Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book Review: Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait

Michael Grecco's Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait starts of by discussing various camera systems (35 mm, medium format, and large format) and their particular characteristics.

Then a number of pictures are presented with diagrams and text describing exactly how the lighting was set up to achieve the desired result. This is extremely useful to help understand how the picture was made. Why on earth the client contact for the picture (usually art director so-and-so) is important in this context is beyond me, however ...

The remaining pictures are described without a diagram, but I had no trouble understanding the light after the previous chapter with diagrams.

I really like that Grecco not only explains the technical detail of the shot but also why he made it the way he did. Sometimes the reason is his creative vision, at other times it is a restraint that came up during the shoot (the subject objected, for  example) or the image evolved in the process of shooting, often in collaboration with the subject.

Grecco's method seems to involve a truckload of equipment and a horde of assistants and specialist. This should not intimidate the reader. Most of what Grecco describes can be achieved on a much lower budget using inexpensive speedlights and some tinkering (and gaffer tape ;-) - the same principles apply as with super-expensive studio lights.

The book is strongly recommended to anyone looking to improve their lighting skills, especially when photographing people.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="111" caption="5 stars (out of 5)"]5 stars (out of 5) [/caption]

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Church Ceiling

Church ceiling

The ceiling of the Freising cathedral.

The previous cathedral burned down almost exactly 850 years ago (April 5, 1159). Work on the current church started almost immediately but it took almost 100 years until the church was finally consecrated.

The interior was remodeled a number of times with the current rococo ceiling having been created by the Asam brothers around 1724. Everything looks shiny and new because major renovation and restoration works were completed recently.

The difficulty in capturing a scene like this is that the light coming in the windows is extremely bright while the shadow areas can be very dark. Most digital cameras can not handle the dynamic range in such a scene.

The solution is to use HDR (high dynamic range), which is a technique to squeeze more extreme light and darkness into an image than the camera sensor can capture. The trick is to create several exposures of the same scene (a tripod really helps :): one frame exposes the highlights correctly, the next the midtones, the final frame the shadows. Software magic then combines everything into one image. Because most monitors are 8-bit-per-color-channel devices (and JPEG supports only 8 bits per color channel) the resulting image is then rendered down into an 8 bit per channel representation.

The difficulty lies in the number of choices that must be made at every step. It takes a bit of experimenting to get good results.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review: Take Your Photography to the Next Level

George Barr Take Your Photography to the Next Level, From Inspiration to Image is a book about improving yourself as a photographer to create better images. Like Alain Briot's Mastering Landscape Photography is puts the photographer, the artist ahead of the equipment and the technique.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

[Review] Unicomp Customizer 105 Keyboard

If you are old enough, you may remember the "original" IBM PC keyboard from the early 80s (yes, folks, that is 1980s!). The one memorable characteristic of that keyboard is probably the sheer noise of it. Every key press yields a loud, solid "thunk". I can not help but see a group of product designers before my mind's eye: "... we have got to make a keyboard that lets the boss know his secretary is working ... sounds like a real typewriter ... imagine an entire room full of these ..." and so on. :)

The real reason the keyboard was so loud is the switch technology employed. The bucking spring switch contains a spring that collapses (buckles) under pressure, giving tactile and audible feedback that the key press has been detected. More info in Wikipedia and

A lot of people like the tactile feel of the keyboard as well as the ergonomics - apparently the fingers slow down less abruptly than with more modern (and cheaper) switches, so RSI is less of a risk. [I could not find a good source for this claim, so you may want to take it with a grain of salt.]

I happen to to be one of those people, so I went to the people who still make them, a small company called Unicomp, and bought a Customizer 105 with a USB interface and German keyboard layout.

The keyboard hooks up to any computer with a USB port and works like a ... keyboard. What did you expect? :-)

My office now sounds like I have my own secretary typing away at an ancient typewriter as I am writing this. My fingers are wonderful. I love the feel! It is way too early to comment on RSI ...

Apparently buckling spring switches last close to forever. My brother uses an original IBM PC model M keyboard to this day ... Which means that this keyboard should last me a decade or two. Then again, I have only had one keyboard malfunction mechanically in my entire life and if memory serves correctly, some object falling on it caused the damage. That, I guess, means that I can take mechanical robustness for granted.

Disadvantages? The price is stiff at $69 plus shipping. It is pretty loud. It is not exacly Apple design (it's apparently made on the very machines that made the original IBM model M). It lacks all of the fancy modern keys for volume control, iTunes playback, optical drive eject, etc. but the most important of the lot, optical drive eject, works by holding down F12.

Do I recommend it? Well, if you think about how much time your fingers spend on a keyboard every day, I would say that almost any amount of money is worth it if it makes your fingers happier. And you can always drown out the sound by turning up the volume in iTunes. :-)

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="111" caption="5 stars (out of 5)"]5 stars (out of 5)[/caption]