LIC Waterfront Night Shooting

lic-night

Yesterday evening between 8:15 and 9:15 I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed down to the LIC waterfront to take a first stab at some serious night shooting. I was a bit gung-ho and wanted to get the Manhattan shots right away. However, I arranged my photos to introduce the area in which I was shooting first. This is my attempt at a more journalistic approach to ease my way to the Manhattan shots. I had some very particular style of images I wanted to come home with though. Allow me to elaborate.

So, I have been browsing 500px.com quite frequently and some of my absolute favorite shots have been daytime neutral density filter shots. These are the photos that have daytime lighting but super long exposure times because of the filters blocking out so much light.  People use these filters to slow down the shutter speed to typically get a softening effect of flowing water.  The common shots are of streams and waterfalls in the woods. This is all great but neutral density filters are by no means cheap for one of decent quality. With limited light at night this opens up the possibility for such effects to be possible.

Being new to this I took a ton of exposures.  I reiterate a ridiculous amount of exposures. I set up my camera to bracket my exposure compensation by a full stop over and under.  Then I would use my usual exposure compensation control to move the entire bracket up and down. I was able to come away with easily 9 exposures to a single composition.  This took some time but I'm glad I took this approach because there were a lot of variables in the environment such as water, buildings, lights, foreground and clouds. The keepers I ended up with were from various brackets within maybe 3 stops of each other.

I pretty much shoot exclusively in priority modes between aperture and shutter priority. So for such a huge depth and distance covered in my shots I decided to go with aperture priority. This started off at f9 but I ended up changing my ISO and closing down the aperture to f22 to get a longer exposure.  I might as well have been in full manual. The only real difference is that I would have had to metered to get and center meter to then bracket from.

The outcome of the images is more than satisfactory. The only thing I noticed is when zooming in all the way to the buildings there is some grain. This is noticeable on shots even on my lowest ISO at 100 so it may be the glass of the 18-55mm kit lens I was using. I also recorded some notes of how I was bracketing and exposing in general on my GoPro. I might start doing this more frequently to create some vlogs to accompany my write ups on this blog.


Murrells Inlet Marsh Photos

Murrells Inlet Marsh SunsetI was recently in South Carolina for a wedding after which the whole wedding group headed to Murrells Inlet.  So always armed with my camera near by in the middle of a dinner with everyone at a restaurant called Wicked Tuna two awesome things happened.  First there was an awesome double rainbow over the whole marsh directly to the east. Second and soon after the rainbow the sun began to set to the west. This was a spectacularly radiant and colorful sunset.  We were fortunate enough to be sitting outside on the deck so I snapped a few of the magnificent sunset. I am still working on the photos of the rainbow because I shot the whole thing as a sequence which I am putting together as a panoramic in Photoshop.

View the Full Album on Flickr


Battery/Vertical Grip

IBattery Grip had the wonderful opportunity to do some shoot a wedding.  With the wedding preparations I wanted to be sure I would be able to quickly take a diverse range of images and not worry about batteries. To accomplish both of these goals I purchased a Vello BG-C5.2 Battery Grip for $68 from B&H.  The grip allows one to shoot vertical shots and with a duplicate set of the main controls (shutter, main dial, exposure lock, AF points and exposure comp.).  This came in very handy when shooting as working these controls can otherwise be cumbersome. Also, the light was low in the church and I was to keep my arms framed solidly with the added grip.

So extended controls are convenient but even better was the peace of mind having extra power. Most grips allow for two camera batteries to be held in the grip. This is a nice thing to have if traveling and power might not be very accessible for charging. Also a huge thing to note is that most battery grips come with an extra tray that will support standard batteries.  If a worst case scenario happens where my camera batteries are dead I can run to a store and grab some AAs and be ready to shoot again. Otherwise an extra $45 Canon battery would  still need a charge before one can use it anyway. The additional batteries also add a decent amount of weight which I think feels great and give the camera a much different feel. I love having the grip but don't keep it on my camera when just carrying it around or when on the move. When I put that on I'm really in photographer mode. I think it's definitely worth at least borrowing one and trying out to wee if it is a benefit to ones workflow.

In summary:

Pros

  • Extended controls
  • Added comfort in diverse shooting situations
  • Extended battery life
  • Alternative traditional batteries can be used instead of camera specific batteries

Cons

  • Added weight and bulk
  • Yet another thing in the gear bag (a pro to many)

Beach House Fan

Beach House Impromptu Shots

Beach House FanSo I was at my family's house this weekend at the beach and had just a few moments before we carried on with our afternoon plans. It was the middle of the day and there was just an abundance of light everywhere.  I took this maybe five minutes of down time to take a few photos in the front porch which had magnificent light on a hot summer day. Here is a breakdown of the thought put into how I was shooting.

A relative picked us up from train station in a Jeep Wrangler with the top down in true beach fashion.  So, while I was still in the porch I wanted to capture the Jeep in an interesting way. I framed a shot with the Jeep in the background of the front door which further welcomed us to the beach. Though the inclusion of the Jeep was intentionally I came to this image by exploring the door within the space.

The focus on details around the space continues as I look towards the table with two hurricane lanterns. These are used to shield candles from the wind.  The two of these in my initial composition were accompanied by a plant as well. The addition of the plant was confusing the subject and cluttering the shot.  If I were to reshoot this I would have just removed the plant from the table and staged the hurricane lanterns more precisely.  Thankfully I did shoot just a single lantern which simplified the image. The only thing in that keeper I don't like is that the frame of the door is behind the lantern which is distracting and less clean of a distortion in the glass of the lantern.

After being at the table for a bit working with the lanterns I needed something fresh. I recalled a Jared Polin (FroKnowsPhoto.com) quick tip to remember to change perspective. In the video he was in a forrest where all he simply did for a fresh set of eyes was look up.  I looked up and voila a fan! I knew I would not be able to shoot wide enough to capture the whole fan though.  That did not deter me though, I took the shot anyway by popping out my screen and using the live view. All the while making sure to pay attention to centering the fan to ensure my perspective and symmetry  were solid. I then chose a square crop in post for symmetry and I'm very pleased with outcome.

Lastly, I felt I had captured all I wanted to in the front porch and moved to put my camera away in the other room when I was drawn to a strong light bleeding through the curtains and strong reflection on a neatly place set of books on a shelf.  I shot a tad wide as the shelf was above my standing height and cropped to use the supports of the shelf above to help frame the shot. After some work in Lightroom the image felt good from a lighting stand-point. I wanted the image to capture the same experiencing of the light just pouring into the space.  This is a strong image but could be better a few points of criticism would be  1) the lack of detail on the books' bindings 2) some more negative space where the window is might be nice and 3) the light switch is distracting to some degree.

Overall, this was a very quickly shot scene which have yielded some of the favorite images I have shot to date.  Just capture what is intriguing or that light which catches the eye. Take photos all the time.  It's better to take the shot and there is no harm done if images don't happen but when they do it's worth the 30 seconds or few minutes. With all of five minutes and maybe 30 photos resulted in four photos which really hold meaning to me.  I am pleased with an image and even if they didn't turn out well these are images that hold meaning with me and my family. If I have a chance to share some images with people close to me of how I view their world to not do that would be disservice to them and myself. Documentary snapshots are great take-aways from any trip or adventure. That is why everyone photographer or not take photos all the time.


First Try at a Chrome Extension (working with Plug.dj)

Chrome LogoSome Background

So I've been discovering a lot of new music using Plug.dj.  It is a site that is very similar to turntable.fm.  For those not familiar with either of these sites turntable no longer exists and Plug.dj has stepped in to takes it's place.  The basic premise of the site is that users have an avatar and play music in a booth style to room with a particular genre/flavor of music.  People in the room can then vote whether they like the track being played or not. Built into the room is a chat for users to talk to one another.  As I have music playing in the background while I work and even have a bunch of coworkers that use it as well and we have our own room to share music throughout the day. As we had our own room I wanted to customize it with a custom background and the easiest way of doing some seemed to be a Chrome Extension. The background was super easy to accomplish as it only needed a tiny bit of CSS. I had some improvements I wanted to add such as sending a desktop notification with the song information every time a new song comes on so I don't have to go to the room to see it. Also I was missing a lot of chats when people @mentioned me because all that happens is a small sound. So this extension for just my coworker and I to have a cool background in our room evolved to Notification Handler for Plug.dj called simply 'Plug Notify'.

The Extension

I had never built a Chrome extension before and assumed swapping a background-image on a single page would be a good start to get a barebones extension to test the waters out. So to get the basic or Extension development I checked out the documentation from google and got a local extension set up. The main things are getting developer mode on and setting up a manifest file to pull in the resources you will need. This will include the CSS, images and JavaScript. One thing to caveat is that I am manipulating the Plug.dj page with my JavaScript so I will only include a JavaScript file in my manifest to inject another JavaScript file to the page.

So I wanted to get my JavaScript to run on the page as usual. This is the only other real set-up step that is not typical of chrome extensions.  If you list a JavaScript file via the extensions resources it's scope will be to the Extension. So in my extension I injected a script to the page. Now the script that is being injected has the same scope as the pages like on any web application.

The Guts of It

The only other obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that Plug.dj loads each room with AJAX and thus their API is loading after my injected script. The logic is simple and check with a setInterval whether the API is defined as an object or not.

The rest of the development for the project went very smoothly though using the Plug.dj API for event listeners when to fire off notifications.  I only used two events 'ADVANCE' and 'CHAT'. These fire of the notification with the song information when a new songs starts playing and checks each line of chat for the users mention respectively.

The real fun part of this was playing with the Web Notifications API which is still in a Working Draft state. These worked with relatively no problem.  Also as this project is in a Chrome Extension it was a safe assumption that anyone installing it has current enough version of chrome which supports this. The Mozilla Developer Network has some documentation on this API which as of writing this seems to be accurate. I plan to write another blog post this week which will dive more in depth into this new API and a link will be posted when that is complete here.

Another feature specific to Chrome is the highlighting of a pinned tab.  This is triggered whenever the title attribute of a page is changed and can be seen if one pins a GMail or Facebook tab and gets a chat message. This is simple achieved by updating the title it will flash each time it's changed so to have it continually flash a setInterval to change the title back and forth is used. If the tab isn't pinned the title is changing so that is a still a good visual indicator of the notification.

What I'd Improve

There are a few feature requests I've had from users which are listed as I receive them in the readme of the repo.  One thing I did attempt and failed to accomplish was containing this in a self-invoking anonymous function as one would do with any plug-in.  This failed because I am using jQuery in my code and I can't pass it through as one would usually because of a load order issue being created with Plug.dj's use of Require.js. This I believe to be loading in all the needed libraries and the inject script I am dumping into the page is injected before jQuery can be defined. Not a problem when used in my main.js file because all the call of jQuery are happing after library is available but since the function is defined and invoked immediately passing through jQuery (ideally) it does not yet exist to pass through as a parameter.


Shoot at Breather Soho

The Contest

Breather SohoSo while I was still drafting this post I got some exciting news!  The video I created which will be discussed in more detail below won a contest for Breather. While my submission wasn’t a photo they made an exception for the video.  Here is the post about it on the Breather Blog.

Breather is a service that allows people to rent a workspace for short periods of time. So after discovering the new service I decided to check out one of their locations. I did so with the free hour I was given from signing up. I had also seen they were holding an Instagram contest. As a hobbyist photographer with no particular purpose to my photography besides exploration I took this as a new assignment for me to tackle. The contest was pretty open ended as it was just to include photos of a visit to a Breather space. I was confined to shooting just this room in an hour.

The Shoot

I started off shooting the space as a whole both with the gopro connected to the gopro app (to frame my shots) and with my Rebel T3i. I didn't freshly charge my gopro and the second battery I had was low. Luckily I have three so my first battery shot all my video getting there and the third one finish things out. My number two battery was completely dead as well oops!

After capturing the space with wide focal lengths I then started to look for smaller details to focus on. From the glass measuring flask the pens and pencils were held in to the plants on the window sill even down the to structure between the legs of the chairs. The space was intimate and there was still some daylight giving me a nice diffused light to work with until the sun started to set. Also the walls were a bit off-white and gave a nice warm tone to the shots which fits the intimacy again of the space. I found myself drawn to the book rack on the wall and took a ton of shots but only ended up with maybe two shots I'm proud of. My best shots of the area may be seen here: Flickr Album

The Video

I hadn't shot much with the GoPro recently so I knew I wanted to do a short POV style video but not particularly for the contest which was more photo centric. So I just edited a short 15 second video of my getting to the Breather Soho location. I haven't done a lot of video editing so I want to keep my projects very small. This allows me to just dabble in the basics of my software and see a project through all the way to its completion. The 15 second clip i ended up with took a few hours to make. From finding royalty free music to selecting footage and reducing all of that down to a mere 15 seconds.  I found the background music at Free Music Archive. The final result ended up as follows: Breather Short on Instagram


Review of "Getting Started with Grunt" eBook

grunt-getting-startedSo I recently read Getting Started with Grunt: The JavaScript Task Runner which I think lives up to it’s title very well.  If you have any experience with Grunt much of the first few chapters will be super basic for you.  The order of how information was presented I felt could have been better because through many of the chapters the same items seemed to keep showing up such as using grunt for minification.  This repetition is very useful though when getting started with something new as to really drive the point home and reads the same as pretty much every other tech book written, ever.

The really awesome takeaways from this book are a much and section I would highlight. Writing customs tasks and multitasks, basics of node packages/plugins. Improving workflow and Adding arguments to commands via bash which is very useful for setting up different environments. This book also has a big listing of all the plugins you’ll want to use for all of the standard thing such as minification, local server, livereload, watch, etc.  If you are new to any of those things they will be covered in depth as they are so vital to a front-end workflow.

The advanced section covers publishing one's own grunt plugin and introduces how to set up continuous integration and unit testing. These just lightly skim the surface to show there is so much more that can be done with grunt than what is covered in this primer. However the section on publishing a grunt plugin via NPM is fully covered.

Overall I would say this is a great book for someone who has never used grunt before and even for someone who has a good working knowledge of grunt it's very skim able for some new ways of approaching problems or some ways to customize you commands further by adding command line variables and building multitasks to further improve your grunt workflow.


Instagram's JJ Community

instagramSo recently I decided to start taking Instagram a little more seriously. I wanted further my reach and connect with some new and interesting photographers.  The biggest and best community is by far JJ.  Instagram has much more going on community wise than meets the eye. There are lots of professional and hobbyist photographers who take the social network a little more seriously than posting pictures of their dinner with a crap filter over it that was picked at random. My favorite Instagram community by far is the JJ community. There are many sub communities for different styles/themes of photographs but this will cover the main JJ community. This is one of the original and the biggest Instagram communities.  It has helped rekindle some interest in actually get outside and shooting.

How does it work?

The community was created by Josh Johnson and he posts a different theme daily. Some example would be “yellow and blue”, “stairs” and “notforsquares”.  Everyday the theme is posted in the morning around 9am NYC Time (EST -5hrs) with it’s respective hashtag.  Leave a comment on any of your own photos you wish to submit and then JJ and his team of editors/moderators select images they like and feature them on their own accounts of course linking the credit back to the creator.  The community side of things comes with JJ’s only rule, the 1-2-3 rule.  This means that for every 1 photo you submit you need to comment on 2, and like 3 other photos submitted to that days theme.

Commenting has been my favorite means of engaging with others in the community and have lead to some more followers.  If you want your comment to actually accomplish anything then please make it worth reading and prompt further engagement.  Sure a ‘great shot’ comment is still nice but come on, that’s really not contributing much. Try asking a question or pointing out something about the photo you think makes it a strong photograph.

Accept a Challenge

One thing I like to do when at all possible is shoot something new for the day’s theme. With the weather warming up here in NYC this gives me a good reason to get out and shoot for a bit when I otherwise might not have.  Also as a hobbyist photographer it helps to have some constraints to look for new things.  One has a much different mentality when in the mindset of “Today I am going out to take photos of chairs in black and white” versus any other day of “I am gonna go walk around and see if anything stand out as a good photograph.”  This way of shooting is how the pros and photojournalists go out and shoot because they have assignments which they must shoot for.  Give it a try and look at it as a way to challenge and further your skills as a photographer.

Also keep in mind that people only want to see the best photos on Instagram.  So I curate mine very carefully and deleted a lot of the old bad snapshots. Check out my instagram and you'll see there are no food shots or selfies!


Simple Tethered Shooting with Lightroom

Ok, so I've been seeing a lot of pros online doing tethered shooting so I thought I'd investigate this a little further.  Turns out Lightroom has tethering built in and it is as simple as plugging one's camera into their computer with a USB cable. I just love how simple and clean this is: tether Open up Lightroom and go to: File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture, type in a Session Name and choose where to save the photos. A new control panel will appear with a shutter button for the tethered camera and a display of all the exposure settings.  Sadly these setting cannot be changed from Lightroom I believe tethering with the Canon software will allow for that control. This is a super quick way to get tethering and a clean route to keep things within one's Lightroom workflow (as that is how I manage all of my photography).  So after taking a photo there will be a short delay from the shot to appearing in Lightroom. The new panel for tethering is shown below: tether-lightroom It's great having all of one's shots on a nice big display with the histogram up and the ability to zoom in on detail.  If working on HDR with multiple exposures this works very nicely. Keep in mind for HDR one will want to have auto-bracketing in place so absolutely no touching of the camera is necessary between exposures. I also don't have a remote trigger either so that's a good way to keep things nice and still if I am shooting in low light as well. Overall this setup is easy to get setup immediately with only a USB cable needed. If shooting handheld one will definitely want something like a JerkStopper.  On a tripod I usually can get away without a JerkStopper but it doesn't hurt to have this little anchor.


Hosting Switch to DigitalOcean

Ubuntu LogoSo, after some embarrassing downtime yesterday (Bluehost and Hostgator I believe were both down) I decided to switch to a different host. This was a much needed switch as a dev I can't stand the thought of someone hitting my site and having it be down. A little convo on twitter had me fuming when someone pointed out they couldn't access an article I had shared. So I now find myself using DigitalOcean per the suggestion of Jeff Gray and I absolutely love it so far.

They are not your typical hosting company though. I have my Wordpress setup on what DigitalOcean calls a 'Droplet' which is a SSD server with the specs one desires. There is a wide array of options and even some presets for common products like Wordpress. The kicker is that this is an unmanaged server so it's all on the user to maintain and set things up. This is great for a developer because they have full control over everything.

As a front end guy I am not entirely familiar with everything. This is my first time running an Ubuntu  Server. However, I am learning as I am going after just one evening I have been able to migrate my entire Wordpress site over to this new hosting. Everything is working and seems to be running fully featured. There were some walls I ran into along the way and I may follow up this post with how I managed through those. I kept my old site up with a copy on the new hosting while the DNS propagated. Things should all be shifted over.

Otherwise, I highly recommend checking these guys out. They are super inexpensive and one has full control of their stack! If I can manage to get all of this set up I'm sure others can even more easily.  Not only do I anticipate more uptime but I am already seeing much faster load times via tools.pingdom.com/fpt/.  Before on Bluehost I was averaging 2.5 to 4 second load times and tonight I am averaging 600ms to 1 second.  That is a huge improvement and that is will all the same page weight and number of requests.