Dec 21, 2010

Santa letter section cover

It is Santa letter time at newspapers across the nation, and of course we needed some fun cover art for the special section.

Our super-awesome graphic artist Jan is always up for a creative challenge, so I took some shots of my wife's favorite holiday decoration... a whimsical flying santa figure. Collaborating with other creative people is one of the most fun and gratifying things in this line of work.

I first shot Santa a few years ago and used him on some Christmas cards. It was when I had first discovered Strobist and was playing with off-camera lighting. In this case a pair of cheap clamp-lamps.
flying santa

After mocking up a cover, this pic was just too dark and flat, so I did a quick re-shoot. I wanted to keep the head-on angle but add a shadow of Santa below him for some depth. Also, I have more light toys now, so it was a chance to play.

First up, the Santa is on a dark wooden base, so creating the shadow in the right spot was an issue. Even with the plan of cutting out the base, the shadow fell too far to one side for the look we wanted.
Santa Section-1754

Creating the shadow is an Elinchrom bxri500 monolight with a 10 degree grid all the way up at the 9' ceiling. The key light on Santa is the same light with a 20 degree grid up close.

To get the shadow in the right place, I poked the stand through the paper... Also, I did not have enough flagging material or time to get everything perfect in one shot (and it was being 'shopped anyway) so I turned off the key light for a good shadow exposure..
Santa Section-1764

Turned the key back on for an exposure of Santa himself.. The overhead is still on as well. If not, the shadow looks very out of place when you put the two shots together.
Santa Section-1767

Jan chose to use a more processed version of Santa and put it all together to make our cover..

That is just a screen shot of the Indesign doc, but you get the idea. I look forward to seeing the final version on big newsprint.

Don J.

Dec 20, 2010

Remotely functional

I have used Pocket Wizard remotes with some success in the past, generally at stage events where I can prefocus and know pretty much what I will get.

After seeing this photo I decided to go ahead and break out the remote for basketball.

The fun thing is having two perspectives of almost the same moment of the game...

Here is the view from my handheld camera with the 70-200..

And the remote set up under the basket..

That is all fine and good, but setting up is a real hassle, so you have to be prepared for that. I was using a big gorillapod with no tripod head, so getting the camera pointed where I wanted it was somewhat time consuming.

You must pre-focus the camera and settle for what you can get. And if you leave it on autofocus (which I did after changing lenses above) the camera may or may not focus where the action is. In this case, It was happily focused on the back wall for the last quarter of the game. Details Details....

Finally, with the remote set and firing, you also have to be careful not to ruin your own backgrounds.... Like this.
Don't ruin your own background-8753

Have a great week, and Merry Christmas all around,

Don J.

Dec 18, 2010

Quick Pic - Cows on parade

My favorite catch from Terrell FFA's show today... More pics over at the Tribune blog.
Terrell FFA Holiday Heifer Show-2268

Dec 17, 2010

Quick Pic - Sunset Drive

Operating a camera while driving a vehicle is not recommended.

Foreground elements almost always make a photo more interesting. As beautiful as the sunset is by itself, there is more to see and more context of place when you include something about your environment.

This shot makes a statement about so many things... including the simple fact that there are so many things blocking the beautiful sunset view.

I had high hopes for catching trucks in the sunset, but the height of my dash meant that the vehicles on the other side just blend into the horizon. A real photographer would have stopped at a nice spot to silhouette the vehicles into that sky. Or something like that.

Have a great weekend everyone... go take some great photos!

Don J.

Dec 9, 2010

Quick Pic - Basketball with a 300


Sometimes it really is the camera.

The nice thing about having a newer camera with really good high-ISO performance is being able to use my 300mm F4 lens for basketball, and without a flash. It is still grainy, but retains enough detail at ISO 5000 for decent shots from up in the bleachers or from the opposite end of the court.

Of course, if anyone wants to send me a 300mm F2.8...

Don J.

Dec 5, 2010

Clowning Around

Clowning Around

Part of getting good pictures is finding good subjects. People with interesting stories or unique lives tend to be great subjects, as was the case with Kenny Petet last month. While in college for a business degree he found himself in the rodeo arena and loving it. The rest is history. Now Kenny works as a bullfighter, rodeo clown and entertainer with his company at

I set up before Kenny arrived with both white and black backgrounds, one large and one small softboxes, one light with a grid and another in a straight reflector.

I liked the look with the big softbox close in front and gridded light opposite behind to define the hat.
Clowning Around

Same setup, looking into the camera ... my favorite of the shoot.
Clowning Around

Then it was time to get out the makeup and bull barrel...
Clowning Around

I cannot imagine trying to get into one of these things with a bull charging at it. Apparently if you don't get in all of the way, it can be very bad news. Like break you in half bad news.

The barrel was covered with metallic duct tape... kind of distracting with the lights, and we did not have time to finesse the light so much...
Clowning Around




And this was probably my favorite with the 'uniform' on..
Clowning Around

Is it December already? Why yes...

Please feel free to come by my new blog about becoming a dad over at ... baby is due in April and I have a lot to learn!

Don J.

Dec 1, 2010

Quick Pic - Shadows and such

Shadows and silhouettes are fun because they always draw the eye for a split second. There is something about human form that already grabs us, then when we can't readily see detail, we look a bit longer.

Of course, I'm still playing with perspectives and this one is fun for that.


The right way looks more like this... and hurts my head less.

Nov 23, 2010

Hometown photo spot-Fall color in the cemetery

With the oaks, maples and crape myrtles (and trees with names I don't know) turning all sorts of fall colors, it is hard not to want to get some pictures.

A normal place to check out would be the local park, which is great, but you may also want to check the oldest cemeteries in your area. They are usually peaceful and quiet, well-kept, and a photo with a headstone is generally more interesting than one without (even a poorly composed photo as below).

Some things to think about...

Look for contrast. Find a spot where you can photograph some brightly lit leaves against a dark, shady background. This will make the colors pop and keep the viewer's eye on the pretty parts...


Also, contrasting colors work great. Find a spot where the color of one tree contrasts the one in the background...

Go on a blue-sky day and the background takes care of itself...

Finally... these photos are from a five-minute drive through the Oakland Memorial Park in Terrell. It would be much better to park the car and walk around. You will no doubt find some great detail shots of leaves on memorial markers, interesting tomb stones or color combinations that you would miss from the road.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Don J.

Nov 15, 2010

Quick Pic - Perspective

Perspective 2

In life, as in photography, sometimes it works wonders to take a step back and change your perspective a little bit.

Don J.

Nov 4, 2010

KCHC Christmas Card Fundraiser

These are the card choices for Sunday's Kaufman Christian Help Center Christmas Card Fundraiser...

If you are available from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday (Nov. 7), come get some cards made.. the sitting fee is only $15, all of which is going to KCHC.

Call the Help Center for a time slot... (972)932-8866 or stop by and we will make it happen.

Yes, I reused some photos from the FBC directory to make the demos, thanks friends.

Oct 31, 2010

FBC Fall Festival Quick Pics

2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3161

It is Halloween again, and once again it was time to play with some lighting tricks in the photo booth. Events like this, where hundreds of people are filing through, provide great opportunities to try new things with real pressure. ( last year's results)

For 2010 I decided to get a ringlight, which I had not used before. Dallas Camera's Alien Bees AB800 was out of commission so I got upgraded a Profoto Acute 1200 ringlight setup. Very cool, although I really need to spend more time with a ring to play with ratios and such.

First things first.... as you might expect, in a poorly lit room (big pupils) the ringlight is a red-eye monster. I should have expected that. Other than that (and needing more experience with it) it was a lot of fun.

The rim/separation light is two gridded Elinchrom bxri500 monolights.
Here are some pics

One of my favorites... a very sad clown
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3101

Buzz and Woody
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3284

There were lots of witches, but this one had a great expression and eyes for the costume.
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3052

The Profoto ringlight is light and nimble enough to pull it off of the tripod from time to time.. like when kids are crawling around on the ground... fun stuff.
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3273

There is no place like home...
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-2968

2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-2908

There were lots of Star Wars folks, but this guy is intense. And he has cool light sabers.
2010FallFestival FBC Kaufman-3011

Have a good week out there,

Don J.

Oct 16, 2010

Cross Country is fun (and exhausting)

I made it over to Samuell Farm in Mesquite for a high school cross country race this morning. While I don't know how this spot rates for runners, it was a lot of fun as a photographer. It was a big meet with lots of schools present, and the weather was perfect.

If anybody wants to know how I approach finding photo spots and the thought process for that, here is a quick run-through of the event.

Initially, I went to the starting line. Cross country starts are boring affairs, and this one had a freeway for a background. A little slow shutter panning made the photos look as jumbled as the real thing... this is 1/25 of a second.
Even with intentionally blurry shots, you need a focal point that is sharp. I was tracking the ladies from Rockwall Heath in the red uniforms.

I was happy to see Marcos Quintana and Andre Leighton shooting the event. They were helpful in showing me around the course a bit, thanks guys.

Closer to the finish, there were a series of loops that went out and came back to the middle of the property, giving opportunities to catch the runners at several spots without too much trouble.

First up, the runners coming into the nice early morning light... but terribly busy background with all of the team tents.

Looking left from there a nice old barn with a Texas flag had possibilities as a nice background, but it put the runners in spotty shade from trees. I like a few of the shots, but the lighting was just too inconsistent.

Shooting from closer to the course, the runners went through a nice bright spot with a shady tree background which I liked too, but it was hit or miss for runners getting into the light and me catching them there...

Just across the course, there was a low area that gave a good visual perspective without laying on the ground. From one angle, it was the runners coming around a corner and into the sunlight

And another angle looked through some trees, again with nice light. Just need to work on timing the runners in a good spot with more sky or something.

The finish was close by, and that is the place to go to get the emotional / drained / exhausted photos. I did not take any of those. Instead, I tried some slow-shutter stuff as the runners sprinted to the end. Next time I may spend time trying to catch the exhaustion in pictures.

The final races had no Terrell runners, so I started to wander around. At the far end of the course was a pond that the runners were going around. Reflections on the pond? Well, not exactly. The runners were on the pond dam about five feet above the water line. I still like the idea, but I could not get it to look like the picture in my head.


Meanwhile, that also placed the runners right above me as they went by (with some strange looks). I wonder if the yellow weed flowers are producing the pollen that is killing my head?

On the way out of there, I saw a red barn that seemed like a good background prop. It probably could have been too, but the runners were facing out of the sun by this point. Also, it was the last race and I was getting tired and hungry, so maybe next time.


OK, so... find good light and nice backgrounds and the photos make themselves (sort of)...

Have a great week everybody,

Don J