Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

At the end of March I did a studio shoot with two families in traditional Japanese kimonos, and was able to get some behind the scenes shots of the professional kimono fitter actually dressing some of the subjects. Today I’m going to walk you through the studio set up and a few of the resulting images from the shoot.

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I don’t do a lot of this kind of work, but there are a few families that have asked me to do portrait sessions with them a number of times over the years, and I really enjoy working with them. This year the main event was to document something that is a tradition in some parts of Japan, which is to dress the 13 year old girl of the family in Kimono for a visit to the local shrine. Unfortunately, the weather closed in just as we were getting started, so the shrine visit went out of the window, but the shoot went ahead.

Studio Setup

My wife, who’s become a very competent assistant, and I went to the family’s home on the Saturday night before the Sunday shoot, to set up our studio. They have a large enough living room that by removing the sofa, we had enough space to shoot a small group, up to five people or so, though this still required some Photoshop work to remove the sides of the background for some of the wider shots.

Once we got into the shoot, I took a step back and grabbed this photo of the room with my Profoto Lighting in place, so I’ll walk you through that first. As we can see, I had some white seamless set up as a background. I know this can look a little sterile, but I’m really into the simplicity that a plain white background brings to an image. I’ve used a number of different coloured muslin backgrounds over the years, and they just seem dated to me now.

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

My lights are all Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S Monolights. These are not the most powerful D1’s available, but they are powerful enough for my needs. I bought these around four years ago now, and added a second pair of D1s around three years ago. I might choose some of the newer Profoto Lights if I was buying now, but I don’t do enough of this type of work to warrant replacing these, and probably wouldn’t anyway, as they still do everything I want them to at this point.

To the right, you’ll see my main or key light which is a 3×4′ Profoto Softbox, and to the left, I have a 2×3′ Profoto Softbox, adding some light to the other side of the subjects face. To light up the seamless background, I used the two umbrellas that came with one of my D1 Monolight kits. I won’t go into detail on all of the lighting stands etc. but I’ve embedded a B&H widget below with all of the studio gear I use included, and of course you are supporting the Podcast/blog by buying with these links.

I did this shoot with my Canon EOS 1D X tethered to Lightroom with a USB cable. Although the Profoto Monolights and Softboxes are pretty much Daylight white balance, I can recreate the exact colours in my subjects, especially the beautiful kimonos I’d be shooting on this day, by calibrating the camera with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.

I included the ColorChecker Passport in one of my early images, and created a camera profile, which I applied in Lightroom, then created a Develop Preset including the profile, and I was then able to assign that Develop preset to every image that was automatically imported to Lightroom via the tethering cable. As you can see in this screenshot (below) I had the preset that I created called “Profoto Studio” assigned right there in the tethering window. (Click on the image to view it larger and you will be able to read the text more easily.)

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

You can also see from this screenshot, that I was using the Profoto Air USB dongle, which enables me to control all of my Moonlights from my computer, and save my settings etc. I set the group on each of my lights to something different, so that I can control them all individually. The Key light was Group A, which you can see was set to 8.1, my second softbox to the left set to Group B with the power at 5.2, almost three stops less than my Key light, so that there was an obvious main source of light, and the second softbox just filled in shadows.

I positioned my two umbrellas at the same distance from the background, so I could have used just  one group to control both of them, but there’s a chance that I might have wanted to move these around during the shoot, so I called the Group C and D and set the power of them both to 6.5.

Some people like to angle the background lights more towards the background, but that can leave the centre of the background a little dark, especially when you have a group blocking out the spill from the main lights, so I like to have the angle quite shallow. The light from these two umbrellas also spills over onto the subjects, and reflects onto them from behind off of the white background, but I actually quite like that effect, which is why I set up like this.

To set the power of each light, I used a hand-held light meter, recording the brightness of each light and adjusted the power so that I was getting f/8 at ISO 100 at 1/200 of a second exposure, which is what I was going to be shooting at. Once you have the light meter set to your ISO and shutter speed, it basically just tells you your required aperture based on the light it reads as you fire your lights, so it’s really easy to get your lighting all set in a few tests.

Of course, the reading changes as you move closer or further away from your lights, but this is where the positioning comes into play. I moved my key light a little further away and turned the power up, so that it would provide a wider light that was already tapering off some by the time it hit the spot that I would place a single subject, but because it was further away, I’d be able to increase the number of people in the group, with some closer to the light, without it getting too bright and over-exposing the closer subjects. As the members of the group are placed further away of course, they start to pick up more light from my second soft box, and the entire group is nicely lit.

Once I was all set, I saved the settings of each light with the Profoto Studio software, so that if anything should change I could easily get back to these settings during the shoot. Another great thing about this software is that you can if you want, change the power of all of your lights and have them stay in sync. Say for example I wanted to shoot with a second camera with a different aperture, as I did a few times, I can change all of the lights by a few stops and they stay proportionately synched together, which is very handy.

Another thing I sometimes do is just use a neutral density filter on my second camera. Say I’m going to shoot at f/8 on one camera, and f/2.8 on a second camera, that would let in three stops more light, so I can put a three stop ND8 on my second camera, and just shoot away without adjusting my lighting. I actually find this much easier than messing around with the setting during a shoot.

The Kitsuke Shoot

We left the gear setup on Saturday night, and then went back bright and early on the Sunday morning to photograph the Kimono fitting, which in Japanese is called Kitsuke. The lady that we see in these Kitsuke photos is a professional and actually very well known kimono fitter, as well as a number of other traditional Japanese activities like playing the Koto and the tea ceremony.

In this first photo, we see the Sensei with her arms all the way around one of the young girls, wrapping the large belt around her. This is more of a documentary shot to show you what’s happening, but I was conscious to try and capture nice movement in the long furisode sleeves, and a theme through many of these photos was the sense of abandonment as the young girls just seemed to trust the sensei quite a long time as the fitting progressed. It actually took around 45 minutes to fit each of the girls, and I ended up with almost 100 photos of each session.

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #2

Kitsuke #2

To the Japanese, the tying of knots is quite significant. I suppose it is with most cultures, as it represents finalisation, and a binding of people or things together.

The final touch to the kimono is the tying of the silk rope that goes around the Obi, or belt. After this last knot that we see here is tied, the lose ends are tucked under the rope so that, well, there are no loose ends.

As we progressed to photograph portraits of these girls with their families, whenever the ends of the rope would come loose, the sensei or a mother or grandmother would run in and tuck it back in.

I should also mention that the kimonos that these girls were dressed in actually belonged to their grandmother’s, and so have a lot of history and significance to their families. I was honoured to be able to photograph these kitsuke sessions in this way, with the beautiful simplicity that the white background and soft lighting provides.

As we progressed through the Kitsuke sessions with the second 13 year old now, I was mindful of composition of course, and tried at times to focus more on the actual dressing, and at times used a more dramatic composition such as this one, where I cut off the faces of the girl and sensei mid-way.

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #4

Kitsuke #4

The tying of the bow on the back of the Kimono is of course another significant aspect of the kitsuke session, and because we are usually drawn to eyes, removing them kind of takes away from the weight of the eyes, freeing us to look around more. Of course, we still go back to the human faces, but not with so much immediacy as we would with the eyes in the shot.

Also note that although I’ll often have to ask people to look at the camera or look at a certain point, I didn’t request eye contact at any time during the dressing. I literally just wanted to document it, as though there was no photographer in the room.

Here again we see the sensei rounding up the length of silk belt into what would become an even more beautiful work of art in position on the back of the kimono.

Another thing that you might have noticed that I was really happy about, is that the kimono fitter also wears full traditional dress, including a beautiful formal kimono with it’s own obi and bow, and tabi, the toed footwear that most people probably associate with Ninja, although these are common here in Japan.

After a photo session, I usually provide my clients with a CD or USB memory stick with a selection of images resized for them to browse or use as the desktop wallpaper on their computers, and a smaller size that they can post on Facebook etc. Once I have my selection of images down, I also batch convert the set to black and white, using a Silver Efex Pro preset and the batch processing functionality in Photoshop. I know that you can batch process right there in Silver Efex, but when you have some 400 files to process it isn’t as smooth as Photoshop.

Kitsuke #5

Kitsuke #5

Although I usually do straight untoned black and white, for this shoot I just felt sepia was going to be a better option, as it seemed to match the timeless feel of the traditional clothing much better. This next shot is an example of how the images looked in Sepia. Note too that I was careful not to use an colour filters in Silver Efex too, as there was a wide range of colours in the various kimonos, and I needed to batch this work to save time, so I wasn’t able to go through and inspect and adjust each conversion before applying it. The results were just what I wanted anyway, so there was time saved and all was well.

On a business note, I wanted to just mention that I did not request payment to photograph the kitsuke sessions. I provided photos for the families, but I just really wanted to make these photos for myself, and I had each of the three young girls’ parents and the kimono fitter all sign model releases, and I’ll be submitting some of the images to be considered for inclusion in my Offset stock library.

Family Portraits

Getting a Son to Smile

Getting a Son to Smile

So, more than two hours after the Kitsuke sessions started and having dressed three young girls and two men, we were ready to start the family portrait sessions. In a meeting a week before the actual shoot, we’d already established a list of poses that each of the two families wanted, and we worked through each pose, shooting a number of possibilities for each, getting various facial expressions for each as well. I’m not going to go through the details, but we’ll finish by looking at a few of my favourite shots from these sessions.

For example, although we of course get the straight family shots, to me, I actually often prefer moments like this, when a mum tries to get a rebellious teenager to smile for the camera. Something else to note here is how I cropped this down to an 8×10 aspect ratio.

Although it was possible to shoot some groups photos vertically without including a bit of the floor in front of the seamless or over the top of the roll on the background supports, sometimes I just went in closer, or wider for full body length shots, and either cropped the image down to exclude the edges of the seamless, or I selected the messy areas around the seamless in Photoshop and used Content-Aware Fill to clean up the edges.

I could of course have extended the background support up a little, but as we messed up the seamless we cut away the messy part and rolled out more paper to clean it up, and I needed to be able to easily get to the clips that stop the seamless from unrolling, and this is as high as I can reach without using steps, so I generally just deal with this in post, as it doesn’t affect many photos, and it makes the shoot more efficient, which is better for the customers.

As Big as Dad!

Almost as Big as Dad!

Another way to give a teenage boy a reason to smile is to pitch him against dad, and give him a chance to prove that he’s now almost as big as him.

Note that the Dad here was wearing a traditional man’s kimono, and the son was wearing his school uniform, something that is often done for traditional portraits here in Japan.

I thought it was fun to get the two of them in this pose though, acting a little bit tough, but still obviously enjoying the shoot.

Note too that we now had people wearing shoes, which meant that the seamless got messed up pretty quickly which is why we had to cut it a few times.

This also caused me a lot of extra Photoshop work cleaning it up, which couldn’t really be avoided, other than changing the seamless more often, which again slows down the progress of the shoot so I try to wait until it’s getting pretty bad when I can.

The dad of the other family that we photographed on this day is actually from England, and has lived here since he was nine years old. One of the few people that I’ve met that have lived here longer than me. He speaks good Japanese too of course, so it was fun being able to communicate fluently with him in Japanese when necessary. Here we see a straight family portrait.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Again though, my favourite of the entire family here is one of those moments when they aren’t posed, as we see here. It’s not just me that likes these photos of course. I often find that although we need the standards, the families generally enjoy photos like this more too, so I also ensure that if I capture something like this, I include it in my selection.

Affectionate Preparation

Affectionate Preparation

There are lots of other photos that I’d love to show you, but let’s finish today with one last fun shot that we finished the shoot with, where I got everyone back on the seamless to go out with a bang. Remember that because I was shooting tethered, every photo I made appeared on my laptop screen a few seconds later, and the entire group was in stitches when we looked at this one come through, and we finished the session with a huge round of applause, not for me of course, but for all that were involved.

Grand Finale

Grand Finale

I wanted to finish with a thought here, that although I don’t do this sort of work often, I really do enjoy it when the chance arises. It’s not only great fun to work with people like this, but we really enjoy watching the children of the families that we shoot grow. In an ideal world I’ll still be photographing these families when the kids are all grown and have kids of their own, but I guess we’ll just have to see how that one pans out.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this shoot, I’ll probably share a few more over on my Google Plus account, so please follow me over on G+ if you don’t already, and check these out as I upload them.

Studio Gear

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Show Notes

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Podcast 342 : Side Light – May 2012 Assignment Winners

Podcast 342 : Side Light – May 2012 Assignment Winners

Today we take a look at the five winning images from the May 2012 MBP Assignment, on the theme of “Side Light”.

Before we get started though, I wanted to quickly let you know that I am going to be doing a Webinar with Photoshelter and X-Rite on Successful Color Management & Printing. The Webinar is going to be held live on July 9, at 4pm PDT, 7pm EDT and 11pm GMT. I don’t have a link just yet, but if you get Photoshelter or X-Rite newsletters you’ll receive details automatically. Otherwise, keep an eye on the Forum or my Google Plus profile for more details. I hope to see you there!

For now though, let’s take a look at the five images that received the most votes last month and to start with in fifth place, we have Elise Ange with “The Tulips”, and here’s Elise’s back-story…

Congratulations to Jakuli for the win (an exceptional image) and to the others who placed! Thanks to all who voted for my entry. My backstory for “The Tulips” is rather short. I was out walking on my Spring flower project. Even though it was quite early, the sun was already starting to create glare in the garden. I was just about ready to leave and noticed how the sunlight was now shining from the side onto a patch of white tulips.

The Tulips by Elise Ange

The Tulips by Elise Ange

The tulips were quite bright and didn’t have much detail so I decided to try multiple exposures for an HDR. Flowers are hard for the technique since they move on any slight change in the air. Only minor tweaks and cropping in Photoshop were needed after the exposures were combined. Thanks again to Martin for another challenging topic.

You’re welcome Elise, and a nice shot here. Very subtle use of HDR too. The tulips themselves look a little tired so I probably wouldn’t have picked these myself to photograph, but you did a good job with what you had. Thanks very much for getting involved!

In forth place we have Drew with “The Devil’s Drink”, and here’s Drew’s back-story…

First of all congrats to the winners of this month’s assignment. I really enjoyed many of the images and really enjoyed testing my creativity this month.

Although it is difficult to see in my image, the whiskey in the decanter is a beautiful warm amber color. I tried my best to give a warm feeling to this image as the spicy sweet flavor of the whiskey warms with every sip I take.

The Devil's Drink by Drew

The Devil’s Drink by Drew

I used a desk lamp with a very yellow bulb as the side light, and applied it at a downward angle to avoid getting too much light into the frame. I also wanted to avoid making the image too sharp for this type of subject, something about a soft glow appealed to me here. Edited slightly in Photoshop CS5 to enhance the overall color and warmth, and add a very sight Gaussian blur.

Very nice work Drew! The warmth certainly comes across. I feel as though I kind of wanted a little more space to the left of the decanter, but that would have been more orthodox, and probably not what you wanted. I certainly feel a certain tension without the space, which I imagine is what you were aiming for.

Masterful use of the Gaussian blur too. The softness certainly enhances the image, and that golden light works wonderfully. I almost want to reach out, pick up the glass and take a sip myself. Well done indeed.

And in third place is Omar Gonzalez with “La Madonna”, and here is Omar’s back-story…

Yeah! Thanks for the votes on my Madonna portrait. The backstory goes something like this:
This image was a complete happy accident. I was shooting a baby portrait session for my wife’s friend. I was ready for the perfect shot using only speedlights. The plan was to use my 60″ umbrella as the main light and a reflector for fill. Well…after setting everything up (and Mom and baby patiently waiting), I realized I didn’t have the radio trigger to fire the flash.

La Madonna by Omar Gonzalez

La Madonna by Omar Gonzalez

With no backup whatsoever ( I know…I know…), I ditched the umbrella and moved the background, Mom and baby over to a tiny window. I set the camera up on a tripod and had to bump my ISO to 1600, but with the 5DMII it was not too stressful. I told Mom to touch her lips to the baby’s head and close her eyes and got the shot. In post I darkened the background and added my own black and white flavor.

The funny thing is…..turns out the flash trigger was hiding at the bottom of my bag. I guess it knew something I didn’t. There are no accidents.

What a wonderful back-story for a wonderful shot Omar. You always enter great images and your back-stories show ingenuity and sometimes humility, but always masterful in the way you arrive at your end result.

I love the mood of this shot, and I’m sure you’re right, there are no accidents. This shot would have been very different had you found your trigger. Great stuff! Congratulations on placing.

In second place we have Jack Andrys with “Golden Rays”, and here’s Jack’s back-story…

Congratulations to all that entered in the assignment and especially this month’s very deserving winner Jakuli and my fellow runners up. I am very pleased to have placed for a third time this year and it is personally very encouraging as the place is the result of votes by peers who are so worthy of judging the images.

The image again for me was taken on the last day of the assignment and I have to give my wife Julia credit for spotting it first. I always discuss the monthly assignment with Julia and that way it helps with her understanding of my need to shoot a particular scene by a particular time. So with her knowledge of the Side Lighting assignment she spotted the opportunity first as we had just sat down to dinner. Looking out the window she spotted the water from the sprinklers being hit by the golden rays of the setting sun as filtered by the backyard fence. As she turned to say “Side Lighting” I was already up from my seat and heading for my camera and out the back door taking the shot within seconds.

Golden Rays by Jack Andrys

Golden Rays by Jack Andrys

I wanted to show the light and its temperature; the water droplets tracking on their trajectories and crisscrossing each other produced a great canvas and the backyard fence produced the pattern which helps to picture the rays. The golden hour and the light temperature were perfect to help with the mood of the image.

I hand held the shot and dragged the shutter allowing the droplets to paint more light across the frame, and I slightly cropped the image in Lightroom and made adjustments to help enhance color.

Finally I went ahead and shot the assignment as I had planned with a totally different setup using one of my sons as a model and a large low output globe for the lighting. I then rejected all those shots in favor of the Golden Rays shot and there you have it, thanks again.

Great lines and mood here Jack! I’m pleased Julia saw this and you were quick to capture it. The trajectory of the water droplets is nice and the texture of the grass in the background almost palpable. I can almost feel the warmth of the light too. I’m wondering if it might be helped by an even tighter crop losing another 10 or 15% of the top of the frame, but still, a great image. Congratulations on second place!

I’d also like to extend very hearty Happy Birthday to you Jack, as I believe that’s today. Have a great one!

And finally, in first place is Jaakko Paarvala with “Ball Possession”, and here’s Jaakko’s back-story…

First I’m going to use the opportunity to thank Martin for his great work with the podcast and forums. I’ve been subscribing the podcast for about 2 years now, but have not been active on the forum or participated the assignments until beginning of 2012. The podcast has been a huge part in going forward with my photography. Not only have I learned about the technical side but also about the attitude of being a photographer. The sincerity and tranquility with your pictures as well as the aim for the highest image quality have inspired me so much.

Ball Possession by Jaakko Paarvala

Ball Possession by Jaakko Paarvala

It’s funny sometimes how opportunity presents itself if you just keep your eyes open and the camera nearby. My usual bicycle route to work goes alongside of a football practicing field and I noticed couple of times how the sunlight hits the field in a particularly nice way in the spring.

Usually the field is empty, but this time there was a team doing their drills. I figured I’d have about 20 minutes before I would really start rushing to work. I shot some frames with the goalkeeper catching some penalty kicks and some guys doing headers. Those shots weren’t too great so I concentrated on the part where the light would turn to shadow. I framed the shot and then it was just waiting for someone to appear and fill the frame.

I was lucky to have this guy to stop in the edge of the frame making some teasing comments to his fellow players. Post-processing was really simple in my book, no cropping, just converting to BW with Silver Efex 2 and some brushing in Lightroom 4. That artificial turf they have doesn’t look so pleasing in colour, but it adds a nice touch in BW with it’s odd contrast.

Thanks so much for the kind words at the start of your back-story there Jaakko! You’re very welcome, and thank you for listening and for getting involved in the assignments.

Thanks for the detailed back-story too. I didn’t realize at first that this was artificial turf. It just looks like a very well kept pitch in black and white. Your patience was certainly rewarded with the position of the goaly and angle of head, with him looking out of frame adding tension. The shadow extending out behind him into the frame balances this out nicely too of course. The negative space at the top right is perfect, and all round just a very, very good shot. Congratulations on a very deserved first place Jaakko!

Thank all five winners again for taking the time to get involved, and to post your back-stories to share with us all. Thanks also to everyone that got involved in the assignment of course, and whether you placed or not, I do hope you learned something by giving this a try.

The theme for June was “Interaction” and the voting system is currently turned until July 7, 2012, just five days left to vote now, but if you are listening to this soon after release, do drop by the Web site and cast your votes for your favorite five images.

The July assignment, using yet another suggestion from our friend Morton Goldberg, is “Geometry”. I’m thinking that we’ll look for geometric shapes and lines to shoot in an interesting or fun way for this month’s assignment, so let’s see what we can come up with.

Show Notes

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Podcast 338 : Interesting Plainness – April 2012 Assignment Winners

Podcast 338 : Interesting Plainness – April 2012 Assignment Winners

Today we take a look at the five winning images from the April 2012 MBP Assignment, on the theme of “Interesting Plainness”. Turnout for this assignment was up again, which is great! Thanks to all of you that got involved and uploaded your images, and even if you didn’t upload an image, I hope you learned something in the process.

So, let’s jump right in and take a look at the incredible winning images for the Interesting Plainness assignment, starting with the fifth place winner, Jack Andrys, with “Cube”, and here’s Jack’s back-story…

Thank you for your votes, to have achieved 5th place was a total surprise for me and my congratulations to all the other place holders who obviously did better than myself. I had made a personal commitment to enter every monthly assignment this year and as the assignment deadlines come around I am reminded how short a month is nowadays. I was sitting at my desk looking at the images I had taken during the month with the assignment theme in mind, and I found myself rejecting all of them.

I had taken some shots of my three year old daughter’s doll house with a pinhole homemade lens but they just weren’t working for me. I did however learn that when making a pinhole lens you really need to make a very small pinhole for the image to work on a DSLR. I was trying to take an inside room shot with plain walls and furniture of the doll house yet having it interesting because of the pinhole effect and the miniaturization of the doll house; my daughter thought it was great to be playing together.

"Cube" © Jack Andrys

“Cube” © Jack Andrys

As to my image “Cube” with only an hour to go before the deadline for submissions I handheld the camera and captured the image which is of the room ceiling corner above my desk. My lighting was a desk lamp pointed up into the corner. The wide open aperture of 1.4 helped with taking the shot in poor light, but also helped with the use of a short depth of field to add confusion to the image. I then cropped and adjusted the image in Lightroom trying to make the image look as much as possible an outside corner.

Jack, I have to admit, that until I read your back-story, I really thought this was an outside corner of a cube. I think the element of confusion that you so masterfully added with the shallow depth-of-field here makes this work so well. We associate shallow depth-of-field with very small macro type images, which is of course why TS/E lenses also make us feel as though we’re looking at a diorama, or miniature model of a scene, rather than the scene itself.

It’s also an exercise in lighting, as the ceiling being brighter than the walls also makes us feel as though the cube is being lit from the top, with less light hitting the front two sides. I imagine this was probably more of a happy accident than something you calculated, although if it was calculated that would be even more remarkable. Still, kudos to you Jack for seeing this and working the crop etc. to accentuate the affect, and thanks for continuing your commitment to post a photo to each month’s assignment this year. I totally understand how these months fly by, and you are a busy man, so you really are a model MBP community citizen. Thanks so much.

In fourth place is Donald McGuire with “Linear”, and here’s Don’s back-story…

The High Line is a New York City linear park built on a 1.45-mile section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan. It has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway, opening in 2009 . The rail line originally opened in 1934. The last trains operated in 1980 and it ultimately fell into decay until restoration started in 2006. Many cities have undertaken such rails to trails conversions. What is unique about this one, and especially significant for photography, is that is elevated. This provides a unique perspective of the many buildings and streets along the route.

"Linear" © Donald McGuire

“Linear” © Donald McGuire

On the morning of the 29th a group of us taking a local creative photography class met to see what we could make of the setting. I found this vantage point provided a perspective of the architecture that is not available from street level. The IAC (InterActive Corp) Building completed in 2007 is especially eye-catching with dominant lines, form and subtle changes in shading that really lent itself to this assignment. When viewed in its entirety the building resembles a bee-hive and is highly regarded in architectural circles. While I felt a full view of the structure was actually a more compelling photograph, I thought a tighter shot was more effective for this particular assignment, at a focal length of 105mm using a Nikon D300s.

As always thanks to the MBP community for the sustained collaborative and supportive environment. Of course, thanks to Martin for pushing us all forward since 2005, sharing his journey and enriching ours. For this assignment however I would like to also say thanks for ‘pulling me back’. It is so easy to be enamored of all the post-processing tools available to us in trying to make the plain look extraordinary that for me, this month, it was back to basics. Simply pressing the shutter hoping the plain could be made to look interesting.

Well, you are very welcome Don, on both counts. Although we have our friend Landon Michaelson to thank for the theme, I totally understand that simplicity and plainness is not as easy as one might think. You did an incredibly good job of it with your photograph “Linear” though. I am in awe of the tones in this image, and the lines are amazing. The gradation above and below each window looks so good it could have almost have been done in Photoshop anyway, but the fact that this is straight out of the camera is a tribute to the location, the perspective, and of course, your eye for the composition and ability to create the image. I love it. Thanks for getting involved Don and congratulations on fourth place.

Moving along, in third place is Elise Ange with “Emergence”, and here’s Elise’s back-story…

First, Congratulation to Wythe on his win with such an amazing image and to the others who placed. Thank you to all who voted for my entry.

"Emergence" © Elise Ange

“Emergence” © Elise Ange

This year, my project was to experience Spring. Too many years have gone by where work has consumed my time and I missed the wonderful colors that emerge with the season. I was at a local arboretum early one cloudy morning after some overnight rain when the light was just perfect. The red tulips were in one of the garden beds. This swirling petal of the opening bud made a simple tulip more interesting than the more common tulips that I normally see. Although I took many photos, this one fit the theme the best.

I made a small adjustment to the white balance and added some lens vignetting in Adobe Camera Raw to tone down the brightness of some unopened buds in the background. I made some other minor adjustment to increase the contrast and color. Thanks again, Martin, for another challenging theme.

Very well spotted Elise. I agree, that petal around the tulip adds a wonderful element of interest. The lines in the whole image are beautiful, and your post processing is very subtle, to the point that I’d never have guessed what you’d done, which should pretty much always be the case of course, but you’ve done it so well here. Excellent work as usual. Congratulations on third place Elise.

And in second place is Jason Dolbier with”egg”, and here’s Jason’s back-story…

Wow, thanks for the votes and congratulations to all the winners!! Thanks Martin for the great assignment, it was a challenge. I focused on the plainness part of the assignment first. I wanted to go as plain as I could. So i decided to play with white on white. After a thinking about it for a while I decide to go with an egg and a white background.

"egg" © Jason Dolbier

“egg” © Jason Dolbier

I used the 580 canon flash to separate the egg from the background with the egg’s shadow just outlining the top and left side of the egg. My goal was to make the shadow the interesting part of the photo. Once I got the shot I took it in to Silver Efex to convert the image to B/W then back to Lightroom to add a square crop to the image. I felt that this type of crop gave the final image a little more interest. Thanks again.

I totally agree Jason, I absolutely love this image! This is one of those images that makes me want to say that the only thing I don’t like about this image, is that I didn’t take it. It’s simply beautiful, and so simple, yet very effective. Kind of like Jack’s image that we looked at earlier, when I first looked at the thumbnail for this image, I thought it was a hole in something white, being lit from the front. I was amazed to see that it was an egg when I viewed the image full size.

The exposure and the lighting is perfect, and the tight crop, leaving very little of the shadow to the left, and removing the bottom and right side of the egg help to deepen the optical illusion you’ve created, as well as accentuate the curve of the top edge, down to the left side. Masterful work Jason! Thanks for getting involved, and congratulations on placing second.

And in first place is Wythe Whiting with “Snakes in grass”, and here’s Wythe’s back-story…

First off, thanks for everyone who voted for my image. This is my first first-place finish in a challenge since I joined the MBP forums 4 years ago. At that time, I remember being struck with how friendly, helpful, and encouraging people were here. We are lucky that we have such an oasis on the web — I’ve never run across a single other community like it, and I must give credit to the people here for my growth as a photographer.

As for my image backstory, I had decided to go out shooting one morning at our local woodland gardens. Though there were many flowers in bloom, I remembered being frustrated because I just couldn’t find an interesting subject to shoot. The flowers just weren’t holding my attention, and I remember actually being bored taking pictures of them. Do you ever get that feeling where you’re taking pictures, but you know that nothing’s really working? That was my morning.

"Snakes in grass" © Wythe Whiting

“Snakes in grass” © Wythe Whiting

I had finally wound my way to the end of the property where there was a pond with many grass reeds along the edge. I’ve walked past these on many occasions and would never think once about photographing them. But this morning, each reed had a single water droplet on the tip of the blade as if it had been squeezed out. I created a number of macro images of single blades, but the image I entered was the last shot I took that morning.

I was drawn to the two blades that had wilted over, and liked how they leaned in opposing directions. The light was already fairly low being in a heavily shaded area, but there was enough light reflected from the sky to highlight the tops of these two reeds and provide some good contrast.

I tried a number of things in post processing, but ended up settling on this low key version where the exposure was pulled down one stop. I also adjusted the black point and contrast to draw attention to blades in the foreground and to push the background in to black. In the end there’s a nice interplay of forms between the sharp vertical blades and the lazier curved blades, which to me resembled snakes.

Thanks again for a wonderful assignment. I haven’t had a lot of time for photography, but these assignments give me an excuse to get out shooting.

I’m pleased that the assignments get you out shooting Wythe, and I am very happy that you’ve enjoyed the time that you’ve spent with the MBP community. I totally agree that this remains the best community on the Web, with none of the petty bickering that you see so much of. I too am very happy to be a part of it.

Almost the opposite to Jack and Jason’s white images, you chose to go the other way, and darken it down, and this too works very well. Some people don’t like to see total blacks in photos, but I do this a lot myself. It think it works very well. It was great that you spotted those droplets, that surely do make the shot, as well as the lines, as you say, both verticals and the curves. It all comes together very well indeed. Congratulations on first place Wythe, and thanks for continuing to get involved.

Thank all five winners again for taking the time to get involved, and to post your back-stories to share with us all. Thanks also to everyone that got involved in the assignment. Whether you placed or not, I do hope you learned something by getting involved and giving this a try.

Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


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Podcast 333 : Food – Mar 2012 Assignment Winners

Podcast 333 : Food – Mar 2012 Assignment Winners

Today we take a look at the five winning images from the March 2012 MBP Assignment, on the theme of “Food”. Turnout for this assignment wasn’t great, which I guess proves what we already knew, that food photography isn’t as easy as you might think! Thanks to all of you that did get involved and uploaded your images, and even if you didn’t upload an image, I hope you learned something in the process.

So, let’s jump right in and take a look at the incredible winning images for the Food Assignment, and in fifth place, is Morton Goldberg with More Cookie Than Monster, and here’s Morton’s back-story.

More Cookie Than Monster © Morton Goldberg

More Cookie Than Monster © Morton Goldberg

March was a busy month and when the 31st came, I had not even made a start on the month’s assignment. If I was going to participate, I would have to do something simple — there was too little time remaining to do anything elaborate. That certainly meant that I wasn’t going to do any fancy food preparation of my own. I decided that baked goods were my best bet. There are bakeries in my area that produce luscious looking treats.

I visited the bakery in a local Whole Foods Market. It was near enough to Easter that they had a selection of pastries shaped as bunnies and baby chicks, but I was attracted to a tray of puff pastries decorated to look like muppet monster heads. I thought them amusing without being too kitschy.

I bought two. I was afraid, although each was carefully packaged in its own little box, there might be damage on the way home. Puffs are very delicate. I was right to be worried. Despite my trying to be careful, only one made it home in good enough condition to be photographed.

I used my trusty tabletop Lowel EGO light set-up to light the puff. This consists of two 16-inch square daylight fluorescent softboxes. This is an excellent kit for food photography. Actually, I think it was designed by Lowel with food photography in mind as its main application.

A confession: despite what my caption says, the subject is not really a cream puff, but a custard puff. I didn’t know that when I wrote the caption. I only found out later when I ate the puff.

I’m very pleased to have placed fifth with my rather hastily produced photo. My compliments to all those who placed above me for their excellent work. Also, I thank Martin for providing this assignment and for keeping them going. I know, Martin, you have heard this many many times, but it still bears repeating.

Well, thank you for participating, and especially this month Morton, as your photograph brings a broad smile to my face every time I look at it. You may not have made this yourself, but it’s a great find, and you lit it very well indeed. I think the light brown background matches the subject very well too, and even the fact that your little monsters right eye has been pushed half way out of its socket, adds an additional touch of humor to the subject. I really do like this one, congratulations on placing Morton.

Next up, in fourth place is Greg Anderson, with A Fancy Feast, and here’s Greg’s back-story.

A Fancy Feast © Greg Anderson

A Fancy Feast © Greg Anderson

First off, a big thank you to everyone who thought that my photo was good enough to vote for. I’m surprised that my first entry made it into the top 5!

I had been planning to pick a “theme of the month” contest to try and keep myself shooting, and since Martin’s podcast is one of my favorites, this seemed to be the natural place. By the time the holidays calmed down and I re-combobulated myself, it was March, and theme was food. Oh no! I barely have any culinary skills to make food, much less an eye to photograph it. But after a bit of thinking, I decided that since there was no stipulation that it had to be people food, I would try a different take on the topic.

Originally I thought I might have a scene with some cat food in the front (like it turned out) but have the feline face be visible, perhaps with some lip smacking going on, or some other appropriately catlike facial expression. But I quickly scratched that, knowing that it would be hard enough getting one of my cats to sit in the right place, never mind getting one of them to take posing directions. So I decided that a backlit, silhouetted cat with more direct lighting emphasis on the food was the way to go.

Setup was pretty basic: I put one gridded speedlite above the food, and one bare flash behind the cat’s seat on the floor, pointed at the blue background. It turned out to be easier than I thought to get a cat to sit by the small table I had set up, and about as easy as I thought to get said cat to sit in about the right pose. What I hadn’t counted on was tails: After my first round of shots, I found that over half of them had the backlight flash obscured partly by a swishing cat tail, since the flash was positioned right where the cat’s tail hung over the seat.

Disappointed with the results, I let it sit for a week or two. Even though I put the food away, I found that I almost always had cat sitting or sleeping on the seat, and they always had an expectant look on their face when I came into the room. The liberal use of cat treats during the previous session had made an impression, I guess!

When I finally came back to it, I had decided to add the glass of milk to the scene because having just the bowl of food and the cat in the scene wasn’t creating the right balance. Also, my backlight problems had been solved by the addition of another grid that I received from my wife for my birthday during the two weeks of downtime. Now I could position the background flash further to the side, and shape the light more.

I of course had a willing subject, and in return for three for four cat treats I managed to get the image that I entered in about 5 minutes of shooting. Post production in Aperture involved a slight amount of burning to some of the topmost pieces of cat food, as they were a bit too hot compared to the rest of the food. I also brushed in some desaturation on the milk to make it look more white, as opposed to the yellowish-white that milk tends to come out as in pictures.

Thanks go to Goomba, the cat in the picture, and Martin for everything that he does for the community. And again, thanks to everyone who voted for my picture. And of course, congratulations to Colin Michaelis for taking first place!

Well, you’re very welcome Greg, and thank you for participating, and for the great back-story. I think the key to your success with this image is that you allowed yourself enough time to revisit the assignment after a few weeks, and there’s a lesson to be learned for all of us here. Some months, it just isn’t possible to start shooting early enough, and having the pressure to come up with something on the last day, as Morton did, will certainly help sometimes, but here, I think the fine tuning of the lighting, and thinking of adding the glass of milk really made this shot. Without the milk, the feeling of the cat sitting down to a gourmet dinner would have been lost. Also, thanks for the tip on desaturating the milk a little. I’m sure that’s something we can all put to use too. Congratulations on placing, and I’m looking forward to your future shots as well.

Moving on to third place, and we have Elise Ange’s back-story for “S” is for Strawberry.

"S" is for Strawberry © Elise Ange

“S” is for Strawberry © Elise Ange

Congratulations to Colin for the win and to all who placed! Thanks to everyone who voted for mine.
I had decided that what I chose as subject matter for “Food” would not be cooked. Strawberries were featured in the weekly shopping circular and they looked mouth-watering. I arrived when the store opened for the biggest selection. I spent a lot of time looking through the strawberry packages to find ones which were all red.

The setup was not easy and I tried different glass containers, some with dry fruit, some with the fruit in water. I had a difficult time with the lighting. The first batch of strawberries did not yield any photos worthy of submission. Fortunately the next week, strawberries were still plentiful in the store and I bought a second batch.

I had done a bit of reading about food photography and decided to try natural lighting. I found a fancy bowl that I had received as a gift a long time ago and never used. However, I found that the natural lighting coming in the window still needed to be supplemented because it was stronger on one side of the subject than the other. I did some minor adjustments in Photoshop and cropped the image a bit. Martin’s themes present a challenge to me each month, but I learn something worthwhile with each of them.

What a beautiful way to have captured these strawberries Elise. Here simplicity is key, and the bright red strawberries against the white, and transparent bowl work very well, especially with that beautiful soft lighting.

I’m really pleased that the assignment helps you to continue to learn, as it does for all of us I think. Again, going the extra mile, and getting up early for the first batch, then going back to the store for a second batch of strawberries really contributes to the quality of your work, I’m sure. Congratulations on placing Elise, and thanks for continuing to get involved.

Next up, in second place is Graham Aylard with “Stawberry”, and here’s Graham’s back-story.

Strawberry © Graham Aylard

Strawberry © Graham Aylard

Thank-you for your votes and placing my image second. Here is the back story of the image ‘Strawberry’

Back in January I wanted to take my photography to a new direction. Studio photography. Inspired by one of the modern greats – Rankin. Although he operates with much more expensive equipment, staff and costly resources, personality of his subjects always shines through – a key element to his style of photography.  I wanted to capture personality of people too. I’ve been doing landscape photography for some time, studios was something that I haven’t really done before. It was time to plunge into the deep end and tackle studios.

I booked Lux studio near my home town in Maidstone for my first lighting lesson. Few weeks later, I booked model Kate for my first ever shoot.  I opted for a professional model instead of friends or family as I knew a model would be comfortable in front of the camera. Plus I wouldn’t have to worry too much on directing the model.  It went very well, capturing with some lovely fashion images. I learnt so much about lighting and portraiture that I wanted to give it another go.  Roll on a month later – I’d booked another session at Lux and hired semi-pro model Kandice.

With the theme of food, I knew that a single item of food being eaten by Kandice would work well. I asked Kandice to pose using a cherry as the food prop. However it turns out that Kandice likes cherries as she kept on eating them after I took only a few shots each time.  I also wanted to try a strawberry, so when Kandice finished off all the cherries, I got the strawberries out.  I tried head on shots at first but I wasn’t happy with the results. The side on pose with the model holding the strawberry slightly away from the lips seemed to work better for me. It also prevented Kandice eating all the strawberries!

Lighting in the studio was provided by four Bowens units, two Bowens 250 pointing at the white vinyl backdrop insuring a pure white background, and two slightly more powerful Bowens 500R for the key and fill lighting. Both of these fitted with a soft boxes. Captured on my new Nikon D7000

Post processing was done using Lightroom 3. During my efforts to process the studio shoot my iMac slowly died. Re-installing the OS didn’t help. But a torx screwdriver – size 8, Sat Nav windscreen holder and a new hard drive proved to be the answer. I had to pull the screen off and replace the hard drive which is located right behind the LCD screen. Pulling the screen off an iMac is certainly not for the faint hearted. Reinstalled the OS and Lightroom and all is well. Thankfully I have a reasonable backup workflow so I lost none of my images.

Back with a working computer I took the image and tilted it about 40 degrees for a more pleasing composition. I softened the models skin using the selective brush tool and sharpened the lips, increased the contrast, brightness and vibrance. Using the selective brush tool again, I removed the colour in the skin leaving the strawberry and lips in colour.

I was pleased with the result and I am chuffed to bits for the votes – thank you.  But my biggest critique is my partner, and she liked it too. So much so that my partner wants it framed and displayed in the kitchen of our new home when we move in together soon.

Other images of Kandice, including the colour version, the cherry images and my first studio shoot can be found on my website,

I would like to add a thank-you to Martin for putting these assignments together. It has really made me think about my photography in ways I thought was not possible. And for the fact that each image is at first, anonymous which means we are all voting on the merit of the image and not the photographer or even the kit used.  That’s really important to me, no matter how many votes I get! Thank you to MBP members for all the votes and thanks to Kandice, who posed for the image and ate all my cherries! I would also like to add a big thanks to my family for all their support, I would be taking a lot less photos if it wasn’t for the encouragement from my partner Sue.

And lastly congrats to Colin, for the winning image. A worthy winner.

Thanks for yet another great back-story Graham, and you are very welcome for the assignments. Again, I’m really pleased that they help. You are certainly doing well with your studio work. This image is simply beautiful. I checked out the color version on your Web site, as well as some of your other work. I really like what you are doing, in all of your chosen genres. Great stuff!

I find it interesting that both you and Elise ended up with vivid red strawberries and mainly white for the rest of your images. This really works well, simplifying the image overall, yet accentuating the reds. Very nicely done indeed. Congratulations on second place.

And in first place, as many have already mentioned, is Colin Michaelis, with A Splash of Color, and here’s Colin’s back-story.

A Splash of Color © Colin Michaelis

A Splash of Color © Colin Michaelis

Wow! What an honour it is to place alongside this great group of submissions for the “Food” assignment. Such creativity was shown by everyone. It is amazing the different perspectives we all bring to a topic.

When I saw the assignment for March was “Food”, my first reactions were – what on earth could I possibly do that will be worthwhile, and this is not something I know how to do. My next thought, however, was that this is exactly the reason why I have challenged myself to participate in the MBP assignment – so that I will tackle things that are not part of my normal routine, broaden my horizons and learn from the creative ideas of the other participants.

After a day or two of pondering the assignment, I decided on a concept. We have all seen pictures of food (often berries or fruit) splashing into water and so it is a little bit of a cliché image. However, I have the view that if I have never done it, then it is not a cliché for me yet. So I did some research into how other people had done similar assignments and made an investment in a $13 fish tank.

Setup involved placing the aquarium, about 2/3 full, in front of a black poster board. My two SB-28 strobes (covered in clear plastic to keep them dry) were on stands, one angled down into the tank from above and the other from the front through the glass at a 45 degree angle. The flashes were set to 1/32 power, and this was how I planned to freeze the action. I placed my camera, a Nikon D90, with my 50mm f/1.8 lens on my tripod facing straight on to the tank.

With the three peppers balanced on a plate about 12” above the water, I dropped them and pressed the shutter release cable with my other hand a split second later. From the first try, my timing was pretty good, but I found the first 3-4 shots all had a bit of reflection in the front glass. I removed the front speedlight, which solved the reflected light problem, but I was not getting quite enough light. I did not want to increase my flash power so I mounted the second strobe like the first but from the other side of the tank. This got me the look I wanted. It probably took about another ½ dozen tries to get the timing just right.

I found that two essential pieces of equipment were a squeegee and paper towels. After each attempt, it was essential to wipe the tank dry with the squeegee and then completely remove any remaining water spots with the paper towels. Even after doing this I needed to touch up a couple of water marks with the healing tool in Lightroom 4 and dodge a couple of places where there was a little reflection on the glass. I boosted the vibrance a little, although the colour of the peppers was already pretty good.

I had a lot of fun planning this assignment and I had a blast actually making the photograph. To get the results I did exceeded my own expectations and it is very encouraging to me to that I was able to learn something new. And as a bonus, I managed to keep camera and strobes dry, so they will still be working for next month’s assignment. ;-)

Martin, I thoroughly enjoy your podcasts which I listen to regularly. I learn a lot from them. And now that I am participating in the monthly assignment (this is my second entry) I am forcing myself to learn through making photographs that expand my comfort zone. So thank you Martin for providing this great forum.

You’re very welcome Colin, and thanks to you too for getting involved, and for yet another excellent back-story, and what an brilliant tutorial on how to shoot this kind of image! Your investigation beforehand, and the a little trial and error with the positioning of the lights really paid off. You totally nailed this, creating a professional looking image, and capturing the freshness and appeal of the food too. Very well done indeed, and congratulations on a well earned first place.

I’d like to quickly thank all five winners again for taking the time to write out your back-stories to share with us all. I often fail to mention this, but it adds so much to the assignment, and is key to enabling me to bring this episode to the community each month, really building on the experience that many of us put so much into. Thanks also to everyone that got involved in the assignment. Whether you placed or not, I’m sure you all learned something by getting involved and giving this a try.

Flattr & Paypal Donations

Before we finish today, I’d like to mention that I’ve recently placed Flattr buttons on the blog and Podcast pages, to make it easier for people to help with the upkeep of the Podcast. I don’t mention this very often, probably only two or three times in almost seven years of creating this Podcast, but it does take considerable time each week to keep this up, not to mention the cost of the servers etc.

I get a lot back from this community of course, and that’s one reason why I don’t push this, but people have recently been asking more and more how they can help, so I thought it might be worth mentioning again. Note that in addition to Flattr, the new microdonations service that I think is going to become almost a standard way to pay content creators very soon, I have left the Paypal donation buttons in place, on the right side of each page, so if you want to show your appreciation, a donation using either Flattr or Paypal would be very much appreciated.

I’ve also placed Google +1 buttons on most pages around our Web site too, so you can also help by clicking these +1 buttons to let Google know that what I do here is appreciated, or maybe you could write a review for the Podcast in the  iTunes Store. Anything that you can do is very much appreciated.

Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


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Podcast 329 : “Intimate Landscape” Feb 2012 Assignment Winners

Podcast 329 : “Intimate Landscape” Feb 2012 Assignment Winners

Today we take a look at the five winning images from the February 2012 MBP Assignment, on the theme of “Intimate Landscape”. Again, although it was rather a difficult theme, we had an amazing turnout for this assignment, even beating January which was great too! Thanks to all of you that got involved and uploaded your images.

So, let’s jump right in and take a look at the incredible winning images for the Intimate Landscape theme, starting with Bill Johnson’s wonderful image, Hidden, and here’s Bill’s back-story.

Wow! There are many fine photographers in the Martin Bailey community, so I am deeply honored to place in the intimate landscapes competition for the month of February. This is my first time to place. Thanks to everyone who voted for this photo!

Hidden © Bill Johnson

Hidden © Bill Johnson

My photograph entitled “Hidden” was made at Seven Falls in North Central Alabama, USA. Even in the States, Alabama is often overlooked when it comes to a place of natural beauty. I have read that Alabama has more than 1700 waterfalls. Most of these would be small by any standard. These falls mostly occur as the Appalachian Plateau ends and the many streams and rivers drop into the piedmont area.

I was on a trip from the Gulf Coast where I live to Nashville, TN, and looked to see if there was a waterfall close to the Interstate highway. I found gps coordinates for Seven Falls in rural Morgan County, Alabama, not more than seven miles from the interstate. It was high in the hills and by the time I arrived at the creek there were nothing but dirt roads. There had been about three days of steady rain and it was still cloudy the day I arrived. The winter weather has been unusually warm in the southern US, and even in early February some of the trees were beginning to leaf out. The hike to the falls was easy, and the hike down into the canyon was easily accomplished. It was a beautiful area with a mature mixed hardwood forest.

Because my wife was with me I knew I wouldn’t have a great deal of time to make a photograph. Frankly, I was amazed at the beauty of the falls. Even though the falls is easily accessible if you know where it is, I found very few photographs or comments about it online. For this shot I put my tripod on a boulder so the upper cascade of the falls is easily seen. It was cloudy but I still used a variable neutral density filter set as dark as possible. The Tokina 11-16 was set at f19 for maximum depth of field with sharpness, and 16mm allowed a wide angle in this relatively intimate space. These settings provided an 8 second exposure in the middle of the day which provides the silky moving water of the falls.

Composition is important to me. For me, this photograph moves from the bottom right tree through the monolithic granite boulder at the base of the falls and back to the upper right with the movement of the water. While I am pleased with the overall presentation, the greens, especially those of the moss, popped just a bit brighter on the upload than they were meant to be (I’m not sure why that happens). While this brilliant green mossy covering is everywhere and really adds visually to the appeal, imagine a shade or two darker. The reds in the canyon wall and all the other colors in the scene appear as my eye saw it. It is a stunningly beautiful place. One other note about this falls–the water goes underground at this pool. I didn’t try to find its reappearance but it was at least as far as the eye could see.

I end with a special thanks to Martin. I’ve been listening to your podcast since about #100, and have learned a great deal from your photographic journey. More than anything, you’ve been an inspiration. I wish you continued success and good health.

Thanks so much for that message at the end there Bill, and thanks so much too for getting involved in the Assignment, with such a beautiful image too. You probably already know that I’m partial to a good waterfall shot too, and this is certainly one of them. What an amazing back-story too! It’s intriguing that the water goes underground right from this pool.

I love the colors as you say, with those bright greens and beautiful reds. Great use of the Vari-ND for the long exposure, and I like the composition too. For me, my eye is led  into the shot with the smaller rock in the left third, up into the falls with the aid of the large rock in the middle, and then up the tree, where I start to explore the red rock face to the left, then over to the right side, and back up into the image with the leading lines of the two trees on the right. It’s always a good thing when your compositional elements lead the eye back into the shot to continue exploring. Well done Bill, and congratulations on fifth place.

In fourth place we have Colin Michaelis, with Individually Sculptured, and here’s Colin’s back-story.

Thanks to those who voted for my picture, “Individually Sculptured”. I am delighted and honored to join the other placed entries. Congratulations to all of you and particularly to Seearbudd for the winning entry.

This is my first entry to the MBP Assignment. I decided recently that I needed the challenge of working on an assignment as I had fallen into the rut of taking mostly the same images – broad landscapes and birds. The first time out, the assignment achieved my goal, and got me looking at the world differently. The idea of an intimate landscape did not often cross my mind before, now I think it will be a regular element of my photography.

Individually Sculptured © Colin Michaelis

Individually Sculptured © Colin Michaelis

I went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which are magnificent year-round. The Japanaese garden, Sansho-En, at the Gardens, is on three islands. I was viewing the garden this time, less as a grand landscape (which it really is), but focusing more on its component parts like a bright yellow willow tree, the rocks in the lake, or rounded stones on the shore. This change in focus was caused directly by this month’s assignment. So instead of putting on a wider angle lens, I actually put on my Bigma (Sigma 50-500mm) that I normally use for bird photography.

One of the elements that really caught my eye, like never before, was the sculptured or styled trees – mostly pines – at the Garden. This one (I think a Scots Pine) had a striking profile and with the ice of the frozen lake as a wonderful backdrop, really stood out as a feature on its own. My composition choice was to limit the frame to one tree and then limit it even more to just part of the tree and include a lot of the stark frozen lake, partly getting the environmental context – that wintry feel, but also providing a great contrast to the rich hues of the branches and the needles. That contrast, I felt, really made the tree pop and draw the eye to the intricate carefully pruned branches. The picture was taken with my Nikon D90 with the Sigma 50-500mm at 240mm focal length for this shot.

Special thanks to Martin for his helpful blogs and podcasts. I particularly appreciated this assignment forcing me to look at landscapes entirely differently this month. I look forward to the next assignment challenging me to think differently and step even more out of my comfort zone.

I’m so pleased that this assignment got you thinking in a different way Colin, and possibly even changed how you’ll approach your photography from now on. That’s exactly what I hope from these assignments, and I hope that those who haven’t yet really gotten involved are listening! 🙂

What a beautiful subject you found too! Unmistakably Japanese, and the frozen lake really does help to make the tree pop, almost like a traditional Japanese painting. At first I thought it was a flowing river in the background, and you’d used a long exposure like Bill to make the water smooth and silky, so it was fun to hear that it is actually ice.

I also like the way you chose to crop off the tree mid-way, and give us only a hint of it’s oriental, mistic form. Very well done Colin, and thank you for getting involved, and for the kind words. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work in the assignments.

And in third place is Elise Ange, with The Color of WInter, and here’s Elise’s back-story.

Congratulations to Seearbudd and to the others who placed. There were so many great interpretation of the theme this month. Even though this was a very difficult one for this time of year, I learned a lot about this type of photography and found myself wishing for those cloudy days with the better lighting conditions. But the brown colors of winter made for many lackluster photos and nothing to submit for the theme. It was only one morning after one of the few light snows during the month that the opportunity presented itself in the woods next door.

The Color of WInter © Elise Ange

The Color of WInter © Elise Ange

Without the snow, this scene would have not have come together. It delicately defined the horizontal branches among the strong vertical trunks. After I had downloaded the shot, I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of browns and bark textures in the trees. This was only minimally processed and slightly cropped where the right-most tree trunk showed a small empty space. I found this theme very intriguing and will probably do more of it with the better colors of Spring. Thanks to Morton for his suggestion and to all of those who voted for “The Color of Winter”.

I totally agree that the snow made this shot Elise, it’s beautiful with the white adding so much contrast and outlining the trees and finer branches. I see what you mean about the various textures in the bark on the tree trunks too. It’s fun just looking at each trunk in turn, and appreciating the detail and pattern created on the surface of each. Excellent work as usual Elise, and congratulations on third place.

And in second place is Wythe Whiting with Untitled and here’s Whythe’s back-story.

What a great assignment and a strong showing of submissions. I’m really tickled to have placed in this month challenge. My backstory is pretty short. I went out to a small creek to see what kinda water falls it had. As it turned out, this was not the kinda place where you could set up and get a nice shot of big falls. So instead, I decided I’d try to move in closer to try and get some more abstract shots of rocks and water.

Untitled © Wythe Whiting

Untitled © Wythe Whiting

I found this nice rock with water sheeting off of it. I had an 8 stop and 3 stop nd filter on to slow the exposure to 10 seconds. I later learned that a 5 sec exposure gave exactly the same look to the water given how fast it was moving, so maybe a bit of over kill on the filters. I used a 25 mm lens and so the camera is only about a foot or two away from the “falls”. The black and white conversion was done with silver efex.

I really enjoyed this assignment and will be thinking of intimacy with my landscapes a lot more now. Thanks to all who voted for me.

Again, it’s great to hear that this assignment has you thinking more of intimate landscapes Wythe. I believe that many landscape shots can be improved a lot by getting in much closer, and examining the details, rather than automatically reaching for the wide angle. There are of course places for the sweeping vista, but close is often much more compelling in my opinion.

And once again, another great water fall shot. I love the tight composition, and the feel of the running water in contrast with the textured black rocks. A very nice black and white conversion here too. You gotta love Silver Efex Pro. Congratulations on a very well earned second place Whythe!

And in first place is Thomas Seear-Budd with In Search of Intimacy, and here’s Thomas’ back-story.

Firstly I just wanted to thank everyone who voted for my image. This is the first time I have entered one of these assignments and I am really suprised that I won. There are so many talented people who entered some truly amazing work in this assignment. Also I just want to say a big thanks for Martin for making this sort of interaction among photographers possible. You have formed a great environment full of education and learning.

The back story of my image is a similar to that which was posted with the photo. I went down to this site about four times before I got what I was after.

In Search of Intimacy © Thomas Seear-Budd

In Search of Intimacy © Thomas Seear-Budd

Whenever I go down to the South Coast (Wellington, New Zealand) to take photos, I usually spend about 2-3 hours sitting among the rocks, shooting and thinking. I have been down several times and while I’m there I always have at least one moment where I think about my Mum. Earlier this week I was taking photos down there, only this time I began to think more deeply. I began to think about my memories of Mum and the times we had together.

To fill you in, when I was 10 she died of cancer. She had suffered for eight long years, while caring for two small children and a loving husband. As I was only 10 when she died, my memories of her are not crystal clear. What I found interesting as I dived deeper into my thoughts was that these memories were mostly visual. I don’t remember sounds or smells as much as pure visual experiences.

For example, I remember the experience of going bike riding along the coast here with Mum. I don’t remember specific rides but I remember the feeling and sights. As I sat on these rocks I began to respect this place for how significant it is in my life and its importance to my mother. Due to its impact and meaning to Mum, this coast has more significance to me now than my nearby family home.

I remember her going off for walks down at the coast and she constantly wrote about it in her daily notes. At the time I never thought anything of this. But here I am ten years later, sitting on these rocks beginning to wonder why she came here and what she did. Or more importantly what she thought about. I think she came here to escape, to think by herself. To cry, yell, jump and run. I think she used it as an opportunity to think about my brother and I, as well as to worry and pray for my father.

I think she also contemplated about what we would become and reflected on her life and illness. I think this last point is very important because my Dad has told me that they rarely talked about the illness. He said that mum was in denial. She wanted to focus on her family and on the moments she had. This environment served as her escape and she formed an intimate bond with it. In doing so, this place has become a catalyst for my memories of her.

Over the past decade this landscape has enabled me to search for a more intimate relationship with my mother who I never fully got to know. To me, this image speaks of this on-going search for my mother. This may be a never-ending journey but one thing is certain, a greater level of intimacy will grow.

Thanks again everyone, I am honoured to be selected this month. I have only been seriously photographing for about 4 months, so this result is really satisfying.

Wow! Holy crap Thomas! If I hadn’t had a chance to think about what I would say right now, I’d be speechless, on so many levels. Your story about your mother and this place in heart-wrenching, and yet incredibly tender. I feel so sorry for you and your family, and all that you went through, and for your mother who lost the fight with that awful desease that takes so many.

Also, it sounds like you are only twenty years old, and having only been photographing for 4 months, and coming up with this! I cannot wait to see how you develop as a photographer, and really hope that you’ll hang around to share your progress with us.

You followed your post with the shooting information, that you used a sigma 10-20mm f3.5 lens, at f11 for 50 seconds, and that you wanted to use one point perspective to compose this image to draw the viewer into the frame to add to the idea of searching.

You accomplished your goal in the image, with the beautiful composition, dark corners and the water leading down through the rocks. Then the flowing sky from the long exposure brings us back up through the photo to come back down and start exploring again. It’s a masterpiece and classic image, after just four months of shooting. I’m sure you’re very proud of your work, and I’m sure that your mother would have been too. Well done Thomas.

Thanks once again to everyone that got involved in the February assignment. Whether you placed or not, I’m sure you all learned a little something from getting involved and giving this a try.

Tokyo Photowalk with Mark Esguerra

Also, I’m planning to take part in Mark Esguerra’s photo walk, starting outside the main gate at Shinjuku Gyoen at 1PM on Saturday April 7, which is this coming weekend. If you live in or around Tokyo or are visiting for the cherry blossom, it would be great to see you there! Here’s a link to the details on Google+ =>


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Podcast 324 : Jan 2012 “Frozen Motion” Assignment Winners

Podcast 324 : Jan 2012 “Frozen Motion” Assignment Winners

I’m back from my Snow Monkey and Hokkaido Winter Wonderland Workshop and Photography Tour, and just settling back into my daily routines. I’ll be updating you on the tour later, once I’ve gotten through all of my photos, but today we’re going to take a look at the five winning images from the January 2012 MBP Assignment, on the theme “Frozen Motion”.

Despite the relatively difficult theme, we had a great turnout for the Frozen Motion assignment, with almost double the entries of the previous months! Thanks to all of you that stepped up to the plate for this one and uploaded your images, and please do continue to try and get involved if you don’t already.

So, let’s jump in and take a look at the winning images, starting with Satoshi in fifth place with “Happy Hour”.

© Andrew Satoshi Aylett - Happy Hour

© Andrew Satoshi Aylett – Happy Hour

Hello everyone, and thanks to all who voted for my photo. As this is my first entry, it feels like first time luck to be selected amongst such talented photographers in this community.

Before knowing the assignment theme for the month, I’ve been coincidently taking some action photos of my dog at the local park which I was quite happy with some of the results. But I remembered in the previous podcast when Martin mentioned, monthly assignment are not for digging back through your old photos, its about getting out there and shooting with a purpose and it’s a great way to improve on your skills.

Although I had taken some shots during January, I decided to take on the advice and re-shoot for this assignment. This also gave me the opportunity to plan this shoot and after three days returning back to the same spot, I finally nailed one of my dog jumping in the air.

As my dog wanders down the hill, the only way that I can get him to sprint back up where he makes the final jump is to get his attention and run the opposite direction. He really loves to play chases.

Firstly, I needed to pre set the camera in aperture priority mode to f5.6, iso 640 to achieve shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. I’ve also under exposed by -0.3 from exposure compensation to make sure I get all the highlight details in the photograph. It was late afternoon and the sun was quite low, giving nice side light across the park.

As my dog makes his way towards the top of the hill I then quickly focus on the area where I think he is going to make the jump and lock the focus and exposure by pressing down on the af-l button on my Nikon D3. I’ve also set my camera to continuous shooting mode and made sure that I started firing before he reached the top.

Finally, I hope for the best that just one photo is in focus at the right moment.

Andrew Satoshi Aylett

Well, first of all, thanks for getting involved Satoshi, and thanks for the great back-story! I really like your shot, and your subject, Charlie, is a beautiful looking dog. You must be very proud of him. It’s good that you were able to think of all the variables for your shooting situation ahead of time, such as ensuring that you had a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion, and pre-focussing as you did, are perfect to execute shots like this, so well done on that, and congratulations on placing!

Next, in fourth place is Marcus Perkins with “Breaking the Slidesical”, and here’s Marcus’ back-story…

© Marcus Perkins - Breaking the Slidesical

© Marcus Perkins – Breaking the Slidesical

Firstly many thanks for the votes and congrats to the other placed entries. It was a great theme and there were lots of great photos. This year I made the resolution to enter the MBP monthly assignments to get me taking pictures. Something that I had been neglecting last year.

I had the idea of breaking the block of ice when I first saw the assignment title. I liked the idea of using the ice as a lightbox for a slide and set about testing the freezing process. The first attempts were ok although with the slide buried deep in the ice, the picture itself wasn’t clear because of frosting. Finally with the month slipping away I managed to get the slide to stay on the surface of the water as it froze in a plastic tub.

I set up my studio with a black card background and white card base to reflect the light.
I wanted to use Nikons Auto FP mode for this to maximise the shutter speed. I used two SB800s, one placed behind the block of ice and one front and camera left.

The settings were 1/8000sec F8 – foreground flash 1/1 power – background flash 1/8 power. I knew this would be a one shot effort and couldn’t use high speed continuous due to the flash recycling. I braced myself with the lump hammer, a wireless remote and hoped for the best…..

© Marcus Perkins - Aftermath

© Marcus Perkins – Aftermath

It was close to what I wanted and I was very happy not to have caught the hammer in mid air! I had another couple of swings just for the hell of it and then it was time to tidy up and apologise for the noise.

© Marcus Perkins - Aftermath

© Marcus Perkins – Aftermath

Post processing was limited to a crop, white balance and the usual sharpening etc. Many Thanks again.

Thanks you Marcus! You made a great shot, and a great back-story to follow up with. I’m impressed with your vision here, as well as the execution of the shot. I’m sure this is one of those times where I would have missed the timing slightly and ended up having to clear up and refreeze everything etc. Congratulations on a great shot and for placing in the assignment.

In third place is Jack Andrys with “Look”, and here’s Jack’s back-story…

Let me start of with a big thank you to all who voted for my image, I am honoured to have placed amongst such great competition. Whilst it is rewarding to have placed, I found that just the act of participating was a great deal of fun in itself. Thank you to Martin and anyone who helps in the background on the assignments.

As to my photo, it was early in January and my daughter was visiting from Australia so I had many opportunities whilst showing her around San Francisco to photograph our site seeing. It was the afternoon when we decided with the rest of the family to take a boat tour around the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was cold and as you can tell a windy trip so in the main we stayed inside, but ventured out on deck to take some shots as we neared the bridge.

The sun was low on the horizon and with the light fading surrounded by a deck full of people I was forced to shoot close at 24mm with my daughter at the minimum focus distance on the 24-70mm. I set myself a minimum shutter speed range of 1/60 to 1/80 and tried to stop down to as high an f stop as possible which ended up being f9. I ended up taking about 25 shots all whilst the boat went under the Golden Gate Bridge, and after I imported them into Lightroom 4 Beta I fell in love with this image.

© Jack Andrys - Look

© Jack Andrys – Look

Whilst there were plenty of shots with my daughter looking less wind swept and more posed, it was this shot which captured the moment when she lost interest in everything else but the bridge. I think she even forgot that I was taking photos at this point in time.

When I processed and cropped the shot and looked at the way her hair was pointing at the bridge frozen yet still in motion I immediately remembered the January assignment. It was great to place on my first ever assignment entry. Thanks again to all and well done to Mr “Jello” Tanaka for his winning entry.

Thanks very much for getting involved Jack, and for yet another great back-story! You captured a beautiful image of your daughter in a wonderful moment, looking up at one of the most iconic structures in the world. The look is great, but for me, what makes this is the clouds, flowing in almost the opposite direction, complementing your daughter’s hair as they criss-cross. Congratulations on the excellent shot and for placing Jack!

In 2nd place is Elise Ange with “Flight of the Husky”, and here’s Elise’s back-story.

Congratulations to Forrest for the win and to all who placed! Thank you for all of your votes.

It was almost the end of the month and I hadn’t been very successful in getting anything to submit. There were so many great entries that I needed to have something different than what was already posted. I decided on some sort of flight. I have several interesting kites but it is too cold in the middle of winter for flying them. The next best thing was planes. The small commercial airport I visited did not allow photography without written permission. The next two small local airports had no activity when I drove by them. But the third one was busy enough with take-offs and landings.

© Elise Ange - Flight of the Husky

© Elise Ange – Flight of the Husky

It is located in a state park next to a beautiful lake surrounded by many trees. The setting was ideal and the temperature not too chilly for the couple of hours I was there. The take-offs were into the sun so I concentrated on the landings coming in over the lake. The Husky A1-A is bright yellow with black trim and produced the most contrasty photos. The conversion to black and white with Silver Efex Pro made an even more dramatic image.

Great shot Elise, and a very nice black and white conversion as usual. I really like that you can see the pilot’s face as they guide the small plane in to land. I see from the EXIF data on your image that you had cranked up the ISO to 900 with an aperture of f4.5 to give you a nice fast shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second, which helped to freeze the motion, in line with the assignment theme, which is great. Congratulations on placing and on a great photo Elise!

Finally, in first place is Forrest Tanaka with “Attraction”, and as you’ll hear Forrest has a great back-story behind this image.

Hey everyone, thanks for all the votes! It’s a nice way to come back to Martin’s assignments after a long break. This is the backstory for the shot, “Attraction.”

I had tried a similar shot for an assignment a couple years ago or so, and it completely failed. It involved tilted tables, and moving and stopping glasses of wine, and all I ended up doing was making a big mess and some lousy photos. The idea stayed in the back of my mind, and a recent trip to the grocery store where my daughter was looking over pudding flavors next to the Jello (US brand generic; it’s “jelly” in other countries) packs finally made the connection click. Then the Frozen Motion assignment came up, and I knew I had to enter.

I bought some long-setting raspberry Jello and some raspberry juice for the poured “wine” (I’d photographed real red wine before, and it looks as opaque and black as coffee). I poured the Jello into a couple of wine glasses propped at an angle on styrofoam protectors from a laptop box. Then I set up a frame I’d made that lets me hold a translucent white 1m-square sheet of acrylic I use for some product shots, and a remote strobe on the floor below pointing straight up. I shot it with a 70-200 lens at 100mm with just this one strobe.

On the first attempt, I forgot to set multi-shot mode on my camera, so I only ended up with a wine bottle and no wine. The second, I missed the wine glass completely and made a mess. This was the third.

© Forrest Tanaka - Attraction

© Forrest Tanaka – Attraction

If you want to see how I took the shot, I redid the shot the next day on camera and posted it on YouTube.

What an brilliant shot Forrest, and a very imaginative way to achieve these excellent results! When I first saw the image I was running through the possibilities, like those you mentioned, as in tilting the table and quickly pushing the left glass in to cause the fluid to move up like that, but I figured that both would be too messy or difficult, and then I’d figured that it must be Jello when I saw your post on Google+ about this, with your video.

It was nice to be able to figure this out, because I know that you and other food photographers go to great lengths to achieve realistic looking food and drinks, often with different substances altogether. I would never have guessed that red wine photographed so darkly mind, so I also learned something there too, so thanks again for the excellent back-story and video to explain your process.

Thanks once again to everyone that got involved in the January assignment too. Whether you placed or not, I’m sure you all learned a little something from getting involved and giving this a try.

Show Notes

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