Entries Tagged as 'portfolio'

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.

Portfolio: INK, ink, Ink?

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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.

QTR

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.

Portfolio: paper or plastic?

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The next major concern after the b/w issue is on what type of paper will these images be printed? I titled this post with the question of paper or plastic which is a bit of a joke because I never really considered printing the portfolio on the RC papers. But with the new air dried glossy emulators like Silver Rag, Harmon Gloss and Ilford Gold Fibre Silk their look is close enough that the wording is apt. The whole paper issue when it comes to inkjet printing is really a drag in my opinion. There are so many choices, the differences between some papers is so slight, the cost can be painfully expensive (over $5.00 for a piece of paper!), and the lingering doubt about how well these things will hold up over the long haul make the paper chase no fun at all. Several times a year a major paper manufacturer comes out with a new product that is supposed to address all issues. It gets the inkjet printer community all in a tizzy and those of us who are so inclined go through another round of trying to figure out if we’ve found the silver bullet.

Well it when it comes to paper choice the masochist in me comes out again. If I could, I would only print on matte papers. When an image works on matte papers I’m extremely happy. The lack of the blinding reflection when viewed from the wrong angle makes matte more preferable to me than what we get with the glossies. The feel of the matte papers in my hand is also much more to my liking. So far none of the new glossies on cotton or alpha cellulose comes close to the wondrous feel in hand that you get from a thick cotton rag paper like Epson Velvet Fine Art (VFA) or Hahnemuhle Photo Rag (HPR). If someone could come up with a stable ink and cotton rag combo that could deliver a dmax of 1.9 or greater I’d probably never look for another type of paper. But we aren’t there yet, and might not ever be. The fact is the best I’ve ever been able to achieve on matte paper is a dmax of 1.7 from VFA. Where as you get to a dmax of 2.2 on almost any glossy paper. And therein lies the rub. In my opinion, some images simply cannot be made to work within the confines of the matte paper’s dynamic range.

There have been a few times in the past year (since the introduction of the air dried glossy emulators) that I’ve thought maybe I should just throw in the towel with matte papers and stick with the new glossies. At these times I’ve ordered sample packs of these new papers and done tests with them, and all of them have had some major problem that caused me to rule them out (until recently, which I’ll get to later).

  1. Not a single one of these papers has been tested by Wilhelm so we have no metric for comparison with all the papers that have been around for a few years.
  2. None of these papers actually produced an image that was demonstrably superior to what I would get on humble Epson Premium Luster (which is also very inexpensive by comparison).
  3. Most of them had an annoying surface texture that I just couldn’t get used to. Silver Rag was probably the worst in this dept. Harmon gloss didn’t really have an awful texture to it, though some think it too smooth and therefore too plasticky looking.
  4. All of them were priced insanely high. Epson Exhibition Fibre (EEF) was the very worst in this dept. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Epson papers and their value for years (VFA is one of the very best papers out there). Epson has also been very consistent about delivering good quality paper with no defects or curl. However my first box of Exhibition Fibre was clearly defective with micro cracks. The paper may have delivered the highest image quality of all the glossies (but the surface texture is an acquired taste), but in the end I couldn’t get over the cost.

With that diatribe out of the way, I can now get to the latest entry into the air dried glossy emulator field, Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk (GFS). This paper is different in a number of areas than all the rest. First and foremost it is priced affordably! A box of 50 8.5×11″ sheets can be had for about $40.00 or $0.79/sheet, where as EEF costs about $1.56/sheet in 8.5×11″. GFS is also different in that it is a natural paper, somewhat creamy looking compared to everything else that is overflowing with optical brightening agents (OBA). But when measured that paper white and dark blacks (with Epson K3 inks) is actually closer to neutral gray than any other glossy I’ve seen. Finally the GFS paper delivers a good high quality image with nice acutance, and a non-intrusive surface texture that doesn’t suffer from pizza wheel marks on my 3800 (unlike the retarded EEF).

So I’ve finally found one of the non-RC glossy papers that is to my liking. On the matte paper side I have always been a major fine of Epson’s VFA. It is a paper in the cold press style (which means with surface texture) and has OBAs (but they’re not obnoxious). VFA is a beautiful paper, but I don’t use it for everything. The surface texture doesn’t work for closeups of people in my opinion (but is great for landscapes), and sometimes a set of photos might look better on a paper with fewer or no OBAs. The images that will make up this portfolio will lend themselves to being printed on a textured surface so I’m not considering my favorite hot press (smooth) styled papers like Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art (USFA) or the ubiquitous HPR 308. My paper choices (yes it was long in coming I know) for this portfolio boiled down to VFA, Hahnemuhle German Etching (GE) and GFS.

German Etching is a textured paper like VFA except it is more cream colored due to fewer OBAs. I’ve just got my first box of GE a week or so ago, but I had seen it before and kinda knew I would like it. I printed a few test images on the paper an it does indeed produce a very nice image. I think for this portfolio I might actually prefer it to VFA. But I wound up eliminating GE for strictly economical reasons this time. I already have about 17 sheets of VFA in 17×22″ ready to print on. I’d have to buy a box of GE which would be about $254 or $5.16/sheet (ouch). But I like the paper and when I buy my next big box of matte paper it will either be GE or Hahnemuhle William Turner which is slightly cheaper textured with no OBAs at all.

So finally it was narrowed down to either VFA or GFS, matte or glossy, bright or natural. I guess by now it is apparent that there is an anal/masochist/analytic side to my personality. I spend a lot of time analyzing my choices/weighing my options. Another thing I like about printing on the matte papers is that it is more challenging to make a satisfying image on a paper with a smaller dynamic range and color gamut. If I can get my images to work on a matte paper there is a greater sense of satisfaction that I feel. Not only was I able to produce this beautiful image, but I didn’t take the easy route, I made it on a surface that is harder to work with but more pleasing to hold and less abrasive on the eyes (glare on glossies).

After making a few prints on 8.5×11″ paper I was satisfied that these images will work on both VFA and GFS papers. Since I can produces a satisfactory rendition of these images on the matte papers that is what I’ve decided to go with. However, during this process I also came to another conclusion. I think that (yes not 100% sure about this) I’ve convinced myself to stick with matte papers when printing images that aren’t going to be framed behind glass. And to go ahead and pick the GFS paper for everything else that will be framed. I’m leaning in this direction because once an image printed on matte paper goes behind the glazing, no one gets to feel be beauty of the sheet, and the abrasive reflections are once again added via the glass (I haven’t tried the super expensive non-reflecting museum glazing yet). So I may be limiting my purchases of matte paper to nothing larger than 13×19″ sheets since you can’t really hold a 17×22″ piece of paper.