Nov 8 2008

Equipment Review – Crumpler’s Whickey and Cox

Last year I had back-to-back trips to Seattle and London. I had the Canon Deluxe Photo Backpack 200EG, and though it holds gear very well, it is totally conspicuous, opens too easily and provides only limited protection for the camera gear. Having lenses worth hundreds of dollars almost fall out on several occasions, I knew I needed something better. For the money, the Canon bag is quite the value, but does it seem reasonable to expect high end protection for thousands of dollars worth of equipment from a $40.00 bag?

For traveling, my goal was to find a bag that would hold one Canon 30D body and several small travel lenses, a super-zoom (Tamron 18-250mm), one wide-angle (Canon 10-22mm) and one prime (Canon 50mm 1.4). The bag also had to hold a small laptop, camcorder, cables, power supplies, had to hold all the equipment I could stand to carry, fit international carry-on specifications, protect memory cards, batteries, chargers, a card reader, and at least one backup hard drive. Basically, it all the equipment from damage, and be secure, inconspicuous, and comfortable.  Oh yeah, it would also serve as a seat while my two year old was hitching a ride on my back.

I searched and searched for an affordable (somewhat) backpack. At the time, reviews were limited, and it was difficult decision. I could not find the Crumpler bags locally, so trying it before I bought it was not an option. I did not care so much about style, as long as the bag was not hideous, which considering the color of some of the Crumpler’s bags, could have been a deal breaker.  I finally broke down and ordered a Whickey and Cox.

Crumpler - Whickey and Cox - Click to jump to gallery.

Click the photo to jump to a gallery that will give you an idea of the size compared to the Canon bag, how it does with a tripod attached, and how well it works as a saddle.  The bag is the most comfortable pack I have and fits very well.  However, I am not an avid hiker or backpacker, and after several days of walking a few miles a day with the Crumpler (and a 25lb two year old) hanging on my back much of the time, my back was still in pain.

There are several good reviews available on the net which go into quite extensive detail about the backpack, capacities, protection, build quality, et cetera.  Therefore, I won’t rehash those details here.

Several of the sites listed about have pretty good lists of the pros and cons of the Whickey and Cox.  The two biggest negatives of the bag are the tightness of the side pockets and the time it takes to get to your gear.  If you have big hands, prepare to lose the skin on the back of them as you put them into and out of the pockets.  Regarding access to the central compartment, take a look at the quick video showing the one significant change I would make to the bag to help ease access to gear.

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As of yet, nothing has broken on the bag so I cannot speak for Crumpler product support.  One thing is clear though, something must be in the water over there because they are not conventional.   For one, generally their bags are different.  Second, check out their web sites and download product catalogs; you will see that the US site has been tamed significantly compared to their German site.  I have little doubt that many Americans would easily be offended by some of their marketing material.  I find it refreshing finally to come across a company that breaks with the typical “pretty smiling face” marketing mold to which we are so accustomed.   I’m betting the guy works for Crumpler, but you can even find a Blog, Crumplerfried!, that follows every Crumpler move.

Nov 8 2008

High Dynamic Range Photography

High Dynamic Range or HDR photography is a method of composing images where one shoots multiple exposures (it is highly recommended that you use a tripod) of the same scene to capture details in the shadows, the mid-range and the highlights.  Once you have the base images you use software such as Adobe Photoshop or Photomatix to combine the multiple exposures and create one single image.

For a quick and concise explanation, check out this YouTube video by Michael Eric Brown for a very good explanation of HDR photography.

Nov 4 2008

Seven Tips for Better Wedding Photos

  • One: Clean up the room. This applies more so to brides than grooms, but both would benefit. More often than not, the area the bride is using to ready herself becomes instantly littered with open shoeboxes, plastic bags, and wrappers from last minute candles, flowers, ribbons, etc. Leftover fast food bags and soft drink cups do not add romance, love, or emotion to the “behind the scene” shots at a wedding.
  • Two: Look up and forward when walking down the aisle. It is fine to smile, cry, or look at someone in the crowd, but remember to pay a little attention to the photographer. Taking your time, pacing yourself, and looking down the aisle (toward your groom) or at the escort will yield the best results.
  • Three: Keep family and friend photographers and videographers at bay. I do not mind having them around or shooting whatever I pose. However, please ask them to speak with the professional photographer or the officiant about any restrictions at the location. Many officiants restrict flash photography and have limits on how close or where the photographer can stand. Also, unless they are supposed to be in the shot, please have them stay behind the photographer. Depending on the lens being used, the photographer may need to backup 5′ to 25′ to get the framing he is looking for. Even if you think you are out of the shot, if you are anything forward of the photographer, using a wide-angle lens, you will be in the way.
  • Four: Prolong the kiss! Some couples spend months getting ready for the big day, and then their first kiss is nothing but a peck. Pecks leave little or no time to get the shot. You should not slobber all over each, other but you will appreciate seeing pictures of (and we can all wait three seconds for) a real first kiss.
  • Five: Keep your hands exposed for ring shots. This one is a little more difficult to do, but try not to crowd up and stand 180 degrees opposite of each other if possible. If your back is to the audience then there is a good chance your back is to the photographer. (The alternative is to hire Obnoxious Photography, who will stand at the altar with you and put his lens three feet from your face.)
  • Six: Assign a family photo coordinator. There are several reasons for this. First, the photographer will not know everyone’s name and may not even speak the family’s native language. Second, the photographer will not know who is important to you. I have yet to meet a professional photographer who will work from a “shot list.” Without forcing the couple to pose, pose, pose and making everyone else wait, it is near impossible to get every named shot. Shot lists are NOT practical and do not result in genuine imagery, meaning they don’t show what happened at your wedding and don’t elicit special memories. If you have certain combinations of shots you want, a family photo coordinator is your best bet.
  • Seven: Minimize the number of formals and shoot them before the ceremony. That is, shoot them before you are hot, before you are tired, before everyone is waiting on you to party. Post ceremony, the more you shoot, the hotter you will get, the more irritated you will get, and the longer everyone will have to wait. Remember, albums full of formals are boring. Pick a select few and avoid taking a “formal” picture with every Uncle Bob in attendance.

Everyone won’t agree with all of these tips, and they won’t apply to all situations, but I assure you these time-tested tips will result in better and more special photos.

Oct 24 2008

Junk in the Trunk – Background Faux Pas

As a photographer, I am always trying to create an image that conveys the mood, the feeling or the emotion at an event. It is not an absolute, but one of the best ways to get a viewer off subject is to distract them from the subject with trash in the background or a poorly framed subject.

With landscape photography junk in your trunk is not usually an issue as the background IS the image you want. However, when shooting people, animate or detailed objects the background effect can make or break the image. One of the easiest ways to botch an otherwise nice photo is to have too little or too much going on in the background. Just the right amount of bokeh, underexposure or the lack of clutter can really make an image pop. Today, I am going to focus on the clutter.

The best tip I have for you when taking your own pictures is simply to be highly aware of the background. This awareness comes only with practice as job number one in photography is to focus on the subject, literally. There are two main things you need to be aware of. First, get the garbage out of the photo. Literally, at weddings I often find myself moving a McDonald’s cup, an open and scattered shoebox or plate full of crumbs out of the way to get a better photo. Even if the trash is only fraction of the image area it will stick out. Sometimes, especially if it is small, you can fix the trash issue during post-processing, but less time spent fixing pictures allows for more time shooting them.

If you can crop the trash out of the frame by zooming or stepping closer to eliminate the offending object, do it. When you can, move your subject to a location with fewer distractions in the background. Inside you generally want as few things behind the subject as possible. It is so easy to forget what is there. Try to train yourself to notice and remove extra toys, nicknacks, etc. Television screens are terrible in pictures. By the same token you do not want a plain white wall behind the subject either. The background should be of neutral interest, not devoid of interest.

The image above was an impromptu shot when I called to the bride to turn and look at me for one second. Obviously, I could not change the background. With this image you can see that in post-processing I cropped out the horizontal horizon and removed the bench and railing on the left. This left a nice diagonal line guiding the eye from the bottom right of the image up through to the bride. Ideally, I would remove the light pole which shoots though the tail of the vail but that bit would take me quite a while to remove.

Second, especially when shooting outside, be careful to position yourself or your subject so that you don’t get passing cars or nothing but sky in the background. Even worse are tall objects directly behind your subject. A building, a pole, or a tree can all too easily look like an extra appendage, an impalement or a bad costume.  More often than not the effect will be undesirable and sometimes even offensive.

Sep 30 2008

Welcome to the Trace’s Photo Blog

Hello, and let me start by saying thanks for taking a moment to browse the Images by Trace Photography blog! As photography is not a discrete science, I am continually learning, checking, trying new techniques, tools and tricks to produce better and more interesting images. I intend to post a varied collection of information related to photography as a hobby, as a profession and as a medium that, given today’s tools, can present the story of life like no other.

Here are a couple quick notes about what you will and will not find in this blog:

  • You won’t find the typical, namby-pamby “oh they were so wonderful to work with” or “they were so beautiful, and their love really came through in their photos.” First, if they were not wonderful to work with, I will not tell you. Second, I think you can get a beautiful image of almost anyone; it just takes the right setting, the right angle, the right light, the right lens, the right exposure and just the right moment.
  • You will find that I’ll post as often as possible, and I’ll do my best not to be too long winded. (I tend to stay really busy, so do not hold your breath.)
  • You will find tips and techniques for working with a photographer.
  • You will find photographer pet peeves and observations, at least mine.
  • You will find some equipment reviews and tips for turning your photos into meaningful artifacts which reflect your life and story.
  • You will find links to other photographers and photography related sites that I find interesting.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments. Thanks for visiting my blog!