Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm Batman!

When I have the opportunity to take pictures of a novelty character (and I don't just mean comic book characters), I can rarely resist. So even though it was pretty much dark out when I saw Batman here in Times Square, I cranked the ISO up to the max (1600 on my camera) and fired away...grainy exposure be damned! Much to my surprise, for a secretive guy who lives deep in the underground of Gotham, Batman sure likes to have his picture taken...

But who is the real Batman???

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I learned about photography in reverse

The normal progression in photography is to learn how to take pictures in natural light first. Once the sunlight has been mastered, some would choose to add an element of flash photography to the mix. Well, I learned about this all backwards!

Even before I got my digital SLR, I was following a blog called Strobist. The philosophy there was to take the small battery-operated flashes (strobes), the ones normally sitting on top of the camera, and use them off-camera. They would have to be fired wirelessly or by a wire running from the camera all the way to the flash. After getting the required few pieces of gear, the techniques themselves were quite simple. The resulting images on the blog and from the readers were phenomenal…professional results with a flash that cost about 200 bucks!


[In the above shot of Rika, the harsh sunlight is at her back giving her that great rim light wrapping around her left side (you can see where the sun was by looking at the shadows coming from her legs). The main light on her is a strobe off camera left (to the left of the camera, or to her right), triggered wirelessly and set to about ½ power to just about balance her with the ambient light. This is all done without a light meter (since I didn’t have one then!) and balanced by looking at the back of the camera and using the histogram. This is called “cross lighting,” using the sun and a strobe to produce 2 apparent light sources.]

So soon after I had a camera, I started the “strobist-style” shooting. I joined some informal groups that met up occasionally and practiced the techniques (I will definitely write about some of these earlier shoots in the future). I used flash in every picture I took, and at some point must have thought that “strobist-style” was the only style! Having a few flashes that you can put anywhere you want is a powerful tool in photography, and one that is easily overused. I would look at a scene and think “how can I light that,” not “should I light that?” Some people were so into this technique that they called themselves “Strobists!”

You are not alone

[In this last shot, the sun is behind Rika all the way to the right of the frame (look at the highlights on the trees and the shadows on the ground) and is lighting the entire front side of her body that is facing away from me as well as giving her strong highlights on the left side of her face. To balance this out and give a little light to the right side of her face and back (otherwise it would all be in shadow) I used a strobe off camera left, set to just match the ambient light. This is another example of cross lighting with the sun. To change the mood a little, I added a bit of blue-gray to the highlights in post production and that’s it!]

At some point in the last year I came to the realization that while the “strobist-style” is an important technique to master, there are many other ways to get a great picture. I am a photographer, not a Strobist! I am now making a special effort to focus on learning more natural light techniques when I can. You know, getting back to the basics!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The end of summer

The end of summer

After staring at them online for about 6 months, I finally bought myself a used incident light meter on craigslist a few weeks ago. An incident meter tells you how much light is falling on the subject, as opposed to the meter inside of your camera which tells you how much light is reflecting from the subject back into the lens (AKA reflective metering). I’ve been experimenting with the meter for the last few weeks and I absolutely love it. I can see in f-stops and shutter speeds now, and I feel like anything is possible!

There is also this old thing called the "Sunny 16 Rule" which states that on a sunny day, at f/16, the shutter speed is equal to 1/ISO. So for a good exposure at ISO 100, your settings on a sunny day would be f/16, 1/100 sec. I guess that this is how the real old timers would do it…way before the dawn of DSLRs and one-third stops and indoor plumbing...

So I took a meter reading at ISO 100 and f/8 and got a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. And that is the picture in front of you, straight from the camera. (Just to see if the meter was worth it, I set my camera to aperture priority at f/8 and used the internal reflective meter and it gave me a shutter speed of 1/200 sec...which would have been more than 1 stop overexposed!) Later, it dawned on me that I could have done this much more simply. Let’s see…f/8 to f/11 to f/16 gives me 2 stops less light…and 1/500 to 1/250 to 1/125 sec gives me 2 stops more light…so if I shot this at f/16 and 1/125 sec that would also be a perfect exposure. And that is pretty darn close to the sunny 16 rule!

Now don’t get me wrong, my meter is cool and all, but I could have done the exact same thing with just the old standby techniques. However, lighting on location with off-camera flash is a different story entirely, and will be the topic of my next post…

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Come with me if you want to live

I had the opportunity to shoot with my friend Carmine this week at a gym on Long Island.

We met back in high school through a mutual friend and found that we had a lot of common interests, namely mischief, music, and all things Arnold Schwarzenegger. While I was content with watching Arnold kick all kinds of ass on the big screen while saying things like “if it bleeds, we can kill it,” Carmine was actually working to become The Oak himself. The guy had a plan. Even in high school, he worked out with a religious-like fervor, and in his free time, studied all things muscle. He eventually competed and placed well in several amateur bodybuilding shows, and went on to start a successful personal training business . He was the best man in my wedding.

Last year Carmine was diagnosed with lymphoma. Although the cancer was caught at an early stage and was potentially curable, he would need some hardcore chemotherapy pumped into a port implanted into his chest every two weeks for six months. The chemo could damage his heart or worse, and he would definitely need to take a break from the intense training regimen he was accustomed to.

He could have become angry and cynical at being diagnosed with cancer at a young age, especially after having lived such a clean and healthy lifestyle. Not Carmine. Never losing focus, he managed to maintain a regular, albeit modified, gym schedule throughout his treatments. He finished chemotherapy several months ago, and dragged a skinnier, balder body back to the gym to train in overtime, making up for all the time and gains he’d lost.

Today he is doing great, and although he will need regular checkups with his doctor, it looks like he’s out of the woods for now! His hair grew back in no time, and as for his body…well, you can see that for yourself!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can I take your picture?

Can I take your picture?

Spent some time walking around NYC with a friend yesterday, we brought with us a single speedlight on a light stand with the goal of some street portraiture. I was looking for a quick project that was as much about approaching strangers and asking them to pose for a picture, as it was about the actual photograph.

After checking out several locations that had good light and moderate foot traffic, we finally settled on one and metered the ambient and strobe, set our exposure, and then waited for someone interesting to come by. I introduced myself as a photographer who is working on a street portrait project...can I take your picture? If they said yes I gave them my email address and told them to email me for a copy of the picture. Some said yes, most said no...

Can I take your picture?

We would take a few different people's portraits, and then move on somewhere else.

I learned a few important lessons about approaching strangers with the goal of getting a portrait:

1) Most people in NYC talk on their cell phones constantly!

2) People who don't take their eyes off the ground when walking say no 100% of the time.

3) The people just hanging around or waiting somewhere say yes far more often.

I liked working on this project. Half the fun of it is talking to all different people and finding out what works and what doesn't. Forces you to think on your feet and stop worrying so much and just shoot! I think I will continue to add to this as an ongoing project in the future.

Can I take your picture?

Also, check out this from Zack Arias, who was doing the exact same thing (with far better results!) just this week. He blogged about it this morning!

Monday, September 14, 2009


There are benefits to taking your camera with you wherever you go. I don't always do this, of course...but when I do I always get at least one picture that I really like.

This was taken on a perfect summer night in NYC, sitting at a great outdoor restaurant, and watching the line form on the sidewalk. I think it made the food taste better...

Shot with a 35 mm f/2 lens wide open. There are all different colors of ambient light in this picture, so I white balanced for the warm light coming from the restaurant illuminating the people, keeping the skin tones looking natural and letting the background buildings go all different colors.


I am a photographer.

I chose the name “guy with camera” for this blog for a few reasons. At face value, I am a guy and I have a camera, so it makes a pretty accurate title for the casual reader. But in the photography world the term “guy with camera” (GWC for short) usually refers to a guy with no photographic talent or interest in photography at all, who buys a big camera with the sole purpose of getting girls to pose for him naked. I have met several creepy GWCs in my travels—they definitely do exist—and I feel bad for their victims. But there are some people who call every amateur photographer who doesn’t own a studio or have a $4,000 camera a GWC. So I thought calling this blog "guy with camera" was kind of funny in a tongue-in-cheek way.

What makes a professional photographer different from an amateur? If it’s just the size of the camera, or the fanciness of the website, or the price they charge, then there are plenty of professional GWCs out there! I think the term “professional” means that you need to produce quality work every time, and that you need to be concerned with your photography both as a business and as an art. You need business plans, backup gear, insurance, marketing strategies, etc. There are many of great pros out there, but you don’t have to be a pro to be great!

So how do we amateur photographers justify spending countless hours and dollars on our photography if we’re not making any money from it? Well a lot of it is love of the medium, some of it is (healthy) obsession, and then there is that intangible something that drives us to keep trying to make great images.

I guess that what I am saying is that there are plenty of amateur photographers out there who are not GWCs. I am one of them, and welcome to my blog!
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