Monday, June 30, 2008

Group Portraits Speed Sessions

I volunteered to help our church create a member directory with photos. Four of us in the church are familiar with those camera thingys and joined to help make this happen.

Churches usually hire some pro outfit to come in and take everyones photos, but our church just can't afford it. It's cheaper and easier for them to upload our digital image files into their database software and then generate the actual directory.

Our setup is simple. Our goal is something slightly better than a mugshot but not as formal or nice as proper portraits. We have a large paper background that is solid gray. Lighting is done with one speedlight pointed upwards at the low, white ceiling (with white bounce card extended on the flash head).

Yesterday was our first Sunday to do this. We're planning on taking photos for four Sundays total. There are over 300 members (and "member" includes family units) of the church and we've only captured 47.

Shooting was rather painless. Yesterday, myself and one other volunteer worked the sessions after each of the three church services. One of us helped to move people in and out of the room while taking their names on a notepad. Both of us helped to situate and arrange people for the photo.

I worked the camera, and in most cases it only took one shot. After each shot, I'd quickly check the LCD and make sure that everyone was smiling, had their eyes open, and nothing looked too funny. We jotted down the file number next to peoples names on the notepad to match photos-to-names later on.

About halfway through yesterday's shooting, I realized my wonderful Canon flash (580EX) was doing some whacky stuff with the exposures. Some shots looked right-on, but about half were either over or under-exposed by as much as 1-stop.

There were subtle differences between each group shot, but the shooting parameters (e.g. distance from camera to subject, position of the flash, distance from subject to background, etc.) were pretty much the same. I switched the flash to full manual mode and that solved the problem. I should have foreseen this problem. It wasn't too difficult to correct in processing the RAW files, however. But I won't be making the same mistake in future sessions.

Oh, the gray background is perfect. It matched well with everyone regardless of color and served to adjust the white balance in RAW processing.

Only three more Sundays to go... :-)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Giant Yoda

What does an eight-foot tall Yoda made of LEGO® bricks look like? Well, there was one in Baybrook Mall this past weekend :-)

The new LEGO store at the mall celebrated its grand opening over the weekend, and TexLUG (the LEGO fan group that I'm in) volunteered to help with the giant build.

a smaller model of Yoda sits atop the unfinished giant model

Of course I took my camera along to document the event. It was a lot of fun watching the kids (and adults too) help build the model. The process involved the public building "macro" bricks (large bricks made up of smaller bricks) that were then passed to the master model builder (from LEGO) to place in the final Yoda model. Click on the images to see the full gallery of my photos.

master model builder, Dan, hard at work

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fishing at Sunset

This photo, taken last week, comes from our annual family reunion in New Braunfels. Our family has been gathering once a year for a long or short weekend for 36 years now. The fisherman is my cousin, Travis, and he's winding down a long, nice day of family gathering on the back deck. This spring-fed pond is in Landa Park, and the water is clear and cold :-)

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This was an impromptu shot. I walked outside right before sunset and took a look at the clouds. The sky and cloud patterns had potential for nice color. Travis moved around a lot, so I decided to keep it quick, and take handheld shots (as opposed to using the tripod and spending a long time with the shot).

I used my Canon 5D and 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II lens with no filter. It was shot in RAW at 35mm, 1/160 sec., f/8, and ISO 400.

I processed the RAW file twice: once at -0.5 ev (for the sky) and again at +0.5 ev for the foreground. I then feathered the lighter exposure (foreground) over the darker (sky) to have a more balanced looking exposure overall.

What I did to get this shot (in shooting and in processing) is a good way to capture a scene like this when shooting hand-held. I also didn't worry about loosing detail in the shadow areas since I was going for the classic and cliche silhouette look. If I had been using the tripod, then I would have shot several different exposures of the same scene.

I'm still impressed by the 28-105mm lens. The sharpness (at f/8) appears to be as good as my more expensive "L" lenses. It does, however, lack the color and contrast "pop" as seen in the better lenses, but most of that can be brought back by careful post-processing.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beer Review No. 5

This beer review is roughly my fifth here on the blog, and it features five beers. I didn't plan it that way :-)

First up is a nice selection from New Belgium Brewing Co. I've come to really, really enjoy beer from this brewer. There's just something about the taste, in general, of all their beers. More about that later...

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(Just in case you're wondering, those are LEGO parts in the photo :-) I've been building a lot lately, and nothing goes better with an afternoon of creative brick building than a quality beer)

Blue Paddle (pilsener lager) This was different from what I'm used to from NB. It's got a very slight hoppy taste that hampers some of its smoothness, but it has that nice, NB base flavor*. There's just something a bit different in the taste that I can't pin down. I tried it for the first time last Saturday, and I wasn't too impressed. But I tried it again on Sunday with a totally clean pallet and really enjoyed it. I think it's a taste that doesn't mix well with other beers (I'd been drinking a little 1554 on Sat.).

1554 (enlightened black ale) Wow, this was great. 1554 is a Guinness stout meets Fat Tire in a subdued and balanced mix. It is rich, but not too rich. It has awesome flavor that is just right. This was my first experience with this beer, and I'll be drinking much more of it in the near future :-)

Abbey (Belgian style ale) Now we're getting to my favorite beer type - Belgian Ale, and NB's Abbey is good. It's rich and tastey, having that full-flavored ale taste. It's smooth and goes down well. And, best of all, it has hints of that classic "base" flavor*. If you've never tried a Belgian Ale, this is a good one to start with.

Trippel (Belgian style ale) NB's Trippel is extremely full and has a bit of the "base" NB flavor*. It doesn't have a very strong "sweet doughy" taste that other heavy trippels have (like Maredsous, St. Bernardus, etc.), thus earning them the nickname, "liquid bread". But it's still pretty darn good. I wouldn't hesitate to buy it when in the mood for such a beer (which I frequently am :-) )

* All NB's beers all have a little bit of that "base" flavor. This is the characteristic smokey, burned flavor that is so prevalent in Fat Tire (one of my favorites from NB). It's a unique taste that I absolutely love, and one that keeps me coming back to NB's fine beers. I cannot say enough good things about it - just get out and try some!

** Another side-note that I'd like to mention about NB's beers is that they usually all taste pretty fresh. Well, no bottled beer is going to taste as good as draft, and some really suck in that respect, but NB's beers capture a lot of that freshness and it comes through nicely once you've popped that cap off.

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Salvator (Double Bock; by Paulaner) I've reviewed this beer before, but I thought I'd mention it again since I just had some this past weekend :-) I picked up the Blue Paddle and 1554 at my local Specs (Houston) and couldn't resist getting this little bottle. For $2-something, I just couldn't pass it up.

I always get smiles from the folks at Specs when they see me there. It's probably because I'm a frequent flyer and they recognize me, but I like to think that they're pleased with my beer selection :-) The beer guy always smiles and nods his head. I guess I'm just a different customer than the beer posers that come in looking for beer-flavored-water, er... Coors Light. I guess I'd cringe too at the sight of Billy-Bob and Cletus bumbling in the store on a Friday afternoon, knowing that they're going to stand at the cooler holding three doors open while debating over Miller or Bud or Coors and which gives the worst hangover.

Anyway, I love this thick, hearty beer. It has a strong "sweet doughy" taste that verges on being sour. It might be overpowering for some, and it's not as well balanced as the grander beers made by Maredsous, St. Bernardus, etc., but the Salvator is still pretty darn good. If Maredsous were a 10, the Salvator would be a 9.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Death Valley Book

It's done. Our book is ready for order. (Actually, it's been ready since last month, but I've been a lazy blogger lately).

The book is a collection of photos from everyone who attended the February 2008 Radiant Vista photography workshop in Death Valley. The book project was created by Saul S. (one of my "classmates") and myself. Saul and I worked with the rest of the group to gather photo submissions from everyone and generate the electronic file using Blurb's software: BookStupid... er, BookSmart.Blurb did a fine job with my sample copy of the book. For the price, the printing was quite nice and the overall quality of the book is on par with the usual fare at your local mega-bookstore.

The book is a wonderful keepsake and an impressive study of photography. It's fascinating because there are so many different photos taken of the same places at the same times. Each photographer in our group had their own unique photographic vision and style (just like our different personalities), and the photos show a window into each person's inner being.

I cannot help but sit still for a moment while I reflect on that amazing week. Never have I felt so connected with the landscape. Never have I felt so full of creativity, my mind rolling in positive, free-flowing thoughts. The excitement was like being 8 again and experiencing Christmas day over and over for a week. The stimulating, creative atmosphere was an amazing experience, and I try very hard not to forget the natural highs we all enjoyed.

The book is great. It really is. I'll show it to you if you live close to me and want to see it :-)