifiers over the top of the FXtra.

I'll post a little more about why you would actually need to use gels (and why you might want to even when you don't need to) at some point in the future.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

First Front Cover

I actually noticed this a couple of weeks ago, but I recently found out I got my first front cover published! (I've just been far too busy the last couple of weeks and it kept slipping my mind to tell you guys about it).

This image was shot at the Second International Festival of Falconry, which was held at Englefield Estate, in Reading on July 11th & 12th, 2009. Now, the British Falconers' Club newsletter is only released bi-anually, so it took a while for it to go to press after the event, but I was quite surprised to see one of the images I'd submitted adorning the front cover.

Just in case you don't recognise him, the chap in the middle is His Royal Highness Prince Andrew being presented with a white gyr falcon (Falco rusticolus) by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. 

So, as you can probably guess, I was pretty chuffed when I saw that, and still am. :)

Monday, 22 March 2010

A couple of videos today

I've been quite slack in posting this month due to getting out a bit more and actually doing some shoots, then the inevitable post-processing  that comes afterwards, so I do apologise for neglecting you all.  I do, however, have all the models' choices processed from the Manchester shoot now, so I'll hopefully have enough time free to get those posted in the next couple of days.

I did make a little video the other day though demonstrating the use of a Nikon SB-600 as a repeating flash slave using the Nikon CLS system with a hotshoed SB-900 as the commander - somebody posted on a forum that this couldn't be done, so I had to prove them otherwise.

The whole repeating flash thing has me intrigued, so I'll be doing various test with SB-900, SB-600, Yongnuo YN460-II flashes, using the CLS system, standard optical slave modes and wireless triggers to see exactly what will and won't work, and the degree of reliability with each.  I'll be doing a few experiments with different ideas and setups, so I'll post details on those as I get through them.

The other video I'm posting isn't one of mine.  Zack Arias did a very inspirational and informational talk a few days ago at PhotoCamp Utah 2010, with a lot of GREAT tips and advice.

There are also plenty of other videos from the event on their Ustream channel, so head on over and have a watch.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Liverpool Group Shoot

So, I made it through another group shoot, this time at VIP Studios in Liverpool.  Another excellent day, and loads of fun with some very cool people.  We all spent the day rushed off our feet, and everybody had such a great (and tiring) day.

It's not often I shoot in a studio (well, not for stills anyway), so I spent a bit of time playing around with beauty dishes, smoke machine and other gear I don't normally use.  Didn't get quite as much time playing with them as I would've liked (well, it was a group shoot, and everybody had to have a go), but it was still a very enjoyable time.

I know I've still not posted up any new pics from the Manchester shoot, but the models are still getting back to me on which they'd like me to edit for their portfolios.  Once they've all chosen, I'll post the finished works on here (although some are already up on my Flickr).

The only image I've really worked on from the Liverpool shoot so far is the one at the top right of this post.  As soon as I saw the frame I had to give this a go, and Marie was such a star reproducing several poses with and without clothes to try to get matching images.  It probably would've been more effective with a smaller frame, so next time we get the chance to shoot together again, we're going to be trying with a smaller frame, perhaps even several frames to make things a little more tricky. :)

A big thank you to Sabrina Atkinson, our MUA/Stylist for the day, she did a fabulous job, and didn't stop all day.  Also a big thank you to Marie, Raj, Ophelia, Kit and Keely, our models, you were all great, and thank you to all the other photographers for showing up and making it a great day for all.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Focus on Imaging 2010

I have to apologise for my absence of late, since the Manchester shoot things have been busy busy, with very little time spare to keep you guys updated. But I wanted to post a bit of an update on here regarding the last few days.

Late last night I got home from spending a couple of days at the Focus on Imaging show at the Birmingham NEC, as I'm sure a few of you reading this also did.  While nowhere near as big as Focus has been in previous years, I had a great time at the show.  I got to meet up with a good few people I've chatted with online for months but hadn't actually met before from a couple of sites I visit and got to catch up with some others I haven't seen for a while (Hi AnnMarie, Roze, Steve, Ace, Daniel, Marcus, Lenz, Karen, Monmodel, Mr Nutley, Matt, Kevin - apologies to those I missed off the list).  It was a great pleasure hanging out with you guys on Tuesday, and getting to meet some of you for the first time.

Tuesday was pretty much a social day, and I had great fun.  I didn't get to see much of the show though, that came on Wednesday.

Surprisingly, I didn't max out all my credit cards at the show, although the opportunity was definitely there and ended up coming home with a couple of packs of Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl, a couple of packs of Harman Crystaljet Luster, a Strobies XS bracket (couldn't find a beauty dish though), and some Lumiquest bits.

Even more surprisingly, my first port of call on Wednesday was to see the folks at Canon.  I have to stress though, we're talking printers here, not cameras.  After getting an introduction to the Canon large format printers at the Spring Fair International last month, Peter and I went to go over and have a chat and look at the full range of large format printers they had on display at Focus - and by Wednesday, the deals available for those with cash were pretty outstanding, but due to lack of space I've decided to hold off for now (it's not so easy to find a home for a printer that's 6ft wide).

The next stop was the Ilford stand (the real one).  I didn't actually realise until yesterday that Ilford and Ilford Galerie are two different companies.  The original Ilford went bust several years ago, and it was bought out by a small group of people who are continuing to produce their black and white film papers under the Ilford name, and boy are they beautiful.  They do, however produce a range of inkjet papers under the brand name Harman. The company that produces the Ilford Galerie inkjet paper is based in Japan and the paper is produced by them under license.

After looking at the samples available, the Harman Crystaljet Luster just jumped right out at me as being a very very nice looking paper, and at a mere £13 per pack of 100 sheets, I had to grab a couple of packs to give it a good workout.  I did also head over to 1st Camera and pick up a couple of packs of the Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl too, as mentioned above, and initial tests show the two as being very very close with regard to quality, colour and contrast.  The wife actually prefers the look of prints on the Harman Luster at almost 1/3rd the cost of the Ilford Smooth Pearl.

My next stop was to see the folks at Jacobs Digital to pick up an Interfit Strobies XS bracket.  I hadn't realised until I saw it at the show that the Strobies XS bracket came with a 7" dome reflector, which is quite a nice little addition to throw in the box.  I am a little concerned that the SB-900 sticks out very far on the front compared to the image on the box, although the gentlemen I spoke to at the Interfit stand assures me the product was designed specifically with the SB-900 in mind and it sticks out at the appropriate distance, however if I need to throw a radio trigger or TTL cord on that flash, it's definitely going to be sticking out too far, so I'll have to have a play, try a bunch of different light modifiers and see what's what before I'm convinced of its usefulness.  I might have to pick up a second hand SB-800 to use with this as there is a fairly substantial size difference between the two.

We wandered about a bit going past variou stands, had a play with the Wacom Intuos 4 tablets (very sexy, very expensive, but worth every penny), a quick look at the Cintiq, then passed various software stands (On1, Portrait Professional, etc), before finally making our way over to the main Nikon stand.

I've been wanting to have a play with the D3s for a while and I finally got my chance.  I fired off a few test shots with the D3s and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 at ISOs ranging from 200-12800, so once I've had a chance to unpack and go through those images, I'll pop up a little mini review.  I had my D300s with me, and I have the original Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens, so I was curious how the new VRII compared.  Had a good little play with that one, shooting handheld all the way down to 1/8th of a second.  VR isn't something I use all that often on my 70-200 as I'm generally shooting in bright daylight, higher ISO or using flash to freeze moving subjects, but I have to admit, I was impressed.

But, back to the D3s, even more impressed.  I'd forgotten how big full frame was compared to DX, as it's been a few years since I ran any film through the N90s, but I think I'll definitely be looking into the possibility at some point in the future, although it's not a high priority.

I did get a chance to look at the Bowens stand and ask them a bunch of questions too.  I haven't really used studio strobes all that much, so it was good getting to chat to somebody who could actually explain to me the differences between the various models.  Something else that's not on the high priority list, but there were some nice bargains available on the Bowens gear at various retailers.  I think that'll be one to pick up next year.

That's it for now.  I'm going to get another coffee, and start to unpack. :)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Great day at the Victoria Baths in Manchester

So, Sunday's shoot was great, got to work with some fantastic people (Hi Annmarie, Jade, Jo, Emma, Keighley, Cindy, Sarah, Steve, Jonathan and everybody else I've failed to mention!) during the group shoot organised by TFPModels at the Victoria Baths in Manchester.

Had an absolute blast but was a very very exhausting day, and the temperatures really didn't help, but everybody was so nice and such great fun.  The models were all superstars, braving the cold and struggling to get poses in between big iron pipes, holes in walls and other crazy spots.

I'll be posting up more of the photos as I make my way through them, but here's a few images of the lovely Cindy to tide you over.  It did get awfully cold in those tunnels, and while not officially a part of the outfit, I couldn't resist getting a couple of shots in that big warm coat. :)

Cindy was a pleasure to shoot, and hopefully we'll get the chance to work together again real soon.

Oh, while I've got you here, saw this today, gave me a good chuckle. :)