My website is being attacked by hackers.
My website, like many millions of others, is powered by the WordPress content management system. If you have a WordPress-powered website, chances are your site is being attacked as well.
What’s going on? A couple of days ago it was discovered that hackers somewhere in the world are using a massive botnet (apparently over 90,000 machines) to attack websites all over the world (and the servers that run them) powered by WordPress. Why did they pick WordPress? Well, in addition to being plentiful (WordPress is used by over 60 million websites) it also has a quirk: WordPress by default doesn’t limit the number of times someone can try to log in as an administrator. That means that hackers can write computer programs that try lots of different passwords in a short period of time, hoping they get lucky and happen to try the right password (this is known as a “brute-force” attack… they’re just throwing a ton of different things at the wall and hoping one sticks).
Once they guess the right password and successfully get administrator privileges, the hackers are apparently installing malware on the servers that host the compromised WordPress sites which gives the hackers the ability to send instructions to be carried out by the servers (yes, hackers are using a botnet to build a bigger botnet).
But how do the hackers guess the right passwords? Well, the sad truth is that many people who have WordPress-powered websites never bother to change the default password. So simply trying the default password will often get the hackers access. But even when people do create their own password, they often make it something that’s easy to guess (a word in the dictionary, for example). Since the hackers control tens of thousands of computers and since WordPress doesn’t limit the number of login attempts, the hackers can try lots of different common passwords to see if they can get the right one. There are anywhere from a quarter of a million to a million words in the English dictionary, which sounds like a lot. Except that if a hacker is trying a thousand different passwords per second, he can guess every word in the English language in less than twenty minutes!
Why are the hackers going to fail to crack my password? Two reasons: First, I have an incredibly strong password! Instead of a simple word from the dictionary, my password is 14 characters long and uses uppercase, lowercase, numeric AND special (!@#$%^, etc.) characters. So instead of the at most one million possible passwords if I were to just use a dictionary word, there are how many possibilities? (get ready for some math, and some big numbers)
There are 26 lowercase characters, 26 uppercase characters, 10 numerical characters and at least 10 special characters (although there are actually more than 30). This means there are a minimum of 72 possible characters. With a 14-character password, that means there are 72^14 possible passwords the same length as mine, or 1.006×10^26… which, written out, is roughly 100,613,197,241,792,000,000,000,000.
So at the same one thousand tries per second, when it would take a hacker about sixteen minutes to guess any word in the English language, it would take a hacker 3,190 trillion years to guess my password… which, of course, is many, many, many times longer than, for example, the age of the universe.
Plus, the second reason hackers are going to have a hard time breaking into my site is that I also added a plugin to my WordPress site that limits the number of times a hacker can try to login to my WordPress administration area. The plugin is called “Limit Login Attempts,” and can be found right from within the “Add Plugin” area of WordPress.
Hackers have been attacking my site with login attempts continuously for at least the last 18 hours, and are still doing so. But since I’ve taken these two very simple steps (having a strong password and a plugin that limits the number of times they can try), I’ve essentially guaranteed that this “brute-force” attack isn’t going to work on me. It will, sadly, work on lots and lots of other people who have weak (or even default!) passwords, and hackers will compromise thousands of people’s sites. Obviously if you have a WordPress site, I would strongly suggest you do these two things: make sure you have a strong password and install that plugin!
This weekend I have two photo & video shoots in two days involving six locations, seven models and a three-camera interview setup (one of which being the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera, which I’ve never used before). Today’s shoot was a location shoot for a university here in Boston where I visited five different locations in about six hours. Tomorrow’s shoot, by contrast, is a studio shoot where I’ll be in one room for six hours doing headshots and interviews of seven models.
It’s about 9:30pm on Saturday night and I just finished and delivered the same-day edit of today’s shoot (now how’s that for client service!), and now it’s time to pack of the Blackmagic camera along with my trusty Canon 5D Mark II and 7D to get ready for tomorrow’s shoot…
Quick frame from today’s shoot below.
I just finished a series of four blog posts talking about the various advantages and disadvantages of different types of lighting for photo and video work (the first post, with links to the others, is here), and why I’ve decided, for the time being, to use a mixed kit of fluorescent and LED lights. This kit is great and should serve my needs very well, but there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome first: while these lights are all advertised as “full spectrum” and “daylight balanced” at 5600K, in reality they all have visibly different color temperatures, so they need to be balanced with each other in order to work well being used together to light the same scene. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I took three different lights with radically different white balances and balanced them to work together beautifully.
In the image above, which I designed intentionally to exaggerate the color balance differences of the three lights, I placed (from left) a miniature LED panel, a fluorescent softbox and a 1×1 LED panel next to each other and aimed them at a uniformly white ceiling. The difference is striking (and awful).
As is, it would be very difficult to use these lights in a scene together without them appearing different colors. So they need to be balanced together. How to do this? Gels! Pulling out my collection of gels, I got to work.
I keep an assortment of gels to color balance pretty much anything (from left to right): CTOs, CTBs, Plus Greens and Minus Greens each in 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 densities. With this assortment, no matter which way a light is off balance, I can balance it.
In order to balance the three different lights (from three different manufacturers!) I started with the one that is most difficult to gel: the fluorescent (this is one of the biggest weaknesses of fluorescent lights in my opinion… they’re a pain to gel). I used that as my basis and then adjusted the other lights to match it.
It is possible to simply judge the color of a light visually in comparison to others next to it, like in the photos above, and to experiment with different gel combinations to get the lights to the point where they visually look the same to the eye, but “eyeballing” it like that is extremely difficult to do accurately; I have a very good eye for color (I scored a 19 on the X-Rite Online Color Acuity test! Take the test yourself, it’s fun!), and even I can’t achieve the level of precision that I want by eyeballing it. So to measure the color balance precisely I decided to use a couple of precision instruments: my camera and computer.
To start with, I set up a simple 18% neutral gray card on a light stand (I use this one from Amazon… it’s cheap and does the job well), along with a color chart. I lit the gray card and color chart with the fluorescent light (placing the light at an angle so that the light is illuminating the card but not reflecting glare). I then blacked out the windows in my office and shut off all the other light sources (overhead lights, computer monitors, etc.) so there was no “contamination” and I knew all the light hitting the gray card was from the light in question, and I took a still photo of the gray card and color chart with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in RAW format.
I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and opened the file in Photoshop (you could also use Lightroom or any other application that can work with RAW files, I just happened to choose Photoshop). Using the White Balance Picker / eyedropper tool in the Adobe Camera Raw conversion screen (the same tool is in the Develop tab in Lightroom in the White Balance box), I sampled the 18% neutral gray card to set the proper white balance for the image, the values of which are then displayed in the white balance section on the right (it is a good idea to click a bunch of times in a few places on the gray card as the individual measurements will vary slightly, then average the values).
Sure enough, I now saw numerically what I had seen visually on the wall: that fluorescent light was very, very green (+28 tint!). Since that is the light that was most off balance, ideally I would have gelled it to match the other lights, but since this light is so difficult to gel and the other are so much easier, I instead went the other way around and gelled the others to match this one.
With the temperature and tint white balance values for the fluorescent light in hand, I then repeated the process (blacking out the room, lighting the neutral gray card with a single light source, and shooting a photo) for each of my other lights and then found the white balance values for them as well (I found that my miniature panel has white balance values of 5100K temperature and -3 tint, and my 1×1 LED panel is 5050K temperature and +5 tint).
With that information, I then knew precisely how off balance my lights were from each other. I then added a gel to one of the lights, repeated the process of measuring the white balance values, and noted the numerical effect of a particular gel (bear in mind that as much as the gel manufacturers try to keep the color of their gels as pure as possible, a Plus Green gel will never be purely plus green…for example, my Rosco 1/4 Plus Green gels turned out to add +28 points of green tint, but also knocked off 300 degrees of temperature. But after measuring the color balance values of each light and the color effect of each gel, it was very straightforward to figure out which gels to add to each light to balance them together.
In the end, to balance my LED panels to my fluorescent lights, I needed to add 1/4 CTB and 3/8 Plus Green (one 1/4 and one 1/8) to my mini LED, and 1/8 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green to my 1×1 LED, which, while not numerically perfect, got my lights as closely balanced as possible with 1/8th-increment gels. Now I can comfortably use all of my lights in the same scene together and be confident that their colors will be balanced and visually indistinguishable.
This post is the last of a series of four comparing the advantages and disadvantages of different types of continuous lights for photo and video work. Here are the previous ones:
Light Quality (CRI)
When choosing a light source, the final (and perhaps most important) issue is the quality of the light that that light source emits; in other words, its spectrum, or “CRI.” As most people know, light is made up of a whole spectrum of wavelengths, which results in different colors (in terms of visible light, red light is at one end of the visible spectrum with long wavelengths and blue is on the other end, with short wavelengths). Different types of light sources (LED, fluorescent, tungsten incandescent, HMI, the sun) emit different mixtures of wavelengths of light, and the best ones, like the sun, emit a nice, broad, even spectrum of wavelengths (without large spikes or dips at any given wavelength), which allows objects of different colors to appear as vibrant as possible in a photograph or video.
Color Rendering Index (or “CRI”) is a measure of the mix of spectrum that a light emits. This is the biggest advantage of the traditional xenon and tungsten lights: they emit the broadest spectrum of light of any of the types of photo and video lights here (this is because they closely mimic the behavior of a concept known to physicists as “black body radiation.” If physics is your thing or you really want to understand this subject in depth, read about black body radiation and Planck’s law). As a result, tungsten and xenon lights have the highest CRI (100, or close to it). LED and fluorescent lights, on the other hand, emit light that contains more of certain wavelengths and less of others (uneven spikes and dips), and therefore have lower CRIs (from as high as 95+ for good quality lights to as low as 60-70 for low-quality lights). The effect of lower CRIs is that some colors, including skin tones, can appear muted, washed out or unnatural in photos and videos. For this reason it is essential to choose lights with high CRI values.
Both my LED panels and my fluorescent lights have CRI values above 90. That is, they emit a quite broad spectrum of light that will illuminate objects of all colors well (that is not to say that they are accurately color balanced or white balanced for any particular target: CRI and white balance are two completely separate issues… more on that in tomorrow’s post). To illustrate the broad spectrum of light from each of these sources, take a look at the images below.
To make the images above, I projected near-parallel beams of light from my LED (left) and fluorescent (right) light heads into an optical prism, which refracted the light into its constituent wavelengths, and photographed the results. Note that all of the colors of the visible light spectrum are well-represented. This is an indication of the high CRI value of these lights.
After experimenting with and testing various lights both in theoretical tests like the emission spectra above as well as practical ones like lighting a white seamless with them, using them for portraits, etc., I’ve made a few conclusions. In no particular order, here goes:
- The concern that LED and fluorescent lights emit poor-quality light as compared to tungsten lights is unfounded. With a tiny bit of adjustment via gels (more on that tomorrow) both from a subjective standpoint (how they look) and a technical standpoint (technical measures of their light emission), these lights look great.
- Both LED and fluorescent lights consume a tiny fraction of the amount of power that tungsten lights do (which makes them more usable in the field), and don’t generate the searing heat of tungstens (which is always inconvenient and can be destructive and painful, and uncomfortable for subjects).
- On the other hand, fluorescents and LEDs don’t generally generate the quantity of light that most tungsten heads do, so it may be necessary to use more of them for certain applications (flooding a white seamless, much less a full cyc wall, requires a huge sheer quantity of light), so these lights might not be terribly well-suited for these applications.
- Fluorescent lights are much less portable and more time-consuming to set up than tungsten lights, but LEDs are easier and faster.
- Light modifiers and accessories like softboxes don’t really exist for LED panels yet (although I did just make a softbox for my 1×1 LED… perhaps that’ll be a future blog post…), but fluorescent heads can usually easily accommodate anything mounted on a standard speed ring.
So what does it all mean? These lights are tools (just like all of our other kinds of gear), and they each have advantages and disadvantages, and are better suited for some tasks and worse for others, and the right tool for the job will depend on the particular job: lighting a large stage with a two-wall cyc wall is still best done with high-power, high-output tungsten or HMI lights. A quick location interview is probably best done with a couple of LED panels. For a small- to medium-sized studio shoot, fluorescents are probably the best bet.
Tomorrow I’m going to be going to a location and shooting in the same room all day. What will I bring? Fluorescents and a couple of LEDs.
I’ve learned a lot experimenting with all these different types of lights. If you’ve read this blog post and the few that came before it, hopefully I was able to share some of that with you. If you have any comments, different opinions or questions, let me know!
P.S.- Since I’m going to be using a mixed bag of different light sources that result in a mixed bag of color temperatures, in order to work well together the lights need to be balanced to each other. Balancing my mixed bag of lights will be the subject of tomorrow’s post…
This post is third in a series comparing the various types of continuous lights for photo and video work (it’ll definitely make more sense if you read the previous ones).
This is also something that is less important for photographers and videographers who work primarily in a studio, but for someone like me whose work is almost entirely on location, it is important. Tungsten and HMI light heads are usually relatively compact, but they are fragile; the bulbs are made of very thin glass and even thinner filaments, and can break if jostled around too much (especially if they’re cold, as tends to happen here in the northeast in winter). Also, since tungsten and HMI lights get so hot when they’re in use, at the end of a shoot they need to have a fair amount of time to cool down before being packed away or they’ll melt case fabric or padding or cables, gels or whatever else they happen to come in contact with in the bag or case… and a melted plastic power cable just sucks.
Fluorescent light heads have got to be the worst when it comes to portability. Since they don’t get hot you don’t have the issue above, but instead the bulbs are larger, bulkier, and even more fragile. My 3-head fluorescent kit is HUGE, because the bulbs are so fragile they need to be transported in individual cases (and with five bulbs per head, that means I’m carrying around 15 bulb boxes in the kit).
I can drive my fluorescent kit to a location, but don’t even think about flying with it… the kit is bigger than airlines’ maximum allowable suitcase size, and even if you could get it on the plane, by the time you picked it up at baggage claim all the bulbs would be shattered anyway.
And then there are LEDs… oh, blessed LEDs. LEDs are tiny, compact, rugged and oh-so-easy to travel with. Since they have no bulbs and no glass, LED panels are by far the most durable and least fragile of the lights here. Advantage, LEDs.
Speed of Setup and Ease of Use
Speed of setup is another issue that studio dwellers probably aren’t terribly concerned with, since lights that live in a studio frequently can stay set up and don’t need to be broken down between shoots. But for those of us always on the go it is a consideration. And here once again, fluorescent heads are the clear loser. Setup of tungsten and HMI heads is pretty straightforward: you put the head on a stand, plug it in, attach whatever modifiers you want to use, and you’re good to go. Takes a couple of minutes per light, tops. With fluorescent heads though, it’s a different story. In addition to all of the same steps you’d take with a tungsten head, with fluorescent lights each individual bulb (of which there can be anywhere from three to six per head, depending on the model) has to be carefully removed from its case and carefully installed into the head before any modifiers are attached, drastically increasing the setup time. LED panels, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler to set up. You stick the panel on a stand and plug it in. Done. One of these lights can literally be set up in under 30 seconds. Advantage, LEDs.
Usability is a much more complex question (and a really important one). Here, tungsten and HMI lights really benefit from having been around for far longer than LEDs and fluorescents. The design of tungsten and HMI heads have been refined over years, and a whole universe of accessory modifiers have been developed to work with them: Fresnel heads use a lens and a moving focusing mechanism to allow light from these heads to be tightly focused into a spot or allowed to spread more flood effect. All manner of modifiers (umbrellas, snoots, gobos, softboxes of every conceivable shape and size, etc.) have been designed for these lights, and as a result they are extremely versatile. Fluorescent and LED lights, however, unfortunately are still new enough that for the most part these accessory modifiers are not yet available for them. Additionally, the design of most of these lights prevents them from benefiting from Fresnel-type housings, so their beam tends to be very wide (although a couple of companies are just starting to make LED Fresnels… take a look at these Arris). As a result, the light from panel-type LEDs and most fluorescent heads disperses quickly, so these lights tend to have short “throw” distances. Coupled with the lack of modifiers, this limits the versatility of LED and fluorescent lights. I am certain that modifier manufacturers will quickly start designing softboxes and other accessories for them, but for the time being, this leaves fluorescent and LED lights at a disadvantage.
Tomorrow’s post, the last in this little series, will look at quality of light emitted by the various types of light (the CRI), and my conclusions.
This post is the second in what is going to be a short series comparing different types of continuous lights for photo and video use. In the previous post I talked about how in deciding which type of lights to buy in my next round of equipment purchases, there were a lot of considerations. In this post I’ll talk about two of them specifically: efficiency and heat generation (this post will make more sense if you read the first one). Links to the other posts in the series are at the bottom of this post.
Efficiency (i.e., power usage)
Tungsten lights use a ton of power. A huge advantage of HMI, fluorescent and LED lights is that they use a small fraction of the amount of power that tungsten lights need to create the same amount of light. For example, two of these common 45-watt fluorescent bulbs (for a total of 90 watts) are brighter (5600 lumens) than a standard 300-watt tungsten fixture such as this Arri 300 fresnel (5200 lumens). That’s almost four times the amount of light created per watt of power used! For many people, especially studio shooters, this may not be important. For me though, it is. Nearly all of my work is done on location, and sometimes even outdoors, so wall power outlets are sometimes hard to come by. HMI, fluorescent and LED lights use so little power that it is actually feasible to power them by battery (for example, the 1×1 LED panel I just bought has a V-mount battery plate on the back), which is great if access to wall power is difficult, and is pretty much out of the question for tungsten lights. Advantage, HMI, fluorescent and LED.
Perhaps even more importantly though, the lights’ efficiency is what dictates their…
Heat Generation (aka, “Will these lights make my subjects sweat and burn me if I touch them?”)
As anyone who’s ever made the mistake of touching a tungsten or HMI light after it’s been on for a while can say, these lights generate heat. A lot of heat. Instant-blistering-burn heat. Additionally, not only do the heads themselves get hot, they also radiate heat toward the subject. So this is a doubly-important issue: not only are “hot lights” inconvenient to work with because you can’t touch them with bare hands (instead you need to use gloves, pliers or another tool when changing scrims, for example), but they also deliver a lot of heat to your subject, which is bad for a whole slew of reasons for a whole variety of subjects: if you’re shooting a fragile object like food or flowers, the heat can wilt, melt or otherwise harm the object. If your subject is a person, the heat can make the person uncomfortable which can lead to a less-than-ideal interview, or cause them to start sweating.
Tungsten and HMI lights get very hot, but fluorescent and LED lights don’t. Both fluorescent and LED lights will get warm to the touch, but will never get so hot that they’ll burn you if you touch them (or, at least, they shouldn’t… if they do, something’s wrong) and they don’t radiate almost any heat to the subject. I don’t shoot a lot of food or flowers, but I do shoot people, and I want my subjects to be as comfortable as possible, so this is a big deal to me. Once again, advantage, fluorescent & LED.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the portability and speed of setup and ease of use of each of these lights.
(Update: links to the subsequent posts in this series are here:
Post #3: Portability and Speed of Setup & Ease of Use
(Note: I originally started writing this as a single post, but it turns out there is so much to say on the topic that I’m going to break it into several posts. Links to the others will be at the bottom.)
I recently found myself in the same situation that every photographer and videographer occasionally faces. I’m currently expanding my arsenal of photo and video lights, so I’ve had to tackle the question of which type of lights to buy. Since my work includes both still and video (and since I already have a selection of strobe lights that I’m happy with), I’m focusing now on continuous lights that can be used for either still or motion work.
First, some background. As photographers and videographers know, the most commonly used lights have traditionally been xenon gas flash tubes for still photography and tungsten incandescent bulbs for video and film (HMIs are also somewhat common for motion as well, but less so than tungsten). These traditional kinds of lights work very well and they definitely still have value in the right application (in fact, in certain types of applications they’re still the best type of light there is), but they do have significant weaknesses and disadvantages, and recent technological advances have improved other light sources such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs to the point where they too are now practical for photo and video use.
So we now have this whole range of light sources available to us that includes the traditional tungsten and HMI (such as those made by Arri, Mole-Richardson and many others), fluorescent (in both tube format like Kino-Flos and CFL format like Westcott Spiderlites) and LED (like Litepanels) as well as some even newer and more exotic technologies that are still coming to market like organic and plasma panels (the Zacuto “PlaZma light” will be very interesting to keep an eye on once it is introduced, hopefully later this year).
Among all of these options, how do we choose the right light? Every type has advantages and disadvantages, and as with most things, which is best comes down to your individual needs and what type of work you do. Personally, the vast majority of my work is done on location instead of in a studio, so the factors that are important to me are 1) efficiency (i.e., power use), 2) heat generation, 3) portability, 4) speed of setup and ease of use, and most importantly, 5) light quality (CRI). (Cost is of course also a factor, but with each type light there are expensive options and cheaper options, so that’s less relevant). So for my current round of equipment purchases, I evaluated each of the light types on each of the criteria above. In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about how the various types of lights compare when it comes to efficiency, heat generation, portability, speed of setup and ease of use, and light quality, finally ending with my conclusions and my purchases.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about the efficiency and heat generation of each types of light heads.
(Update: Links to the subsequent posts in this series are here:
Post #2: Efficiency (i.e., power usage) and Heat Generation
Post #3: Portability and Speed of Setup & Ease of Use
On this last rainy weekday before everyone takes off for the holidays, I had a few free minutes and decided to add a couple of images to the website that I really like, but until now very few people had seen. The first image, “Dave,” was shot several months ago during the summer, and the second image , “Kaylee 2″ was shot just last week. Here they are.
Dave is a master craftsman who works for a large marine services company in Portland, Maine called Portland Yacht Services. This summer I was in Portland on a commercial shoot for PYS on a dry dock in Portland harbor producing a timelapse video of PYS’s employees using the drydock to service a large yacht that had been damaged. The drydocking process is fascinating (the entire structure lowers itself under water, the vessel to be serviced maneuvers inside, and the structure rises back up, lifting the entire vessel out of the water). It was a great shoot in a totally unique setting, and I also just happened to catch this candid shot of Dave on the dock. To me, guys like Dave epitomize the Maine maritime economy and culture.
Kaylee is a musician and music therapist from Seattle in the final stage of her training. Last week I was shooting a music therapy session at a senior housing community called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Framingham, Massachusetts shooting marketing photos. I was severely limited in the amount of equipment I was allowed to bring into the facility and was limited to a single strobe and reflector, so I had to get a bit creative with my lighting. In order to create the image above I decided to take advantage of large windows that were in the room, and use the natural light as my key light and instead use the strobe only for fill. Given the limitations I really like how the image turned out.
That’s it for me, now it’s time to pack up and get on the road to my parents’ house for the holiday.
I was up in Vermont with some friends at Stratton Mountain this past weekend, and I figured I’d take advantage of the cold, dry mountain air combined with the lack of light pollution and shoot a night timelapse (I also experimented with a couple of new tools I’m developing to solve a couple of persistent difficulties you run into when shooting long-duration timelapses in questionable environments… more on that later!).
Here’s a quick frame from the timelapse. The constellation Orion is very clear in the sky just right of center, the Milky Way is faintly visible in the center and I believe the very bright object at the top of the frame is a planet (although I’m not sure which one; this image was shot at 10:30PM ET on Dec. 15… can any astronomy buffs tell me what it is?).
Check back in later for the finished timelapse shot!
My shoot today was of a music therapy session at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Framingham, MA. I’d never seen a music therapy session before, so it was a really interesting experience for me.
Most of the images are still in the editing process, but below is a quick frame of one of the therapists. Interesting day!
I finally got around to cutting together a timelapse reel today, and now it’s done! Take a look. I hope you like it!
(as with all Vimeo videos, for best viewing, hit the play button and then pause it to allow the video to buffer, then watch with HD turned on and in full screen!)
I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving!
I spent Turkey Day this year in New Hampshire, and in between the never-ending meals and copious football games I took the opportunity of a few days outside of Boston (and its ambient light!) to shoot a couple of night timelapses. I’m working on processing them (I’ll actually have a whole new timelapse demo reel soon… I’m working on it and it’s almost done), but for the moment I just wanted to show a quick preview. The following still is one frame from one of the timelapses I shot this weekend. The area of New Hampshire where I spent the weekend is very rural, and as a result has very little ambient light / light pollution in the night sky, so it’s a great place for seeing the stars. If you know your constellations, you can see Orion on the right side of this image (the three stars that form his belt are nearly vertical).
Again, I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving, and check back in soon for the new timelapse reel!
(Click the image below for a larger version)
UPDATE: I got the new timelapse reel cut together today. Take a look here!
I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve been focusing on the outdoors in my personal work recently. I’ve been an avid rock climber since college and have always thought rock climbing photos, done well, were really cool. I’d done a couple of rock climbing photo shoots, but none recently, so about a month or two ago I decided that I wanted to organize one. I was on a climbing excursion a several weeks ago when I happened to meet some other climbers who were amiable to the idea of having someone shoot photos of them while they climbed, so we exchanged some emails and set up a day we were all free to get together.
Rock climbing photos shot from the ground are usually pretty boring, so to do them well and get a more interesting camera angle, the photographer really needs to be an active participant and actually gear up and get off the ground. But doing this is logistically a bit complicated (you need a second anchor, people who know how not to kill themselves building the anchor, etc.), so it takes time to set up and do properly. So we decided to shoot for this past Sunday as our day.
This weekend was a busy weekend for me as I was shooting for Boston University all day on Saturday and we wanted to get an early start on Sunday (the particular area of rock I wanted to use faces directly east and it was imperative that we not be in shadow for the photos, so we needed to be shooting in the morning). But I think it was worth it. I haven’t had a chance to edit the images from the shoot yet, but I took a quick look and I like them. Additionally, one of my intrepid cohorts even pulled out a brand new, shiny iPhone 5 (mine is coming on Friday, I can’t wait!) and started taking pictures of me taking pictures! One of those images is below, followed by a rough edit of one of my frames from the day.
The iPhone 5 really does look like it is capable taking quality, quality images. When mine arrives I’ll have to do some tests with it… but that’s a post for another day. Here’s a rough edit of one of the images from the day. I can’t wait to go through and edit the rest!
Many thanks to my “models” for the day!
I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors; I love hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing and pretty much any other activity that gets me outside. Thankfully for me there is the potential for a lot of great overlap between my passions for the outdoors and for photography. I’ve always shot a lot of outdoor photography, but recently I’ve been making it a focus of my personal work.
The other night I went out with my REI backpacking tent, my 5D Mark II (it’s heavier than my 7D, but the low-light performance is better) and a tripod and hiked through the woods to a favorite spot of mine. I set up the tent, got my camera and tripod ready and waited for the best light, and then shot the image below. Given the unique lighting there was a fair amount of work in post to get this image to look the way I wanted it (the image below is actually a composite of three different images!), but when I was finished I was pretty happy with how it turned out.
(You probably can’t see it in a version this small, but as luck would have it, the Big Dipper constellation is clearly visible in the sky. Click the image to see the larger version!)
Back in 2010 I was hired to shoot an executive portrait. It was a very standard assignment, but it was for a very special client: my dad.
Well, actually, my dad was the subject, but he wasn’t the client. My dad had recently retired from his position as president of Maine Medical Center, a large hospital in Portland, Maine, and the hospital was commissioning a portrait of him to hang in its Board room, along with those of all of the other past presidents. We had quite a bit of flexibility in terms of the setup of the shot; the only real requirements were that the final portrait be black and white and three-quarter length (to conform to the convention that had been in place for over a hundred years!). We talked about things that I talk about when I’m shooting any portrait (what ideas we wanted the image to convey, how to achieve them with wardrobe, location, framing, lighting, etc., shooting in a location where the subject is comfortable and relaxed, etc.). Ultimately we ended up settling on my parents’ home just outside of Portland as our location, and on the day of I drove up from Boston and did the shoot. Obviously it was a ton of fun shooting with my dad as my subject, and I was pretty happy with the final image.
Fast forward two years, and a couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from a designer saying that Maine Medical Center was putting together a tabletop history of the hospital, and wanted to use the image I shot of my dad in the book. Interestingly, the designer said that she wanted to use a color version of the (as-delivered black and white!) image (what they would have done if I had shot the image on black and white film I’m not sure). Thankfully, I had shot the image digitally and converted it to black and white after the fact, and had kept not only the final file but also the original, color RAW file (let this be a lesson kiddos, ALWAYS KEEP YOUR ORIGINALS!!!).
I did some editing to get the color version prepared for printing and sent it off to the client, and now I’m looking forward to seeing my dad in a book in a picture that I made.
Some friends went out of town for the weekend, so we have a guest.
I was shooting a timelapse in for a client in Portland, Maine last week, and for one of the camera angles I attached a GoPro Hero2 to the side of a sinkable dry dock (check back in for the resulting underwater timelapse!). If you’re not familiar with the GoPro cameras, their settings screens are on the front of the camera, such that when you’re configuring the settings, you just might catch a couple of images of yourself. This was one such image.
(this is why photographers stay BEHIND the camera!)
Purely for fun, I recently picked up a set of inexpensive extension tubes (if you’re not familiar with extension tubes, they’re attachments that fit between a camera lens and the camera body, allowing the effective minimum focus distance to be drastically reduced, which in turn allows small objects to be photographed up-close). I’ve been really busy lately so unfortunately the tubes had sat in their box until today. This afternoon I finally had some free time so I took them out to my back yard for a test drive.
Using my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS lens I took a few test shots of things in the back yard (the 100mm lens I was using is already a macro lens in that at its [unmodified] minimum focus distance it reproduces objects on the image sensor at a 1:1 size ratio, so with the extension tubes I was able to get REALLY close!).
All of the images below are uncropped, full-frame images.
(The lizard in a couple of the images was not found in my back yard. That’s Samir, a pet leopard gecko who lives in an aquarium in my living room!)
(This post is not at all related to photography. So if you’re interested in reading about photography, you can skip this post. But when I read this today, I thought it was so interesting I just wanted to post it.)
It turns out that there is going to be a lot of traffic on the moon in the next few years.
A number of countries (including Japan, China, India, possibly Brazil, etc.) are planning to send missions to the moon in the next few years. In addition, the Lunar X Prize contest (run by the X Prize Foundation and Google) has gotten something like 26 different entrants competing to become the first privately-funded organization to land a robot on the moon, and the deadline to claim the $20 million prize is 2015.
So with all this upcoming traffic on the moon, NASA felt the need to make recommendations to the various interested parties about how to avoid damaging historically- and technologically-important landing sites, artifacts and equipment still on the moon’s surface. They made recommendations about minimum keep-out distances (stay at least a meter away from any tools you find, and 250 meters away from the Apollo 17 landing site!), flight trajectories (don’t fly directly over the landing sites!), even speed limits for the rovers.
That’s right folks… we now live in an age where there are speed limits on the moon.
I happened to see the NASA report with all these recommendations today, and even though I’m not a scientist or rocket engineer, I am a giant geek when it comes to these things, and it was fun and fascinating to read part of the report.
If that sounds interesting to you, you can download the whole report here:
Speed limits on the moon… this certainly is an amazing time to be alive in the world.
I’ve been really busy (and still am…) and haven’t been able to post much recently (sorry about that!), but I saw this photograph and had to mention it here.
In yet another example of the power of imagery (and specifically the talent and astute eye of Mr. Pete Souza!), I saw the photograph below a couple of days ago, and it literally brought tears to my eyes. Lo and behold, it turns out the New York Times published a short article on the photo today.
For a full explanation of what is going on here, read the New York Times article linked below (it is very worthwhile). In short though, in this photograph President Barack Obama is meeting with the family of a former Marine who was leaving the a post on the National Security Council to serve in Afghanistan. One of the individual’s young sons, five-year-old Jacob, asked the President if the President’s hair felt the same as his own… to which the President said “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” and proceeded to bend down so the boy could touch his hair.
This is the kind of moment that photographers dream of catching and saving for posterity. Luckily, the extremely talented official White House photographer Pete Souza (who I’ve written about before… this isn’t Pete’s first historic photograph) was on hand, and despite the fact that the moment was completely unexpected, was able to capture the moment.
Think about what it means to a 5-year-old boy to see that, yes, the President of the United States is a person, just like him. It is things like this that are the reason I became a photographer.
(you can read the New York Times story here)
Yesterday’s shoot location was a warehouse in Sudbury, MA. The shoot involved a wide shot down one of the long aisles and since the warehouse’s lights were pretty dim (even though it may not look that way from the iPhone image above), we ended up needing to light the entire length of the aisle.
We ended up with nine Profoto studio strobe heads arrayed down the length of the aisle, powered by five packs.
Canon finally announced the long-awaited 5D Mark III camera body early this morning. My thoughts?
I’m sure it’ll be a nice upgrade when my 5D Mark II dies.
That’s right, I will not be rushing out to buy one of these. I was waiting with as much anticipation for this camera as anyone, and was ready to hit the “preorder” button as soon as the listing came up on B&H. But after reading about the camera it does not appear that its features will be worth an immediate upgrade.
There were a few things I was hoping Canon would include in this camera:
1) a faster continuous shooting still frame rate
2) faster video framerate(s)
3) a better autofocus system
4) higher-quality video recording
1) and 4) were improved slightly, but not much. The 5D Mark II’s continuous shooting framerate is 3.9 frames per second. The 5D Mark III’s is 6fps. This is an improvement, but only by about 50% and still doesn’t even match the 7D’s 8fps. As far as video recording, the 5DmkIII uses a new interframe compression scheme and additional processing which may improve the quality of the video, but it still uses the same old 4:2:0 sampling scheme. 2) was not improved at all (the 5D3 can shoot 720 60p, but so can the 7D and, for that matter, so can a $200 GoPro camera… I wanted 1080 60p, which I think is very reasonable*). 3) really is the only one of these four things that was significantly improved. The 5D Mark III was given the same AF system as the 1Dx, Canon’s flagship camera body. It is a 61-point AF system with something like 40 cross-type AF points (the best kind). Also, it uses a tiny, 1.5% spot metering area (the circle is only 1.5% of the total area of the frame) which is great if you want to expose the shot very precisely for a specific area of the image.
Anyway, again, all in all, not worth buying immediately.
*: The 5D Mark III is equipped with one of Canon’s newest, most powerful image processors, the Digic 5+ (the same processor that the 1Dx contains, except the 1Dx has two of them), so it is very possible that the good folks at Magic Lantern will be able to engineer some third-party firmware for the 5D3 and if so, it is possible that they’ll be able to squeeze additional performance out of the camera. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
As every professional photographer knows, the as-yet-unreleased successor to the Canon 5D Mark II camera body has been an immensely anticipated new product. For non-photo professionals, think of it as the “new iPhone” of cameras: everybody’s talking about it, what features it’s going to have, what it’ll be able to do, how much it’ll cost, and most importantly, when it’s going to come out. The 5D Mark II is now over three years old, and is overdue for an update. There have long been rumors that its replacement will be called the 5D Mark III, but pretty much everything else about the camera has been a mystery. Canon sponsors (read: pays) a number of high-profile photographers and allows them early access to new, unreleased equipment and the rumor has been that these photographers have had their hands on the 5D Mark III for some time. These folks are all under legally binding contract not to talk about anything they see early though, so the pro photography world is holding its breath in anticipation.
Well, we just got the biggest hint yet. A wildlife photographer named Stephen Oachs (who is NOT sponsored by Canon and is not under NDA) is currently on safari in Kenya and spotted a Japanse man using unreleased equipment. Oachs, being a wildlife photographer on safari, had a camera and a long lens on hand, and snapped a number of photos of the man and the equipment he was using. The most important image is here:
Stephen was even so kind as to publicly post the raw file of this photo as proof that it was not faked or manipulated in any way. After cropping and rotating the image for easier viewing, it looks like this:
A few things are clear from this photo:
- -The camera this man is using is not a 5D Mark II (the control layout is all wrong, among other things)
- -It also isn’t a 7D (no pop-up flash and the button directly above and to the left of the rear scroll wheel doesn’t exist on a 7D)
- -It also isn’t any version of a 1D (the battery grip is a screw-on attachment, not integral to the camera body)
So it is clear that this is an unreleased camera. It is possible that this is a replacement not for the 5D Mark II but the 7D (a “7D Mark II”?), but seems unlikely, since the 5D Mark II should be ahead of the 7D in terms of an update and since the optical viewfinder prism looks too big for the camera to be crop-sensor.
By the way, it is also clear that this unreleased camera includes substantial video functionality, since it includes a prominent still/video switch just like the 7D.
There are now inklings coming out about a Canon announcement on Feb. 7, so it sounds like photographers’ long wait for the mythical 5D Mark III may be about to end.
A quick little post on this snowy October Saturday (!?!):
Every so often we get to see a Mother Nature put on a spectacular display. Natural phenomena paint the sky and the world around us with colors almost too rich to be true. This is one of those instances:
The shot below is of Mount Rainier near Seattle, Washington. Every once in a while, when the light is just right and the cloud layer sits just below Mt. Rainier’s summit, early risers get the treat of seeing Rainier cast a shadow across the sky right at sunrise.
Check out more images at http://www.komonews.com/weather/blogs/scott/132629943.html.
Now to go find my snow shovels… (seriously, shoveling in October?? I think there might be some hot chocolate in my future).
I never knew Steve Jobs; I never even met him.
And yet I, like many other people, refer to him only as “Steve.” To lots of people it probably seems weird or silly to be on a first-name basis with someone you’ve never met. But to a lot of people who admired him, he wasn’t Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, Inc., Steve Jobs, Founder of Pixar Animation or any of the other handful of titles he had. He was just “Steve.” He didn’t need any titles, because his actions, accomplishments and foibles spoke for him. If somebody talked about Steve you knew immediately that they were talking about the visionary who in addition to being a genius was also an uncompromising perfectionist and was so demanding that often he was a giant pain in the ass to the people who worked with him.
I never even met Steve, and yet my life, like many others, has been affected by him in many ways, both large and small, both superficially and fundamentally. Like millions of other people, I use his gadgets. Steve’s gadgets let me listen to music wherever and whenever I want, they keep me in touch with my friends and family, they entertain me when I’m bored sitting waiting in airports. Steve’s gadgets they tell me how to get where I’m going when I’m lost, they help me do my work creating photographs and they allow me to write this very blog post.
While these things are all important, they’re somewhat superficial. But my life has been impacted by him much more deeply as well. I started learning about Steve when I began to realize the incredible world-changing potential of the products that were coming out of Apple, mostly unnoticed at the time. I read as much about him as I could and I became convinced that there was genius there that was largely undiscovered. I invested heavily in his company when the rest of the industry was writing it off as a failure and suggesting it should be shut down, and the unbelievable returns that Apple provided me on my investment later allowed me to buy the home I now live in, which I would never have been able to afford to do as early as I did were it not for my prediction of Apple’s success.
The more I read about Steve the more fascinating he was; adopted by parents who promised his biological parents he would get a good education, he sat in on a calligraphy course in college before dropping out after one semester because it was costing his parents too much and he didn’t see the value. He lived on friends’ couches and floors returning empty bottles for food money before leaving on a spiritual trip to India, all before his twenty-first birthday when he founded Apple in his parents’ garage with his buddy Steve Wozniak. He talked about a lot of these things and many more in a Commencement address he gave to Stanford University’s graduating class in 2005. It may be the most inspirational speech I’ve heard and is certainly the best Commencement address I’ve ever heard. But the most fascinating thing about him was his absolute insistence on perfection. As the head of a multi-billion-dollar business where millions of dollars could be made or lost by even the slightest delay bringing a product to market, even then Steve was an uncompromising perfectionist. Steve was known for killing product ideas that had spent months or years in development because he didn’t think they were good enough. It is rumored that Apple engineers proposed three completely separate designs for the original iPhone, all of which Steve killed, because they weren’t up to his standards. He made the teams go back to the drawing board and do better.
It is through this uncompromising demand for excellence that Steve had what I believe will be his most important legacy. By demanding the very best and settling for nothing but, Steve inspired me through his example to challenge myself, aim higher, and demand more from myself and accomplish great things.
I am not the only person who was inspired by Steve to do great things, and as a result, each of us benefits not only from the many things Steve gave us while he was alive, but by the many things that will by accomplished by others who were motivated by his example.
The world lost a leader yesterday, someone who excited our imaginations and motivated us to aim higher than we thought we could. It seems like great human beings always die too early, but the world was lucky to have had Steve among us, for even the brief period time we did.
Rest in peace, Steve. You will be missed. The world is a better place because of you.
Yesterday I posted a quick bit about the photo shoot I put together on the Charles River just out side of Boston. The focus of the shoot was recreational water sports like kayaking and canoeing. It was the first time I had worked with any of the five models we had that day, but they were all wonderful to work with.
I was shooting with my Canon 7D camera body and a variety of lenses, primarily the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. I chose to use my 7D body for this shoot for a variety of reasons; as the newest of my cameras its autofocus system is arguably the fastest and best, which was important for this shoot since the models and boats, the focal points of the images, were going to be in constant motion. Also, the 7D has a faster continuous-shooting frame rate than my 5D Mark II body, for example, which better allowed me to capture the fleeting moments of best facial expression, body position, etc. on the models in a fully dynamic environment like the one in which we were shooting. An additional side benefit of the 7D was that its APS-C size image sensor yields a crop factor of 1.5, meaning that all of my lenses were 50% longer, which was nice for flattening the images and bringing the subjects right up close and personal even when they were a distance out on the water.
We were slightly hampered by the fact that some clouds rolled in the middle of the shoot and therefore the light was a bit flatter and less vibrant than I would have wanted (we were relying mostly on nature to provide our light for us although we were using some modifiers and artificial light for fill), although towards the end of the day the clouds began to dissipate and gave us some nice light again towards what turned out to be the end of the day.
A slideshow of some of the images is below.
Ultimately it was a pretty good shoot and I think everybody had fun.
After we had packed up and most of the models and crew had left, I saw one more shot that I thought was worth setting a camera and tripod back up again for. I thought it was a pretty fitting end to the day.
A month or two ago I started working to set up a photo shoot focusing on recreational water sports like kayaking and canoeing. Anyone who knows me knows that there are very few recreational sports I don’t enjoy, and these types of outdoor activities are important parts of state & local tourism marketing and advertising campaigns in the Northeast, not to mention the advertising needs of outdoor equipment retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports, L.L. Bean and REI.
Anyone who has set up a shoot of this sort knows that between finding and booking models, scouting appropriate locations, nailing down assistants and negotiating contracts & coordinating schedules with all of the parties, setting up this kind of shoot is a fair amount of work. But good things don’t come easy, and all of the work was worth it. Last Sunday the crew and talent assembled at the chosen location on a river just outside of Boston and had a great day of shooting.
A full collection of images from the day will be posted here tomorrow, but here is one sneak peek.
Check back tomorrow for the full collection of images and the story behind the shoot.
Today I saw another example of very powerful photography. I’ve heard on the news about the on-going drought in the southern central United States (particularly Texas), but until I saw the slideshow below from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, I had no idea just how bad it was.
The images below punch the viewer in the gut with the severity of the crisis (and some graphically depict its effect on wildlife).
This is another instance where photography won’t solve the problem (it seems that only nature can do that), but it can make people thousands of miles away who will never see the problem first hand understand just how serious the situation is, with an eye-opening immediacy that reading all the newspaper descriptions in the world never will.
The East Coast is starting to flip out about Hurricane Irene (I just read that New Jersey is ordering gambling halted in Atlantic City… the horror!) and since it looks like Irene has Boston in its sights, it looks like I’m going to be spending my Saturday getting a generator and moving things out of my basement in case it floods. In the mean time though, before it gets here, check out this image NASA created from one of its GOES geosynchronous orbit satellites:
And here’s a closeup of the U.S. showing the storm:
NASA is wonderful for this kind of stuff. I’m sure two days from now I’m going to be much less of a fan, but from 22,000 miles up, the storm is beautiful!
This is just more proof of what I’ve always thought – anything can be beautiful if you look at it in the right way.
We’ve all got favorite places; places that for whatever reason we keep coming back to, whether it’s because they’re pretty, they’re comfortable, there are good people there who we enjoy spending time with, whatever.
The weather has been beautiful in Boston for the last couple of days (with the exception of that earthquake yesterday! Does that count as weather?), and I had some free time last night so I decided to go back to one of my favorite places in Boston for shooting at night.
The Longfellow Bridge connects Cambridge and Boston across the Charles river, and looks out on the part of the river known as the Sailing Basin, because as the widest, most open part of the river, the MIT, Harvard and other university sailing teams, as well as the public all use it as a great spot for sailing small boats. On any given afternoon there are dozens of sailboats on the water here.
This spot on the bridge is a favorite of mine because in addition to the great view of the river, from this vantage point there is also a great view of the Prudential building and the Hancock Tower, Boston’s two tallest skyscrapers, and the bridge faces southwest, meaning it is wonderful for shooting landscape photos at dusk.
For this image, because I knew I wanted both the natural light in the sky as well as the artificial lights inside the buildings to be visible with a nice balance between the two, it was important to wait for just the right light. I knew that would mean in this case that would mean a little bit after sunset, when the sky had dimmed sufficiently to not overpower the artificial lights (sunset photos can be gorgeous, but I’ve found that often the best light is actually after sunset, such as here). With the camera on the tripod and using a wide-angle lens (my trusty Canon 5D Mark II with the superb EF 17-40mm f/4L lens), I stopped the lens down to f/8 because shutter speed wasn’t going to be an issue (thank you, tripod) and I wanted the little bit of extra sharpness that comes with a smaller aperture. Using a remote cable release to fire the camera to avoid shake I fired a few frames to test exposure (the camera’s internal light meter here is a decent starting point but only a starting point) and play with a few different angles. Since I wasn’t using a tilt/shift lens and the camera needed to be angled up to get the framing I wanted, I had to do a bit of digital alteration in post (Photoshop’s “Lens Correction” function) to remove the distortion and make the buildings straight.
The result is what I think is a nice image, somewhat different than ones I’ve taken here before. It is by no means perfect though (if in fact an image can ever be), so I’m sure that I’ll be back to this spot again some time.
It is a very special and rare moment for me when I discover a photographer whose work I haven’t previously seen and which includes what I call “The Trifecta” – the three ingredients which I consider to combine to form stunning photography. I had one of those moments yesterday when I happened to see a National Geographic article about the Kermode bear (or “Spirit Bear,” as some of the indigenous people in Canada call it). The article featured photography by the Canadian nature and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen. After seeing the images there, I found Paul’s website and, put very simply, sat in pure awe for the next 20 minutes staring at the images he has created.
I’ve spent enough time studying, appreciating and shooting photography that I can tell pretty quickly when someone’s got The Trifecta. And pretty much instantly, I could see that Paul has it. Below are a few of Paul’s photographs. While the photographs are so powerful that they elicit an immediate visceral response, try to appreciate them for a few extra moments; consider how all three elements of The Trifecta are present in each image.
So what is The Trifecta? Here goes – the three things that contribute to truly stunning photography:
#1: Interesting Subject
It goes without saying (so much so that it’s sometimes forgotten!) that when the subject of a photograph is interesting, it is a lot more likely that the photograph itself is going to be appealing. A photograph doesn’t HAVE to have an interesting subject to be appealing (a photographer who excels in one or both of the other parts of The Trifecta can make a great photograph of even a boring, unremarkable and commonplace subject), but it sure helps. A good subject is the most obvious and, frankly, the easiest part of The Trifecta.
It is pretty obvious why the subjects of Paul’s images are fascinating to anyone who doesn’t live above the Arctic Circle (and probably even to a lot of people who do!). He goes to the ends of the Earth (literally) to find them.
#2: Technical Skill
Many modern cameras have been designed to require a lot less technical know-how in order to use them to make a workable photograph (i.e., the “program” and “auto” modes on many cameras). But unless you get lucky, that know-how is still needed in order to make a truly great photo with the appearance the photographer envisions: does the photographer think a slight bit of motion blur is going to enhance the look of the photo? Would the photo be more striking if only a small, specific part of the subject was in focus? Does one area of a photo need more or less light than it’s getting in order to show it properly? If so, how are these things going to be accomplished? These are considerations under the best of circumstances. In a challenging environment, under challenging lighting conditions, etc., the need for technical skill goes up astronomically.
It’s easy to take a picture of a polar bear in daylight through the fence at a zoo; when you’re in the Arctic wilderness submerged under water that’s only a few degrees above freezing and there’s nothing between you and the bear but a few feet of that water, things get a bit more complex. For example: how does the fact that the photographer is underwater affect the shutter speed needed to achieve the swimming motion visible here in the bear’s feet?
#3: Creative/Artistic Vision
Ansel Adams famously said that he didn’t simply see a pretty scene and capture it; instead he imagined in his mind an image of how he wanted a scene to look, then used all of the tools at his disposal (the technical skill) to make that image in his mind appear on paper in the photograph. This creative or artistic vision is the most important ingredient in The Trifecta, and also the hardest to come by. Creative vision is how the photographer chooses to present the image through artistic choices like composition, shape, motion, contrast, texture, color, light, darkness, depth of field and many other variables to visually convey the emotions and the visceral, gut-reaction feel desired. It is how a talented photographer can take even a bland, unremarkable everyday subject and make a striking and visually interesting image of it, or an ugly scene and find the beauty in it.
The photo above is a perfect example of how a talented photographer can convey emotion. Looking at that image, your first reaction would be one of fright, feeling like you’re about to become dinner to a ruthless and terrifying predator. And in fact, those were the emotions Paul was feeling when he shot that image. As he describes in this video, when Paul got in the water with the seal he was intimidated by its size. But soon, he saw that the seal wasn’t threatening, but was actually trying to care for him, bringing him food and trying to feed him, the way a concerned mother would care for its young. And this friendlier, nurturing feel is evident in another photo Paul made soon after:
It is rare indeed to see a photographer with a ready command of all three parts of The Trifecta. Too often, photographers lean on an interesting subject as a crutch to disguise weak technical skill or creative vision (this kind of failing can be seen frequently when imagery of exotic people or places is shown without artistry or any emotion conveyed with the image… this crutch is sometimes used so extensively that, in the wedding industry for example, some individuals will take on a client only if that client’s wedding takes place in a beautiful location and involves only beautiful people). Photographers must avoid the temptation to take this easy way out, and consumers should take the time to appreciate not only the subject matter of photographs, but also how they are presented, and how much of the photographer’s emotions they can feel in the image.
Because as Paul Nicklen and many other masterful photographers have shown, while one strength or another can make a good image, it takes The Trifecta to make a truly great one.
Ah, it’s that time of year. In a couple of days, towns and cities all over the country are going to be having fireworks displays, and I have to say, cooking out on the grill with friends & family then sitting in the grass watching fireworks is one of my favorite things. Fireworks are beautiful and make for beautiful, striking and colorful photographs, but they’re also technically challenging to photograph well, primarily because there isn’t a whole lot of light.
If you’re planning to take pictures of fireworks this weekend, there are a few things you can do to make your pictures much better.
#1: Camera Support. Because it’s nighttime and there’s very little light, the camera is going to need a very slow shutter speed (ie, a long exposure) to get enough light to properly expose the photo, and therefore needs to be held very still to prevent the picture from being blurry. It is very difficult to hold the camera steady enough in your hand, so you need to use something else to keep the camera from moving during the exposure. The most common kind of camera support is a tripod: if you’ve got one and are able to carry it with you, great. That’s your best option. If not though, there are other things you can do to steady the camera: anything you can rest the camera on can be used to steady it – this could be a backpack you put on the ground and then the camera on top of; a jacket you ball up, or even a fence rail, window sill or other fixed structure that the camera can sit on.
#2: The longest exposure you can manage! In the photo above, there are at least a half a dozen individual fireworks exploding. They didn’t all go off at the same time! By keeping the camera exposure as long as you can, you can pull off a trick: since the fireworks are so bright against the night sky, one going off after another after another will have the effect of “layering” the explosions on top of each other, and the single photo will end up having lots of explosions that happened at different times. The photo above was exposed for 25 seconds, so all of the explosions that happened during that whole 25 seconds show up in the photo. The flip side of this trick though, is that the camera needs to be help absolutely still for the whole time, or else the photo will be blurry, so the camera support above is that much more important.
In cameras that have full manual controls (SLR cameras and other high-end ones), setting a long exposure is easy (with an SLR camera you should also use a small aperture [high f-stop #] to gain a deeper depth of field and allow a longer exposure!). In other cameras like “point & shoot” types that can fit in your pocket, it can be trickier or impossible to set longer exposures (on some models, the “exposure compensation” can be turned all the way up to force the camera to take a longer exposure).
#3 Avoid the smoke. When fireworks go off they make a lot of smoke, and if the air is humid or there isn’t much wind, the smoke can hang around and obscure a clear view of the fireworks going off. If you can, try to pick a spot up-wind from where the fireworks are going to go off, so that the smoke gets blown away from you, instead of in your face. Photos look a lot better without a ton of smoke in them.
#4 Avoid extraneous light sources when you can (or at least figure out how to keep them from being distracting)! Extraneous light sources can be distracting in an image, especially since they’re going to be magnified many times in brightness by the long exposures you’re going to be using. In the image above, there were a bunch of light sources (street lights) that just couldn’t be avoided without really screwing up the framing of the image. I did work though to keep a really, really bright light that was facing straight at me out of the frame to the left. Even so though, you can see the light and lens flare that came from that light.
Good luck, and have fun!
So I walked over to my town’s local fireworks display last night (right around the corner from my house), and just for fun, I carried along a camera and tripod (of course… it’s just who I am). It was crazy – a much bigger production than I’d assumed: all of the streets were blocked off, there were thousands of people in the streets, food trucks, etc etc.:
No sooner than I had set up my tripod I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as writer for the Boston Globe, asking me who I was there shooting for (in other words, if I worked for another news organization). When I replied that I’m a self-employed photographer and was just there shooting photos for my own amusement, she asked if she could use one of my photos for her Globe article – apparently the Globe “didn’t have budget” to send one of their own photographers to cover the event.
Everyone knows that times are very tough for print media organizations – since everyone is getting their news online, newspapers’ subscriber bases are evaporating and with them go the newspapers’ revenue, which has resulted in terrible staff cuts at just about every paper. But it is a sad state of affairs indeed when a leading regional newspaper “doesn’t have budget” to pay a photojournalist to cover an event on which they plan to publish a story, and this was an example of why I am very, very glad that I am not a photojournalist.
In any case, I was there shooting photos anyway, and since they’d already decided they weren’t going to pay for photography of the event (that much was clear) I told the writer that provided I was given proper credit for the photo, I’d give the Globe one to run with their story*. The writer took my email address, and several hours later via email I sent her a few photos I captured from the evening.
For the Globe’s article, they picked one of the photos I sent, and the writer actually quoted me as well (which I didn’t know she was going to do! If I’d known I was going to be quoted, I’d have paid attention to my grammar!). The article can be seen here: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/somerville/2011/07/somerville_fireworks_light_up.html
Here are a few of the photos I shot that night (it really was a great display, and as Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone was sure to point out, the fireworks didn’t cost taxpayers a dime, since they were funded in full through private donations).
*: I understand this issue may anger some professionals in the industry who rely on paying editorial work. The debate about shooting for pay vs. shooting solely for a credit is not an insignificant one, and it is truly embarrassing for the Globe that they have cut back so dramatically on paying editorial work that they didn’t send a staff photographer or editorial freelancer to shoot something that they thought was important enough to warrant a story. It is a bad time to be an editorial photographer or photojournalist indeed.
I just spent the morning shooting on the campus of Phillips Andover for their admissions materials, and it was such a great experience. My staff contact is wonderful, the faculty we worked with were helpful, friendly and accommodating, the students are enthusiastic and vibrant, and the campus is to die for (it certainly didn’t hurt that we had the prettiest day of the summer yet!).
It was a reminder of why I do what I do. I love my job.
This past weekend I got a treat: I got to spend Memorial Day weekend in Maine in a gorgeous spot on the ocean. I had my cameras with me of course, so I shot some timelapse clips. This video doesn’t have any sound and is rough (the project was just for fun and was done quickly), but here goes.
(for best viewing, click the “HD” button to “on” and watch it full-screen by clicking the four-arrows button)
Those pictures you took of yourself and your friends at that party the other night? How would you like to turn around and see them on a billboard for a product you’ve never heard of?
That, and worse, is exactly what can happen now when you upload your pictures to a lot of popular web services.
You know those unbelievably long “Terms & Conditions” that pop up whenever you sign up for a website or web service? The ones that are so full of legalese as to be incomprehensible? The ones that you never read, but instead just scroll to the bottom and click “I Accept”? You always know that’s a bad idea, and that you really should read them… and you always know, in the back of your head somewhere, that somewhere buried somewhere in those agreements is something you don’t want.
Well, in the case of TwitPic, the ubiquitous service for Twitter users to post pictures, that “something you don’t want” is giving TwitPic the right to sell your pictures and videos… to whoever they want, to be used wherever and however they want. And they won’t even tell you first (Facebook also has similar language that lets them use your pictures in ads, etc without telling you).
TwitPic changed its “Terms of Service” yesterday to add the following:You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.
That means anything you upload to TwitPic they can turn around and sell (without giving you any of the money, by the way). Who would they be selling it to? Well, it turns out that yesterday’s change to the “Terms of Service” isn’t a coincidence: TwitPic just signed a deal with the celebrity gossip content agency WEBB (yep, the people who sell pictures to the National Enquirer and other gossip rags) to have access to all of TwitPic’s (ie, your) pictures & video.
In reality, it is unlikely that TwitPic would sell your pictures of your less-than-sober friends to anyone… because, let’s be honest, while they’re interesting to you, those pictures aren’t really financially valuable to the rest of the world. But, if you happen to be at the right place at the right time and take a picture of something or someone newsworthy, or take a particularly striking or unique photo? You can bet TwitPic is going to turn around and sell it without even telling you, and your picture will end up on a website somewhere (probably a website of questionable integrity, since those are the places that buy content from places like WEBB) and you won’t even know it. TwitPic will make a bunch of money, and you won’t get a dime.
As I mentioned, these types of arrangements are becoming increasingly common with web sites and services recently – Facebook, Instagram, YFrog and most other Twitter photo services all have similar language in their Terms of Service. Basically, you have to assume that any web service you use has this type of legal language. For professional photographers, these agreements are particularly problematic: If, for example, I’m working for an outdoor equipment company and make a landscape photograph of a hiker on a trail and I were to upload that photo to Facebook, TwitPic, etc., I can’t legally give my client exclusive use of that photograph, because by using their services, I’ve already given Facebook or TwitPic the right to use it… and therefore, my entire agreement with my client is void. As a result, professional photographers know not to use any of these services with any of their work that they care about (which is why you’ll see very few photos on my Facebook or Twitter profiles!).
The moral of the story is, be really careful what you do with your photos. You may have agreed to something you don’t necessarily want.
Today was a significant day in world history, with President Barack Obama announcing just before midnight last night that after a 10-year-long search, the United States had located Osama Bin Laden and killed him in a military operation hours earlier. The announcement has sparked an avalanche of media coverage that has continued all day, and I’m sure the story will dominate headlines for weeks to come.
Among the countless pieces of media coverage today have been many photographs from all over the world, and for me (unsurprisingly) these have been the most powerful. From crowds of young Americans cheering in front of the White House to a somber and angry procession of radical militants in Yemen mourning Bin Laden’s death, the photographs that we’ve seen today will serve as the world’s memory of this day for generations to come. They are a reminder of the power of a photograph, and are an affirmation of why we as photographers do what we do.
One photo in particular that I think went largely unnoticed in the flood of coverage today crystallizes in a nutshell the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The photo, below, by official White House photographer Pete Souza, shows President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior members of the U.S. leadership in the White House Situation Room watching updates on the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout live as it was taking place.
It’s rare that the public gets to see a raw, unposed look at our leaders, especially in as tense a moment as this, and the expressions on the faces of the individuals in the room couldn’t be more telling. From what we know, it seems likely that this assembled group was watching live video feed via satellite from the Navy SEALs as they were storming Bin Laden’s compound, and this photo would seem to support that – Look at the stone-faced concern on the president’s face; look at the expression of what can only be described as sheer horror on that of Secretary Clinton: photographs like this give us a rare glimpse into what our leaders face and feel behind closed doors. They let us imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes.
This is the power of photography: to tell stories and convey emotions – whether they are jubilation, love, anxiety or fear – that we could not convey any other way.
(Note: The White House has noted that a classified document in this photo was digitally altered to obscure its contents. A quick look shows that the piece of paper on top of Secretary Clinton’s laptop has been obscured. It would appear that that document is an aerial photograph of the compound where Bin Laden was found.)
UPDATE: It seems that in the last two days this photo has become extremely famous. The White House uploaded this photo to its Flickr stream and it has apparently become Flickr’s “fastest viewed” photo ever, reaching over two million views in only two days. Flickr now predicts that it will become its most-viewed photo ever sometime tomorrow or the next day after passing three million views… in only 3-4 days.
Additionally, commentators other than myself have started started discussing the photo, and it has been suggested that this photo may well become one of the iconic, lasting images of Barack Obama’s presidency. The New York Times’ David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss this photo here. In their discussion, Brooks identifies many of the same issues I noted. Additionally though, Brooks very keenly notes that in the photo, President Obama is sitting not at the head of the table, but off to the side:
“The posture of the president is fascinating. Instead of occupying the power chair in the center of the table, he is perched on a low chair off the side, hunched over looking tense. If you just looked at this picture, you might think that Joe Biden was president or Bill Daley, who is standing behind looking imposing and grave. You’d think Obama was a midlevel aide. I think what happened is this: some sort of communication or technical relay had to be done, so the president got out of his chair and relinquished it to Brig. Gen. Brad Webb, who is the assistant commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command. The president just slid over to the low chair off to the side, which one of the standers must have relinquished. Still, I wonder how many White Houses would have been confident enough to release a photo with the president looking so diminutive. I think it speaks well of Obama and the administration that they released this as the iconic image of the decision-making process behind the event.”
I agree. I think it shows confidence on the part of the president that he is willing to be depicted publicly in the manner shown in this photo.
In any case, I agree that this photo, which was initially nearly lost in the flood of media coverage around the event, could well become the central image of how history remembers Barack Obama’s presidency.
I haven’t had much free time since I got back from my trip out west, and today was the first chance I had to even look at the still photos I shot while I was there. I shot such a huge quantity of material during the course of the three weeks (in Utah, San Diego, Los Angeles, and finally Las Vegas) that there are a lot of shots that I don’t even remember taking. There are a few, though, that I remember very clearly, and this is one of them.
This photograph was taken in a remote section of the backcountry of Zion National Park in southwestern Utah.
Before I shoot any photograph I always try to have a picture in my mind of how the image will look when it is finished. There are certain scenes that just scream out to be displayed in black and white. This was one of those times – I knew before I even shot the photo that I was going to convert it from color to black and white when I got back to the computer (one of the conveniences of digital photography).
I don’t know why this particular scene was so striking to me – it had something to do with how the loose stones were strewn around on the slickrock, how their shadows contrasted with the unbelievably strong, bright sun.
P. S. – As a side note, this image illustrates both the advantages and disadvantages of digital photography. My digital camera gave me the ability to shoot the photo in color and convert it to black & white afterwards (whereas in the days of film I would have been forced to either A) shoot the image on whatever type of film I happened to have in my camera at the moment or B) pull the roll of film out and waste whatever I hadn’t used), which of course is a big advantage.
A big disadvantage with digital photography, though, is that I, as a photographer, have a lot less control over how you, the viewer, see my images. In the days of film, if I printed a photo onto a piece of photographic paper in a darkroom and then showed it to you, I could be pretty sure you would see it almost exactly as I did – the colors would look the same, the lights and darks would be the same light or dark. With digital photography, on the other hand, since this image is being viewed on a computer screen, I can’t actually even be sure if you, the viewer, are seeing the image the way I intended it. The reason for this is that computers (both through software and hardware) all display color and luminance (how bright something is) differently. So in the case of this image, I intended parts of the sky to be dark, but not completely black. But your computer screen might show the image with parts of the sky completely black, so you may not be able to see some of the detail that I intended.
I’m sure eventually technology will solve this problem, but for the moment it is just a weakness of digital photography that photographers have to live with.
I just got back from a three-week part-work/part-fun trip to California, Nevada and Utah and I have a ton of stuff I’m working on, hopefully some of which I’ll get the chance to post here. For the moment, here is one frame from an overnight timelapse I shot while on a backpacking trip in the backcountry wilderness of Zion National Park in Utah. This particular shot captures the Milky Way galaxy nicely in the center of the frame.
I’m working on the timelapse video now, and hopefully I’ll have it online sometime soon.
This post is going to be part rant and part (hopefully) helpful information which will (hopefully) save somebody else the time, money and aggravation of going through what I have (it will also, it seems, be part legal primer as it appears I’m going to be taking FedEx to small claims court).
I had FedEx ship a camera lens from California to Boston on Feb. 16. Thankfully, it was an inexpensive one, a Canon Extender EF 2x II teleconverter, which retails for about $300, which is downright cheap as far as professional lenses go. When the box finally arrived here in Boston on March 1 (a week late), this is what it looked like:
I was home when the package was delivered, but the FedEx delivery person just dropped the box on my doorstep and left without ringing the doorbell (perhaps because they knew the package was damaged? I’d say it was a coincidence except that this is the second time they’ve done this, as I’ll explain at the end). So, I had no way of stopping the delivery person to note the damage at the time.
I opened up the package, and sure enough, despite being extremely well-packed, wrapped in many layers of bubble wrap, the lens inside was trashed: the rear lens cap was broken off, with little bits of broken plastic rolling around (these rear lens caps are extremely sturdy and durable… I can’t even imagine the amount of shock it took to break it), the front lens cap had popped off, and both the front and rear lens elements (pieces of glass) were scratched, and there was a dent in the metal body of the lens right where the outer cardboard box was dented.
The glass scratches alone would have totaled the piece of equipment, but the huge dent in the lens’s metal body made it completely unusable. So, I went online to FedEx’s damage claim webpage, filled out the necessary forms, and submitted all the necessary information (thankfully, when I’m shipping something important or expensive I always pay extra for the insurance, in case precisely this kind of thing happens. So for an additional $8.50 or something, I insured the lens for its replacement value, or about $300). After about two and a half weeks without a word of communication (not a phone call, not even an automated email), a FedEx guy showed up on my doorstep saying he was there to pick up the package. What? Pick up the package? Apparently FedEx wanted to inspect the damaged lens, but never bothered to tell me. I hurriedly went and got the lens and the box it originally shipped in, along with the ton of bubble wrap, packaged it up and gave it to the guy (thankfully I got a receipt).
I’m leaving for a long trip in a few days (mix of business and personal, should be some great stuff when I get back!) and would really have liked to have my lens, so today I decided to check into the status of the claim, because once again, I haven’t heard a word. In speaking to the customer service rep on the phone, today I learned that not only had the claim been denied (with no reason given and in fact without even having been told), FedEx has now LOST THE PACKAGE. It was supposed to be sent back to me when the claim was denied for no reason, but the FedEx person told me they don’t know where it is.
So my lens was destroyed, the claim for the destruction was denied without explanation, and now the evidence has been “lost.”
I won’t have time to deal with it until after I get back from my trip, but when I do it seems now my only option is to take FedEx to small claims court to get them to pay for a new lens.
This whole experience would be bad enough, if it weren’t for the fact that this is the second time in a row that FedEx has destroyed one of my packages. Readers of this blog may recall the last incident, in which the FedEx delivery person delivered (and by “delivered” I mean “dropped on the front steps and scurried away without ringing the doorbell” in a suspiciously similar manner) this package:
Those were prints made to be framed and donated to an auction to raise money for a local cancer patient.
So there you have it. Never, ever use FedEx. Both UPS and the US Postal Service are cheaper, have better and faster service, and don’t destroy the things you’re trying to ship.
A few days ago I discovered that a few of my images from this very blog had been taken by a person I’ve never met and re-used, without my permission or even my knowledge, on that person’s web site.
The subject of copyright infringement has come up by coincidence a few times in the last several days, and it prompted me to write this post. In my case, some of my images were downloaded from this website and then re-posted by an individual, apparently located somewhere in Europe, to that person’s photography website, http://www.pafosphotos.com. What irked me most about the episode was that this person, whoever they are, appears from their website not to generate ANY content of his/her own, but instead simply posts content (images, text & video) that s/he has “scraped” from other people’s sites like mine. Further, it seems clear that this individual is fully aware that his or her actions are illegal since I subsequently discovered that s/he pays a 3rd-party company to conceal his or her identity.
Another, much more widespread recent example of stolen work is the story of Noam Galai and “The Stolen Scream,” as it has come to be known. Take a look at the video below about it.
This story raises a lot of really important questions, not just for photographers and other creative professionals but for the world at large, since Mr. Galai’s photograph was used (and misused) as widely as on a book cover in Mexico, a graphic design from a designer in Europe and even as an anti-government revolutionary symbol in Iran. As he alluded to in his interview, Mr. Galai is less concerned about the appropriation of his image for non-profit purposes like the Iranian resistance than he is about for-profit misuses like cover image that was sold to the publisher of the book in Mexico City or the graphic design that the designer sells for hefty sums. I think this kind of sentiment would probably be pretty common… many people would probably mind misappropriation of their work less for non-profit uses than for for-profit uses – but then again, Mr. Galai isn’t a professional photographer (at least that I’m aware of) and therefore doesn’t rely on his photographs for his livelihood.
The law is very clear that photographers (as well as writers, musicians, etc.) own the material that they author and that other people can’t take it and try to profit from it without the permission of (which of course usually includes payment to) the person who created it. The rights authors have over their stuff are inherent and not dependent on the creator doing any legal wrangling (such as writing “Copyright …..” underneath, or whatever), but these are added steps professionals have generally been advised to take as an extra precaution. One such added precaution that U.S. residents are advised to take is registering their work with the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). I make a practice of registering all of my work with the Copyright Office and from what attorneys tell me, this gives me an added layer of security in case people steal my work. But as case with my work being stolen by PafosPhotos (which I only ever discovered through a combination of coincidence and luck) clearly shows, none of these legal protections are terribly effective, both because of the varying laws in play (I know what the laws are here in the United States, but does that help me when the perpetrator is located in Italy and his or her identity is concealed by a company in Luxembourg?) as well as by the logistics of actually trying to enforce my rights.
Copyright infringement is a very complicated subject, but there are problems with it that I’m afraid are only going to get worse.
I just saw that one of my education clients, Riverdale Country School, a private K-12 gradeschool just outside of New York City, is using my images for most of their website photography.
(Their website is www.riverdale.edu… most of the images on the homepage slideshow, as well as the images under the other tabs, are mine)
I love happy clients!
This blog has been really quiet for a long time, but it’s because I’ve been busy! Really exciting news is that there are going to be some big changes (additions) to this website coming soon. I’m really looking forward to it. Stay tuned.
Right now though, I just wanted to share this really quickly. I just finished this image, and I think it is probably my new favorite architectural landscape image. This image is actually a composite of three different exposures (which makes it undeniably an HDR ["high dynamic range"] image… this is significant for me because generally HDR, as it is typically practiced these days, is not my cup of tea… this is an example of a topic that passes for controversy within the photographic community, but nevermind that for now).
Anyway, the image is definitely not perfect (in hindsight a higher perspective would have been better, composition could have been shifted a bit, etc.), but I think it is pretty good and I like it.
A few weeks ago I was contacted about donating a print or two to a charity, to be auctioned at a fundraiser for a young man who needs a very expensive medical operation not covered by insurance. I was happy to participate. I had the prints printed by Millers Lab (which did an excellent job, as always), and they were delivered today by FedEx, who crushed the package and destroyed the prints inside, which will now have to be reprinted.
I love how it says right on the box in bold letters, “PHOTOGRAPHS, DO NOT BEND”… right next to where FedEx crunched the box.
The best part? I saw the FedEx woman dropping off the package as I was on my way home from an errand. She dropped it on the porch and scurried away without ringing the bell or anything, clearly knowing the package was damaged and not wanting to get caught.
FEDEX FAIL. Next time, UPS!
So about a month ago (jeez, it’s been a month already…!) I wrote that a company called Zaza Gallery that makes canvas photo prints had offered to give me a free canvas if I would review the product here on the blog. The technology that drives many of today’s photo products is evolving so rapidly that I’m always interested in hearing about and trying out new vendors, so I was happy to take them up on it.
Their initial offer was for a 16″ x 20″ photo canvas. I shoot on Canon cameras, whose sensors are built with a 3:2 aspect-ratio frame (meaning the width of the image is 1.5x the height) and like many pros, whenever possible I use the entire frame when composing my shots (this is a good practice, as it maximizes the sensor area that you’re using for your final composition, thereby maximizing the image quality). As a result, the 16×20 canvas was a different aspect ratio (5:4) than my intended composition. I brought this to the attention of the company, and they generously offered to instead provide me with a 16×24 canvas, which matched my images’ 3:2 aspect ratio.
Zaza directs that for best quality, the image file that customers provide for printing have a resolution of 300 dpi in order to preserve detail in the final print. This is good, because in order to achieve the great detail of true professional-quality prints, high resolution is essential. For a 16×24 print though, this works out to 4800×7200 pixels, or approximately 35 megapixels, which is a higher resolution than even the best pro cameras widely used today (there are a small number of exotic systems that can achieve this resolution natively). What this means is that to make a Zaza canvas print properly, photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom is needed to increase the resolution of image files (known as “up-resing”). Since up-resing can result in nasty pixelation, artifacting and other image degradation if not done carefully, images that will be used to print high-quality prints such as canvases must be originally captured in the highest resolution possible.
I chose to use this photo because it would really put the Zaza printing process through its paces: With its heavily saturated colors it would test Zaza’s ability to color-match, the absolute blacks in the silhouettes and sky would test the ability to achieve true black, and the smooth fade-to-black in the sky would test Zaza’s ability to print smooth gradients.
I prepared the image file according to Zaza’s specifications, with the appropriate resolution, format (Zaza takes standard JPG files) and embedded sRGB color profile (color profiles are essential for accurate color reproduction) and sent the image off. In about a week and a half (which is a normal turnaround time for canvas prints like this) I received the finished canvas. It was packaged well-protected, in a cardboard box in a plastic bag covered in bubble-wrap. Here is the finished canvas:
Zaza offers a number of different wrapping style options – a traditional “gallery wrap,” in which the image extends beyond the edges of the frame and continues on the sides, white and black wraps, in which image extends only to the edge of the frame and the sides are white or black, and finally “mirror wraps” and “blur wraps,” which are the best of both worlds: the image extends only to the edges of the frame (meaning the image is not cut off), but the edges are colored either by a reflection of the edge of the image or a blur of the edge of the image (which is nice so that the sides, if visible when hung, have some color and look like a real gallery wrap). I elected for the blur-wrap style. I haven’t seen this option with other canvas print vendors, and it is really nice. Your image doesn’t get clipped, but you still get nice coloration on the sides of the frame.
The quality of the final product is very good. The frame is sturdy and the canvas is stretched quite taut and stapled very securely. As far as the print quality:
-The color reproduction is very good. The colors matched the file I provided, and the saturation and vividness are excellent. Neither over- nor under-saturated.
-The blacks are truly black, the white truly white. Overall, contrast is excellent.
-Detail sharpness is average. On extremely close inspection I can make out a bit of fuzziness in the details, but this is to be expected from a file that was up-res’ed. And in any case no one viewing the print on a wall will get close enough to see the level of detail that I was inspecting. No complaints here.
-Like nearly all canvas prints I’ve seen, the print reflects a moderate amount of glare light, so care must be taken in regard to where the canvas is hung to avoid glare light. But again, this is common for canvas prints.
So there you have it, that’s my review! This canvas will hang proudly on my studio wall. Good job Zaza!
This will probably be the last Photo of the Day for a little while, as I’m getting pretty busy and I don’t think I’ll have time to post these each day for a little while. It’s been fun, I’ve enjoyed getting comments, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the images! Hopefully when things settle back down a bit I’ll be able to restart these.
For now though, I’ll leave you with “A Flower Grows in the City.” Have a great week everyone!
How about some adorable for today’s Friday Photo of the Day?
Have a great weekend everybody!
Today’s Photo of the Day is one that I kind of like. We’ve all seen lots of “put the camera on a tripod and point it at rocks on a beach with a long exposure” photos before, and I’ll completely acknowledge that this shot is very certainly not an original idea. What I like about this shot though is the lighting – it was a very special time of day (actually a little bit after sunset), shot from a special angle so that the water caught some reflected light in the sky, and the rocks actually caught light from two sides. Plus I like the composition, with lots of empty space suggesting expansiveness… I guess I better like the composition, since I shot it!
Anyway, I digress. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Thursday!