Sand Castle Days 2011

Linda and I visited the 24th Annual Sandcastle Days at South Padre Island, TX on October 21. It was great fun. As the sun set, we ate seafood at Dirty Dave's.


My Photo Cameras: A History

In 1994 I was introduced to 35mm single lens reflex cameras with the Pentax K-1000, an inexpensive amateur device that required no batteries unless you wanted to take advantage of the exposure meter in the viewfinder. The K-1000 was assigned to me in journalism class during my sophomore year in high school. Before then I had used a little plastic point and shoot 110 film camera whose brand and designation I can no longer recall. It may have been a Kodak 104 Instamatic, but I'm not too sure about that. Regardless, I had never used an SLR until high school and the little bugger changed my life.

The next year, I was asked to take over the photography department while the journalism supervisor dealt with the reporters. I was then responsible for teaching use of the cameras, dark room technique and basic photography etiquette to my peers and upperclassmen students alike. And I was good at it. The kids learned a lot and their photographs got better as the semester trolled along.

My senior year, the school upgraded to Canon EOS Rebels. Gone were the days of K-mount fully manual, heavy metal cameras. Now, you could have a fully automatic experience with little photographic insight in a plastic, lightweight camera with an on board flash. These new auto focus cameras needed batteries and the consumer-class zoom kit lenses weren't as sharp, fast or precise as the Pentax's 50mm primes, but the Rebel did auto forward the film.

After graduation, I signed up for a Discover Card on my way out of an English class my first semester of college. One of the first things I ever purchased on a credit card was a Canon Rebel XS-II kit along with a Canon case from Best Buy. The setup worked fine for several years until one day the curtain stopped working. I never sent it in for repair and because of my hectic work schedule, I silently walked away from photography.

In 2002, after shooting some short films and getting my schedule in order, I decided to pick up a Canon PowerShot G3. I figured digital was the way to go for an uninterested consumer like myself and that's because years ago I swore that I'd never go digital anyway. But that was also when I swore I'd never leave photography.

The G3 worked great as I started to feel the pull back to photography. In 2003, I figured I would stay digital and move up toward the SLRs again: this time I got the Canon 300D Digital Rebel. The Rebel worked great until I dropped it after one of my first model shoots (in fact, I think it was my second model shoot ever) in 2004. The damage to my Rebel was an excuse to upgrade to the Canon EOS 20D which I still use in 2008.

I have no idea how many shutter cycles I've actuated on my 20D. Considering it's four years old, it may have something around 40,000 cycles on it. Regardless, it's a great little camera and I love it to death. Even when I upgrade to the 5D or 5D Mark II in the fall I'll still keep my little 20D around as a backup body. In fact, the 20D has been so good to me, I haven't been concerned with camera bodies at all for years, focusing instead on purchasing awesome Canon L lenses. Because remember: a camera body is just a light-tight box with a hole in it. Image quality and control is all about the glass in front of the body.

This year (2008), however, I've decided to apply what I've learned about photography back into 35mm film. One of those "if only I knew then what I know now" paradoxes. Except this time, I'm going completely old school and am currently bidding on Canon FD-mount manual cameras and lenses on ebay. If all goes well, I should have two Canon AT-1 bodies and two fast Canon FD prime lenses, a Vivitar flash and some JC Penney 80-200mm zoom...all for about $120 after shipping.

Then I'm going to pick up all this unused Kodak T-Max 400 film [I somehow forgot to give back to the school in 1997] and some newer consumer snapshot film and...see what develops. It also helps that I now own a Sekonic light meter which will definitely come in handy.

So, that's a little history of my photographic journey. I can't wait to see what happens and share it with you. But right now, I have to get ready for another model shoot. Cheers!

Update (3/2010): Purchased Canon EOS Rebel T2i
Update (6/2013): Purchased Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K EF
Update (1/2016): Purchased Canon EOS 6D
Update (5/2016): Purchased Panasonic AG-DVX200


The Secret to Great Photo Processing

Wanna know the secret to great photo processing?

Well, here it is: capture a great photo first.

Great photos are 90% great lighting. The other 10% is an oscillating mixture of subject greatness and camera angle greatness. But if you have a great angle on a great subject but the lighting sucks then your photo is only great by 10%, which isn't great at all.

But how do you take a great photo? After setting up the lights to taste (that includes controlling the sun if you are so inclined), the rest is flat out stupid luck. That's it.

Then the post-processing is easy: just sharpen it up a bit, make the shadows not so contrasty while keeping the photo from looking milky, smooth out the skin a bit without losing the natural texture, remove any dust bunnies and straighten up the background if it needs it. Takes a few minutes, really. Well, less than an hour.

You can speed things up considerably with a little product called LucisArt, but it won't save a crappy picture. In fact, you could even ruin a decent picture by applying too much of this plugin.

So that's the secret. Learn how to use light — both found and artificial — practice composition and be awesome with your subject. After that, modifying your stuff in Photoshop is easy.


Adriana Garcia Alien Bees Portraits

I finally got my Alien Bees monolights (three B800s) and a 47" octobox (like a softbox but shaped like a stop sign) on Thursday and asked Adriana Garcia from that horror short film The End if she'd mind being my guinea pig. She didn't. Here are the results.


Bandtango 2007

Last night I was shooting photos for the rock station and their local lalapalooza, Bandtango in Edinburg. The event started in the afternoon but I got there at about 6pm, which was perfect timing to capture the headliners: Quiet Riot, Slaughter, Vince Neil and Chubby freaking Checker.

Me and Chubby freaking Checker at Bandtango 2007 in Edinburg, Texas. Special appearance by Mike Quinn as "Guy In The Background."
Me and Chubby freaking Checker at Bandtango 2007 in Edinburg, Texas. Special appearance by Mike Quinn as "Guy In The Background."

I took something between 1000 and 1400 pictures. I'm not sure because I haven't had time to go through them yet. By the time we got to the final act with Vince Neil the sky opened up and down came the rain. My equipment was getting drenched but I shot through it, anyway. I need to clean the gear when I get home tonight. I wasn't really worried about the L's, but the 20D wasn't really built for that kind of abuse. Fortunately, everything's ok and I got some sweet pictures out of it. I'll be posting a link to them soon.

The guys from Quiet Riot watch Chubby Checker do his thing.
The guys from Quiet Riot watch Chubby Checker do his thing.
Edinburg, TX - Rock legend Chubby Checker performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Rock legend Chubby Checker performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Mark Slaughter of heavy metal rock band Slaughter at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Mark Slaughter of heavy metal rock band Slaughter at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Lead singer Kevin DuBrow rallies the crowd as rock band Quiet Riot performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Lead singer Kevin DuBrow rallies the crowd as rock band Quiet Riot performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Edinburg, TX - Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe performs at Bandtango Food, Art & Music Festival at Edinburg Baseball Stadium on July 15, 2007. Photo by Jason R. Johnston
Amber and Barbie
Amber and Barbie


How I Chose the 17-40 f/4 L

I had a dilemma at one point when I considered the following lenses:

Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L USM ($1200)
Sigma 24-70 EX DG MACRO ($600)

My research showed time and again that you get what you pay for and though it has a nice price tag, the Sigma was inferior to the Canon in both build and image quality.

However, I didn't have $1200 on me at the time. Also, I knew that my 20D offered a 1.6x FOV crop factor which would push the focal length past walkaround and into portrait. Not a bad thing, but also not nearly wide enough for what I would want the lens I'd buy to facilitate. A change in options was needed.

17mm seemed appropriate as that would become near 24mm on my 20D. Therefore, I considered the following:

Canon EF 17-40 f/4 L USM ($700)
Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM ($1000)
Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4.5 DC MACRO ($590)

Again, my research nixed the Sigma as being inferior to either Canon lens. So it was down to the two Canons.

Do I need IS for anything?
No, I shoot mostly bright outdoors, studio strobe lit and low-light sports, each of which could not use IS.

That f/2.8 sounds pretty good, though.
Yeah, but it's an EF-S mount and my next camera will either be a 5D or a 1-series, neither of which utilize EF-S and I don't want to invest in a technology that I won't be using during the next ten years. My 20D's shutter will probably last another two years and I expect to replace it before then with another body.

Besides, the EF-S is still a consumer lens and suffers from the plastic build and an image quality that certainly is not as good as the L lens I'm also looking it. Plus, it's more expensive because of the wider aperture and IS function.

I'm thinking I'd get more mileage out of the 17-40. It's better built, has superior image quality, is durable, lets in enough light to hand hold in an ambient-lit room at ISO 800 and it'll do just fine with certain styles of portraiture at the short end. Plus, it's pretty cheap for a pro lens and very much within my price range.

So, I went with the 17-40 as my general purpose lens and have been so impressed that I've decided to never buy another consumer general purpose lens. Ever. Never ever.

Does this mean I won't buy a sweet little fisheye lens from a Russian manufacturer?
Not at all. In fact, I already own one.

What about a LensBaby?
Are you kidding? Those things are super sweet and I want one!

But, these a specialty lenses, not general purpose lenses. General purpose lenses don't leave the camera bag and sometimes don't dismount the camera for days on end. Therefore my general purpose lenses are all Canon L-series. They're simply better lenses, and that's it.

However, although you do get what you pay for, there's nothing wrong with living within your means and buying what you can afford. It's why I went with the 17-40 rather than the 24-70, ultimately. It's also the same process that led me to decide on the 70-200 f/2.8 rather than the more expensive, IS-enabled younger brother.

Sigma is pretty darn good and though not as great as Canon, still sees a lot of professional use. So if I didn't need to worry about image quality (because I make giant prints) I'd go with the Sigma and save some beans, definitely. Then I'd go to Red Lobster with the money I saved...


Strobist

I like Strobist. Hopefully, Strobist likes me. Strobist is David Hobby, a staff photographer for the Baltimore Sun who preaches off-camera flash photography on his website and at his Maryland workshop. I have always been an advocate for off-camera lighting, however I had been led to believe one couldn't have studio quality portraits using a speedlite flash. Strobist tells me I'm wrong. Wrrrong!

And I am wrong. For a very small monetary investment I too can capture amazing, ready-for-print portraits just like Strobist. And since I'm in the photography racket and enjoy taking a decent portrait every now and then, that's what I'm gonna do.

Like Strobist says it's not your lens, it's your light that means the difference between an "oh wow!" picture to a piece of steaming crap covered in maggot bile. I added that last part. Ooh, hyperbole.

Therefore, right now I'm on Ebay bidding on an old Nikon SB-28 Speedlite flash which has basic features my Canon 430EX doesn't have coughPC Synccough and it's at a third of the price. At Adorama, I'm buying a 45" umbrella and a shoe mount clamp. I'm also buying ball bungees cuz, ya'know, they're so cute. And later in the month I'm gonna bite the bullet and buy a set of Pocket Wizards, the most expensive and arguably most important item to purchase. I already own plenty of light stands and reflectors. Plus, with Strobist's help, I can make the snoots and other accessories myself.

In all, I will have spent about $500 for a complete single-flash lighting system that is completely portable. This is opposed to paying the same amount for a single DC-capable monolight and then having to spend an extra several hundred (or thousand) for a battery system. Ya see? That would suck lemons. Big, sickly lemons. Lemons that are way past their prime.

As you can see from the photographs I've posted, having a light that is NOT situated smack in the middle of your camera yields pictures that are far more dynamic than those taken using on-camera flash. Incidentally, these illustrations are taken with my 420EX mounted on my EOS 20D, however, the speedlite is aimed at a white poster held up by a mic stand in the television station where I live work.

The photographs aren't really for the station but rather illustrate techniques of efficiently (read: cheaply) shooting with an on-camera flash that doesn't LOOK like on-camera flash.The results are slightly impressive and did garner "oh wow!"s from the news anchors whose pictures I was taking. Still, the problem with shooting with an on-camera speedlite is that you're still limited because the flash is still ON the camera. Yeah, you can flip it around and bounce light to your heart's desire, but what if you're in an open field and have nothing to bounce the light off of? That's right: you'd be right puckered.

So, speedlite on a stand, umbrella, and wireless triggers setup seems to be the most logical and cost effective way to take sweet portraits when portability and speed are the two biggest factors. The point here is that they usually are.

This will really help out my in-the-field wedding portraits and will also give me an excuse to steal borrow some of the talent from the station to use as my guinea pigs off-camera flash photography test subjects. And to pour fuel on the fire, I even joined the Flickr Strobist group. I'm fun like that.


How to fold the Botero Collapsible 5x7' Muslin Background

I had just purchased my Botero background and received it this past Wednesday. I didn't start feeling a little uneasy with the lack of instructions until after I had tried [unsuccesfully] to collapse it. After three exhaustive hours of Googling, I could find nothing even remotely helpful save for a few forums, most of which were not at all easy to follow.

Someone somewhere said the method was similar to the PhotoFlex Photo Drops except "handled differently". Of course, not a big help, but it got me sort of in the right direction. After I figured it out, I felt like a moron but at least learned it before my big photo shoot tomorrow evening. Oh yeah. Having trouble with a portable backdrop in front of the client? Oodles to my credibility, I tell you what.

So to everyone else out there also having similar (or possible carbon copy) troubles, this is for you! :)

How to Fold the Botero

Instructions:

1. Place the Botero 5x7" muslin background in front of you (facing away from you) and then rotate it until it is laying horizontally on its side.

2. Gripping the background with the top and bottom (now the left and the right sides), pull the two sides slowly toward you until the background begins to fold. (Note how the background folds itself into two distinct cicles resembling a figure 8.)

3.Take the circle nearest your head and push it away from you so that it folds down into the circle laying on the ground. The Botero 5'7" muslin background is now folded and ready to be placed inside it's carrying pouch. Cheers. :)

Originally posted at Photo.net here.