Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Vancouver Strobist Beginner's Meetup

Saturday I was out with a bunch of other fine folks from the Vancouver Strobist group for the "Beginner meetup". This was organized by Rod, who got us use of the Life Sciences building out at UBC (and the building itself is gorgeous BTW).

The format of the meet was fairly loose. There were a couple of "pros" (not pro photogs, just people who know stuff about off camera lighting) who helped out the 12 or 13 newbies. Rod (who put the whole thing together, many thanks to him for this) gave a quick and dirty demo and then we newbies went to it.

Vancouver Strobist Group 2

The previous meet up I went to was more about the picture taking than the lighting itself, this one was way more focused on the lighting aspect and the equipment hands on. The hardest part for me was figuring out what I wanted to do. There were more than enough flash units, pocket wizards, radio poppers, umbrellas and stands for everyone there, but if you don't know what to do with them... I've seen great portraits, and I've seen pictures that have moved me, but under the gun I couldn't think of a single thing to do! Luckily there were a bunch of other people around who did have ideas, and eventually everyone fed off of everyone else.

Folks split off into a few groups of 3 or 4 people, rotating between acting as models (as the plan was for this not to be about the models, but about the lighting) and tweaking lighting, and taking shots. The group I was in was working on doing a "single umbrella giving a round halo behind the model" shot, some cross lighting, and some other setup. Everything from umbrellas to gels were played with, and I learned that if you set white balance for tungsten, and use a CTO (Color Temperature Orange I believe) gel on a flash, you get a super-blue environment and a properly colored skintone (as the CTO gel counteracts the blue tinge you get from the white balance). Another group working down in the hallway created some very cool images such as this one.

The lighting setups we used were pretty simple I'm sure, and the results no doubt laughable for an experienced Strobist or Joe McNally type, but for me it was pretty exciting to actually get my hands on the gear. Sure you can read about how you move an umbrella closer to get a softer light, or how to use fill flash or a reflector, but I find that when I actually do it is when I really get it (at least a little).

You can check out the Vancouver Strobist group on Flickr, and here's the thread of impressions and sample images from others. Thanks again to Rod and Victor for setting it up and helping us out.

Looking forward to the next meetup! Check out some of my shots below (clickable to Flickr where there's more setup info).

Dan 2
Dan who was a model for me a bunch, done in black and white to keep with the contrasty lighting.

Music 1
Music man (never got his name :( ) playing with cross lighting, using one flash and the sun setting behind him.

Dan 3
Dan again, more "normal" portrait, soft lighting.

Using MTF Priority

Found this quick tip from topgun2007 on the Pentax SLR Forums on DPReview. He writes that using the MTF program line will let the camera (K10D and K20D) select the best aperture/shutter speed combination based on the camera's knowledge of the lens attached. Basically every lens has it's "sweet spot" programmed into the circuitry, and MTF allows the camera to prioratize for that sweet spot on lenses it knows (ie: DA, D FA, FA, or FA J).

To set this up on a K20D (or K10D or *ist-D) you need to do two things. First, go into your menu, select the custom functions tab, and it's the first option there: #1 - Program Line. In there are four settings:

  • Normal
  • High Speed
  • Depth
  • MTF
Normal is the default, high speed will try it's best to prioritize for faster shutter speed, depth will try for largest depth of field, and MTF will, as described before, select the sweet spot based on the lens.

Second, you need to be shooting in "P" mode, or this won't come into effect. "P" mode is the Program mode from Pentax (and I can't believe that Canon or Nikon don't do this, at least on the cameras I have played around with) that allows you to set either the aperture or shutter speed, and the camera will adjust the other to match. Hitting the green button will reset to the default.

So for example if the default for a scene is 1/20th @ f/4.0, if you adjust the shutter speed two stops down, to 1/10th, the camera adjusts to f/5.6. If you go the other way and go 5 stops slower aperture, to f/9.5, the camera sets 1/4 second as the shutter speed. Nifty huh? Makes very fast and easy changes in the field, and is my default mode.

The big question is, where does the "default" come from? That is as you probably have already guessed, from the program line setting in the custom menu. It'll be a faster shutter speed, or a higher f-stop, based on what you have your custom setting set to.

Also in the same thread there's also a good post from GaryDen about blown highlights, and why Pentaxians complain sometimes about how their shots are underexposed.

More information about MTF can be found here, and here.

Up until now I honestly didn't know what MTF was, and I'm thankfor for topgun2007 for pointing it out! My question now is how does this affect exposure when you use a lens that isn't recognized, like an old M lens? I have set my camera to use the MTF program line and am looking forward to seeing what happens the next time I'm out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

PMA 2009 Predictions

DPReview has their list of PMA 2009 predictions and reports. Good place to keep an eye on for the show March 3rd to 5th. Wonder what (if anything) Pentax will show this year. I'd like to see a new body, the K20D was revealed at PMA 2008, maybe this year the K30D or the K3D will be revealed? I'd like to see a full frame body from Pentax, or an evolutionary jump for the APS-C sensor size. Not that I think there's anything really missing that I need, but to keep Pentax in the game and relevant, and maybe a third choice from the big C and N players.

What I'd love to see in the next Pentax body:

  • Better low light - in the range of the current D3 range of usable ISO 6400
  • Slightly Faster FPS / buffer - it's not bad now, but more is always better
  • Increased shake reduction - add another stop in there, or give the mode that cannon has for panning mode
  • Smaller size (I love love love the size of my *ist-D and would love the K30 or K3 or whatever it is to be just that bit smaller
  • Full frame - again, not that I need 21+ megapixels, but again, it'd be nice to have Pentax be an alternative for "pro" shooters who do
  • Some other completely random and unexpected revolutionary feature that we can't even conceptualize, such as the in-body shake reduction introduced in the K10D
What would my faithful 3 readers like to see from Pentax?

However more likely they'll show off what they have, the new 15mm Limited that was just released, and maybe a new lens. Guess we'll see in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Macro Close Flash Hack

I don't even know how to describe this.... It's a DIY Flash Ring made out of an inner tube, some balloons, ties, fiber optic cable....

Noted here so I can do this when I get the Pentax DA 100/2.8 Macro for myself!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Morning Sunrise

Another from my new walk-around camera the LX3. Taken this morning on the way to the train of the glorious sunrise. I so so hope that the weather and conditions we have now stay until the weekend so I can head out to Heritage Park and set up the tripod and have a bit nicer "front-drop" to the sunrise than the parking lot! I considered getting up early tomorrow to get the sunset quickly from a better vantage point but the timing would cut it a bit too close to making catching the train. Fingers crossed for Saturday!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Three Photogs to Watch

My buddy Jason sent me some notes on some photogs he knows which immediately went into my RSS reader.

  • Marco Vernaschi - A photographer working in South America.
  • Geoff White (blog) - Wedding photographer who likes to do things simpler to avoid getting lazy and not using light to it's fullest advantage.
  • Patrick Roddie - Another wedding photographer who takes simple people shots and has an affinity for the Nikon 50/1.2 1.4 (this came from a conversation about long/fast lenses (ie: the 70-200/2.8) vs short (a fast fifty).

Update: Sorry Patrick about the mistake in your favorite lens :) Here's a link to the Burning Man 2008 pics too! (hot chicks.... :)

Dealing with Adorama... Partial Win

So when I got my LX3 a few weeks ago, my plan was to the do the Ricoh Lens Cap hack for the LX3. First requirement, LX3, check. Second requirement, Ricoh lens cap.

The only place that seems to sell it is Adorama, which unfortunately wants to charge me $50+ to ship it to Canada (reasonable on a $1000+ piece of camera gear, not so much on a $17 chunk of plastic). Luckily I have a friend who lives in California, who agreed to let me ship it to him (at no cost) and he'd then send it up to me for the price of a stamp (or at least far less than $50).

So far so good. On January 9 I select free shipping (7-10 business days), checkout, done!

Wait. Look at the tracking page which just says "shipped January 9". Wait some more. Refresh tracking page. Wait even more. Look at calendar and realize that it's now Jan 23 which is technically 10 business days. Email Adorama support with my order number and say basically "WTF?".

I got an email back within a few hours saying they can either re-do my order or cancel it, or put a trace request into the US Postal Service to see where the hell it went to. I figured why not, and asked if they could.

A week later I got notification that my order was cancelled, so I emailed them back and said basically "since it seems that the trace through USPS resulted in my part being lost, how about re-doing the order for me and bumping the shipping up to the non-losing the package level?"

Surprisingly within an hour I got a phone call from them saying they could do that no problem, confirming I wanted the same shipping address and details, and asking if there was anything else they could do for me. Thirty minutes later I got an email with my new shipment details in it.

Adorama, you have restored my faith in you. While I probably won't be ordering that much from you due to the cross-border costs, you went from the "had a shitty experience" pile into the "redeemed themselves" pile. Personal attention, fast response, and being perfectly reasonable in terms of giving me a little upgrade in shipping for free. Thank you!