May 14, 2009

Sweater or Jumper?

Since they shouldn't make you sweat or jump, I'd say they're both stupid names.

May 13, 2009

Lumiquest Softbox III

Wait. Am I allowed to review products? Hang on... Yep.... after a quick flip through Blog Tips for Guys With Six Subscribers, turns out I can.

I just bought - I'm going to go with a short-form here - the LQ3 a couple of weeks ago. Now, I already have two different umbrellas, a RayFlash, an Ezybox, a Tri-Grip and two Omnibounce thingys, so why bother? Truth is, David Hobby made me do it. If he hadn't shown so many great examples on his site, I would have spent the money on Polly Pockets for my daughter, and she'd love me again. Damn his eyes.

While planning a charity shoot that was literally going to involve running beside people and taking good pics in the shade, I re-read several Strobist posts on the LQ3 that I had only skimmed before.

I quickly became intrigued by the possibility of something light and portable - that I could "run and gun" with. I was also intrigued by the idea of getting back to CLS and way back into TTL-flash metering. If you're shooting my five-year-old, you better not be chimping with manual flash, or you're going to get a lot of pictures like this...

Kids Portraits-1357

Anyway, the LQ3 is about $55 Can (Henry's) - it folds flat, is pre-velcro'ed, and it rocks hard. I'll admit, you could easily DIY this thing, but that would kind of be like making your own hot & sour soup - someone already makes it way better, and it really doesn't cost much. (Also, I plan to use this thing at weddings and location portraits. I don't care what you say, Raisin Bran and gaffer tape are not what clients want to see when you're setting up.)

For this test, I went with CLS, rather than PWs - again for weight and portability, but also because I am knee-deep in Auto FP sync, and PW's mean 1/250 max.

No matter how you slice it, you will look like a geek with this goofy pyramid thing in your hand. But, if you've read this far, you are probably at peace with your geekiness. Also there's not much you can light people with outside that doesn't call attention to you being a weenie. If you want to get really geeky, gaffer-tape he whole mess to a bike-glove, and you can now use your left hand, without putting the flash down. 

Maybe not.

TTL-flash was very important because I planned to have that thing very close to people's faces. If you're wavering between 6" and 2' from a face, locked manual power is going to produce huge exposure variations. As Joe McNally might say: let the camera do the thinking once in a while.

Michelle and Kids

I used the D700 pop-up flash in TTL (-2.0 ev). This allowed me to cut into the shadow of the nice big soft light coming from upper left. Next time, I might use an SB-800 on-camera instead, since the pop-up restricts you to 1/320, rather than 1/8000. I like big depth of field and everything, but some shallow focus would have been nice to play with.

Dandy Ryan

The aperture was set f/16 to keep the clouds from blowing out at 1/320. This also dropped the ambient so it didn't compete so much with the subject. The LQ was held at arm's length with a 1/2 CTO over the speedlight. Even though it's just out of frame, the fall-off wasn't too abrupt.

'tude on a trike.

I am the first person to say that the whole "brooding sky" thing in every Strobist-Flickr photo kind of gets on my nerves. Every kid's birthday and soccer shot seems to be taken just as the Sixth Seal is being cracked. I mean, come on. It's a birthday party! 

But I have to say I enjoyed the front-and-centre feel of these shots. (It also helped that my son didn't make his patented "chewing on a pencil" smile in every photo.)

Bonnie and Clyde

Overall, a great experience. The smooth wrap-lighting that such a small rectangle produces is pretty amazing. Buy one and stash it in your gear bag next time you pack light for the outdoors.

May 8, 2009

Ask a silly question...

My five-year-old son never talks about school. Even when asked and threatened, he offers up "nothing" as his stock answer. The only thing he'll talk about (grudgingly) is lunch. Here is an excerpt fom Wednesday night:

Dad: What did you have for lunch today?

Ryan: Fish.

Dad: Awesome! Was it the brown, crunchy fish, or the white, flaky fish?

Ryan: Crunchy fish.

Dad: Excellent. And what did they serve it with?

Ryan: (pause) Tongs.

Winnah? Boy.

May 6, 2009

'Til death do we party.

"Marriage is not a game. 
A game is something fun, that you can win."
-John Goodman.

Wedding season.
 It starts right after hockey season and goes all the way to hunting season. And like hunting season, it's a time of year when men creep around quietly, and occasionally a shotgun is involved. But at least during duck season, the only ones in danger are the ducks and the hunters. During wedding season, we're all in someone's sights.

There's a glorious period in a man's early twenties when weddings are something to get stoked about. Older friends get engaged, and you somehow make the guest list with a few of your buddies. You grab your only suit, your darkest pair of loafers, and sign the group card. You pray for an open bar, and start scoping chicks on the way into church.

Somewhere between 20 and 40, things get a little stale. When you're forty, a wedding is not so much about getting psyched for the road trip - it's more about dreading the inevitable 'chicken with mushroom gravy', and wishing you could escape the Macarena with the kids under the table.

Guys love to gripe about other people's weddings - sometimes their own. It's part of our DNA. For me, the insanity of the big day is best summed up by the following:
  1. Groomsmen rent a tuxedo they will need several times during their lives.
  2. Brides buy a dress they will never look at again.
Defense rests, Your Honour.

But as with all involuntary commitments, there is an art to enjoying oneself in the gilded cage. To quote the best wedding advice of all time - courtesy of Queen Victoria - "just close your eyes and think of England." Or at least, crack a Newcastle and see if the DJ has any Judas Priest on deck.

So you got your invite; now what? My advice... buy the gift immediately. The longer you wait, the more likely it is you'll forget, and the fewer options you'll have once you finally hit the registry. The happy couple (the bride) will also be excited to know you can be trusted with big boy responsibilities once the big day arrives.

The wedding gift is your first clue that you're just a cog in the marital machine. I mean, just when you've got it drilled into your head that women want a thoughtful and original gift, they now encourage you - force you at gunpoint, really - to buy a very specific and non-unique commodity at their registry. The good news is that you don't have to be creative. The bad news is that you will be paying a markup that would make a convenience-store owner blush.

My wife adds: "the gift should cost as much as the dinner" - which is a mixed blessing, if you're eventually choosing between the "7-Layer Burrito" and the "Gordita Supreme".

Say you only want to spend $100. Well, Diamond Jim, that narrows you down to 2 shrimp-forks or half a gravy boat - gravy yacht, really. It took me a while to understand why my mother went postal any time I broke one of her dishes, but when you break a married woman's dinner plate, chances are it wasn't lifted from the cafeteria at McMaster.

Brides remember every single gift that was given to them - and by whom. Do you want to be known as "Salad-Spinner Sully" for the rest of your life? Or "Cherry-Pitter Chuck"? Then choose carefully. If it's a coin-flip between the champagne flute and the plunger-holster, take the high road or cough up a few more bucks for the good stuff.

Once the gift is taken care of, find out what your job at the wedding will be. I've been best man, emcee, photographer and DJ - the equivalent of 'hitting for the cycle'. They're not all glamourous jobs, but most have their perks.

Here are the Big Four, with their pros and cons:

Best man.
Unless you've been asked by a particularly vile serial killer, this is the ultimate guy honour -the equivalent of Kirk saying, "You have the bridge, lieutenant." Being best man is also an unparalleled Weapon of Mass Attraction. If you're a single guy, there is no better stamp of approval in the eyes of those six, seafoam-tinted women across the aisle. Just make sure you don't lose the ring, Gollum.

Caveat: be prepared to take flack for everything the groom gets wrong. It was you, after all, who took him out last night.

A living hell for many, but quite fun if you have the gift of gab. Warning: there is so much hackneyed material out there, it behooves you to write some original copy; anything without the word "behooves" is a good start. You generally can't go wrong with humour, but don't be one of those lowlifes who dredges up - or invents - seedy anecdotes that are best left to The Aristocrats.

Caveat, if you are too awesome, you risk stealing thunder from the bride. Never steal thunder from the bride.

Professional DJs know that it's not about music, it's about getting people to party down. Like the Sean Connery impression, everybody thinksh they can do it, but very few can deliver, Moneypenny. 

Rule #1: if you're gonna spin the tracks of wax, make sure you are crystal clear on what the bride and groom want to hear (see: Piper v. He Who Pays Piper).

Rule #2: if "Lady in Red" is even mentioned... walk. 

Speaking of inappropriate songs, tape the following to your iPod:
"Believe" (Cher) is about a failed relationship.
"Every Breath You Take" (The Police) is about a stalker.
"Rosie" (Jackson Brown) is about masturbation.

Just don't. It's insanely stressful and one of two things will happen:
  1. Unlikely: you'll do great work that isn't compensated.
  2. Likely: you'll do crap work that will haunt you for the rest of your life.
Be diplomatic. Tell them you'd love to snap some pics, but you'd be more honoured to be part of the memories, instead. Also, your hands will now be free to snap bra-straps, instead.

Most of the other jobs are pretty easy. Just have fun, and don't ruin it for anyone. Here's a couple of checklists to improve everyone's day:

Single Guys:
  • For the last time, it's not a foot-rest, it's a kneeling rail.
  • While greeting the reception line, avoid saying, "Good game... Good game..."
  • Now matter how big the garter is, resist the temptation to use it as a hula-hoop.
  • A well-crafted toast to the bride is a good way to impress women. Just avoid the phrases: "That's what she said," and "She won't remember this, but..."
  • Even if available, the bride's mother is a no-no.
  • A lady's tattoo can say a lot. Celtic imagery on lower back: Good. Cobra on face: Bad. 
  • Consider the judicious use of custom business cards. Key words: 'Director', 'Executive', 'Equine', and 'Lingerie'.
Married Guys:
  • Do not text-message the groom during his vows.
  • Feign interest in the people at your table for at 15 minutes before seeking beer-buddies.
  • No matter what is happening at the reception, remind your wife that at her wedding, it was much classier.
  • You may either breakdance or ballroom dance. Nobody likes a show-off.
  • Although it is okay to have your drink with you on the dance floor, your dinner plate is best left at the table.
  • If your wife has no back tattoo, you may refer to them as "tramp stamps". This also allows you to stare, while pretending to mock them.
  • Don't ask questions. Just let her take the centre-piece.

May 5, 2009

Getting raked over the briquettes.

Nothing photographic today. Just another in a long line of cautionary tales...

My Thermos barbecue sucks. It has a hot spot that isn't much good for anything other than incinerating one burger while gently thawing 27 buns that are huddled around it.

  1. Buy a new grill.
  2. Go vegetarian.
  3. Fix the burner.
Let's review those options:
  1. I would happily buy a new one, but my wife - who understands the concept of "money"-  vetos this.
  2. Even if I go vegetarian, I will most definitely need to slather my vegetables with Diana sauce and grill them into the Cenozoic.
  3. Okay. So long as everyone is comfortable with me banging on the part of the grill that the fire shoots out of.
After some pretty exhaustive Googling, it turns out the only real option is to order the part from the States. It's either that, or drive to Concord for a similarly-priced part. Sorry, scratch that. Concord doesn't have the part. They suggest contacting Thermos. Yes. Why didn't I think of that*.

*Thermos is derived from the Greek word meaning: to bottle up your emotions, whether they are frigid or incendiary.

Long story longer, I go with The BBQ Depot, aka Liberty Gas, in the USA.

The burner's only $32 (free shipping!), so that's certainly better than a new grill. Then they e-mail me. Oh, you're in Canada? Yeah, that's $16 for shipping. Yes, we know our site says 'free shipping' and the computer processed your order and debited your Paypal account - knowing full well that you lived in a socialist country - but take it or leave it, terrorist-harbourer.

So now I'm out $48... American. This is starting to suck.

But at least the part arrives quickly; and it ought to, since it must have been shipped in a gold-plated limousine, driven by Darrell Waltrip. All I need to do is give the UPS (Unreasonably Priced Shipping) guy... 

...$35 in brokerage fees!

It's at this point that I start to wonder if UPS guys wear brown clothing to hide the dog shit that angry people throw at them from their front yards.

Final tally: $95

You want cheese on that?