bovil: (Default)
I'm absolutely thrilled with what I can do with the Photoflex StarLite and large LightDome (softbox).

I have to get a new monitor for the computer. The one I've got is a flat panel, but it's a really old flat panel and the contrast is crap. If I dial up the brightness so the whites are white, the blacks start getting wimpy. If I dial down the brightness to get black blacks, it's not bright enough to be useful. This makes doing much fine exposure adjustment of raw images on the screen a bit iffy. Not impossible, just too dependent on clipping warnings and such.

It may be possible for me to like the new printer more than I do, but I doubt it, and the result would likely be unnatural.

Ventures

Jan. 6th, 2011 10:12 pm
bovil: (Default)
I'm going to attempt to use the new Photoflex strobe and 3x4' softbox for PenWAG on Saturday.

On the smart side, I've set up and disassembled the softbox itself twice this evening. It's a little, well, I can't say futzy, because futzy doesn't really describe springing 4 heavy fiberglass rods into an aluminum mounting rig. Once I sorted out which holes not to use (this is the mounting ring for the 7' octagonal softbox, and it's got a few threaded holes that I need to avoid) it turned out to be manageable. Packaging it back up is a bit more of a nuisance. It doesn't just collapse down into a sensible compact form like an umbrella does. That's a lot of material to wrap around just 4 (removable) rods.

I haven't tried actually using the head yet. I have tested it to make sure it works and installed the modeling light. I will need a few extra test shots to dial in the exposure. I expect I'm going to be using a much tighter aperture with the lumens this thing puts out. I'm also going to have to get used to full-manual no-remote-control optical trigger lighting.

Nobody ever said it would be easy...
bovil: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] jadecat9 and I went to Watsonville on Saturday morning for the Photoflex factory outlet sale.

This was not without hitches. After she came down to SJ to meet me, we found my car wouldn't start, it had a flat battery, so we were stuck doing the trip in her Mini (pleasant, but cramped once filled with cargo).

Still, we got breakfast and got to Watsonville by 9:15.

After only 15 minutes, the sale was already incredibly picked-over. A bunch of my shopping list was out the window.

Still, there was a 300w-s flash kit for $160, so I grabbed it. It had a small softbox, but it was a flash kit. There were large softboxes that hadn't been scarfed up yet.

Then I decided to go back and look at one of the big cases with only a tag, no flier taped to it. Turns out it was a 650w-s StarFlash kit for $220, and it included a large (7' diameter) "Octodome" softbox. Skipped the smaller kit. [livejournal.com profile] ladycelia asked "Where are you going to set up a 7' Octodome?" Doesn't really matter, it's a $450 flash before the lightstand, softbox adapter and Octodome are added in. It's a $800 kit at Adorama.

I also picked up a large (4' x 3') rectangular "Lightdome" softbox and louvers for $25. They also had spare modeling lights for $3.

I should have asked about reflectors; the kit didn't include reflectors for use with umbrellas (which I already have) or just bare. Fortunately, they're pretty cheap, even at retail prices.

Fitting the case (and Jade's case of stuff) in the Mini was a bit tricky, but it did fit.

We also checked out Orion Telescopes next door, but their outlet sale prices weren't as fantastic.

Barring unforeseen craziness next year, I have to get back and pick up some more ultra-cheap light modifiers. Small and medium softboxes. Maybe a compact fluorescent continuous lighting kit for the times I can't use (or am setting up so others who can't use flash can still use the light).

I wants...

Apr. 16th, 2010 04:04 pm
bovil: (Default)
I want a new pocket-sized camera. But I'm not spending my tax refund on that. The pocketable camera I have is good enough.

I want a new wide-carriage printer. But I'm not spending my tax refund on that. The current printer works just fine for now (even if I have to fight with the ink system from time to time).

I did spend a little money on an Eye-Fi Pro X2 wi-fi SDHC storage card. It's pretty cool. If the card is connected to a network and your computer is connected to a network, it can transfer pictures to your computer while you're shooting. Sound like a waste of money? Well, paired with "auto-import" in Adobe Lightroom, it's a really easy way to simulate "tethered" shooting where you can view your pictures on the computer immediately after you shoot them, without cables. Best of all, it works the same regardless of what camera the card is inserted into.

I haven't got "ad-hoc" network support working yet (because I haven't been able to test it out away from my home network), but that's a big bonus in the "Pro" model card. The others require you connect to an access point that doesn't require a web-based login, and that knocks out a bunch of hotel networks. Ad-Hoc networking lets the Eye-Fi and my laptop directly connect without an access point in the middle.
bovil: (Default)
We've had ups and downs with medium-format printing.

The Epson R2200 that we got used we were only able to get a few dozen prints out of before it clogged to the point of no return. We gave it to [livejournal.com profile] didjiman (who already owned another R2200), figuring that he might be able to get it to work.

I ordered a Canon i9900 to replace it. It has a user-replaceable print head, so clogging is a repairable issue (and can often be repaired by pulling the head and soaking it). It's been a real workhorse, but ink costs are a bit high. Costco is a help with that, but only to a degree.

Since I've started taking more photographs, I started looking into the printer a bit more thoroughly. I discovered that the colorfastness of the Canon inks isn't that great.

I finally decided to start looking for a bulk feed system and alternate inks. The only problem is that the i9900 has been out of production for a few years and everybody who used to sell conversion kits for them was out of stock. Well, almost everybody.

It turns out Absolute Inkjet (part of Ink2Image) was listing a bulk feed system for the i9900, and archival (by dye ink standards) ink. I ordered it.

I waited.

And waited.

About 6 weeks later I got an invoice and a tracking number. It came in a week or so after Labor Day.

It's actually a pretty sophisticated system, with really cool substitute cartridge for the default "sponge" style cartridges. There was only one problem: one cartridge had the retaining tab snapped off.

It took about a week to get through to ink2image (my first email was lost, but using the web contact form worked) and they sent me two spare cartridges. The cartridge swap was dirt-simple.

Because of the ink change, the whole printer needed to be flushed. One of the other things ink2image sells is "refillable" ink cartridge sets; one set and a bottle of head cleaner (that they charmingly refer to as "Dead Head Recovery Fluid") is a suggested purchase along with the bulk feed kit.

I'm glad I went with the bulk system rather than just using refillable cartridges. They're easy enough to fill, but a bit messy to reseal. Still, 8 cartridges filled with cleaner (and over 2/3 of my cleaner left) and the printer was flushed.

Priming the bulk system and installing it wasn't a piece of cake, but it wasn't too difficult. I only made a mess of the red ink, because it was more difficult to monitor while priming than the other cartridges.

The ink I went with is the Lyson Photonic ink for Canon printers.

If you consider doing this, it's very important that you know something: These inks do not match the colors of the OEM Canon inks. You can't run these inks unless you can print using custom ICC color profiles. If you do, everything is going to look washed out and brown.

ink2image provides sample ICC profiles for a few paper types, but for really good results you're going to need to use a print calibration system to match your screen output. On the cool side, Lyson claims that, properly calibrated, the Fotonic inks will produce a color range similar to that of traditional photo chemistry (much better than that of most ink-jet printers).

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday doing calibration runs, and I've learned a few things:
  1. After adding ink to the external tanks, it's possible to end up with streaky output. I think this is a side-effect of letting the ink level run too low before refilling. Running a few prints solves this problem.
  2. The wide-gamut inks look better on photo paper, even properly calibrated they lack brightness on plain paper.
  3. A photo that looks good on the screen isn't necessarily going to look good in a print. The exposure has to be much better to produce a good print than it has to be to look OK on the screen. Rodeo prints are looking good, pics from Saturday night are blah.
  4. Bulk ink is crazy-cheap, even the archival ink costs about 1/5 the cost of ink cartridges. The "AbsoluteMatch" ink for Canon costs less for a 4oz (120ml) bottle than a single cartridge of Canon ink (15ml) costs.

_DSC3038

Aug. 30th, 2009 09:49 pm
bovil: (Default)

_DSC3038
Originally uploaded by bovil

Sam Spade may not be very steampunk, but this is from SF/SF Steampunk Picnic at Rosicrucian Park

bovil: (Default)
...only there wasn't one.

There is now.

If you're using flickr, and have posted pictures from any Worldcon to your account, please consider joining the group, going to your organizr and adding your Worldcon photos to the group.
bovil: (Default)
Gah. Workflow is work. Now I remember how I got the first four sets up so quickly. I had a bunch of time in the airport and on the plane where straightening and cropping photos was pretty much all I could do.

[livejournal.com profile] aramintamd, I just got to the girls' entry. They're too cute for words.
bovil: (Default)
...with Adobe Senior Systems Engineer Rick Miller (scroll down the page a bit).

At work.

So not all of this is Rick's fault. A lot of it isn't.

So the downside: The class description wasn't that great. It suggested much more Lightroom focus than Photoshop focus. It was also populated by folks with a wide range of skill levels, and a 6-hour class was already stretching things. We spent a lot of time working through things that were difficult to see on the low-ish resolution projector (Adobe software is nothing if not a screen-landscape hog). We spent a lot of time on basics that people had to be led through. I think Rick would have done better with more time or with a more advanced class.

The upside: I came out with some work-related knowledge (alas, the most important parts had more to do with the classroom than the subject of the class). I got two big answers covered. One of them isn't well (if at all, for that matter) documented. It turns out that, in the Library Module of Lightroom, keywording behaves very differently in the Grid and Loupe views. I haven't seen that explained before.

More time would have been good, mostly because there would have been time to show how so many of the neat features in Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw that Rick covered are so much easier and more flexible in Lightroom. If nothing else, this class is a good introduction so people can go buy Kelby Training books and DVDs and have a head start.

So my brain is kind of trashed, but it was worth it.

Waaah...

Apr. 6th, 2009 06:04 pm
bovil: (Default)
Costco has a bunch of pro-quality Nikon lenses online. They're out of my price range. Waah.
bovil: (Default)
I've been getting quite a few "I hate pictures of myself, but this picture you took looks like me and I like it" comments.

Don't get me wrong. I like comments like this.

The "producing a technically good exposure" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by a newer camera with wider exposure latitude and better noise characteristics at high speed. There's still a question of the quality of the light, though. Unflattering light needs to be recognized and avoided. Flattering light can be produced, if necessary.

The "making sure the right stuff is in focus" part is something I'm getting better at, helped by figuring out how to make the autofocus work for me and by getting better at managing depth of field. Making sure that everything that's not important (not your subject) is out of focus is a very basic and very "professional looking" skill. It's also something that requires the right equipment (part of the reason that being able to do it is "professional looking").

The "putting together a pleasing composition" part, that's the obvious (to viewers) and somewhat difficult one. The biggest composition issue? The setting. Backgrounds. Reduce distracting elements and things that just look like they don't belong. Avoid lines intersecting with the subject's head. Blur out the background if it's not important. It's all about learning to look at a scene and figure out what the camera is going to see, and that's difficult. I'm working on it, but I still miss horrible background flaws that can ruin an image all the time.

Where the magic comes in is in the subject.

I'm at my best when I'm a sniper. If I've got a room full of people relaxing and having a good time, I can capture some really great moments.

Otherwise? It's a crap-shoot.

Because I'm not good at instructing subjects.

Because a lot of people get self-conscious when they're conscious of the camera.

Now I'm working on instructing and posing subjects. It's not something that's well-covered in books, though. It's a matter of practice, trial and error. On the other hand, I'm only peripherally interested in formal portraiture. Learning the associated techniques are just a means to an end.

Getting people to relax (or better yet, have fun) in front of the camera? That's the big deal. When folks get self-conscious and freeze or mug badly the pictures just end up looking artificial. It's worse when the subjects believe that they always look bad in pictures; there are few more reliable self-fulfilling prophecies. Subjects who have been plagued by bad photographs are going to freeze up and look unhappy.

How do you get subjects to relax? That's another thing I'm working on.

Showing folks representative and attractive photos of them that you've taken is a great way to get repeat subjects to let their defenses down and let their character and personality come out in photographs of them.

New subjects? Besides shooting them when they don't expect it? I'm not very good at reassuring chatter while shooting. I'm generally not great at talking in the first place while shooting. It's something I've got to work on, though.
bovil: (Default)

SJ-Coronation-OOT-82
Originally uploaded by bovil

More pictures from San Jose Coronation 2009 are up at my flickr

bovil: (Default)
...about half went into the recycle bin immediately. Doing post-production and tossing out some of the least interesting that still remain. Should have them posted in the next day or three.
bovil: (Default)
...you have got to look at Zack Arias' photography critique video blogs.

So Zack is this guy down in Atlanta who over the last few years has moved between starting a failed photography business, selling all his equipment and taking a survival job, getting back into photography by working as an assistant, building a successful editorial/music photography business and starting the "OneLight" workshop series.

A few weeks ago, he put out a call. He asked people trying to go pro if they would be willing to be critiqued in public. Critiques are based on both photography (which is valuable) and presentation of said photographs as part of a business website (which is really valuable).
bovil: (Default)
Flickr uploads suck from work. I think our packetshaper is throttling me. Flickr uploads from home, even while BitTorrent and Mozy are running, are more reliable and faster.
bovil: (Default)
LCD displays are pretty cheap these days. Yeah, some of the "pro" color LCD displays are still expensive (as in $1k for a 22" unit), but there are some under $500 and a normal 22" display will come in under $200.

Now I've got an old (probably 6 years at least) LCD monitor in the studio that has seen better days. I could have replaced it for around $350 with a high-gamut display. Still, I went out and spent $500 (well, $450, and in the end $400) for a monitor & printer profiling and calibration tool.

ColorMunki Photo is a simple spectrophotometer. It comes with simple software to profile and calibrate displays (including projectors) and profile printers. How simple?

Display calibration is practically magic. Just hang the device in front of the monitor and run the automated profiling routine. At the end it shows you "before" and "after." Chances are the difference will be drastic. A background task on your computer uses this profile to adjust your display colors.

Print profiling is almost as easy. Print a sample page, wait for it to dry and scan it. Print a second sample page wait for it to dry and scan it. It generates and installs an ICM profile from the collected data. There's an "AppSet" tool that will even automatically set up CS4 apps to use the profiles automatically.

Mind you, the software isn't perfect. There can be a bit of twitchiness involved in getting the spectrophotometer drivers to load (they're in the program directory, if your machine can't find them to install). There's a bunch of additional crap (like .NET 3.5 and some other SDK pieces) that are poky to install.

Still, $400 to calibrate displays on 3 computers (the license is good for 3 computers, Mac, Windows or a mix) is a pretty good deal, particularly if some of them have integrated displays that you can't switch out for something better.

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