Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quick Tip #2 - What to after you've accidentally erased your memory card

This is just a follow up to the previous quick tip.  In the unlikely event that you do accidentally erase a memory card in the middle of a photoshoot, (yes, I have done it), here's what to do:

Immediately after you've erased the card (and I mean, IMMEDIATELY), turn off the camera and remove the erased card.  Screaming "oh sh!t oh sh!t oh sh!t"/pounding your head against a wall/slapping yourself is optional.

Quarantine the card - keep it separate from your other cards until you get back to your computer. This is very important - Do not record anything else to that card until after you have recovered your images from it.

Use file recovery software - there are a number of programs out there that can recover erased images.  We use the Sandisk Extreme brand of CompactFlash and SDXC cards, which come with a free file recovery program called Rescue Pro.

This software has saved my ass safely recovered lost images on several occasions.  You simply start up the program, insert the card into a card reader and tell the program where to save the recovered images (such as a folder on your hard drive.  Do not try to recover the images by re-saving them to your memory card).  Then let it go and do it's thing.  It will take a while, but you'd be surprised at what it can recover.

Formatting erases the catalog on the card that tells the computer where the images are on the card.  The images are still on the card until they are overwritten by another image.  As long as you do not record anything onto an accidentally formatted card, you stand a good chance of recovering what you lost.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Quick Tip - Formatting your cards in camera

Before every photoshoot, one of the items on our checklist is to format the CF cards in-camera.  We always check first to make sure that the previous shoot on the CF cards is backed up in at least 3 different places (hard drive, CD, online - you can never be too careful) before we format the cards.

One little tip about formatting the cards in-camera before a shoot.  Immediately after you format the card, it's a good idea to change the menu item to something other than "Format".  I'm not sure how it is on Nikons, but on Canon cameras, whenever you press the "Menu" button, it always goes to the last thing you selected in the menu.

If you left it on "Format" and hit the "Set" button while in the menu, you are just a couple of clicks away from erasing everything on your card. When you are running and gunning, like at a wedding, it's all too easy to forget. The LAST thing you want to do is to accidentally format a card in the middle of a shoot.

After formatting a card in the camera, I'll usually move the menu selection to the top of the Tools page,

then tab over to the next screen and select something harmless like "Highlight Alert" (in case I want to turn off the blinking highlight warning when showing the image on the back of the camera to a client.).  This greatly reduces the possibility of dumb old me accidentally formatting the card.

It takes less than a few seconds to do this, and once you get into the habit of doing it, you'll save yourself a lot of potential aggravation.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Riding the Rocket - Military Shoot Part II

For one of our setups at the Naval Air Museum, we did a take on the classic scene from the movie  "Dr. Strangelove" where Major Kong rides the atomic bomb as it's dropped from the bomber.

We had neither the budget nor the equipment required to actually suspend a rocket and a model safely in midair so we had to do a lot of improvising with what we had.

The bomb (actually a target drone) was mounted on a cart so that it could be wheeled around easily. We had to figure out how to shoot and light it so that a minimum of post-production work would have to be done.

We started by pointed the rocket into the wind so that when the model was in position on the rocket, the wind would be blowing her hair out behind her.

After shooting it from several different vantage points, we settled on an angle not completely sideways and not completely straight on to the camera, but just enough off center so that you can tell it's a rocket.  Shooting from a low angle would put the model against the blue sky, and make it easier to take out the buildings in the distance behind the rocket.

Had to lie flat on the ground to get this camera angle.  When you are looking at a scene and are trying to figure out the best angle to shoot it at, don't forget to look at the scene from different heights as well. Get down low on the ground or climb up on a ladder or something.  You never know when you'll stumble across a really cool shooting angle when you change the height of where you position the camera.

A few test frames revealed that the undercarriage of the rocket body was a little dark.  To help sell the illusion of the rocket flying through the sky, we laid out the white material of a  California Sunbounce Sunswatter on the ground in front of the rocket to bounce some sunlight into the shadow areas.

We used a WL1600 with a beauty dish for the main light with the sun as our hairlight. To help put more of a rim light on the model (and simulate the glow from the rocket engine) a second light was added to the scene - an AB800 with a 7" reflector positioned near the tail of the rocket.

While the model was getting her makeup touched up, I shot some background plates of the clouds in the sky that I would later composite behind the model to make it look like she was soaring through the air.

I used a small aperture, around f11, added a ND filter so that I could set the camera to a very slow shutter speed and panned the camera across the sky while pressing the shutter button.  It took several tries until I got the right blend of blurred clouds and sky.

Once Alyssa was ready, we started shooting different poses on the rocket until we got a couple of good shots to work with.

One of the final composites:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Alyssa and Alana - Military shoot Pt I

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f4

Took the first flight over to Oahu on Easter Sunday to meet up with Chaz from After6Media for another joint shoot at the Naval Air Museum at Barbers Point on Oahu.

This time our models were Alyssa and Alana and our makeup artists were Chastity and Sarah.

The Naval Air Museum staff was very helpful with this shoot, doing everything from moving and positioning vehicles to holding lightstands and reflectors.  They even helped to instruct our models on the proper holding and use of the many firearms we had access to.  They really made the photoshoot go smoothly.

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f2.8

Started out with Alana and a rocket launcher.  We used a California Sunbounce SunSwatter to diffuse the sunlight and a WL1600 with a beauty dish for the main light. We actually had two of the 1600s set up, but found that one was enough.

Our next set was on a tank named "The Duke".

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f5.6

For a lot of these shots also I used a circular polarizer and an ND filter on the lens to help darken the sky.

Canon 5D mk II 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/160@f2.8

The wind was doing amazing things with Alana's hair.  Kinda distracted me though - I should have also done a wide shot showing more of the turret, but didn't think about it at the time.

Both Chaz and I had a lot of our own concepts to shoot, so he primarily worked with Alana on this day while I worked with Alyssa.

Alyssa has been studying acrobatic silk work and the tank gave us a great opportunity to put her skills to work.

 Once she got the silk set up she started rocking the shoot.

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f4

The wind was blowing quite a bit (the location is on an active airfield after all), but amazingly Alyssa was able to position herself so that we could get the shots we wanted.

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f4

We used the WL1600/Beauty Dish again to fill in the harsh shadows.  One thing about the WL1600s - they are DURABLE.  The wind actually knocked the lightstand over while we were at the tank, denting the beauty dish and shattering the flashtube.  I figured the light was completely trashed.  When I got back to Maui however, I replaced the flashtube and tested it and amazingly the WL1600 is still working!

Alyssa is just fearless when it comes to posing - "Want me to hang from a tank turret holding a rifle? Suuuuure!  How about if I do it inverted?".

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/80@f2.8

We worked with one of the Navy jets next. Used the WL1600 with a 7" reflector for the main and an AB800 with the beauty dish for fill.  By this time the sun was a little lower in the sky so that we could use it as a hairlight.

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f5.6

Played around a bit with the positioning and the various signage on the plane.

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/160@f7.1

We tried several variations of outfits.  I think the red worked out the best. Red, white & blue - a future Navy recruiting poster maybe?

Canon 5D mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso200 1/125@f5.6

We also tried a few shots on top of one of the jets where Alyssa wrapped a silk around her body and let the wind blow through it.  Since she was pretty high up, I couldn't get exactly the right camera angle and placement of the light I was looking for.  Something to maybe save for the next shoot.

 Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/250@f5.6

Did some playful shots as well.  Alyssa is great with expressions like this.  Of course, we had a bit of a run in with security right after we took this shot.

Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/250@f5.6

Also did some shots with Alyssa and Alana together.

 Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/250@f5.6

 Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/250@f5.6

Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/200@f5.6

We ended up at the Huey for some final shots. The image stabilization on the 24-105 f4L IS lens is pretty darned good - this was handheld at 1/15th shutter speed.

Canon 7D 24-105 f4L IS iso200 1/15@f5.6

We then wrapped up and headed back to the airport to catch the last flight back to Maui.

Anyone that tells you that being a model is easy - that's a load of bullpucky.  Dehydrating in the hot sun, posing in the wind, hanging from silks, balancing on airplanes, these girls worked their butts off that day so that we could get some cool shots.  Mahalos to our models Alyssa and Alana, our makeup artists Sarah and Chastity and the staff at the Naval Air Museum for another awesome shoot!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What lighting gear to buy?

Recently a reader from the UK emailed me about what lighting gear to buy to get the kinds of images I post on the blog.  After recovering from the shock (you mean, people actually READ this blog?!?!?), I started writing my reply and thought it might be a good subject for a blog post as well.  Here's my response:


Thank you for the compliment.  To be honest, I'm still learning a lot of these things myself - I'm not even close to being able to do any workshops of my own yet.

The Canon 5D mk II is an excellent camera to work with, and I've heard good things about the 50mm 1.2L as well (that's probably the next lens I'll buy the next time I visit Tokyo).

It's difficult to answer your question about what to get for lighting equipment because each photo session I do is different.  Sometimes I'll use just natural light.  Sometimes I'll use a reflector. Sometimes it's one strobe and an umbrella.  
Sometimes I get crazy and try 6 strobes with Octodomes, softboxes, gels, fans, etc.  

I seriously need to have my head examined. ;-)

My best advice for you is something I learned from one of my instructors when I was first starting out:

DON'T go out and buy a whole bunch of lights and accessories at first.

Start small.  Start with just one light.  Just one.  Only one.  ONE LIGHT.

I started out with a single Canon 550EX on a light stand and an ST-E2 transmitter so that I could fire the flash off-camera.
Use that light every chance you get. Learn what you can and cannot do with that one light in different situations.  

Two good resources to study when learning how to use lights are: and
Zack Arias has a whole workshop devoted to using just one light. You would be surprised at what you can actually do with just one light.  

Once you are comfortable with and know everything about that one light, and if you feel like you want to get a modifier for it, then get one modifier.  Just one.  Only one.  The first thing I bought was a single white shoot thru umbrella.

Just get one modifier, then do the same thing - learn everything you can do with that one flash and one light modifier.  For a lot of people, that may be enough. Also, remember that when you are using that light outdoors, you actually have 2 lights at your disposal.  The sun is a light source, and you can use it as a main light, fill light, hair light, whatever, depending on how you use it in conjunction with your strobe.

If you choose to go ahead and buy more gear in the future, it doesn't matter if it's a new light or light modifier or lens or camera body or whatever, always follow the same rule - get just 1 thing at a time, use the heck out of it and get comfortable using it. 
Truly understand everything you can do with that one piece of gear before you even THINK of purchasing the next thing.

Having a lot of lighting gear is nice but the more you have, the more there is to lug around to location, and the more tired you will be from setting it all up.  Lately I've been trying to reduce the amount of stuff I have to lug around.

For example, when I travel to Japan and want to do a model shoot, I'll take just 2 speedlights, 2 lightstands, 2 shoot thru umbrellas, and radio triggers for the speedlights.  That will usually get me through about 80-90% of what I want to shoot.

Sure it's nice to look at other people's work and say  "I wish I could do that, but I don't have all that lighting gear", but my advice to you is to find your own style, your own "look".  Learn what you can do with what you already have, or what is around you.  You may find that you don't need a lot of gear to achieve "Your Look".

There are many photographers that can do a lot without having to rely on a whole bunch of gear.  Some of the best ones don't even use any strobes at all, they just utilize the natural light around them.

Hope that this helps in some small way. Whenever I blog about a photoshoot, I always try to post what setup we used for lighting, but sometimes I forget to do that.  

If you ever want to know how we did a particular shot, please don't hesitate to use the comment section on the blog to ask questions.  I may not be able to respond right away, but I will always try to answer when I can.


To all of you that take the time to read this blog, thank you very very VERY much.  I'm flattered that you would do so.  I don't pretend to be an expert in photography or lighting by any means - I make a lot of mistakes and I'll freely admit that I still have a LOT to learn and continue to try to improve at this craft every day.  

I do remember what it was like when I first started out - once in a while I would come across an image that I really liked and when I contacted the photographer to ask questions, I got some real snotty replies. it was like a big secret - "go figure it out yourself".  I realize that many photographers are busy, but come on.  We should all help each other out because we can all learn from each other.

Thankfully, not all photographers are like that.  I've learned a lot from and have been inspired a lot by the masters like Rolando Gomez, David Hobby, Zack Arias, Chase Jarvis, Joe McNally and many more. When I started this blog I decided that though I may never be as successful or as skillful as they are, I am more than happy to share what little I do know. Hopefully something I post might inspire you or you can learn from my mistakes ( I make a lot of those).

As always if anyone ever has questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.  Let me know what subjects you'd like me to cover in the blog.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Think Tank Skin Component System

I just heard from the folks over at Think Tank Photo that they're having a sale on their belt systems so I figured this would be a good time to share thoughts on some of their gear that I use in the field.

For beach weddings I've been using a Think Tank Pro Speedbelt with several bags from the Think Tank Skin Component System.

The Speedbelt is padded, so it's pretty comfortable to wear when running around.

When you attach a modular component bag to the belt, you can choose whether or not to lock it in place by inserting the plastic tab on the back of the component bag into a loop on the belt.

Since I use the Spider Holster rigs to attach my cameras to the belt, I usually prefer not to lock the bags in place, so that I can slide them forward when I need them then slide them back when I want them out of the way.

There's several reasons why I like the Skin Component Bags.  One is that when you take a lens out, the bag can fold almost flat against your body. Below you can see it compared to the heavily padded and bulkier Lowepro lens case that I used to use. Don't get me wrong, the Lowepro bags are great too, and they really protect your gear, but having several Lowepro lens cases on my belt just made me feel a little too wide and I'd be bumping into things when trying to maneuver around a crowded room.

Another thing I like about the Think Tank bags is that the zipper pulls are non-metal.  I've broken off more metal zipper pulls than I can count (probably because of all the salt air they are exposed to at the beach).  I like the Think Tank design better because not only do they not eventually wear out and snap off, but they don't make a lot of noise that metal zipper pulls do when you are moving around during a church ceremony.

One of the main features that I like about the Skin Component System is the "Stealth Mode" velcro for the cover flaps.

This lets you cover up the velcro so that you can quickly open and close the bag without making that typical loud velcro ripping sound.

Each bag has a drawstring closure on the mouth of the bag as well as an integrated rain cover.

Some of their bags also have the additional drop down feature that lets you unzip the bottom of the bag  and extend it.  This lets you put in a lens with the hood extended so that you can whip it out, mount it to your camera, and start shooting without having to fiddle with reversing the lens hood.

Right now Think Tank is having a sale on their belt systems, so I hope you have the chance to take advantage of it.  You can see the Skin Component System here.  If you feel you need a belt system with more padded protection for your gear, they also have the Modular Belt System here.