We have Solar!

Recently, we signed with SunGrade Solar to install solar panels on our roof. March 15, 2018 was an epic day, I got to witness the installation! We’re so excited to finally have clean, renewable energy! And, just in time before SoCal Edison institutes changes, raising the cost-per-kilowatt hour rates during peak usage. Our energy costs could double during the hot summer months when air conditioning and power is used the heaviest. We took advantage of a sweet deal where we pay nothing out of pocket. We don’t own the panels and we lock in to a fixed Kilowatt hour rate, only adjusted annually for inflation. We can now breath easy about our energy bills. And, the roof and panels are fully insured by SunGrade. We have the option to buy the system in five years, but we think sticking to the plan is the best for us. SunGrade Solar benefits from the government incentive and will receive a $10K credit they will use to offset their cost of the panels and installation. Sadly, this benefit ends after 2018, so our incentive was to do this now before we miss out.

I spent the day hanging out with the two-man installation team, and learned much about photovoltaic solar power. They were kind enough to allow me to photograph them at work and happy to sign my model releases in exchange for the photos and some drone footage, so I fired up my drone and got some good footage, and got some wonderful shots with my DSLR as well.

I scrambled and put together this short video which I hope you’ll enjoy it:

Solar Panel Installation Day

Turning Daylight into Blue Hour

One of the incredible advantages of using strobes, either portable speedlites or larger, more powerful monolights is the ability to have complete creative control over your photography. Many photographers are frustrated using flash, and don’t like the results and give up, but with practice and some experimentation, you would be amazed how great flash is and will add an enormous capability to your photography repertoire.

I was shooting in bright sunlight but wanted the look of blue hour for a quick portrait of my daughter Kimberly a few years ago. I reached into my bag of tricks and by customizing the white balance, I could turn the ambient light blue.

Unfortunately, the subject also turns blue, and unless that’s the look you want, can be pretty unflattering. The way to fix this is by adding a strobe. I gelled a speedlite with a full cut of CTO (color temperature orange) gel to overpower the blue tint on my subject and warm her up to mimic the look of the directional light of the setting sun. Of course, you’ll need to experiment with how much orange gel to use, you may prefer a 1/4 or 1/2 cut CTO. The point is, you have control. I’ve used this technique many times before, and love the effect.

There are some gotcha’s. Strobes create shadows that need to look natural, so strobe placement is critical if you want a realistic result. I like to place my flash the same side where the sun is, or near where it will be when setting. If the sun is higher up, the effect may not work unless you crop in tight to avoid seeing errant shadows that are different than your strobe.

Overcast days can work better as there’s no natural sun direction, the sky is one big light source, so shadows are diffuse and less of an issue.

Here’s examples showing a normal exposure with correct white balance, and subsequent example showing the customized, cooler white balance with gelled strobe added:

Here’s the specs for the blue hour shot:

1/125 @ f/4
ISO 640
93mm (Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM)
Canon 5D Mark II
Color Temperature 3200K (tungsten)
Full Cut CTO Gel, Canon 580EXII Speedlite (off camera, right side)

I have an array of gels from various sources including the standard color correction gels and a bunch of theatrical colors for effects. However for speedlites, I mainly use David Honl’s, pre-cut gel system, and they’re great. There are others that are equally great, such as MagMod which attach using magnets, or ExpoImage’s Rogue Gel system, to name a few. They’re all good choices, but the MagMod system can be pricey. For an economical system, the XP PhotoGear Speedlite Kit is an amazing value for a complete kit, although I have not tried this one. Most of these systems can be purchased ala cart or in a kit.

See here:

If you have any questions, please reply in the comments below. Happy speedliting!

Ivan

Infrared Film

I’ve been reflecting on what influenced my life as a photographer recently, so I thought I’d share a memory.  By the way, that’s me, in the “orange” no. 33 jersey playing ball. I loved sports.

Sometimes, looking back is a good way to move forward and grow, but it can also be nostalgic. I always enjoyed my fathers photographs, and I recall he always had his Nikon to document our family. Looking back at some 35mm photographs he had taken years ago, I found a few infra-red photographs of me as a kid playing football on our front lawn with some friends. I’m guessing I was eight or nine.

Some pretty creative photography that I’m thrilled to have. The memory of that day is long gone, and only one of the faces in those shots is recognizable. A kid named Scott who was from a family we met while on vacation at the New Jersey shore one summer. I have a faint memory that Scott and his parents were invited over by my mother, so we played while our parents had a get together. It was probably the last time our families hung out and I can only guess was due to the inconvenience of living far away.

I wonder why my father chose infrared film to shoot this, but his eye was excellent, getting shots in tight or back away but in a position to tell a story. He was an amazing photographer who’s influence I’ll carry with me forever.

At 90, soon to be 91, he is in declining health and soon, in need of full time care. I’m looking forward to be back to visit and spend some quality time shortly.  the same home and yard where these shots were taken so many years ago.

The takeaway is, go back and look at old family photos and scan them. You may be inspired and find some pleasant surprises as I did here!

Ivan

 

 

The best beach!

 

On the east coast where I lived and grew up, there sits a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks. Well known for taking the brunt of many east coast storms and hurricanes, it’s a beautiful place with wild horses and it has tons of charm, fantastic food and famous southern hospitality. For a half dozen years, we did the twelve-hour road trip from Northern New Jersey to the Outer Banks for our annual week-long family vacation to Corrolla, on the northern end of the island. To get there is not easy, there’s no connecting bridge from Virginia Beach, so you have to make a long, round loop inland before heading eastward, over the Wright Memorial bridge, then onto the Outer Banks. Of historical importance, Kitty Hawk is known for the Wright Brothers whom in 1902 solved the problem of powered and controlled flight. On the very site of their first flight is the Wright Brothers Memorial as a tribute to them. The National Park Service has a ranger station there with historical artifacts, a replica of the first flyer, markers and the rails where they launched the first flight and park rangers give regular talks at the visitors center. It’s well worth a visit to see this amazing place.

Here’s a satellite view of the drive-on beach just north of Corolla in Corova, using GPS coordinates in Lightroom:

GPS Corolla Drive-on Beach

I was not much of a photographer in 2006, only reserved for documenting family activities and life events, and cell phones did not have cameras that were any good. My camera of choice was a Canon Powershot Pro1. A pretty amazing point-and-shoot with a fast f/2.4 lens that happened to be an “L” red ring zoom lens affixed to it. A sweet camera, it had a whopping 8 megapixel sensor, which was large for it’s time. I wish I still had it, but unfortunately the zoom motor broke when I loaned it to my daughter and it was not repairable.

I shot the panorama above with the Powershot Pro1 in 2006, using the auto-stitch pano feature. For a 2006 camera, not bad, but I certainly can do better shooting the pano manually if I shot it today. If you zoom in, you can our Jeep Cherokee Laredo on the beach!

Since moving to the west coast last year, we’ve visited some wonderful beaches, but I miss the charm and beauty of the Outer Banks the most. Sorry LA, so far the outer banks has you beat in my book!

Cheers,
Ivan

In case you didn’t know.

Beloved by many, 500px was founded and developed in Toronto, Canada in 2009 by Oleg Gutsol and Evgeny Tchebotarev (to whom I was lucky enough to meet on a photowalk in NYC).  I learned recenlty, 500px was purchased by VCP, know as the “Getty Images” of China. No doubt, a big pay day for Oleg and Evgeny. VCP also bought Corbis. For those who are unfamiliar, Corbis is a high-quality digital stock image provider, developed by Bill Gates of Microsoft. I used Corbis many times in my graphic designer days, and I’m on 500px and love seeing the best photos there.

Why does this matter? I’m not sure, I hope it’s good, but not so good that China is now the world leader beating out the U.S. in acquisitions of advanced technology, development of new technologies, manufacturing, and surprisingly, clean energy. Yep, they’ve woken up and realized they need a cleaner environment and are leapfrogging into renewable energy at a fast pace.

Currently in the U.S., we can’t even pass a simple bill to protect our kids in schools from assault weapons. Shame on us.

Read more on 500px’s acquisition by VCP on fstoppers’ web site.

7 Minute Solar

Much thanks to Jeff Butler who saw the photo I entered in the Department of Energy’s “Hit me with your best SunShot” photo contest. The photo won best in show and Jeff chose to share it on his 7 Minute Solar website. I’m grateful for the recognition but more importantly, pleased to know there are good people like Jeff who advocate Clean Energy and saving our planet.

Thanks Jeff.
More about Jeff.

See the article here:

Sunday Solar Photo Of The Day February 25, 2018

My WordPress theme crashed!

During a maintenance check of my blog, I received an alert that my current theme was out of date and required an update. Unfortunately, during the update, my blog crashed!

Oh no! I was afraid I lost everything! Fortunately, all was ok and recovered after a tech call to GoDaddy. They’ve been great helping me fix occasional issues. Unfortunately, my  beloved theme I worked so hard to customize, was no longer usable. I had to find a new theme and retro fit my content and re-configure it, including all my social media links. UGH!

So. Welcome back to my blog and it’s new look! It’s pretty close to the last one, but more important, content is back and working as it did. My apologies for any inconvenience.

Cheers,
Ivan

Audi R8: Before-After

From a recent shoot, I had the privilege of photographing an Audi r8 super car. I had the car for a brief time, and no rigging was permitted, so to make a rolling shot, I edited it in post using Photoshop. Here’s the before and after:

Befor – After

Lenticular Clouds

While driving home on California State Route 14 from Nevada, the winds began to gust and I noticed some unusual cloud formations. I was nearing Red Rocks Canyon State Park when I pulled over and took this shot. These are rare lenticular clouds, and yes, those iridescent purple hues are real. if you’ve never seen these clouds before, they are spectacular! I hope you get a chance to see them some day.

Cheers,
Ivan

Tips for Photographing Into the Sun at Sunrise or Sunset

Los Angeles Sunrise
Sunrise over Los Angeles from the top of Kenneth Hahn Park

The settings for the shot above, I used a 100-400mm zoom lens at 200mm, 1/3200 second @ f/5.0, ISO 125

Photographing into the sun can be tricky, but if you follow a few tips, you can get spectacular results!

  1. Get there early, before the sun rises or sets, find a spot and setup so you are ready to shoot when the action begins. The sun sets and rises very quickly, you will only have a few minutes to get that iconic shot. There are several apps Sunrise-Sunset, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (available for android and iphone) that can help you find out the exact time at your location.
  2. Shoot in the Raw format to retain the broadest range of colors and tones. You will need to process your Raw files in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or other editor. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet you can find to help you get started, if you are new at processing Raw files. An explanation or lesson is too lengthy for this blog post.
  3. Shoot in Aperture Priority, because the light will be changing rapidly. The sharpest part of the lens is usually two or three stops from wide open, I recommend starting there. F/5.0 – f/8 in this range, will also work well. Or, for more drama, try stopping your aperture down (very small opening) to f/22. This will enhance the rays coming off the sun, giving them a starburst look.
  4. If you have a lens that has an image stabilizer built in, only use it if you are hand-holding. If you are using a tripod, turn image stabilization off. There will be a switch on the lens, if it has it. Just remember to turn it back on when you are finished, otherwise your next photo session could have some blurry shots.
  5. Hot Tip! Use exposure compensation to underexpose your shots. Sunrise and sunsets work best underexposed by a stop or two less.
  6. Do not use any sunset/sunrise automatic modes, if your camera has them. They are fully automatic modes designed to assist those with no technical knowledge, but in most cases these modes will not give you the best results.
  7. Tripods are recommended. Although you will be shooting at fast shutter speed, I still recommend a tripod. It forces you to be more deliberate with your composition.
  8. Auto white balance is ok, but if you want to more control of the warm tones, set the white balance to shade. This will increase and enhance the orange hues.
  9. Remove the UV filter if you have one on your lens. I stopped using these filters long ago, and found they offered no benefit, and in fact could make things worse. Light will bounce of the filter and refract all around the inside of the lens, creating bright areas. These filters can also reduce contrast and saturation because the glass often has no coatings.
  10. Meter the scene away from the sun itself, on a medium-bright areas in the frame. never directly into or on the disc of the sun itself. Use Evaluative (Canon/Sony) or Matrix (Nikon) metering modes.
  11. Turn off Auto focus. Manually pre-focus on an object (cloud, mountain or building) in the distance nearest the sun. A tripod is recommended, and this will prevent your auto-focus from hunting, if it has trouble focussing. Because you only have a brief time to get the shot, any delays will cut your shot count down and you may miss the best shot.

Composition Tips

  1. Clouds are your friend. Best sunset/sunrise shots are right after a rainfall, when the clouds are beginning to clear. Although, any clouds can add more drama to your shots. Low lying fog or mist can also add drama.
  2. Find an interesting foreground object, a building, tree, people, anything that adds interest, and creates depth, and include them in your composition.
  3. Avoid centering your horizon line. Set the horizon either closer to the bottom or to the top of the frame, dependent upon what is more interesting, the sky or the foreground. Most likely, it’s the sky, so place the horizon lower. The rule of thirds overlay in your viewfinder can help you compose. But, rules can always be broken, so do what you think works best.
  4. I like using a telephoto lens for sunrise/sunset shots. Any focal length from 100mm – 400mm will work great. At long focal length, the sun will appear oversized, and the foreground and background will become compressed (appear closer together). Conversely, if you prefer to make the sun look small and the scene to appear more vast, use a wide angle lens.

Happy photographing!

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