TWIP Family Podcast - A Shameless Plug

By Roger (14 February 2016)

Just a short one today because my computer is acting up. Time for a refresh.... I'm already talking to my computer guy to see how long this is going to take. Please, bear with me.

One of the podcasts I've mentioned in a past post is TWIP (This Week in Photo). I've been a fan for years. It's a weekly commentary about what is happening in the world of photography, hosted by Frederick Van Johnson and a rotating stable of other photographers. You can find the main podcast here. The hosts have roundtable discussions; they answer a listener question or two; and each give a recommendation for some photography equipment, event, or resource.

A couple of years ago, TWIP began expanding its offerings, with shows that address more specific photography interests. All the shows are captured on my podcast catcher, but you can listen on the website, if you prefer. My favorite of the new podcasts is TWIP Family, with Jenny Stein hosting (link). I have listened to all the episodes, and joined their Flickr group. (I gave you that link, last week. Did you join them, yet?)

Jenny's role is to teach easy techniques and give ideas for family photography. She is a mother of four, so she has lots of experience with the topic. Her podcasts are relaxed, fun, and very beginner-friendly. You don't come to this podcast looking for specifications of the latest gear. She will usually have a guest or two, especially for her Q and A shows. This week, one of those guests was me.

You can find me on Episode 39. Jenny liked a tip I sent in for simple lighting in a room, for family gatherings. I blogged about this, at Christmas time, a couple of years ago (link). It was a fun experience, and I hope to do it, again, somewhere down the line. We'll see.

Here are a couple of photos of the two youngest grandchildren, made using this technique, from this year's Christmas. We had lots of fun.

No flash; easy set up

The present is almost as big as she is

Home for the Holidays-Making a CD Cover

By Mark

It has been a month since Roger and I have had a chance to write and post a blog.  We have been in the midst of corporate transition and have been pretty overwhelmed.  Despite that, we have managed to stay busy with some photography projects.  One that I got to work on was an opportunity to help out a very talented musician surprise her family and friends with a Christmas CD.  The good news is that you can get your own copy of the CD for yourself at

She needed a photo for a CD cover with a nice Christmas background and asked if I could help.  We started with a basic photoshoot.  I asked her to bring a couple of outfits in order to give us more options later.  I didn’t actually have an appropriate background but I knew we could create one later to meet her requirements.  I figured that I could just use the background of my unfinished basement insulation—turned out to have not been my best decision.  The photography was pretty simple.  I set the camera on f/8 and ISO 100.  I was using my 70-200 zoom lens.  It stayed right around the 85mm focal length, which is why Nikon’s 85mm f/1.4 is one of the premier portrait lenses.   We used a two flash set up.  One main one in front with my 60” soft box and the second one behind her right shoulder in order to create a nice rim/hair lighting effect.   Both units were set up with Pocket Wizards for control.   We wound up with the main light at about 50% power and the back light at about 15%. 

I’ve known Amy and her husband for quite a while, but she somehow has not aged much at all, so we got a good selection of shots to choose from.

My processing plan was intended to be pretty straightforward, but it proved challenging in two areas. I needed to:

1.       Perform general image wide adjustments

2.       Apply a minimal level of skin retouching

3.       Extract her from the background

4.       Replace the background with a better one and then ensure that it looked realistic.

I’m going to break the process up into two blogs to provide some details.

For any photo job where color control is important, which should be all of them, I began by having Amy hold my X-rite color checker.  When I started processing I would use that to set up a custom white balance profile for all the images in the set. 

More of a mug shot than a good photo--Sorry Amy!   I told her she didn't need to smile for this one.

More of a mug shot than a good photo--Sorry Amy!   I told her she didn't need to smile for this one.

I did a preliminary select from each pose and outfit to weed out any bad ones—only one with eyes closed.  I then found the best ones and did normal adjustments—mostly opening up the shadows a little bit and applying sharpening to the RAW images. 

I have several applications which are specifically designed to help do portrait retouching.  Typically, ladies skin gets “softened” a little bit, the eyes brightened as well as the teeth.  I actually ran the images through all three of my tools separately in order to compare the results.   I have OnOne Perfect 10, Nik and my newest one, Perfectly Clear.   I was impressed by the results from the last one especially.  

The images just looked better, but it was very difficult to see what was actually different.  At this point, I had 4 very nice images which I sent to Amy for her selection.

All that selection and  preliminary processing hadn’t taken that long, but are an important step before you send anything to a “client” even if they are a good friend.  You never want to show a bad image.  When she made her selection, the real fun and work started.  You can read about that next time. 

A Photo Boooooth

By Mark

Well my wife decided that we needed to have a Halloween party. As always, she was right. Every square inch of the house was decorated in a creepy, spooky, Halloween fashion.

One of the ideas we came up with was to set up a photo booth to try and capture the cool costumes of our guests.

I made the suggestion to get a Halloween backdrop and, surprisingly enough; she agreed.

There are lots of sources for backdrops on the internet. I just went through Amazon (shameless plug you should use the link on our blog) to find one we both liked. Of course, that one was sold out and I had to go with our second choice. 

I have long been looking at getting a backdrop support system because it provides a lot of flexibility for more creative photo shoots.

These backdrops fit on standardized sets of stands and a cross bar which set up quickly and can be done by only one person.

I do not have continuous lights so I knew I would need to set up the flashes. Most importantly I wanted to be sure there were no harsh shadows on the background so I used a second light first to wash the backdrop.  I have a set of pocket wizard remote transceivers which fit onto the flash units and onto the camera. You can control the power level of the flashes remotely and independently. I set up the camera on a tripod and focused the lens in manual mode so that the autofocus wouldn’t continually try to readjust. I put tape on the floor to show people where to stand and that assured they would be in focus for the photos. 

I knew that I did not need a lot of light on the backdrop, so I had the power level set at -2 stops as a starting point. I shot a few test shots to see how this worked. Here is a diagram of how the camera and the lights were set up.  I discovered that -2 was too dark so I kept adjusting it and shooting it and would up at -1 1/3 stops. 

Now I could move on to the main light. I used my large 5 ft octagonal soft box to create very soft light on the subjects. I positioned the light off to the side and as high up as possible to make the shadows interesting.  I used my volunteer model, Sarah, to test my lighting. When I was happy with it, I then proceeded to set up the remote control.

I purchased a more capable Vello remote for the camera at Photoshop World. It allows you to select the time delay for your self-portraits. I calculated that 10 seconds would give folks enough time to press the button and then get into position. Finally, I knew that people would like to see their pictures in case they needed to take additional ones that they liked better.

I set up my laptop with Lightroom open and hooked up the tethering capability directly from the camera to the screen. When you pressed the shutter the images were directly transferred into a LR collection and they were visible with the normal development presets already applied. One of the things I learned was that on Nikon cameras, when you are shooting in tethered mode, it does not also write the images to the memory card simultaneously. You need to insure the system is working properly or you will lose your images.

As it turned out, I ended up shooting the pictures myself, and not making the guests follow the simple and clear instructions I had taped to the computer stand. It was just more fun watching the people and interacting with them to get more relaxed poses. 

Each group had a crowd of spectators cheering them on. Toward the end of the evening, some of our guests wanted to take group shots. They were a lot of fun, but because of the dimensions of the space I cut off an elbow or two on the edges of the frame or had part of our basement in the shots. 

Additionally, I should have increased the depth of field because some of the people who moved into the far foreground became a little bit soft in focus. It provided a good learning opportunity for me, and people seemed to really enjoy their photos. We are already looking for a backdrop for the annual Christmas bash in December. 

Improvised Light Modifiers

By Mark

I was shooting some portraits today at the office for a proposal and had found a nice corner with good soft light.  I set up my Wescott softbox with my SB900 flash as my main light.  I had a second flash set up on the floor to provide an even background light.  This was especially critical as the EXIT sign was throwing a nice red line against the wall.  Since I was using my pocket wizard remotes to control the set up, it was pretty easy to adjust the flash ratio between the two.  From my preliminary test shots, I had set the background light power way down at -2 stops.  The main flash was set at +1/3 and the first sets of pictures were fine.  As the afternoon progressed, it got cloudier and darker and I started getting bad shadows on the far side of my subjects. 

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Elesia, my saintly and patient receptionist

Even though I had my light stands and full lens bag with me, I had neglected to bring a reflector.  That would have solved my problem instantly.  I was forced to actually think…gasp, on how I could solve my challenge.   We have been printing large fold outs and so I grabbed 2 11 x 17 pieces of bright white paper and taped them together and then to the blinds.  Voila! 


The paper gave a great bounce of light from the main flash and the far side of my victim; I mean subjects face caught the light again.  Because of the darkening skies, I also had bumped the main light up to +2/3.  I tried a little more and it was too much. A tiny bit of retouching and a nice finished product. 


There are often useful things just hanging around which can both block light when it is falling where it should not.  I always have small clamps, a little bigger and stronger than chip clips to hold up a folder to shape the light.  A 3x5 card and a rubber band around the head of your flash actually can establish a nice catch light for your model.   It is always better to have the right equipment handy, but that is not excuse for not getting the shot when you have imagination.