December 21, 2011

Another use for gaffers tape?

About a year ago photographer, educator and friend Will Crockett did a presentation at Harrington called Getting It Right In Camera.  He took the students through a workflow that yields spot-on color even in tricky situations. 

He was using my favorite grey balance tool at the time (and still is) the Lastolite EZBalance.  I show several different sized of these in Lighting for Dummies along with various other grey cards and Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker Gray Scale charts.

All of which work great, just get one and use it EVERY TIME, the time you spend on location or in the studio performing the custom white balance will be repaid TEN FOLD when you get back to your computer. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned how I was going broke shooting 35mm film again waiting for my NEX-7 to be shipped from its new Japanese plant after the flooding in Thailand wiped out the Sony plant that was slated to produce the NEX-7.  With the holidays swooping in with full force, I thought to myself, if it's not going to be better then my 5dmkII's it's not worth it.  Couple this with the generosity of my brother for sending a G11 which had been sidelined for some time and I decided to pass on the NEX-7, I've always enjoyed shooting with the G's and am glad to be shooting with one again. 

Now I told you all this, so you can share in my geeky amazement at tonight's discovery. For some time now I have been wanting to test something and tonight I finally did it and it worked swimmingly.  Remember the iron-clad Lowel gaffers tape that comes in their lighting kits and a la-carte?  I was thinking that that had a roughish texture that would not reflect light and seemed pretty void of color.  Why wouldn't it work as a consistent neutral point to color balance with afterwards?  Ironically, I went one step cheaper and got the cheapest of the cheap no-name grey gaffers tape for my test. 

So the package from B&H arrived just before a Boy Scout event at school.  I've shot in the school gym what feels like a hundred times and with it's blended lights (sodium/mercury/florescent) and light blue walls,  it has always been a challenge w/o performing a custom white balance.  
before and after a custom gaffers tape white balance 
It was just a social event and I really didn't want to bring a Lastolite with the G11 just for a couple of snapshots, so I discreetly put a square of my new roll of gaffers tape on my jeans leg and off I went.  I was planning on shooting a picture of the tape and sampling it in Lightroom once I got home.  As I sat eating pizza I realized just filling the frame would even save me a couple clicks when I got home. Perfection in a room that ALWAYS required a good amount of post production to make livable.
unretouched file from the camera

unretouched file from the camera
So now a regular part of my location kit (and yours too) will be cheap grey tape in addition to the small black rolls I normally carry.  A small dab of tape on the inside of my shoe may be just the thing so I have an easy and consistent neutral source in every situation.   

December 12, 2011

Road Closed.

Downtown Chicago peeks from behind a closed road just after sunset this evening.

November 30, 2011

Windy City

I headed out into the very windy (and cold) evening to shoot some time exposures of trees and clouds.  Here is my favorite.  

November 14, 2011

to the MAX.

Cool shapes and colors outside the McCook Athletic and Expo center this weekend.

November 8, 2011


So I'm trying wait patiently for my Sony Nex-7 to be shipped and I'm going broke at the drugstore mini lab as I've been carrying around my F1 with a normal lens lately.  Totally fun and enjoying the solid click, advancing with my thumb and everything about shooting film. Except for maybe waiting a day and not being able to shoot with wild abandon, although that is part of the challenge isn't it?
O'Hare at sunset before it was 'suggested' I pack up and move on...

hit up a coworker for a CTA pass
when I saw the post rain light
Vincent Laforet at the Lincoln Park Apple store last night
saw this at a stoplight

??? first shot on the roll...I don't remember shooting it, but i like it

October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Tonight I shot portraits at our annual Boy Scout Halloween party.  

Used the amazing Canon Speedlite system with modifiers for family shots and it worked swimmingly.  
But I was feeling a bit Martin Parr/Dan Younger/Wayne Lawrence as well, so I put an unmodified flash on the hotshoe of my Canon F1 with a normal lens and here is what I got.

 I got what I was expecting and I have to say the low tech feel is kinda cool, it does not feel gimmicky either.  

October 24, 2011

b/w film...

Man I miss this shooting 35mm, here are a couple shots after teaching a night class made with with my Canon F1 and 50mm f/1.2L

October 14, 2011

Practicing what I preach.

I just got an email from a friend, photographer and ASMP board member that my ASMP article looks great.  I haven’t seen it yet (check back, I’ll post it here) but I have a funny story that I wanted to share.  When ASMP/PDEedu editor extraordinaire, Jill Waterman contacted me, I quickly forwarded the chapter from Lighting for Dummies that she wanted to feature (ch 8) and the pictures that I could access quickly.  

You have to know the images for the book live in several places with the largest file being a whopping 2400 images!
my quicky wine glass set 
I couldn’t locate one particular shot.  Then I realized the irony, the AWOL image was the example of the ‘quick one-light wine glass technique' where you can light any clear or lightly frosted glass by simply illuminating the wall behind it. 

Of course it really only works with clear liquids (cranberry juice standing in for Pinot Noir in this case) but in less then 21 minutes, including finding a camera, a CF card, a ceramic tile, dragging stands and lights from the one of our studios to a lounge with a relativity clean wall, I shot the lead picture of the article.  A true testament to what’s inside!  

ASMP members check your mailbox and others; check back and I’ll post it here when I get mine in the mail.

October 10, 2011

Couple of recent Sunrises

Sunrise at the Lakefront on the dawn of Chicago Ideas Week 

Daybreak from OakBrook IL
Pre-dawn skyline from OakBrook IL

October 3, 2011


Chicago Union Station 9/27/2011

September 29, 2011

Super cheap, scrimtasticly awesome alternative!

So what if i just made up a word, you know exactly what I'm talking about...right?

This afternoon photographer and Harrington instructor Todd Crawford called me today to ask if there was a way each student could have their own RoadRags kit for the semester to make it easier to complete our PHO113, Lighting Theory coursework.  Excellent idea but at $325.00 for the 24x36 kit I'm not sure I can make that fly with the bean-counters upstairs. 

While chatting with him it hit me, chapter 7, yep Lighting for Dummies strikes again.  Below is a excerpt that shows you how to make a your own RoadRags style lighting modifier that can serve as a reflector, diffuser, scrim and black flag.  If you are crafty it should run less then $30.00 or 35.00...sorry Matthews!

If you click on the excerpt below it will open in a window large enough to print out.  I hope this helps you in your work, especially our PHO113 students!

August 31, 2011

Help up give back!

Harrington College of Design seeks not-for-profits in need of Photography.

Social Practices in Photography (or PHO269) is seeking new, start-up or underfunded not-for-profits who are in need of professional photographic services.   We are hoping to provide images to organizations that have historically not had the means to afford a professional photographer in the past.  In order to qualify for this program, images must be used in printed collateral sometime in the remainder of 2011 and carry the students credit information.  The student should receive copies of the final printed piece for their portfolio materials as well.

By shooting for a real client, the hope is to provide a real world experience for the students at the same time as helping them understand the power or value of an image outside of its commercial value. 

This two-part course is part of our new four year BFA program, which adds social service and global awareness to the technical foundation students receive in the first two years of the program. 

If you are interested in receiving photographic services or know someone who might please get in touch with Dirk Fletcher, Department Chairman of the Photography Programs at Harrington College of Design at

August 25, 2011


Check out the ‘City Guide: Chicago’ article in the September issue of PDN for an overview of the Chicago as a photo market including several thoughts and quotes from me!  

August 2, 2011

Conceal carry in Chicago?

Brooks Institute, graduation day 1995

In 1995, I sat amongst my fellow graduates listening to the wisdom of a respected professional and industry leader.  Robert Glenn Ketchum eloquently blended stories from his travels with his thoughts and advice.  His underlining message was this, you are photographers and your tool is a camera.  You are to carry this tool with you at all times and use it to record your life, life around you or just amuse yourself while doing the photographic equivalent of scales on the piano.

Whatever you do, just carry a camera and shoot with it.  

I smiled to myself as I was the only one of my graduating class who had a camera with me, my battered and traveled M4-2 with a 35mm Summilux was over my shoulder and loaded with drug store color print film.

To this day I carry a camera with me almost everywhere I go - it varies from a small Lumix digital camera, a Canonet, Leica, a smoking Yashica T4 on loan from a friend, and sometimes just my Holga, which has been repeatedly modified. 

On a sweaty, rainy and foggy morning last month, I was zigzagging across the loop on my way to a three-day off-site strategic planning meeting for work. As I approached one of my favorite Chicago icons, I saw a most beautiful site; Marina Towers was completely enveloped in fog.  I had the perfect camera with me that morning, a half frame Canon Demi, with its razor sharp fixed 30mm, f/1.7 and built in meter, the EE17 is really a joy to shoot with.  It was loaded with Fuji 160 color neg.  I dialed in a stop and a third of compensation (by adjusting the film speed) and shot almost an entire roll of film.  For fifteen minutes everything in my world just stopped, it was fantastic.
                                                                                   Marina Towers Triptych
Sure I was late to the meeting, but I arrived excited, engaged and totally ready for the (long) day. 

So thanks Robert, thanks for your words that live on daily!

July 5, 2011

Not Yet...

Leica M4-2 fitted with a Canon 35mm f/1.5 and Portra 400, Unretouched machine 
scan (and kinda flat one) from a Fuji Frontera mini lab machine. (1/30  f/1.5)
Not unlike some of my friends and colleagues, photography has changed so much that a portion of the draw or allure has recently gone missing.

The tools are advancing to the point that fantastic imagery is literally just a few clicks away.  This is great for the masses; more people than ever are getting interested in shooting still and motion pictures because the tools and technology are more accessible than ever. This heightened interest challenges manufactures to increase quality of their products while decreasing the cost of entry.  Nothing fancy, simple economics, the very same model that gave Henry Ford an edge. 

Where I’m struggling is the deep (or even cursory) knowledge of optics, chemistry and mechanics is no longer required to be fully engaged in the photographic process. 

Part of what made me fall in love with photography at such a young age is it has always been somewhat of a perfect art form, requiring the proper blend of vision (or art), coupled with an equally developed understanding of the science or mechanics needed to create a final work.  The two are intertwined and completely reliant on one another. 

Just recently I’ve realized the sea-saw is out of balance, it is off kilter and that is what has been eating away at me.

This unbalance is equally as devastating to the professional photography industry as it is to me personally.  With so many people shooting, the markets are flooded with images from non-professionals that a substantial portion of the industry has shifted or just plain disappeared.  Photographers are forced to look at marketing and branding messages like never before or face extinction. 

One benefit of this mass consumifacation is the dyed in the wool, true blue photographers can look back in history a bit to again differentiate themselves from the pack.  Film cameras are available to the patient shopper for pennies on the dollar and professional labs still exist...for now.

I guess some would argue that filters and plug ins are available to provide a unique ‘film’ look in postproduction but there is a certain organic quality that can never be replaced digitally.  In addition, the very act of working with a film camera forces the photographer to think and work more methodically - gone is the seemingly endless supply of frames.  Less is more. 

Having comfort and capability in various film formats can add another (and potentially valuable) tool to ones kit.  Don’t sell off the mkII’s and Zeiss wide-angle glass just yet, it IS just as fantastic as it sounds, just give some TLC to the now aging Hasselblads and Leicas we used yesterday.  They are every bit as wonderful today as they were in their hay day.

July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Some shots from a bike ride around a a very hoppin' Brookfield with the boys tonight!

June 29, 2011

The Drag Flash Focus Pull Of Yesterday.

Remember the good old days, laden with chemicals, film, and little calices on your thumb and forefinger from loading too many Hasselblad backs?  In my class last night, I got off on a bit of a tangent (not entirely unusual) and we started talking about the topic of pulling your focus during a mixed light exposure.  I’m honestly not sure if it has a formal name or not, perhaps I just coined it, The Drag Flash Focus Pull Of Yesterday.

At any rate, if you are old enough to have has a cassette deck in your car, then you probably recognize this effect from days gone by.  It’s remarkably easy and gives the photographer the ability to create a unique look, quickly and all in camera.  Perfect for a quick portrait or editorial shot.

You need to be able to use a light your subject with strobe and use either existing light or tungsten ‘hot’ lights on the background.  The only other two requirements are your subject needs to have zero light falling on them except for the flash and your background exposure should be around a full second.  If you can’t get these then the technique will not work.  

Once you have your foreground and background lit, make sure no background light is bleeding over, on-to or otherwise hitting the subject.  This is easily done by making an exposure with only the background lights on; do not let the flash fire. 

If everything is working properly the resulting images should place your subject in complete silhouette.  If she (rock star student Sarah Linder in this case) is, then you are ready. 

detail showing the effect
Plug in the sync cord and focus on your subject, once you release the shutter, gently roll the focus to infinity.  I forgot to tell you, if you are shooting digitally, you have to take the camera out of auto-focus mode. Rolling the focus to infinity while you are exposing the background causes your subject to increase in the frame ever so much.  This slight increase in size actually masks, or covers the background immediately around the subject.  The faster you pull the focus the larger and less saturated the line.  A subtle roll of the focus ring will give you the thinnest of black edges.  Quite complementary in most cases.

If you reverse this action and start with the subject sharp and after the flash fires, you pull the focus to the near focus on the lens, the subject will shrink ever so much in the frame revealing background that was initially masked by the larger subject.  The resulting effect appears as if the background is bleeding over or onto the subject. 
While I prefer the black line 10-1, both techniques are easy to create in camera while you are shooting, giving you a unique look that requires zero retouching or post time.  Here are some detail shots.  

I should also mention the the light used to illuminate Sarah was a custom Canon 580EXII modifyer made by Modern Alternative student Chris Bellezza.  If you are totally digging this, this and more can be found on page 107 of my book, Digital Photographer Lighting for Dummies.

Have fun!!

June 23, 2011

Modern Alternative Photo

I want to share a link to a blog that I’m using in my summer Modern Alternative Photographic Practices class.

The class teaches students to disassemble (destroy, dissect, otherwise part-out and reuse) older cameras and lenses while designing and constructing new photographic tools that create unique and one off imagery that offer possibilities for commercial and fine art applications.  

Students have been turning in all of their coursework and are graded via the blog.  Were up to 13 pages or so, here is the blurb from the description from info page:

This is the blog for the summer section of the amazing build-your-own-camera-and-lens-blow-stuff-up-paint-with-light-did-i-mention breaking-cameras-just-to-build-new-ones...class.  The advising department simply calls the class Modern Alternative Photographic Practices, or PHO235.

Check in weekly as the students will be posting assignments and behind the scenes or 'how-to' pictures so you can follow along at home.


June 1, 2011

Fresh Pics!

New imagery on
high and tight for the summer
Fluorescent Jesus