Borkware Photoblog

February 7, 2009

Self-Portraiture Tools

Filed under: gallery, Lightroom, Nikon, portraiture, technique — Mark Dalrymple @ 4:25 pm

Img0082.jpgYou can do all the book reading and video watching in the world, but it won’t help you much if you don’t actually practice the stuff. I have a problem with wasting other people’s time, so I ended up doing a fair amount of self-portraiture to experiment with different techniques and get a feel for the tools and gear at my disposal. I’ve done a couple of sessions in different parts of the house, and have come up with some things that worked for me.

One hard part is just triggering the camera. I’ve got a D3, which doesn’t have a built-in wireless shutter release, so I used a cable release for one session. That meant the camera had to be close enough for the cable to reach (it’s not terribly long), which meant using a wider lens (24-70 in this case) I’d be out of luck with a longer lens

A big problem was getting the focus even somewhat accurate. There was a lot of sit down shoot get up chimp tweak focus sit down shoot get up chimp tweak etc etc etc until I found a good spot. Once that’s done, you can leave the camera alone and just mess around with the lights.

For my second session I tried tethering. The first problem was getting a long enough USB cable to connect the camera and the computer. I found an “active usb cable” online which works nicely. It uses power from the usb port to enable a longer distance cable. I could get my 70-200 far enough away by using this cable.

The next step is software. Aperture can do tethering, but unfortunately, it locks out the camera controls. Once you start tethering, you can’t change anything on the camera. Lightroom can’t do tethering, but you can fake it by having tether software drop a file into the file system and tell Lightroom where to look for things. Things to make it go. Tip : go to “loupe” mode, and new photos will appear large on screen. Other library modes will put the new photos at the end and leave the current one selected.

Img0074.jpgCanon folks get remote control software for free with their cameras. Unfortunately (for me) Nikon tries to make their software a profit center. Camera Control Pro 2 is the software to use for remote control of the camera. It’s also $140-$200. Luckily there’s a 30 day trial, and I’m concentrating on this stuff for a month, so I can get by with the trial.

CCP2 is a nice bit of software, letting you change settings on the camera from your laptop, then click a button to fire the shutter. The image comes over the wire and gets dropped in the file system where it gets picked up by Lightroom. LiveView can feed a video stream to the computer, and you can trigger the contrast-detection autofocus. WOOT.

This means I can sit in my comfy chair, point the camera my direction (and hope the lens doesn’t shatter this time), use LiveView autofocus to focus, and trigger the exposure with a click of a button. I used a mouse so I didn’t have to lean over the lappy to fire the camera.

One alternative to tethering is to get a HDMI monitor and connect that to the camera. Set the autochimp mode and see the image appear after you shoot it. If the camera is physically distant you can’t zoom in or trigger other modes.

There’s still a fair amount of up-and-down action that happens, particularly adjusting lighting ratios. I used an SU-800 wireless trigger along with remote strobes. The SU-800 is attached to the camera, so you have to get up and piddle with that. Next time I’m going to try using a hotshoe extender cable so I can keep the commander within arm’s reach.

January 4, 2009

New Gallery: Casino 2008

Filed under: Aperture, CLS, D3, flash, gallery, monopod, Nik, Nikon, Photoshop — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:53 pm

solo-angel.jpg (click the picture to visit the whole gallery)

Every year, the Casino Theater in Vandergrift PA puts on a Christmas program. Sometimes it’s a musical, sometimes it’s an oratorio. This year was a smorgasbord of songs and skits.

They were kind enough to let me run around with a camera during the dress rehearsal this year. They even allowed me to use flash, which was a surprise.

These were shot with a Nikon D3, with 70-200 f/2.8 and 24-70 f/2.8 lenses. An SB-800 flash served as a master to an SB-600 slave, positioned behind an umbrella to provide extra light. I was surprised at how much light it could pump out. I used a monopod with the larger lens since the whole package (D3, SB-800, lens, extra blocks of depleted uranium) became rather heavy.

Important lesson learned: It’s better to have a very good exposure at a high ISO than a bad (under)exposure at a lower ISO. Some of the images that I had to pull out of a dark basement did not look good at all. (I know, duh!, but it’s one of those things I had to learn the hard way.)

After the images were made (~900 during the 3 hour run of the show, running up and down stairs from balcony to main floor level), I triaged the images with Aperture. 1-star for adequate sharpness and composition. Then went through and chose good shots for 2-stars, and then 3-starred the ultimate contents of the gallery.

I edited each image in Photoshop using Nik filters. This was an excuse for Extreme Photowankery™, as well as learning how to use the filters, and playing around with a basic Wacom Graphite tablet that Uncle Google gave me. The general workflow was

  • Basic ACR adjustments, white balance, etc.
  • Noise reduction with Dfine.
  • Pre-sharpening with Sharpener Pro.
  • Adjusted lighting and colors with Viveza. I love Viveza. In nearly every case I darkened the stage and brought some brightness to the actors.
  • Retouching, especially cleaning up the stage floor. The Casino stage is filthy. I am now a master of the spot healing brush and the clone-stamp tool.
  • Dodging and burning using an Overlay layer. (fill with a neutral 50% color, then paint in white to lighten and in black to darken the image.)
  • Additional filtering using Color Efx pro. “Darken/Lighten Center” was used for most of the vignetting effects. “Tonal Contrast” was frequently used, especially to bring out detail in clothing.
  • The black and white images were done with Silver Efx Pro.
  • Final sharpening with Sharpener Pro.

I’m hoping next year they’ll let me shoot again. If they do, this is what I’d do differently:

  • Attend one or two more rehearsals. I had no idea what the show was about (except that there was a Waltz of the Flowers that included Bubbas in tutus), so each scene was a total surprise, and I frequently had the wrong lens. “Big dance number! And I have the 70-200. ack!”
  • Have two speedlights, one on either side of the stage (instead of the single one on stage-right) to balance out the speedlight coverage.
  • Watch the corners of the viewfinder. (another duh!) There is a railing in the balcony that appears in a number of shots. I did not notice it (outside of using it to not fall off the balcony) until after I started processing the photos.
  • Bring the power plug for the laptop and some blank DVD medio. I ran out of power before draining the last card. A show representative also wanted some images to display in the lobby, needing the images ASAP. It would have been nice to have been able to burn a DVD of rough-cut jpegs right there.

February 11, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Nikon AF Speedlight Flash System

Filed under: Books, Buy It, flash, Nikon, technique — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:24 pm

238657EF-7181-4546-9C5E-D16D2ACD93FC.jpg

Rating: Buy It

I’m shooting a friend’s wedding in a couple of weeks. After doing some test shots in the church, I decided that I should invest in a flash unit (I ended up getting a Nikon SB-600). The instruction manual that came with the flash is a typical Nikon manual : lots of information, but not in a useful format or presentation.

I had seen the Magic Lantern Nikon AF Speedlight Flash System at the local Barnes N Ignoble, and even flipped through it once or twice. After getting the SB-600 and its manual, I stopped by the store and picked up a copy of this book. I’m glad I did.

Speedlight covers the history of Nikon flash systems, from the early film speedlights up through the modern SB-600/800 models. There is a good introduction to the Nikon nomenclature and how it has evolved, as well as coverage on specific flash and camera models and the specific features that each has.

The only downside to the book are some editing here and there (some “insert three-tree graphic”, and a confusion of ‘principal’ and ‘principle’, plus some poorly edited sentences), and the actual photos in the book. The author apparently was under the impression that the book was to be produced in color. The photographs themselves are a very blocked-up black and white. Luckily for the fill-flash illustrations, it’s still possible to see what’s going on.

February 4, 2008

Inside view of the D3

Filed under: D3, Links, Nikon — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:13 pm

http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/parts/image_for_link/126232-7885-2-2.html : D3 sliced in half. Hopefully it was a unit that failed quality control.

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