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Infrared Tattoos

Some time ago, my friend Frederick Van had an old Canon EOS 10D converted to an infrared sensor. I have an old 20D I keep meaning to do this to myself; it’s not the most useful thing in the world, but it can certainly be fun to have one for special occasions.

A few years ago when he was setting up a home studio, we got to playing with the infrared camera under studio lights. A friend of ours was in the process of getting a new tattoo, and had just finished the “outline” stage, and volunteered to pose for us. The way the infrared sensor handles skin is just amazing, and under the bright studio lights, the skin took on a translucence that’s (probably, hopefully!) impossible to replicate with just an IR filter (glass or software!).

The original vs the treated images shot on an infrared-converted Canon EOS 10D

The RAW images that came off the camera were red. I started with a white balance off the white shirt, and then adjusted individual RGB levels a bit to play with the overall tonality, and finally since blacks had turned to blue (hair, tattoo lines, etc.), I expanded on that and enhanced the blues a bit more. Entirely processed in Aperture, of course.

Infrared PortraitInfrared Portrait @ May 2008 | Canon EOS 10D (Infrared Sensor) & 85mm ƒ/1.2L II @ ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/60

Infrared TattooInfrared Tattoo @ May 2008 | Canon EOS 10D (Infrared Sensor) & 85mm ƒ/1.2L II @ ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/60



U.S. Army Reserves, Ft. Hunter Liggett, California

Last year I was asked to shoot some promotional images for the U.S. Army Reserves; I tweeted about it at the time but never posted any of the images. Alenka posted a great series on her blog some time ago, which you should definitely check out.

This is my favorite shot from the trip, which is ironic in that the Army can’t use it—there’s no smoking allowed in the Humvees! Oops. So, it makes a good shot for my personal use.

Fort Hunter Liggett, U.S. Army ReservesFort Hunter Liggett, U.S. Army Reserves @ June 2010 | Canon EOS 5D Mk II & 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L @ ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/400



TWiP Weekend Workshop—Joshua Tree Wrap-up (part 1)

Last weekend, Feb 19-21 2010, co-host Frederick Van Johnson (host of TWiP and and I ran the first TWiP Weekend Workshop, in Joshua Tree, California. You can read about the build-up to the workshop and how we decided to go as “big” as we did on Frederick’s blog post, here. The short version is, we decided if we were gonna do it, we were gonna do it right.

18% Grey lesson. Photo credit: Alenka Vdovič (click to view more)

It was an all-expenses included weekend in Joshua Tree, commencing with a lecture Friday night and a welcome BBQ at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms—Joshua Tree National Park hotel (where we stayed for two nights), two fantastic locations on Saturday including a gorgeous “boulder garden” on private land and the 1940’s-built movie-set of an “Old West” town called Pioneertown, covering topics such as basic to advanced lighting and working with models, lunch at the deliciously authentic Pappy & Harriets, and to close the day, a beautifully hosted cocktail party followed by dinner and a photo-sharing presentation at the Joshua Tree Business Center. Sunday morning, Frederick delivered a presentation on Adobe’s Lightroom 2 and beta-3, and I gave a tour of the new Aperture 3, followed by lunch and an afternoon of studio lighting demonstrations where everyone had the opportunity to plug their camera into the “big lights” and experience a studio shoot.

The success of the is best spoken by the attendees, who said…

“What a fantastic weekend… It will be a lasting experience for a novice like me. The setting, the learning, the fellowship and the overall experience were first class—far beyond my wildest expectations.” — Harry Schaefer, attendee

“Joshua Tree was simply magical, thank you all for making the workshop such a rewarding learning experience and fun time regardless of the lens cap being on or off.” — Topher Martini, attendee

“I got so much more out of the workshop than I had hoped for. Even getting to practice with one lighting technique would have made the weekend worth the trip but we got to practice with 4 different techniques—all the way from ambient light to studio strobes.” — Nancy Nehring, attendee

“The weekend was a first class event!  The instruction was informative and presented in a manner in which I felt comfortable asking questions. Thank-you!” — Jennelle Marcereau, attendee

“The weekend really exceeded my expectations in every way.  It was perfectly organized and well instructed.  Our group seemed to be best friends after the weekend and we all left having learned a LOT of great stuff!!!” — Paul Cook, attendee

“That you for making this such a great experience” — Latti, model

In a follow-up post, I’ll describe the process we went through with the students to produce some of the following shots.

Simulated sunset, single strobe. Attendee Paul Cook modeling 

Multi-strobe gelled shot with Honl Photo modifiers. Model Latti modelingStudio lighting setup; Profoto in 4’x6’ softbox and two-light white seamless. Assistant Alenka Vdovič modeling



Fashion Show Shoot (favor for a new graduate)

I’m not a fan of free, but this was one of those circumstances where I’d never shot something quite like this, and figured it’d be a fun learning experience. And an excuse to use those new Profotos in a more dynamic environment than the studio. The job was the first fashion show for a recent fashion design school grad, and the location was, to put it mildly, not pretty. I’ll get into all that, but first, some samples.

Location #1 (start of the catwalk) Location #2 (mid-catwalk) Location #3 (mini-studio)

Alright let’s get into it. The very first thing you probably noticed was the floor. It’s… not nice. Being a budget project, almost everything there was given, donated or loaned, which as you know if you’ve ever depended on lots of free stuff coming in at the same time, some stuff just won’t show up. As was the case with the catwalk. They were supposed to have a raised platform, but didn’t. Which might have been OK if this carpet wasn’t so… well, you know. And there was clearly not a thing we could do about that.

Next up was the background. You’ll see in the catwalk photos that the background is black. I did that. Here’s what the background looked like originally (grabbed from one of the few photos I have that show the original backdrop):

Nice backdrop!

There are no words. “Oh but that’s not so awful, is it Joseph?” you might ask. Yes. Yes it was. And here’s why, and tragically I don’t have these test photos anymore… I wiped my CF cards before the show started, not thinking that I’d want those nasty pictures to show off later. See the ground? One color/texture. Then the main curtain; another color/texture. Then the top little curtain, a third color/texture. And finally above that was empty, revealing the wall and window behind it, which made for color/texture/horrible thing #4. We tried to block and disguise before deciding to just cover it entirely. Those four textures meant that the model got completely lost against all that mess. Someone procured (not a clue where this came from) a 6-foot wide by about a football-field long piece of black duvetyne. Lovely, black, stretchy, duvetyne. So 45 minutes, a tall ladder, and every last one of my clamps later, we had a new background. There was no way to make it seamless, so instead of trying to hide the seams, I embraced the seams and draped and folded and stretched the material until everything was hidden and the background was a dark wavy lovely thing. The other photographer asked if I’d been raised by Bedouins. Here’s the new backdrop, with the lights and all.

Lovely new black backdrop. See the old one peeking out the back? Ick. That’s Carl, we worked together on this thing.Carl is standing in position #1. The girls would come from stage right, stop on their mark there and strike a pose, then walk down the catwalk (towards this camera position). Half-way down the walk we had position #2. The models didn’t stop there, so we could catch them mid-walk. And finally, because we knew that the floor was so awful looking and that there was nothing we could do about that, we decided to set up a third shooting area, like a mini studio, to shoot the models as they came off the catwalk and before they went back to the dressing room. That’s position #3. Here’s a fabulous drawing to show what we did (I need to take a page out of Joe McNally’s book and draw these on cocktail napkins. Much more impressive).

My beautiful plan. I couldn’t find a cocktail napkin so had to use Photoshop instead.Blue path is the model’s path. Green “model #’s” are their (our) shooting marks. Photographer 1 and 2 are myself and Carl, and we swapped locations half-way through the show. And this is where it gets fun. I rented eight PocketWizard Plus II’s for this setup; one receiver for each light, and one transmitter for each camera (Carl and I were both shooting with two bodies). On the diagram, pw1 is for PocketWizard preset 1, pw2 is 2, and so-on. This was so cool and really showed off the power of these things. pw1 is a 300w head in a big ol’ softbox. I had a skinny white seamless set up for head-shots (I would have loved to set up a big full-body setup but there simply wasn’t space. This was a small venue). There’s two big pieces of black foamcore on either side of model #3 position; one to block the view from the audience (minimal distractions) and one to block the yellow cast I was getting off the yellow wall to her yellow right. Exposure was ISO 100 f/11. pw2 is controlling both 600w lights, which I realize in this not-to-scale drawing they look quite close to the model, but were far enough away where the 300w lights there weren’t enough; we actually had to swap them out. Exposure there was ISO 200 f/11. Then pw3 was controlling that one last 300w light, which I dialed down and shot at ISO 100 f/4 with hopes of throwing some of the background out of focus. It also meant that we had a very narrow window to catch the model; two steps=one stop, so we had to nail it.

And there you have it. Model positions 1 and 2 were dialed in on two cameras, so we’d shoot #1 with one camera, then as soon as they started to walk, grab the other camera, already dialed in for position 2. And when Carl and I swapped places, it just mean moving the PocketWizard to the appropriate channel and changing the aperture.

It was fun, and a great experience. And now I gotta save up for some PocketWizards of my own!



Band Shoot For “Morrownow”

It’s 2:00am and I’m just back from this shoot, which turned out really well and was loads of fun. While I’m backing up files, here’s a quick look at the behind-the-scenes. Once the final selects are made I’ll post those too, but for now, here’s the setup. 

This is taken at the end of the shoot (I threw the Pocket Wizard on the Olympus E-P1 for these shots). Earlier in the evening, that light that’s front-and-center in this photo was on the floor and heavily gelled blue, and there was a table in front of the boys. There’s the big umbrella light (un-gelled) with a few sheets of foam core blocking light, a light on the floor behind the couch gelled red, and a fourth light outside shining through the window, also gelled red, and also on a Pocket Wizard.

Band “Morrownow” and me, sitting too close to the light. Notice the red light in the window? Light #4, outside.Band “Morrownow”. You can see all the gobos blocking light from the red-lit wall and such.


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Halloween Portraits

Here’s a few of the Halloween portrait photos I talked about making last week. Thanks to the parents for letting your kids stop by to get photographed! We had an absolute blast. And again for the techies out there, this is one 500w light in a very big 4x6 foot softbox, a black felt backdrop, and zero ambient light. If I get more parents OK’s, I’ll post more photos here. There are some great ones I hope to share ;-)

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BOOtiful Photos on Halloween

I had a little fun on Halloween and at the last minute decided to set up a photo studio on my front lawn and offer portraits of the neighborhood kids (parental permission required, of course). I’ll post some photos here from whichever parents ultimately give me the OK too, but for now the photo of our lawn sign will have to suffice. Given that this was a surprise to everyone walking up, I didn’t want to ask parents to sign any kind of release on the spot. I wanted this to be as easy and safe-feeling for the parents as possible. So here’s how it went down; first the logistics and then the technical.

I had this set up literally on my front lawn, so anyone could see it walking past the house or up the walkway. As kids came to trick-or-treat, I explained to the parents that I had set up a little photo studio and was taking photos of any kids who’s parents approved. These photos would be available online in a password protected site just for them, and of course no obligation. Nearly every single parent said OK. I only had one outright refuse, and another that was a little reluctant but gave in. They were concerned these might become stock photos, but once I explained the security behind it they were fine. I didn’t even need to explain that without a model release no stock house in the world would take them, which is of course true, before they agreed.

I had a stack of papers printed out with my web address, instructions and prices. Each family or group of kids got a number assigned to them, and their last name was their password. I wrote both on the paper, and the first picture was of the kids holding that paper—so no way to confuse which kids were which. That paper then went to the parents to take with them. I shot tethered so they could see the photos immediately, which of course generated a lot of excitement on the spot. And by Sunday afternoon, I had 16 individual sets with photos of 56 trick-or-treat’ers on my website, run by Smugmug, each set password protected. Once in, the parents can choose a digital download, prints from 5x7 up, and even some kitschy mugs, mousepads, and those sorts of things. Not what I’d normally offer but this was clearly perfect for it.

The setup was a single Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 monobloc in a massive 4’ x 6’ softbox (rented from Samy’s) at about 30˚ off the right, a 2 x 6 yard swath of black felt, triggered by a good ol’ fashioned sync cable gaffer-taped onto a 1Ds Mk III and either the 24-70/2.8 or 70-200/4.0 depending on how many kids, tethered into the MacBook Pro 15 running into Aperture. Sadly Aperture still doesn’t support Mk III for tethering the easy way, so I had to use Canon’s EOS software (bleh) and Sal Soghoian’s still-awesome Aperture Hot Folder script. That’s pretty much it… other than a sandbag to hold the softbox from crashing down and a table to put my gear on, that’s all that was out there. It took a little longer than I would have liked on Sunday to get the photos online (Aperture kept uploading solid black files so I had to replace about a dozen of those, and I kept tweaking the SmugMug setup to my liking—which was tedious because I had to change it to 16 sets once I’d individually passworded each one), but finally it was all up and parents started looking at the shots, and the first orders rolled in around 9pm.

So why go through all this for relatively little profit? After all let’s face it, there’s only so many 8x10’s at $20 a pop that I’ll sell, and the profits will cover the rental cost on the lights and maybe buy a nice bottle of wine. I’m still new to the neighborhood, and this got my name out a bit. Out of the parents that stopped by, I had one who works for a major hotel chain and wants to talk to me about some work for them. And another that wants me to do their holiday photo—which admittedly is not my primary business, but it’s nice to work close to home sometimes and make a little pocket change to keep warm on those upcoming winter nights. And it’s fun to work with kids. Everyone had a blast, and I’m really pleased with the shots I got. I learned a lot, and will make some changes and do this again next year. My biggest ‘problem’ this year was that I wasn’t prepared for large groups. Two or three kids, fine. Any more though and I had no choice but to get the brick wall in the background and let the people farthest from the light go a bit dark. So next year, a bigger backdrop and a fill light on the other side.

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Public Speaking and Live Presentation Skills Seminar

And now for something completely different…

I’m hosting a seminar designed to improve public speaking and live presentation skills, in Pasadena, this Thursday evening. I’ve deliberately scheduled it last-minute to keep it somewhat small, but of course would love to fill the room! If you’re in the LA area and have any desire to improve your skills — whether you’re terrified of stepping on stage for the first time, have done it but know it could have gone better, or even if you’re a veteran looking to kick things up a notch — I invite you to sign up!

We’ll spend about two hours going through some of the basic do’s and don’ts while standing on stage in front of your peers… talk about how to get those first words out, and what to do if something goes wrong… how to keep your confidence up… and we’ll touch on the makings a great slideshow and a great live demo.

Sign-ups are here: — I look forward to seeing some of you on Thursday!

Me on stage at MacWorld San Francisco in January of this year




I love my E-P1

I’m not gonna get into any kind of big review on the Olympus PEN E-P1, that’s just not my thing. But suffice it to say, I love this camera. The 17mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8 pancake lens is sharp and has a nice shallow depth of field when I want it. I’ve never been happy with any point-and-shoot camera before, and I’ve gone through a few trying to find “the one”. With the iPhone 3GS camera being so damn good, and all the awesome apps for it making it even more fun to use, any standard point-and-shoot has a lot to compete with. So this camera is the camera I carry when I don’t want to take my dSLR, but the iPhone isn’t enough. It doesn’t fit in my pocket, so I found a cool leather Leica-like strap on eBay and carry the camera messenger-bag style along with my murse (yeah, I said it) and that’s just fine. It’s light-weight, great quality, and it just looks cool. While it shoots RAW (although to-date Aperture doesn’t support the .ORF files), it takes twice as long to write the RAW files so I end up shooting JPEG. And besides, part of the point for me of carrying a camera like this is that I don’t want to spend time fiddling with the images in post. I just want to shoot and share as quickly as possible. So part of that means I shoot with the fun “art” modes quite a bit. I never thought I’d use modes like that, but I really like them. The “Grainy Film”, “Soft Focus” and “Pin Hole” modes are the ones I use the most. Using these also means it takes the camera longer (several seconds) to apply the effect and write the file, but in a way that slows things down and makes you think about the shot more—knowing that it may be the only one you get (especially if you’re asking your four-year old to pose). Here’s two recent shots from it, again really just snaps, but I love the look of them. And that’s what photography is all about anyway, isn’t it?

Alenka, downtown LAYours truly. I don’t know why I like this photo, I just do. Kinda “Hollywood” I guess.