Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not My Normal Self Portrait - Part 3 "The Post"

Hey everyone, here is the third and final instalment of my "Post Apocalyptic Corporate Headshot" series of the "The Shot," "The Shoot & The Gear," and "The Post."

Here's the video that shows how I created this image in Photoshop.



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Not My Normal Self Portrait - Part 2 "The Shoot & The Gear"

Part 2, "The Shoot & The Gear." The original concept for this image came to me when my wife asked me to take her to Michael's, a local craft store. It was around Halloween and they had all of their Halloween themed things out on display. As soon as we walked into the store I saw the skulls, which got me thinking about how I could possibly use one. My first thought was some kind of self portrait with the skull overlay, or a bones behind the face kind of thing. So I had to grab one.

I decided to try some sort of overlay so I knew I needed a headshot of both me and the skull. 

I wanted a dark look so I chose only one light to camera left and positioned it so I would fully light my right side, and have enough drop off to darkness on my left.  I needed to have the lighting the same for both shots, so I had to have both my face and the skull in pretty much the same position. I also chose a black background to keep the dark theme. Here's the lighting set-up.

I took a lot of test shots, and was tethered into Lightroom to see them a bit larger so I could assess the overall exposure and focus. Once I had both nailed down I did two things:

1) I turned the AF switch on the lens to "off" so the camera wouldn't try to refocus everytime the shutter was fired, and;
2) I placed a mark on the ground as a reference for my distance from the lens.

Here's the self-shot I used - this is the RAW shot converted to jpg, no post done yet.

Once I was satisfied with my self-shot I grabbed the skull for the next shot - again, this is the RAW shot converted to jpg, no post done yet.

As you can see I was holding it up at head level to try and get the same perspective. This is where the mark I placed on the ground came in. For the self-shot I was sanding over the mark, but for the skull shot I was standing behind the mark placing the skull above it closest to where my head would have been. This was key to get light to fall in same way for both shots, and also to try and match the perspective when I took both into Photoshop to merge them.  

Gear used for the shoot:
- Nikon D810
- Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8
- Nikon SB900 Flash
- Nikon SU800 Commander Unit
- Lastolite 24" Ezybox
- Black backgound with Manfrotto background stand
- Vello wireless Shutter Boss - remote trigger
- Tethered into Lightroom

Stay tuned for part 3 "The Post," where I'll show you how I created the final image in Photoshop and Lightroom.



Saturday, November 28, 2015

Not My Normal Self Portrait - Part 1 "The Shot"

Hey everyone, here we go with another instalment of "The Shot," The Shoot & The Gear," and "The Post."

Now, there is a back story to this image. While I was at Photoshop World in August one of the tidbits of advice I picked up about pushing your creativity is doing something the complete opposite of what you would normally do. Well, if you look at most of my portfolio you'll see that this about as far from my normal as I think you can get! LOL!

This was also a way for me to work on generating a concept, planning the various elements, figuring out how to light it and shoot it, and finally how to bring all the elements together in Photoshop and Lightroom. I'm definitely not a Photoshop genius, but I've picked a few tricks here and there, so it's always fun to try new things.

Stay tuned for Part 2 "The Shoot & The Gear," where I'll walk through the concept, the planning, lighting, and shooting.



Saturday, November 21, 2015

I'm Now Up Over on Instagram!

Blog has been quiet for the past little bit, but I'm getting things back on track starting with announcing that I'm now on Instagram! I've been a very late adopter to Instagram, so I thought I would give it a try. I'm always looking for ways to share my images, and so far I'm finding Instagram quite fun.

You can find me at @darrenclarkphoto. I'll be posting every couple of days so check me out and start following if you like what you see.

Also, stay tuned for another instalment of "The Shot," "The Shoot & The Gear," and "The Post," coming up shortly,



Monday, October 19, 2015

Out of the Mist, Into the Calm

Digging back into the archive again, this time 6 years ago and our Alaskan cruise. We sailed out of Whittier, Alaska, heading down to Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the stops along the way was Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

What I remember as we began navigating our entry into the park was that it was extremely cold, and extremely foggy. We brought our winter gear so we were able to stay warm, but couldn't do anything about the fog and mist. We were starting to get a bit disappointed thinking we were not going to see anything when something magical happened...we sailed out of the fog. And I mean that there was a wall of fog and mist behind us and it stayed there.

Once on the other side we were treated to a pretty clear blue, and some of most beautiful and tranquil sites I have ever seen. It was like we just sailed into another world.

We enjoyed the day on our balcony just taking it all in. Not much more to say about it so I'll just leave a few of my favourite images here.



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Getting Off the (Well) Beaten (Tourist) Path

Digging back into the archives for this photo from 2007. Anyone ever been to Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia? It's a beautiful little place; however, it can also be a very busy place as it's an extremely popular tourist destination.

I've had the chance to see it, and hoping to get back there again next year.  I was able to get there relatively early, and while there were others already there was able to avoid the massive crowds. But that all changed when four large tour buses arrived!

Now I love shooting wide angle, sweeping landscapes, and I was able to do that here. In fact I got pretty much the same "tourist photos" that a lot of people get (hey I was still new at photography), and pretty sure I found the exact tripod marks from so many others before me...see the images below, for example.

But when those tour buses arrived I had to start to think like a photographer, and choose a new strategy. I decided to change my approach to eliminate the crowds and look for something unique. In this case I took a stroll off the well beaten tourist path where I found these two beat up little boats. The next thing I did was to zoom in a bit more to eliminate any distracting elements around them.

Try this the next time you're battling a lot of crowds. Take a walk off the path a little, and try zooming in a bit more to eliminate distractions, get some of those detail shots that help to fill in the story you're trying to tell.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

"The Post" - Part 3 - Milky Way Over Nelson

Hey everyone, here is the third and final instalment of my Milky Way over Nelson series of the "The Shot," "The Shoot & The Gear," and "The Post."

Here's a video on how I post processed my Milky Way images. Really simple processing using only Lightroom.



Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Shoot & The Gear" Part 2 - Milky Way Over Nelson

Welcome back! Moving along with part 2 of this series is "The Shoot & The Gear." I was back in Las Vegas in early August for Photoshop World, my second year attending, and it was awesome...again!

One of the pre-conference workshops I attended was lightpainting with Dave Black. Basically, lightpainting is done in the evening when it's dark, where you hold a long exposure for the ambient light, then move off-camera and use an LED flashlight to "paint with light" on your subject. Check out Dave Black's site to learn more and get inspired to try it yourself.

I mention the lightpainting as it's germaine to how I got the image above. To lightpaint you use a long exposure with the following starting point of f8, 30 sec, ISO 500, and then you adjust as needed to get a decent overall exposure. This is all done on a tripod, obviously. While doing this for over an hour you get pretty comfortable with managing long exposures, and you can get pretty good at predicting how varying exposures will look.

As the workshop was winding down I headed back to the bus, and that's where I looked up and saw the Milky Way (everyone with me had already seen it and were shooting so I was kinda late to the party; I was shooting in the other direction for most of the night). So I set-up and began shooting away. As I mentioned in my original post I shot in both landscape and portrait orientation. Always good to do both just in case you don't make it back to that spot. That way you can decide later on which one you like best.

Here we go with the gear and settings:
- Nikon D810
- 24-70 f2.8 (version 1 since a new version with VR has just been released)
- 24mm, f2.8, 30sec @ ISO 2500
- This was all done in "Manual" mode

I also used the timer setting with a 5 second delay (I was already using that for lightpainting as I needed the 5 seconds to get off camera with my flashlight). However, you can use a cable release or a wireless remote just as well.

I set my focus mode to manual and then to infinity by turning my focus ring all the way to the infinity mark, and then back just slightly. There are a few different focus techniques for shooting stars and such that you can Google, but for this I chose set it to infinity.

Aperture - you always want to shoot with the widest f-stop as possible so you can capture as much light, and as many stars as you can. For me this was f2.8; however, if your widest f-stop is f4.5 then go with that.

Shutter Speed - a good starting point is always relative to your focal length. Basically whatever your focal length is that will be your shutter speed in seconds. In my case I was at 24mm so the closest shutter speed was 25 seconds, which is where I started. I ended up bumping it to 30 seconds as I got a bit more light, and the overall exposure looked better to me. Again, take a few different exposures so you have some options later on.

ISO - I set mine to 2500. Again you want to capture as much light as possible and this is a good starting point. However, if your widest f-stop is f4.5 you may want to push the ISO a stop or 2 higher than 2500. If you need to go higher after your first exposure then you bump bit by bit until you get something that looks good.

Remember, this is all about your exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. With your f-stop at its widest you only have shutter speed and ISO to play with to adjust your exposure. So start with some base settings and make adjustments along the way to see what works for you.

One last thing about trying to capture the Milky Way is that you really need to have a dark sky. I live near Toronto where there is a lot light pollution so I don't get to see the Milky Way a lot around home, if ever. However, Nelson is about 50 minutes south east of Las Vegas, basically out in the middle of cell service, and no light pollution. You could see the Milky Way with the naked eye, which was really cool! So basically get as far away from a major city as possible and you'll be in a good shape for some serious star gazing.

So that's it for "The Shoot & The Gear" in this series. Stay tuned for the final installment, "The Post," where I'll show how I post processed the final image.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

"The Shot" Part 1 - Milky Way Over Nelson

OK folks, time for another instalment of The Shot, The Shoot and the Gear, and The Post. This is where I post a photo, then follow up with the how I shot it and the gear used, and finally my post processing to create the final image.

In this instalment I actually have two shots, one landscape and one portrait. I like to shoot both sometimes and decide late which one I like better. In this case I'm leaning towards the landscape orientation as my favourite, as the foreground adds a nice element to the overall scene. But you can decide which one you prefer.

Stay tuned for the next post!



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Travelling with Camera Gear? (Canadian Version)

Are you a Canadian photographer who travels? Do you know what a Y38 is? You probably should.

Ok, I live in Canada so this information specific to Canadians; however, if you live in another country you may have similar regulations so you may want to check out your local requirements.

A Form Y38 ("Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation") is a document issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). If you haven't heard of this before I'm not surprised. I had never heard of this form until few years ago after driving back across the border from a trip to the US.

I went down to St. Louis to see the Flashbus Tour featuring Joe McNally and David Hobby a few years ago. I live in Ontario fairly close to the Niagara Falls border and at times have traveled out of Buffalo due to cheaper flights. As usual, when I travel I take some of my camera gear, and have done so for close to 10 years with nary an issue. On this occasion it was a little different. When I returned to cross back into Canada I expected the usual questions, where have you been, how long have you been gone, what are you bringing back etc. I'm always honest with the CBSA agents because I have no reason not to be. So when I said that I was attending a photography seminar (the Flashbus Tour) I was questioned about my camera gear; essentially how do they know that I didn't just buy all this stuff in the US and was trying to sneak it back across the border without declaring it. The CBSA agent wanted me to prove that I purchased everything in Canada...easier said than done when all of the receipts were at home over an hour away at the time.

I showed the CBSA agent the gear I had with me, and after additional questioning she relented, but told me that I should have obtained a Form Y38 before I left Canada. Suffice it to say I was a very bad person for not knowing about a form that no one in the past had ever mentioned to me, but we all know ignorance is not defence. I guess she thought I was honest enough because her attitude changed slightly and she explained it to me in more detail.

After I got back I went searching for a little more information on how to do this, and found that it's a pretty simple process. Here's all you need to do:

1) Make a list and itemize all of your gear, I mean all of it, with make, model and most importantly serial number;
2) Take all of you gear, plus your full list to your nearest CBSA office (click here for a directory);
3) Explain to them that you travel frequently with your camera gear and understand that a Form Y38 can help when coming back into Canada.

In my case I went to the Hamilton International Airport as it was closest and not that busy. The agent there was extremely friendly. He took my list and checked out all of my gear, including verifying all of the serial numbers. He filled out the Form Y38 (it's actually a small green card), and attached it to my larger list, where he also noted the total number of items and that he had checked the serial numbers. He signed it, I signed it, and we were done; it took about 5 minutes.

The Y38 does not have an expiry date so it's good for as long as you have your gear. Even if you only travel with a few pieces, as long as they're on the list covered by the Y38 you're good. The only caveat is if you add more gear or change things out you will need to get a new one. I updated mine last year, which involved updating my list and heading back to the CBSA office to get the revised list signed off on a new Y38. However, this is probably the most important need to remember to carry it with you when you travel.

So it may seem like a bit of an inconvenience to do this, but consider the alternative... getting into a dispute with a CBSA agent, getting frustrated about something you knew nothing about, getting pulled off to the side for further questioning, having to pay duty on your own gear, having to gather all of your receipts after the fact and head back to a CBSA office to prove your case. I know I may be exaggerating just a little, but how much easier would it be to drop a Y38 on them once they start to question you? You'll probably look like a pretty smart cookie, the CBSA will likely appreciate that you took the time to get informed and make their job a bit easier, too.

Happy travelling!



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Going to Photoshop World? Like HDR? Head to Nelson!

Continuing the lead up to Photoshop World 2015 in Las Vegas. I've posted before about checking out the Old Ghost Town in Nelson, Nevada. So if you're heading to Vegas for PSW2015 then definitely take the time to head down there, especially if you like HDR. Even if you don't like HDR there's a ton of shooting opportunities out there.

I'm a fan of HDR and the Old Ghost Town had been on my list for a long time. I finally got there last year for the first time, and I was like a kid in a HDR candy store! I was bracketing left, right and centre!! (I know, I know...insert groan here)

Tons of old buildings and run down cars & trucks, lots of texture, overall a fantastic setting to shoot. But don't forget, you won't be the only photographer there, so make sure you bring some patience and respect for others who are there to enjoy this place as you are.



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Photoshop World 2015 is Almost Here!

Last year was my first Photoshop World in Las Vegas. There was so much that I missed as there was so much to do. At the end of the conference I mentioned this to Scott Kelby and he looked me right in eye and simply said…”dude, come back next year!”


There's also a bunch of Pre-Conference workshops and I attended the Concert Photography workshop with Alan Hess (an amazing concert shooter), and Scott Diussa from Nikon Professional Services (also an amazing concert shooter). You get some classroom learning first and then the really cool part…you get to shoot a real band! Yup, you get the whole experience with a live band, a loud band, lights, dry ice, like you’re at a real concert, and basically you are albeit a private concert for photographers only. The band last year was called Rebel Soul, a classic rock band with a great sound who totally rocked it. It was hard to separate my wanting to shoot, and my wanting to just sit back and enjoy the show.

The other really cool part was after the workshop all participants were asked to submit 1 photo of the shoot. The instructors would then choose the top 3 images to be presented at the Keynote Address (yeah the one that kicks off Photoshop World that everyone attends) for a chance to win great prize from Nikon, thanks to Scott Disussa and the NPS Team. The crowd cheers would choose the winner. To my total surprise my image (at the top of this post) made the top 3! Unfortunately, I didn't win, but I got a tremendous amount of positive feedback from so many people. It was an amazing experience.

The Pre-Conference workshops fill up fast, however, it looks like the Real World Concert Photography workshop still has some openings so definitely check it out.

The whole conference was a great experience. I learned a lot and made some new friends.

You can check out all of the details and register here:

Photoshop World 2015 – Las Vegas



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Our Zipline Adventure in Whistler

My wife and I were in Whistler, British Columbia last weekend for the North Face Half Marathon. While there we also went ziplining with ZipTrek Ecotours, which was a very cool adventure. 

My wife has a bit of a flare for storytelling so I'm turning today's post over to her to tell the story in the way only she can.  
“You want me to do what?!?” I would have looked back at him, but I was much too afraid to turn around.

“Step down to the third step,” he repeated with the patience of someone who is well accustomed to being asked dumb questions by tourists.

I looked down at the metal steps in front of me; the ones that had no railings and suddenly dropped off into nowhere. And I mean nowhere! From that last step was a 750 foot drop off into the valley below.

“When you feel the wedgie, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough."

I would have thrown our 20 something year-old tour guide a withering look at that comment, but I was too busy trying to keep my breakfast where it belonged.
Suddenly, I had a flash black to 4 months ago when I first found the advertisement for this Zipline tour online. “Hey, Darren! Look at this! We can do this when we are over there for the half-marathon. What do you think?”

He had agreed with me then. Probably because we were both visualizing the easy experience we had ziplining at Turkey Point back home. Somehow, now that we were standing on the platform towering above the valley in Whistler, it suddenly seemed like a VERY bad idea.

Oh, well, if I die today, I won’t have to do any more call, I thought as I took a deep breath and stepped down. Another two steps and I felt the harness grip me in a way that was way too familiar. 

“Okay, this is as far as I can go.” I imagined that my voice sounded calm and collected. Like it belonged to an experienced health care professional who was used to making life and death decisions. Sadly, I am pretty sure I sounded more like a squeaky 6 year-old.

“Ok, then just sit back into the harness, step off and you’ll be on your way.”

Our guide still sounded way too cheerful for my liking.

“I’m only on the second step and the harness has me. Do I have to go down another step?” Was it my imagination or was Darren’s voice a notch or two higher then it usually is too?

I glanced over at my husband cinched up in his matching harness a few metres away from me on the same platform. Apparently, we were going to have the dubious honour of ziplining together.

“Just step off and go!” our tour guide called out to both of us.

Suddenly, the scene from Indiana Jones when Indy had to take a leap of Faith by stepping out onto nothing (when there was actually a bridge that blended in completely with the canyon wall) flashed through my mind. Here goes nothing! I thought as I took my own personal leap of Faith.

And then I was flying through the air. More like a terrified-seated-woman-clinging-onto-the-strap-of-her harness flying than soaring like a bird flying, but flying nonetheless. I can’t even describe what if felt like as I sailed across the valley, the trees whistling by below me. It made me want to laugh and scream at the same time.

I saw Darren zipping on his line out ahead of me and picking up speed. I was wondering how I could possibly catch up to him when for some reason I started to spin. Ok, zipping forward was one thing, but making me zip backward was just mean! Fortunately, a few seconds later, I spun back again. And then as my pulley hit the brake line and my feet hit the wood of the ramp on the receiving platform, it was over. My flight was over. Darren was there ahead of me and showed me his slightly shaking hand. I grinned at him and said, “That was fun!” He laughed and said “Terrifyingly awesome! Let’s do it again!”

Here's the group shot with our guides Keir and Aldo, from Ziptrek, and the two Heathers, our adventure partners for the days.

Photo credits: Ziptrek staff photographers.



Saturday, May 30, 2015

Haleakala - House of the Sun

Haleakala (House of the Sun) on the island of Maui, a truly amazing place above the clouds. If you get the chance to go then take it, but also take some patience as the drive to the top is a long and winding road. (The image above is looking west at the peak of Mauna Kahalawai in the West Maui Mountains).

The peak stands at 10,023 feet and looks out over a barren wasteland of volcanic rock. Getting up there does take some time as the road is very slow going. The speed limit on the Haleakala Highway in most places is between 15 and 20 mph and there are lots of blind turns (I counted somewhere around 30 blind hairpin turns), but about half way up you begin to rise above the clouds, which is really cool.

If you're not use to altitude then you'll definitely begin to feel it. We stopped at the visitor centre at around 7000 feet to use the bathroom, and as soon as I got out of the car I could feel how thin the air was; a bit more difficult to get a full breath and a slight pressure in my chest.  Up at 10,000 feet was very noticeable. You do get used to it, but you have to take slow deep breaths. It can be very disconcerting if you haven't experienced it before.

We also got really lucky with the weather. We had a clear day, very little wind and no rain. I have heard of other's experiences up there in the blowing wind and rain, and very cold temperatures. When we left Ka'anapali the thermometer in the car read 82F (27C), at the summit it read 49F (9C). I suggested to my my wife that she should bring her winter mittens, we already had our winter coats going down there from Canada in February. I was pretty ok in a t-shirt and hoodie, and my wife was happy to have had her winter coat and mittens.

So make sure you put this on your travel bucket is worth the drive, trust me!



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Lightroom Exposure Recovery Tutorial

Do you have a horribly underexposed photo? Not much of an issue for Lightroom. This was my experience with one of my photos from our trip to Hawaii earlier this year.  This video tutorial shows how I got to the after version.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Project Feline - Part 3 "The Post"

Welcome back to Part 3 of Project Feline, "The Post." The post processing in these photos was so simple, and it was all done in Lightroom (at time of process was LR v5.7). Below are the screen shots of my settings, where I started and how I moved from one shot to the next.

The first shot is my reference image with a grey card in order to set a correct white balance. With 2 cats that are black and white this was an important first step. All I did with this was grab the white balance eye dropper tool inside the Basic panel and clicked on the grey card...simple and straight forward.

Next all I had to do was sync this white balance setting across all of my photos, which is as easy as selecting the reference image, the grey card shot with the WB adjustment, then selecting my target images that I want to sync. When you do that the Sync button shows up at the bottom of the LR Develop panel. Click Sync and then choose the settings you want to sync, in this case WB (I also kept the Process Version checked to ensure the same version is used) then click Synchronize and you're done.

So then I went to my first image to edit. The first thing I did was some cropping and then a few simple adjustments in the Basic and Detail panels. You can see all of the settings below.

Now I used the Sync feature to match the WB setting across all images to start, but after that I tend to only focus on editing one photo at a time, so I don't usually sync all settings across all photos the same way. What I do use is the Previous button (see red arrow in the image above). When I move to the next image that I am focussing on I hit Previous, which applies all of the settings from the previous image to the one I'm working on. From there I make any additional adjustments that I think are necessary and then move onto the next image. In this case the cropping had to change for each, and I made a few small tweaks to the other sliders as necessary. My goal here was consistency across the shots as they were all companion pieces.

Basically this was it for post processing. Really simple touch ups that took about 2 minutes or less per image. Lightroom is some powerful stuff.

Thanks for dropping by again. I hope you enjoyed this instalment of "The Shot," The Shoot & The Gear," and "The Post."



Saturday, April 11, 2015

Project Feline - Part 2 "The Shoot & The Gear"

Part 2 in this series is the behind the scenes look that shows how I got the shot, and the gear I used to make it happen.

First, here's the list of gear that was used:
  • Nikon D810
  • Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 Lens
  • SB900 Speedlight
  • SU800 Commander Unit
  • 32" White Shoot Through Umbrella
  • Lastolite 5 in 1 Reflector w/Reflector Arm Attachment
  • Manfrotto Background Stand Kit
  • White Seamless Background Roll (60")
  • Folding Table
  • Cat Toy
  • Cat Wrangler (aka my wife, Lori)
Below is a shot of how everything was set up. Lighting set-up was pretty simple with one SB900 at camera left on about a 45 degree angle to the set, and on the right side was the white reflector. This was shot in my home office and you can see there's not a lot of space. The SB900 was obviously my main light and the reflector was close enough in on the right to get a good amount of fill light. I also shot this at night so the light spill from the window behind was not a factor.

Camera settings were full manual mode - 1/100 @ f8, ISO 640. SB900 was also on manual at 1/4 power. I've always tended to lean toward manual flash as opposed to using full TTL. I also wanted to have a lower power setting so the flash would recycle faster.

Now the fun part...getting them up on the table, and trying to get them to cooperate! This is where my wife, Lori, my "ace cat wrangler" came in. Her job was to get them on the table, keep them on the table and try to get them to face in the general direction of the camera...and she did an amazing job!!

Here are few unedited, and uncooperative, outtakes. Lori managed to get their attention long enough for me to bang off about 10 to 15 shots each, and I was lucky to get a few keepers.

So there you have it, Project Feline Part 2 "The Shoot & The Gear."

Stay tuned for Part 3 "The Post," where I'll walk through how I post processed the final shots.