Thursday, March 25, 2010

Millions of brushstrokes later...

My Wacom Intuos4 tablet is acting funky. I mean it's not the first time it's acted funky. Here's the shortlist of issues with it:

1. Upon waking from sleep (MacBook), the tablet often needs to be unplugged and replugged (USB) in order to work properly. Otherwise the tablet doesn't "wake" with the computer
2. Sometimes the pen jitters for no reason. i.e. the pen cursor shakes though I'm not shaking it.
3. Sometimes the pen doesn't work properly and needs to be "removed" on the list of tools on the tablet in order to get it to work properly.

With all that being said the pen and the tablet (including the mouse) usually work flawlessly. Any issues can typically be resolved with a few setting resets... until today.

The pen is exhibiting an inability to register sensitivity consistently. It will register too little sensitivity and if you push it harder, it suddenly maxes out on sensitivity. Nothing happened to cause this. I did not drop it, I didn't move it. It was working fine and then suddenly I was getting no pressure sensitivity in PS CS4. It sometimes still works erratically but overall it's not working properly. I feel like it's the tablet and not the pen. The pen itself is passive. There's no power/batteries in the pen. The tablet itself is the "sensing" unit. There must be something wrong with the tablet.

I've only had it since June 18, 2009. I hope I don't have to get a new one.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Where are we going? Who's driving this thing?

Originally I considered writing a separate message documenting the internal conflict I feel for not being able to tell you where I am going. I have never really known where I was going and although my path is much clearer now, I must concede that the end goal is shrouded in uncertainty... and that makes me leary.

Life is funny like that. I am in the middle of a very interesting story yet I have no clue how it will end. For someone who is technical, analytical, and introspective it behooves me to draw a flowchart for what is happening on this journey. Yet I can't. If I were to plot a chart for where I have been, where I am going, and where I might end up, I know only one thing is certain... that I would be dead wrong. LOL!

The problem with predicting the future is that you only know where you have been. Therefore every estimate for where you might be relies on the assumptions of the past. Without the variables that have not yet occurred you can not plot with accuracy a plausible outcome. So you wind up with two choices: Do what the major corporations of the world do and plot several outcomes at variable intervals (up to 100 years) and replot these timelines every few years. Or fly fatefully and faithfully headfirst into the unknown and embrace everything that will be.

As a photographer, or simply as a human being, it's hard to accept that which we can not control. We are at the top of the food chain. There are no viable threats to our survival outside of the ones that we create for ourselves. As a species, even mother nature can't slow down our population growth. We are almost gods. So it troubles us that we can not completely control our lives and see into the future.

I once defined excitement as the anticipation of the (outcomes) unknown. After all, I have never been excited about something for which I would know the resolution. But much like my relationship with surfing, I am always excited to see how this story will unfold.

In January a few things happened that snowballed very quickly. I opened myself up to the "outside world" and began networking and talking to people that were in this industry. That opened a lot of doors and doors begot doors. Suddenly I find myself at the inflection point of a brave new world. I am working with several individuals that have clout and I'm excited to see where this is going to go. If the past is any indication of things to come... hopefully, things can only get better from here.

As a creative however, I think it's a fine balance between control and randomness. I call it randomness because that which we can not control seems random. It's dynamic. It's alive. It's surprising. Most of all it's addictive. More and more often I am pulled towards the unknown and even trying to create situations where "things" can happen. Inspiration can come at any time and if you keep your channels open you can be filled with inspiration which will hopefully lead to new creations. I think the next 3 months will be a departure from the old (as much as someone like me can depart from the old) and a huge step into "liquid" (that's a pun on the surf documentary Step Into Liquid). Liquid being flowing and dynamic and never still, I am hoping to separate myself from that which is static and old.

I feel like I have spent enough time learning the fundamentals. Yet for one who will read instruction manuals from start to finish, I can't wait to leap off the old platform and try my hand at new things. For example, when I first started learning about lighting, I never finished all of Strobist 102. I leapt off somewhere in the middle of 102 and started experimenting myself. Of course now and then I feel the need to go back and learn some of the things I missed but for the most part I think I made the right decision to learn by doing. By "doing" I think you give yourself the opportunity to ask the right questions which is always (as I have reiterated) more important than having the right answers.

Is photography/retouching my end game? I don't know. Do I have a marketable skill now? I hope so. People are still surprised when I tell them that I've been doing this since April (11 months and counting since I joined ModelMayhem). Hell, the timestamp on my self-portrait (reference How It All Began post) was only 1 year ago. But a year is a long time. How many full years does one get in life? If you live a full one maybe 70 of these. But not everyone is that fortunate. It's been one hell of a ride though!

I have plans. I will likely not disclose them here for fear that I'm looking too far ahead. Rome was not built in a day and neither will my career (or anyone's career for that matter). When you look at the wildly successful, even they are the results of a sequence of fortunate events that happened one step at a time. In the next 10 days I will think about all that's occurred in the last 3 months. I haven't had much time to think lately. I feel like I've acted in many instances out of necessity but not by design, meaning that I haven't put enough thought into planning for the things that occurred and that they kind of all just happened... like diarrhea; it all just "came out".

I am looking at several shoots worth of retouching:

-Tiffany Blake's pictures which are top-priority since she has an agency interview next Thursday for which she needs at least 2 pictures
-Beauty retouches on the lookbook shoot (which came out to be a big success and means I'm published!)
-Mackenzie's shoot where we romped around in downtown LA after an afternoon in the studio. I believe around 400+ pictures from that shoot and 3 locations in LA1
-Sharylyn's impromptu shoot which was set up a day in advance where we went to a park in The Valley (again outdoor)

These were the 4 shoots that I did in 5 days. These occurred Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday. I have yet to finish up on Kensy and Lucy's shoot. I would like to revisit at least one of Brett's old shoot, one more of Melissa, hell I'd like to look through all the shoots in the past 3 months and do at least 1 more picture for each but I don't know if that's going to happen.

I will however definitely work on the website as soon as I get back to Taiwan.

Stay tuned. There's more to come...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Intelligence: The MacBook Battery

I've exhausted my battery on several occasions.

Let me rephrase that.

On several occasions I've gotten to the point that on any other computer I would have lost work or had to reboot upon recharging.

That has never happened with my MacBook. It always always always fires back up with all of my work still there after plugging it back in, no matter how drained the battery gets. Here's why.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Video of Tiffany's shoot

The camera used to capture the video only gave Josh 5 minutes of useable video but here's the result :)

Think Tank Airport Takeoff Review

Copied from my Amazon review of the Think Tank Airport Takeoff

So here's the deal. I own a green Lowepro Mini Trekker AW that I still prefer to use for short travel because of its portability. It weighs nothing compared to the 10 pound (while empty) Airport Takeoff. That being said, I could no longer tolerate the 20 pounds hanging off my shoulders with the Mini Trekker. I debated between the 3 Think Tank roller bags and decided on the one that offered me the most versatility. This one is an international carry-on sized bag. Also, I wanted to have the option of putting the bag on my back for whatever reason (unpaved roads or fooling airport personnel into thinking the bag is lighter than it looks so they won't weigh it...)

The dividers suit me just fine. I'm a Nikon shooter and in the bag now I have a D3 body, 70-200mm f/2.8G VR, 24-70mm f/2.8G, 14-24mm f/2.8G, 50mm f/1.8D, 85mm f/1.4D, 2 SB-800 in their bags, and assorted other stuff like a Giotto blower, polarized lens filter, etc. In fact, I have space for more... probably 10% more stuff. The lenses I carry are not as big as a 200-400mm or 300mm f/2.8G VR but they're not small either. Definitely a dramatic increase in space over the Mini Trekker.

So here's my gripe with this bag and let me explain to you why I think it's the way it is. Think Tank could have easily used a 2-section aluminum handle rather than the 4-section handle that I see on all their roller bags. Most carry-on rollers are 2-section aluminum handles so they're not only sturdier but also cheaper to acquire (cost). Yet Think Tank chose the 4-sectional handle... why? IMHO, to save space.The 4 sectional takes up less space in the "handle compartment". However they sacrificed sturdiness in using the 4-section handle. I quickly googled "think+tank+airport+flimsy" and discovered what is probably the "Achilles heel" of all the Airport bags (or at least also the Airport International). Most reviews complain that the handles are flimsy as hell.

Now when I say the handle is flimsy, I don't mean that it's just normally flimsy. I mean that there's a TON of play between each section. Obviously the more sections there are, the more exaggerated each section's flimsiness becomes at the top of the handle. So much so, that at the top of my handle there is about 1.5 inches of play forward and backward and almost an inch left and right. Yeah, THAT flimsy. Will it break? Probably not (benefit of the doubt). Does it inspire confidence when hauling $15k worth of equipment around? Probably not. Could Think Tank have done better? Probably... particularly when we're paying $300 for these things.

Otherwise I think the bag is solid. The wheels are smooth and there are plenty of compartments for stashing your stuff. Yeah my other gripe is that the handle is hard to pull out when tucked away in its compartment, but I can live with that if the handle were solid. I feel like I have to baby the handle so I don't break it though... and that's not good. The backpack straps are easy to use although I wish there was a belt strap/buckle like on my Mini Trekker (because it holds the bag down better which allows you to carry more weight) Hope this helps. Having a rolling camera bag is still a huge benefit over a backpack.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Breaking some rules

When I first started shooting/retouching I remember having a conversation with my brother where he advised against "funky crops".

No, not like corn and wheat.

We were talking about unorthodox aspect ratios (crops) for the final pictures. The above picture is a cropped version of the original at a very unusual final resoluation of 1200x608. Why you ask did I crop it like that? 3 reasons:

1. There was too much white board on the bottom that needed to go
2. Using my traditional 2x3 ratio I would lose too much skin
3. I wanted to retain as much skin as possible

That's it. My considerations forced me to break the rules. But sometimes you learn the rules so you can break them :)

If the last 3 months were a marathon...

If the last 3 months were a marathon here's how the race went:

Spent the first 6 miles jogging...
Then started running my marathon pace for 6 miles...
Suddenly I started sprinting and continued like a bat out of hell for 14 miles...
Burned out and trying to catch my breath for the last .2 miles.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Apollo Westcott Softbox... dilemma

When I started this journey all I had were Nikon Speedlights. So naturally I had to purchase softboxes that would work with the Speedlights.

When I finally acquired my first couple AlienBees, I did not buy any softboxes. I found that the Apollo Westcott 28" and the 50" softboxes worked (okay and well, respectively) with the B800's. These monoblock lights have umbrella attachment holes that would hold the umbrella shaft. I figured, "Great! I can still use my softboxes"

Here's the issue. These B800's generate heat. Lots of it especially if the modeling lamp is turned on. Enclosed in the softbox, the heat no place to go. With the 50" softbox, this isn't as big of a deal but with the 28" softbox there just isn't enough space.

Why haven't I bought real softboxes? Because the B800's are well-cooled and I'm mindful of using them inside the softboxes for prolonged periods of time. That being said, I have used them in the softboxes with the modeling lamps on with my normal firing rates before without a hitch. You gotta understand, the AlienBee B800's are workhorses. They seriously can take a beating. I don't abuse them, but I'm not "light" on them either. I'm sometimes firing them close to full-power once every 2-3 seconds for 100 frames at a time.

The other reason? I rarely use my softboxes. I opt for grids and my beauty dish more often and so I can't justify forking over more money for a proper softbox. That being said I do have the strip softbox with grid from AlienBees.

Hope this helps with the decisionmaking :)

Wanna know a secret?

Wanna know a secret?

Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason for the things I do.

Case in point, when I retouched this picture and applied this brownish tint to the picture, I did not select a color. In fact I think this color was selected as a result of trying to even out skin tones from the previous image (strike that it was from this image). It is therefore a residual artifact (or a byproduct) from previous work. But upon applying the gradient map on this image, I liked the result and thus kept it.

Now you know how arbitrary my retouches can be :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nikon D3S FTW!

The Nikon D3S and the EOS-1D MKIV were put to the test by two pros. Ever since hearing about their release, I've wanted to know "Who's going to win the high-ISO battle?" The following is an excerpt:

"What's clear from the test is that the Nikon D3s has the best high ISO performance of any camera on the market, hands down. It bests the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV by at least 1 stop, and even beats the Nikon D700, which has the same sensor and ISO performance of the original Nikon D3."


Don't come shy...

It's my motto for working with models...

It's also my motto for how you should live life...

When I first started, I suppose it didn't matter if you came shy or not... I was happy the model if the model showed up at all.

These days, just "showing up" isn't good enough. You'd better be prepared to give it all that you've got. If you want hateful music to push you out of the box, alcohol... hell I can even make you cry if you want (ooh that gives me an idea).

Don't come and give me the same crap that you've already given 100 other photographers. Inspire me. I'm fueled by inspiration. Sure there were 3 weeks when I almost drowned in shoots/retouching but I'm back and I'm hungrier than ever.

Impress me. Inspire me. Evoke an emotional response from me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alive and kicking

A shoot got cancelled today! I haven't shot since Tuesday. This has (and will be) the longest reprieve from shooting in a while. Gives me a chance to catch up on the 5 shoots that I have yet to finish editing.

What can I say? I'm finally feeling normal again. Sleeping well again (if you call sleeping at 3AM sleeping well LOL!)... hell for a while I even had an involuntary tick under my right eye. That's gone thankfully.

The pictures. Well, they just don't just coming. Lots have happened that I haven't fully digested. Sometimes it all just happens so fast, like a flash flood... next thing you know your house is gone and you're standing there telling the news reporter, "And whoosh, all gawne..." while you're scratching your red neck ;)

Here are some tidbits of info:
  • Retouching now averaging 2-3 hours as opposed to 4-6. A necessity really.
  • Airport Takeoff by Think Tank Photo coming soon!
  • ABR800 coming with AB1600 for outdoor photography
  • I sometimes blow my shadows by a lot so I need more fill (hence the above)
  • I need some inspiration so I think the ABR800 will provide some of that. It's been a while since I've added to my collection
  • I love Dianne's 2 photos. They would be Dianne-5 and Dianne-7 over on my flickr photostream
  • I have a studio. The studio has a leak. Ruined some paper and a tile board. Oh well.
  • Been doing some beauty shots that you can see in the photostream as well
  • Did an outdoor shoot recently (if you consider the backyard outdoors)
  • Going to Taipei in 2 weeks and then to Kyoto for a workshop with Matthew Jordan Smith
That's all I got off the top of my head. I'll be back with more in a bit.

Oh and the most important thing that I can tell you guys is to go and do it. In the auto industry we used to say, "There's no replacement for displacement" referencing larger engine blocks providing more power. Well, it's true. Progress is made by action. :) Go and do it.