Friday, January 20, 2012

Ring Lights, Beauty Dish, and Salad Bowls

So you want the effects of a ring flash but don't have the cash, or you've tried the cheap plastic ring flash adapters that snap, tape, or velcro onto your camera flash. Is there a better solution? Sure, there are several in fact.

It's hard to beat a true ring light for the effect it produces; that high fashion deliberately harsh ring effect is very popular and is best achieved with a real ring flash like the Alien Bees ABR800  which creates that ring of light in the eyes and rich saturated color with the edgy shadows often seen in fashion photos over the last decade or two. It's also popular in portraits of celebrities, athletes, and rock stars. But Ring flashes can be expensive, heavy, and many are not very portable requiring external power, or safe to use outdoors or around water. 

The AlienBees ABR800 Ringflash EST. 399.95

Stephanie Zetti
Ring flashes, good ones anyway can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, they can be heavy to hand hold and most take plug-in power or portable battery packs that require a body builder assistant to haul the whole rig around for you. Not everyone has an assistant to help carry a box of donuts let alone cases of gear, batteries, stands and reflectors.

There are less expensive solutions but before that lets discuss a few kinds of ring flashes and beauty dishes as well as the adapters that try and fill in for a ring flash in various ways by using an existing on camera strobe. 

The ring adapters that attach to your camera flash don't create the effect as well as the real thing because of the lower power and defused nature of the adapter which can cause a loss of up to 4 stops. Then again they are less expensive and portable for an "almost ring flash" effect many people are happy with. There are a number of models on the market and it seems theres a new one every few weeks lately. Some models include Orbis, ExpoImaging, Gary Fong, and others.
Click to zoom
Profoto ProRing2 with modeling light 300517 EST. $2695.00

Orbis Ring Flash Diffusing Attachment EST. $200.00

ExpoImaging Ray Flash Ring Flash Adapter EST. $199.95

22-inch High Output Beauty Dish

Buff 22-inch High Output Silver Beauty Dish Reflector EST. $ 79.95

Buff Beauty Dish
Another popular solution is a beauty dish like the 22 inch Paul C. Buff,  22HOBD from the makers of Alien Bees, Einstein and White Lightning studio strobes. Paul C. Buff makes this great one that comes with a diffusion screen when you want it and it't large size gives an effect similar to a ring flash but also softer like and umbrella, add in the diffuser and you get an effect like blending a ring flash with a softbox.

I have this beauty dish and find it very useful for fashion shoots in studio or location when I plan on using studio lights. Furthermore, I find myself using it all the time as a fill light and other uses in multi-light studio set ups. It mounts to the same speed rings as all Paul C. Buff lights including the Alien Bees or the White Lightning Pro versions I use.

Build your own for a more useful, lighter, and flexible solution
Years ago I made my own beauty dish, both a shoot through like a ring flash and a studio strobe version using a large metal salad bowl like the ones available at any cooking store or Sam's club or this 20 Qt. version from Amazon.
There are a few important details to consider when picking your bowl. First, you want a large wider bowl, not a deep bowl. The deep bowls are more similar to typical reflectors that come with many studio strobes, you know the ones you promptly take off and replace with a speed ring adapter so you can use softboxs or strip light style modifiers. These deeper bowls would just be like building a flood light and have the wrong effect.
If you have the tools and skills or have a friend who can cut it for you, cut a large hole in the bottom of the bowl large enough to allow you to shoot through the hole. I cut mine to the same size as the hole of my speed ring adapter and used sheet metal screws to mount a speed ring to the back of the bowl, which in turn allows the ring to be mounted to a light stand.
I have two versions of diffusion for the bowl. Both have a thin strip of elastic  sewn to the edge so it slips over the bowl one is made of simple white nylon cloth about 6 inches wide so that 4 inches creates a circle of diffusion around the outer edge of the bowl but allowing lots of room in the middle to shoot through. 
The other diffuser made the same way only it completely covers the bowl creating a softbox effect. Obviously, you can't shoot through the hole, instead I mount a flash or studio strobe in the speed ring and use it as a round softbox, traditional beauty dish or as a side light.
SInce I used my macro flash which mounts to the front of my lens I simply shoot through the hole in the bowl and basically get the same effect of shooting with a ring light for an investment of less than $30.00 bucks. 
I've also seen people make these out of smaller bowls, large pie tins and similar wider parabolic metal dishes.
20 Qt. Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl

20 Qt. Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl EST. 24.95 at Amazon

I mounted a macro ring flash inside the salad bowl after having a friend cut out a whole in the middle so I could shoot through it like a ring flash, with my macro flash mounted to my lens as I would normally use it.
That worked great for many years of use and I did not have to take too much care to protect the salad bowl from damage on location such as shooting at dusk at the beach, it was so cheap to replace if it was damaged and a lot safer to use around water than studio lights or studio grade ring flashes on location.

Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX EST. $500.00

What kind of strobes or macro flashes do I use inside?
If you're a Canon user consider the Canon 14EX Macro flash or pick up the Vivitar DF-586 version for less than $100.00 or the Bower SFDRL14C model for the more budget minded. There are versions for Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Olympus and most major camera makers design their own versions too. There are lots of brands of Macro and ring strobes available today. If I was shopping for a new one I would consider an LED version that can also be used for video projects.

Vivitar DF-586 Dedicated Macro Ring Flash for Canon

Vivitar DF-586 Dedicated Macro Ring Flash for Canon EST. $89.99

Including the cost of the salad bowl, some gaffer tape and a speed ring and you can build a great dual use beauty dish/ring flash for less than $50.00 that works amazingly well and is a lot safer to use outdoors and around water than the much more expensive studio versions and you don't loose 3-4 stops of light as you would with ring adapters that mount to a flash. And yeah, theres no red eye with a beauty dish setup like this.

So you built one, now what?
Have fun, start with fashion style shoots. Find your favorite muse, sports star, model, kid, or dog and shoot away.
Try using a combination of ring, beauty dish, and traditional studio lighting for a more polished and professional result. Learn to experiment and find the combination that best represents your personal style and client requirements.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

As photographers, Graphic Artists and Marketers do we have something to give back?

My Grandfather worked as a floor boss at Caesars when the MDA Telethon used to be held there and my Grandmother, an avid and extremely active volunteer who used to be in the newspapers in Las Vegas all the time for her work was also connected with Jerry's telethon while she was alive. But she also did volunteer work for a number of other local and national associations, served on many boards and fund raising organizations, and promoted many worthwhile causes. Not bad for a woman who never went to college, not sure if she finished High School, could not drive a car and never learned how to swim.

But she knew how to serve others.

That in turn meant that my older brother and I regularly went out doing service projects or collecting door to door for the MDA Telethon or other programs my Grandma was working with, I think we even made it on TV a couple of times.

It also meant we attended many of telethons, charity auctions, fund raising dinners and met Jerry Lewis and many other Celebrities as kids. It was a great thing and was very "local" back when LV was still a small town of a few 100 thousand and most people new each other. Our parents often knew a lot of the local headliners personally and they did not have to travel with body guards in those days, everyone but Sinatra that is!

So what does that have to do with my mostly photography and marketing related topics you Ask?

Let me suggest it reminds me that we all have an obligation to do service ourselves and help our fellow man.

It can be a hot political topic today, some circles think we should raise more taxes and the government should dole out everything and care for everyone, forcing people to contribute to the poor, diseased or many other worthy and worthwhile causes.

Still other groups feel it's a purely personal subject, that support of the poor, funding for research of diseases, and providing for those who have been dealt a harsh life should come from ourselves, that we should be responsible as citizens, morally engaged to give and volunteer to help others as individuals and not have the government take from us to give to others.

We could go on and on all day as to the merits and evils of both and we would quickly get nowhere, meanwhile there are people in need, research that has to get done, cures to develop, and yes we can do our part regardless of the ideological positions we take.

Keep it Personal

I am of the persuasion that all things are local, politics, education, community, and service. Even if sponsored nationally or globally it's the local connection that effects us, the human factor that reaches our souls, the one on one connection that allows our mostly empathetic natures to come out.

It's does not have to cost us money to help others, in fact I would suggest that is the least valuable way we can contribute. Writing a check is easy and sterile and disconnects us from the problems of those around us.

Sure many worthy charities need money, but all too often many are caught up in the fund raising business and self aggrandizing and much of what is donated never reaches the intended cause or is deliberately spent entertaining the big shots and dragging out the cash flow for personal gain with no intention of helping at all, just sucking money from people who are in essence paying for a less guilty state of heart.

This jades many people against charitable service and giving but there is an answer to solve all these issues.

Do the Service Yourself! 

Donate time, talents, and money locally where you can participate in fulfilling the needs of individuals, whose lives you can be effected by you and who can effect the way you treat the world around you.

Local is Everywhere

Local does not just mean in our own towns and cities. We all have read about photographers, doctors, or others who travel to all kinds of exotic places to do local service right where it's needed.

I love to travel and the idea of contributing to a worthwhile cause while satisfying my wanderlust is provocative.

People with creative talents have much to give, you don't have to be a doctor without a border to give of yourself or to write a check.

What are you passionate about, homelessness, breast cancer, hunger, emergency relief, conservationism? There are thousands of areas that need our help in the world, and countless ways to contribute.

Recently our church for example decided to help an Episcopal Monastery of a completely deferent church just because they needed some help. 70 people showed up on a Saturday morning to restore the grounds of a once beautiful monastery to its former state of peaceful glory providing an open retreat both for religious people and anyone who wanted to come by and meditate. Many people who I knew mostly with a shirt and tie or sunday dress and some of whom I knew were accountants, lawyers, realtors, moms and dads, kids, and people of all kinds of jobs were there digging, weeding, trimming trees doing landscaping and planting, hauling waste, and all kinds of hot and dirty manual labor. And surprisingly it seems for a group of people none of us knew or had any affiliation with just because it needed to get done.

Our religious ideologies may not have been the same but one group of people seeing another in need of some service can go far in creating greater understanding and peace in the neighborhood.

As creative people we have many outlets for our creative abilities to help others; we can write stories that move people to action, we can use our marketing kills and powers of persuasion to present needs to the public in ways that is educational and entice them to get off the coach and help others, we can use our photography skills to show people the pain of hunger, the devastation of a disease, the loss of an infant, the desolation of nature abused, the terrors of war.

Another example is an organization I do service for is NILMDTS, a highly personal and emotional service that relies on the talents of photographers and retouchers to provide a service to families who have recently lost an infant or baby.

Your Contribution Matters

Just because we may not have the means to write a big fat check does not mean we do not matter or that our contributions can't make a difference.

Get out and help build housing for the homeless, volunteer at a food pantry, cancel a vacation and instead go somewhere in need and document, then communicate it to the world.

Use our Magic Powers of Enticement

We have the power to get people to buy, to shop, to be loyal to a brand, to open wallets and purchase stuff thy don't really need. Lets use some of those powers of influence to help people to do the right thing for causes we are passionate about, make it personal, and volunteer ourselves too, set the example.

The more we do locally, the more our efforts are magnified, the further our donated dollars reach, the more personal impact we can have on improving the lives of our fellow man, protecting our world, and creating more understanding and peace.

Making Time to Help

Set aside time, if you're a business owner make it part of your business plan to set aside time, talents and resources to give back to the causes and needs of your community and your world, the ones that make you feel, that pull at your heart, that make you feel.

Create a service committee that develops plans on how your office, team or group and contribute and serve. Use that to help others, I think you'll gain more from it than anyone else will from the service you do or the check that you write.

Thanks Jerry for the Service and Example

Jerry Lewis gave over 50 years of service to MDA and deserves our thanks and appreciation for the example and the memories.

I was always proud of my Grandparents volunteer service and association with MDA and other charities. It's helped me to always believe in and support volunteer service programs that help others, and taught me the importance of the personal connection we have to the world around us and the people who may need us whatever talent we have to share.

I try to set an example for my kids and hope they will pass on a spirit of service and volunteerism and a desire to help others to their kids.

Selfishly I know from experience that we will always to get more out of it than the value of our time, talents or resources and that should make us do more for others than any other motive we might have.

Now stop reading this blog and go find a way to serve and help, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Every Photographer should have a Current Passport

Even if your not going anywhere right now you may want to consider getting a current US passport. Why?

It's been in the news off and on the last couple of years (but only in passing for the most part) that Homeland Security wants everyone to have a passport for interstate travel, supposedly to protect us against terrorists somehow. The first part of that is the new passport card.

However, this week The US State Department has submitted new forms that will require everyone to provide every aspect of our personal history, and they mean everything; every job you've ever had, every address you ever lived at, even as a baby, every name and current phone and address of previous supervisors, where your mother lived one year before your birth, every school you've attended etc. Along with the new, nearly impossible to fill out forms and subsequent security checks they will drastically increase the price of a passport to cover all the new detailed background checks and processing, data collection and database maintenance making it even harder for some people to obtain one. 

Some talking heads think this will make it hard for many people to travel, find work, move from one area to another while making it easier for the government to create new ways of social engineering; deciding where people move, work, and who gets permission. Reminds me of the old USSR where only party insiders could move up in the world or had choices. Some suggest that progressive thinking politicians have a long term plan of using this along with healthcare, the EPA, and other tools to further control and manage all aspects of everyday life.

The US State Department has come out endorsing the idea of requiring a passport for interstate travel and further suggested it should be required for employment as well because employers would know the background check had already been conducted by the government. In short if this goes through, not as a law but another presidential ruling so it can bypass Congress it would become very difficult to travel in the US or get work without an expensive and hard to get passport. 

So, experts are advising people to get one now even if you are not planning over-seas travel. Apparently getting renewed will be easier for people who already have a passport, and you never know when you might want to take off to some other country for vacation or business travel.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rebuttal to an WSJ iPad article

Why I Don't Want an iPad for Christmas

A decent article for the non thinking person. I'm not a writer so I may not refute as eloquently, let me also state that I have no interest in Apple, own no stocks and don't work for them. My arguments apply to almost any popular product as much as it does the iPad. I also look at the iPad from a photographers point of view and find it's storage capacity far too lightweight for my use. It seems Brett Arends and the WSJ are okay with picking up the thoughts and editorial content of thousands of others and calling it an article, I go to the WSJ for original thinking not rehashed goggle searches. Here are my thoughts:
Point by Point Rebuttal
1. Everything is cheaper next year, it's a rather weak argument. You can always say I'm waiting for the next one to be cheaper or better there is nothing profound about that. The problem is there will always be a next one. If your a geek, tech fanboy, or just want to have the latest toy you'll get it if you want it enough. Often people who say I'm waiting for the next one are really saying I can't afford it right now. Come on admit it, we all do this. You either want it or you do not, it's a mater of how you're going to justify the thing you want and how much you are willing to sacrifice for it. Or if your wealthy you really don't care about the cost.
2. I think I answered this already. Things generally always get better. Cars, computers, cameras, toys, robotics, cell phones etc. The real question is do you like to lead or follow? Are you a safe player who minds your budget or do you like having the newest thing when it first comes out? Does your career require you to be up-to-date on the latest gizmo or is it just something you'd like to have. And again, is your budget one where you can have the latest thing and dispose of it or hand it down to children or others easily or do you need to move cautiously and stretch every dollar. I for one am somewhere in the middle, I am often required to be up on the latest trends, however I make things last and only buy if I can write it off on my taxes. Ask my wife, I've never bought a new computer, however I always have the most powerful and capable ones you can get, generally through barter and customizing that I can do myself or I find ways for clients to buy them for me.
3. Profit margins, I have no problems with a healthy profit, I'm not a socialist or communist and take no issue with a company that takes every advantage of the market it operates in. The margin Apple makes pays for it's leading edge R&D, state of the art design, willingness to open new markets that other companies benefit from, provide forward thinking designs that raise the bad for everyone. If you have a problem with margins you'll have to give up food, jewelry, cars, energy, politicians, electric cars, medicines, eating out, movies, music, live entertainment etc. All operate with margins and profits that far exceed Apple's. This boils down to envy and greed on the part of those unwilling or unable to reap such rewards and think they have the right to take from others to pad their own pockets without doing the work or putting in the efforts that others do. Strange how margins and profit concerns disappear when it's something you really want or a organization you want to believe in.
4. Competitors, If it were not for Apple there would be no competitors. Apple did not invent the tablet, but like many things they developed the marketing, desire, designs, and infrastructure to make the industry viable for everyone else. Apple singlehandedly revived the dying music industry with the iPod for example. Apple's designs with the early iMac helped all computer companies get past the grey box and open up an entirely new market and opportunity to sell products to people who want computers to work well and look good. Bill Gates once said when asked why he did not want to destroy APple. That he needed Apple to innovate and create products for the rest of the industry to copy or try and beat constantly pushing the computer industry to greater innovation. Some one has to lead so competitors have something to reach for, to compete with.

5. Okay this one is a bit more complex, Flash has it's detractors, I'm one of them. It can be slow and interfering, it can be difficult to execute and works on some browsers one way and differently on another. Apple has a long history of driving and creating industry standards. Right now they are trying to drive us to HTML5. A superior product by most accounts. Sometime change is painful and requires leadership. Apple is striving to drive us to a more open standard, one Adobe does not like because it costs them money. Apple gets nothing from HTML5, just a more widely adopted open standard that is free to all and consistent everywhere on all platforms and browsers. Mostly what you’ll loose is a lack of pop-up ads and annoying efforts to get you to buy insurance, go back to school or sexual enhancement products. Most of the more popular video sites are moving to or already have moved to HTML5 because it’s faster to deploy and cheaper while requiring less bandwidth to deploy.

6. Add-ons, I have to agree with this one, at least sort of. The apps cost more to buy than the ones on the Android platform, even for the same apps (I use an Android phone by the way, I refuse to use the more expensive AT&T service with it’s often loss of connections and terrible service). The wi-fi argument made in the Wall Street Journal is like political double speak. 

My wife won an iPad at work, the most basic model. I was quick to point out that without the 3G capability it would have problems running some applications as the Journal article suggests. I was wrong and so are they. Wi-Fi is everywhere, often free and open. Sure I can't use the wifi connection while driving in the middle of the desert but then again I should not be using an iPad while driving anyway. Most applications do work without internet access and are just as functional as anything on your laptop, or netbook for that matter. Are you tossing out your laptop or netbook because they don’t have 3G service? I don’t think so. If yo want it there is always tethering, just like you can do for your laptop. If I were to buy an iPad for myself I see no reason to buy one with 3G and comparing it to the underpowered black and white only Kindle, neutralizes all the rest of the points the WSJ makes in the rest of the article. A Kindle is a book reader with anemic internet and productivity tools, books are still expensive, and it has no color so forget video. The iPad is starting to replace people’s laptops and doing it well for many. So I have to agree I don’t need the $989 model either, my wife has not had a problem using hers any of the places most people will use the iPad 95% of the time, at home, at church (yes many great apps like hymns and scriptures are available so replace that old heavy Bible) in airports, on airplanes, the same places most people use laptops most of the time

7. The Games? Really? Do I even need to respond to this? Addictive gaming behavior? While the Brett is at it lets ban all cigarettes (I don’t smoke) alcohol (I don’t drink it either), gambling, vacations, people with too many cats, collecting ceramic figurines, investing, after all investors spend a lot of time doing that don’t they?  Sure some people over spend, over eat, over drink, or play too many computer games. Lets get rid of the XBox and Wii while we're at it, after all those are games and thats a waste of time too? Are you a puritan or perhaps some kind of anti technology tech writer? Most cell phones have time wasting games too lets ban them all.

8. Waste of Time - according to the article reading articles is a waste of time too. Don’t read any more articles in the WSJ, don’t go online and visit the WSJ sites it’s a waste of your time and keeps you from reading paper books (which kills your Kindle point) and sex. Oh and avoid Facebook too. You can read but don’t do it on a digital reader or on the internet, that is a waste according to the author. Are you sure you're a online tech writer? Or maybe your just too lazy to realize your telling people to avoid what your getting paid to do. Maybe you should rethink your argument a little.

9. It’ll get boring. Now your just trying to fill space to make your 10 items list. Try harder, I have to wonder if your editors are still on holiday and missed how lame an argument this one is. Welcome to western civilization, it is built on consumerism, we like new stuff so what? Not getting an iPad is not going to fix all society’s ills. And yes in the 90s it was the Palm which made the iPad possible. Who knows what new technology and benefits we will gain in the future based on the technologies and infrastructures being built today. It takes money to build and it takes consumer spending to pay for it and consumer feedback to help it grow. Perhaps you prefer the dark ages where progress only happened with the forced ideas of kings and dictators. Seems you have an obsession with failed methods of progress. Sure the iPad will get old someday, just like that bad tie and cheap haircut your sporting, that was so last year! Why even wear clothes they go out of style so fast?

10. Brett Arends’ last comment seems like more Apple envy. Apple happens to be the big dog at the moment, Brett's argument here mirrors those written about Ford Motor, Microsoft, Goggle, Walmart, America, Ma Bell, Every industrial mogul in they're times. Journalist love to stir up hate, envy, greed at whomever is the big evil corporation of the moment, always with the same argument. They are scary and evil or  bad because they are successful, evil because they invent stuff many people want, corrupt because they are smart enough to make a profit at good design and innovation. Simple minds will always buy into this argument the easiest, it’s always easy to hate on those who are doing better than us, are smarter, consistently succeed, and getting paid for it. It's one thing to love the underdog, but that does not mean every successful company is inherently bad. Success is the ultimate American dream far to few comprehend anymore.
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