Speaking in Driggs, ID

Eclipse Photography Talk

I will be speaking in Driggs, Idaho, on August 9, 2017, at 7pm about the total eclipse in eastern Idaho. This eclipse will streak all the way across America. My inspiring talk will focus on photography, viewing, and safety.

This won’t be a boring science and photography talk. Instead, I will entertain, educate, and inspire the audience.

Toilet Paper

Why does toilet paper matter to someone watching the total eclipse on August 21, 2017? Attend the talk and you’ll find out. It’s more important than you think.

I’ll add fun, laughs, and guidance to what the totality will be like. Plus, I’ll provide plenty of pointers on photography and viewing.

In the News

Read more about my talk in this Teton Valley News article.

Total Solar Eclipse Guide author to speak at Senior Center


Beautiful butterfly lighting

While working on a full product catalog photography shoot, one of the fun things I’ve

Beautiful light for beautiful products
Beautiful light for beautiful products

been able to do is use some classic portraiture lighting techniques, like the butterfly lighting in the photo on the right.

Many times, photographers will use light tents for their shoots, giving their products a certain look.  And that look is just like everyone else’s look.  Although light tents are very handy, there is only so much you can do with them.

You can place lights all around them, chose to use just one light, and add variations on variations.  That seems great, but the surrounding darkness looks the same.  And with very reflective objects, you can see the box frame.  It requires lots of post-production work in photo editing software to fix that.  I very much prefer to get the image right in camera, as I don’t like wasting mine or my clients’ time correcting errors out later.

I don’t want my client’s products to look like everyone elses.  They hire me because I

Crystals at By Nature Gallery
Crystals at By Nature Gallery

give them a unique look with very high quality.

When photographing crystals with light tents, the highlights become very mushy in the translucent stone.  Soft light removes the texture of the crystal surface.

Instead, I use hard lights to make the image pop.  It takes more work but the results are better.  The are reflections and hot spots to deal with – that’s the challenge and where practiced skill comes in.  Strip boxes, light tents and umbrellas take away those hot spots but they also soften the texture.  Texture is very important in these images, as it really gives feeling to the crystals.  Without those hard edges, the above piece would look like plastic.  People don’t go into By Nature Gallery to purchase fake plastic rocks – they want the real thing.

I do my best to deliver the real thing.

Pearls luster photographs

Pearls have been one of the most difficult things to photograph I’ve run into yet.

Milky pearls
Milky pearls

Bison being aggressive toward me were nothing compared to these tiny little round spheres.

My first photos were too milky and bead like, as you can see in the photograph at the right.

Although I created the nearly perfect light tent with no particularly hard edges, this ended up being a total failure for pearls.  Many objects are very nice with uniform smooth lighting but not these.

According to what I saw on PearlParadise.com, I was making these nice pearls look like they were of low quality.  That is because the edge of the reflection is not sharp.  “You should be able to see your reflection in the pearls.”  For many things, I work hard to put a nice, smooth gradient on.  Pearls are just the opposite.  The harder the edge of the reflection, making the pearl look more mirror-like, the better.

Fail on the first attempt.  Oops.

So, after studying pearl images from Mikimoto, I figured out their image magic of

Same pearls with luster
Same pearls with luster

how they make the pearl look round and lustrous.  It’s a combination of their pearl quality and using one of the types of classic portrait photography.  In many of their images, they use what is termed butterfly lighting.  Not all of their pearl images are like that but most are are a variation of it.

Of course, making this style of image requires a softbox and reflector.  As my awesome parents are shipping me my softbox, I’m going to have to figure out how to get by with what I have for now.  Using very non-photography items like paper, cardboard, posterboard, and the like, I’ll be able to create a make-shift softbox.  As you can see with the second image, the same strand of pearls as above looks much more lustrous.

Like all photography (and really, everything else), you have to keep working it and studying what was done.  Then you can match and maybe even go beyond what anyone else has done.  This takes lots of effort and keeps you up late at night.  But if you keep at it, chances are you will succeed.

Just don’t give up.

Diamond Necklaces

I’m enjoying studio photography and had the chance to photograph Kelly’s

Kelly's diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.
Kelly’s diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.

diamond necklace by Christian Tse today.  I made the first image on black to make the piece stand out.  It was actually pretty easy to get the background to go within 3 points of complete black.  This will be part of my intermediate photography and strobe photography class in spring 2014 put on by the Jackson Hole Art Association.

The second image was done on white, similar to what most jewelry companies do.  Although almost all products are done on what, PSOW, I prefer the black for this sort of piece with white gold and diamonds.  Even though the image on the metal is the same in both

Kelly's necklace by Christian Tse on white
Kelly’s necklace by Christian Tse on white

images, the effect of a black versus a white background is pretty dramatic.  It’s really a personal preference.  Most clients prefer things on white because they can cut the background out in Photoshop and then do whatever they need with it.  I prefer to get everything right in the camera and not have to do hardly anything in PS.  The less time I spend in post, the happier I am.

The photographs I’ve done for By Nature Gallery have required a pure, 0,0,0 background, meaning I have a LOT of work to do in photoshop.  Even though I can control the light really well, getting a true zero black background is essentially impossible.  So, their work always requires a lot of post.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which one you like better.

Necklace setup shot
Necklace setup shot

I’ve also included a setup shot so you can see what goes into making one of these images.  I really wish I had one more Nikon Speedlight to give me an extra edge and ability to sculpt the image.  It’d only be another $500.  Haha!

Prep for teaching: Watch at the South Pole

One thing I had been meaning to do for a while was photograph the

Casio G-Shock ProTrek PRW5100 that went to the South Pole
Casio G-Shock ProTrek PRW5100 that went to the South Pole

watch It’s Jackson Time, one of my expedition sponsors, provided me with.  Ted, the owner, was very good and made sure I had an excellent expedition time piece to trek across Antarctica with.

Although the Casio ProTrek PRW5100-1 is no Rolex, it has certain features I loved.  Having analog for checking time at a glance was wonderful.  It had been forever since I had an analog watch and I never realized how much more quickly I could watch my time during skiing.  Also, the analog face does not develop lag like an LCD nor does it turn black when looking at it with polarized glasses.  And, I could leave the watch out and still read it.  LCD-based watches would turn to unreadable mush at -40 deg. F.

One of the purposes for photographing this watch was to fine-tune my product shooting skills for a few classes I’m teaching at the Art Association of Jackson Hole.  I will be teaching four different classes.  Stay tuned for their description, purpose and audience.  I will be targeting intermediate shooters with one course and have a class on strobe (flash) photography.  Hence the above photograph.

The class dates and exact description will be forthcoming.

ProTrek PRW5100 unretouched
ProTrek PRW5100 unretouched, what it looked like after the south pole

Note: The above watch went with me to the South Pole.  It’s a little more beat up than the above shows.  It took a sick amount of Photoshop work to take out most of the dings, scratches, fuzzies, and specs.

Here’s the original image before editing:

Just because he has a fancy home and talks fast…

While doing a little reading on the Spray and Pray photography method

Spray button
Spray button

people always joke about, I came up with a name – David Jay.  After a little reading, it seems he (used to) sell a 10 step approach to theoretically making megabucks in photography.  One of the techniques was just shooting wildly at an event and praying something comes out.  It seemed that whatever he charged for his system (code for scam) on this site, thephotosystem.com, gave you little.   Yet Jay figured out how to get people to pay for his “advice” and has done well for himself.

If you think just holding the shutter down will get you  something valuable, you are sorely mistaken.  Especially at weddings – those are the most sensitive events you could ever photograph.  Apparently David Jay photographed one couple’s wedding and he made a neat little slide presentation during the reception.  It all seemed to go well.  Then the couple received the DVDs of their wedding and were shocked.  The vast collection of images they received were junky, poorly exposed and motion smeared.

Read the email traffic between Stacy and David Jay.

Now there is the chance that this email traffic is all bogus.  Maybe.  But here is Jay’s response page:

David Jay’s response page

So this at least appears to be true.  You will have to be the judge of that.  If I had majorly blundered a shoot, I would never try to sell the customer additional web products, I would just try my best to amend a poor situation.

The system
Why are all things labeled “system” a scam?

But then notice that David Jay’s photo technique site is down for “revamping”.  And it’s very easy to find other forums talking about his photography methods.  And, he’s no longer doing photography.  Read Gary Fong’s (Lightsphere inventor)  commentary here about these methods.  Fong indicates that though he does not agree with Jay’s teaching or shooting methods, he does admit that Jay is a brilliant businessman.

The theory is that press, regardless of good or bad, is essential to making money.  Keeping people on your website and selling purportedly valuable products is one of the ways Jay made his money.  But looking on his site, you’ll see that he’s positioned himself as a speaker and must get plenty of invitations to do talks, even though his actual product is questionable at best.  No doubt the guy has charisma, but so do….well, you know.

Compare this to the Teton Photography Group symposium held in Jackson Hole on September 7, 2013.  Here, the presenters did not sell fake techniques of just shooting a bunch of random stuff and hoping that something comes out of it.  None of the presenters, all professional photographers, advocated doing anything of the sort.  Instead, each of them presented methodical techniques for improving images.  The 70 attendees received a full day of ideas and inspiration for their photography and, at least I hope, came away with something valuable.  Based on the feedback I received as a speaker, that was the case.

Jay’s suggestion of not bringing a lot of fancy equipment to your first few events seems

Untested weapon
Untested weapon

well founded.  You don’t want to be overwhelmed.  But why in the world would you show up with gear you are unfamiliar with and put someone’s special event on the line?  I for one would never do that – I would feel horrible if someone relied on me to make beautiful images of their event and then came back with yellowish, blurry junk.  My rule has always been:

No untested weapons in the field.

If you want to learn more valuable techniques, there are far better out there.  Photography at the Summit (Sep 29-Oct 4, 2013) is one of them.  It’s expensive but you get to work with real photographers who produce real products.  They don’t just talk but can and do deliver.


Since there seems to be an amazing demand for this information, I have begun work on a photography DVD series.  It won’t tout bogus spray and pray methods or other junk.  It will get you away from the Green Mode or P setting, though.

Fong related a horror story (half way down on this page) about a photographer who went


to an international shoot, tried manual instead of P(rogram), and blew it.  She tried photographic basics at the customer’s expense.  Again, it may not be true.  But the potential is there.  This DVD series will be full of useful information on improving your photographs and stepping up your game.

Masters of the darkroom

These two articles bring me back to my 4×5 and 35mm darkroom printing days:

Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing

Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom

B&W dodged and burned Arizona Memorial
B&W dodged and burned Arizona Memorial

My dad, brother and I converted my old bedroom at my parents’ house into a dark room.  It took some time to get the setup right but we finally got it going in the late 90’s.  I had quite a good time in there developing film and printing negatives.

There was a lot of work to black and white printing, as you see in the above two articles.  It’s not just getting the film to the right density and then cooking some paper through it.  These articles talk about the dodging and burning process but don’t go over the paper grading, test strips, water washing and all the other minutia that goes into making a great print.  As I worked in the dark room, I soon realized that it would take a great deal of time to become very good at it.

Power Retouche B&W convert
Power Retouche B&W convert, no darkroom work yet

We had the enlarger, several lenses, and a complete processing system to get water into and out of the bedroom.  It took a little piping and rerouting but end the end it worked brilliantly.  Thank goodness for powerful sump pumps.

Ultimately, once I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D70, my film days ended.  As much as I liked shooting film, the cost of it (without processing!) during a 3 week trip to China matched the cost of the D70.  On top of that, the $7/roll processing cost for the Fuji Velvia, Kodak E100VS and rolls of high-speed B&W made the D70 cost a no brainer.  Then there was the joy of scanning and tweaking each one of those slides.  Onto digital I went.

Now, with great Photoshop CS6 plugins like Power Retouche B&W Studio, I can harken back to my black and white film days.  The only thing missing is the smell of the chemicals.  There was just something about it that made you feel like a mad chemist and physicist artist all at once.

How I miss those days.

Jackson Hole Roller Derby

Last night the Jackson Hole Roller Derby Juggernauts, normally the Valley Vixens and Grizzly Belles, became the Heros and Villains in what

I said stay down!
I said stay down!

was their last match of the season.  They have competed all throughout the summer of 2013 with different teams.  To make things interesting, each team dressed up as either super villains or super heros.  It made their normally entertaining costumes absolutely outrageously funny.

One of the photos I ended up with is on the right.  The fun thing about photography is that sometimes you end up capturing something that totally did not exist.  In the photo, it looks like the super hero is going for the knock out punch on the super villain.  The best part is the super hero looks like she is just going to clock the super villain more as a slightly irritating job and without anger.  It as though she said, “Look, I have to defeat you and then get back to my newspaper job.  Don’t take this personally.”

Team costumes
Team costumes

The technical

Photographing roller derby is fairly difficult, as the rink is dark and the racers are tightly packed in, so there are a lot of blurry and out of focus pictures.  One trick I did was to shoot in 12-bit raw, intentionally underexposing a stop, allowing for a faster shutter speed and slightly wider depth of field.  The plan was to get sharper images and sacrifice a stop of light.  Since I was shooting in raw, I would easily be able to recover one stop of exposure in Lightroom and just apply it across the board.  I have used this technique when shooting bands, too.

Most of the shots were done at 1/320 sec at f3.2 and at ISO 1600.  On the Nikon D300s, ISO

Pain of blurry shots
Blurry shots are painful

1600 is fairly grainy.  Although that is not ideal, blurry images from a slower shutter speed or shallower depth of field is far worse.  Grain can be fixed or ignored, blur cannot.

I shot with the Nikon 180mm f2.8 and the 85mm f1.4D lenses.  Although I would have liked to use a 70-200mm f2.8 VRII, that lens is a little out of the budget at $2300.  Since I don’t shoot too many sporting events, it really isn’t an issue.  Plus, the new lens is a G version, meaning there is no aperture ring, making it impractical to use the lens for time lapse videos.

Getting the technical moon shot

To get the moon shot using Ansel Adam’s oft-quoted exposure formula, used for his

Sailing the moon
Sailing the moon, Snow King, Jackson Hole

famous Moonrise over Hernandez:

Take the square root of your ISO – that becomes the aperture.

  • ISO100 = f11
  • ISO200 = f14

Then, take the luminance of the object.  In this case, the full moon is 250 cd/ft^2, relatively low on the horizon.  That becomes the shutter speed to put the object in zone V, 1/250 sec.  To bump up the moon to zone VII, a more desirable target to make the moon bright but not blown out, cut the shutter speed to 1/60 sec.

In the digital era, people probably don’t use the zone system too much any more.  But, being a former B&W photographer with a dark room, I still think that way.  And, it still works.

Moon exposure
Moon exposure

I have used this setting with proportionate variation to the ISO and aperture, to great effect over the years.  It’s much easier than trying to meter the moon.  Interestingly, the moon is the exact same exposure as daylight for zone V.  I’ve seen websites reporting luminance measurements that well exceed this calculation, yet it works well every time.  My Sekonic L-508c light meter does not have enough zoom to fill the meter area, as the moon is about a half degree wide and the meter area is one degree.

Also, a full moon is 250 cd/ft^2 when full.  The exposure drops quickly as the moon enters its gibbous, half and crescent phases.  Yet, the above shot is very close to the above calculation.

The shot was taken at f5.0 at 1/500 at ISO 200.  Lets see if the math works out.  My Nikon D300s was set to ISO 200 = f14.  Let’s just say the moon was full, so that’s 1/250

Moon exposure on D300s
Moon exposure on D300s

sec.  To get the moon to zone VII, I want to shoot at 1/60 sec.  (1/250 – 1/125 – 1/60).  Since I was shooting with a 180mm lens, 1/60 of a second would have gotten me a nice, blurry image.  So, I needed to shoot at a higher speed.  I chose 1/500 of a second, 3 stops above 1/60 (1/60 – 1/125 – 1/250 – 1/500).

That meant I had to open my aperture 3 stops to keep the exposure equal.  Lets Just fudge the calculated aperture to f16 for easier calculations for a moment. Drop the aperture to f5.6 (f16 – f11 – f8 – f5.6).  I wanted just a tiny bit brighter on the moon, so I dropped the aperture to f5.0.

Hence, the above shot was taken at 1/500 at f5.0 at ISO 200.  Conveniently, the sky metered just right to make a rich blue, so I just ran with what the camera gave me.  Had the sky been completely dark, the above calculations still would work.  My paraglider would have just been, had he/she been in front of the moon, a nice silhouette.


Over 70 years later, Ansel Adams was still right.  I always wonder where he got that equation from.  Probably an optics professor (or friend at Kodak) buddy of his.

One handy reference for shooting the moon is this site, Solar Calculator 2.2.  Find your location, click the moon tab and you’ll be able to see what the moon’s azimuth will be.  It’s pretty handy.

There are lots of phone apps out there to do this, too.  I’ve not figured out which one I’ll purchase, as they’re not cheap.  But once I decide on one, it will be posted here.