Friday, August 17, 2018

Huion H640P Tablet Retouching Test

I decided to try out a cheaper Chinese made graphics tablet to get better results when retouching. Some gestures are just very difficult to perform with a mouse.

The Huion H640P was less than $50 including 2 day shipping from Amazon so I decided to give it a try. I made a video giving my thoughts as I use it to perform a retouching of a photo I took at a burlesque performance.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Editing Samsung S8 Hiking Photos in Lightroom

I mainly use my cell phone, a Samsung S8, when I take pictures on my hikes. In this video I show you how I generally edit my photos in Adobe Lightroom. The picture was taken at Palisades Interestate Park in Fort Lee, NJ on the Shore Trail. It was an overcast day.

Hope you like this short video.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Carpenter's Trail Loop 2 Winter Hike

I've always enjoyed being in nature but after becoming an adult so much of my time was stuck indoors and usually in front of a computer. A point came in my life a few years ago where I needed to make some changes. One of those changes was making sure I stayed healthy, both physically and mentally. Part of that change was adding hiking back into my life.

Even though it's hard to get out in the winter I try my best, especially when I need to. These past few days I really needed it.

Here are some pictures from my last hike in Palisades Interstate Park following Carpenter's Loop 2. The day started out sunny and got as high as 50 F but by the time I was able to hit the trail the sun was completely obscured by cloud cover.

I knew today I wouldn't be doing as much running as I normally do. In fact this hike I normally complete in about 70 minutes took me 90. So I decided to take a lot of pictures with my phone then work on them like I would a photoshoot then post them online with my hike description. I kept editing simple. Just exposure, tone and temperature adjustments along with a combination burn/vignette layer for the most part.

I start from Ross Dock Picnic area in Fort Lee, NJ. In the off season there are no parking fees. I walk towards the George Washington Bridge along the paved portion of Shore Trail that leads to Hazard Dock.

Before getting to the bridge a series of century old stone steps make their way 300 feet up to the top of the palisades. This is the toughest part of the hike but the views make it worth it. It's also a great work out. If it gets tough you can take a break along the steps. Some days I can go up the stairs fast without stopping. Since I've been in my lazy winter mode and was recently sick for a couple of weeks I had to stop at nearly every turn to let my heart rate settle.

After the first set of stairs up Carpenter's Trail a couple of stone arches and steps support the roadway above and allow hikers to pass underneath shielding us a little from thoughts of modern life. In the spring and summer vines line the stone walls but in it's barren state I still find it appealing.

At the top of the stairs you can take a left to take the shorter loop or the right to take the longer loop. I try to make time for the longer loop.

This is close to the beginning of the Long Path which starts about 1/2 a mile closer to the George Washington Bridge. It's a long trail that leads almost completely unobstructed all the way up to Albany NY.

Each season the character of the trail changes with different types of vegetation taking over the ground on either side of the path. In winter everything is bare and you can see the bones of the park. Aspects that are hidden in spring are clearly seen.

This section of the Long Path is a nice spot for trail running. The terrain varies from dirt, to rocky and even some asphalt areas. It's not that difficult. This time I kept it to a brisk walk with a few short jogs as I get myself back in trail running shape.

The Palisades Interstate Parkway runs fairly closely to the left of Long Path. In some spots you can hear the traffic, in some areas you can even see it. For a couple of short bits you are completely exposed to it. But to the right you see a variety of trees and plants, small run  off streams that tickle down the face of the cliffs and views of the Hudson River and parts of Manhattan and the Bronx.

If you pay attention, you'll notice a couple of small foot paths leading to the East off Long Path. In the winter they are easier to spot. They lead to little overlooks which provide nice views of the Hudson River, George Washington Bridge and parts of Manhattan.

The cliffs can be dangerous so be careful. Stay behind the fences. Sometimes people are careless and unintentionally fall off. Other times it's more intentional. This day I saw someone had written the words "I AM STRONG" on white cardboard. I couldn't help wonder what they were thinking. What made the write that. Did they come here to do something and then changed their minds? I used it as my own little inspiration to remind me that even though sometimes I hurt, frustrated or veer off the path I want to follow that I am strong and will recover, just like I have in the past.

Allison Park interrupts this part of Long Path. It's a small park with benches, views of the river and some paved walkways. You can find restrooms and a water fountain at the entrance. To the right upon entering the park is a small structure that a friend of mine would want to claim as her hermit shack.

After exiting the park and turning right onto the street, a short walk towards the Englewood Cliffs campus of St Peters University. At the campus entrance pay attention to the trail sign on the left to continue along Long Path. You'll have a nice view of St. Michael's Villa along this leg.

Another small stream leads run-off over the cliffs and into the Hudson and we're nearing the end of this part of Long Path.

This view sums up how I feel right now. A mess. Things are in disarray but I still find it beautiful and I can make out an order of things and don't feel completely lost.

The Long Path comes out of the woods and along the road where I make a right to head down Dykman Hill Road. Follow the yellow blazes to get off the road and follow the trail down for a more scenic view. Be careful as there was a downed tree along the trail. You may want to keep on the road.

But at the very leas take the short trip down the stairs and waterfall. This is the nicest part of Dykman Hill Trail. The rest is stone stairs similar to Carpenter's Trail but a lot easier going down than up.

At the bottom of Dykman Hill Trail is the Englewood Cliffs Boat Basin and picnic area. You can see You'll see a small snack shack at the end of the parking lot which is open during the warm seasons. Across the river you'll see the northern tip of Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park, the mouth of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek which connects the Hudson and Harlem Rivers and The Spuyten Duyvil railroad bridge and Henry Hudson Bridge which cross the creek.

To the right will be Shore trail which will lead back to Ross Dock Picnic Area. This is a flat trail that runs along the banks of the Hudson River. It's an easy path to start trail running as it's mostly maintained with stone dust. Along the right you can see up the wooded cliffs. With the foliage gone more details are revealed.

Along Shore Trail are little steps that lead down to the river. Back in the 50's the Hudson River was a popular spot for bathing. Sadly that isn't the case any more.

Even though the sky had darkened, the weather was brisk and the foliage surrendered to the season leaving some of the limbs looking downright creepy, this is one of my favorite trails and helps me heal when I need it.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Small V-Flat Light Modifer DIY

These are plans to make a small, lightweight V-Flat. V-Flats are a very useful light modifier in the photo studio that are generally made from 1/2" to 1" thick 4' x 8' sheets of Gatorboard or other thick foamcore boards that are black on one side and white on the other. You hinge them together with tape and get a large light modifier that can also be used as a background.

They're very useful for standing subjects and the softness of the light can be altered by opening or closing the v-flat so it acts as a larger or smaller light source.

Black and white Gatorboard is difficult to find locally and even then is a bit expensive. I also wanted a smaller v-flat that would work better in my space and I didn't want it to be to thick and bulky.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Boudoir Photography Studio Prop Bed

If you're doing photo shoots in your home you can just set up a bedroom to double as a boudoir studio if your bedrooms are large enough. If you're shooting boudoir photography in your studio you'll want to have a bed in it. Since space is limited for many photographers, having a bed that doesn't take up much space is important.

I've been trying to come up with plans to build a photo studio prop bed that will fold up when not in use and not cost too much to make.

The plans to build the prop bed are below but chances are I'm not going to build it after finding a better alternative.

While browsing through Amazon I found this Zinus folding bed frame that folds even smaller than my design and is cheaper to buy than it would be to build from my plans.

Zinus Full Frame Folding Bed

Unlike a lot of other folding frames I've seen it is high enough off the ground that it will put the top of the mattress at about the same height as if there was a box spring underneath it. This way you can take natural looking shots with the model seated on the side of the bed.

What size bed for Boudoir Photography?

The bigger the bed the better so it looks like you're taking photos in an actual functioning bedroom instead of a set. Size however may be an issue because you need a lot of room on the sides of the bed to frame your shots properly using a good lens in the 50-100mm range.

A queen size bed would be perfect but if size is a consideration a full size bed gives enough room to do a variety of laying down poses and the model won't look like she's on a kid's bed.

What type of Mattress?

I remember talking with a glamour photographer a few years ago that just used a plywood platform as his prop bed. He said that way the model won't sink into the bed like she would in a regular mattress. That made sense but some of the shots didn't look natural to me and it wasn't the most comfortable for the woman in the photos.

At the very least I think a foam topper over plywood wood be nice but that doesn't really give a real bed look. I think it's best to get an actual mattress. You can frequently find mattresses on craigslist cheap or free.

Another alternative, one which I'll probably go with, is to use an air mattress. It will need to be a thick one to look like a full sized mattress. Something like this Intex Comfort Plush Mid Rise Full Airbed. It's not very expensive and it doesn't take up much space when deflated. Just be careful if you have a model with spikey heels on the air mattress.

Boudoir Photo Prop Bed Plans

To build the boudoir photography prop bed you'll need to visit your local Home Depot to pick up:

  • 1 4' x 8' Sheet of 3/4" Plywood
  • 2 8' long 4x4's for the legs
  • 3 8' long 2x4 studs
  • 4 Hinges, door hinges will work
  • Assorted screws
You'll want to cut the plywood so you have:
  • 2 23-1/2" x 75" plywood panels
  • 2 7" x 37-1/2" plywood panels which you'll join together to make one long panel.
Cut the 2x4s so you have 48 5" long lengths.

Cut the 4x4's to anywhere between 13-15" each depending on how high you want the bed. You'll need 12 legs all together. The amount of legs seems like a lot but if you're going ot have someone moving around and posing it's good to have it as sturdy as possible.

Then you'll just need to assemble everything together. This is a view of the bottom side of the prop bed frame. The 2x4's are attached on their edge to the plywood in a way that leaves a socket for the 4x4 legs to slide into.

When the prop bed isn't in use you remove the 4x4 legs and it folds up nicely. It's a good size to be used as a sofa table or other table that won't take up much space.

It's not the prettiest looking bed frame but throw a full size bed skirt over it and it will look just fine.

Place the air mattress on top, use some nice sheets and decorative comforter set, place a headboard in the back. Dress the rest of the set and you have a nice boudoir set in your photo studio that won't take up a lot of space when not in use.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Neewer Background Roller System Review & Installation

Neewer is a brand I see selling photographic equipment on Amazon frequently. For the most part they seem to be cheap Chinese versions of common products. I wanted to mount my backgrounds on the ceiling when I ran across their background roller system. It was cheaper than other similar background rollers and I liked that the brackets had 4 mounting holes instead of 2 like some of the other ones. I purchased a few of them and have been pretty happy with them so far.

There were a couple of issues that I'll address in my review of the Neewer Single Background Roller System and installation instructions. I'll also go over why I chose to use multiple single roller systems instead of a multi-roller background system.

Background Roller System Choices

The oldest choice for background roller systems like this was the Manfrotto AutoPole Expan Kit. It was expensive and for a time the only system you could get. It's still available and very well made from a well respected company. The system comes with AutoPole's that allow you to set it up without any hardware pretty quickly.

These days there are more affordable roller system options for seamless paper and muslin backgrounds. Basically copies of the Manfrotto system made in China sold under brands such as Cowboy Studio, LimoStudio Fotodiox and Neewer.

You can also find them in configurations to hold 4 backgrounds, 3 backgrounds and even single background roller kits.

The multi background systems come with all the background roller supports connected together for each end of the support system. It can be mounted on a wall or ceiling.

Even though I was going to be installing multiple background rolls I didn't want to use one of these because the spacing between background rolls as well as the height difference from roll to roll would eat up more space than I needed and I'm already working in a space that's a little tight.

To save a few inches here and there I opted to go with three separate single systems. That way I was able to get them closer together and each one is the same distance down from the ceiling.

The Fotodiox and Neewer systems were priced within a couple dollars of each other for the single roller systems. I decided to go with the Neewer System because it had 4 screw holes in the hooks instead of 2 for the Fotodiox. 

What You Get

The system comes with 2 expanding rollers, 2 roller brackets, a plastic chain, weight for the chain to keep it hanging straight and out of the way, an instruction manual and 8 fasteners that seem to be meant for masonry. These were useless to me as I was installing this on a wood framed, drywall covered ceiling.

What Else You'll Need

You'll need to keep reading for the specific sizes.
  • Dimensional Lumber
  • 8 (or more) Long Anchor Bolts for new framing into old framing plus washers
  • 8 (for each single roller) shorter anchor bolts about the depth of the new framing 
  • 10' 2" EMT Conduit for each roller system about $16 from Dome Depot.

Attaching Background Roller Brackets To Drywall

Well technically we're not attaching it to drywall. I roll of seamless weighs about 15lbs the EMT conduit weighs about that or a little more. Multiply 30lbs by how ever many backgrounds you're installing and that's a lot of weight. I feel better making sure everything is secured into solid framing.

If you're installing this in a typical wood framed structure you'll need some additional framing. Whether you install it perpendicular or parallel to your framing you'll likely need some additional wood to hold the supports in place since the lengths of seamless paper don't coincide with the 16" on center that framing is typically spaced at.

You can either cut out the drywall, install the new framing securely into existing framing and repair the drywall, or you can just place the new framing over the existing drywall. It's not as clean looking but it's quicker and easier to do and creates less of a mess.

I decided to go with the latter and plan on doing the former when I have more time. As you can see I marked the location of the ceiling joists which run perpendicular to the direction of the background rollers. I used a peice of 5/4 x 4" lumber cut to a little longer than the space between the joists, drilled 4 holes for the anchors and then drove the anchors into place using a washer on each anchor. I used 5/16" anchors that were 3-1/2" long. I wanted the anchor bolt to go at least 1.5" into the existing framing. In my case I had 1" of new framing, 5/8" of drywall to go through which meant I needed at least 3-1/8" length to get 1-1/2" into the framing. I would have preferred a 2x4 but every bit of extra height I can spare helps.

I installed the first side of the roller system so that there would be about 5-1/2 to 6" of clearance on the side to leave room for the chain and roller screw handle. Then I positioned the other framing so the distance between the center of the first support and the second support would be a little more than 1" greater than the length of backgrounds I'll be using with this background system.

The plastic piece of the other roller can slide back and forth a couple of inches so you get some leeway. Just unscrew the thumbscrew before trying to mount the roller so it slides freely.

To secure the mounting brackets to the new framing I used 1/4" anchor bolts that were as long as I could get to go into the new framing without driving through it. Same deal. Drill an appropriate sized hole and use either an impact driver or socket wrench to drive the anchor bolts in.

Washers aren't needed since the base of the bracket is metal.

One thing in the above photo that I noticed. The part of the bracket that hangs down is welded to the base of the bracket. The Fotodiox single roller bracket was an L shape that is formed from one piece of metal and even though it only has 2 screw holes, being one piece of metal has it's advantages. It's also has a smaller footprint which means I could get the backgrounds closer together.

Expand Rollers Into Background

The expanding rollers can be inserted into the ends of a roll of seamless paper.

Just stick one in each and end twist the knob until the roller is holding onto the core of the seamless paper roll securely. As you tighten the knob (clockwise) the two ends squeeze together and cause the white expanding part to expand inside the roll.

Ideally you're not going to want to put rolls of seamless up directly because as the rolls hang horizontally in the air they'll start to bow in the middle. This is especially true in more humid locations.

Instead you'll want to cut your 2" EMT down to the right size and roll your seamless paper onto the roll. In addition to not having to worry about sagging paper, you'll also be able to roll up muslin backdrops on the EMT as well.

I laid the EMT conduit next to the roll of paper, taped it carefully using duct tape to the EMT trying to keep it even, mounted the EMT on the roller system then used the chain to roll it from the cardboard core onto the EMT. Every once in a while make sure it's rolling up evenly. If it's not you can just pull the chain the other direction slightly and pull from one side to straighten it up.

It helps if you have someone to help you when you mount the backgrounds on the roller brackets but I was able to manage each roll fine on my own with a little patience.

The system works great and I have my backgrounds ready to go when I need to shoot and out of the way when I'm using the room for other purposes.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

LED Modeling Lights for Novatron Standard Heads

I needed to replace a modeling lamp in one of my Novatron studio flash heads (N2140C, N2110C, N2110C, etc) and decided to go searching for an LED bulb that will work instead. Thankfully I was able to find bulbs that fit at my local Home Depot.

The incandescent N4101 Novatron replacement bulbs aren't cheap. They cost around $9 each and I'd have to head into NYC to pick them up. Besides that, my main issues is that I feel guilty wasting so much electricity after having converted most of my interior lighting to LEDs and they get hot!

Heat was a big concern. Not just fore safety or because when I gel the unmodified heads the gels sometimes melt on the bulb but also because each bulb is like having a 100w heater in the room. It's been pretty hot recently, I don't have AC ducts running down to the basement where I shoot and I haven't figured out how to vent a portable AC yet.

I went to Home Depot looking for suitable bulbs to replace my Novatron modelling lamps. I needed bulbs that were bright, short enough that they didn't protrude past the reflector so they still fit in the case, thin enough at the base that I could screw them in without a problem, and narrow enough at the bulb end so they didn't block the light coming from the actual flash tube.

The EcoSmart 60W Equivalent Soft White A15 Dimmable LED Light Bulbs fit the bill and they were only $17 for a 3 pack.

Even after being on for over an hour they're still cool enough you can touch them. I was hoping to get 100W equivalent LEDs but I couldn't find them in an A15 size anywhere. They light output they produce though is sufficient and they only use 6W each. One hour running the 100W incandescents would cost me $0.04 an hour while the LEDs would only cost $0.002. Not a huge cost savings as it would take over 400 hours for them to pay for themselves but eliminating the heat issues is a huge plus. Also, there's no thin metal filament to break when I accidentally knock over a light stand. The main reason for replacing the bulb in the first place!

The LED modeling lights produce a harder light than incandescent bulbs. That's partly the nature of LED bulbs and also partly because less light is directed towards the bottom of the bulb towards the reflector.

Since flash in a bare reflector is harder than incandescent light anyway I like this. Makes it easier to get a more accurate preview of the lighting.

They weren't available in daylight colors but the soft white matches the color of the incandescent light they replaced. My last shoot it was easier to keep my shooting space comfortable without the added heat from the 100W bulbs so it was well worth the small investment.