This is another one of the performers from Steam Powered Giraffe. This one's character is called Upgrade.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 165mm, aperture f/5.3, shutter 1/160 sec, ISO 200. I added a similar blurred overlay layer in Photoshop CS5 to enhance contrast and give it that soft glow, but I also used a layer mask to apply it just to the midtones. (Duplicate layer, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, set layer mode to overlay, apply layer mask, apply image to layer mask, solarize layer mask, move layer mask white point to the left, flatten image.) After that, I used the vignetting tool in Aperture 3 to darken the background. This left her coat too dark, so I brushed the adjustment out of the bottom of the picture.
Thoughts for improvement: This looks pretty good on my laptop, but on my work monitor (which is dark and uncalibrated) it's way too dark. I should probably have increased the brightness or exposure in post, or just had a better exposure to begin with.
I was itching to get out and shoot yesterday, so we decided to check out the Celebrate Dance Festival that was taking place in Balboa Park this weekend. One of the first things we saw was a group called Steam Powered Giraffe, a "musical pantomime troupe" that wasn't, as far as I could tell, actually part of the festival. They do a sort of "singing robots" act that Jason loved. I got this shot of one of the performers--whose character's name is Rabbit--in between a couple of their songs.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm VR DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Focal length 200mm, aperture f/5.6, shutter 1/100 sec, ISO 200. I bumped the exposure a bit and cropped to 4x5 in Aperture 3. In Photoshop CS5, I added a blurred overlay layer to increase contrast and give it a bit of of that painterly, glowy feel (duplicate layer, set blending mode to overlay, apply Gaussian blur with radius 5, reduce opacity to 50%, flatten) then sharpened with a high-pass overlay (duplicate layer, apply high-pass filter with radius 5, set blending mode to overlay, reduce opacity to 80%, flatten).
Thoughts for improvement: I probably should have upped the ISO, as the shot was pretty severely underexposed. I'm also not completely sure about using an overlay diffusion and sharpening--I like the way it turned out, but the two might be working at cross purposes.
Jason has had a near life-long obsession with hats, which has dovetailed nicely with his newfound interest in birthdays.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 320. Bumped vibrancy, added sharpening, and applied curves to set white point, boost midtones, and increase contrast. (All post-processing done in Aperture 3.)
Thoughts for improvement: I like the exposure and tones in this shot a lot, but the framing could use some work. If I had just leaned back a bit, the edges of the frame wouldn't be cutting off his elbows and the tip of his hat.
For whatever reason, Juliette and I decided not to bring Jason's bathing suit and towel with us when we went to his friend's birthday party the weekend before last. We knew the party was going to be held in a pool area, but we figured we'd just keep him out of it, since neither of us wanted to get in. Of course, we didn't factor in the inflatable kiddie pool or the water table, so he got soaked and then needed to borrow a towel.
Now, Jason has hooded towels, but his hooded towels are worn more like capes. This towel was more like a hooded poncho. I thought it made him look kind of like a monk, or maybe a Jedi. That is, if Jedi wore hoods with bunny ears on them.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/2.8, shutter 1/125, ISO 360. (I've been finding that it's best, when shooting kids, to set my auto ISO to a minimum shutter of 1/125 and max ISO of 1600 if I'm going to use any of the automatic exposure modes. That way I can be sure to freeze motion without too much blur, but still not underexpose the image too much. I'm trying to learn to shoot manually, but it's hard to keep up in manual mode when kids are running in and out of buildings and shade in bright, early afternoon sun.) Here again, I spot metered on his face, since I didn't care if I blew out the background. I further upped the exposure in post, as well as upping the vibrancy a touch, adding some sharpening, and using curves to recover highlights, set the black point, and add some contrast. (All post-processing in Aperture 3.)
Thoughts for improvement: I'm pretty happy with the color and lighting in this image, but the composition could be better. In particular, there's a door frame that's right behind his head that I would prefer weren't there.
I'm working on developing my technique in family and lifestyle photography, and this is an example of one type of lighting that can work well. When I took this shot, I was facing directly into the sun. Normally, shooting into the sun produces a bright background and dark subject, but here the sun was relatively high in the sky, and the grill in the background was both relatively close (to block out the bright sky) but also slightly shadowed. I set the camera to spot meter and set the exposure for his face, which, with the strong backlighting, created the nice halo effect in his hair while maintaining the tones in his face and chest.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 VR DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Focal length 150 mm, aperture f/5.3, shutter 1/200 sec, ISO 200. Exposure adjustment and recovery, vibrancy, sharpening, and curves applied in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: There's a little bit of lens flare that you can see in his chest and arm, which resulted from shooting directly into the sun. I could probably have avoided that by either removing the UV filter or using a lens hood. The hair lighting is also a bit hotter than I would ideally like, but I think it still looks pretty good nonetheless.
Setting the Mood
It's funny how serendipitous photography can be. You expect that when you're out on the streets shooting buildings or weather or candids of strangers, but it happens in the studio, too. This was just a test shot I took to try to get the exposure and framing right for the picture I posted yesterday, but I think it may actually have turned out even better than the shot I planned for. The dark background, negative space, and warm lighting combined with the curves of the glass make for a romantic feeling, I think.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200. In Aperture 3, I pushed exposure recovery to the max to tone down the candle light, bumped vibrancy a touch, added a little bit of sharpening, and used a lot of vignetting to get the background completely dark.
Thoughts for improvement: I'm actually pretty happy with this one. I suppose some of the candles could be placed a little bit more purposefully, but other than that, the only thing I'd wish for this image is for it to have been taken with a higher resolution camera.
Refraction in Blue
I noticed these little glass vases in our china cabinet the other day and thought they might work well with this series of glassware shots I seem to be doing. Juliette used to keep these on her windowsill when she was in college, but I haven't seen them in what seems like a long time.
In thinking about what I wanted to do with this shot, I knew I wanted to do something with reflections. A lot of the close-up stuff I've been liking on Flickr and from various stock agencies seems to be shot using a glass or plexi table surface, which makes for great reflections. I, unfortunately, don't have anything like that around the house, so I improvised a little by putting the candles and vases into a cookie sheet that was filled to about a quarter inch with water. In order not to have the pan show up too noticeably in the shot, I had to go with more low-key lighting, but I think it worked out pretty well.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in manual exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/50 sec, ISO 200. Background is lit with a flashlight through an inverted pilsner glass and the bottom of a brandy snifter. Slight vibrancy tweak, sharpening, and vignetting added in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: I'm not really thrilled with how the background is lit. I think it would probably be better if I could either have more glow on the wall or just leave it completely dark. There are also a few streaks on the glass that I couldn't quite get rid of since we were out of Windex. Finally, since the cookie sheet I used is one that has been in and out of the oven a lot, the bottom has gotten a little warped from the heat. That's why the right-hand vase is a little tilted. Ideally, I'd like to use something to contain the water that was both completely flat and also much wider and longer so that it didn't appear in the frame at all.
Sorry We Are Leaving
This is one of my favorite recent photos, because there's a whole story encapsulated in it, one that I just happened to stumble across and be lucky enough to capture. I think that's the goal with most types of photography--telling a story--but especially with documentary and street photography. It's not the most technically perfect or artistically composed picture--though I think it does well enough in those regards--but even so, I think it's one of the most expressive, evocative images I've ever made. You know, as long as I'm tooting my own horn and all.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 1600. Slight curve applied in Aperture 3 to deepen the blacks, recover the highlights, and hold the midtones.
Thoughts for improvement: The main thing that detracts from this image, in my opinion, are the chairs and trash in the foreground. There wasn't time to pull them out of the shot--aside from which, the guys working there probably wouldn't have wanted me moving their furniture--but in a perfect world, they wouldn't be there.
I think "Greek Gyros" is kind of redundant but, hey, I didn't make the sign. And that doesn't really look like the kind of guy who I want to be correcting, either. It's cool.
Technical info: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture priority mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 400. Applied curves to recover highlights and bring up the midtones, then dodged the shopkeeper a bit in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: There's not really a lot going on in the left or right windows, so possibly it would be better to crop them out. I kind of like the symmetry of having three windows, plus I think the neon looks cool, but it definitely does make for a more cluttered image. Though, I do think that in terms of storytelling, the extra scenery does provide more atmosphere. Other than that, the sign at the bottom is very dark; I probably should have brightened it up a bit.
One For You, One For Me, and One For Mom
I love how, in this picture, the kid is the one who noticed me, while the two adults had no idea I was there.
Technical information: Shot with a Nikon D40 and Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, in aperture-priority exposure mode. Aperture f/1.8, shutter 1/30 sec, ISO 1600. B&W conversion, crop, curves, and some mild dodging applied in Aperture 3.
Thoughts for improvement: I wish I had been able to nail the exposure a little better to get the kid's face a little less shadowy. There's also a fair amount of detail lost in the shadows in the lower left corner, mainly from the curves adjustment I added--I made a trade-off between overall contrast and shadow detail, but I wish I didn't have to.