## I Love Weddings

I love weddings.  They are hectic, chaotic, and fast-moving, but there’s magic there, too.

There’s something magical about the look of hope and love in the couple’s eyes.  They’re starting their lives together with a mixture of joy, anticipation, trepidation, hope, and love.  As a photographer, I get the privilege of capturing the elegance and emotion of the occasion for them.  It’s an honor, and a responsibility that I’m proud to accept.

## Take The Voyage

Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.

– Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet

It may seem odd to quote a poet on a photography blog, but I don’t think that it is.

Poetry is, in my view, the art of choosing just the right words to concisely convey a thought, feeling, or image into the heart and mind of the reader.  Poetry relies upon the complex interplay of connotation, denotation, cadence, rhyme, alliteration, and metaphor to raise up a mere collection of words to be more than simply the sum of its parts.

But most of all, before there can be poetry, there has to be a poet with something to say, and the talent to say it well.

“What does this have to do with photography?”, you may find yourself asking.

It’s simple, really: Art isn’t easy; it takes work, it takes vision, and it takes talent.

You’re not going to get there by sitting on your couch, watching television.  You’re not going to get there by comparing camera specs on forums.  You’re only going to get there if you start moving, and devote yourself to putting in the work necessary to build your talent to the point that you can realize your vision.  And then, you get to visualize more.

It’s a voyage, and it’s not an easy one.

While writing Ulysses, to the best of my knowledge, James Joyce never spent any time comparing typewriter specs on the Underwood Forums, worrying about upgrading to this year’s new ribbon model, or comparing the contrast and resolution of different paper stocks.  Honestly, I don’t even know if he used a typewriter, or wrote things out longhand.  It doesn’t matter.  The tools don’t matter, and never did.

Instead, he lived his life to the fullest, and devoted himself to his writing.  He wrang evocative imagery and emotion from his soul, and sweat passion and dedication onto each and every page.

Do the same.  Live your life to the fullest, and pour your passion and dedication into the imagery and emotion you create with your art, your photography. It won’t be easy.  It will hurt, and it will be the toughest trip you ever take.  But, the best possible you lies at the end of the journey.

Take the voyage.

## Go Play in the Rain

Try it.  You’ll like it!

Shooting under an overcast sky is like using God’s softbox — all of the harsh shadows are tamed, and everything takes on an almost magical glow, as beautiful soft light descends on everything from the heavens.

Despite the threat of rain, I took a relaxing walk at Descanso Gardens a few weeks ago.  This wonderful botanical garden is only a short drive from my home, and the start of spring has brought out all of the blooms on every flowering plant on the premises.

I brought a few of my cameras and lenses with me, but decided to leave all but one camera and lens combo in the car.  Instead, I just brought my trusty Olympus E-3 with me, with my all-time favorite lens bolted to the front: the 35-100mm f/2.0 zoom.

It’s an admittedly bulky combo, and certainly not the latest most-fashionable thing, but it’s all fully weather-sealed, and it does something else absolutely critical for me: it gets out of my way, and lets me concentrate on making the photo that I see in my mind. Long familiarity and experience with this camera means that I can find every control right under my fingertips without having to look for it, and it becomes just an extension of my arms, to be directed by will, rather than conscious thought.

It works for me.

In any case, this isn’t about the equipment.  It’s about the light, and the experience.

Find a camera that works for you, that you can use without over-thinking.  Hopefully, it’s weather-sealed.  If not, get yourself one of those plastic camera condoms to protect it.  Then, the next time you have a rainy day free, take your camera and go exploring.  You’ll love the light, and you’ll love the freedom.  Don’t over-think.  Just see the world with a photographer’s eyes, and follow your muse.

It’s a worthwhile exercise, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.  You’ll certainly love the photos you make when you follow your instincts, and make pictures to please yourself, rather than someone else.

## Simplicity

“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.” – Walt Whitman

## Why use flash?

I was asked recently by a relatively-new amateur photographer, “Why use flash?”

He was mainly shooting photos in locations where there was plenty of ambient light available to make a proper exposure with his camera, and I suspect that the unspoken subtext to his question was that he was wondering if there was any particular reason for him to spend the money to buy an external flash for his camera (or even to use the built-in “pop-up” flash).

Here’s what I told him:

There are two main reasons for people to use flash when making photographs:

1. There’s not enough ambient light to make a photograph without flash, or
2. The ambient light that’s there is not to your liking, and you want to modify or replace it with “good” light of your own.

Most beginners only think of reason #1. (It’s dark, so I use flash.) Simply adding more light quantity, without giving consideration to its qualities (such as its hardness, color, direction, and relative brightness), typically results in the dreaded “person in a dark cave” portrait.

A more experienced photographer will use flash to supply the light that he wants, where and how he wants it, either alone, or in addition to the existing ambient light.

Personally, I use flash most often when I’m shooting outdoors, in full sun, which is a situation where most amateurs wouldn’t even consider using flash at all.

In full sun, you have plenty of light, but it’s almost always very hard (the sun may be huge, but it’s 93 million miles away, and casts very hard-edged shadows). Also, full sunlight rarely comes from a flattering direction; it’s almost always overhead, which gives people raccoon eyes, and hides their faces in shadow if they’re wearing a hat. Also, full sunlight gives your images more contrast than any camera can capture in a single frame.

Adding flash from my camera position allows me to fill in those shadows without erasing them completely. This way, I can reduce the contrast in the scene to the point where my camera can actually record detail in the shadow areas, and I can avoid raccoon eyes and see people’s faces up under their hat brims. The flash also adds a bit of “sparkle” to the eyes, in the form of a “catch light” reflection.

Outdoors, I’m not generally looking to overpower the sun with my flash. I usually prefer to use flash that doesn’t call attention to itself. Instead of making the scene look “artificially lit”, I simply tame the shadows, and bring them under control.

It all boils down to control.  Using flash, you’re able to take control of the lighting in your images, and are no longer at the mercy of the ambient light.  To a photographer, that’s a very good thing.

## Minimizing exposure variation

$\LARGE&space;distance&space;to&space;light&space;=&space;\frac{depthofgroup}{\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}-1}$A recent discussion thread on the Strobist Flickr group did something that Internet discussions frequently do: it diverged rapidly from the original topic, and devolved into an argument over terminology.

The argument centered on the made-up term “light depth of field”.  (For the record, I find this term silly; even worse, I find it misleading.  I won’t be using it again, and I suggest that you forget it was ever mentioned.)

The context of the discussion, however, is both useful and instructive to examine.  The key issue in that context is:

Given the inverse square law, how do you determine the minimum distance away from your subjects to place a light, in order that the exposure variation across those subjects due to falloff stays within acceptable limits?

It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  There’s a smidgen of math involved, but it’s nothing harder than very basic high school algebra.

For those who’ve forgotten, let’s go over the inverse square law:

The intensity of light falling on a subject at a certain distance from a light source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the light source.

In layman’s terms, when you double the distance, you get $\frac&space;{1}{4}$ the light intensity.  Triple the distance, you get $\frac&space;{1}{9}$ the light intensity.  Move n times further out, you get $\frac&space;{1}{n^2}$ times the light intensity.

We photographers like to deal in “stops” of light.  Each “stop” is a doubling or a halving of light intensity.  Put in math terms, the intensity difference in stops is the base 2 logarithm of the ratio of the intensities in foot-candles or lux.

### And now, a little bit of high-school math:

Don’t worry — I’ll do the math for you.  You can feel free to skip to the end, if you just want the answer….

First, we describe the setup.  We have a light source (“L”) that is a certain distance (“x”) away from the closest subject (“C”).  A second subject (“F”) is further away.  How far?  Subject F is “y” distance past subject C.

Something like this:

L -------------------x----------------- C ----y----F

So, the distance from L to C is x, and the distance from L to F is (x+y).

If a light intensity falling on C (“x” distance units away from L)  is “i” lux, then that same light falling on F at “x + y” distance units away has an intensity of  $\large&space;i&space;\frac{x^2}{(x+y)^2}$, which is a change of $\large&space;\log_{2}&space;\left&space;[&space;\frac{x^2}{(x+y)^2}&space;\right&space;]$ stops.

We’re looking to find out how far away to put our light in order to get the light falling over our subjects to be even within a certain number of stops, when the group is spread out over a certain distance from the closest to the furthest subject.  In other words, we’re looking for “x”, given the number of stops and “y”:

$stops&space;=&space;\log_{2}\left&space;[&space;\frac{x^2}{(x+y)^2}&space;\right&space;]$

If y is a positive number (which it will be, as we’ve laid out the diagram), then the number of stops will be a negative number, indicating that the light is getting dimmer the further away that we go.  While mathematically accurate, most photographers aren’t used to be thinking in negative numbers.  To make the equation more useful, let’s flip the fraction over, which will reverse the sign on the logarithm.  That way, we can specify the number of stops down as a positive number, rather than having to think of it as a negative number of stops up.

$stopsdown&space;=&space;\log_{2}\left&space;[&space;\frac{(x+y)^2}{x^2}&space;\right&space;]$

Now, we just need to solve for “x”.

$stopsdown&space;=&space;\log_{2}\left&space;[&space;\frac{x+y}{x}&space;\right&space;]^2$

$2^{stopsdown}&space;=&space;\left&space;[&space;\frac{x+y}{x}&space;\right&space;]^2$

$\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}&space;=&space;\frac{x+y}{x}$

$x&space;\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}&space;=&space;x+y$

$x&space;\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}&space;-&space;x&space;=&space;y$

$(\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}-1)&space;x&space;=&space;y$

And, finally….

$\LARGE&space;x&space;=&space;\frac{y}{\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}-1}$

There is our answer.  It’s a bit ugly, but it’ll tell us what we need to know.

If the closest subject and the furthest subject are y feet apart, and we want the exposure across the group to be consistent within “stopsdown” stops, we can calculate the distance x in front of the group at which to place our light.

As an example, if we want at most a variation of 1 stop from front to back across a group of people, and the distance between the closest and furthest people is 3 feet, then our light has to be approximately:

$x&space;=&space;\frac{3&space;ft.}{\sqrt{2^{1}}-1}&space;=&space;\frac{3&space;ft.}{\sqrt{2}-1}=7.24&space;ft.$ in front of the group.

If we want to limit ourselves to 1/2 stop of variation across the same group, we need to place our light further away:

$x&space;=&space;\frac{3&space;ft.}{\sqrt{2^{0.5}}-1}&space;=&space;\frac{3&space;ft.}{1.1892-1}=15.86&space;ft.$ in front of the group.

### The Bottom Line:

The further away your light source is from your group, the less variation in light intensity you’ll have across the group due to falloff.  The overall intensity will, of course, be lower.  That’s not in question.  However, the important thing to remember is that there will be less variation of intensity across the group.  You’ll have more even — although dimmer — light.

If you know how much variation in light intensity you can tolerate (in stops) and you know the size of the group (from front to back, as seen from the perspective of your light source), then you can fairly-easily calculate the minimum distance to your light source.

$\LARGE&space;distance&space;to&space;light&space;=&space;\frac{depthofgroup}{\sqrt{2^{stopsdown}}-1}$

To make this easy for those of you without a scientific calculator, I’ve pre-calculated a few factors that you can use in the following equation, just by multiplying:

$\LARGE&space;distance&space;to&space;light&space;=&space;depthofgroup&space;\times&space;factor$

# of stops factor
2 1.00
1.5 1.47
1 2.41
2/3 3.85
1/2 5.29
1/3 8.17
1/4 11.05

## Photos From NSL 2011/ROCstock 33 Are Now Online

The photos from NSL 2011/ROCstock 33 are now online for your viewing and purchasing pleasure.  Click on the “Browse and Buy Photos” button in the left sidebar to get to the CrayonPhotos.com online store.

If you are one of the people who won a free 8″ x 10″ print in one of the raffles held during NSL/ROCstock, please contact me via email with your address, and the number of the picture you’d like to receive as your free print.  (When you’re looking at the preview of an individual image, the picture number appears right underneath it, in the format “NSL11-xxxxxxxx”.)

## Home from NSL 2011. I’m tired, but happy.

National Association of Rocketry President, Trip Barber, presents a plaque to Rocketry Organization of California President, Rick Dickinson, in appreciation for hosting NSL 2011.

After five days and four nights in the Mojave desert, I’m back home, and recovering from one of the best “working vacations” that I’ve had in quite some time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was on-site at the NAR‘s National Sport Launch in Lucerne Valley, CA, this past weekend.  I arrived last Wednesday evening, and didn’t get home until nearly 9:00 PM on Sunday, exhausted but happy.

I did, however, leave out one small detail that many of my readers are probably already familiar with: I’m actually the current President of the Rocketry Organization of California (ROC), who were hosting the event.

Rocketry is my hobby, and I’ve been an active member of ROC for well over a decade, now.  As in most hobbies, there are clubs, and the folks who hang around and help out with the clubs’ activities over time tend to get handed more and more responsibilities.  I’ve been on the ROC board for a while, now, and last year, they voted me in as President.  It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding.

In any case, that explains the picture at the start of this post.  I was very pleasantly surprised by Trip Barber, the NAR President, on Sunday morning, when he took the microphone at the launch control table, and called me up to present me with a plaque in recognition of my role as Event Director for this year’s NSL.  It was a pleasure doing it, and the thanks really ought to be shared among a large number of volunteers.  (But, all the same, I’m going to keep the plaque myself!)

I have just started to process the many photos I took at NSL, and I’ll post them in my online store as soon as I’ve gone through them, probably in about a week or so.  In the meantime, here are a few liftoff shots to whet your appetites:

Liftoff of Jim Wold's "Naked Fat Man" rocket on a Kosdon by Aerotech K700 motor.

Veronica Kirk's Level 2 Certification Flight Lifts Off

## CrayonPhotos.com will be at the National Sport Launch this weekend

Rocket launch at Lucerne Dry Lake

Come join CrayonPhotos.com at the National Association of Rocketry‘s annual National Sport Launch this coming weekend, June 10-12, 2011, in Lucerne Valley, CA, where we’ll taking pictures of amateur rocketeers and their rockets.

Hosted by the Rocketry Organization of California (ROC), this three-day event brings together young and old rocket flyers from all over the country.  There should be over a thousand people gathered over the weekend in the middle of Lucerne Dry Lake’s vast flat expanse.  FAA approval has been granted to allow rocket flights up to 19,000′ above ground level, so expect some spectacular sights.

We’ll be posting pictures from this weekend’s festivities once we get back in town, so if you can’t make it out in person, please check back next week to see what you missed!

## To All Veterans: Thank You.

I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to all veterans for their service.  You put your lives on the line so that the rest of us can enjoy the benefits of freedom.  We don’t thank you enough for your service, and for that I apologize.

Thank you, again, for being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  You honor us  with your service.