Monthly Archives: September 2012

Elite Goalies hockey camp.

Mike Valley and the gang.
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Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work for Dallas Stars goalie coach Mike Valley.  Mike is the owner and operator of Elite Goalies, who provides a mentorship program, strength and conditioning dvds, private training, and elite camps.

Mike Valley (left) and Brian Elliott

Mike Valley (left) and St Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.
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Mike was a goaltender at the University of Wisconsin (my hometown), and has played in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks as well.  During one of the camps I photographed, St Louis Blues (and former University of Wisconsin) goaltender Brian Elliott (above image, on the right) was there to assist Valley in drills and shooting.  It was outstanding to meet Mr Elliott and watch both him and Valley interact with the goalies.  I’ll admit, I never really knew that much about what hockey goalies need, do, or think… but I have a lot more respect for them now, that is certain.

Mike Valley shooting on Josh Robinson

Mike Valley shooting on Dallas Stars Prospect Josh Robinson.
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I don’t know Mike well, but he’s so easy to get along with, and really polite off the ice.  On the ice, he’s gonna make you work your ass off, but he’s able to get the most out of you, and that’s the idea of his camps in the first place.  All three camps I shot for him and EG were different, and I met some great people like Valley, Elliott, Justin Goldman, Landon Peterson, Josh Robinson, Peter Emery, Adam Clark, and Mitch Thompson.  It takes a special kind of person to voluntarily get in the way of frozen pucks fired at high speed.  As far as the camps themselves, man I tell ya, there’s nothing I enjoy more than showing up at a rink and photographing; absolutely nothing.  Being on the ice and being able to go wherever I needed to be in order to get the shot was a thrill.  I even managed to not get hit by stray pucks! I love meeting the players, and being so close to the best sport in the world.

Landon Peterson

University of Wisconsin Badgers goaltender Landon Peterson.
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Photographing hockey is something that I absolutely love to do, and I will continue to do so as long as I’m able to.  Being able to work with some of the best guys in it was incredible to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity.

Here are some more pictures from the camps:

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Locked out.

Penguins_6069

Penguins Hoodie.
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The National Hockey League locked out its players at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, September 16th… its fourth shutdown since 1992.  The Owners and the NHLPA cannot figure out how to divide up $3.3 billion dollars.  I’m going to keep a potentially incredibly long post very, very short, and leave you with this:  I don’t care who’s at fault.  You all make a ridiculous amount of money.  How many of you (owners, executives, players, etc) live paycheck-to-paycheck?  That’s what I thought.  Sit down and figure it out.  It’s not even gone for the season yet, and I already miss Penguins hockey.

Interview with Mike Folden.

A year or so ago, I started talking with a photographer/videographer out of Washington named Mike Folden.  Take a minute, click on his name, and check out his amazing work, the guy is incredible.

IMG_7097.jpg

So Mike and I have been talking back and forth on Facebook the past year or so and I asked if he’d be receptive to some questions I had regarding his photography.  Not only receptive, he loved the idea and thanked ME…. stating it was nice to know that people out there are listening to what he’s saying.

Jack and Cash

I wrote up some questions for him, and he responded only a few days later.  That impressed me right off the bat, but not as much as how he responded.  Instead of just writing up the answers, he decided to make a video.  First class, I gotta say.  Here it is, for you all to see.

Behind The Shot: “Steps”

Welcome to the second installment of “Behind The Shot”.  In case you missed the first one, you can view it here.  Today we’re looking at “Steps“, a photo I took while out walking and testing out my brand new Canon 35mm f/1.4L.  The focus had been more or less “hit or miss” for me, but that could also have been me just learning the lens.  Either way, a walk around town was just what I needed to give this highly-touted lens a good look.  As you can imagine then, I wanted to shoot as wide-open as I could (that is, as low of an aperture number possible), so I put my 7D in aperture priority mode (as I do 99% of the time), ISO was at 100, and the shutter speed was 1/800th of a second.

As weird as it may sound, I wasn’t exactly focusing on anything in particular in this photo.  I started out focusing on the grass just on the far side of the step, but didn’t necessarily like the depth of field that gave me.  That shot is below:

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So I adjusted the focus just a little bit, and got the composition and depth of field I was looking for (below):

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Very similar, but a tiny bit different.  Look at the focus of the light green strip near the upper left and you’ll see a difference.  Editing was kind of involved on this one, so I’ll do a quick overview.  First, I used my “HCM” preset in Lightroom 4.  It stands for “high contrast meep”… I come up with really odd names for my presets.  Anyhow, here’s the shot just after that preset was applied:

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A huge difference, but way too black in the blacks, and the saturation is through the roof.  Plus, that green is way too, well, unnatural.  I slightly adjusted the green using the HSL panel in Lightroom, knocked the saturation down 37 (which evened out the green, and made that ridiculous blue on the houses in the upper left go bye-bye), got rid of the annoying lens-flare on the step, increased shadow detail by a whopping 83, and made the blacks less black.  The HCM preset has the black levels at  -100, which is why the image has that wicked contrast.  In “making the blacks less black”, I changed that setting from -100 to -95.  Here is that image:

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A much more reasonable image here, and yeah, I probably could have been done… but the upper right of the image was killin’ me, so I had to fix it.  I added a graduated filter to lighten the far upper right, and used some adjustment brushes to tame both the highlights and the shadows in the image.  An overview of those adjustments is below, as a 3-part animated GIF (the ‘before’ shot is the one with the upper right darkened, the one with red markings is where I adjusted, etc):

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So finally, another animated GIF from the original shot, to the final edit:

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I apologize for the crappy quality of the animated GIFS, but you can see a stark and dramatic change from the first to final image, even though it has seemingly mundane subject matter, and no real focus objective.  Hope you enjoyed this “Behind The Shot”.  More to come!

Gear Review: Wacom Intuos 5 Tablet

I purchased Wacom’s new Intuos 5 Touch tablet (in Medium; there are small and large as well) on July 9th.  It was awesome.  I had nothing but excellent things to say about it.

That’s right.

Had“.

So right there, I should tell you, I give this a 2 out of 5 star rating.  My review is long-winded, so get comfortable.  First, the good things:

The first week I had the tablet I was having the time of my life editing my photos in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop (CS5).  It really is a lot easier to get things done in those applications.  Selectively masking is FAR easier when you have the control and versatility of a pen.  Yes, it takes some getting used to, but you’ll be fine (I promise) and let me tell you why.  Remember getting used to a mouse?  You’re like “what the hell is this contraption???”, it’s not overly natural, but it has evolved into something very useful, that almost everybody knows how to use.  My point though, is that it was rough at first, wasn’t it?  Besides, artists would probably prefer to work with a pen than a mouse or trackball when creating.  It’s not hard to get used to using the pen, but if you are having trouble, just know that it IS worth it, and it WILL be worth your time.

The pen on the Intuos 5 (which does not use a battery, mind you) has not changed since the Intuos 4, still having all the same features like 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt (up to 60 degrees)… and comes with replaceable nibs that give the user a bit of a different feel.  There are two buttons on the pen as well, near where you hold it, and you can set commands for them as well.  In addition, there’s an “eraser” (think like the eraser on a pencil).  A great idea, but I found that flipping the pen over and using it as an eraser was just silly when I can simply press a key on the keyboard (or the tablet express keys) to do the same function.  Work smarter, not harder.  Anyhow, the tablet itself has a nice rubber casing, and looks very slick, as you can see in the picture above.  When you lightly press the express keys on the left side (don’t worry, the software allows you to left-handed folk to re-orient the tablet so the keys are on the right) an on-screen menu comes up and tells you how you have configured the express keys based on whatever application you are in.  The giant middle-circle-button-thinger is a scroll wheel (clockwise, counter-clockwise) that has four separate assignments for zoom, brush size, tilting canvas, etc.  I only use it for brush size, but to each their own.  But that’s the nice thing about something like this, it allows you to customize the hardware buttons to specific commands and keystrokes in any application you want.

Oh yeah, and the thing has touch capabilities.  Like an iPad, or touch-screen phone.  You can move your finger around on the pad and it’s basically like using a mouse; you can pinch to zoom, two fingers to scroll, tap two, three or four fingers, and you can have all of those do different functions as well.  For example, swiping four fingers from right to left while you’re in a browser window will move BACK (same as pressing the ‘back’ button’); four fingers left to right then goes forward.  And of course, all of that is customizable.  There’s also a ‘radial menu’ that you can set to come on-screen to facilitate more commands, or a hierarchy of commands.  Theoretically, you could probably set up each of your applications up with express keys, pen keys, and radial menu commands so that you wouldn’t need the keyboard at all (except to type text).  In fact, I used my Intuos 5 as a straight-up REPLACEMENT of my mouse for quite a while, but I am slowly going back to my mouse for general work/browsing, and only using the pen and tablet for post-processing my photos.

Here’s a quick layout of how I have my tablet setup for use with Lightroom 4:

I have it setup for right-handed use (which is set by default), so the express keys are on the left:

___________

– Touch on/off
– [ button disabled ] (haven’t decided on a good use for it yet)
– Zoom Out
– Zoom IN

O – Dial only set to do brush size, that’s all

– show before / after
– Mask overlay (for brushes)
– Alt (keystroke)
– Undo (Ctrl+Z)

___________

By the way, when using adjustment brushes in Lightroom, holding ALT and using the brush will “erase”; very handy to know, which is why I have an express key set to it.  I have the three-finger tap set to bring up the radial menu, but I only use four options on it. One brings up the tablet properties, one ranks my image “1”, one ranks my image “2”, and the other makes a virtual copy of the image.  The bottom button on the pen (closest to tip) I have set to use the space bar as a command.  That way when I’m zoomed in on my image in Lightroom, I can press that button and move the image around easily. The top button is set to a right-click command.

So, this is where my long-winded review gets longer.  The issues I’ve had with this tablet have been extremely frustrating, and I’d like to start off by saying that I AM a computer person.  I’ve been doing technical and network support work for the past 13 years, I grew up on computers.  I know how to fix things, and I know what I’m doing.  I’m running an AMD Phenom II 6-core processor, 16GB of RAM, Windows 7 64-bit. With the exception of Lightroom 4.1, everything runs outstanding on it… Lightroom is a bit sluggish, which is a widely known issue.  The Intuos 5 will randomly stop working with the pen, but be fine with touch capabilities.  Sometimes the touch will work fine, and the pen jumps around the screen like it’s trying to do something, but failing.  Sometimes the express keys will not show the menu when I press lightly on them.  Sometimes the express keys don’t even work at all.  Sometimes the pen input will INVERT itself, and move incredibly slowly.  And of course, sometimes the whole damn thing doesn’t even work at all… no pen, no touch; nothing.  All connections are secure and where they should be.  It’s only one USB cable, not that tough.  I have tried changing the USB port to a different one, and I have also tried USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports.  I contacted Wacom using their website’s contact form (as it says to do) on July 19th and they said they’d get back to me in 1-2 business days… which did not happen (it took them until August 10th to actually contact me).  I tried all versions of their drivers, even the latest ones and the initial ones, the issues still persisted at random.

I decided to take my tablet back to Best Buy (after 17 days of trying to fix the issues myself) and got another one, hoping the issue was with the hardware itself.  Best Buy exchanged it for a new one promptly, and with no question… props to them.  It worked great for a day, and then started suffering from the same issues.  I thought it was the driver released in July, and was very eager to try the 6.3.3-4 driver that Wacom put out on 8/07… but that did not work, with the new tablet, new driver.  Changing the USB port had not helped; changing the DEVICE itself had not helped; and changing the driver had not helped.  All of that leads me to believe this is a driver issue. And btw, Wacom doesn’t tell us what they’re “fixing” in the driver updates… it seems to me like they know something is up, and they’re not saying it.

In my posts on the Canon Digital Photography Forums, other people have mentioned random issues similar to mine, both with Intuos 4 and 5.  One was a faulty USB cable, which I doubt is the case with mine because I’ve used two of them… each that came with the packaging in each of the tablets I’ve had.  Another was fixed by using the driver that comes on the CD included with the tablet, which has not worked for me.

Wacom finally contacted me and sent me a list of things to try, which consisted of removing the drivers, uninstalling any remnants of any tablet files, rebooting in diagnostic mode, installing their newest driver, rebooting into normal mode.  It worked fine for a couple days, and then was back to the exact same way it was, with all the issues.  When the issues start happening, resting my finger over any of the express keys does not bring up the express key display menu.  However, pressing the keys themselves DOES activate the desired action I set up.  Also, the tap 3 fingers for Radial Menu was not working.  I changed the setting to have tap 3 fingers “Show Desktop”, and it paused a few seconds, and then showed the desktop.  I changed the setting back to Radial Menu, and it was not working.  Basically what I can derive from all of this is that something is inherently wrong with the driver for displaying things on-screen.  Pressing the express keys DOES do the desired action, but resting a finger on it does not show the express key display as it should.  Here’s the strange part; when I notice those issues and I press the touch-ring toggle button in the middle, that’s when the express keys die, and then pen goes all wonky and stops being useful.  Then my contact at Wacom suggested I try the tablet on a different computer, so I did that too (which was a pain in the ass due to all the editing I have to do; I’m not using another computer for all that (installing Lightroom 4 and Photoshop, etc) there’s a reason my machine is a beast; I need it to be)… but I did that, and for two hours it worked fine (also had Windows 7 64-bit on it)… which makes sense; sometimes the issues don’t make themselves known for after two, five, or eight hours of working on it.  Like I said, it’s random.

So then Wacom suggested I update everything my computer, all applications, the Operating System itself, video drivers, motherboard drivers; etc.  I did all that, even updated the BIOS, and guess what… I’m still having the same issues at random.  A user on the Canon photography forums stated that there seems to be an issue with the Wacom driver and Windows 7… which definitely could be.

As of two days ago, Wacom is telling me that the issue lies with my computer because everything worked fine on the other one I tried.  But that was only two hours of work, and sometimes the issue doesn’t show up for eight hours of working.  When the issues do arise, rebooting the computer will take care of them, but for an unknown amount of time.  When I’m editing photos, I go to town on them and I get in the zone.  Anyone that edits a LOT of photos often knows what I’m talking about… and I don’t want to have to reboot just to make my $350 pen and tablet work how it is supposed to.  That’s a lot of money, and I expect it to work flawlessly 100% of the time.  Perhaps I expect too much.  I cannot give this tablet more than a 2 out of 5 rating because of these issues.  When it works, it’s very good, but it’s not 100% there.  I think they needed to do more testing before releasing it.  I am unsatisfied with this whole thing, Wacom knows it, and they’re really just telling me that it’s my computer.  I asked for some extra nibs for the pen as a consolation, and I got them about 10 days later, which I guess is good, but it shouldn’t have come to that.

As I mentioned, I delayed the writing of this review for quite a while, wanting to give Wacom the benefit of the doubt, and see if their suggestions would work.  They did an “okay” job, but the issues are still there, and I’ve done everything I can.  My experience with the Intuos 5 is, in a word, frustrating.  Take it for what it’s worth.

Behind The Shot: “Play Ball!”

So, I’m starting a new series I hope you’ll like, and it’s called “Behind the shot”.  I’ll go over my process of shooting the image, the story behind it, and some of the post-processing…. or any mix of those in between.  I figured as the MLB season is heating up, the  first image in this series should be “Play Ball!“,

This shot was taken near Osseo, Wisconsin.  Carlie and I were on our way back from Minneapolis on an extended weekend trip.  We passed this old and dated biker bar that happened to have a baseball field right next to it; gravel parking lot and all.  The diamond looked like it hadn’t been used since Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez taught Scottie Smalls how to throw a baseball (or for those of you who haven’t seen The Sandlot, 1962).  It was falling apart, with the backstop caving in on itself, the coca-cola scoreboard was nearly see-through thanks to decades of rust, and someone had literally stolen all of the bases.

Anyhow, we passed the baseball field on the highway and a little bit down the road, I realized I just had to stop.  We pulled over, turned around, and went back.  I had rented a Sigma 8-16mm lens from LensRentals.com for the trip to Minnesota, so I figured this field would be another perfect candidate for testing out an extreme wide angle lens.  I get out of the car, set my Canon 7D to aperture priority, f/5.6, ISO 100, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second.  I walked a little closer to the backstop, set the lens to 16mm and snapped this:

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Not a stunning shot by any means, and definitely not what I was going for, so I walked closer to the backstop, and got just a few feet behind it.  Adjusted the lens from 16mm to 8mm, changed the aperture to f/4.5 (which gave 1/2000th of a second shutter – overkill, but who cares), and captured this:

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Much better.  As you can see, 8mm is extremely wide!  On my 7D, it’s the equivalent to 12.8mm on a full-frame camera. Yeah, there is distortion in the corners, and it looks a little weird, but I don’t mind.  The backstop IS caving in on itself, so the distortion is a little exaggerated in this 8mm shot above, and you can still see a little of it in the 16mm shot before that.  So anyhow, I got the shot I was after.  Decently dramatic sky as well, so I was happy.  Onto the editing!

Right off the bat, I used one of my presets in Lightroom 4 called “unknown” and went from there.  Here’s how it looked right after the preset:

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Pretty gross, I’ll admit.  Shadow detail is almost non-existent, colors are drab, and overall it’s just not very interesting.  I added 61 to saturation and 18 to vibrance to get this:

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A significant improvement in color, definitely, but notice how the sky in the upper right is a little bright, and not quite as nice and blue as the rest of the image?  I used an adjustment brush to fix that with the exposure set to – .40, saturation to +100, and added a blue tone over the top to come close to matching the rest of the sky.  Here’s the area I adjusted with the adjustment brush:

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As a whole, I found the entire image to be a little dark yet, so I increased exposure on the entire thing another + .60, and here is the final outcome as a before/after GIF:

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The sky in the upper right is still a little lighter than the rest, but overall I think it’s pretty good.  I hope you liked the first installment of “Behind the shot”.  If there are any photos of mine you’d like included in this series, just let me know!