I’m Not Afraid of the Dark

2014-9-1 Edit 2 2014-9-1 setup

I’m not afraid of the dark because I made the dark. No, I’m not claiming to be a deity, I literally made the dark. Well photographically I made the dark, the room was actually pretty well lit as far as eyes are concerned. And full disclosure, this is the kid’s room which seems to be perpetually messy, as you can see in the setup shot, no matter how much “cleaning” time is devoted to it. Further disclosure, there are things in here that scare me. Mostly stray Lego pieces because I prefer to be barefoot and if you’ve ever had the misfortune of stepping barefoot on a Lego block, you understand my fear.

But I’m off topic already. I wanted to take a quick photo today and thought I’d use what used to be my favorite chair. The kids have claimed the chair for their own and so that chair sits in the room of fear. I wasn’t going to lug the chair and the camera, flash and stand to another room and eat into my time so the photo had to be made right there. You can see in the setup there’s all manner of distraction in the background, so what to do? Well, I brought the SB600 in close, about 2′ from my nose and bare. I put a strip of black poster board on the far side of the flash to keep it from spilling into all that ugliness behind me, turned down the power to 1/16 and closed up my aperture to f/13. What does all of that do? It creates darkness and all without supernatural ability. The level of light you see in the setup shot is exactly what was in the room at the time of the shot. So while I would normally fear a stray Lego lurking in the darkness if I sat in the middle of that room, here I didn’t because the room wasn’t dark at all.

The particulars: Nikon D90 with 18-55 kit lens mounted on tripod and fired via timer. ISO 200, 24mm, 1/200th, f/13. SB600 camera left with just a flag on the side to control spill. Flag is homemade by the way out of leftovers from one of the kid’s projects. The flash was fired with my generic radio triggers. Oh and one more item to disclose; the shot took 15 minutes total from setup to cleanup. I can make darkness but I’m not perfect.

I’m not doing too bad so far but there’s still a long way to go and school is going to get harder so hopefully I can stick with this; I’m enjoying the process.


Down and Dirty

It’s funny, today I have more time than I would typically when school is in but felt pressed for time to make a photo. That’s one of those mental block to making photos I’m trying to overcome with this project. This anxiety that I simply don’t have enough time. My homework is done, kids are fed, everyone is doing their own thing right now and I even got a run in today. There is literally nothing else for me to do today but lounge and I felt like I didn’t have time to make a photo. But of course that’s not true, it’s all in my head.

So I went downstairs thinking while taking those 10 or so steps about what I wanted to do. I thought about a simple headshot, down and dirty…well kind of. My tripod, which you may or may not be able to tell from my setup shots only opens up to about 58″ but I’m 6′ tall. Sitting wasn’t an option in this room because at chair height, the walls have things on them all the way around. You can see my wife’s storage racks for forgotten scrap book items in the setup. That’s as uncluttered as it gets in this room. No worries, this is simply something to think around. Hey, shooting up at a slight angle gives kind of that hero/rockstar feel right? Maybe not so much in this shot but I made it work and kept the actual setup and shoot at the 10 minute mark. I did some very simple editing (contrast, clarity, vibrance) and sat down to write this. Looking at my watch I’m going to be over by about 5 minutes but that’s all from right here, sitting and typing. 

So I’ll wrap quick with this: ISO 200, 1/200th f/8 with my D90 and my 50mm 1.8. The SB600 was in a little softbox modifier which I may not have mentioned in the original post but is still cheap and easy to find. The flash was right up in my face and fired with my generic radio trigger. I like this image better than my first two and I spent the least amount of time making it. 

See you all again soon.

2014-8-30 edit 2014-8-30 setup

Back To School

I cheated today. I guess that’s kind of an ironic admission given the theme of today’s post. I had time. Not really extra time but I had a few programs I had to load onto my computer for one of my classes so I used that down time to make the shot today. I took 15 minutes instead of the 10 I promised. It’s still early in the process so I’m not feeling a lot of guilt but I am running out of time now. The programs are loaded and it’s time to get to work on some homework and I’m here banging this out. I’ll give myself a pass today and hope you will too. I have to ease back into the routine of school and homework. I’ve included a setup shot taken with my phone. I used the D90 with the kit lens at 24mm. Shot at ISO 400, 1/10th to get the ambient and f/11. In hindsight I could have gotten ISO 200 or even Low 1, but I was on the clock and panicked. Live and learn. I fired my SB600 with my cheap radio trigger although I could have gotten away with Nikon CLS. Anyway, here is Back To School, and if you’re back to school now too, good luck this semester and don’t forget to shoot something today.

2014-8-25 Low Res Edit 2014-8-25 setup

A Rainy Day

I figured I’d make a quick portrait for day one so I grabbed my camera bag, blew the dust off and took a minute to think about what I was going to do. I thought I’d take a quick shot sitting at the computer with the blog on the screen but I ran into a couple of problems right away. The AA batteries in my flash were dead and my tripod was in my wife’s car at work. I cracked a smile thinking how appropriate it was that I should be faced with obstacles trying to make a portrait on the first day.

2014-8-23 Diagram20140823 Low Res


Our house is filled with incandescent light and it’s a gray, rainy day so my options were limited. I decided to take a photo by the big window in back where there was the most light. Working within the confines I set up on my own, this was going to have to be a selfie but taken with my Nikon and not my phone. I shot this with my D90 and the 18-55 kits lens. No flash and handheld at arm’s length. I shot at ISO 800, 1/60 and f/3.5. The resulting photo isn’t great by anyone’s standard but I made a photo today, in less than 10 minutes, working within my constraints and working through a couple of last minute obstacles. Not a bad start.

The Genesis

I’m not a writer, which may become evident before I finish the first post. I’m also not a photographer, just a guy with a hobby. That said, I do enjoy making photos. Like most anyone who has been bit by the photography bug, I’ve made a lot of really bad photos mixed in with a few really good photos. Over the last few years I have seen some improvement in my photography as I’ve learned, shot and learned some more. Like anything else, the doing pays greater dividends than the acquisition of theory. Two recent blog posts have inspired this blog; a post from Zach and Jody, Nashville wedding photographers, where Zach shared an early photo that by his own admission wasn’t that great; the lighting was flat, the colors a little off. He contrasted that against a recent portrait of a local musician that was something a hobbyist like me aspires to shoot. The lighting was multi-dimensional and the colors jumped out of the monitor. That two dimensional photo had life. What grabbed me about the blog post was something we’ve all heard before; shooting is the best way to get better at making photos. Zach and Jody have done a lot of it and it shows in their work. The second post and maybe of greater personal importance was by Zack Arias, an Atlanta based photographer and a great teacher (just realized both sources of inspiration were named Zach/Zack, I wonder how my 12 year old would feel about a name change). Zack was working on a project making a portrait of a local artist. The portrait was to be made inside the artist’s home. The blog included a video of the shoot and watching that video was a photographic smack upside the head. Zack made two very good portraits but the one that really grabbed my attention was a head shot on a white background shot in the artist’s kitchen. Zack walked into that small space, saw his limitations, and worked around them. Between himself, his lighting and his subject I would guess he made his portrait in a space about 4′ wide by 8′ deep with appliances, cabinets and a table crammed in tight around the setup. I commented on the post that it made me realize that space limitations were mental more so than physical. And the idea for this blog was born.

 I think everyone of us with this compulsion to use a camera to convey something knows when they’ve made a good photo and when they’ve made something just so-so. When you envision an image and then actually execute that vision, the joy you get is something that doesn’t have an equal. Sure there are things of much greater importance in all of our lives but that feeling is something from a different place and it’s personal and it’s prideful and there’s no shame in that because you made it happen. So I asked myself, what keeps me from making more of those photos, the ones that give me that feeling. Seeing Zach and Jody’s post turned the key and unlocked the door; you have to shoot. You can’t expect to get better at something without doing it. But I wasn’t doing it enough and it was because I had a lot of obstacles in the way of shooting. Then I watched Zack Arias’s video and that door that was unlocked by Zach and Jody swung wide open. The obstacles in my way are the same ones you have in front of you. I’m speaking in present tense because this is day one and those obstacles are still very real for me. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the right gear, I don’t have the right space, I don’t have someone or something to make a photo of. You can insert some of your own in the comments and decide for yourself if they’re purely mental but I know now that all of mine are.

Now before I get to my goal, let me tell you a little about me so you have some insight into my mental obstacles. I’m 40 years old and work a full time job that involves a commute every day. I married to a wonderful wife who also works outside of the home. We have three children between the ages of 11 and 16. We have two dogs and an empty aquarium begging for some fish. And oh yeah, I’m also a part time student currently working on my Bachelors in Computer Science. To say time I have very little free time is as truthful for me as it is for most of you. So my first mental obstacle is the big one, time. I have very little free time but I’m going to work around that. Referring back to all of the above, it might not surprise you to know that we have a household budget that doesn’t have room for full frame cameras, expensive glass and high dollar studio equipment. I have my trusty, used Nikon D90, a Nikon 18-55 kit lens and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8, a second hand SB-600 one cheap light stand and one tripod. That’s pretty much everything I’m going to be working with for this project. You may have more, you may have less but I can’t recall how many times I thought “If I only had a…” and thought the object would help me make better photos. The truth is, gear limitations are also mental. Sure a set of Alien Bees and, a Nikon D4 and some big dollar fast glass would be great but if I’m not shooting with what I have now, what good would all that gear be sitting in a bag? I’ll use what I have and work around any perceived short comings in my equipment. The last of my limitations are people and space and these two are ridiculous. Seeing Zack’s video in that kitchen caused me to promise myself to never again be limited by space, I’ll find a way to work around it. And people? I have myself and a tripod. Even if I didn’t know a single person or wasn’t at all comfortable asking someone to sit for me, I could take photos of myself as much as I wanted and I would always be available when I was ready. So I can work around that obstacle too.

So my project is this; I want to make a minimum of three photos a week for the next 16 weeks. I chose the time frame to match the 16 week semester I start on Monday so I’ll be as busy as I ever am. I will limit myself to 10 minutes to setup and shoot my self protrait and another 10 minutes to choose one, do some minor editing and get a blog post up. I know I can make myself find 20 minutes in my day somewhere a few times a week even if it’s 5 minutes at a time. I’ll time myself and try to record a few of these to show the process once I get comfortable with it. I’ll of course think of the shot during the day or while laying in bed at night and mentally plan my shots but that doesn’t really take any extra time; it’s a nice thing to have on your mind when you need to take it off the day for a moment. I’ll limit myself to the gear I listed above and limit the model to myself (sorry for that, my kids look better but they’re outside the scope of the current project). My photos might not be great at the beginning. Honestly they may not be that great at the end either but I’m going to shoot regularly because I haven’t been doing that. I hope to accomplish a few things here; one is to be a better photographer by working around those mental obstacles. I think most of us as photographers strive to be better. I also hope to help a few other people recognize the obstacles they have and challenge themselves to think around them. Most importantly, with all that I’m responsible for and all those who I’m responsible to, I owe it to myself to find time to do what I love. This project is for me.