Go soak your gear!

It pays to review your web traffic periodically because I just learned a way that your bathtub can be used for photography!  Not only is it a good place to mellow out after a stressful shoot, but it also makes a heckuva softbox!  I was on a forum that had referenced the blog and a guy had some product that he placed in his tub.  I thought it was an interesting idea, and decided to give it a try.  As it turns out, the tub is a great place to put your gear!  Granted, not to soak it (sorry, but I had to tease the title that way), but to act as a great background and softbox combined in one.

Here’s a few sample shots.  For all the tech-types, these are pretty much straight out of camera (or sooc) – all I did was adjust the WB for Flash and adjust the ACR sharpening from 25 to 75.  All are resized to 650px wide for the blog.  Here’s the setup:  I took the Canon kit lens (18-55) on my 40D, threw on the 550EX, and set everything to default values.  Shutter at standard sync speed of 250, aperture at f8 and ISO at 100.  I powered the 550EX at it’s standard setting, on camera (relax strobists – I can hear you shuddering from here),  and started firing a few shots.  I pointed the flash to camera right and got this:

ruler1

Yup, that’s a God-awful shot, with a nasty shadow.  Perhaps I could ditch the shadow.  Since we’re not exactly using conventional wisdom here, let’s try it with the flash pointed straight at the subject:

ruler2

Hey!  That’s actually not too bad.  It’s not that great, and still definitely a “Meh” kind of shot as it’s still got something of a shadow.  So, I spun the flash to fire above me and bounce off the ceiling:

ruler3

Voila!  You know what?  For being a spur of the moment thing, and without a lot of pre-planning or preparation, that’s not bad at all.  And, it was shot in a bathtub!  Anyone else out there have a bathtub?  Try some shots in it for different items.  I used a tape measure, but what about a pen, or a microphone, or a printer, or even a lens?  I bet you could get some pretty cool results with very little setup!  Anyone else have some odd or unusual ways to get clean backgrounds and even lighting on the cheap?  Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, and feedback in the comments.  Feel free to link your own efforts there too!  Happy shooting all and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

Focus Stacking: A Primer

The Final Result

With all the advancements lately in the photography world, the ability to perform tasks like focus stacking has been off-shored to built in algorithms in specialized cameras, in post production software (i.e. Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, Helicon Focus, and a host of others that have now flooded the market.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for making things easier, and improving ones workflow, but I do still ascribe to the theory of learning certain fundamentals and essentials for building your photography skills both in composition, and just to understand the mechanics of photography. With that in mind, I’d like to devote a bit of time to discuss the task of focus stacking.

Focus Stacking Versus HDR

First off, focus stacking is used mostly in genres like macro photography, where intricate detail is needed across a range wider than what the aperture will allow for during composition.  The principle is much like the layered approach to HDR imagery – where you stack layers of images with different compositions on top of each other and blend the right portions through the entire image.

Where focus stacking differs from HDR is the types of images that you are layering.  In HDR images, you are overlaying images with different exposure values over one another.  In focus stacking, you are not changing the exposure values, rather just the point of focus.  As depth of field drops off both in front of and behind your focusing point, the subject will blur.  While this may be an appreciated blurring technique in some cases, in other cases, getting different depths of field from different focusing points can make for a tack sharp macro throughout the range of the subject.

As is most often the case, explaining a photography concept is best done with images, so let’s take a look at an example.  For easy demonstration, I took a white cordless phone and placed it on a black background.  This way color issues are kept to a minimum…

First Focus Point

Notice on the first focusing point, the sharpest point is right near the front?  It also quickly drops off into the background as I was shooting at f2.8  The low aperture number means I will have a very shallow depth of field, which is what is causing the blurred background.  To bring the rest of it into focus, I need to “stack” more shots that have a different point of focus.  So, let’s add another few to the composite:

Second Focus Point

Third Focus Point

Fourth Focus Point

Fifth Focus Point

The end result from stacking all these together can be accomplished by any one of a number of methods ranging from the most time-consuming of doing it manually inside Lightroom or Photoshop, and the most efficient one of using 3rd party software.  While several options do exist, the one that has become pretty much the industry standard is that of Helicon Focus!  Their quality of processing is, bar none, among the best I’ve seen.

In the meantime, here’s the result of an image that has been focus-stacked:

The Final Result

It’s a quick edit, and done with only having focus-stacked 5 images.  If I wanted a really detailed depth of field on something more important than a cordless phone from circa 1990’s, I’d likely have taken at least 10-15 images and massaged them through Helicon Focus more carefully.

For a behind-the-scenes footage video, stop over to the Facebook page!  (Be sure to “like” it and share a comment while you are there…)

If you really want to go hip deep into focus stacking and macro photography, there’s a great book by Julian Cremona called Extreme Close Up Photography and Focus Stacking available on Amazon.  Good read, and really takes this subject to the Nth degree!

5 Tips for Shooting Off-Camera Flash

How to Position Your Umbrella Correctly

Occasionally I like to delve a little beyond the basics for some of the more advanced and forward-thinking folks in the photography audience, and this week, I’d like to do just that.  We’re going to talk in detail about off-camera flash!  Before you go running and screaming into the night, rest assured, I am not going off the deep end here.  Rather, I’d like to just delve a teensy bit into the gear.  For those of you that use your flash off-camera, congratulations!  If you’ve also got an umbrella, kudos – you’ve taken things even a step further.  Today, I am going to share with you the first tip to make sure you are using your light stand and umbrella correctly…

Tip #1.  Positioning the Umbrella

You’ll notice on a standard light stand that the umbrella will have to be inserted at an angle…you can either angle it upward or downward.  I see so many folks that are totally confused by this and I’ve got a great mnemonic to help you remember the right way:  I call it “Up For Luck!”  Take a look at the following side-by-side shots:

How to Position Your Umbrella Correctly

See how there is so much more light missing the umbrella from my strobe in the first shot? It’s falling out of the top and not really being controlled all that much.   Compare that to the second shot, where the umbrella is nicely filled out with light…a great softening effect for sure!  This is just one of five tips I am going to share with you this week on lighting your shoots from an off-camera flash with nothing more than a single light stand and shoot through umbrella!  Ready for more?  Got your own ideas and tips/tricks to share?  Sound off in the comments, or tune back in tomorrow for another tip to help soften and diffuse things even more!