Shelby Cobra Light Painted

The more I work with light painting the more excited  I am with the possibilities that the technique offers. This latest light painting session was with a replica 1965 Shelby Cobra 427  based on Dick Smiths – #198 CSX3035. The Cobra was built locally using a Factory 5 racing kit. Light painting is not a particularly efficient lighting technique but the unique quality of the results more than make up for the extra time needed in the studio.

Shelby Cobra 427
Using the light painting technique, a new 1965 Cobra 427 based on Dick Smiths – #198 CSX3035.

 

The addition of a CamRanger to my mix of equipment helped tremendously. The ability to remotely control the camera from my iPad and to review each shot immediately after the exposure proved to be invaluable. Studio lights have the advantage of repeatability. Once studio lights are set, small adjustments can be made between exposures with predictable and repeatable results. With light painting each exposure is an entirely new creation. Reviewing the previous exposure gave me valuable feedback but the ability to repeat what worked and make adjustments to improve on the previous exposure is dependent on my memory and ability to repeat movement and timing.  With exposure times of upwards of three minutes while working around and over the surface of an entire car, that is quite a bit to remember. That is part of what is making light painting so fun and the unique quality of the result is well worth the added time and effort.

There is an almost liquid quality to the light in the final images of the cars I have done that makes the light painted photos brilliantly unique. The full length image above and the images below are the final selection from the shoot with both color and black and white treatments.

shelby-cobra-sm-web
With an off angle overhead view we get a peek into the cockpit of this Shelby Cobra.

shelby-cobra-drip-smweb

shelby-cobra-long-bw-sm-web

shelby-cobra-over-bw-smweb shelby-cobra-front-bw-smweb

Experimenting with Light Painting

Complex Studio Lighting…

… or maybe just a simple flashlight.

light-painting-VW-Red

Much of the early part of my photography career was spent doing studio photography. Large powerful strobe systems running through any number of light modifiers such as umbrellas, light boxes, snoots, etc. It was challenging and fun to get the most out of these complex and cumbersome lighting set ups. It was quite a rush to get everything set and then trigger the sometimes massive explosion of light with a quick click of the shutter. Recently I have been experimenting with a far less dramatic method of artificial lighting called light painting.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying my hand at light painting. Replacing an entire studio full of complex lighting equipment with a simple flashlight. I am thrilled with the results and excited by the creative possibilities.

The 66 VW Beetle belongs to a neighbor of mine, who not really knowing what the heck I might be up to, was kind enough to lend me the car for a few nights. This was my first concerted attempt at working up a full finished image using the light painting technique. I had played with the process on a limited basis twice before. Once on my Wife’s bike and once with the front grill of my brother in law’s Tesla, but the VW was my first real “Ok… I think I can really do this!” attempt.

light-painting-dominic

In my completely dark shop I spent about three hours over the course of two nights making a series of light painted exposures. With my cameral mounted on a tripod I experimented with 30-60 second open shutter times and various other camera settings while using the flashlight to ‘paint’ the car with light. Being able to immediately review the previous exposure I would then make a few mental notes of what seemed to be working and what I needed to change for the next exposure. Like refining a pencil sketch… but starting from scratch each time.

My first two experiments with light painting. On the left my wife's bike. On the right the front of a Tesla model S.
My first two experiments with light painting. On the left my wife’s bike. On the right the front of a Tesla model S.

Studio lighting set ups can be complex and cumbersome, especially for large subjects such as a car. That I could replace thousands of dollars of studio lighting with a $30 flashlight is really fun. That I can possibly do things with this technique that are not even possible with traditional studio lights has my creative juices really flowing. More to come I am sure!

PS – To give credit where credit is due… I was inspired to give light painting a try after sitting in on a short demonstration by photographer Dave Black. Light painting is not new. People have been running around in front of their cameras ‘scribbling’ with flashlights and sparklers for years. It was something Dave Black said about replacing large light modifiers with a moving point source of light that clicked with me. Having spent plenty of time wrestling with such equipment it was a real ‘ah-ha!’ moment. It’s good to be back in studio again.

Photography in Patagonia – Lago Pehoe Ferry

Shooting from the moving deck of the Lago Pehoe Ferry

There is an abundance of spectacular scenery in the Patagonia regions of Chile and Argentina. A region known for rapidly changing weather and high winds the conditions for photography are not always ideal. Such was the case when I found myself shooting from the deck of the Lago Pehoe ferry on my way to begin the W hike in Torres del Paine national park. With the peaks of Cerro Paine Grande and Los Cuernos swirling with clouds and contrasting beautifully with the emerald green water of the lake this photographer was eager to do what I could do to capture this landscape. The only problem was that I was on the upper deck of a catamaran that was pitching and rolling in the waves that were being whipped up by a strong head wind that was buffeting me too.

lago-pehoe-patagonia-w
Photograph of Cerro Paine Grande and Los Cuernos shot from the moving deck of the ferry across Lago Pehoe

Working in my favor were several factors. It was just after noon so there was plenty of light allowing me to use higher shutter speeds with a low ISO. Not typically the ideal time for shooting landscapes due to the lack of shadow detail, on this day and in this location it was going to work. The clouds added depth and shadow to the scene. The mid day light refracted a deep green color from the glacier fed lake in a way that it might not at other times of the day. The wind pushing the waves created texture and a few white caps to create a more interesting foreground. All I had to do was avoid pitching over the side of the boat and I would be fine.

To read more about Torres del Paine and hiking the W in Patagonia visit my

Traveling Hindsights blog.

 

 

Old Photo Preservation and Restoration

Old Photo Preservation and Restoration.

Photo-Restoration
Lillian M. Aitken. Married to Edward Hilton on June 11, 1903. My Great Grandmothers wedding portrait was in reasonably good shape, but becoming very brittle. There were small mold spots all over the old photo and a mess of splattered gunk from an unknown source. (heck the photo is over 100 yrs old… at some point someone spilled a drink, opened a soda too close… sneezed…) The restoration process took quite a bit of time but now the old photo is preserved and the new print is ready for the next 110 year run.

One of the most powerful things that photography provides for us is the opportunity to look into the eyes of our ancestors. An old family photograph holds special meaning as it plays to our uniquely human desire to know where we came from. The portrait above is of my great grandmother and as I worked to preserve and restore it I could not help but look deeply into that face. That is where I came from! With very little imagination I am looking at my grandmother, my mother, my sisters, and my daughters. With a bit more imagination… I am looking at myself.  I can’t say that my life would be measurably different if this portrait didn’t exist, but it does exist… and I appreciate having the opportunity to admire this young woman who would become my great grandmother.

Now would be a great time to make a commitment to gathering up those old photos that are scattered throughout your house or in your parents or grandparent’s attic and begin the process of preserving them. They are valuable in ways that can’t be measured and with every passing day the odds tilt in the direction of loosing them forever. They are deteriorating and eventually will become dust even if they are ‘safe’ in the bottom of some box that is dry and out of the light. Fire, flood, or just the simple inevitable slow decay of all things organic will eventually take them from you. If they are on display then UV light will speed that process along even faster.

Preservation and restoration are really two different things. Preservation is simply the process of capturing a copy of the original into some other medium. It could be as simple as snapping a picture of the original with a camera phone, or as I did with the photo above, create a professional level high resolutions scan. In terms of preservation the scanned image on the left accomplishes that objective. With the high resolution scan safely backed up onto a couple of different hard drives and on a cloud server the original is no longer the only copy in existence. If this initial step is the only one you have time or budget for I highly recommend getting the highest resolution copies you can manage.  This will give you the greatest flexibility later when you want to restore and or print some of the images.

Restoration of an old photo is a whole different ball game. The possibilities are endless and depend entirely on what you might want as the end product. It could be as simple as a quick tweak of the contrast and little color correction to improve the look of a faded photo, or it could be a laborious repair of a photo that has cracks, tears, spots, or more… If you are not equipped to do this yourself you need to be prepared to pay someone a fair sum to do it for you. Keep in mind when you get the bill, it will take a great deal more time to repair and restore the photo that it took to create it in the first place.

The photo of my Great Grandmother is in the neighborhood of 110 years old. Needless to say I was a bit shocked when it arrived at my house via USPS along with some negatives from the 1930’s unceremoniously stuffed in an envelope with a note from my Mother asking if there was something I could do to preserve them. I have chuckled a little over this as I labored to restore the portrait, but this is what 110 year old photographs do… they travel… they sit in boxes… they get sneezed on… they bake in the sun… they endure trips through the mail… they live with us and until they are very old we don’t often realize how valuable they are. Eventually they inspire those who care to be inspired and if they are lucky they get another lease on life through careful preservation and restoration.

PS –

Photographer George Steckel took the portrait of my Great Grandmother. Steckel maintained his portrait studio in downtown Los Angles and I am grateful for the quality work that he did. He worked in a time when photography was still somewhat elusive. When having a portrait done was an important event rather than a trip to the bathroom mirror with a cell phone for a quick ‘selfie’. Thank you Mr. Steckel, like a Rembrandt painting, the quality of your work is timeless… as a portrait should be.

Now would be a great time to schedule an appointment with a competent photographer (probably harder to do now than it was 110 yrs ago)… buy some quality prints… and give your great great grandchildren a gift. (No… the duck face cell phone selfie just won’t cut it)

There is a wealth of information on the web regarding how to go about preserving and restoring family photos and any number of services. It can be difficult to know who to trust with the prescious photos and negatives. The best advice I can offer is to do your homework. Don’t send your photos or negatives to any company without knowing exactly where those images will be going. Some companies will send your photos and negatives over seas to be processed. Scary.   This NY Times article on the subject is a good place to start.

 

The Washington Monument Reflection

Photographing the Washington Monument

It would be hard to overstate how dominate the Washington monument in the heart of Washington DC is. Especially at night this tall white obelisk stands like a massive pin around which the rest of the United States capitol spins. Getting a great photograph of the monument proved to be a particularly difficult task when I was there in October of 2012. The iconic shot of the Washington monument is to catch a clear reflection on the water of the reflecting pool that was made just for that purpose. With a bit of luck a photographer can stand on the steps of the Lincoln memorial when the water is still and capture their own version of this beautiful scene. A bit of rain, wind, or even a tourist dipping a hand into the water can upset the possibility of getting a clear reflection. Or, was the case in October of 2012… there might not be any water at all. The reflection pool had been drained due to an algae bloom. It seemed as if I was out of luck for getting a reflection shot of the monument.

washington-monument-reflected
The iconic Washington Monument in Washington DC reflection as seen from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
A snapshot of the same scene earlier in the day shows wind, crowds, and a lack of water all conspiring to make it impossible to get a good reflection shot of the Washington monument.
A snapshot of the same scene earlier in the day shows wind, crowds, and a lack of water all conspiring to make it impossible to get a good reflection shot of the Washington monument.

Disappointed by this bit of bad luck I carried on with my tour and photography of our Nation’s capitol. It was not until I revisited the steps of the Lincoln memorial late at night that I discovered that the almost completely empty reflection pool turned out to be a bit of good luck for this photographer. At the bottom of the concrete pool was a thin strip of perfectly still water. At night, with the Washington monument set ablaze with powerful lights, the reflecting pool was shrouded in darkness hiding the fact that the pool was all but empty. To my delight, there in the bottom of the pool, was a perfect reflection of the Washington monument. The late hour ensured that I did not have to compete for a bit of space on the Lincoln memorial steps as I set up my tripod and worked to capture this beautiful photograph of the Washington memorial.

This is a good example of how little control a landscape photographer has over the conditions that are found at any given location at any given moment. I would love to claim that I had anticipated how different this scene would be at night but I had not. What I did do, and what I routinely advise people interested in learning more about landscape photography to do, is revisit a site that holds great promise if the first visit doesn’t work out. On this particular trip my wife and I decided to revisit the monuments and memorials of Washington DC at night. That decision produced a wealth of great photo opportunities.

A simple tip for photographing people

A simple tip for photographing people.

portrait-photo-tip

The rule of thirds is really a set of guidelines… literally. One of the most basic ‘rules’ of composition is seemingly easy to understand, but in practice many have a hard time putting it to good use. Even a simple ⅓ grid is useless if the complexity of the scene overwhelms the photographer. So… here is one simple tip for applying the rule of thirds to people.

Place the upper ⅓ line right through the subject’s eyes. Yup… it works with virtually any crop. If you have multiple people in the shot, put the top ⅓ line through the top set of eyes.

Don’t worry about working with all four grid lines or the four intersecting focal points. Just put that one line through your subject’s eyes. Recompose your shot in as many ways as you want – high angle, low angle, tight crop, or wide – just make sure that with each framing of the subject, the eyes are close to that ⅓ from the top line. In the photos above, note how the eyes are essentially level with each other even in these two very different crops.

You will find it is easier to hinge your composition on this one concept rather than trying to think about multiple composition ‘rules’ at the same time. The rest of the composition will then tend to fall into place.

Epson Perfection V750 follow up.

Batch Scanning my Slide Collection

With the new Epson V750-Pro scanner in place for the past few weeks and a few hundred slide scans under my belt, here is a progress update:

(Click here to read my previous post about how I came to choose the Epson V750 scanner in the first place)

Everything you may have read about slide and negative scanning being a slow process is true. If time is going to be an important part of the equation it is certainly better to just send your slides and negatives off to a service and pay them to do the scans. In my case I knew that the scanner could poke along on a batch of scans while I did other work. In fact it is working on a set of twelve slides as I write this. This batch of twelve will take about 45 minutes to complete, and that is not at the highest resolution settings.

slideTray12
A set of 12 slides loaded in the tray and ready to batch scan in the Epson V750 scanner.

It took several days of trial and error to make a final decision on which software and which settings to use. With hundreds of scans waiting in the boxes I did not want to move forward without some degree of confidence that I had things set up properly. There are so many possible ways of doing this that I knew I had to pick a workable path and move forward with the project.

In the end I decided that I needed to set some sort of baseline criteria. I decided that I wanted to be able to print a quality 4×6 image from any of the batch scanned photos. With a mix of personal and professional images I had differing end goals for some of the photos but I did not want to take the time to sort everything out before hand. With the personal photos I knew that the majority would not go beyond digital sharing, but I would print some to make traditional family albums. With the professional images I needed enough resolution to examine them carefully. If I decide to do more with any one of those images I can rescan at higher resolutions and with individualized image adjustments, or send it out for even better scans than this scanner can deliver. It is a good scanner but I am not fool enough to think that it can compete with professional industrial level equipment.

While all of that seems simple enough, it took two days of playing around with the bundled software to decide on a workflow and move forward. I scanned the same set of twelve slides about a dozen times before making my decision and actually getting to work on the boxes of slides. The Epson scanner comes with two different sets of software. The EpsonScan and SilverFast 8.

For my batch scanning needs the EpsonScan software won out over the SilverFast 8. The SilverFast 8 is clearly a more powerful bit of software and will likely come in handy for one off high res scans, but it proved to be just about useless for batch scans. The EpsonScan software is not much better in terms of intuitive user friendliness… but with far fewer variables to control I stumbled upon what I considered the right combination of settings to meet my batch scan needs.

EpsonScreenShot2014
After several days of trying different settings in both the SilverFast 8 software and the EpsonScan software, I was a little surprised to find that the “Home Mode” in the Espon software was going to work best for batch scanning my slides. This image is a screenshot of the settings that I am using to batch scan my slides on the V750 scanner.

 

My scanner settings are as follows:

1. Mode = “Home”  The options available in each mode vary greatly. I would have thought that I would be better off in “Professional” mode… but that did not end up being the case.

2. Scan res is 600dpi

3. Target size is 4×6 inch

4. Digital ICE = On

Slide Scan Workflow is as follows:

1. Load slides in tray. (I load them all horizontally)

2. Blow off dust with bulb blower.

3. Preview scan. (The Epson software is much better at auto detecting the images than the SilverFast software)

4. Adjust brightness/contrast on a few of the images if needed. (The options for individual image adjustment are very limited in this mode)

5. Click scan (you will have to figure out how you want to name and number your scans)

6. Do other work for about 45 minutes while the scan completes.

7. Load another batch of scans and get it going.

8. Open the batched scans in Photoshop.

9. Rotate as needed.

10. Auto Tone (there isn’t much post production wiggle room with a scan this size. A simple auto tone gives a quick happy average that works most of the time)

11. Save as High Res JPEG.

SlideScan217

With this I end up with a 3600×2400 image that is 6 – 8 megs in size. With a touch of sharpening they print as 4×6 just fine and are plenty large enough for a large preview on the computer.

The example photo was picked at random. The top image is as it came from the scanner (resized for web) and the bottom is after a ‘auto tone’ on photoshop. A quick way to get a perfectly acceptable image for my purpose of batch scanning my slide collection. With the collection digitized I will better be able to sort and use the images for a variety of purposes and decide on which few images to rescan for higher resolution.

SlideScan217b

 

It would take me several days to run through all of the different settings I tried in the SilverFast 8 software.  Out of the box I had assumed that it would be the better slide scanning solution and for some applications I have no doubt that it probably is. For the job of getting my large collection of slides batch scanned the EpsonScan software is the better solution. A more complete review of the Epson V750 Pro Scanner can be found here.

Used Slide Scanner v New

Deciding to buy a new slide and negative scanner or a used one… not an easy choice.

December 2013 – Dominic Urbano

slide-scan-urbano
With hundreds of slides and negatives to scan and a very limited number of scanning hardware options… I finally settled on the Epson V750.

The many boxes of slides and negatives that have been sitting in the loft of my shop have been quietly calling to me to scan them for some time now. Digitizing the substantial collection of film based images has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time, but like so many non urgent items on my list I hadn’t made any real effort to start the process. Then, in an inspired afternoon of cleaning out old boxes of stuff in my shop in order to bring a bit of order to the years of chaos, I came across those many boxes of slides and negatives and decided maybe I really should do something about digitizing them. It looks like I was almost too late.

As I started researching slide and negative scanners I quickly realized that the technology that I would need to make the scans is rapidly disappearing from the market. It was a little startling to realize that the window of time I had to digitize my film and slides was closing.  Nikon Coolscan… no longer made. Minolta Dimage scanners… no longer made. New dedicated slide and negative scanners were at best getting luke warm reviews and none could handle both my 35mm and medium format films. This low priority job was suddenly a high priority. After a few weeks of dizzying research, I narrowed my options down to two. The Nikon Coolscan 9000 or the Epson Perfection V750 flatbed.

Scanning medium format
One of my primary considerations for a slide and negative scanner was making sure that it could handle my medium format film. I’m not looking forward to having to unmask the negs from the old card crop mask.

The Coolscan 9000 is no longer produced and is only available used for about $3000. There is a pretty good number of these units available on the used market and demand continues to be quite high despite the problems with trying to make the machine talk to new computer operating systems. Without argument this unit would be the best machine to meet my scanning needs. It could handle both my 35mm and medium format films and deliver superb quality scans. Unfortunately purchasing  the Nikon scanning solution would come with a few problems.

The used, and no longer produced, scanner game (such as the Nikon Coolscan units) goes something like this. 1. Buy a used machine with an unknown history. (“Mint!” on ebay) for as much or more than it sold for new eight+ years ago. 2. Purchase 3rd party scanning software. 3. Search the internet forums for ways to get it all to work with your specific computer and operating system. 4. Assuming you get it working… scan all of your slides and negatives. 5. After you are done with the project, sell the scanner on e-bay for just as much or more than you bought it for. (In ‘mint’ condition of course… just like the guy you bought it from)

What all of that amounts to is a $3000 roll of the dice. I’m not real keen on purchasing things that ‘might’ work… at any price. Also, I could not shake the feeling that at some point soon the entire bottom would be dropping out of the used slide scanner market. The computer and software industry is going to continue to rocket forward at its usual breakneck speed and the lifelines that allow these scanners to live on are getting stretched pretty thin. With every passing month the people who currently hold these old scanners are more at risk of having the option of reselling the unit disappear. Even though I rarely sell any equipment I buy, this scanning project is finite and I do not anticipate a long term need for negative and transparency scanning. I decided to reduce my risk of being the guy with the $3000 paperweight to zero by passing on the used Nikon scanner. Not an easy choice since by all counts they are fantastic units.

The Epson Perfection V750 represents the reasonable compromise. What is reasonable is of course entirely subjective. In my case I really had to take a good look at what I had to scan and what I was likely to do with the scanned images. My previous professional work was mostly going to be scanned for archive and web purposes. If I decide to go to print with any of those images I’ll pay to have a pro level scan done on those few. The family photos are more likely to be printed, but most likely small family albums etc. So the reality was that the compromise I was making in quality with the Epson V750 compared to the Nikon Coolscan 9000 wasn’t really going to be much of a real factor.

The Epson V750 scanner that I am buying is brand new. It is ‘old’ technology but it is still available as a brand new unit for $799 through B&H and Adorama as of the time of this writing.  In the game of stacking pros and cons on the balance scale the $799 new Epson with “really good for a flatbed” reviews won over the $3000 used mystery unit with “outstanding pro quality” reviews. Buying a new unit with a manufacturer’s warrantee guarantees ‘mint’ condition. In the end I finally had to remind myself that I was doing this scan project primarily for personal use, and not for my customers. As much as I hate to compromise quality, the $2000+ gamble just was not worth it.

The scanner is currently making its way across the country via UPS… I’ll let you know how it all works out.