The Gift of Photography

All the credit for this blog goes to Sarah.  She won the annual prize for finding and giving the best gifts this year.   My Dad and sister joined us for the holiday when their original travel plans changed.  We were really thrilled to have them join us, but had to figure out what to get my sister besides gift cards and wine.  She is one of those people who always says “but, I don’t need anything”.   


Holly (Sarah’s lovely daughter) was also going to be here.  Sorry Ben and John, but us guys were pretty much bicycle fish for the holidays.  “Ah ha! I’ve got it!” exclaimed my wife, “digital picture frames”.

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I was a bit surprised as the frame I had bought for her several years ago had started to do weird and funky things.   I gave thumbs up from my side of the couch as she immediately ordered them from Amazon, foolishly thinking that I had escaped having to do any actual work.  Then she revealed the brilliance of her plan.  Rather than give an empty electronic device, we were going to fill the frame with pictures which she knew would mean something to each of them. 

For Holly, she contacted scads of friends as well as Holly’s facebook connections asking for them to send decent quality (i.e. not facebook thumbnails) copies of the images which they had posted.  She combed through her own archives (not in Lightroom…yet, but that is another story) and collected them together.  

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For my sister, we were able to go through my digital files and pretty much instantly gather those together.  Unfortunately, I still have a lot of my father’s slides from when we were kids which are waiting to be scanned.  

I don't think I want to try this now

I don't think I want to try this now

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We dragged out my old slide sorting light box and my detailed inventory of potential candidates and looked through a few hundred images.  We found some great ones, and some not so great ones.   We then had the slides scanned by McClanahans—our local camera shop.  For both sets of images I did some clean up in Lightroom and Photoshop and handed them over to Sarah.

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Sarah loaded up the images onto “cute” animal head USB drives, but we discovered they would not fit into the port on the back.  So, we took a plain old USB and loaded up each of the frames.   I have to say that when Donna opened her box, it was “uh, nice…thanks.”   When we made her plug it in and turn it on and the images started to show up, we could not get her attention to open any other gifts for a while.  Holly noticed that she had the exact same shape box and you should have seen the wrapping paper fly.   Both of them were moved by the images.    I was once again amazed at just how brilliant Sarah is.  Well, she did marry me after all… (Editor’s note-Gag) 


All too often the images which mean the most to us aren’t the best photographs in the world, but they capture the best memories.   The selection of the images says a lot about how much the recipients mean to us.  I highly recommend this as a gift for those you care about. 

Light Your Holiday

By Roger (17 Dec 2013)

Naturally, during the holidays, you spend lots of time behind the camera. This is a season for great snapshots. I really like to catch all the hustle as the kids and grandkids plow through the packages, ripping the wrapping paper and singing along with the music. Every year, my wife tries, unsuccessfully, to make them open packages one at a time, in turns. I'm not very supportive of this because I love the chaos of the free-for-all. Unfortunately, this hubbub doesn't give me much time to grab the snapshots of the joyous riot. I have nice flash units for my camera, and I'm not afraid to use them, but the bright flashes can be distracting, and, before too long, everyone is seeing spots and not the gifts. I need to make constant adjustments to the camera and flash settings, based on distance to subject and the shooting angle. When the batteries start to weaken, the recycle times will get annoying and may cause you to miss a shot.

There is a relatively inexpensive solution for this problem: constant light. Most houses, however, do not have lamps bright enough to keep the shutter speed reasonable unless you bump the ISO to a very high setting. I prefer to keep the ISO low to keep down the digital noise. So, I set up some studio lights and replace lamp bulbs with daylight-balanced photo bulbs.

Before you dismiss the idea as untenable and too expensive, let me explain how you can make this work. Temporarily replacing your regular table lamp bulbs with the new fluorescent, stay-cool, daylight-balanced photo bulbs will help you keep a consistent color temperature throughout the photo. Any lamps with standard bulbs are left turned off. These photo bulbs are safe for use in regular lamps, even with lamp shades. They are a little brighter, but it will look like it belongs in the room. No one will ask why your photos don't show a lamp with orange light coming out of it. This is quick and easy. The total cost is less than $60 for four photo bulbs. Depending on your room, this may be sufficient.

Continuous lighting prevents a bright flash from startling little subjects.

Continuous lighting prevents a bright flash from startling little subjects.

I have a small, portable lighting kit that I set up for more light. It comes with two softboxes and stands. The softboxes are placed at the back of our family room, out of harm's way, on both sides of the room to get some cross lighting. I set them to give a realistic light, as if there was a big window behind me. These lights are brighter than the other bulbs I use in the lamps, but they are dimmable. For most people photos, we prefer big, soft light sources, and these lights and attached softboxes are much bigger than my flash heads. This kit fits into a carrying case that is easily transported wherever I need to go. The total cost of the kit was $169. Compare that price to my fancy Westcott IceLight (sans any light modifiers), and you will be convinced of its value.

If you use flash in a quiet family setting, you'll only get one chance at this shot.  I got several because no blast of light alerted my brother-in-law to my shooting.

If you use flash in a quiet family setting, you'll only get one chance at this shot.  I got several because no blast of light alerted my brother-in-law to my shooting.

This solution allows me a quick way (set up is less than 10 minutes) to achieve a room with balanced light and enough light to shoot at a good shutter speed and low ISO. All this is accomplished at a price less than half the price of one of my flashes. I can move around the room and change my distance to subject range and angle without any additional calculations. These small kits are great for uses like this and lots of other uses. They aren't the big, beautiful 60” softboxes that portrait photographers dream of, but they will certainly provide great light for this snapshot situation. Use the proper tool for the situation.

From the Westcott Booth, at Photoshop World Vegas.  They make beautiful lighting, but there are cheaper alternatives for your holiday snapshots.

From the Westcott Booth, at Photoshop World Vegas.  They make beautiful lighting, but there are cheaper alternatives for your holiday snapshots.

I probably won't post a blog on the Thursday after Christmas, since I have the entire tribe (and their dogs) at my house next week. We hope whatever holiday you celebrate is great, and you get photographs that are treasured forever. Merry Christmas.

No, this is Holly…and Halloween

Roger’s blog last week reminded me that I didn’t actually name Sarah’s lovely daughter.  Her name really is Holly and she is just a lot of fun to have visit, even if it was only for a short weekend.  It is also one of Sarah and my favorite holidays—Halloween.  Our house has bubbling cauldrons, smoking skulls, crawling zombies and bats hanging all over the place.  Each year, I enjoy carving the pumpkins and this year, I tried something new.  I used the Dremel ® tool to scrape away the flesh.  Just a hint for you readers out there, don’t do it inside the house.  10,000 RPM does in fact take the skin off quickly, it just sends it everywhere.  

We don’t know how many little boys and ghoulies we will get this year trick-or-treating.  We were largely spared by the hurricane.  Our neighborhood has had a different natural disaster—most of the little kids have grown up.  Oh well, we still have the candy for hurricane supplies.

Happy Birthday America

Today is the 4th of July, a day celebrating the birth of our nation. Traditionally we get to spend time grilling meats, drinking barley pops and blowing things up with friends and family.  All of which are good things. What we really need to remember on this day is why we are a nation and how we got here.  We could still all be subjects of the Queen.  The Royal Palace in Williamsburg could be more than just a great tourist attraction.  Our ancestors mostly chose to come here to seek a better life.  Some did not come here by choice, but through the belief and sacrifice of thousands now have freedom and opportunity.  As Americans, we have had to continually fight for ourselves and for others to maintain those ideals.  We should reflect on those who have paid that ultimate price.  Take time to recall that all around the world right now, young men and women are far from their homes,on watch protecting us.  Enjoy the day, but never forget the price we pay to celebrate our freedom.