Always sandbag your lights.

Always.

So, I was on a big shoot recently and had set up an on-location shot with some gorgeous scenery in the background. Zero wind, gorgeous Spring day.

I set the light up with a softbox (d'oh--a sail, naturally) and we were running to get a sunset shot in, so I thought, "Just leave it and sandbag it after you grab your people" and walked away. On the way back to the setup, walking up a curving driveway, I looked for my light and didn't see it. My stomach dropped.

I ran out ahead of the clients and sure enough, my light had fallen over BACKWARDS onto a decently busy road. I'm amazed no cars hit it in the 2 or so minutes that we gathered everyone. I managed to beat everybody there, pick it up, and have a full blown panic attack in the 30 seconds it took for everyone else to get there. 

Thoughts: I'm a professional! I know what I'm doing! Why didn't I sandbag this! My sandbags leak! Why do they leak?! Why was I worried about sand leaking when we're outside? Does it mean I'm not a professional that my sandbags leak! I'm a professional, dammit! This doesn't happen to professionals! I'm definitely not a professional. Hello, Imposter Syndrome, my old friend.

People get in a hurry, and make mistakes. Even Annie God-Dang Leibovitz makes mistakes. Well, her assistants do (why get your hands dirty?), then she goes bankrupt. But I digress. 

I went to test the light and despite a couple plastic fittings flying off into the sweet hereafter, it worked!

We got the shots, then I quietly panicked the rest of the night wondering if I'd be able to fix it. Not sandbagging this light was about a $600 mistake on lights that they don't make anymore and I can't afford at this moment to replace. Duly noted.

On to the surgery!

Robert, my darling, patient, engineer-brained fiancee helped me put it back together again. 

The damaged light on the right. The outside shell had been badly bent, as well as the metal plate on the back. The jackrabbit plug's housing was broken & as well as the fitting for the discharge/dump button.

The damaged light on the right. The outside shell had been badly bent, as well as the metal plate on the back. The jackrabbit plug's housing was broken & as well as the fitting for the discharge/dump button.

Back of the light head fixture, the metal plate was bent around the power plug, Jackrabbit plug, and the red button/dump button was totally unattached and just floating there.

Back of the light head fixture, the metal plate was bent around the power plug, Jackrabbit plug, and the red button/dump button was totally unattached and just floating there.

Robert hammered & flattened out the metal on the bottom using a block of wood

Robert hammered & flattened out the metal on the bottom using a block of wood

Pounding the metal back into shape... Helps to have a huge tree limb in the shop!

Pounding the metal back into shape... Helps to have a huge tree limb in the shop!

Out of focus: definitely not a professional

Out of focus: definitely not a professional

I tried gluing this back together, then it fell apart into more than two tiny pieces, never to be joined again. Alas!

I tried gluing this back together, then it fell apart into more than two tiny pieces, never to be joined again. Alas!

Checking in the un-broken light head to figure out how in the world the "dump" button (classy) is held on to the plate on the back of the fixture. 

Checking in the un-broken light head to figure out how in the world the "dump" button (classy) is held on to the plate on the back of the fixture. 

Robert repaired it with dental floss. Really.

Robert repaired it with dental floss. Really.

I added a 5% "minty lighting" premium to my shoots after this

I added a 5% "minty lighting" premium to my shoots after this

The light head, mended. The red button is the "dump" button (to release built up power when powering the flash head down a stop or more) and the grey/purple plug is for the Jackrabbit/battery. He used a c-clip on the Jackrabbit plug to secure it to the metal plate.

The light head, mended.

The red button is the "dump" button (to release built up power when powering the flash head down a stop or more) and the grey/purple plug is for the Jackrabbit/battery. He used a c-clip on the Jackrabbit plug to secure it to the metal plate.

The moral of this story is: slow the hell down. Don't get in a hurry and don't forget your g-d sandbags!! Nobody will be irritated when you spend 1 minute making sure the lights don't fall on them or fall and break and thus render the shoot a bit silly. 

It also helps to have a supportive significant other or friend who has an entire woodshop and knowledge of their tools and who will calm you as you panic and pace.

Thanks for reading & don't let the bastards get you down. 

Making Cyanotypes

I'd like to share a bit of the process that goes into making a cyanotype, plus my latest print. If you want to skip all these words and dazzling insights, then feel free to scroll on down. Perhaps I'll have a video to share at some point.

I think a lot of photographers would love this process because it's very straightforward, decently simple to produce a good print (especially if you have experience with negatives or printing in the darkroom), and it's affordable in terms of material costs compared to just about everything else you can do in photography. 

All you really need to get started are the chemicals, good watercolor paper, a hake brush, some superglue (for hake brush), gloves, glass or plastic cups to mix solution in, stirring rod, droppers, a dark room (it doesn't have to be 100% light tight), two sheets of glass or clear plexi glass, sturdy clamps, and the sun. Unlike darkroom printing, which requires 100% absolute pitch black darkness except for the amber safelight, plus some serious gear, multiple sinks, temperature gauges, gallons upon gallons upon gallons of water, etc. (or just an enterprising/Macguyver-ish setup, which I've seen on Youtube plenty).

A good resource for cyanotype chemicals if you're in the market: Bostick and Sullivan

An aside: as photographers, I don't think we often consider the price to the environment of printing or of photography as a whole. The chemicals themselves which can be quite gnarly, pouring chemicals down the drain, exposure to ourselves and others, and holy crap the water usage. The Onion had a particularly funny piece about our upcoming water wars...but I digress. Cyanotypes are much less gnarly than most printing processes and as far as I understand, are not harmful to the environment.

I can go more in depth on cyanotypes at some point, but know that I am by no means an expert. I picked up The Book of Alternative Processes and a used copy of Alternative Photographic Processes and read the chapters on cyanotypes several times and took notes. I watched many youtube videos, scoured small websites & blogs, and then finally decided to try it. I've been printing this way for about 11 months now and I made Christmas cards last year from a hand drawn "negative" on parchment paper. So I've done about 80 or so cyanotype prints thus far and finally feel like I have a process that is pretty good. 

The negatives are a different story. I am not very techy, but what I can tell you is that there are many wonderful guides online and I primarily just use a cyanotype curve in Photoshop, plus print at 16-bit depth at the highest resolution my Epson printer will go and it has worked out decently well so far. I would like to take an actual, in-person negative making class because I hate computers and have to work to not destroy mine when I start going in depth on printing. 

I use OHP negative sheets, found here: Pictorico Transparency Sheets

Also, for watercolor paper, right now I am using Strathmore Bristol  which is such a great deal I almost feel like I've made a deal with the devil to obtain it. It's smooth, hot pressed paper which gives just a bit of the grain of a watercolor paper, but without mega fibers showing through. As of this exact moment in time, I prefer this to the higher end watercolor papers I've used simply because it is affordable and looks wonderful and doesn't get fuzzy after multiple washings, although it does get very fragile around the corners after a soak.

ANYWAY! The reason I laid all that out is this. Photography, even if it's "simple" or requires few things, requires so much trial and error and money and time. As an artist, people do not care what you are doing for the most part, so it's up to the artist to make the viewer understand and care, if at all possible. This was not an overnight success for me, I have tons of awful prints I shoved in a bin along the way. I have spent more money than I'd like to admit on watercolor papers, hake brushes, negative sheets, and my fiancee, of Robert Hazelwood Woodworking, and I made the printing frame (by hand, with hand planes, hand saws, etc. in an un-air conditioned wood shop in Oklahoma in the summer, by God) and UV unit that I use to print, featured here:

Print frame on top, UV unit underneath. Made by me and Robert Hazelwood

Printing frame made from Padouk wood. The shop looked like it was covered in cheeto dust after planing.

Printing frame made from Padouk wood. The shop looked like it was covered in cheeto dust after planing.

So without further ado, here is my latest effort with cyanotypes. I've seen the work I've put in pay off and I'm thrilled about it. 

The original Cyanotype:

I like the deep blue very much and think it works well with this image. But I also wanted to see how it would turn out toned, the process of toning you can see below.

Rinsing in plain water after the bleaching stage. Bleaching is accomplished with sodium carbonate or washing soda. 

Rinsing in plain water after the bleaching stage. Bleaching is accomplished with sodium carbonate or washing soda. 

Final rinse after toning in green tea for 30 minutes.

Final rinse after toning in green tea for 30 minutes.

And for the final result:

Note the deep eggplant tone with very gentle pink highlights

Note the deep eggplant tone with very gentle pink highlights

I love this print and I'm atrociously proud of it. I'm hoping to some day complete a cyanotype exhibition of my toned prints based around a theme of conservation or something else I dream up. Thanks for reading! Don't let the bastards get you down.

Sleeklens - Sponsored Blog post

Well. This was a new thing for me. I was contacted by a company called Sleeklens to do an honest review/blog post on their Photoshop actions. You can view or purchase them here: https://sleeklens.com/product/landscape-adventure-photoshop-actions/

So. I feel strange about sponsored content--I grew up in the '90s where product placement was oft-maligned (most notably in my mind by Wayne's World II) but then totally embraced, but in a winking sort of way (see also: Wayne's World II). This blog does not aim to wink. I wanted to try the thing, so I did, and here we are. Let's jump in, shall we?

Here's a screenshot of the image with minor Lightroom adjustments & stitching (two image pano):

First, I tried their action called "Good Place To Start" which...was!

It sort of flattens everything out and lends itself easily to contrast adjustments later. This is generally the look of my images when I bring them into Photoshop--flat with good detail in the shadows & highlights. Highlights are just a tad bright, but that's possibly OK.

Next, I tried the Reduce Highlights action, which worked well. Then I added the Brighten Shadows action...and added a Ronnie James Dio-inspired moon, because I wish this existed in real life:

DarkenHighlights_OpenShadows_LayerMaskMoon.png

The "moon" is actually just a layer mask, painted in. I really like that with these actions in Photoshop, you can put masks on things, reduce or increase opacity, etc. They're not set in stone and they function pretty well. Here are some example photos:

Frosty, 100% opacity

Frosty, 100% opacity

Frosty, reduced opacity. Really like this version. It was so cold. Looking at this makes me cold.

Frosty, reduced opacity. Really like this version. It was so cold. Looking at this makes me cold.

Frosty + Dark and Stormy. Also a favorite cocktail.

Frosty + Dark and Stormy. Also a favorite cocktail.

Soft Golden Hour Action. I had to push some elves out of the way for this photo

Soft Golden Hour Action.

I had to push some elves out of the way for this photo

Punchy B&W. Really, really like this one. 

Punchy B&W. Really, really like this one. 

You can remove the Gaussian Blur from this action. Which is probably what I would do. You can also reduce opacity or paint on layer masks. Nice.

You can remove the Gaussian Blur from this action. Which is probably what I would do. You can also reduce opacity or paint on layer masks. Nice.

Now here's what I don't like. I don't like that you have to complete the actions off of your base layer. I had it drilled in my head in photo school to always work on a copy of your background layer and that's *always* what I do, just in case. I realize now, with the way Photoshop & Lightroom CC store sidecar files and with the way layers work, it's not always necessary, but, man...try to get Ms. Mounger's voice out of my head. I dare ya. 

Also, the actions don't play very well together. There's a bit of confusion when combining them and typically you have to start from the base layer. Also, messing with layer order is necessary because some actions obscure others depending on order.

Some additional edits that I liked:

Deep Cinematic: Reduced Opacity. This is closest to my own editing of the original photo.

Deep Cinematic: Reduced Opacity. This is closest to my own editing of the original photo.

Again, subtle. Opacities adjusted all over the place.

Again, subtle. Opacities adjusted all over the place.

Warning Dialogue. I like this, but you also can't turn it off. 

Warning Dialogue. I like this, but you also can't turn it off. 

Overall, these are very well made with much attention to detail and they don't go overboard with the effects. I really love the Black and White actions--that's an area in which I struggle. I'm a conservative editor because I like things to look good in-camera and to not stretch credulity too much. Plus, I think this oversaturated photography bonanza you see everywhere is just another symptom of people's short attention spans. A sin of which I am also guilty here and there. Anyway. I most likely wouldn't have purchased these actions on my own (for myriad reasons, stubbornness being chief among those), but to have a comparison tool, these are pretty neat. Also, the black and white options are a high selling point to me. 

I probably do things the hard way, but I like maximum control over my images and rarely use actions. It would probably save me a lot of time and these have definitely made me think about my workflow. My biggest takeaway is that these actions are great for editing comparisons and great to spark new ideas if one feels stuck. 

Some links: https://www.pinterest.com/sleeklens/lightroom-presets/

https://sleeklens.com/product-category/photoshop-actions/