Girls and Graffiti – Experimental Shoot

I’ve been looking forward to shooting at this location for a long time but during a previous attempt, the weather did not cooperate and was postponed. The day of this shoot the weather didn’t cooperate either but we were determined to at least get a few shots. As everyone assembled on location, our aspirations were tested once more with high winds and a heavy down pour. We huddled in various cars and after about 45 minutes were greeted by a break in the clouds and a gorgeous warm sunset. Everyone worked quickly to get setup and we got these amazing shots with a legal graffiti wall as the back drop.

I have a huge respect for graffiti artists because I find it a challenge to copy a drawing from a small piece of paper to a large piece of paper, so the skill required to create a 20ftx10ft mural is out of this world. I could have chosen to blur the graffiti into a soft swirl of colours(out of focus), but I chose to have both the art work as well as the models in focus.

With so many colours and such dynamic lighting, I couldn’t help but experiment with the final look of the images. There were so many possible directions I could have taken these images in, which is part of the reason it took me longer than usual to release them.

If you’re interested in the technical details of the lighting setup – more info at the end of the post.

graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup
graffiti background, dance moves, legal graffiti wall in ottawa, George Dunbar Bridge (Bronson Avenue), Girls and Graffiti - An experimental Shoot, strobist, lighting setup

Technical Details

  • Camera: D600
  • Lens: Nikon 85mm 1.8 G
  • Strobes: Mix of Nikon 800/600 and Yong Nuo
  • Light stands, umbrellas and sandbags

I didn’t know what to expect in terms of light at this location, so I brought along a lot more gear than I ended up using. That’s not a bad thing when you have the luxury of doing so, but I would not do that if the location was a few kilometre trek into the woods.

The thought process behind the lighting for most of the shots was to use the natural light coming from camera left as the main source and to add some fill on the subject as well as selectively lighting the graffiti wall with strobes. For the fill lights I used two strobes with shoot through umbrellas on both sides of the camera. I also had a strobe fire next to the wall, out of frame, which highlighted the wall as needed. The camera was metered to the sunlight and then I adjusted the strobes accordingly to provide the appropriate amount of fill (no fancy light metres here, just trial and error).

I was triggering the strobes remotely using the Nikon CLS system, which works amazingly well indoors, but outdoors the system has a little trouble. The bright sunlight would overpower the IR signal and the strobes wouldn’t fire every time. I tried firing the strobes as optical slaves, but that was hit or miss as well. In the end, I had more success than failures, but another purchase in the new year might be some radio triggers.

Since I wanted the the models as well as the graffiti wall in focus, I placed them closer to the wall and I also used an aperture ranging between f4 and f8, keeping the shutter speed at 1/125 sec and ISO 500.

My Landscape Photography Kit

Most of Ontario is flat and boring, but Autumn in this province is almost always stunning. The show that Mother Nature put on last year (2012) was spectacular, unfortunately this year didn’t match up, but it was still worth the early morning alarm and a trek through the woods. The first time that I set out to capture the fall colours this year, I took with me my D600 and two lenses – one wide angle and one telephoto. Out in the field, I would capture the scenery and turn to find a flock of geese or a pair of ducks or a majestic great blue heron but by the time I changed lenses I had missed the shot. I needed a long telephoto setup that I could pair with my D600 wide angle kit. Hmm…Only if I have a second “back-up body”, with a crop sensor, superb AF-speed and a fast continuous rate to capture these birds. Wait a minute – I do. I have a D300s! That’s how my landscape photography kit came together – my dynamic duo.

It took a few tweaks to get the setup right – including adjusting the straps to the right length so that I could easily walk, jog, run, crouch or climb a tree and have both cameras stay put and ready for action whenever I needed them.

If you’re curious, here’s what my kit looks like:

  • D600 with the 24-85mm kit lens
  • D300s with the 70-200 f4 (but with the crop factor it’s close to a 105-300mm) and (12-bit Raw Files mode to shoot at 6fps)
  • D600 attached to a Black Rapid strap sitting on my right hip
  • D300s attached to standard issue Nikon strap on my left shoulder, hanging on the left hip
  • Both locked and loaded with Patriot Memory EP Series 64GB SDXC Cards
Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4 and the Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 Kit lens

Landscape Photography Kit – My Dynamic Duo – Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4 and the Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 Kit lens

It might look and feel like overkill, and someone might think I’m showing off, but I enjoy all types of photography, so why would I only travel with one type of setup, when I have the option to carry everything I need for landscapes or wildlife? This setup works amazingly well for me.

I just want to iterate that I’m not bragging about my setup, because for the last 5 years, I shot with one body and a single (all purpose 18-200mm)  kit lens and managed to get some amazing pictures.

Here are a few sneak peeks of some shots I took over the Thanksgiving Weekend. Lots more to come in this series.

Warm evening sunset shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Warm evening sunset shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Gull in flight with the Toronto Skyline in the background, shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Belfountain Conservation Area - Wooden Walk Bridge shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Gull in flight with the Toronto Skyline in the background, shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Belfountain Conservation Area – Wooden Walk Bridge shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Ducks in the water, shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Fall landscape at Island Lake Conservation Area shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Ducks in the water, shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Fall landscape at Island Lake Conservation Area shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Fall landscape shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Fall landscape shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Ducks in the water, shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Moon and leaf shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70 kit lens.

Ducks in the water and Moon shot with the Nikon D300s w/ 70-200mm f4. Fallen leaf shot with Nikon D600 w/ 24-70mm kit lens.

 

D600 Dust Problem – Yup, I’ve got it too!

I’ve had my D600 for about 8 or 9 months now and until recently I thought I had gotten lucky and that my camera wasn’t going to have the dust or oil problem. But after shooting about more than a 3000 frames in the past 10 days, I had a chance to finally view my images on a desktop monitor and I’m horrified. I’ve been infected with the dreaded D600 dust problem.

Read more

Why is my D300s shutter speed so slow?

We all know what happens when you get a new (replacement) for something; suddenly the older product just feels so inferior, so outdated? You immediately relegate it to a corner, let it collect dust and try to forget about the investment you had made, which now is surely obsolete. Well, that’s what happened to my Nikon D300s when I bought the new Nikon D600. It sat on my shelf, looking lonely, without a lens or battery, until one day I rediscovered why I had loved it so much. It’s because it JUST WORKS! No AF problems, no dust issues, etc – accept I could only get 2-3FPS out of it, even on Continuous High Speed Mode. Why was the D300 shutter speed so slow?

This was a case of blame the user, not the equipment. Sometime in the past, I must have changed the Raw File Bit Rate from 12-bits to 14-bits. This setting taxes the processor more and isn’t able to give you the high burst rate.  Once I changed it back to 12-bits, and I was shooting at a happy 6fps. Having done reading about the real world benefits of 12-bit vs. 14-bit, I’ve decided that when I’m using my D300s as part of my dynamic duo package, speed is more to me than theoretical dynamic range.

If you’re having this issue and you’ve already set it to shoot at 12-bit Raw files, it might be that your SD/CF card is too slow, try a faster one.

Now I’m debating whether I should add a battery grip to this old beauty to get 8fps, but I really haven’t felt that I’ve missed a moment and needed those 2 extra frames – the upgrade would purely be for the machine-gun sound. In the mean time, here are some shots that my old, but as good as gold D300s produces.

American Herring Gull - Shot with the D300s and 70-200mm f4

American Herring Gull - Shot with the D300s and 70-200mm f4

American Herring Gull – Shot with the D300s and 70-200mm f4

American Herring Gull - Shot with the D300s and 70-200mm f4

American Herring Gull – Shot with the D300s and 70-200mm f4

Fall colours in Ontario - Maple Tree in Autumn

Fall colours in Ontario – Maple Tree in Autumn

Pictures of Uganda – City Life

I had the privilege of visiting Uganda in April 2012 and having come back with over 1500 pictures, I knew I had to do something with them. But as always, one thing led to another, bigger things took priority, and I wasn’t able to revisit my pictures of Uganda – until a few weeks ago. Since then, I have processed the images and I’ve sent a photobook off to print (I will review that once it arrives). While creating the photobook, I realized that I had to share these images. I want others to see the hardiness of the people, along with the beauty of the landscapes and wildlife.

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series. Part 2 – Wildlife and Part3 – Landscapes can be found here.

City life

Growing up in India, I was used to seeing cities that were half rural and half urban, and the lines were blurred between high income earners, ‘middle-class’ and the poor – but this was very different from what I noticed in Uganda. There was a very clear line between the upper class and the impoverished. High earners made their status known by being fashionable, driving nicer cars and sometimes treating the not so fortunate with disrespect. This came as quite a surprise to me.

Another thing that became very apparent was the lack of ‘older people’ everywhere we went. Or it’s possible that Ugandans’ have great complexion which made it hard to distinguish the 30-40 year olds’ from the 50+. I’ll leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about that observation.

Enough about the negatives and onto things that put a smile on my face when I think about the trip. Being woken up in the morning to the sound of the “Call to prayers” from a near by mosque brought me back to my childhood. The prayers are not always audible as it depends on the direction of the wind, but there was something very soothing and comforting about hearing the melodic chorus at the break of dawn.

There were some sounds I could have done without, were those of the wild dog opera. In the dead of night, all it took was one dog to being barking, and instantly his call would be answered by another. This conversation would then be telegraphed to others and in no time, it felt like every dog in the city was part of a shouting match. As quickly as it begin, it sometimes died down, but depending on their mood, it could also continue for minutes.

During my trip, the meaning of the phrase “to MacGyver” reached a whole new level. The ingenuity and tenacity of  the locals to eek every last possible use for their belongings blew me away. They get every mile out a motorcycle, even after it has hauled loads far greater than the ‘recommended’ weight limit or using two tire-irons in place of jumper cables to start a dead car battery. This was never more apparent when two mechanics (Mohammad and Moses – I am not making this up!), came to our rescue when the hydraulic brake lines on our rental van failed. A length of thread, a nail and some metal clips held our brakes together, as we tip-toed up and down mountain passes and made it home in one piece.

The taste of food is another thing that I will never forget. Bananas that tasted like – well, bananas, not just some beige goop. The milk was creamy, wholesome and fresh. Cornflakes that tasted like real corn. On our way to Queen Elizabeth National Park bought some sugarcane to chew on during our ride, from a roadside vendor. I can`t remember the exact price I paid now, but he handed us a seven foot length of cane that tasted heavenly.

Memories of Uganda - City life in Kampala, Jinja, and Kanungu

Memories of Uganda - City life in Kampala, Jinja, and Kanungu

Memories of Uganda - City life in Kampala, Jinja, and Kanungu

Memories of Uganda - City life in Kampala, Jinja, and Kanungu

Memories of Uganda - City life in Kampala, Jinja, and Kanungu

Wildlife

 

Landscapes

Stepping out of my comfort zone – Tone Curves in Lightroom

For the past few months, I’ve mainly been shooting Ultimate games/tournaments and having processed 1000s of sports pictures, I found a grove, a style, and a workflow that worked for me. I found myself applying that same concept to all my other shoots as well, which I was perfectly happy with. I looked at it as “my style” – bright, vibrant, and colourful.

But for the past few weeks I decided to step out of that comfort-zone and push my creativity. In Lightroom and Photoshop, I opened up the pallets that I had previously hidden because I didn’t have the time to experiment with them. I chose a few images (non-sports) and simply played around with the new dials, sliders and buttons. Once I had a rudimentary idea of  what they did, I started getting creative. The saying: “What you don’t know, you don’t know”, still holds true, but once you do know, it is empowering. Now when I look at a raw photo, I can visualize multiple ways of processing it – tricky part will be choosing the best one. I’m far from becoming an expert, but this learning experience has been pretty awesome and has yielded some wicked results – in my humble opinion.

Technical jargon: My new found knowledge revolves around HSL adjustments, tonal curves, levels, and gradually building up the effects with multiple layers. I used them in conjunction with dodging and burning as well as blurring, sharpening, and eking the most out of a raw file – there is an insane amount of detail in that 30mb file.

Here are a few examples. Mind you, these processing concepts lend themselves mainly to portrait work, so you might not see them in any of my sports shoots.

Using Tone Curves in Lightroom - achieving the cross-processed (Instagram) look.

Using Tone Curves in Lightroom - achieving the cross-processed (Instagram) look.

Using Tone Curves in Lightroom - achieving the cross-processed (Instagram) look.

Using Tone Curves in Lightroom - achieving the cross-processed (Instagram) look.