Entries Tagged as 'black and white'

Experimentation & Prep Work

ealy_ZionVacation2009__DSC2963-EditAfter acquiring all of my new gear and reading up on portrait lighting I started experimenting on my wife and kids. At first everyone was pretty excited about modeling in front of the camera with all of the new equipment. But that only lasted for about 45 minutes. Then it became more of a chore to sit there in front of the camera while Daddy was continually fiddling with lights, exposure, and positioning of the flashes. The things I was looking into were generally what was the exposure range I’d need for my light setup, and to see the look of the shadowed areas on my subjects faces. Honestly there were somethings that I just never really figured out, even during the whole 6 month time frame of this project.

But here are a few things that I discovered:

  • My f-stops ranged from f/1.8 to f/8 but most of the time they were limited to the range f/3.2 – f/5.6.
  • The shutter speeds ranged from 1/50 to 1/200th seconds.
  • Most images were shot on my 24-70mm f/2.8, with several on my 85mm f/1.8 and a few with my 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lenses.
  • Most images were shot at 320 ISO, with a few at 200 ISO (base ISO on the D700).
  • The number of flashes used was from 1 to 5. I had 3 SB-800s one SB-600 and also used the built in flash on my D700.
  • For this project I used 2 cameras, my own D700 and also my father’s D3x.
  • Cheap backdrops are quite a pain in the butt, mostly because they’re thin and see through, and hold on to their wrinkles.
  • Shoot through umbrellas are really great.
  • Nikon CLS is your friend.

Before I started with this project I had only used off camera flash a handful of times. And when I had done so the results were less than stellar because A. I didn’t put much thought into it, and B. I didn’t have proper flash stands. The combination of the stands and shoot through umbrellas really made the light much more pleasing as it illuminated the subject, not so harsh with such deep shadows as you normally get with a bare flashgun.

I also did a bit of experimentation with light modifiers. One thing that I had wanted to try was using a cookie to cast an interesting shadow on my backdrops. A cookie is something that goes between the light source and what is being illuminated. For instance if you were to place some window blinds between your light and its subject then you would get horizontal shadows cast upon it. I never really had much success with cookies in this project (we didn’t have much stuff around the house that lent itself to that type of usage, or I wasn’t being quite imaginative enough). One trick that I did have some success with was in making various snoots to keep the light confined to a controlled shape.

My need for a snoot first arose when I was trying to light one of my backdrops with the desire to keep the illumination such that it would only be slightly larger than the person I was photographing. I was actually quick on my feet during this process because the need came up in the middle of a shoot, and I didn’t already have something planned out for this. Thinking of what was in the house it occurred to me that we have plenty of little plastic tubs that food ships in (like tupperware containers that hold 2 cups of liquid). So I grabbed one of these from the cupboard and just put it over the flash that was pointing at the backdrop. In this first usage the flash was about 2 feet from the backdrop and the circle of light it cast was a fairly well defined circle. I used this quick and dirty snoot for a number of shots, but eventually moved up to a more sophisticated (cereal boxes, straws, white glue and gaffers tape) later in the project.

Next time: Problems and things to watch out for.

Back at it again

ealy_HobsonCalendarShoot_FinalNathan-2Well a bit over a year ago I kinda began a gradual slowdown of my photography. Life, work, and cycling all combined to leave me little time and energy to devote to my photography. But at the beginning of the year (2009) I decided that I would embark upon my biggest project. I envisioned that it would take at least 6 months to complete. In this new project I’m branching into an area of photography that I’ve never really made a concerted effort into before. Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail about it right now. However the project is only about 2 weeks away from completion, so afterward I expect that I will go into greater depths discussing what I’ve learned and accomplished.

In the past year I’ve upgraded my camera to a Nikon D700 and got 2 new absolutely fantastic lenses. The first is the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 wide angle zoom. This lens is a pretty amazing piece of work, and really delivers when it comes to image quality. It is quite sharp, and the corners look pretty great on my full frame camera. The other is the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 zoom lens. I’m also more than pleased with the image quality from this lens (when I’ve nailed the focus). I’m often quite surprised at the level of detail I’m seeing while editing my images in Photoshop that are taken with this lens. It is a bit of a bummer that the 24-70 doesn’t have VR, but I’ve been managing pretty well without it.

I took a mountain biking trip to the Grand Canyon this summer, and it was the best cycling experience that I’ve had so far. It was very difficult from a physical perspective because we were on the North Rim between 7000-9000 ft altitude. There was no way to prepare my lungs for that kind of thin air. So we were pretty exhausted at the end of every day. I did manage to make some pretty nice images while I was there. But so far haven’t really taken the time to put them together in any type of useful web presentation.

Next up I’ll talk more about some of the new techniques I’ve employed for my big project.

I’ve been really busy lately!


Well life has been very full for me in the past few weeks. I’m working like crazy at my regular job, early mornings, and even working on the weekend. Its not so bad though, because I’m doing stuff that is challenging and kinda fun. At the same time though some of it is pretty hard and requires tons of abstract thought and the type of problem solving required to integrate many conceptual components that only exist in my head (such is the life of a software designer). On top of all the work that pays the bills I’ve also been pretty wrapped up in exercising some of the new photo gear that I’ve received over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly I got a new lens (I’ve convinced myself that I needed to evaluate it). The Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 wide angle zoom lens is the newest and quite possibly the best wide angle lens available short of the legendary 21mm ZeissĀ  Distagon. The lens is rather large and heavy, and the front lens element is huge and bulbous. But it does take some pretty darned nice photos. I don’t have anything particularly worthwhile to show from it yet because I just haven’t been able to shoot without outside of my driveway, or in the house in the evenings. My initial batch of comparisons against my Nikon 12-24 f/4 show that the new 14-24 is very impressive in the corners (the weakest spot of the 12-24). In all likelihood I’ll wind up keeping this lens, even though it is so expensive and not quite as wide as the 12-24. The photo that I’ve included with this post is one of the few photos I’ve shot at 12mm that I would consider successful. At the time I was on a moving ship, so that along with the subject matter rendered the somewhat weak corners moot.

Part of the reason why I haven’t had as much time to shoot with the new lens is that I also have been experimenting with a new printing system and new papers. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I got a new Epson 1400 printer. This is a color inkjet printer that uses Epson dyes. However, a couple of the black and white inkjet gurus like Jon Cone and Paul Roark have discovered that this printer really excels at b/w when using dedicated monochrome pigmented inks. Now I’ve been hearing about how wonderful Cone’s piezography system has been for years and have really wanted to get a chance to try this out for myself. The combination of the economically priced 1400 and the great things I was hearing about piezography inks using this printer finally convinced me to take the plunge and purchase the Piezography Special Edition K6 inkset for the 1400.

The new inks arrived on Monday along with two sample packs of Cone Studio Type 1 and Type 2 papers. Normally the Piezography system for the 1400 is only available as a CIS system. I didn’t really want to use a CIS system because my wife and kids will also need to be able to swap out the b/w ink cartridges and replace them with the color ones. Luckily MIS sells a set of refillable ink cartridges for the 1400 (for how much longer I’m not sure though). This brought the cost of going to a dedicated monochrome inks to be just about $400. This is pretty steep considering that the printer itself only cost about $200. Prices for everything are just ridiculous nowadays. Yesterday I went to order 2 special pens for writing on CDs. The cost of the pens was $8, the cost to ship them to me was $9.00. I canceled the order so Icould wait ’till I was ready to order something else so I could combine shipping costs.

Filling the carts with the Piezography inks was fairly straightforward. Though I had some trouble with using the backfill adapter to suck out 1cc of ink inorder to remove air bubbles from the cartridge. I was a little worried that there might be problems with the chips on these refillable cartridges since they were all third party items. But everything worked perfectly well after installing the new carts (we’ll have to see if things go so smoothly when it becomes time to refill the carts). I ran 2 cleaning cycles on the 1400 waiting to get all nozzles firing without any gaps. This proved to be more difficult than I expected because the number 1 piezography ink is so light that its darned near impossible to see. So I ranĀ  fourth cleaning cycle and then made my first piezography print of the image at the top of this post. It came out kinda flat and with some funny coloring to the image. Well I had made the first of many mistakes in learning about printing with these new inks. The first mistake I made was trying to save a little bit of ink and time by printing at 1440 dpi. Normally with the Epson Ultrachrome inks there is not too much difference between 1440 and 2880 dpi. Not so with these inks on the 1400, according to Jon Cone the printing curve description files were made specifically with the 2880 dpi resolution as the intended target.

My next print was done at 2880 and came out looking tons better! There was a decent amount of black in the image now, and the mid tone contrast was dramatically improved, along with highlight separation. Also at this point I could see that there was a very interesting color shift in the upper mids to highs around the sun and gradually radiating through the left third of the image. I thought that this was an amazing split with warmth in the mid to upper regions and gradually going through a neutral/cooling descent into black. This wasn’t really how the inks were supposed to perform. What I was seeing was just a very lucky coincidence of the remaining yellow ink that was still in the printer, and seemed to really only show up in the areas that looked incredibly interesting around the lighter areas of the photo. That first night I probably printed at least 8 different versions of this image on several different papers and was amazed about how much the colors changed as I chaged each paper. While Piezography normally does go through subtle hue changes with different papers, that was not was not what I was seeing. I was still seeing the final remnants of the color inks that were originally in the printer.

To be continued….

Portfolio: INK, ink, Ink?


In case you didn’t get it, ink was the next big issue on my mind. My photo printer is a 17″ Epson 3800, a cutting edge printer that is capable of producing quite wonderful images. Straight out of the box the 3800 comes with 2 different options for making a b/w print. You can simply convert the image to grayscale in photoshop and fire it off to the standard color print driver. Printing b/w this way is simply the easiest thing going. However it uses a lot of the color inks (cyan, magenta, and yellow) in creating the b/w image. The colored inks are viewed with a degree of suspicion by many in the b/w inkjet community for several reasons, with the main two being they degrade color stability of the print over time (colored inks tend to fade faster) and sometimes, some people are able to perceive the influences of the color inks. The second more complex b/w printing method is using the Advanced Black and White (ABW) option that Epson provides. While not quite as straightforward as printing using the color option, ABW isn’t too difficult either. Printing with the ABW driver uses much much less color ink to create a neutral print, and it also offers a deeper dmax than the color driver.

Generally when printing b/w I go straight to the ABW driver because of the dmax, and controls for adjusting shadows, highlight and toning of the image. I myself rarely print a straight up neutral b/w version of my photos. Most of the time I add some warmth to my images. I expect that when printing this portfolio I will decide on how warm the prints should be and keep it consistent throughout the portfolio. On top of my tendency for warm b/w images I also have been trying to come up with a way of creating a split toned image to my liking. So far I have not been able to do this with my 3800. Last year I was at a workshop and met a photographer who had produced an absolutely stunning portfolio, with a sublime sepia/selenium split tone. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Given my colorvision problems (I’m red/green colorblind) it is especially difficult for me to distinguish purple from blue. However on these selenium toned shadows I could actually see the purple, something I normally just can’t make out. Since then, whenever the mood strikes me I’ve spent a little time in photoshop fooling around trying to reproduce it, or also trying to find an ABW combination that gets me close. So far I’ve been unsuccessful in that endeavor, which leads me to my next topic.


Quad Tone Rip is a cool piece of software written by Roy Harrington. It is a standalone print driver for many Epson inkjet printers, which is built on top of the Gimp/Gutenprint print engine. The neat thing about QTR is that you have pretty much complete control of each individual ink channel in your Epson printer. Learning how to use QTR for blending your own inks, creating curves and icc profiles is not for the faint of heart (nor possibly for the sane of mind either). Since I had never been able to come up with a decent selenium tone in Photoshop, or with my other b/w profiling (Spyder3 Print – a topic for another day) or ABW controls, I thought that maybe I would actually force myself to learn how to use QTR in the hopes of developing my own ink curves for the selenium tone purple shadows I was after. Of course the only reason I embarked upon this additional task was because I didn’t already have enough on my plate with selecting images, editing them, choosing paper, formatting and printing my portfolio, on top of the normal everyday things like going to work, delivering a new software system, and making time for my family. Maybe I have some new kind of attention deficit disorder, kinda like ADHD in kids, but kinda in reverse for my adult mind that has to find a way to fill up every possible moment in time or uncommitted neural processing moment with a new (and rarely easy) potentially distracting task.

I contacted an old inkjet acquaintance who was familiar with QTR (thanks Lou!) and asked for some pointers, between his help, the poorly written QTR manual, the internet and lots of fooling around I actually made some progress and was able to work up a partial curve for producing my deep purple shadows. I printed many test strips with curves adjustments, and lots of questions to my daughter about the colors of purple/blue that she could see and I couldn’t. In the process I had to pretty much start from scratch, and it eventually dawned on me that I was going to have to start with just black and magenta, and work my way up from there. Eventually my light grey to magenta/black test strip actually smoothed out and even began to have a look like it was approaching linearity.

I set the QTR ink blending project aside for a few hours, and expected to come back and start mixing in some cyan in the hopes of moving toward purple and black. During this whole business with ink curves, the temperature in the greater L.A. area began to rise into the 90’s. This began to strain my computers, my photo editing workstation became mysteriously slow, with almost every little action spiking the dual core CPU. Finally one of my disk drives died, unfortunately it was one of my main disks with all my photography on it. Luckily that drive was part of a RAID mirror, so there were two copies of everything. After cursing my bad luck I ordered a replacement drive, and figured with the disk in the process of flaking out the I/O subsystem on my machine was being taxed and that was the cause of the slowness of my computer. Oops not so fast inkboy! My computer wasn’t finished F’in with me yet. The next morning the fan on my $80 CPU cooler failed! Stop, don’t pass go, head straight on over to jail. Sometimes I just have the worst luck when it comes to computer hardware.

And that is where my portfolio project has been for the past week, in jail. The people that make my ridiculously huge and expensive CPU cooler are right here in southern California. I called to ask about getting a replacement fan, and they said that they would ship me a new one right away. No need to send in the defective unit, no need to spend a fortune on a replacement (which would require disassembling the whole bloody computer). It should be there in a couple of days. Well, its been a week now, no dice, no computer, no inkjet curves, no portfolio printing, no ability to even get some sample photos to include in these ridiculously long blog postings.