06 December 2011

Book recommendations for the aspiring DSLR filmmaker

Books to self educated about film, cinematography and DSLR's.

5 Books to check out if you are looking to learn cinematography techniques to build your creative eye or want to learn how to maximize you DSLR and the equipment you need to create great digital films.
I have been on a fast track trying to learn and grow my digital film abilities. I don't even want to say video, as this is looking forward to a cinematic look in what I want to create. A video is a straight shot with no adjustment to create a feel.  These books can help that feel by showing how to work through the process and how to use your equipment to get what you want.

Filmmakers Eye: learning (and breaking) the rules of cinematic composition / Gustavo Mercado

This book details composition used in cinema based on shots from close up, medium, long, to canted emblematic, and abstract to name only a few. They then cover how to break the rules of all those shots. It also covers when to use things such as a steady cam, dolly, or crane to emphasis a scene.

Cinematography : theory and practice : image making for cinematographers and directors / Blain Brown
This book covers what you need to know as a cinematographer. Things like what lenses to use, exposure composition, lighting, color, to the elements of story structure. A great book to learn about visual language and visual storytelling. This book also covers many technical aspects of the camera and lighting.

DSLR Cinema : Crafting the Film Look with Video / Kurt Lancaster
This is a great book for the person just beginning to dive into Video/Film with a DSLR. This book was my starting point. It drops you into the pool covering composition, lighting, picture styles, audio, and even building you gear based on a budget. This book covers a lot of gear, but on the downside, in a year or so, with all that is changing, this could be outdated as it can be gear specific down to brands.
The Digital Filmmaking Handbook / Sonja Schenk and Ben Long
This book cover everything from writing and scheduling to planning a shoot, to editing gear and software into editing sound, creating titles and effects. This book is not software specific in regards to editing, but rather about techniques you can use to achieve a great look in your filmmaking. This book is also not camera driven in regards to just a DSLR. It covers a variety of video camera solutions.

From Still to Motion: A photographer's guide to creating video with your DLSR / James Ball
This book is great for those moving from a Photographer to a video roll. It is geared toward the photographer and the DSLR. The book is simple broken up into 5 parts: A new way to tell a story, Cinematic lighting, gearing up for motion and sound, post production, and creative explorations. The book seeks to show you how you to look differently at the situation from photography to achieve the goal of film. Since you are not lighting for a single moment in time, but rather a extended amount of time while things in your composition change.

I recommend checking these books out at your local library or bookstore to see what will fill your needs for moving to a better understanding of digital film. If you have other books you would recommend for film, video and cinematography, for those striving to expand their scope, please leave them on our comments.

DSLR Shoulder rig in action and Friction Follow Focus build

Build a Friction Follow Focus

Had some request to see my rig in action, and what it looks like up on a shoulder.  I have since added a follow focus and have a couple of additions coming up. I just ordered some carbon fiber rods to replace the fiberglass for a stiffer feel. Also adding a couple more sickspeed clamps to strengthen the connection from the camera mount to the shoulder mount. It holds up fine but I want to make it a bit more rigid.

DIY Shoulder Rig

Rig components include Canon 7D, Matte Box, LED light, Tascam DR-40, and Lilliput 668GL monitor.  Shoulder rig build videos.

The build for the Friction follow focus was designed  around the IKAN friction follow focus which runs about $199. Mine was about $50 at most. 

Friction Follow Focus Build Video 

Materials for the build:
4.5" piece of 1"x1/8" alum.
2" piece of 1" x1" alum bar.
(1) 1/4 - 20 thumb screw
SickSpeed Clamp (or some 15mm clamp if you have a real DSLR Rig)

Tools needed -
Drill and bits
small hacksaw
1/4 - 20 Thread Tap

Please leave comments or questions below. If you build your own rig, please share your link here! Thanks!

04 December 2011

Tascam DR-40 a Zoom H4N alternative for less

Tascam DR-40 Linear PCM Recorder

I am always looking for more affordable alternatives, if they can be found. I found one to the Zoom H4N, that suits me fine. The Tascam DR-40 is a great little Linear PCM recorder.  Like the H4N the DR-40 has 24 bit quantization and 96kHz sampling frequency.
Tascam DR-40 Linear PCM Recorder

 The DR-40 can be recorder to better than CD quality with WAV files down to MP3 file for longer recording times. Also like the H4N you can upgrade your card to 32GB for extended recording time. The DR-40 has a Lowcut filter to reduce any background noise from 80-120Hz. 
Inputs for 1/4"phone and XLR cables
With inputs like the H4N you can plug in standard 1/4" phone connectors or XLR cables. I like this feature for weddings as I can just ask the DJ to plug into his mixing board to record anything happening from music to the speeches given by the best man. The DR-40 also offers phantom power if you need a little power running to an external mic you might plug in. I also like the X-Y and A-B stereo condenser mics which are similar to the H4N. They allow for recording of a single subject to a stereo sound.

Also like the H4N the Tascam has an auto record feature to allow you to record when signals are above a set levels, with auto pause feature and time marks.

I also like that you can record at two different levels at the same time to reduce for sound peaks. You can record a second channel at up to -12 db in Dual channel mode. If you are a musician and you have a choice between the H4N and the Tascam, I would say there are some more features for the Musician with the H4N. However I have found that using the recorder for Video and film work this unit fills all my needs in a digital linear PCM recorder. I am very happy with the quality of sound and the price tag of about $199 compared to that of the Zoom H4N at $299.

For a super in depth review of the DR-40 vs the H4N and the DR-100MkII Check out this blog from E.M. Taboada at No Film School: http://nofilmschool.com/2012/04/audio-recorder-roundup-h4n-zoom-vs-tascam/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+nofilmschool+%28NoFilmSchool%29

14 October 2011



I am building up my Video set up for filming and wanted to build a quality cage unit to hold my accessories like an LED light, Monitor, and mic with a matte box. I came across a build by Jarrod at Just Basl Productions. Originally I found it at CheesyCam.

I liked the design, so I decided to set out to build my own. I decided to go with an all-aluminum  rig. It's a beefy unit that is very stable. I have it set to hold all my accessories, and my 7D. The unit is just a 1/4 lb heavier than Jarrod's redesign to lighten from his original unit. So the weight is about 6lbs. I could have shed some weight in my design, but I like the really solid feel.

 I can go from a top hand hold position, to a side grip, to clicking it onto a tripod with no effort. The rig allows me to do low shots and see what I am filming with the monitor, and I can easily get to the chest level shot. In many cases, I will just pop it onto a tripod and film from there, but it offers easy switches of mobility. The unit was just under $90 with a $45 monfrotto slide plate. Without the monfrotto slide, the rig was only a $45 build.

I also can slide my camera from this rig to my DIY Shoulder Rig by releasing my monfrotto slide and sliding onto the one on my shoulder rig.  

Monfrotto 357 slide release

Ebay Matte Box
 If anyone wants the parts list, drop me a comment on my blog, and I will post it here. The build is pretty much like Jarrod's with modified parts. So you can check out his video at Vimeo for the how to build it section. I want to give credit where it is due. Thanks Jarrod for the great ideas.

I did add mini rails to his design so I could slide on a matte box. I don't currently have a high end matte box, but this works to cut the glare when working in sunny conditions like we have in Arizona. 

Parts List:
(1)Top Handle:  6.25"Long x 1" rnd tube
(4)crossbracing  10"Long x 1.25" x .75" Channel
(2)Inset Crosscracing: 10 Long x 1" square tube
(4)Handle posts: 8" high x 1"rnd Tube
(2)Risers for camera plate": 4.5" long x 1.25" x .75" Channel
(4)Feet: 2" long x 1" square
(1)Camera Plate: 3.5"x7" .25"thick
(2)Tubes for Matte box: 3.5"long x .5"round
(1) bottom plate for tripod plate 6.75" long x 1" x .25"thick

All of the above parts are Aluminum which can be found at a local metal supplier. Not available at home stores such as Home Depot or Lowes, but cheaper.

(2) 4.5"x.25" carriage bolts for Matte box tubes (2) .25" nuts
(4) 1.5"x.25" carriage bolts for camera plate (4) .25" nuts
(4) 3.5"x.375" carriage bolts for uprights
(4) 3.5"x.375" Standard bolts for uprights
(4) double ended threaded connectors .375" for uprights
(2) 1.25"x.25" bolts for bottom plate (2) .25" nuts

Manfrotto 577 quick release plate or Calumet Quick-release Video Head Adapter (both are the same)

09 October 2011

$2 fix to secure your Wireless receivers to your monolights.

Securing your Wireless receivers to your Monolights. I found this a quick easy fix for keeping dangling wireless units around my Monolights. I picked up several feet of ¼ / 20 all thread at home depot for $2. I cut the all thread to 6” pieces and threaded onto my wireless receivers. I have images which show them attached to a Pocket wizard and also a Cactus 5 transceiver. I then slid the all thread with the receivers attached into the umbrella holder on my Alien Bee units. This keeps them up, secure and clean looking. This won’t work if you are using umbrellas, but in most cases I am running softboxes or beauty dishes.  So for my needs it’s a great and easy fix.

Pocket wizard with 6" 20 / 1/4" all thread

Pocket Wizard with all thread secured in umbrella holder

Cactus V5 Receiver with 6" 20 / 1/4" all thread

Cactus V5 Receiver with all thread secured in umbrella holder


Lilliput 668GL-70NP/H/Y 7" monitor review

Not bad price for an HDMI monitor. I purchased this unit to go on my DIY DSLR video rig. I am finding also great for Still photography when I am composing through live view. I have good eye sight, but this makes it easy for highly accurate focusing and viewing everything in your scene. It also makes it much easier to see problems in your composition. 

This unit came with the 7” monitor with HDMI input and composite inputs. It included a Li-ion battery, stand, hotshoe ball mount, remote, sun shade, and power cord. They also sent along an HDMI to HDMI mini to connect to my Canon 7D. This was not in the box, so I don’t know if you will get this from every company you order from. I ordered mine online from Amazon for $199 with free shipping and I got it in 3 days. I was pretty happy with the fast turn around.


When I connect the unit to my tripod, I use a super clamp I have with an umbrella holder and the included ball joint. These are things I have, so I don’t have to spend $50+ on an Articulating Arm. This set up works fine for my needs. 

30 September 2011

DIY DSLR Shoulder Rig

Fun DIY DSLR Shoulder Rig 

*Build videos now available at Vimeo and YouTube (see end of article)
*** DIY Follow Focus now added see video here! Includes Follow Focus Build Video.

I came across a DIY rig, named the Johan plug wire clamp rig. This was a setup I liked because it gave a feel of a true system at a cost effective price. You do compromise the standard 60mm clamps systems with 15mm carbon fiber, but you do get a usable rig for a fraction of the cost. I used red billet Wire clamps from E-bay made by SickSpeed. It required 8 sets and was probably the most expensive part of the build with an exception of the Monfrotto release plate. I also upgraded the system with a variable counterweight system, an added focusing clamp, and inexpensive matte box (doesn't except filters) more for cutting glare. the 9.5mm rods are fiberglass tent poles which I bought two sets. I am thinking of upgrading to solid aluminum, or carbon fiber which I found wasn't all that expensive.   Another rigs at the Cheesy Cam blog.

Video with equipment explaination

This was a fun little project, and suits my needs, until I am making the big bucks with video. But since I am not doing much video, at the moment, it does well. I have since added a 160 LED light to the rig and a Lilliput 7" monitor which you can see in the video, as well as a second focusing clamp to the zoom control on the lens.

Rig with Monfrott release plate, clamp on focus ring, matte box, and Hoodman loupe.

2 (12 piece sets) SickSpeed clamps - $60 Ebay
2 sets 9.5 tent poles - $18 dept store or sporting goods store
357 Monfrotto release $45 b&h
Misc. hardware $8 home depot (2 - 5m/40mm screws and 2 - 5m/25mm screws + 6 - 5m locking nuts)
Matte Box $35 Ebay - **this only fit about a 72mm lens
Weights $6 (custom welded holder) sporting goods store
padded shoulder support $3 (Custom fabricated)

(Lilliput 7" monitor $199, 160 LED dimmable light $50)

total about $185

$2,231 with 7d, rode mic, hoodman loupe, and a 16gb Cf card. Roughly the price of just a pro rig, but with this one you get the camera!

Build videos available at Vimeo and YouTube. 4 videos for the entire build.

Build Video #1

Build Video #2

Build Video #3

Build Video #4

(New Updated Shoulder Rest)

06 August 2011

Vagabond Mini Lithium - A great little power pack.

Vagabond Mini with Alien Bee 1600 Recycle Test

Ever think about taking your studio strobes on the go? The Vagabond Mini Lithium power pack by Paul C Buff is a great way to go. This unit packs a punch of power at only about 3lbs. I received this unit before I got my Alien Bee 1600 strobes, so my first test was with a couple of Adorama 620 Flashpoint II units. The unit responded well. When I got my Alien Bee 1600 I did a more controlled test. (see video for A/C vs. Vagabond Mini Power Supply.) 

The average recycle time is about double that of direct AC power, but for a 3lb portable power supply, I think it’s a great choice. The old standard Vagabond was about 18 Lbs. That is a 15 lbs weight saving. And though it only has two outlets, you can power up to three units with a power strip. I saw were on was testing with four units, but I think 3 would be the max I would push on this unit.

 What you see on the front of the unit is a Power switch flanked by two 120 V Outlets. There is a battery indicator with three lights indicating ¼, ½ and ¾ + power. The unit also has a 5v USB power supply for cell phones and such, but will not charge an iPad. The unit has a 30A flat fuse which replacements could be picked up at your local auto parts store. 

It also has a clamp on the bottom of the unit to attach it to a light stand. The clamp will not hold the unit where ever you clamp it. It will slide down to the next stop on your light stand. I usually attach my unit to the lowest section and allow it to rest where the three legs come together on the light stand.

These units are well-built and made in the USA. The Batteries come from China and are exchangeable for extended use. The Vagabond Mini Unit runs about $240, Extra Battery is 
about $ 90, and a carrying case is about $15.

Video of Vagabond Mini Power pack in Buff Bag with spare battery.

Video of recycle comparison of Vagabond Mini Lithium power pack vs. A/C power. Great little unit for portability.

DIY Adapter for Adorama Flashpoint II light Modifiers to Alien Bees

OK, this is a simple modification to attach Flashpoint II light modifiers to a Alien Bee. You may ask why? Well my first studio strobes were Flash point 620 units, as I hadn't discovered Alien bees. The flashpoint did me well, but I had one unit burn out. They are a little bulky which I did a lot of location shoots an they were kind of a pain to lug around. So I decided to upgrade to Alien Bee 1600, which are 1/2 the size and twice as powerful. Though I can get speed rings to use my softboxes, I still had a beauty dish and snoot which I couldn't use. So I thought I would go and seek out a DIY solution to connect the two. I was lucky to find just the right fix. See the Video to view the Adapter.

What was needed.
1 NDS 4" adapter (Found in the irrigation isle at Home Depot) $2.50
1/4" hard board or MDF $2.50

Utility Knife
5" Hole Saw
3 1/2" Hole Saw
Glue to connect wood ring to 4" adapter

03 August 2011

Cheap Nodal Rail Alternative for Panoramic Photography

Fotomate - Pro panoramic images on the Cheap for beginners.

As one who teaches workshops on Panoramic photography, I am always looking for alternatives for people who can't afford a $350 Panoramic system like a Nodal Ninja. I have been looking at Nodal Rails by a couple of companies as alternatives to a complete system and have found two; however, both are still out of the affordable range. The Kirk is running at about $110 and the Acratect for $199. Then I came across a Macro rail for focusing in Macro Photography. And it hit me this was an inexpensive solution for Landscape Panoramic images. I knew it would be limited; although it would work for people beginning to explore Panoramic photography. 

 **If you are unfamiliar with no Parallax point or what many call the nodal point see the video below. The reason to set your camera up for this is to help the Panoramic software, stitch your images seamlessly. If you don't, often you can get errors, especially in large complex images. This setup will help in getting that seamless 360 degree (horizontal) image. For 360 degree (spherical type) Panoramic images you will need a system similar to a Nodal Ninja.   

The Fotomate Macro Rail works well to adjust for your No Parallax point, also know by many as the Nodal point, though that terminology is being pushed away by Pros as they are not the same thing. By mounting your camera to the macro rail you can easily adjust for the No Parallax point with a turn of an adjustment screw. This $20 unit is actually easier to dial in than my Nodal Ninja system, which was about $350. Granted I have a great deal of flexibility with my more expensive system, however there are many times I shoot in landscape and can easily get away with the easier set up of the rail system. The video below shows how to set up the rail for the No parallax point. It should work fine with most wide angle to short telephoto lenses. I recommend shooting Panoramic images with either a ultra wide angle or preferred normal lens, like a 50mm on a full frame camera or about a 35mm on a cropped sensor. Above the rail is shown with my 10-22mm on a 40D. Works great with my 7D as well. 

The Fotomate Macro Rail can be found on e-bay. I got my for under $20 with shipping included. This unit is really well made. All metal, with metal thumb screws. Solid and no plastic parts. The side facing away in the above shot has two thumb screws, one for adjusting, and another to lock the cameras position. The side of the rail shown above, has measured increments which you could use to easily reset you camera, the next time you are out shooting. Just make sure you find the No parallax point for each lens you use and if you use a different camera body check those too. Also always level you camera before shooting Panoramic images as you will end up cropping out a great deal if your camera shoots on a downward or upward angle.

08 July 2011

Yongnuo YN560 (a speedlight NOT worth a look)

**Update - After having 2 of these these for a time, and only using them on a rare occasion  both unit have just stopped working. I wrote Yongnuo and told them what happened, and how they just stopped, and that I rarely used them and they were stored in a climate controlled place, and they emailed back..."what is the problem?" Not helpful at all. Not recommending these anymore. Buyer Beware.

Yongnuo YN560 

With waiting on the release of YN565, I needed to get my hands on a couple speedlights. So I purchased the Yongnuo YN560. This is not an ETTL-flash, and if you don’t mind some manual adjustment, these are nice flashes. When I received them, I was rather impressed by the quality. Solid unit, heavy feel, and doesn’t look cheap. I found mine online for about $63. Now I would have loved to get a few 580ex II, but that was out of my range. I also picked up external battery packs for $20, to allow for extended use. Now the Canon setup  which I have 1, costs about $650 with Flash and battery pack. The Yonhnuo set up cost me $103 with 2700mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries.

Now that I have used them a bit, I like how they work. I plug them into pocket wizards I already own and have no problem shooting at different angles from the flash. They optical trigger works just fine, but for me, I like to know I don’t have to deal with any line of sight issues. So if you don’t have a wireless trigger system, you just need to make sure you have some line of sight to the sensors.  

I do like the manual system. It really puts the ball completely in your game. You have to be aware of everything. With the ETTL system, you get the balance light, and though you can make adjustments, I think getting the full understanding of your equipment, only makes you a better photographer. If you end up in a situation where you get stuck on a manual system, you will have little adjusting to it.  

Now the main question I had is, how does it compare to a 580ex? Well, sadly it doesn’t quite have the punch of the 580, but it still is a powerful flash, definitely more power than the 430ex. The YN560 will mount accessories designed for the 580ex like an omni-bounce The. power packs are interchangeable, and it has a pc port for trigger. The recycle time on the YN560 flash is actually a hair faster than my 580ex. I was quite impressed with the recycle time and pushing the flash a bit to see how it could handle it.  

I have used the flashes both on camera and off. I would recommend the YN560 for those on a budget. I am guessing the New YN565, when released, will be a close comparison to the 580EX II with digital display, and trigger with camera’s like the 7D building trigger function. However, I am sure the price tag on the new YN565 will run a bit higher. I have seen a price range of $150-$250 for the upcoming YN565. So if you are in the market for an inexpensive, but dependable flash look at the YN560.

07 July 2011

Hugin Panoramic Software (Freeware Review)

I have been doing panoramic images for sometime mainly in HDR. The two softwares I have had access to have been AutoPano and PTGui. Both have their advantages. However, this is not so much about those softwares for creating panoramic images. As someone who teaches a variety of workshops, including that for panoramic photography, I thought I should sample software which students could get for free, as with the current economic conditions don’t allow for many to purchase a lot of software. So in my search I came across Hugin Panoramic software.  

If you are familiar with PTGui, Hugin is not a long stretch to learn. The interface looks very similar. It’s as simple as selecting your images, entering the focal length, and the crop factor of your camera. Click align, then create panoramic. Granted, this is if your images have the detail to create control points, which will easily connect the images. If not you will have to go through and add control points. This was, in my opinion, easier than the PTGui interface, and quite straight forward. After you have them aligned you can go to the output to let Hugin know what you are looking for, like a Tiff or Jpg or HDR (which needs work).

Most of my Panoramic images are in HDR. I did have a host of issues, which have never really been a problem with PTGui. I just found I had to process them differently. In PTGui, I stitch together all my HDR images then I tonemap the entire Panoramic. I found the software just kept giving me errors and with no result. So I decided to tonemap the individual images with the same settings then went to PTGui to stitch the Tonemapped Tiff together. Finally, after several hours of not getting anywhere stitching HDR images, this method worked, despite what the software was said to be capable of. It did a fairly good job, just on area in my Panoramic was a little ghosting. I figure with a little more time in making adjustments to the area with the ghosting to check the control points, I might have been able to fix it.  

For free software, Hugin works fairly well and is very close in style to PTGui. If you started out with Hugin, and you found that you wanted to upgrade to a $220 software because you become a panoramic photographer, the learning curve is small. If you were to switch to something like AutoPano, the software is a bit different in the interface. I did use the 64 bit version of Hugin, as the 32 bit crashed pretty quickly. However, I was pushing it with large HDR images, which didn’t have the best contrast. After the images were tonemapped for HDR the software has an easy time finding control points.  

You have to play with the software to get a feel for it, but I would definitely recommend it for those who want to save on Panoramic software. I will be making sure all my workshop students use it if they don’t have access to PTGui or AutoPano.  I will be reviewing some Free HDR software soon  for other workshops I create. As I know software accessibility for some is very limited. I have been finding open source software, which I have been very impressed by. If you have recommendations for any open source software, please leave a comment.  

Furthermore, I would like to let people know who teach workshops, that there is a brand-new  website for posting creative workshops. They are giving away free posting to the first 50 people that contact them directly then they offer a trial of $10 for 6 months which then goes to $15 per month to continue to post. They are looking to build their workshop listing as it is a brand-new  site. I paid the $10 for six months to help pay for the work for them to post. I believe in Donating to a good thing, including Open source software. It can take up to 48 hours to post your workshop, but the great thing is, they don’t take a cut of what you charge for a workshop. I have done tutoring, where the tutoring company takes 40%, ouch! Check them out at ArtsAZ.com. If your cities is not listed, they will add it. 

13 May 2011

Yongnuo Flashes and the New YN565EX TTL

If you are unfamiliar with Yongnuo Flashes and Photographic equipment, they are a manufacturer of less expensive alternatives to some of your higher name brands like Nikon and Canon. I sometimes look for alternative when I don’t have the funds to purchase the top end equipment, which is often. I was turned on to Yongnuo when doing an interview with David McCourt, photographer and the creator of Slow Photography. He always looks for less expensive alternatives to create his photographic work. Though on a budget, David always seems to photograph beautiful work. So, sometimes you can get the results you want on the cheap. It’s just a matter of knowing your equipment and how to get the most out of it.


Most of the reviews I have read about Yongnuo, have been relatively positive. Except for a couple of people who have had a problem with some equipment they received, it seems most that had the faulty piece of equipment had it replaced with satisfaction. Many say that the build quality is not quite that of say name brand Canon or Nikon, but still worth the cost. Mainly, because the savings are so great. If you are looking to build a strobe setup, you can do it relatively cheap getting two strobes with wireless transmitters for the cost of one Canon 580ex II.  


They will be releasing a new flash, according to the people at Yong Nuo Photographic, sometime in July 2011. (***FINALLY RELEASED - SEE LINK AT BOTTOM) Most reports I have seen have been May, but in a recent correspondence with the company in China, they said around July. The YN565EX TTL flash is probably the closest thing to a Canon 580EX II. It has a plug in for external power and a pc cord and an LED display similar to the 580EX. It is also supposed to work with the 7D’s built in flash control. I think this will be the first brand outside of Canon to do this. I hear the build quality is decent, but I don’t think it will still be to the level of the Canon’s. However, the cost for what is speculating will be somewhere between $150-$250. I know that is quite the range but compared to the 580ex’s price tag of $460, it’s a bargain. You can find many of their products on amazon by doing a search for Yongnuo. Even so, go to the Yongnuo website to see all their products, and if you see something you like you can search the net for a seller. 


If you have any experience with the Yongnuo product line, please leave a comment on your experience. I may be getting one of their flashes to see for myself how these stack up. So you may see an extended or separate blog on this. 

**Update: Added a post about the Yongnuo YN560 (a speedlight worth a look) for a decent flash on a budget (about $65).

***UPDATE: 13 Aug 2011 - Yongnuo YN565EX Available for 179.95 at Ebay - Link

10 May 2011

Zeh Bounce hits the UK in the April Edition of Digital Photo Magazine

April 2011
With Digital Photo Magazine's (UK) recent article on How to use your Flash, I am happy to see the popularity of the Zeh Bounce grow. They cover some different techniques, and they feature the Zeh Bounce in their section about using a bounce for lighting. It has also had a surge in places like Europe, especially Norway, which I guess does well due to many people living in smaller spaces. I am guessing more what in America would be considered apartment or condo style living accommodations. In smaller spaces such as an apartment or a house, this can be an ideal piece of lighting equipment.
"How to use Flash" article with Zeh Bounce. (Click image to read.)

 Why to use something like a Zeh Flash Bounce? Some of the best lighting I can get is with the camera's pop up flash. Not to say this is any sort of replacement for a studio strobe kit and gobos and such. However, where this comes into a great situation is in smaller environments. The Zeh Bounce is well geared to being used for things like family shots at family gatherings, or hanging out with friends on the weekend. This is where I found the bounce was great to have.  

Click to see larger image
When hanging with friends I like to bring my camera, but I am not always wanting to carry a ton of gear. I usually grab one lens,  my camera body and that's it. I will grab and slip the bounce into my back pocket, and I am off.  When I get to a friend's house,  I can easily shoot really nice lit images. I was at a small party with some friends down from Seattle, that had brought their daughter with them. She is so adorable I had to get shots of her. And as children do, she was running around and wondering the house, and I would occasionally grab a shot of her.  These shots in the hallway were completely lit with my pop-up flash and a Zeh bounce. The hallway was dark with all the lights off,  but my flash filled the area. The flash lighting cast all around her, giving a nice even lighting.  Now if I shot her with direct flash she would have been blown out. The great thing is these images are as they were shot, no post production work, such a exposure adjustments or color enhancing. They are as they came out of the camera.
all images©A. Zeh 2011 
I also find I like the image quality much better when the subject is surrounded by the light rather than direct lighting due to the more natural feel.  There is always a place for directly lighting your subject when you want to shape your subject or add a special drama, but sometimes you want a nice even lighting, and the bounce can achieve this. As with everything though, your environment will dictate what you need to light your subject matter with. However, if I know I am headed to someone's house to hang, I know in most indoor conditions, I can use my bounce to get a great shot. Unless they live in a mansion with 20 ft ceilings (but then I will try bouncing the light off a wall rather than a ceiling).    

Now if you are in a pinch you don't have a Zeh Bounce, you can grab a paper plate or a piece of paper to achieve the same effect. However, the reason to have the bounce was to have both hands free to control the camera quickly. Rather than holding a piece of paper in front of the flash, hoping I am directing the light ok while still adjusting the camera for the final shot. When you see a shot and only have a moment take it, the attached bounce makes for a quick photo. You have much less time involved in composing those candid shots.

Digital Photo Article (Click image to read)
So for a quick and inexpensive lighting solution, which allows you to forgo the extra pound of external flash, or if you just don't have $200-$500 to drop on an external flash, this might be a nice solution.  The Zeh Bounce, for $10 is a cheap solution. I have also tried translucent diffusers for the pop-up flash, but the seem to still let too much light through and give a bit of harsh light, which doesn't have a natural feel. They definitely have a place but bounce light has some of the most natural feel. So if you are shooting indoors in an environment like a home, think about bouncing your light. The Zeh Bounce available for Canon, Nikon and Sony. Also if you have never checked out the UK's Digital Photo Magazine, it's on of my favorite Photo magazines with great How to's for photography and Photoshop, and gear reviews. You can often find it a Barnes and Noble or save $3 and find it at your local Costco.

08 May 2011

Should you convert your Camera to Infrared?

Infrared images are stunning but is it worth the cost?

Should you convert your Camera to Infrared? Are you willing to give up a camera only to shoot infrared with? This is the question I asked myself. For me the answer came a little easier than most who ask this question.  I have in the past purchased novelty lenses and other things that I thought were cool and fun. Now I have a shelf of these things collecting dust because that novelty wore off. Unfortunately, it wore off fast and the money spent, feels rather wasted. I now (try to) take a long look at the purchases I make, which could be considered a novelty item. I am a person who really doesn’t like to half ass things. So if I have an idea, I try to follow through not cheating it, for the authenticity sake. Like you can make infrared looking images in Photoshop; however, for me that’s not good enough. Not to say it isn’t for someone else. I just want to go the distance when I create an image I am looking for. This may be the process oriented sculpture back ground I come from. However, as a person who does HDR photography, I like the process. However, now they make it so easy, and you can get that HDR look with a simple filter. I don’t think they look as good as an image with 7, 5 or just 3 exposures, but for many it works.

Anyway what are the advantages to converting to infrared? Basically, I liked the idea I could shoot at 1/200 of a second, rather than a long exposure if I wanted to shoot infrared at a wedding. I will say having people to hold still for a long time sucks. However, I don’t do wedding photography. So I guess that really doesn’t apply. I do like however, to take photos without a tripod. I do like to see what I am shooting through the viewfinder and these are things you can’t do easily if you are shooting with an infrared filter on your camera’s lens.  However, to convert a $1000 camera and spend another $350 to convert that camera to only infrared, is a tall order. Like I said for me the answer was a bit easier. I would have liked to convert my 20D rather than my 40D (which I wanted to use as a backup), but somehow, I got a little speck of dust under my UV Filter on my sensor. How this happened, I have no idea. Nevertheless, after a cleaning from Canon, which I really didn’t need, as I knew where the dust speck was. They finally gave me a quote of $650 to fix the dust problem. So I called around getting quotes to fix, and I found if I converted the camera to infrared, they would clean it out anyway. Like I said, it was easier for me.

 How often do I shoot infrared though? Well, most of my professional work never would use infrared. Even so, I like to be in the outdoors. So when I go camping or hiking, I always try to take this camera with me. I generally carry two bodies. The down side is that I live in Arizona. The best images I get are on cloud covered days with lots of green like trees, not something very abundant in Arizona. In Arizona, we have sunny cloudless skies and very little to reflect the infrared like large green trees. It’s a giant dust bowl and what green there is, would be in the way of a vast golf course, which don’t’ interest me. Or, cacti which after 18 years of cactus, I personally am sick of them. So where you are located, infrared may be ideal and maybe not.  This is something to take note of. Also if you have too much cloud cover, you will lose the quality of your infrared, which means your intensity will be lost. You need the perfect clouds. There are places that this would be perfect, but you have to have the right combination. All things to consider before that purchase of a conversion. You have to ask, will this be a common style for you or a fad?

Where to get your conversion? Well, after you finally decide if it’s worth the cost, then you need to shop. Well, I know most people go to Life Pixel, and I haven’t really heard anything bad about them. I chose LeZot Camera repair out of Vermont. I love the Maple syrup from Vermont. Ok that wasn’t why I chose them. It was how helpful they were when I was talking to them. They weren’t even trying to sell me the conversion. I was actually seeing if they could do the original repair, which would have only cost $250. That was much better than the $650 at Canon. I had been thinking about doing a conversion for some time and since it was necessary to fix my 40D, I figured it was better to just spend $100 more and get the conversion. The best part for me is, I really enjoy doing the infrared. I have always liked black and white photography, and it brings me very close to that with an extra kick I like. So for me, I am finding it not so much a novelty.  (Review of LeZot)

Be prepared, you will have to learn how to convert your images as they don’t come out of the camera, like you see them pictured. The images come out usually red, and you have to spend time processing them. You could shoot in black and white mode, but then you lose some of the great quality of an infrared. So if you don’t like all the Photoshop work, you may be better off with that quick Photoshop filter, like doing the “HDR” look. This technique is for process oriented photographers. I guess that’s why I like infrared. It’s not for everyone. Unless you have patience, it might not be for you.