Monday, February 10, 2014

I need a platform

It's rare that I get excited about a photography gadget.  Alright, you caught me, I'm lying.  I absolutely love all gadgets, gear, doo-dads, and kit associated with photography.  No matter how peripheral, if it's even near the fringe of photography, I'm a sucker for it.  Some of these gadgets are more worthy than others.  I could write a blog post just about the crazy stuff I have bought over the years that never lived up to the hype. (note to self...this is a good idea for a post)

I'm going to talk about 2 items today that I really really like.  OK, I'll admit it, I love them.

First is the Tripad workdesk  

This thing is pure genius.  One of those things that makes you slap your forehead and say "why didn't I think of that"

The Tripad is a well designed piece of lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic that slips down over the top of your tripod and makes a perfect height work desk.  It holds 10 pounds, goes together and installs on your tripod in literally 2 seconds.  Heck, it even has a cup-holder that slides out and holds a Starbucks Venti Latte perfectly.

I shoot tethered quite a bit and there is always the issue of where to put your laptop.  Of course you can use a table or desk and that's what I used to do.  With a 15' cable it works ok, but you have to lug the table with you to any on-location shoot and you are always moving between the camera, the tripod and the table with your laptop on it to check your work.

This gem solves the problem brilliantly.  (Have I mentioned that I love this product)

I'm sure there are some drawbacks but can't really think of any.  It is a little pricey for a piece of plastic, $65 on Amazon, but well worth it if you shoot tethered, even occasionally.

Next is the Hoodman Hoodloupe

Professionally I shoot a lot of products.  As I said earlier, I usually shoot tethered.  The Hoodloupe is a small loupe that comes in a neat little padded case and hangs on a cord around your neck.  

It allows you to see very clearly, a magnified view of the photo you just took.  It is designed to be used on the LCD screen on the back of your camera and works equally well for shooting video.  You can see exactly how sharp your photos are and if the focus is on the right part of the photo.  It is totally diopter adjustable so even if you wear reading glasses like me, you can dial it in perfectly.  


I use it on the screen of my laptop when shooting tethered as well as the LCD camera screen when I am shooting without my laptop.

This is the type of thing that you don't really need, but I will say that I would miss it if I didn't have it.  Cost is about $80 new for the Hoodman brand, but you can find knock-offs for a lot less.  

I bought mine used for next to nothing, so keep your eyes open and always be on the lookout for a bargain.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

You can do it.

I'm a do-it-yourself kind of guy.  Always have been. Back when I was 10 years old I wanted a holster for my Gene Autry cap pistol. It was a beauty, all silver and heavy with those classic fake pearl plastic grips.  But I didn't have a holster, so I had to carry it in my hand or shove it in my pocket.  That doesn't sound so bad, but it is a major hindrance when hunting down outlaws and rescuing my horse (our dog Blue) from the bad guys.  So I wanted a holster.  My mother didn't see the obvious urgency in my situation and refused to take me to the store.  It didn't take me long to figure out what to do, I made my own holster.  Using a piece of cardboard and a pocket knife and some scissors, I fashioned a pretty nice holster.  As a finishing touch, I covered the whole thing with wrap after wrap of my Father's black electrical tape.  I must have used 2 rolls of the stuff and in hindsight the tape probably cost more than a trip to the store.

Things haven't changed all that much with me today.  I still prefer to try to fix it if it's broken, make it right if it's wrong or build it if I don't have it.  Here are 3 of my favorite do-it-yourself, homemade, cheap, photography related items.

"The fruit jar diffuser"

Like everybody else that I know, I bought a Gary Fong diffuser. I'm ashamed to say, I fell for the hype and spend $120 on a piece of plastic to slip over my speedlight to diffuse the light and make my portraits look better.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not against diffusers.  On the contrary, I don't ever take a portrait without something to diffuse the light.  It makes everything look better.  I have softboxes in sizes from huge to tiny.  I have umbrellas, white bounce cards, and way to many, snap-on Sto-fen style diffusers. 

One day I was throwing an empty plastic mandarin orange container in the trash and my mind started whirring.  As soon as the smoke cleared, I grabbed the container and headed to the sink to wash it.

The container fits perfectly on my speedlight and is quite secure without anything additional to hold it on.  Set your flash as normal and be amazed at the results.  

I took this photo using the "fruit jar diffuser"  


 "The dog leash monopod"

Sometimes you need support.  Or 
I should say, your camera needs support.  A tripod is best and I am a big proponent of carrying and using a tripod.  Sometimes, though, you just can't or don't want to lug around a tripod.  I would recommend a monopod in these situations, but sometimes you can't or don't want to carry even that small bit of kit. Lots of places won't allow even a monopod.  Most Museums, the Taj Mahal, anywhere in New York City, just to name a few.  What can you do if you need just a little support, or to get rid of a some potential shake with your camera?  You can lie on the ground, lean on a tree or drape yourself over a bench.  Consider for a moment, this neat little do-it-yourself trick.  Carry a small thin dog leash in your camera bag or in your pocket. Clip the end of the leash normally attached to the dog's collar to the eyebolt in the tripod plate in bottom of your camera, or buy a 1/4 inch 20 thread eyebolt at the hardware store.  Step on the other end of the leash.  Now pull up to put tension on the leash and you will remove a ton of camera shake.  You would be amazed at just how good this works.  Don't have a dog, or don't want to invest in a leash? Simply tie a couple of shoestrings together, or use some heavy string or macrame cord.  Tie one end to the camera, step on the other end, pull tight and shoot.

"The back to basics backdrop"

Have you priced a backdrop lately?  A high quality hand painted canvas backdrop can run a couple hundred dollars.  Cheaper machine made muslin drops can be found on Amazon for $40-$60.  It occured to me one day as I was looking around at the sale table at Wal-Mart, hey, how about a bed sheet?  They had flat sheets in several sizes for $5.99.  Think about it, as long as you keep the wrinkles out of it, all it is is a piece of cloth to hang behind a subject for a portrait.  I bought a white, a brown, a black and a blue.  For less than the cost of one cheap backdrop I now had four.  There are some minor drawbacks to using sheets.  You may have to cut the sides of the large hem to open up a pocket to slide it on your backdrop stand, but that's no big deal.  You have to keep the wrinkles out.  This is a must, nothing looks more amateur than wrinkles or fold marks in your backdrop.  They are thin, so light will show through.  Be extra careful when placing it to make sure there are no light sources behind the backdrop.  They are thin and flimsy and the slightest breeze blows them around.  But, if you're on a budget or just want to play around without spending lots of cash, check out the sale tables at Wal-mart, Anna's Linens, or almost anyplace else that sells sheets...I mean backdrops....for a deal you can't refuse. 

I took this picture using a $5.00 white sheet backdrop.

The next time you need a quick fix or a long-term solution, before you shell out a bunch of your hard earned money, see if you can "do it yourself" 

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Life and Pictures

It's Christmas eve, 1970. I'm 12 years old and as far as I'm concerned. everything is perfect.  My grandparents are in town from South Carolina and I love nothing better than spending time with my grandfather.  Just sitting at the table watching him drink coffee so hot that a normal human being couldn't even hold the cup, much less drink and swallow the scalding black liquid.  As he drank and told stories, he would roll a cigarette.  Expertly pulling a paper from a small pack and then holding it and sprinkling Paladin Black Cherry pipe tobacco until it was just right.  Next he rolled it and put it to his lips and flicked open the silver Zippo lighter.  The smell of lighter fluid followed by the sweet smell of the black cherry tobacco still takes me back to those days and him.  He would inevitably spit a few specks of tobacco from his lips after the first puff.  All his clothes had tiny holes burned in them from the red hot tobacco embers that would cascade from the end of the cigarette whenever he moved, or talked, or just waited too long before releasing them into the ashtray.  


Sometimes he smoked the same tobacco in a pipe and the smell was always intoxicating, and unmistakeably his.  In 12 or so years he would be dead.  An inevitable victim of one of his many heart attacks, but for now, I thought he was a superman. 

Tomorrow is Christmas and it will be crazy in the house.  It's already pretty hectic, even this early in the morning, my mother and grandmother are in the kitchen peeling oranges for ambrosia and making cornbread for dressing.  

Several gallons of sweet tea sit cooling on the counter and there is a giant turkey in the sink.  Heaven forbid I should have the idea to wander into the kitchen to see what is going on.  My grandmother would swiftly escort me right back out saying something like "The kitchen is no place for children" and never even put down the bowl of potatoes she was peeling.

Tomorrow my other Grandfather and about a dozen aunts and uncles will be here for lunch.  All the cousins will pair up and jockey for position at one of the many card tables.  There will, without a doubt, be many spilled drinks, dropped food, hurt feelings, stories told and memories made.  

And a couple of pictures will be taken. Only a couple though because film is expensive and processing a roll costs at least as much as the film itself.  So the "Kodak" as my Grandfather called it, will come out and a couple of awkwardly posed family shots will be snapped off.  Assuming the flashbulb works and some crazy kid doesn't ruin it, the pictures will be developed and lovingly placed in an album, or stashed in a box or drawer.  


Don't you wish now that we had taken more pictures?  What would you give to have a photographic record of that special day, or that special person? 

This year, take lots of pictures and make lots of memories.  Save the moments, you never know, someday your grandchildren may thank you.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Top gifts for the shutterbugs on your list.

Do you have a camera enthusiast on your Christmas list? If you are buying major presents or just a stocking stuffer for the shutterbug on your list you are going to want to pay close attention to my list.  Now I'm not going to go for the heavy hitting 20+ megapixel bodies and premier prime glass that all us photographers lust after when we look at the back of the magazines, or the "camera porn" websites.  Lenses that cost thousands of dollars and DSLRs that cost many times more than my first car.  Here are ten things that anybody watching life play out through a viewfinder or in a 3" LCD screen could appreciate and use.

1- Cleaning cloths.  I never have enough of these.  Microfiber is the best.  I tend to lose them, or drop them on the ground, after which, I throw them away rather than risk picking up a piece of grit and scratching the front element of my beloved Nikkor 24-70 f2.8. 

I always pack several along with a small bottle of lens cleaning solution and a bulb blower.  Another thought is a small pack of disposable cloths, like Kimwipes.  $1.00 to $15.00

2- As an alternative to cloths, you can pick up a Lenspen.  This little gem is a great thing to have in your bag. 

 It has a brush on one end for flicking off dust and pieces of leaf and dirt, and a carbon fiber pad on the other end.  You clean the lens in a circular motion and you will be amazed how crystal clear things get.  Pick one up for less than 10 bucks and the photographer on your list will love you forever. Less than $10

3- Memory cards.  You will need to do a little research on this one.  Find out if the photographer on your list uses SD, XD, Compact Flash, or XQD.  Most consumer DSLR cameras use the standard SD card and you can pick up a 32 Gigabyte card for less than $50.00

4- A remote control.  This is something that every person with a tripod should have.  I have several different remotes but the little wireless infrared button works the best of all.  It's not perfect but at less than $20, it is a no-brainer for time exposures, self portraits, anywhere you don't want camera shake and just plain fun and ease of use when taking pictures of kids and pets.  I got mine at Best Buy and they sell them for all brands of cameras.  $20 to $30

5- A Lens Cup. You can't beat this for just plain fun.  It's just what it sounds like, a thermal drinking cup that looks just like a camera lens. Available all over the web now, a search of Amazon brings up hundreds.  This one was given to me by my daughter.

You should see the look on peoples faces the first time you pull the top off and pour a coca-cola into it and take a sip.  Priceless.   About $20.00

Barska ACCU-Grip Camera Handle Pistol Grip6-  I love the BARSKA ACCU-Grip Camera Handle Pistol Grip.  It is a convenient handle for stable camera operation.  The pistol-style grip features finger grooves for ergonomic operation.  This accessory is fantastic for children or anybody with small or weak hands, and works especially well for shooting video.  it has a standard 1/4"-20 stud as well as a retractable video pin on its top surface, for sturdy attachment to any camera or small camcorder.  There's also a 1/4"-20 thread at the bottom of the handle, which allows you to attach your mounted camera to a tripod or head. $15.00

7-  Velcro straps.  You will find hundreds of uses for these things.  I use them to wrap up cords of all kinds, and hang things from my camera bag. I have used them to secure a backdrop on a windy day and hold a dog's collar together on a pet portrait shoot.  $4.00 to $20.00

8- Sto-Fen diffuser.  One of these will change the way you shoot portraits forever.  Forget harsh direct flash and don't worry about finding a wall or ceiling to bounce off of.  Just slip this small piece of translucent plastic over your speedlight and start shooting.  They even come in colors.  The Sto-Fen brand costs about $25.00 but there are knockoffs out there for a fifth of that.

Product Details9- Ever been caught in the rain while out shooting?  If you haven't just wait, it will happen.  When it does, you will love the person that gave you this 2-pack of plastic rain sleevesThese are by Op/Tech.  About $6.00

Product Details10-  Don't just toss your spare memory cards into your camera bag, or stuff them in your pocket.  (come on, you know you've done it)  Give the photographer on your list a couple of these, or by some for yourself.  About $5.00

Product Details11- I know I said there were ten but this one is a bonus and it just may be the most fun on the list.  For less than 20 bucks you can put your small compact point and shoot or small video camera on this little extender and get above the crowd.  Take your video to a new level.  It retracts to just 9 inches and fits in your pocket.  With this little gem, you are sure to get the best videos of the concert, political rally, or Wal-Mart black Friday shopping incident and you'll be the envy of all your Facebook friends.  About $20

Christmas is about giving and if a photographer is on your list, you can give with confidence, and not spend too much money by picking something off this list for them.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Faces in the Crowd

There is something about a face that is compelling.  From Helen of Troy (her face launched a thousand ships) to the guy that bags your groceries at Whole Foods, they are all different and all interesting.  

So often it seems that we walk through life not looking at each other.  Take a look at the supermarket or doctor's office or your favorite restaurant.  More often than not, everybody you see has their head down and their eyes fixated, no, more like mesmerized by some type of electronic device, usually a phone.  We look down, we gaze into the oracle, expecting what?  The meaning of life?  Winning lottery numbers?  Nope, usually just an e-mail or text, or the latest instagram of your best friend's cute kid.  

My wife, who has a lovely face of her own, I might add, is a watcher of faces.  When she takes photographs, they are most likely to be of people and there are usually some very interesting faces in there. Taking a cue from her, I decided to put together a few faces that I shot this year.  

Looking through the archives I find that I really don't have a lot of interesting faces.  I plan to change that next year.  I plan to take walks and look for people.  I'm going to keep my head up and my camera with me.  

It looks like 2014 will be the year of the face for me.  In the meantime, take a look at these faces from 2013.

Click on any picture for a larger image:

Next time you are out and about, look up and see what you can see in the faces of others.  Take a tip from my wife -- smile and speak to every person you meet.  It's amazing to see how the grin lights up the face of the grocery bagger when you say "Hi, how are you doing?" and actually mean it, and actually listen to his answer.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Humans love to celebrate milestones.  We love to celebrate anniversaries and we pull out all the stops with anniversaries that end in a zero. You never get a huge party with all your friends in attendance for your 34th birthday but as soon as 40 starts getting close, your family and significant other will plot tirelessly to throw you the biggest bash this side of the High Atlas mountains.

As a professional photographer I get to watch lots of people celebrating lots of milestones and anniversaries. From maternity, to birth.  Surprise birthday and anniversary parties to first, second, and even third marriages.  

Since I am a father of grown daughters it always gets me when I see that moistness in the eyes of a father as he waits to walk his little girl down the aisle.

Or the unbridled joy and surprise on the face of a tattooed biker when he pulled up and realized that his wife had thrown him a surprise 50th birthday party.

Sometimes get-togethers are not necessarily happy times.  All too often we only see distant relatives during the sad times that mark the final milestone in a family member's earthly life.

Recently, I have had the privilege to take photographs at 3 different birthday milestone events.  First was a girl's sweet 16th birthday party.  The exuberance of youth and the unmitigated joy for life exhibited by the birthday girl, her friends, and family gave me hope for the next generation, even though I wanted to pull them all aside and tell them that regardless of what they think, they are not indestructible, they won't live forever, and that sometimes things don't work out right.  Aside from the fact that they wouldn't believe an old grey muzzle like me, why would I want to burst their bubble, who knows, maybe things will always work out, and they will live forever.

Later in the week was a woman that was turning 30.  Still young but now with two young children of her own and a family to take care of.  The crazy recklessness of youth was gone and in its place resided the pragmatism of a nurturer.  She is still close enough to youth to embrace it and all that goes with it, like driving to the store just to get candy, gum, and chocolate milk.  But she also knows that she is the keystone upon which the stability of her family rests and that's a responsibility she is not taking lightly.

My third milestone of the week was the most special.  It was a gentleman's 100th birthday and his family was throwing a party befitting such a momentous occasion.  There are nearly 60,000 people in the United States 100 years old or older, but I've not had any experience with any of them so I didn't know what to expect.  I certainly didn't expect him to be so perky, funny, and full of joy.  

His eyes held so much life and the evidence of having experienced a century of living.  I watched him and listened to him telling stories and greeting old friends and family members with warm handshakes.  Smiles of recognition as each guest leaned in to say hello and the gleam in his eyes as they wished him happy birthday gave no doubt he was enjoying the attention.

This remarkable man was born before World War I started.  He is old enough to remember when Alexander Graham Bell died.  He has been witness to wars, inventions, great joy and horrible sadness.  Married for seven decades, he has raised daughters and held grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

We pass through the stages of life whether we want to or not.  Each of us have been babies, lovingly held and nurtured by our mothers and fathers.  We remember the sweet freedom of youth.  16 years old and the entire world is laid out in front of us.  If you are a parent, it's probable that you can put your finger exactly on the point in your life when you "grew up" and became a responsible adult, for me it's when my oldest daughter was born. Then later comes the time in your life where you sometimes wonder if anybody really needs you anymore.

We may not all make it to 100 but there will be a time when you sit and replay the movie of your life.  You realize that mistakes were made, history was witnessed, relationships were formed, lives were shaped, personalities were molded, and unforgettable memories were photographed in the camera of our mind.

Weeks like this one make me glad I am a photographer.  Now, I have to go call my daughter and tell her to start planning my next birthday party.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Guys just want to have fun

I've been busy lately shooting a lot.  Lots of stuff that pays the bills but is not really all that much fun.  So when I got a call from one of the organizers of The  Cancer Services of Gaston County 2013 classic car Cruise-in asking if I could cover the show on Saturday, I jumped at the chance.  What's more fun than hundreds of classic cars?  Great paint jobs, shiny chrome, big tires and fuzzy dice were everywhere.  From American muscle classics to Italian racing legends, all were represented.  The sound of ah-oo-ga horns and  glasspack mufflers on straight pipes filled the air and the smell of gas, oil, hamburgers and popcorn wafted from all corners of the giant field.  

If you want to see what the heart and soul of America looks like, head out to one of these rallys, or to the state fair, or a little league game and take a look at the fun loving, flag waving, America loving men and women that enjoy nothing better than fellowship with each other, revving the engine, eating burgers and fries, or cheering for their team.

Nothing shined brighter on Saturday than the smile of a car owner when you gave him the thumbs up or said "nice car" 

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Here are some of my favorites from the show:

Click on any picture for a larger image.

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