Thursday, June 7, 2018

Last Day in Rapid City

Last night we tried to get some sunset pictures at Badlands NP, however the clouds cover was just too thick.  The sun could not break through the clouds, thus there were no colors in the sky. So I do not have any good sunset photos.

Today was our last day in South Dakota, we fly home tomorrow. Since today was our last day, we took it easy and did not do much.

We attempted to walk the petrified forest trail in one of Rapid City’s park, but there was no map, so we couldn’t tell where the trail was.  So we went to the Reptile Garden, established in 1937. The Reptile Garden is a garden and wildlife park that specializes in reptiles. We got there right before the crocodile and alligator show, where they tell you a bit about crocodiles and alligators and how to wrestle one.  It was interesting. We also saw their prairie dog exhibit and pet some giant tortoises. The jungle dome was interesting. In the middle of the lower level you walk along a path in an enclosed a jungle like setting as lizards, birds, frogs, and a snake roam about free. I saw several small lizards. Then on the upper level you can see all the venomous snakes, behind glass. Then around the outside of the jungle path on the lower level you can see all the types of alligators and crocodiles including an 18 foot long saltwater crocodile.  That basically covers the whole garden, we didn’t watch the bird or snake show. The Reptile Garden is nice, and I would recommend it for people with kids. On a side note the Reptile Garden does allow you to bring your dog.

From the Reptile Garden we went next door to the Founding Fathers Exhibit.  It is a recreation of the signing of the Declaration of Independence based on the famous John Trumbull painting.  What they did was take the painting, and make sculptures of all the people and placed them in the proper setting. Basically they made the painting three dimensional, which provided an interesting perspective, since you could walk all the way around the life size model.   The exhibit is nice, and would be great if you are really into American History, but overall not something I would need to do again.

We ate lunch at ¿Que Pasa?, which had decent Mexican food. From there we stopped at Rocky Mountain Chocolates and then Landstrom’s which makes jewelry out of gold from the black hills. This basically concluded our day. The rest of the day was spent packing up all our stuff so it is ready to go tomorrow for the flight home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Short - Driving

Today we headed over to Wyoming to see Devil’s Tower.  Yes that is the tower that was in the movie “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”. It was a two hour drive to get there, on mostly empty freeway.  When we go there the main parking lot by the visitor center was full, so we parked in one of the auxiliary lots. We checked out the visitor center, then did the 1.25 mile loop around the base of the rock formation.  It was a decent walk, with only one major uphill section at the beginning. After, we completed our hike we drove to Deadwood.

We went to Deadwood, which has a historic main street.  Deadwood is also the place where Wild Bill, and Calamity Jane  got their claim to fame. Overall, the town isn’t that interesting. It has casinos, mostly slot machines, in every store and restaurant. Also, the town smells faintly of stale cigarette smoke.  I would not recommend stopping in Deadwood, just not worth the diversion. We also drove through Sturgis, also not very exciting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Back to the Parks

Formation in Wind Cave
We went back down to Wind Cave this morning to do a cave tour.  We got down to the Wind Cave Visitor center a bit before 9:00 AM so we missed out on the 9:00 AM cave tour, so we took the 10:00 AM cave tour.  While walking around the visitor center to kill some time, we ran into a couple I graduated highschool with. They were there for their family vacation.  We did the hour and half natural entrance cave tour, which was led by a park ranger from Puerto Rico. The ranger was entertaining while being informative.  The cave itself is interesting, but it does not have the large stalagmites and stalactites that other caves have, it also does not have any bats or living creatures in it.  Also, the cave is a dry cave, so there is no additional formations being made. It is a nice cave and I would do one of the other tours, but I thought Luray Caverns had more interesting features.  

After the cave tour we went and had lunch at the Dew Drop Inn and Restaurant, before driving back to Rapid City through Custer State Park.  We wanted to feed the burros again, but they were way out in the field and not near the road. So we didn’t get a chance to feed them. We got back to our hotel  and spent some time there before heading out to dinner and back out to the badlands.

We headed back out to Badlands NP around 5:30 PM to get there before sunset at 8:30 PM. However, when we left there were large dark storm clouds forming in the west and heading east towards the badlands.  I was really hoping they would not make it to where we were going to be, because the sky to the east was clear and blue.  Sadly the clouds were traveling in our direction, and there was lighting in the distance. We go to the park entrance as the large dark cloud was starting to hover over the park. I made the decision to go through the gate to the first overlook.  We were rewarded with some mountain goats, which were hanging out by the overlook and some interesting light in the distance. However, it wasn’t the sunset I was hoping for. We took some pictures, then the wind started to intensify and then the rain started.  We got in the car and headed back. We will try again tomorrow, after we go out to Sturgis and Deadwood.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Train, Wine, and Monuments

Today involved trains, wine, and a monument.  We got up early to drive down to Hill City, to ride the 1880 Steam Train. The train is an old steam train that travels between Hill City and Keystone on a mine line that used to connect the towns and mines. The steam train travels at 10 MPH so it takes an hour to go the 10 miles between the towns, and the round trip is 2 hours.  The scenery along the line is nice, but you see several personal homes along the route. The inside of the train cars were carefully restored and well cared for. The two cars we were in (we changed cars at Keystone) had stained glass windows along the top, windows that opened, and padded seat with backs that moved so you can change which direction you are facing.  Overall, the experience was okay and was nice to do once. I would not do it a second time.

After the train ride we went to the Prairie Berry Winery.  We ate lunch at the winery then tasted some of their wines.  The winery gives everyone five free tastings. I tasted the Anna Pesa Louka which reminded me of a light unoaked chardonnay,  the Buffaloberry Fusion which was nice light wine with a sweet end-note, the Gold Digger a nice semi-sweet white with a distinct pear taste,  and finally the Chuckleberry which was a nice sweet and fruity red. I ended up getting the Chuckleberry and the Gold Digger. My mom tried the the Deadwood, the Razzy Apple, the Pomegranate Fusion, the Red Ass Rhubarb,  and the Black Raspberry Fusion. My mom bought a bottle of the Chuckleberry and the Deadwood. From the winery we went to see the Crazy Horse Monument.

The Crazy Horse Monument is more than a monument, it also has a very large visitor center complex.  The visitor center has a large museum showcasing Native American art and culture, a restaurant, a demonstration area where they showcase Native American Dance, an art studio, and of course a gift shop. You cannot walk to the monument, but you can take a 30 minute bus tour that takes you to the base and tells you the history of the monument.  We did the 30 minute bus tour, our bus driver was Larry, who was pleasant and informative. We learned they are working on the hand, which must be done with only jackhammers because it is delicate and will take about 15 years to complete.  The horse head is next, and will take about 50 years to complete. It is going to take a long time to complete the monument, and it won’t be completed in my lifetime. Finally, before you leave you can take home one of the rocks blasted from the mountain to make the monument. We took a rock.   This concluded our day.

Tomorrow it is back down to Wind Cave to take one of the cave tours.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Badlands and a Little Kitsch

Today was a busy day.  We woke up, had breakfast then headed out to Badlands National Park and Wall Drug.  The drive out to Badlands from our hotel took about an hour, and that is with part of the freeway being 80 MPH.  When we entered the park we were greeted by the bison herd and the prairie dogs. A little past the entrance, we saw two relaxing goats, but there was no place to stop to get their pictures. Badlands NP does have hiking, which is mostly backcountry, and lots of overlook locations to look at the rocks formations. Since we got to the park around 9:30 AM we had some morning light but not the perfect morning light,  that gives you the deep shadows and brings out the red in the rock formation. It took us about 3 hours to drive completely through the park with stops and a doing a few loop trail hikes. You could tell as the sun go higher the color seemed to disappear from the rocks.  The best time of day to get vibrant colors in the rocks and the deep shadows to show off the crevasse would be sunrise or sunset. So we are planning on going back for sunset sometime during the week.

After we drove through the park, we went to Wall Drug for lunch.  Plus all the signs say visit Wall Drug, thus we had to go. Wall drug is your standard kitschy tourist stop. It has two places to eat, a play area, and lots of shopping areas. After lunch we stopped in at the National Grasslands Visitor center and learned about all the national grasslands.  From there we went back to the hotel for a little bit before going to see the dinosaur park and grab dinner.

The Dinosaur Park was built in 1936 and  has five large concrete dinosaurs. It is definitely kitschy but a very popular place.  The park also has a nice view of Rapid City. From the park we went to dinner. After dinner we walked down a half block from the restaurant to see the art alley.  The art alley is permitted graffiti, basically you get a permit and you can put something in the alley. The alley would be a great place to do a photo shoot. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for the day.

Tomorrow we will be taking a ride on the steam train and going to see the Crazy Horse Monument.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Presidents and Wildlife

Today we got up around 6:30 AM to get breakfast and then head out to Mount Rushmore  and Custer State Park. The drive out to Mount Rushmore took about 30 minutes, and was a nice drive.  We parked in the parking garage and walked up to the main walkway. The main walkway is wide and frames the President’s carved into Mount Rushmore.  The Monument is impressive, from both the size and the level of technology used to carve it. We attempted to walk the President’s Trail, a 1-mile loop trail at the base of Mount Rushmore,  but about half way around it was closed so we had to turn around and go back. After, we were done visiting Mount Rushmore we took the scenic byway to Custer State Park. The scenic byway was the longer route but worth it.  It had a lot of twists and turns but it was nice drive. While the Impreza did a nice job going through the curves, I still wish I would have had a little sports car to cruise on the road and really hug the curves.

We went Custer State Park, to drive the wildlife loop and see animals. The loop is about 18 miles around and we drove about half of it, because the bison herd was at the bottom of the loop.   Along the way we saw some pronghorns, prairie dogs, burros, and of course bison. When we saw the burros, we stopped to feed them carrots. You are allowed to feed the burros carrots and apples because they are not native or considered wild. The burros are descents of the burros abandoned by miners of the black hills.  The burros are known as the “begging burros” and really are pushy when you are holding a bag of carrots. Four carrots is not enough, even when you break them apart. I think the one was thinking of knocking me over and grabbing the bag of carrots from me. Overall they are friendly, and are comfortable around people.  Highly recommend seeing the burros. By the time we go to the bottom of the loop and saw the bison, it was lunch time.

My complaint is they need more specific signs. I wanted to get to a town to have lunch but none of the signs stated how far to anything.  We ended up driving through Wind Cave National Park to get to Hot Springs. It is not that far, but when you have no cell signal to use GPS or specific road signs it gets frustrating.  We did make it to historic Hot Springs, which has next to nothing but ended up stopping at visitor center. The lady at the visitor directed us to a little cafe to eat, where we had sandwiches.   After lunch we went back up to road to the Wind Cave visitor center. Sadly, the only cave walks left were late in the day. So we did the short prairie loop trail and decided to come back a later day in the week to take a cave tour.  From Wind Cave we headed back to the hotel for the day, on the regular freeway.

Tomorrow we plan on heading out to Badlands National Park.

Friday, June 1, 2018

South Dakota - The Begining

Mammoth Outside "Mammoth Site"
Today I flew out to Rapid City, South Dakota  for my annual vacation. The flight out of Dayton was ok, and I made my connection in Minneapolis, where I met my mom. However, my luggage did not make the connection.  We arrived in Rapid City and went down to baggage claim our bags, however, mine did not show up on the carousal. The baggage claim lady said it was going to be on the next flight which was arriving in an hour.  Sadly she lied, it was on the next flight out of Minneapolis, but it was arriving in two hours not one. So I spoke with the Delta representative and they said they could have my luggage delivered to my hotel.  My luggage showed up 5:00PM.

Even though I did not have my luggage, it did not prevent us from sightseeing.  We drove down to the “Mammoth Site” which is working archaeological dig. At the site they are excavating mammoth skeletons,  two types woolly mammoth and columbian mammoths, that fell into the spring millions of years ago. The site is interesting, lots of bones and tusks.   I would recommend it.

So this was the start of of our trip.  Tomorrow we head down to Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Blue Floral Crown

I made a large blue flower head piece last month, because I wanted to shoot with one and I did not want to buy one.  The head piece was easy to make, and consists of a wide plastic headband, a medium Styrofoam ball cut in half, three little Styrofoam cones, hot glue, and fake flowers (hydrangeas and wisteria). The key to making the head piece was having a basic picture in my mind of what I wanted, which was fluffy with long flowers dripping off the ends.  I used the leaves from the flowers to break up the blue, create a crown piece and frame the face when it is worn.  Now I did shoot with the head piece in April at the Spring Shoot on the Farm, however I also wanted to do a more studio centric shoot with it.  However, before the studio shoot I made a few adjustments to the head piece by adding more long flowers (wisteria) to the sides to eliminate the gap I was seeing during the farm shoot.  This made it larger and gave it a bit more length which I believed balanced it out a bit more. Thus, last week I shot the head piece in a studio setting.

For the flower head piece studio shoot, I worked with Lady Chapell (model) and Aly Issabelle Makeup Artistry (MUA) who are both very professional ladies. Aly did a wonderful job with the makeup and going bold, but not too bold with the blue.  The soft tulle skirt that Chapell brought that we turned into a dress worked beautifully to keep softness in the image.  I conducted the shoot in three parts, a high key part, a medium key (grey background instead of white) part, and an outdoors part.

For the two indoor sessions, I used one Phottix Indra 500LC Strobe, one beauty dish, two 430 EX–IIIRT speedlights, C-stand with boom-arm, two light stands, a white fuzzy backdrop, a radio trigger to activate the lights, and an assistant. When we went outside for the third part of the shoot, I just used an assistant holding a round gold reflector.  For all three parts of the shoot I used my Canon 70D, an 18-200mm lens.   For the high key part of the shoot the speedlights were pointed at about a 45-degree angle at the back drop and were dialed in to just barely blow it out for that high key look.  The beauty dish/strobe was up above the model and pointed straight at her nose and was at about 1/16 to a ¼ power.  To get the grey back ground for the medium key, I dialed the speedlights and strobe down but kept the same light set up.  I did move the dish around during the shoo, which was a bit easier since it was on a boom arm. However, my husband/assistant will beg to differ on the easy of movement of the strobe due to its overall weight.

I took 187 photos, edited 44 photos, and posted 42 fully edited shots.  Thus, I had a return of approximately 22 percent, which is a little below average for my shoots. For all the shots, I was at an ISO of 100. My pictures were evenly dispersed between an aperture of f4.5 to f5.6, a focal length from 35mm to 200mm, and shutter speeds of 1/160s or 1/250s.  I should be noted that the 18-200mm lens does not have fixed maximum aperture, it will vary slightly depending on the focal length.  So, at a focal length of 18mm the maximum aperture is f3.5 but if I zoom to 200mm the maximum aperture is f5.6.

Editing of the images was basically the same across the board, because the lighting was dialed in.  However, since these were all beauty shots (head shots), I spent more time retouching the images to give the skin a natural yet airbrushed look. (It should be noted, I usually do not spend a lot of time on skin retouching for large full-length shots that include a lot of background.) I was going for the type of shot you would see in a magazine or on America’s Next Top Model. Now to accomplish the airbrushed look, I had to employ something called frequency separation, which is all the rage and can be very easily overdone.  This is the first time, I have used frequency separation, and it was a lot easier then I though once I watched a tutorial (Powerof Frequency Separation) from PHLEARN and established the action in Photoshop.   The other thing I did several of the photos is soften the tulle skirt by blurring that slightly, to give it more of dreamy look, especially in the outdoor shots. You can see all the images here.

The following three shots are my favorite from the indoor session. All images were shot with a focal length of 70mm, an aperture of F5,  and a shutter speed of 1/160s. 


This last photo is my favorite from the outdoor portion of the shoot.  To get this shot, I had Chapell back into the large flower bush and look serine.  When editing the image, I touched up the skin, slightly brightened the overall image, then dialed it down some by adding a very light vignette to even out a few bright spots in the upper portion of the bush, and then softened the tulle so it seems almost cloud like. The image was shot with a focal length of 50mm, an aperture of F5,  and a shutter speed of 1/250s. 

Overall, I’m very happy with how this shoot turned out and will be making more head pieces for future shoots.  I’m now also not afraid to use frequency separation to retouch skin.  I now also have several ideas floating around in my head, some even involve rubber ducks, paint, glitter, and a kiddy pool but not necessarily altogether.  But these ideas will have to wait till I get back from vacation.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Standard Shoot

Last weekend I got to work with the lovely Vida Muerta on building her portfolio, with some standards.  Standard images are simple images with simple backgrounds (black, white, or gray) that encompass a head-shot/beauty shot, a ¾ length image, and full-length image that show off the model’s basic look.  

I did a simple two light set up for these photos with a grey backdrop (see left).  I used two Phottix Indra 500LC Strobes, one in a square soft box with grid and the other in a socked beauty dish set to the sides of the model.  I shot using my Canon 70D, an 18-200mm lens, and a radio trigger to activate the strobes.  I thought about shooting tethered, so there could be some instant feed back for my model, but my in-home studio is not conducive to corded tethered shooting.  So, in lieu of shooting tethered, half way through the shoot we stopped and reviewed the images and reviewed them again at the end of the shoot.

This is a note to models, do not be afraid to ask to review your shots especially if you feel like you are not understanding the direction being given by your photographer.  The benefit to being able to review your shots, is you can see what is and is not working.  As I mentioned I stopped half-way through the shoot with Vida Muerta to review the images to show her what I was seeing so we could discuss what was working and what wasn’t.   This led to more confident posing in the second part of the shoot resulting in more useable photos. I personally, do not mind stopping in the middle of studio shoot to review your images, especially if they are standards for a portfolio.   Also, this is very beneficial to new models so you can see how the poses you are using emphasize parts of your body and what you look like before the editing magic occurs.  I don’t do heavy re-touching on my images, no shrinking, warping, smoothing, or expanding of the body.  I just remove any blemishes that could go away on their own like zits or get rid of stray hairs and make-up flecks.  I do try to keep my images natural in that respect.  

During this shoot I took 191 shots, edited 34 main images doing both color and black &white images for 18 thus resulting in a grand total of 54 final edited images.  However, I only delivered 46 images, thus the return was 24 percent. This is a little below average for me, but I was being pickier then usual on these images.  I shot all the images using an ISO of 100 and an aperture of F5.6.  My shutter speed had an even distribution between 1/100s, 1/125s, and 1/160s.  Finally, my focal length did range from 18mm (one image) to 155mm (three images) with the sweet spot being between 32mm to 50mm.    It should be noted of the 46 images delivered, 13 were in black & white.  I placed them in black and white because it brought more attention to the models face and black & white was working very well for her and her style of posing.

My favorite image from the shoot (right) was when I told her to think 1920s rich tragic heroine. This image reminds me of an old Hollywood image.  The socked beauty dish, acting as the main light, was raised to the models left and pointed down towards her face.  The square soft box was to the models left and about even with face and about a ¼ of the power of the main light.  The image was shot using ISO 100, an aperture of f5.6, a shutter speed of 1/160s, and at focal length of 32mm.  I converted the image to black & white because that was direction the image and mood pointed me.  I also softened the image slightly to put a bit of a glow on the model’s skin.    

Finally, I will say when editing the images from this shoot it was very hard for me to stay away from a darker noir feel edit, because her dress, posing, and facial expression just were leading me that way.  Also, I tend to edit my images a bit to the darker side almost low key, as compared to a bright high key shot.  Thus, is was just difficult to do brighter images.  Overall, I’m happy with how this session turned out.  I also highly recommend working with Vida Muerta and supporting her on her modeling journey through her patreon site (

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Spring Shoot on a Farm

On April 21, I participated in my first fashion group shoot hosed by Allie Taylor Affairs at Barr Family Farms.  This is group event was different then previous group events I have participated in for three reasons, one it wasn’t a cosplay event; two I had to schedule specific times with the models that were attending the event in stead of just working at random; and three the event lasted all day compared to about three hours.   I enjoyed the event, except for the weather which was rather cold, breezy, and cloudy with the threat of rain.  However, since the sky was cloudy, I was able to capture moody skies as my background in several photos.  Finally, one of the nice items about this shoot, is that photographers that participated can submit their photos to RealmMagazine which will be running a special issue showcasing the event.  I did submit photos for consideration but will not know for a month or two if my submissions are to be included in the feature.

I worked with five models, providing clothing and prop pieces to four of them.  For two I provided a white lace dress from Enception Rentals and the other two worked with a large blue flower headdress that I made.  This worked out well, because it allowed me to slightly pre-plan the feel/concept of each shoot even though I was not sure what the farm would be like until I arrived on site.  As for equipment I brought a Canon 70D, my trusty 18-200mm lens, two 430 EX–IIIRT speed lights, two Phottix Indra 500LC Strobes, radio trigger, C-Stand, painters pole, a collapsible beauty dish with sock, light grids, and a basic shoot through umbrella.  All this was hauled around on a rock-and-roller cart, pushed by my husband who acts as my trusty assistant.   I used one strobe on a light stand with the beauty attached and sock for two sessions, then had to switch to a gridded flash on a painter’s pole due to the threat of rain for the remainder of the sessions. I can slip a rain cover, which are just quart sized sandwich bags, over the flash units which I can’t do with the strobes.

I took 538 photos, edited 221 photos, and posted 207 fully edited shots.  Thus, I had a return of approximately 38 percent, which is about average for my shoots. For all the shots, I was at an ISO of 100. I was using an aperture between f5 and f6.3, with 56 percent of the photos taken at an aperture of f5.6.  My focal length ranged from 18mm to 170mm, with most photos being taken between 18mm to 50mm.  The shutter speeds varied widely from 1/60s to 1/1000s with the about 53 percent of the photos taken at 1/320s.  This was the first shoot that I used my strobes, and I kept them at ¼ power or less to reduce or remove ambient light.  When I switched to my flashes I was pushing them at a ½ to full power depending on the location.  Overall, I’m happy with how the lighting worked out on this shoot with both the strobes and the flash. Though moving the strobe around on the C-stand is not as quick as moving around with a flash on a painter’s pole which made me change my shooting style slightly.  Because moving the strobe around was more difficult, I started to trying to maximize the location before moving to a new spot or pick locations were the model could use the location in a variety of ways.  In away it was a bit of a learning experience with the strobes, but it did not affect the quality of my photos.  Now we’ll talk about a few of my favorite shots, and you can see all the images here.

ISO 100, Aperture F5.6, Shutter 1/320s, Focal Length 120mm 
This first shot is of Autumn wearing a blue flower headdress I made.  The headdress was inspired by ones I have seen online that cost hundreds of dollars.  This blue headdress cost me about 75 dollars to make.  Because of the headdress, I focused on doing beauty/head shots. Autumn was very nice to take beauty shots of because her skin was nice and she has beautiful blue eyes.  The girl new how to “smize” or smile with her eyes.  This shot is very close up, and I like how the flowers fill the frame drawing focus to her eyes. I shot this with a socked beauty dish mounted on a strobe pointed directly on at the model’s nose. During editing I softened the photo slightly by reducing the clarity and saturation. I also blurred the edges of the photo slightly to further soften it and bring more attention to her eyes.  

ISO 100, Aperture F5.6, Shutter 1/320s, Focal Length 20mm 

This second photo is of Nyla, wearing the blue headdress. Her soft blue dress was an excellent complement to the headdress.  I like this shot because it is soft yet powerful due to her softness and the moodiness of the sky.  I shot this image with gridded flash on painter’s pole, with the light to the photographer’s right. When editing the shot, I ensured that her face was properly light and bright to make it look like a sunbeam was hitting her.  I then went in and added fake rays of light, peaking through the clouds to emphasize the mood of the shot.   

ISO 100, Aperture F6.3, Shutter 1/60s, Focal Length 32mm 

This third photo is of Samantha. We shot most of her set in the barn, because it was cold and windy out and this got her out of the wind and cold.  For this shot I asked to think romance and soft. I had the gridded flash on the painter’s pole up and to the photographers left.  When editing the shot, I went dark and dramatic while keeping the seductive feel of the image.  I darkened most of the ambient, and tried to ensure just the model and immediate foreground was lit.  I also increased the saturation of the colors of the image to strengthen it.

ISO 100, Aperture F5.6, Shutter 1/640s, Focal Length 50mm

This final image is Veronica.  I love this image because the dress, the background, the sky, and her posing brought this image together.  I feel the image could be on the front of a romance novel. The slightly rusted fence with the field in the background, the stormy looking sky and the wind-blown hair is what makes the image.  For this image, I had the gridded flash on the painter’s pole up and to the photographers left. When editing the image, I faded and slightly softened the image to give it a more romantic feel.  I also brightened her face slightly, to draw emphasis there. I also applied some soft color grading to the image.

Overall, I’m very happy with how the photos from the group shoot turned out. The models were a delight to work with and the farm provide an excellent backdrop for the shoot.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Nouveau Lady

This year at Katsucon I got to shoot a cosplay concept I have wanted to shoot for several years, a Hannah Alexander  design.  What makes these designs special in my opinion is that  HannahAlexander  takes a character, like a Disney Princess’s cloths and interprets its as art nouveau fashion. So, the character is re-imaged in a dress along the lines of a late 1910 and early 1920s evening gown. The designs are extremely intricate, beautifully colored, and just simply stunning.  Thus, I have been wishing to be able to shoot one of these cosplays.

At this recent Katsucon, I had the pleasure of working with Sara Cosplay who made the Hannah Alexandra version of Merida from Brave.  I have worked with Sara Cosplay several times in the past, and she does impeccable work.  She made this gown herself, including the intricate burn in designs on the velvet.  So, because of the cosplay and the cosplayer, I wanted to be able to do an elegant shoot that aligned more with the style of the dress then the Disney princess, which is hard to do at a very crowded convention with only handheld equipment. To pull the shoot off, required an assistant holding a light, finding non-crowded areas, and a little post processing magic.

I edited 84 photos and provided 66 final images. I shot with a focal length between 18mm – 35mm with the most common focal length being 18mm.  I used a shutter speed between 1/125s to 1/640s with the most comment speed being 1/640s to get rid of ambient light.  My aperture varied between f5.0 and f7.1, with most images being taken at f5.0.  I’m now going to discuss a few of my favorite images.

ISO 400, Focal Length 32mm, Aperture f5, Shutter Speed 1/320s
This first image (right) is my favorite because I think it captures the era and overall concept.  This image was shot in a hallway with several mirrors, the challenge with doing mirror shots is making sure you and your flash are not reflected in the mirror.  For this photo I as sitting on the ground with my camera, with a bounce mounted on the flash, my assistant was standing to my right with second flash held up above the model at an angle.  The flash to the right was considered the main, and the flash on camera was just fill.  When I pulled the shot in for editing, I cropped it to give it a long narrow appearance, balanced out the light and increased the clarity and contrast.  I then applied a baseline pre-set that faded out the photo slightly and gave it a more antique feel by toning the image.  From there I added some vignetting to finish the image off.

ISO 400, Focal Length 20mm, Aperture f5, Shutter Speed 1/320s

This seconded image (left) is very similar to the first except more of a close-up. I used the same exact lighting set up as the previous image. During editing I balanced out the light slightly faded the image.  I found using bold colors and strong clarity settings made the image lose its softness.  During the whole shoot I wanted to keep a softness and relaxed very 1920’s rich person lounging around the mansion feel to the image. I also feel her expression really worked for this image.  I added some brightness to her face, and then finished off the image with some vignetting.

ISO 400, Focal Length 20mm, Aperture f5, Shutter Speed 1/320s
This last photo (right) I just love. The light hit her perfectly and her expression is perfect. The photos in my opinion highlights a relax elegance.  The lighting set up as similar to that of the other two photos. When I brought it into light room to edit I balanced out the light then went in and increase the light hitting her face and upper body. I did this to make it appear more like a solid narrow stream of light was hitting her.  I then increase the clarity slightly and balanced the color out, due to the yellowness of this hallway.  From there I added some vignetting to finish off the image.

While I’m happy with the results of the shoot; I still feel I could have done this whole shoot better. (You can see all the images here.) I wanted to shoot a bit outside under this lovely little pergola but it was raining, icing, and snowing simultaneously during this shoot so outside was not an option. Also due to the weather everyone who was outside was now trying to come inside and due to it being peak hours for the convention it made it traversing the hallways and elevators extremely difficult and took up most of the shoot time.  I felt like I need a full 90 minutes for this shoot to work, because there were a few additional locations I would have loved to shoot at, but not the gazebo. Never, never the gazebo.  But, if I’m being truly honest with my self I would love to reshoot this session in studio with some antique props or a very nice park around sunset.  I love Hannah Alexander designs and hope to be able to shoot more of them in the future. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review of my First Ohio Convention

ISO 400, Focal Length 18mm, Aperture F8, Shutter 1/20

On January 26 and 27, I attended my first convention in Ohio, Ohayocon, and have to say it is very different vibe from the Washington, DC conventions I attend.  First, I have to say getting my badge/wristband went relatively smoothly, parking didn’t seam to be an issue at the convention center it was held at, and the vendor room (after I found it) was spacious and didn’t feel congested.  However, I didn’t feel like there was the same level of energy, at this convention compared to the previous conventions I have gone to.   I was expecting the convention to be similar to something like AnimeUSA, small but lots of energy, collaboration, and, meeting new people and a fair bit of cosplay. I felt it was a little more like AwesomeCon (DC’s comic con) where people go panel to panel and there isn’t much cosplay but without the excitement and big-name guest of a comic con.  

ISO 400, Focal Length 18mm,
Aperture F8, Shutter 1/125s
I must admit I was expecting to see a lot of cosplay and photographers roaming around, since there were all these photo meet ups posted on the schedule but it didn’t seem like that at all. I went to a few locations were the photo meet ups were supposed to take place and didn’t see large groups of people, and it wasn’t obvious if a meet up was happening. Case in point, I went to the Lolita meet-up at the convention, since I like shooting Lolita, however when I arrived at the location there were Lolitas roaming around but no organizer or lead photographer.  I even asked who the organizer was, and no one spoke up.  I found it rather odd.  I did end up taking some group shots for the Lolitas and some individuals for those that asked.  Also, I’m used to conventions having an “it” spot or a hang-out spot where you could find most of the cosplayers.  If there is one at Ohayocon, I wasn’t able to locate it.

The other thing I found a bit odd, in comparison to previous conventions, was the lack of business card exchange.  Usually, I come home from a convention with a stack of business cards, so I can tag cosplayers in hall shots.  I came home with only one person’s cosplay card.  Now, I will admit I messed up slightly by not have my big stack of cards with me, but really my stack of about 30 cards was basically sufficient.  Usually, I go through at least 150 cards if not more at convention.  Also, most people I took hall shots of didn’t ask for cards or turned them down when I offered them.  In addition, I didn’t seem to see a lot of photographer. 

ISO 400, Focal Length 18mm,
Aperture F8, Shutter 1/30s

For the convention I brought my Canon 70D, my trusty 18-200mm lens, one 430 EX–IIIRT flash, and a bounce attachment.  I figured this was my first time at this convention, I would check out the cosplay scene, go to a few of the meet ups, and focus on hall shots. I was expecting to take significantly more photos then I did. Overall, I ended up taking 112 photos and editing and posting 55 photos, which is significantly lower then other conventions where I’ll post around 180 or more photos just in edited hall shots and that is when I’m doing one-on-one shoots as well.    I was able to capture a few nice cosplays such as this Jedi photo above.  I have to say the middle Jedi is just nailing it. It all comes down to her eyes and the intensity behind them.  While all the cosplay’s in this group are exception and I would like to work with each of them individually sometime, the middle one is just nailing it for me.  I will also say this little Lolita (above left) was perfectly capturing the cute and innocent vibe.  I also like the girl doing Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6 (right). You can see all my edited photos from the convention here: Ohayocon 2018.

Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with Ohayocon. I’m hoping the other conventions in Ohio and the surrounding area are better and more along the lines of conventions I’m used to. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Queen of the Corn

On January 20, I did a lovely sunset shoot with Vida Muerta in a field of Concrete Corn in Dublin Ohio.  The field contains 109 ears of corn that are about 6 to 8 feet tall and are tribute to Sam Frantz the inventor of hybrid corn.  It is a very interesting field and in my opinion a great place for an artistic/editorial photo shoot.  The theme for this shoot started out as a noble unseelie fay crossed with Game of Thrones due to the shoot being in winter and the cold industrialized feel of the concreate corn.   To obtain the look, I rented a parachute dress and Vida Muerta enhanced the dress based on my mood board with horns; a flower crown; elf ears from AradaniStudios - Elf Ears, Costumes, and More; a staff from Nebuleux, LTD - FatedFires Collection (Dr. Dee); a corset from The Violet Vixen, boots from Son of Sandlar, and a lovely Russian fox pelt from the Lost Viking Hoard. All these items together with the make up and hair artistry provided by Katie McNabb created the look, I like to call “Queen of the Corn.”

For this shoot, I used my Canon 70D, my trusty 18-200mm lens, one 430 EX–IIIRT, one 600 EX-RT speed light, radio trigger, light stand, painters pole, and a basic shoot through umbrella.  I also had a 3-foot ladder for my model to stand on to give her height compared to the corn.  My husband, who is my trusty assistant, held the 600 EX-RT speed light on the painter’s pole to get height. The speed light on the painter’s pole was zoomed to about 105mm and used as the main light.   I mounted the other flash, which was zoomed to 24mm, on the light stand with the umbrella to act as the fill light. I did push both flashes hard, because I was fighting the setting sun, which was behind my model for most of the shots.  I took 129 photos, edited 94 photos, and posted 53 fully edited shots.  Thus, I had a return of approximately 41 percent, which is about average for my shoots. For all the shots, I was at an ISO of 100. I was using an aperture between f9 and f4.5, with 84 percent of the photos taken at an aperture of f5 or f7.1.  My focal length ranged from 18mm to 70mm.  I was pleasantly surprised with this shoot, because I did not favor a particular focal length and my shots were evenly spread across the focal range. The shutter speeds varied widely from 1/160s to 1/1250s with the about 42 percent of the photos taken at 1/320s or 1/400s.  The real challenge of this shoot was the fast-changing lighting conditions as the sun started to set behind the trees and balancing the light on the model with the sun setting behind her. 

There are three photos that I like from the shoot that appear to tell a story.  This first one is bold, and shows the noble and strong character.  I like this one because of how the sun is falling behind the model.  I lit this shot by placing both lights to my right, with the main light trained on her face. I also adjusted my camera settings so that most of the background would be in shadow or silhouetted by the sun. When editing I made sure to keep the golden color coming from the sun, and used ‘shadow’ as the starting white balance level when editing in Lightroom.  Also, I did some additional post editing in photoshop to give the photo a bit of a glow.

ISO 100, Aperture f/5, Shutter 1/1000s, Focal Length 70mm 

This second photo I like because it is soft, and appears like she is beckoning something or someone forward.  The lights for this photo were placed in two locations, the main light directly in front and above the model and the second to my right.  Again, I kept most of the background in the shadows and kept the soft golden color by using the ‘shadow’ setting as my white balance starting point in Lightroom.  I also edited this photo in Photoshop by using a modified orton effect, to give it a softer feel.

ISO 100, Aperture f/7.1, Shutter 1/320s, Focal Length 18mm 

I like this final photo because it exudes power and confidence.  This final photo was taken as the sun was sinking lower in the sky, close to actual sunset and heading into blue hour.  The sun was also placed behind me, with the flashes placed slightly off center of the front of the model.  I did not modify this photo much, just balanced the lighting and ensured the models face was properly lit and had a bit of glow to it.

ISO 100, Aperture f/5, Shutter 1/400s, Focal Length 60mm 

I like the concept of this shoot and got several good photos, but believe I could have done it better.  I would like to redo the shoot in the spring or summer when it is warmer.  The reason for redoing the shoot is to take more advantage of the dress, which is a parachute material and can easily blow in the wind, without having the model freeze. I also think the shoot could be improved by having a second model act as subject of the “Queen.”  Also, I just feel I could do it better, now that I’m more familiar with the location and how the sun filters through the trees.  Additionally, I am realizing when working with the large parachute dresses I need a second assistant that would handle the dress and to things like tossing and fluffing it. But overall, the shoot went well, and the photos represent the concept I had in my head. You can see the full set of photos here: Queen of the Corn.

Last Day in Rapid City

Last night we tried to get some sunset pictures at Badlands NP, however the clouds cover was just too thick.  The sun could not break throu...