Thursday, October 17, 2013

Newborn Photography

Since today was such a rainy day here is Sofia, I decided to take out a few of my new purchases and give them a bit of a whirl.  I set up a gridded umbrella softbox to camera left.  The power was set to 1/8th power.  Next, I set up an octobox umbrella directly behind the camera and set -1 1/3 stops lower than the softbox.  I set my camera to 1/100th of second, f6.3 and ISO 800.  A lighting diagram is below that will help explain my setup.  The photos in this post were a result of this lighting setup.  Hope you enjoy!

Lighting Diagram

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Backlit Fall Photos

This afternoon I experimented with a bit of backlit fall photography.  My wife, baby and I went on a stroll through South Park and decided that we should take a few photos in a nice location with some yellow/orange fall colors.  I positioned the sun behind the subject and used an on camera flash angled up (in order to feather the light slightly).  I then set my camera to manual mode so that the sky was overexposed and set my flash to ETTL -2/3 of a stop.  I moved the camera into the sun slightly to get a bit of flare in the lens on a few of the shots and then retreated to the shade to take a few without flare.  All in all, a successful couple of pictures with minimum gear.  I feel that this is another example of knowing the kind of light available to you and maximizing its potential.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Scott Kelby Photowalk 2013

During the past weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the 2013 version of the Scott Kelby Photowalk.  This is an annual walk that happens in Sofia and around the world.  The purpose of the walk is to meet new people, share ideas, take some photos and have a good day.  You can submit photos from the walk into a worldwide contest or you can just forward them to your walk leader to share on the their Flickr page.  Either way this experience is a great chance to meet new people while getting out and taking photos. A link to the photowalk page is below.

Above is an image that I am submitting to the contest.  It was taken in the market off of Vitosha Blvd. just across from the mosque in Sofia, Bulgaria.  I like this image due to the fact that your eye is drawn to the different people placed within a relatively symmetrical setting.  The people almost seem to create a small amount of tension or unevenness within the symmetrical frame. 

In order to create this photo I took advice that I had heard at some point that told me both to work a scene but also wait for the right time and moment to take the photo.  I sat at the bottom of the stairs for 10 minutes waiting for the right combination of events and people to appear.  Comments and critique are welcome.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sunrise Portraits

Over the past year or so I have been riding my bicycle to work.  The round trip covers approximately 30km and part of my enthusiasm for riding to work is created by the amazing sunrise I get to witness during the trip this time of year.  I ride past a field every morning that is absolutely beautiful and I've been trying to convince a subject, any subject, that waking up before sunrise would be worth their while.  I eventually got in touch with one person who I was able to convince.

We arrived at the field at about 6:00am.  The lighting setup we used is diagrammed below.  We gelled the strobe with a full cut of CTO to help balance the speedlight temperature with the sunrise and shot it into silver umbrella in order to compete with the power of the rising sun.  For those interested, we used the following settings.

f-stop: 5.6
shutter: 1/200
ISO: 800
Flash power: 1/4 (gelled with full CTO)

The example below is the best of the bunch.

With regard to subject posing, we found the most success when we had her look directly into the speedlight/umbrella combination and moved the umbrellas as close as possible to soften the light.  Also, using the grass as an out-of-focus foreground element helped to draw the viewer's eye to the subject.

The big takeaways from this shoot were first, balancing the ambient light with the flash temperature is mandatory if you want to create a ambient light look.  Second, paying attention to harsh shadows and adjusting your lighting setup and posing (moving the light closer and having the subject look into the light) are important.  Finally, arriving about 45 minutes before sunrise helped to give us the pastel like colours in the sky that you see.  If you want this look you have to either get there before sunrise of be patient enough to wait until well after the sun has gone down.  Also, the opportunity to capture these colors only lasts minutes so be ready.

Overall, I had a great time and learned a ton.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Today I wanted to write a quick blog post about a fantastic Photoshop resource ... and it is free!  It is called Phlearn.  The I found them on Youtube but you can subscribe to their website.  They offer a ton of fantastic free videos and also sell more complicated tutorials called "Phlearn Pros".  I'm submitting one of my photos for their sunset contest below.  This is a sunset behind a famous Bulgarian communist monument called Buzludja.  It is currently boarded up but the adventurous can get inside if you are willing to scramble through a few holes.  It is definitely worth it.  You can check out the link to the Phlearn website and Youtube channel if you are interested.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 2, 2013

First Animated GIF Attempt

Well, it has been a busy summer.  Between classes and getting ready for the arrival of my first little one I haven't had much time to post.  I've recently returned to Bulgaria and I decided to give Google Sites a shot.  I'm trying to embed an animated into the site but it seems to keep limiting the size of my image.  If anyone has any suggestions as to how to get around this I would be all ears.  Below is the GIF that I created.  Not sure if it is going to work but we will give it a shot. I've heard that Blogger doesn't support GIFs but we're about to find out!

 Wow! it worked.  If you are interested in how I created this please let me know and I can post a video tutorial.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Camping in the Cave - Edelweiss Team Building

Firstly, apologizes for the long delay between blog posts.  The end of the school year along with the classes that I have been taken have limited my ability to write about my photography.  I am off to complete the final portion of my courses tomorrow but I thought that I would write a post about the team building activity that I covered before I left for summer break.

The Edelweiss team contacted me about covering one of their activities.  This required me to camp-out near a climbing cave in the Bulgarian countryside while the team setup lines and activities for the guests, who would arrive the next day.  I took this job as an opportunity to develop my problem solving skills as the relate to photography.  I knew that I would be shooting in a variety of conditions and a variety of subjects.  No one setting or thought process was going to work for all situations.  I was going to have to think on my feet to get decent images.

With about 150 guests arriving the task of capturing images of all participants and activities was difficult.  I've included a few of the shots that I took of the event below along with a description of the challenges that were presented in the shot along with the way in which I solved the problem.

After you finish a job like this, the good photographer always looks back on what they could have done to improve their work.  In this case, two major improvements could have been made.  First of all, I should have created a list of activities and somehow ensured that I collected images of all of the activities and most of the people at the event.  Planning is key.  Secondly, I was so concerned that I was bringing the right photographic equipment I omitted some of the basics such as sunscreen.  Planning for the pictures along with the challenges of the day is another item to consider when departing for a job like this one.

The experience was another fantastic chance to get out into the peace and quiet of the Bulgarian countryside as well as challenge myself and my photographic skills.

The above images presented issues by being back-lit.  After taking the photo I decided to ignore the blown out background and expose for the subject.  It seems to have led to a beautiful contrast between the green camouflage and the white sky behind the subject.

This image was taken inside of the cave where there was a large circular hole above the subjects.  The most challenging aspects of this shot were capturing an image in sharp focus and correcting for the color shifts.  The focus issue was dealt with my using continuous focus (back-button focus) to track the subjects and waiting for them to swing out of the direct sunlight.  Color issues created by light bouncing off of the orangeish cave wall (and therefore creating an orange tinge on the subject) were corrected in post.  

The contrast between the bright sun and the back-lit subjects in this image were dealt with in post.  A graduated filter adjustment was used to increase the exposure of the people.  This image was shot at f22 to create the sun-star effect that you see at the top of the image.

The side-lit conditions in this image forced me to use a flash and diffuser to light the shadows in the image as well as diffuse the fill light enough to cover the 24mm field of view.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

First Family Photo Session

Well, I stepped over the line a few weekends ago.  I accepted an offer to take some photos of a family who will be moving on to their next destination in the near future.  I was incredibly nervous to take the job as I had never been under that kind of pressure before.  There were a few key learning experiences that I took away from the day.

First, I'm incredibly happy that I scouted the locations that I wanted to shoot.  It took almost a full day to get to them and determine where the sun would be and how I would want to shoot them but I can't imagine layering the complexity of determining a location on top of all of the other things that were going on that day. It was made much easier by having a fantastic family to work with, but still ... scout your locations.

Second, I took my lovely wife along with me.  She was amazing (as she always is) at helping.  An extra set of hands to hold up reflectors, block off direct sunlight or catch umbrellas from falling over was worth way more than I paid her.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I realized that a day like that was about having a good experience.  I would guess that a lot of photographers would bury themselves behind their camera and play with their settings to achieve the perfect lighting ratios while ignoring the family and the relationship that they were building with them.  My biggest take away from this day was knowing when to put the camera down and talk.  I enjoyed it and I think it went a long way to getting some decent shots later on.  

Below you will find a few examples of the photos I took on the day.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and helpful ... especially since this was my first attempt!


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back to Basics - Maldives on Film

Our most recent trip for Spring Break was an amazing experience that Elise and I will not soon forget.  From huge Mantas to giant Whale Sharks, the underwater world of the Maldives is a playground for divers seeking large pelagics.

I would like to say that I decided to shoot my diving experience on my film camera (Nikonos V with two SB105s) in order to get back to basics.  The truth is that this camera is the only one that I own.  The price of an underwater housing in addition to the required strobes make it cost prohibitive for me to purchase a housing for my 5D III.

Before we left I reviewed the basics of using strobes underwater.  I went online and took a look at guide numbers of my strobes.  Other resources that I read suggested that in order to calculate the guide number for 2 strobes I would need to multiply the guide number by a factor of 1.4.  I then consulted the Essential Guide to the Nikonos System (portions are available free on Google books).  This provided me with enough information to calculate some starting exposure values.  I laminated this exposure chart and took it with me on dives to help me calculate my camera settings.  If you are interested in this chart, or want to know more about this process, please contact me and I would be happy to share it if you are interested.

I then set corresponding apertures, strobe power settings and distances according to this chart.  My general strategy was to set the camera for a specific type of shot and only shoot those pictures on that specific guide.  Later in the week I broke from this pattern as I started to memorize the chart and was able to adapt on the go.  These adaptations were mostly unsuccessful and I found that the shots that I took that were preplanned were much more successful.

I took about 200 photos.  The images that were most successful are posted below.  You can also see more images on my Facebook page.  The experience of going back to film was a good one.  It took me back to basics and allowed me to apply things that I have learned in the digital world to the film photography.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Video Preview of the Maldives ...

For those that are following me here, Elise and I have just returned from the Maldives.  The trip has completely reignited my love of the underwater world and underwater photography.  Having yet to invest in an underwater housing for my new camera (which is now just a matter of time) I took my old Nikonos 5 (a film camera) along with me to record the underwater world.  It was back to basics for sure as I shot in manual mode most of the time and used an online exposure chart to calculate my exposures.  I'm dropping off the film today so keep your finger crossed for me.  I'll post any decent results I get back here at a later date.  Until then, here are two videos from other divers that we were with to tease you and possibly persuade to visit the Maldives.

Mantas in the Maldives

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Outdoor Portrait with the Girl On Fire

I've been wanting to get into portraiture for a while now but other than Elise, there have been few people who were interested in taking me up on my offer.  I can completely understand the hesitation.  You have to put yourself out there, meet someone you have never met before and then stand in a public area on a bright sunny day with people walking by as photos are taken of you.

Plami and I got in touch through one of the local modeling websites and decided to try a first shoot in South Park.  Plami is an amazing person and incredibly easy going.  Her name actually means "on fire" from what I can remember, which suits her hair to a tee.  She has natural posing talent and is very easy to work with.  That made my first experience at this much easier.

I my mind, I was going for a few back-lit shots with the sun as a hair light and a silver umbrella with a Pocket Wizard as a key light.  I thought this would be a safe and easy way to get some decent photos and not embarrass myself in front of the talent.

Amazingly, we worked for almost two hours taking shots in different places with a simple one light setup (umbrella off to one side, 45 degrees up and over) with the sun behind for some rim light.  I adjusted the power of the strobe and shot in manual to get a balance of ambient and flash as I thought I saw fit.  Both of us enjoyed it so much that we continued to work after the best light was gone.  The images that were taken are below.  Editing was done in a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions for improvement below.  I'm always looking to get better and open working with people any time.  Enjoy your Sunday!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Knowing the Location

Last night I had the opportunity to see Hilda Kazasyan at Studio 5 in Sofia.  The show kicked off a month long parade of jazz coming through the city that will be topped off at the end of the month by a weekend long concert at Mixtape 5.

Playing to a more mature, yet overall diverse crowd, the Big Band Brass Association opened with one or two songs before Hilda arrived.  Her personality and stage presence provided a glow that lit up the room.  The intimate venue of Studio 5 was the perfect location for her personal and welcoming show.  The audience stood feet from her microphone and took in all the show had to offer.  

My slow ... very slow ... development of the understanding of how to light venues has led me to the following conclusion.  You have to know your venue ... duh.  I arrived at Studio 5 last night a touch late and realized that I had no idea what the venue looked like, where I could position lights or what the house lights were like.  After flashing a few poor customers directly in the face with some side stage lighting tests I realized that I would be forced to use the stage lights.

It turned out that the high ISO capabilities of the 5D Mark III were up to the task.  The photos below are from the Hilda Kazasyan concert at Studio 5 last night.  I managed to adapt to the conditions on the fly but next time I will definitely be scouting the location beforehand and considering all the lighting options.

The second realization that I have come to recently is that photographers have a detrimental effect at concerts.  During my three most recent shoots the number of photographers/videographers has been ... intrusive.  Flashes going off, photographers pushing for "the shot" and polite concert goers not wanting to interfere with the "professionals" has, in my opinion, taken away from the event.  Part of the art of event photography is blending into the background and not interfering with the actual event or the event-goers.  During the Ruth Koleva show at Mixtape 5, I was so disappointed with amount of media there and how they were interfering with the show I took down my equipment and left.  I did not want to contribute to an already awkward situation.  While recording images of events is an important and worthwhile, the event photographer must realize that he/she is there to record it, not affect it.

That being said ... here are some images from the Hilda Kazasyan concert last night ... hypocritical or not?  You be the judge.