Saturday, January 31, 2009

Playing In The Yard

Except for the band I haven't gone anywhere this past week or taken any pictures.
Spent my time building some photography gear but haven't gotten around to shooting those, either.

So I thought I would take some pics in my yard, and finally get around to using my polarizing filter seeing as how I've been able to put it on my new lenses for months but never have.

The dark corners are less about the CP filter and more about my lens--I have noticed it before, and really don't care much.
So it darkens edges and corners--big deal.

With 10.2 megapixels, you have some room to crop dark corners if they bother you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Modelling Light Test

I've had this LG phone for 26 months and it has done all of it's jobs well.
But I'm overdue for a new one (FREE!) and am looking forward to it.
During gigs I text home a lot because of the volume at work, so I really want a qwerty keyboard.
My old LCD sceen wasn't bad for it's era, but the bigger new ones have finer resolution and your viewing-angle is less critical.

This photo was merely a test of the modelling light I added to my main flash/umbrella stand.
I built a lightweight bracket system that puts a standard light bulb near my flash head, for several reasons.

A) By shining a "hot light" at my umbrella I can easily see if it will be reflected anywhere on my subject. As soon as I started shooting this scene, a reflection of the umbrella showed up on the phone's screen and I was able to adjust my camera angle to eliminate it.
B) With the extra light close to the subject in my dimly-lit "studio" (it's a 75 watt standard bulb) autofocus was instantaneous, which is a big improvement compared to shining a flashlight on whatever I'm shooting to help the camera find focus in the dark. I'm able to use both hands on the camera, which can be important whether you're using a tripod or not.
This shot was handheld, and I really appreciated the added freedom.
C) I can actually see an approximation of what my flash will do, as far as angle and softness and placement of shadows. This is also a big help.

You might notice an orange-ish tint in the supposed-to-be-black background.
When I made the shutter speed long enough to get the phone's screen bright enough to suit my tastes it also allowed my new modelling light to affect the exposure's color-cast. My camera was white balanced for flash, and incandescent bulbs will appear very orange-ish at that setting.
Not a problem.
I have an on/off switch in-line with the light socket for master control, but digging into my supply of band lighting toys I can add ultimate convenience by also turning it on/off using a wired momentary button under my foot or employing a wireless system with a little keychain remote.

What I like best is that this whole project cost me zero dollars and does the job well.
Boxes of crap and parts come in handy sometimes.

More to come.....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2008 Leftovers

It's been my habit every January to drag out those photos from the previous year that never made the cut, but were close.

In February the Texas Mountain Laurel trees bloom in SA--our first concrete sign of Spring. We planted one in early 2005 that was under 2' high, and by 2008 it was much taller than I and blossomed for the first time. The resulting seed pods are still on it today--I suppose they'll drop soon, but maybe not until next year for all I know. As kids we would take the ultra-hard red seeds and rub them against the street or curb until they were incredibly hot, then press them against our friends and laugh at their reaction to the burn.
These lovely clusters of purple smell just like grape candy and really brighten your day as you pick up the scent drifting throughout the countryside.
In fact, before ours finally gave us some flowers I would creep across the alley and cut some from a tree at the back of a neighbor's yard just to have the scent in our home and cars.
I liked this off-camera flash photo a lot, except for the almost-microscopic bugs.
Taking out my leaf-blower seemed like too much trouble at the time.

This shot was an attempt at adding to my series of motion studies using playground equipment, first seen here.
It's okay, but didn't measure up against the others.
Not dramatic enough, too many leaves on the ground, boring light.
Trying to recapture the feelings of youth in a photo isn't easy, and neither is getting time by yourself in a playground with no kids or parents around who might freak-out and call the cops thinking you're some perv. When the light is good the playgrounds are full unless it's hot enough to burn your skin, and I don't really enjoy shooting in those conditions.
This series will continue, someday.

This is one of my unique female guppies.
Starting with a dozen or so fancy guppies my brother gave me, I soon built up a school that was much too large for their 5-gallon tank. Over the past six years or so, natural selection has created a strain of females that haven't been seen before.
Not only do they have color in their fins while most females are plain silver/clear, the tails of my girls have slowly elongated into scissor-tail status.
It's taken generations for the majority to evolve, and it's interesting to note that many of my males (which are usually the "fancy" ones) have at the same time become less fancy, as if the evolution of the sexes is destined to meet somewhere in the middle.
True equality of the sexes.
(Hillary would have taken credit, but this is entirely a Bush Administration Project).

There are always exceptions, with new males and females born all the time that resemble the original stock.
It's a fun experiment, but I don't put much work into it.
Nature takes it's course and proves Darwin was correct.

I never used this photo before simply because it isn't sharp enough to suit me.
These fish are little and hyper and never stay in one place long enough to get a focus-lock, and when I'm anywhere near the tank they get even worse since I'm the giver of food.
Using remote flashes to freeze the action helps but there's no practical way to also add enough "hot lights" to help with autofocus on such a small aquarium, and even then the particular fish you're after will have moved by the time your shutter/flash trips so focus is lost. It's a depth-of-field / arrangement-of-furniture / never enough light nightmare that's based on lots of experimentation ruined by bad luck and twitchy fishies.
Don't even get me started on the problems of reflections inside a glass fish tank.
Literally hundreds and hundreds and even more hundreds of shots over the last 2 years and this is the only one that even comes close to showing what's happened in my little ecosystem, but it doesn't really measure-up to the portrait quality I'm after.
And it's only worthwhile to try again when the tank is truly clean, which is a condition that's never even seasonal.

I haven't given up entirely, but it may take two more years to solve this problem in a satisfactory (cheap) manner.
On the plus side, my stock of unusual female guppies get better looking every time I try.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Skull Candy

Just prior to feeding I asked Candy (our albino corn snake) to pose for me.

Two Notes For Next Time:
1) Make sure to set-up all the flash gear and backgrounds before taking the snake out of her tank!
One-handed set-up has been proven possible, but snakes have a tendency to wrap themselves around anything within reach, like light stands and cameras etc.
2) Don't ask a snake to stay where you put them when they're at a high body temp, like just before a feeding. I control her temperature and therefore activity level using dimmer-controlled lamps, and right before a feeding is the absolute worst time for taking pictures like this.
Like shooting hyper dogs or kids.

I had just taken her out of the tank when this photo popped into my head, so I accepted the challenge and went for it despite having only one free hand to place all the gear and make adjustments. Glad it worked.
I have a new respect for animal wranglers on photo and movie sets.

The reason for this shot was to have something new for Flickr and all my other outlets as well as for a new header on my BLISS band photoblog.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Men Do NOT Grow Up (Neither Do Women)

This is the Air Hogs™ remote-controlled helicopter I asked Santa to bring me.
Actually, I asked Sylvia when they went on sale for half price.
$15 is about right for a toy that is not going to last a year due to it's ultra-light construction.
$30--No Way!
We got a raincheck because the other men bought them all, then Sylvia went to another Target 3 days later and chose my favorite version because she's so smart.

I love my combat boots and flash umbrella and other neat stuff, but this present is the most fun.
The transmitter/charger takes 6 AA batteries--I use the cheap ones from Dollar Tree--and it communicates with the copter via infrared like a TV remote.
You have a throttle, a left/right spin/turn control, and a LR trim.
Forward/back would require another channel and those models cost twice as much, but I rather enjoy the unpredictable nature of these simpler copter's flight characteristics.

The tail rotor is driven by what looks suspiciously like a pager or cellphone vibrator motor. For their intended use an offset weight on the shaft causes the wobble that at high speed equals a buzz in your pocket.

Photographing this thing in the air is a challenge to say the least.
I tried to do it myself but the frustration level went into the red zone very quickly.
Luckily, Sylvia already has her wings and offered to pilot the Apache while I took pictures. Trying to get it high enough (but not TOO high or it'll crash into the flash I had on a stand overhead) while keeping it between me and the black background was a real challenge, but she did great.
Out of 33 exposures, these were the only ones I liked.

Check the boxes carefully if you plan on buying more than one.
They come in three channels (A, B, & C) so each copter in the same room has to be a different one. The transmitters have a switch that lets you use them with any copter, but unfortunately you can't buy just the helo separately.
You can fly them outdoors, but any breeze at all will cause problems.
They're only 7 inches long and maybe 10 grams: The middle photo is very close to actual size on my 17" 1024x768 monitor.

As a kid I would have killed for a toy this cool, but since men don't grow up it doesn't bother me at all to play with one now.
Scientists have long maintained that the more intelligent a person is, the more likely they are to need childish play time to keep their brain happy and healthy.
I agree.

Monday, January 12, 2009

La Luna

Proof that the moon is brighter than you think, I shot this in the daytime and used a tripod and very fast shutter speed to preserve detail.
My longest lens isn't really up to the task (only 300mm-e) so there was enlarging and noise-reduction and extensive levels tweaks involved, but it's not too bad for all that.

I was surprised that manually focusing to infinity blurred the moon rather a lot.
You would think that 250,000+ miles away would qualify as infinity, but what do I know?
Need to check again at night to see if stars are in-focus at that setting--if not, there is something wrong with my lens that I should know about.
If stars aren't 'infinity' I don't want to know what is.

In general usage I have no complaints with this lens--nothing that costs less than a used car will ever be as sharp and precise as what I'm used to, but this is 2009 and I have to run with what I have.
Camera System money is better spent on flash equipment and file path technology.
Spending too much on "better" lenses is what people with more money than brains do, and their mistakes never result in better pictures.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What's Inside My Head? (Now Featuring Martha Stewart)

Is the Holiday Whirlwind finished with us yet?

As things settled down to normal I found myself re-Photoshopping the San Fernando photo for prints, which are selling nicely right now thanks to a very special lady.
We secured next year's Christmas Cards at a great price, which is cool because the prints I add cost a bit more than WalMart charges for a 4x6".

I'm also putting my portfolio back together, filling the holes from sales and gifts over the last 8 months plus adding the new stuff. This requires packaging and framing supplies which were bought in bulk today so I'll be ready at all times.

Sunday night was the first real chance I had to play around with my most-needed Christmas present. It's a Westcott 32" Shoot-Through Umbrella, and I really like both the construction and results.
You have all seen photographers with umbrellas. The short version is that it turns a small light source such as a flash into a bigger and more-even light source, which can change everything about the quality of light on your subject.

That's my excuse for enjoying the construction of the following shots of a little stuffed toy and an empty Jagermeister bottle I picked up in a bar parking lot.
Did the first on Sunday night but woke up Monday with more ideas.
They might be useful for my band's web presence or not.
We'll see.

Continuing with the skull theme, I have been a longtime follower of Skull-A-Day where a guy showed the photo of each different piece of skull art he produced every single day over 1 year, in an amazing number of media.
I came in somewhere in the middle and enjoyed the hell out of it, but now that the project is over the site is more about his fan's "art" and the inevitable book deal bloggers get when they're clever and good.

There are some downloadable stencils at Skull-A-Day so on Monday night I cut myself a pair with an ExActo knife and tried them out on some old and scratched-up black background material.
The original sized result is on the left, my 65% version on the right, and it's stencil is angled up the middle featuring flat white Krylon over-spray.

This photo is all about photographic mistakes--we all make them, but do we find and fix them before it's too late?
It's a nice reflection of my new umbrella, which kinda ruins what I was going for.

**********Important Edit**********
Firstly, the correct answer to this post's title of "What's Inside My Head?" is:

A skull

Secondly, in a remarkable synchronicity of internet magic and luck, I present this screenshot of one of the above photos lurking inconspicuously in the corner of a webpage at the aforementioned Skull-A-Day website in fairly close proximity to Martha Stewart herself:

The Skull guy was on her show and it looks like they were making potato-skull ink stamps together.

As far as me and Martha hooking-up, it was due to her post moving far enough down his page so that it was next to the Blogger gadget that's in his Skull-A-Day code011010 plucking images from Flickr with the proper tag.
Short Version: A lucky catch on my part.

I knew my pic would show up on the site eventually due to the tag--I just got lucky to have stumbled upon it during the handful of hours when it was near Martha so I could document the special occasion.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

All Is Quiet On New Year's Day

Step 1: Wake up
Step 2: No really--wake up!
Step 3: Never leave the house before a nice hot shower
Step 4: Something good to eat

This was Step 4.
Thanks to Dave for reminding us that Jim's is better than Denny's in every way, we returned to the relatively new Loop 410 and Blanco location for some breakfast.
I got 2 eggs scrambled, sausage, hash brown's and toast, plus a side of bacon. You can never have too much pig.
Also a Dr. Pepper.
Sylvia ordered huevos rancheros (over easy, and sauce on the side, please) and a water.
Can't say much more than YUM!
JUST what we needed.
A real Tasty Treat™.
Syl had a burger last time and swears it was one of the best ever, especially at such a low price.

Brandi, our server, was quick and efficient considering how packed the place was.
She had a little drama the night before. As designated driver for her friends on New Year's Eve (how sweet!) she was taking them home when one girl started feeling a little poorly. "Are you going to be sick? I can pull over". "No, I'm Fine. Raaalllfff!!!".
She pulled into a gas station and made the "friend" clean up as best she could, then had her take the car to be professionally cleaned and detailed the next day.

The guy that looked like Dave Matthew's younger and gayer brother at the table next to us was a non-stop source of entertainment.
BlahBlahLispBlahBlahBlah was all I heard because I was concentrating on my food, but Sylvia was cracking up.

While waiting to pay Syl noticed that their Christmas tree's lights were footswitch activated, so of course the tree blinked off a couple of times.

We did some shopping at Target, then some serious napping.
(Please refer to Zzakk's Garage for details on the shopping).

That night we sat on the patio and enjoyed our new chiminea.

I think that instead of covering our little valley lemon tree whenever it drops below freezing, I'll just put this thing next to it and dash out into the cold every hour or so to drop in another piece of firewood.
I stay up until dawn most nights anyway.
Most times it gets back up into the 40s once the sun comes up.

What did YOU do on the first day of 2009?

On The New Year's Eve...

I never managed to land a lucrative gig, but small parties are cool by me.
Up in the Hill Country between New Braunfels and Canyon Lake, I got another SPURS ornament photo.
Look at how real Holly's not-real tree looks!
I want one just like it.
Now you know what to get me.

A fun yard decoration, the leaning tree caught my eye.
This photo is titled Birdhouse in a nod to my friend Matthew.

I skied some slaloms and tried curling on the Wii, finished the job for a sloppy HD installer, ate too much after starving all day, didn't drink enough until I got home, bribed a dog with people food to shut his bark-hole and pretend to like me, peed in the woods, climbed on a chair several times to re-battery an electric windchime, sang a few Stone Temple Pilots songs--just normal stuff I might do any day of the week only with more gravy because it was a party.

The 1st day of 2009 had some highlights I'll share in about 25 hours.
Hope your NYE went well and nobody you give a crap about died or got busted.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 Christmas Ornament Post

This has become an annual event here at V'sOfTX, and I'm sure everyone with a heart can relate.

When Hallmark marks their awesome ornaments down 70% in mid-January we're all over it.
Sylvia's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots was the one most eagerly awaited, and it didn't disappoint. Freaking awesome.
I received the real deal back in....1966 was it? my grandmother's apartment over her late husband's downtown brownstone tavern, Iggy's Place. We had just lost my father in VietNam and then our grandfather and I'll never forget the way the lights of the "big city" (Buffalo NY) looked shining through the window as I tried to play with it by myself while everyone else slept.

My score from Hallmark last January was this ALCO PA-1 locomotive done up in the Freedom Train paint from right after WWII. A hugely historic engine, built in Schenectady NY near where we used to live, and in 1976 I saw another Freedom Train in the same city but pulled by a steam engine.

Electric guitars from Restoration Hardware are becoming a tradition for us, along with other instruments.
The saxophone they have this year was a bit pricey so we're waiting for some savings.

The SPURS--what can I say?
Who knew that Matt Bonner (we got him from Toronto--his nickname is Red Rocket from their transit system which he would ride to games) would become a valuable starter and one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA?

Sylvia's new fave that was a perfect gift from Lisa P--a pinata donkey that is not only super-cute but also SO San Antonio.
Next year my plan is to make it so we can raise and lower him just like a real pinata on a rope.

Happy New Year!!!