Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It’s Election Time Again

In the seven years that I’ve been divorced, I have lived in three apartments.  And all three of those apartments have been right next to my polling place.  My latest isn’t any different.  The only difference that I see is that there are more signs.  Look at all the signs that I get to look at for the next two weeks.  I came home for lunch today and the cars were lined up and down the street with people going to the library to vote.  At least they are voting.  I’m early voting this year.  If turn out is like this only two days after early voting opens, there’s no telling what the wait will be on election day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Mother’s First Gift

A Mother's First Gift
I know. This is just a little cardinal figurine.  The story of the this little fellow is what makes it special, at least to my mother.

I don’t remember the exact age.  It was purchased while we lived at my parent’s first house in Wickliffe, KY.  We moved there when I was four and lived there until we moved to Granbury, TX when I was nine. 

One day during the summer, I was riding my bike around the neighborhood.  One of our neighbors having a garage sale.  I saw this little fellow and decided that I had to get it for my mother.  So, I asked how much it was.  The neighbor told me that it was 5 cents.  I went straight home and got my nickel.  I was very proud of my purchase but still wanted to surprise my mother with the gift.  Apparently I didn’t do a good job of hiding my enthusiasm of the day.  My mother asked me what I was hiding.  I showed the figurine to her and told her that I purchased it for her.  At this point, mother thought that I had taken the figurine and then lied to her about it.  There was some serious trouble headed my way. 

Fortunately for me, she decided to call the neighbor and apologize before she dealt with me.  Our neighbor told her the story about how I purchased it.  I went from the dog house to being the star in a blink of an eye.  This was the first time I had ever picked out and purchased a present for her. 
To this day the little guy has its own little shelve in her breakfast nook. 

So this year for Mother’s Day, I photographed the little cardinal and had it printed.  The photography was simple.  The lighting was a Canon 430ex flash set to ETTL and high-speed sync with a 1/2 CTO to camera left.  The camera was daylight-balanced set at ISO 200, f/11 at 1/400sec.  I used f/11 to give me enough depth of field to have figurine focus and maintain the some of the detail in the wood grain in the foreground.  I used the ISO 200 so I could get the shutter speed fast enough to over-power of the ambient light and reduce the background to near black. 

Who would have ever thought a 5 cent purchase would last so long.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Today’s Visitor to the Office

So today at the office, we had an exterminator come out.  Being a new building, we thought it was time to get the setup on a routine schedule for the exterminator.  He did his normal inspection.  Afterward, he pointed out our latest visitor to the office, a brown widow spider, Latrodectus geometricus.  You know me, have camera will travel.  So here are a few of our latest visitor.



Brown Widow Spider, Latrodectus geometricus Brown Widow Spider, Latrodectus geometricus Brown Widow Spider, Latrodectus geometricus

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shuttle Launch Photography

I thought since there are only two shuttle launches scheduled before the end of the shuttle program, that I would post some of my thoughts and research into photographing a shuttle launch.  Most of the technical photography information can be used to photography just about any launch.  The location information only pertains to the NASA space shuttle program. 

First a little show and tell then I will get to my thoughts and observations about the launch.  The photos in this blog post are from STS-130 that launched on Feb. 7, 2010. 
Here is the site of the launch pad from about 12 miles in Titusville, Florida.
Space Shuttle Endeavour as it takes off.
Breaking through the clouds.
A close-up of the space shuttle while in flight.

This is a time-lapsed shot of the first 30 seconds of the launch.
There are a few more photos located on my photography website at http://www.gregcrider.net/events/STS130.


Now on to the more how-to discussion.  First, I want to acknowledge some of the sources that I used when doing research.  I look at a ton of photos in the Internet and Flickr.  Reviewing what other photographers had done before was an invaluable step.  I also came across two other websites the were great help, http://www.launchphotography.com/shuttlelaunchviewing.html and http://www.phototrek.org/travel/STS-93/exposure.html.  I used LensPro To Go to rent some of the camera gear.  I can’t say enough about the excellent service they gave me.  This was the first time I rented gear and they did everything they could to make sure I had what I needed to make the shoot a success.  The service was so good that I have used them again since.  Their web site is http://www.lensprotogo.com.  Of course the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center’s website is a good resource as well.  That address is http://kennedyspacecenter.com/space-shuttle-launch-viewing-tickets.aspx.


I used as a Canon 300D with an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens for the time-lapsed shot and a Canon Rebel XT with 500mm f/4L and a 1.4 teleconverter on a gimbal head for the launch photos.  The closest public viewing site is still six miles away from the launch pad.  You should get the longest telephoto lens that you can.  I rented the 500mm and 1.4 teleconverter and was glad that I did.  With the heavier telephoto lenses, make sure you have a tripod and head that can support the weight of the gear.  The gimbal head made it easy to balance the lens and pan with the shuttle as it launched.  If you get to shoot a night launch, take a second body with a wide-angle lens for light-trail or time-lapsed photography.  A remote shutter release is a must for both day and night launches.  Take clothing appropriate for the climate.  To get a good location, you will need to find your spot several hours ahead of time.  Keep that in mind.  Make sure you have water and snacks because most of your time will be spent waiting.  Umbrella-style lawn chairs are also a big help.


As far as settings and setup goes, it is important to pre-focus your lens and set it to manual mode once you have done so.  With all the steam and movement, your autofocus will not be able to keep up and you will miss the shot.  For a day launch, I would use ISO 100 or 200 whichever is the lowest for your camera that doesn’t cost you dynamic range.  Take a meter reading during the T minus 9 minute hold.  Switch your camera to manual mode and use the settings that you got from your meter reading.  Adjust your ISO and f-stop so that your shutter speed stays above 1/125 of a second.  Since the Florida coast can be hazy, use a polarizer during a day launch if you have it.  Use remote shutter release to eliminate camera shake.  I would also shoot in RAW.  It give you the most flexibility to adjust in post for any exposure issues that you might have.  Set the white balance for daylight.  The light from the rockets will give the auto white balance fits.
For the night launches, I would use the manual exposure mode.  Set your camera to ISO 400, f/8 at 1/125 sec for clear night.  The STS-130 launch was very cloudy causing some of the light from the rockets to reflect back downward so I used a shutter speed of 1/200 sec. For light trail or time-lapsed shots, use ISO 100 at f/22 and bulb for the shutter speed.  Leave the shutter open for 3 to 5 minutes.  If it is overcast or the moon is out, you will need to decrease your shutter time.  The time lapsed shot above was shot at 30 seconds.  Since the cloud cover was so thick and low, a light trail shot was out.  The clouds would reflect too much light back into the frame.  Shoot with the white balance set to tungsten.  Use RAW mode to give you the most flexibility in post.  And, use a remote shutter to avoid camera shake.


View Shuttle Launch Viewing Sites in a larger map
Finding the right location to take the photos from is also important.  The NASA Causeway in my opinion will give you the best unobstructed view to photograph the launch.  It is 6 miles from the launch pad and is the closest the general public can get to the launch.  It also gives you a frontal view of the shuttle.  The downside is that you must get on a lottery list for the chance to purchase a ticket.  For the STS-130 launch, they sold 1000 tickets at $56 each.  I didn’t make the lottery so I was able to purchase a ticket from one of the local tour companies for $115.  The ticket gives you two days access to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex and one trip to the causeway.  If the launch cancels after you have been transported to the causeway, you will need to purchase another causeway ticket.  More information about the cancelation policies can be found on the Kennedy Space Center’s website.  It also gets very crowded.  According to the people at NASA, normal launch crowds are the 1000 tickets they sell plus 10 bus loads from the tour companies.  During STS-130, there were the 1000 tickets and 37 bus loads of people.  Be prepared.  They will take you out to the causeway a couple of hours before the launch, so umbrella style lawn chairs are recommended.  The tour bus picked us up at 8pm for 4:30am launch.  Once there you can’t leave until the launch is over or it has been cancelled so take anything you will need that you can personally carry.  You will have to clear security so make sure you check allowed/not allowed list of things you can bring.
The first attempt of the STS-130 launch was cancelled due to weather.  I didn’t get cancelled until after we were at the causeway so I had a choice to make.  Pay for another causeway ticket when there was a 60% chance that the weather was going to cancel the launch again the next way or go to option 2.  I used option 2.  The second-best option is Space View Park.  It is a public park on the river in Titusville.  It is about 12 miles from the launch site.  You get a profile view of the launch.  It’s free.  There is a Burger King, Papa Johns and CVS within walking distance from the park.  You also have the Astronaut Walk of Fame to view and photograph.  You will also want to get here early.  The earlier you get there the better the spot and parking.  For STS-130 2nd attempt, we got there 12 hours before the launch and there were already 10 people there. 
The third option is on the river bank, anywhere on US 1 from Garden St. to US 50 offers a clear view of the launch pad.  Most of the river bank is private property.  Some won’t let you use their property others will charge you $10 to $30 per car.  This price may go up since there are only two launches left.  My advice is the same as the previous two locations.  Get there early and take what you need to be comfortable. 
Photographing the shuttle launch was definitely a highlight in my life.  I would do it again but don’t know if I will be able to make it to one of the last two launches.  I hope this has given you some insight into my thought process for the launch.  If you have a question, please comment and I’ll try to answer it.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Candy Jar

One of the ladies at the office gave me a candy jar of chocolate for fixing her home computer the other day.  The jar was sitting on my desk at work next to a metal sailboat statue.  As I was working today, I kept coming back to the fact that the colors of the chocolate and the sailboat were very similar and that it might make a good image.  I wanted to practice with my Speedlites and accessories anyway.  Here is my process to get the final shot.

First I wanted to deal with the mood and coloring of the shot.  All light varies in color.  Our brains compensates automatically for these variances in coloring.  Whites always seem white when you look at them.  Digital cameras try to do this too by way of the White Balance function.  You can leave the camera in auto white balance mode and the camera will try to compensate for the color of the light to make the whites white.  If you set the white balance for yourself you can make some changes to the mood and coloring of the scene.  For instance, below is the candy jar with the color balance set to tungsten (normal light bulb) even though I’m not using any indoor lighting.  I’m just using the sunlight coming in the window.  Light from a light bulb has more red that sunlight.  Since the camera is expecting the light to be from a lamp, it is adding blue to the picture to compensate for the extra red that is suppose to be coming from a lamp.  Without the lamp, the photo turns blue.

Here is the scene with the color balance set to the shade setting.  Notice how the colors are now normal.  This is where I want to start with the shot.  I’m using my Canon 300D set to Aperture Priority with an f-stop of 5.6 ambient light only.

For the next adjustment, I noticed that the camera was still set to ISO 800 from the previous day.  I changed that to ISO 200.  The ambient light is a little brighter than I wanted so I added an exposure adjustment of –1.  I didn’t like the horizontal composition so I switched to vertical.

Better.  Now it is time to add the first flash.  On the camera I have a Canon 580EX II set to ETTL commander mode.  (It not adding light to the image.  It is only telling the other flash what to do.)  On a light stand to the right of the image, I have a 430EX with a full CTO gel.  Gels are a way to change the color of the light coming from your flash.  They are just sheets of colored plastic that are made to a very specific color.  A CTO gel is used to change a daylight balanced flash to the color temperature of a normal light bulb.  Since the camera is expecting the color temperature of light from under a shade, the gel will add some warmth to the image.  

The light from the flash is not as bright as I wanted so I added +1 to the flash compensation.

The front of the candy jar doesn’t have any detail.  It’s hidden in shadow.  I need some additional light to bring out the detail of the candy.  I used my 5-in-1 reflector to reflect some of the light from the flash back on to the front of the candy jar.  I’m using the sunlight side of the reflector right now.

Looking at the photo, I wanted the sailboat to have a softer focus so that your attention is on the candy jar.  To do this I simply increased the distance between the jar and the sailboat.

The shadows that the flash created were too harsh.  I added a white shoot-through umbrella to the 430EX flash.

Adding the umbrella cost me some of my light that was reflected back on to the jar.  To compensate I took the 580EX II out of commander mode.  I didn’t add the CTO gel here.  See how the mood and color of the image changes.

I added a CTO gel to the 580 to get the color temperature back to were I wanted it.

I don’t like the reflection that was created when I added the 580 flash, so I’m experimenting with the flash position in the next few shots.

I like the position of the flash in the last shot.  The flash head is now pointed into the 5-in-1 reflector and reflecting onto the jar.  These changes increased the flash brightness more than I wanted so I changed the flash compensation from +1 to +2/3.

I didn’t really like the reflection on the left side of the jar.  I removed the reflector and let the light bounce back from the wall.  What I got was a reflection of the couch.  That won’t do so I removed the reflective material from the 5-in-1 and use the diffuser to reflect the light back to the jar.  Then I changed the flash compensation to 0.

I’m almost there with the lighting.  The last change darkened the background a little too much so I changed the exposure compensation to –2/3.

Up until this point I have been working with the flashes in ETTL mode.  ETTL mode is Canon’s automated way to set the flash output.  I thought that I should switch the flashes to manual mode and practice using them in manual mode.  The first image is from when I first turned the flash to manual.  I didn’t realize that aperture priority mode didn’t work with the flash in manual so I switched the camera to manual too.  The second shot is f5.6 at 1/8 of a second.  The 430 is set to 1/16th power and the 580 is set at 1/32nd power.  That wasn’t enough so I bumped the flashes to 1/8th and 1/16th which to me is just about the same as the ETTL shot.

The last thing that I want to change is the position of the 430 flash.  The sailboat’s shadow is caused from the window light and is coming straight for the camera.  The shadow from the jar is cause by the flash and is going from right to left.  I wanted direction of the shadows to be the same so I put the 430 on a boom and moved it behind and above the sailboat.

Moving the flash left me with a small bright spot at the top of the frame.  I raised the flash a couple of inches.  I also moved the sailboat a little to the left.  Here is the final shot.

Here is the layout.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you got something from my thought process.


One Year Anniversary of GregCrider.net

Well, today it has been one year since I started my photography website.  What a year it has been.  I started the website to publicly display some of the photographs that only a select few friends and family members got to see before.  The response I got has been incredible.  Here are a few statistics from the first year.  In the first year, my photos have been viewed 55,034 times.  The website has had visitors from 58 countries across the world.  Both the private and public comments have encouraged me to strive to be better.  Here are a few highlights from the year.

One of the biggest moments was the first time I entered a juried art exhibit.  I entered for the experience, to see what the process would be like.  I thought I would be lucky to have one photograph accepted.  To my surprise, all three were accepted.


I took a mini-vacation in San Francisco with my good friend Mark and combined my two favorite passions, sailing and photography. 

I got this one from the first time I got to shoot with a professional model, Renee.  It is still one of my favorites.

Shortly after that I took my first photography lesson/workshop ever and got my first set of swimsuit photos from Rachel and Danielle.

This last one is one of the most popular photos that I have.

I got my first print credit.  The two girls are my nieces, Samantha and Rachel.

I took my first studio workshop with Rolando Gomez and models Sasha, Eleya, and Heather.

Field of Dreams Movie Set

Rachel's Soccer

2009 RE/MAX Ballunar Lift-off Festival

Samantha’s gymnastics 

Rachel’s Christmas pageant

Samantha’s violin concert

Messing around in the kitchen

I drove down to Galveston before dawn to take these Christmas sunrise photos.

Four-wheeling in East Texas

Mom’s Flowers

Of all the photos that I’ve taken, I think I’m the most proud of the ones of the STS-130 Shuttle Endeavour launch.  I spent two months researching and planning the shoot.  Ultimately I waited up all night two nights in a row to take three minutes worth of photos.

Duck at Hermann Park

Fellow photographer, Lindsay decided to be in front of the camera for a change.

Photo shoot at the Woodlands with Britney, Sydney and Tana. 

Photo shoot with Alicia.  The photos of Alicia have only been on my website seven days and they already have already been viewed over 1300 times.