How to make a spooky Halloween picture

 

A Halloween Nightmare
A Halloween Nightmare

In the process of learning to be a good photographer, there are several conceptual hurdles you have to pass.  The first one is how to properly control the three key elements of exposure (ISO, shutter speed, aperture) and make trade-offs between image quality, motion control, and depth of field.  Another, more difficult, hurdle is learning how to control light.

 

The strobist blog is a great resource for learning this stuff, and I was going back and reviewing one of the posts in David’s Lighting 102 series on the importance of position and distance.  A formal education in photography involves learning things like the Inverse Square Law, but the general idea is this.  The closer your light source is to your subject and the farther away the background, the less background you get in the picture.  And furthermore, this effect isn’t linear (this is where the “square” part comes in).  The effect gets more and more pronounced as you move the light source in.

Your initial thought at seeing the picture of the skeleton might be that it was taken in a dark room.  In fact, it was taken in our well-lit living room in the middle of the day as you can see here.

Photo setup
Photo setup

  As you can see, the light source is very close (a couple of feet) away from the subject.  To avoid blasting the subject and to emit as little light as possible, I have the flash dialed down to 1/16th power.  That’s more then enough light to illuminate the skeleton, but it won’t do much beyond that.  Also note that the flash is direct (i.e. not diffused with something like a shoot-through umbrella or a stofen cap).  The goal here is to make this thing look scary, and harsh light is good at that.  Finally, the flash is off-camera and triggered with a Pocket Wizard (a little radio transmitter).

 

Once the flash is set, the next set of decisions are around the exposure controls.  The thing to know here though is that you’ll need to shoot in Manual exposure mode.  The effect being done requires virtually no light to be collected at the sensor except that which comes from the flash.  If you used one of the auto-exposure modes, it would try to go for a balanced exposure that captured the background.  But, we don’t want the background – so we need to take control and ignore the camera as it yells at us and tells us we’re grossly under-exposing the image.  For those who care, I ended up shooting at my camera’s maximum sync speed (shutter speed of 1/250th of a second) at ISO 100 and an aperture of f/20.  Without the flash, that combination of exposure controls would have resulted in a near-black picture.  But the flash lights the subject and we’re good to go.

The final step was to make a slight adjustment in the image on the computer.  As shot, the background isn’t completely black – but it’s pretty darn close.  So, the adjustment I made on the computer was to use the Levels control (almost any photo editing program has one of these) and force anything that was close to black down to black.

Why I'm voting for Barack Obama

While some of my blog entries are meant to share personal or family experiences with others close to me, other entries are more personal – attempts to capture things for later reflection.  So it is with this entry.  I hold no illusions that this will convince (or even matter to) anyone else.  But, I wanted to write down why I’m voting for Barack Obama as a way of explaining to my future self just what I was thinking.

It has taken awhile to get to this point.  I used to be a huge fan of John McCain.  And I’m a guy who has voted Republican about 80% or more of the time.  My foundational principles are a bit all over the place to the point that I would be un-electable (e.g. I favor legalizing civil gay marriage but am pro-life), but historically, it has been the Republicans that have come closest to representing my view of things.  But, to borrow a theme from Clayton Christensen’s brilliant “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, it is my view that the Republican party has “overshot the market”.  Instead of being the party that represented realism to the Democratic Party’s idealism, I now find the Republican party too often represents extremism.

The most recent Gallup survey says that a staggering 91% of the country believes we are headed in the wrong direction.  I wonder who the other 9% are.  There are many things wrong with our country, but among them I would include:

  1. An exaggerated sense of American exceptionalism
  2. Devaluing accomplishment and intellect in favor of electing leaders who “are like me”
  3. Lack of accountability and personal responsibility
  4. The sacrifice of some of principles most precious to this country in the name of security
  5. A failure to properly balance our long term interests with our short term ones (at both a national and personal level)
  6. A serious lack of fiscal discipline

I don’t pretend to know the right answers to all of these things, but I’m voting for Barack Obama for two primary reasons.

First, I think he has the superior intellect and temperament to attack the problems affecting us.  I certainly don’t agree with all of his policies (e.g. he can be a bit of a demogauge about the rich and corporations), but from what I’ve seen, he has demonstrated a maturity and judgment that makes me trust him more than McCain.  If nothing else, I find him far more credible in the one area where I think we can make the most progress in the next decade – remaking our infrastructure to one that supports and encourages renewable sources of energy.

Second, as I said above, I think the Republican party needs to move back towards the principles that used to be at its core – individual liberty, fiscal discipline, and cautious realism in matters both foreign and domestic.  It is my feeling that the difficult work of rebuilding the party can’t and won’t happen if they don’t taste defeat.  In the Republicans were toddlers, you’d say they needed a “time out” to think about what they’ve done wrong and see if they can behave better in the future.

So, after watching closely for several months, I’m no longer in the camp of the undecided voters.  My mind is set.  Vote Barack Obama.

And so it begins

 

Life after 40
Life after 40

I had my annual (actually a bit less frequent than that) eye exam today.  And for the first time in my life, I’m going to start using glasses.  It turns out the lens in your eye continues to grow as you age, and eventually, your eye muscles can’t contract the lens as easily for near focus items.  For most people, this happens right around the time they turn 40, plus or minus a few years.

Fortunately for me, my far focus is fantastic.  Also good is the fact that both of my eyes are nearly identical.  The end result is that I’m able to skate by with a cheap pair of +125 reading glasses I picked up at the drug store for about ten bucks.  Still, I’m not quite the spring chicken I used to be.

The windstorm of 2008

 

A tree that was sheared off in our front yard
A tree that was sheared off in our front yard

On September 14, the remnants of Hurricane Ike combined with a powerful upper level jet stream, resulting in about 6 hours of hurricane force (70-75mph gusts) winds in central Ohio.  Hundreds of thousands of people lost power – with some having to wait up to a week to get it restored.  The damage around town is pretty significant, with downed trees and limbs everywhere.  We lost a couple of major trees and were without power for about 10 hours (we were lucky).  Westerville Schools were canceled for two days.

Camping Trip 2008

 

Roasting marshmallows around the fire
Roasting marshmallows around the fire

This past weekend, our family joined two other families in a campout at Hocking Hills State Park.  Although the weather was hot through the day, we avoided the raindrops.  Highlights include:

  1. Cooking in a borrowed cast iron dutch oven turned out great – we used it for four meals with the best being a pork tenderloin mixed with veggies. 
  2. Hiking at 3 of the 6 areas in the park (Old Man’s Cave, Rock House, and Conkle’s Hollow)
  3. Swimming in the campground pool
All in all, it was a great time and I think we’re going to have to go back to this location again next summer.  Here are a few pictures I’ve posted to Flickr of the event.

Spring Break 2008 – New England

Mayflower IIOur family just back from a fun trip east for Spring Break.  We flew into and out of Portsmouth, NH on Skybus – our first trip on the discount airline (our tickets were $35 each way).  From there, we drove northwest around Lake Winnipesaukee (visiting Julie’s old camp in the process) and then onto Portland, Maine where we spent the night.  The next day, we headed to Boston and spent the next several days seeing the sights.   Of course, pictures tell a better story, so check out the photo gallery of the trip.