Shooting In Wet Conditions

OP/Tech rain sleeves
OP/Tech Rain Sleeves Are Cheap Protection - Photo OP/Tech

Nothing gives me a troubled feeling like being outside with my camera gear when a sudden cloud burst hits.  Amongst the people hurriedly packing up lawn chairs and coolers, you’ll inevitably spot someone running doubled over, looking for all the world like they’re about to give birth.  That’s the person trying to protect their camera.  There are better options and they only cost a few bucks.  There’s no need to ever sweat a thunderstorm these days.

OP/Tech makes several types of plastic rain sleeves that you can simply toss when you’re done with them.  They come in two basic types: One for flash and one for no flash.

I prefer to spend a little more on the large Kita covers.  Though the Kita covers are too expensive to be disposable, they do give you two arm holes with draw strings that make it easier to work manual controls in the rain.

Beyond these you get into the more technical and custom-fitted gear.  Unless you live in Seattle, or spend a lot of time doing nature photography, those are going to be more than most people will want to spend.  Especially considering I’ve used gaffer tape and a plastic grocery bag in a pinch.

You’ll also need something for yourself.  Disposable rain ponchos only run a couple bucks and can be a life saver, but they don’t offer much in the way of protection.  At the opposite end of the scale are the heavy-duty hunter and military grade ponchos, which are like wearing a tent.  Those are too heavy and too hot.

A good compromise are these Stormtech packable rain ponchos.  I get them over-sized so there’s enough room for my photography vest underneath.  Light weight and breathable, they have a big hood with a draw string and button down side panels.

With my poncho and Kita covers I’ve worked through some pretty serious downpours. With the portable stool I carry, I’ve been able to hunker down and wait out conditions that sent other photographers scurrying for their cars.

Digital Photo Frames Go Social

Kodak teaches picture frames new tricks - photo Kodak

There’s an old saying you can’t teach a dog new tricks, but Kodak has taken the digital picture frame and taught it a few new neat tricks that have the potential to take photography another step up the evolutionary scale.

Two Kodak Pulse digital picture frames, released late last year, the W1030S 10 inch diagonal model and the W730S 7 inch diagonal model feature an aSi TFT active matrix screen with 800 x 600 resolution in 4:3 format with a 400:1 contrast ratio.  The frames come stock with 512 MB of internal memory, plus two card slots and a USB port.

The frame is wi-fi enabled and features touch-screen control menus that are easy to use.

Probably the neatest trick is the integration with Kodak’s web site, which allows you to manage all your frames features from the web and gives your frame its own email address.  Friends and relatives can email photos to your picture frame from anywhere in real time.  You can also set up your frame to download pictures automatically from either Facebook or Kodak Gallery.

It’s a small step in technology, with some reports of inconsistent service from early models, but Kodak brings the price point down a notch from some of the other wi-fi enabled picture frames and makes the technology far more approachable for novice users.  Prices have come down some this year from their introduction, making them all the more attractive.

I can imagine it won’t be long before some events are offering live photo previews and professional photographers start offering services like live wedding photos, as the ceremony is taking place, for friends and relatives who can’t be there.  That’s a step beyond where even this frame puts us, but as the ubiquity of wi-fi enabled image display devices increases, the demand for complimentary services will increase.

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5 Awesome Lighting Hacks

If you’ve ever been in a professional studio you were likely blown away by the sheer volume of lighting equipment and were maybe a bit depressed when you thought about what it all must have cost. And my friends in the video business are even more annoying with their envy-inducing rigs like Skylight Balloon Lights.  I fell like The Joker in the Batman movie asking where they get all those marvelous toys. Still, even with the collection of lighting equipment available, I’ll still turn to low-cost lighting hacks in a pinch and there are one or two I use regularly because I don’t need the expensive rigs enough to justify the cost.

A quick and inexpressive way defuse your flash - photo by Duncanc

Milk Jug Diffuser

One that’s been around a while that doesn’t miss is the Milk Jug Diffuser, also called the Milk Jug Ring Light.All you need is a gallon plastic milk jug and a pair of scissors or razor knife.  Cut out one side of a milk jug, and at the narrower end cut a hole the just slightly smaller than your lens filter.Fit it on the end of your lens and the milk jug should stick up high enough to act as a diffuser for your on camera flash.  It looks funky, but works.  I’ve also taken a shorter piece of milk jug material and taped it over the end of my hand-held flash with gaffer tape.

Complete DIY instructions here.

Chinese Lanterns

I’ve used Chinese lanterns in both video and still photography shoots and they make a really interesting diffuser.  They’re big enough inside to work if you need to put foil on one side, and you can point your flash up, down or away from the subject and get a different effect.  They’re very light, easy to move around, you can even hang them from the ceiling and hang the flash unit from the metal frame inside.

chinese lantern
Expensive softbox or $2 Chinese lantern? You decide.

They come in a variety of shapes, colors and rib designs.  Even the big ones are fairly inexpensive.  If it gets wrecked on set, no one is going to lose sleep over it.

Do keep in mind they are not fire proof, so don’t go putting halogens or hot lights inside.

Another great feature of Chinese lanterns are they come with an internal wire support you can gaffer tape to the light stand.

So, you can spend $600 on an Octobank or $2 on a paper lantern, get a very similar effect and be able to run it up as high as your light stands will go.  I don’t have my soft banks anymore, but still carry my paper lanterns around.

The $35 Beauty Dish

A Fong diffuser
A Fong Diffuser

With a Fong diffuser, an aluminum foil turkey pan and some gaffer tape you can make a beauty dish.

Cut a hole in the middle of the turkey pan and fit the diffuser through it, tape if necessary to hold it in place.  Foil or gaffer tape over the end of the diffuser and blaze away.  Results are surprisingly good.

Complete DIY instructions here.  For as often as I really need a beauty dish, I’ll risk looking a little low rent.

Shop Lights

Craig Brewer made his first full-length movie called Hustle & Flow with nothing but shop lights and a handful of photo bulbs.  Anytime we get separated at the hardware store, my wife knows right where to find me.  I’ll be in the section with the shop lights.

I’ve used halogen shop lights on photo shoots and video sets as both primary lighting and for lighting background elements.  I carry a set in the truck anytime I’m headed out for a shoot.

Shop lights
Shops lights my favorite cheap lighting hack - photo by Joe Kras

Sometimes the temperature is off, but nothing I haven’t been able to correct with $20 worth of gel filters from Adorama and a handful of clothespins.

The new LED shop lights are the right temperature and don’t out nearly as much heat.  Perfect for when you need a shadow fill or colored gel for a background effect.

The Foamcore Strip Light

I think everyone has seen this one before, but it’s worth repeating.  A little harder to put together because you need a glue gun and a space to work, but it really makes a nice strip light.  Almost as good as any of the commercial units I’ve used.  If you take your time and put them together neatly, a lot of people won’t even notice you made them yourself!

Great instructions here.

Got a favorite lighting hack you use?  Share it with us in the comments.

The Yongnuo HN467 Speedlite

The Yongnuo YN467 - Decent flash, priced right
I investigated the Yongnuo Speedlite YN467 as an alternative to Canon Speedlites, which I jokingly call “Spendy-Lites”.  Jokes aside, the Canon Speedlites, like the 430EX ii and 580EX ii, are still the gold standard for external flash units to use with Canon products.
But the price tag. Ouch.  $270 for a 430EX ii and up to an eye-popping $468 for a 580EX ii.  For sure you get a lot of nice features for that kind of money.  Wireless e-TTL and Canon’s reputation for quality and reliability.  Every time you push the button, you’ll get fabulous results.
Still, the price point nagged at me, so I set out to investigate the alternatives and turned up a diamond in the rough. For just over $70, you can get a Yongnuo YN467, a very decent flash unit that’s compatible with Canon’s e-TTL, though you’ll have to use a sync cord if you want to use it off camera.  Even with the cord, the package comes in at less than $90.

I didn’t run a full scale flash test, just mounted it on the camera and shot some test shots to get the feel for the unit.  I wasn’t expecting much and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

YN467 Flash Text
YN467 off camera left with the aid of a FC-311 sync cord
The build quality is better than expected.  Solid, heavy and well fitted, it comes with a soft carry bag and table stand.  It’s got a built-in bounce card and flash diffuser.  When it comes to power, it will light up your life.  You might not get 250 feet outdoors like a 580EX, but I was able to blow out a large, dark interior pretty effectively.
The only ding on fit and finish is the battery compartment door which slides back and opens out feels a little flimsy.  It’s got a small plastic locking tab that looks like it would be easy to break.  I wouldn’t get in a hurry changing batteries.Where it counts, the YN467 works like a champ.  As soon as I mounted it on my 7D, the camera and flash synced up and worked together flawlessly.  Matched up with a $20 FC-311 cable by Pixel, Inc. I was able to hold the flash off to one side and still use the e-TTL features.  I wasn’t able to out run recycle times, even in burst mode.

This is not the flash unit I’d get for studio work, but then I wouldn’t use a 580EX for that, either.  For that I’d look at floor units like Paul C. Buff’s Alien Bees line.  But as an on-camera flash for $70, it’s tough to beat.

Cleaning Your Camera Sensor

copper hill basic kit
Copper Hill basic sensor cleaning kit

It will happen to you some day.  You’ll be shooting pictures or video and notice a smudge, spot or smear on your pictures, particularly after running color correction.  Don’t panic, it happens to everyone at some point in their photography career.

There are two basic ways of dealing with a dirty sensor: Shipping it off to a service center to have it done professionally, or doing it yourself.

If your camera is still under warranty, then sending it off would be the default option.  If not, then you might consider doing it yourself.  I’ve had cameras come back from the service center just as dirty as when I sent them in.  Once the spec on the sensor was still there, I don’t think they even looked at it.  If you’re careful and patient, you can do it safely on your own.

The Copper Hill Method  Carries cleaning kits sized specifically for different camera models.  There are a couple things you will want to get besides the basic kit.

Your best bet is to get the Mega-Kit which wasn’t offered when I ordered mine.  For sure get the Sensor View magnifier or pick up a lighted magnifier somewhere else.  That makes working in the dark insides of your SLR a lot easier.

The other component you’ll definitely need is the SensorSweep brush or similar static brush.  I’ve never seen fibers cling for desperate life like they do inside the sensor chamber.  It’s like they’re glued on sometimes.

Don’t use any kind of metal tools inside your sensor chamber unless you really know what you’re doing.

Copper Hill has detailed, step-by-step instructions for sensor cleaning.  I would advise going through the tutorials carefully and lay your cleaning supplies out in advance.

A dirty sensor isn’t the end of the world, but if you scratch the sensor, it’ll be the end of your camera.  Be patient, careful, and gentle and you’ll be fine.