CARE 66 - biking for a cause

As hard as it was to do, and despite being the last person off the course for the day, I completed the "Whole Enchilada" route of the 4th Annual Mother Road Classic.  The course is supposedly 66 miles, but I clocked the route at 62 (though I found out later that there was a short little turn off that would have added about a mile to the route).

We had great weather, even though it did rain for the first few minutes, it was only a light sprinkle, and  then the sun came out the rest of the ride.  Visit the CARE 66 web site and find out what they are all about.  Their mission is to create opportunities for homeless people, and currently they are working to build some low income rental housing units.  The money we raised from Saturday's ride was certainly for a good cause.

After all of that work and all that climbing on the hills the Mapmyride web site reports that I burned over 7,000 calories doing the ride.  No wonder I feel tired.  Rumor is that next year will be less steep.

Now it is back indoors to do some lesson planning and grading....


Wacom tablet convert - I drank the "Koolaid"

A few years ago I started looking around at using a pen tablet with Photoshop to do some advanced retouching and some painting.  I was (like most people) short on funds, and I thought that the best option was to get a Vistablet 12.  My reasoning was that the pen was not as important as the size of the tablet.  It worked well enough, but it was never anything like drawing with real pencil, charcoal or other tools.
 I saw that Wacom had a variety of tools, like their Bamboo tablets, and I mistakenly thought they were just little hobby toys.
That just changed today.

I had some funds to buy point and shoot cameras and a half dozen of the Wacom Bamboo tablets for my photography and yearbook classes.  The students have been anxious to use the cameras (I got factory refurbished Nikon Coolpix 6300 cameras) and I did not get a chance to look at and install a tablet until today.
The Wacom Bamboo CTH 470
Wow.  Even though the tablet is smaller, the pen is so much more precise, and the pressure sensitivity is simply awesome.  I can actually vary my strokes with mild changes to the pen pressure.  With the Vistablet I always felt like I had to press hard, and wondered if I was damaging the unit.

The Vistablet 12 is large, but I have found that having a tablet that is as large as the screen is actually a bit cumbersome to work with. I end up moving the pen a lot to get to the corners of the screen.  The smaller size tablet from Wacom actually works better to minimize the amount I have to move my hand around.  If I need more detail I can simply zoom the image in Photoshop rather than try to move the pen all around the larger tablet.

A bonus: with the Wacom Bamboo you get coupons for a free metal print, a free photobook from Shutterfly, and a choice of a free software program.  The software choice includes Photoshop Elements 10.  Basically you buy the program and get the tablet free.

From now on my Vistablet is going to be relegated to emergencies and I will be looking for excuses to use the Bamboo tablets in my classroom whenever I can.


Grunge: the "Dave Hill Effect"

I have on occasion played with HDR imagery, using Photomatix Pro software and getting some interesting results.  I know that the grunge look is over used and some people really dislike it.  HDR photography does not have to be the gritty. grungy look though.  Some photographers use it as a way to get detail in the images and make them as realistic as possible.  Me?  I like to play around with it.  If I am already stepping out of the limits of being a journalist and altering the way the image looks, why not push it a bit?

For instance, when the students at the school pulled off their senior prank last week I shot it with a DSLR and three shot bracketed exposure.  Used Photomatix and applied the grunge effect twice.  I got this:

But what happens if you don't have a way to shot the bracketed images? What if you do not have a tripod or a DSLR with motor drive and auto exposure bracketing to keep the camera still?  Or your subject is moving?  There is a Faux HDR process which has been termed "The Dave Hill Effect."  (Check out Dave Hill's web site for examples of what his photography is like).  Although many people are calling the effect with his name, I don't think that the results are nearly as impressive as his work.  

Still, I dug up a few old frames and processed them through the steps found here and I like the results.  The great thing about digital photography is you can play as much as you like and as long as you keep the original file saved someplace else you won't ruin anything.

Adobe: digging deeper...

Okay.  Maybe Adobe is the the devil.  I still do not like the Creative Cloud idea for subscribing to software, but after a lot of digging I found two things to ease the pain (though I still really dislike the terms of service).

First, you can subscribe to a single app (like Photoshop CS6) for $9.99 a month - if you are already have version CS3 or higher.

The other is that it is still possible to buy the traditional versions of Photoshop - it just takes some digging.  They do not offer a lower priced upgrade that I could find, so you either have to pay the full $699 for the program, or if you are an educator/student you can buy it for $349.  However, the agent I chatted with online did not provide me with the right link to order that product.

Why does it even matter?  After all, I have CS3 and CS4... why the upgrade? The primary reason is because my camera is newer than either version, and I prefer to shoot RAW files.  They will not open in Photoshop CS4 unless I first go through the hassle of converting them into DNG files.  The second reason is that as a teacher I need to know what is out there and know how to use it.  I have been planning on getting Adobe Certified, and that means knowing the latest version.

So the final verdict?  There isn't one for me yet.  I disagree with the ToS and do not really like the idea of paying $240 a year to use the software.  It would be nice to be able to streamline my workflow and not have to convert my RAW files, and the content aware brushes in CS6 are supposed to be amazing.


Dragon - ala Lensbaby

Now that things are settling down a bit in my day job I have been playing around with shooting things for myself.  Some things are just to keep in practice, some are experiments, and some are jut for fun.  Today I pulled out the Lensbaby 3G and started playing around making images of my son's new toy dragon.

The setup for this is pretty simple.  I placed the dragon on a footstool right back next to our back door (which is glass so it is a window lit image), then behind it I put the black leather desk chair.  It was a bit late in the evening so I had to go to a higher ISO, but I actually wanted that so I could get a bit more contrast into the image.

The Lensbaby I use is no longer available.  The company has come out with several different options, like the optic Swap system.  The 3G which I use is closest to the Lensbaby Control Freak, but I do not even see that on the product website these days.

What is a Lensbaby?  It is a tilt lens with a single "sweet spot" of focus which move around depending on how you bend and compress the lens.  This is the 3G in use.



Technical Difficulties

Basketball is a huge sport for this area.  I have taken thousands of basketball photos over the years, and after a while it can be hard to find a creative way to make them, while still having the image as meaningful as necessary for publication.

Last Thursday the Miyamura Patriots hosted the Gallup Bengals basketball team.  I set things up in my usual way - strobes mounted to the balcony railings and connected to my trusty PocketWizard radio units.  I took a few test shots and fired the transmitter a few times and both of my speedlights were firing. 

The referees started the game and I fired a few frames and checked my camera back. (Yes, I admit it, I "chimp" when I shoot sports with flash).  My photos were dark and only partially lit.  I ran up to the balcony and checked my batteries.  The indicator lights all showed things were powered on, and the speedlight's standby setting was disabled.  Perhaps the receiver antennae was making contact with the metal railing and that was the issue?  I moved the receiver's and hung them from the clamp holding the flash units.  Test shot.  Flash fired.  I then repeated the process with the unit on the other side of the gym.

I sat back down and got to shooting, and again my flash units were not firing consistently.  This was getting annoying.  At the half I moved the speedlights and again tested them.  Again they worked - some of the time.  I managed a few images, and was grateful that I had already covered two previous games and had a variety of images for the yearbook.

Toward the end of the game I had reached my limit and started trying different things.  I slowed the shutter speed down to around 1/30th and shot by panning the camera with the action.  I knew that the images would have a blur in them, and I hoped the flash firing would freeze the players' faces enough to be recognizable.  I made 15-20 images  using this technique, and this one worked the best of the bunch. 

I like it because it gets away from the static frozen in air stop-motion images I tend to do.