Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Pocket Wizard Cables

I've already written about Pocket Wizards once before. They are the wonderful little devices that let you trigger flashes and cameras remotely, allowing you to work wirelessy without a bunch of cords or cables. Or do they?

Although the name might suggest otherwise, Pocket Wizards are not magic. They still have to be physically connected to the flash in some way. The one that hooks to your camera has it easy. It just slips into your hotshoe and is good to go. But what about the one that connects to your flash? How exactly does that work?

When I first got my set of Pocket Wizards, I wondered that exact same thing. It turns out that all flashes are not created equally. They all have some port on the back that you can hook an external trigger up to (i.e. a Pocket Wizard), but the port type and size will vary depending on the brand of flash you're using.

In the studio I use White Lightnings. These use a 1/4" plug. The Pocket Wizards use a 1/8" plug. At the time I did not know this, so I bought a cable that's made by Pocket Wizard that specified it was compatible with White Lightning flashes. Perfect! It worked just fine. The only downside was the cost. At around $25, they're not cheap.

I wondered why I couldn't just go to Radio Shack and buy the same cable. It looked simple enough. So I did a quick search online and figured out that it was the same thing. Just go to Radio Shack, buy a 1/4" to 1/8" mono plug and you're good to go. I did just that, they work just fine and I saved myself about $20 per cable.

I felt like I was set as far as cables go... that is until I bought myself an Alien Bees strobe for use outside of the studio. You'd think that since both White Lightning and Alien Bees are made by the same guy (Paul C. Buff), they'd use the same size plug on the back. Nope! The Alien Bees use a 1/8" plug. Off I went to Radio Shack, full of confidence in what I needed. I left with a 1/8" to 1/8" mono plug that cost under $5. I was ready to shoot!

I got everything set up, tested the flash and got nothing. I checked my connections, made sure the Pocket Wizards were on the same channel, tested it again and got nothing. I changed the batteries and got nothing. I tried every channel, made sure the connections were good, switched the cable around, tried just about everything I could think of and still got nothing. I knew the flash worked because when I hit the dump button it went off. What the @#$&?!?

Back to Google I ran, looking for comfort and hoping that the jack on my flash wasn't defective. I found plenty of instances where people mentioned using Pocket Wizards and Alien Bees together, so I knew that wasn't the problem. I knew I had the right size of cable and I knew that it was mono, which is important. Finally, I ran across a post in a forum that mentioned the cable had to be non-attenuated. I ran out, checked my packaging and found that I had purchased an attenuated cable! I must have gotten lucky with my first Radio Shack cables (the 1/8"-1/4"), as they are non-attenuated. So, back to the Shack I went.

I got home, plugged in the new cable, and what do you know? It worked exactly the way it was supposed to work! What a relief! I could have saved myself a little headache and panic by spending an extra $20 on the cable, but why would I want to do that?

So, here's a quick summary of what you need to know if you don't want to pay a lot for your Pocket Wizard cables:
1) Find out what type of plug your flash takes. All Pocket Wizards take a 1/8" mono plug, so one side of your cable will have to be that. The other side should match your flash.
2) Buy a mono cable. Stereo cables won't work.
3) Make sure the cable is non-attenuated. Attenuated cables do not work (and in my case the non-attenuated cable was $1 cheaper).

That's it! For any flash that takes these standard plugs, Radio Shack cables should work just fine. I'm sure there are some flashes out there that take a more exotic type of plug that you just can't get at Radio Shack or that won't work with anything besides a Pocket Wizard cable, but I can't say what those are. Good luck if you've got something like that.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Leave Your Camera At Home?

Image from Jonsi.com

Last week my wife Belinda and I went to a concert, Jonsi. My typical first thoughts are usually, "I wonder if I can bring a camera?" and "I hope I can get a good place to shoot from." Most of the time, you can't bring a DSLR into a concert, but that's OK. It's nice to use a point and shoot once in a while to challenge your skills and creativity. Would I rather bring my DSLR? Sure I would, but I know that it's just not going to happen.

I hadn't ever been to a concert at the venue where Jonsi was playing, so I checked the venue web page to see their camera policy. Of course, the second thing mentioned on the homepage was "No cameras of any type allowed." Darn. Of course, it's not hard to stick a camera in your pocket. Security isn't ever so tight that you can't just walk in with it. If you don't use flash and aren't obnoxious with it, no one will really care. The photos aren't going to be good enough to use for anything except remembering the night. Still, I decided not to take the camera. I had been looking forward to this concert for a while and didn't want to take any chances of getting kicked out.

We got to the show and there were lots of people there with cameras. I started to feel a little regret that I didn't bring anything. Then I saw a guy with a huge white lens (70-200 f/2.8 I'm sure)! He was working the event, but it still made me really start to wish I had a camera with me.

Once the show started, though, it was almost liberating to not have a camera with me. Usually, I'm looking for a great chance to take a photo, which takes my attention away from the concert. Then I have to mess with the camera settings and try to get a decent photo, which really distracts me. For this concert, I could allow myself to sit back and enjoy the show. No worries about taking photos, no regrets that I missed a good shot.

I quickly realized that this concert was something special. It was amazing to watch and even more amazing to hear. It was more than a concert, more than a show, more than an event... it was an experience. The audience became emotionally invested in the show. It absorbed everyone's attention and we all realized that we were a part of something bigger than we had planned on. Experiences like that might only happen a few times during a lifetime. Trying to capture it in a photo is pointless.

If I could go see Jonsi again and was able to bring a camera along, even my DSLR, I don't think I'd change anything. I'd leave my camera at home and just enjoy the show. Sometimes it's nice to just go have a good time with someone you care about and leave with just your good memories.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I don't typically seek out models to work with, at least not specific individuals. When I saw photos of Kira, though, I knew we had to work together. For some reason I just felt like we could get some good stuff if we worked together. Fortunately, she agreed to shoot.

Our shoot took place in March, which is a very unpredictable time of year in Colorado. You might get a sunny, 60­° day or you might get a snowy, 0° day. Our day was mostly cloudy, but not too cold. I'm really glad it wasn't too cold because I said we'd meet at the playground at Washington Park, but I didn't realize there were two playgrounds! I stood at one and she stood at the other for about 15 minutes before we figured it out and met up.

The first thing you notice about Kira is not her awesome red hair, not her amazing eyes, not her petite figure but her personality. As soon as she started talking, I realized that she's one smart cookie with personality to spare. I instantly knew that it was going to be a good day.

We took a stroll across the park, talking and getting to know each other a bit. She was very open to any ideas I had, which is always a nice thing. She'd already been to one photo shoot that day, so she was ready and willing to just be told what to do. In reality, though, she doesn't have to do much to get a good photo.

After shooting in some trees, we wandered over to a brick building on the edge of the park. Her hair and skin looked great with the brick, so we spent quite a while here. Once we had finished with the building, we headed back to the trees to take advantage of the sun that was starting to peek out below the clouds. We had to work fast, as it was almost time for it to get dark and the temperature was really starting to drop. We wrapped up, headed back to the cars and called it a day.

I already have a plan for another photo shoot with Kira. Hopefully she'll say yes again and we'll have more great photos to show off!

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - PDN

I subscribe to a lot of photography magazines. I get so many, sometimes I haven't finished the last issue when the most recent issue shows up. I usually have 2-3 sitting around waiting to be read. Because of this, I've been trying to decide which subscriptions I want to renew and which I want to drop. It's not like I don't like all the magazines, but it would be nice to read something besides photo magazines for a change.

One magazine that has definitely made the cut is Photo District News (PDN). Although it's the most expensive out of all the magazines I subscribe to ($65/year), it's also the most informative and useful. It's published on a monthly basis, so the news in each issue is up to date. It even comes with an online subscription that has exclusive content for subscribers that's not found in the magazine.

Each issue of PDN has a theme. Some past themes include lighting, weddings, studios and photography now. Although most of the articles in the issue are geared towards the theme, there is still plenty of industry news in each issue. PDN also does some product reviews, but they tend to be more of a description of real-world use instead of a bunch of technical tests. The articles that cover the theme of the issue are always filled with great information from people in the given segment of the industry. The insight they can offer is just amazing and the photos that accompany the articles are wonderful. There is also usually an interview with someone who is very involved with the theme of the issue, so one month you might hear from someone who works for an advertising agency about the mailers that caught her attention and another month you might hear from a photographer who does a lot of work with non profit organizations about how he got involved with non profits and actually makes money working with them.

Out of all the magazines I read, other than Rangefinder, PDN feels the most relevant to the professional photography community. There aren't articles about how to shoot great landscapes, tips for great wildlife photos or way to get people to look natural in photos. There aren't reviews for the latest point and shoot camera or which camera bag is the best. Heck, even the advertisements are more pro-oriented!

Although it's one of the more expensive magazines out there, it's one that I will definitely be renewing my subscription to. In an effort to save time and money and to simplify my life a little, some things just have to go. PDN just has to stay.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Extension Tubes

Sometimes you need to get a little closer to an object than your lens will allow. We've all been there: You want to take a nice photo of a flower, but your lens won't focus any closer than 3 feet away, so the close-up you were trying to get isn't possible with that lens. Or is it?

If you had an extension tube in your bag, it might be possible. An extension tube is just a tube that fits between your camera and your lens. Some are made to retain autofocus and metering capabilities. Other, older models turn the most modern, expensive lens you own into a non-metering, non-AF'ing lens. In reality, that's not really a problem as you will probably be shooting a still subject and have your camera on a tripod.

The extension tube I own is the Nikkor M2. This tube came as an accessory to the 55mm Micro-Nikkor f/3.5 lens. By itself, the lens can reproduce a subject up to a 1:2 ratio. With the extension tube, the reproduction starts at 1:2 and goes to 1:1, a true macro. The M2 fits any Nikon lens, but it does not retain any metering or AF. I decided to give it a shot on a few different lenses that I own to see what kind of a difference it makes.

First, I tried it on my 50mm f/1.4 AF. This is an older lens that still has the aperture ring on the lens. Once the extension tube is put on, the camera can't control the lens, so fortunately I was able to manually choose my aperture. Without the tube, my minimum focusing distance was 14". When I put the tube on, I was able to focus from 3" away. You can see, I was able to get much closer to the pencil and get more detail. One thing I will note is that both of these were shot at f/1.4. When you put on the extension tube, your DOF dramatically decreases, so focusing accurately with such a large aperture is very difficult.

Next, I tried my 55-200mm VR lens at 200mm. This lens' aperture is completely controlled by the camera. For my initial shot without the tube, I shot at f/5.6 and my minimum focusing distance was 36". Once I put the tube on, I was able to focus from 24" away but the lens defaulted to it's smallest aperture, f/32. This was not very convenient, as I had to do a super-long exposure. I doubt this option would ever be convenient enough to be effective.

Finally, I tried the lens the extension tube was made for, the 55mm Micro-Nikkor. I set it at f/3.5 and was able to focus on the pencil from 5" away. Once I put the tube on, though, I was able to focus from only 2" away. You can see just how close I was able to get.

An extension tube can really change things up for the way you shoot. It can allow you to focus closer than you typically could with any given lens. It can decrease your depth-of-field. It can also disable any fancy features your lens might have, as well as taking away a few stops of light. Ultimately, if you need to be able to focus closer to an object and are working with a tripod, there's no reason not to have an extension tube at your disposal!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Hair Shoot

Anyone who's read this blog before has probably seen me write about working wit Tanya Owens. I've done four photo shoots with her before (see here) and she's also done hair at two of my photos shoots (see here for what I thought about it). Well, one of the shoots wasn't actually mine... Tanya had the idea and put it all together and all I had to do was show up with my camera. As a team, though, we got some pretty good stuff.

Tanya contacted seven of her regular clients, as well as a few models that she knows, to be hair models for this shoot. She met with a few of them before the shoot to do their hair, so all they had to do was show up at the studio, get their makeup done and they were ready to shoot. I set up a few different lighting setups and got ready for a wild ride.

I couldn't believe how smoothly everything went. Tanya was doing hair. Jacki was doing makeup. I was shooting as soon as they were ready. We really didn't have a chance to rest until the shoot was done, a little over 4 hours later! Tanya was so good she even had a chance to re-do many of the model's hair so they had different looks!

I'm not sure how many "wins" there were in this shoot, but let me try to figure it out: Tanya got photos for her portfolio; Jacki got photos for her portfolio (plus, she got to model a little also); the models got photos of themselves with fabulous hair and makeup; I got photos for my portfolio (plus the experience of a big, fast-paced shoot). I guess that's a win-win-win-win, not to mention all of the other "wins" that could still happen, like the photos getting printed in hairstyle magazines or books, increased customer loyalty for Tanya, me possibly getting more business because of the contacts I made that day... Oh, I know of another win: I've since hired Jacki to do makeup for another shoot that I put on! I love stuff like this!

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Renting Equipment

In the world of cameras, there are many items that are either too expensive or too specialized to own. A tilt-shift lens comes to mind as a great example. There are also items that, for someone who's just getting started, would be great to test first without plunking down thousands of dollars. Fortunately, there are companies who rent camera equipment! Most, if not all, rent lenses and bodies, but it might be good to see what else some of these places rent.

I had a big photo shoot a few weeks ago and I was shooting with another photographer. In order for both of us to shoot in the studio, we both needed Pocket Wizards. If we wanted to have different setups that we could move between, we needed even more Pocket Wizards. We had a few options: We could borrow some Pocket Wizards from other photographers; We could buy a few more Pocket Wizards; or we could rent them. It quickly became clear that borrowing them was out of the question. Buying them would have been great, but neither of us had $500 lying around that we could spend on more camera gear. That left the rental option.

I remembered a friend of mine telling me about a local company (in Boulder, CO) that rented equipment. I figured I'd look them up and see what they had to offer. What do you know? They had a set of 3 Pocket Wizards for rent! That would be perfect for 2 lighting setups. I sent an email off to Jared, the owner of the company, and quickly heard back from him that I could come pick them up the next day!

The company I rented from is called Pro Photo Rental. They're not the biggest rental company around, but they've got just about everything I could want and they're local. I can just imagine a scenario where having a local source to rent equipment could mean the difference between landing a job or loosing a job. You can believe me that after my wonderful experience with Jared and Pro Photo Rental, they'll be the only place I use from now on.

If there's a piece of gear you've been wanting to buy, you might try renting it first. I'd highly suggest searching for a local company as well. You never know when it might just come in handy!

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with Pro Photo Rental. I did not receive any kind of discount on my rental for writing this. Jared doesn't even know I'm writing this. I'm just a happy photographer who had a good experience and will definitely be borrowing more of Jared's "toys"!

Photo Credit:

Friday, April 2, 2010


Sometimes things get a little slow and you just want to shoot. Fortunately, when that happens, all I have to do is put out a casting call and I can usually set up a shoot rather quickly, even with last-minute notice! For my latest casting call, Ross came to the rescue. He wasn't doing anything and drove up from Colorado Springs for a shoot. What made this shoot even better was that I had worked with him at my last shoot in Colorado Springs, so we already knew each other.

Before we could shoot, though, Ross had to get to the shoot. He missed the turn and ended up driving about an extra 15 miles north of the studio. Fortunately, he called me before he got to Wyoming, so I was able to get him turned around and to the studio pretty easily! Once he arrived, since we already knew each other we were able to start shooting right away.

Typically, Ross models underwear. For this shoot, he wanted to shoot without a shirt, but keep his pants on. That was fine with me, as I didn't really have any shots like that in my portfolio yet. It also gave me a chance to play with some more harsh and severe lighting styles that don't typically work for families or female models. He got the shots he wanted, I got to do something different and we both had a good time.

Unfortunately, because of his lengthy detour on his way to the shoot, Ross and I didn't get to shoot as long as we would have liked. I still give him a lot of credit for not getting frustrated when he got lost and coming to the shoot with a good attitude and ready to shoot. I really like the photos we got and hope that he finds them useful as well.

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Quick Note...


I just thought I'd let you know about a little change I've decided to make. For Christmas, I was given Chase Jarvis' book, "The Best Camera Is The One That's With You". This book has inspired me to start using my phone's camera more often. I've started enjoying it so much that I've decided to give up my DSLR and just use my camera phone for everything from now on.

Sure, there are a few downsides to this plan. The battery on my phone doesn't last as long. For example, my phone dies after an hour or two when the screen is constantly on, but at a recent photo shoot I was able to shoot for 5 hours, took about 1400 photos with my DSLR and the battery was only drained to 45%. Also, I can't hook up my Pocket Wizards to my phone, but I think with a little practice I'll be able to manually trigger the flashes when I take a picture with my phone. There's also the perception that using a camera phone at a photo shoot isn't "professional". All I have to say is that if people don't understand my creativity, then I'll just go find someone who does!

On the plus side, my phone has many features that my DSLR doesn't. For example, I can instantly email photos to anyone right after I take them. I can also post them to Facebook or Flickr from my phone. No more uploading to a computer, resizing and emailing. Sometimes I miss a phone call when I'm at a photo shoot because the music is turned up or I'm just to into what I'm doing... but not anymore! Now I'll always have my phone in my hand, so if someone calls, I'll just stop taking photos and answer the phone! The best aspect of this is definitely the amount of gear I'll have to worry about. In the past, I'd have to show up with a big bag of camera gear. It's heavy and takes up a lot of room in my car! Plus, I always worry about it getting stolen. Now, I just toss my phone in my pocket and I'm good to go!

I hope that you understand that these changes I'm making won't impact the quality of the photos I take. My clients are my highest priority. I'll continue to put every ounce of energy into the creative process to ensure that your photos.... hold on, my phone is ringing.