Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Well it sounded like a good idea

I was thinking when I started my last trip to Africa that I would use this blog as a journal, but my general laziness and the miserable internet connections there put an end to that idea rather quickly. But hey, I got 2 entries in.... if you count the one I made from the airport.

I'm not going to try and recap the whole trip, there was a lot that happened and it was pretty good experience so I'll just let a few of these photos tell the story:

Tanzania Elephant

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Interview on

I did a little interview with the excellent Olaf Bathke, you can read it here:

More great content from Olaf:
Olaf Bathke from Kiel- photograph of the mood

Saturday, August 18, 2007

2 nights in Nairobi

Well it's been a couple of nights since I arrived in Africa and I'm just now getting back on the net (which is a long time for me not to have my internet fix). So far, Nairobi has lived up to Lonely Planet’s description as being both “a welcome injection of first world razzmatazz” and a “seedy, scruffy city with an air of barely contained violence.”

My flight landed late on Thursday and I got to my hotel after dark, which isn’t always the best thing to do if you’re staying in downtown Nairobi. I was planning on staying at the Terminal Hotel but couldn’t find any contact information for them before I left so I never made a reservation. I had the cab driver drop me off there anyways but when I got to the desk, they said they were full. Luckily I was traveling by myself as most of the people I have traveled with tend to freak out when we arrive in the destinations I’ve talked them into going to, and then find out I hadn’t bothered to make any plans or reservations. I was imagining the chewing out I would have received if they had been here. Well it ended up working out as it usually does, next door was the Downtown Hotel where I got a single room with hot water and bath for 1300 shillings a night. I think that is around $20, but I haven’t checked the exchange rates yet, which I probably should since I’ve been blowing through my shillings like water (or the Kenyan equivalent, Tusker Beer) at the bars.

Looking for something to do when I arrived Thursday night, I ended up chatting with the guys that work at the front desk. I asked for them to recommend a good bar where tourists and locals hang out. The security guy ended up walking me to a place called Florida 2000.

It looked fairly sharp but the seediness came out in a hurry. Within 3 minutes of entering, the local girls descend on anything wearing a Khaki shirt. I thought the women in Cuba were aggressive, these ladies made them look like Puritans. Some of them were fairly fun to talk to though and the people watching was great, nothing beats watching British tourists trying to pick up the local women and female Japanese tourists bounce back and forth between being quiet & demure and screaming & tearing up the dance floor. In the process of bouncing from stool to stool in the club to run away from the overly friendly, I ended up bumping into a nice Kenyan gal from Nakuru who wasn’t err… working it like the others. She was quite attractive with almond shaped eyes with the cheekbones that are distinctively Kenyan. We left the club and ate some egg sandwiches they sold on the street. For some reason, food always tastes great at 4am.

I woke up earlier than I should have the next day, jet lag was kicking in. Plus being incredibly thirsty had something to do with it also. And oh yeah, there’s music blaring through the walls and construction was going on one wall away. I got some food across the street at the Nakumatt shopping center and wandered around town. Walking around the River Road area was as dodgy as they describe in the guide books. Everyone was staring at me like I had chopsticks coming out of my ears, it was fun. I walked into the Scandinavian Express bus station. Didn’t see any Scandinavians but I found out that the buses to Arusha leave at 7am. I was planning on going out one more night in Nairobi so that ruled out leaving the next morning (Saturday), I can normally handle my booze ok but my hangovers don’t go well with moving vehicles.

Going against my better judgment, it was Friday night and I asked the front desk guys again about good but less seedy bars to go nearby. The security guy from the previous day comes out with a smile and escorts me down the street again. Somewhere lost in the translation, he thought I wanted to go back to Florida 2000 and we started walking towards there. When I told him I was looking for a place with less umm…. women with questionable motives, he took me to some place called Seemas(sp?). I should have explained I wanted to go to a place with less men looking to pickpocket you also. I was there maybe 5 minutes when while passing some guy near the crowded dance floor, he tried to fish out the contents of my left pocket. I grabbed his hand and gave him a good shove in the back. His response was to point to and try to blame the guy in front of him. Some guy in a suit saw the altercation and pointed to the guy as if to ask “did he try something?” I nodded and the next thing I know they are throwing him out of the club. I got a beer and was poked and prodded by the local gals again, and I wasn’t even wearing a Khaki shirt, somehow they knew I was a tourist. The place was seedier than even the Florida 2000 so I jumped into a cab and thought I would try some of the spots mentioned in the Lonely Planet book. First up was Pavement just outside of downtown. It was a very nice setup. An airy restaurant on the outside and an edgy club inside. No hassles here, other than some guy in dreads offering me drugs but unlike some of the downtown patrons, he didn’t push when you said no. Ended up chatting with him a bit, he had some interesting things to say as drug dealers always do.

I had arranged for the cab driver that took me to Pavement to meet me back outside at 1:30 so I went out to meet him. I thought I’d also check out Simba Saloon since that was mentioned as being the hottest spot by Lonely Planet. The place kind of reminded me of Andres Carne de Res in Bogota. It’s a big rustic restaurant on the outskirts of town, with a dance floor in the center. Not bad. I hit the dance floor with some gal from Mombasa. I told myself if I’m not going to exercise during the day as part of my attempt to get in shape for Kilimanjaro, I’d dance at night. My legs are a little sore today so it must have worked. At 3:30, I went out to meet my cab driver again and just called it the night. I’m not as good at back to back nights of binge drinking as I used to me.

One thing I noticed from going around Nairobi is that you don’t see many tourists. Most people fly in and get out ASAP. I decided 3 days in Nairobi was plenty and I’ll be back later in the trip anyways so this morning, I booked my ticket to Arusha where I will meet up with a client and drop off my safari & mountaineering gear to hold while I head to the Tanzanian coast. I can’t wait to get some sand under my feet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Africa, Boingo, etc..

Well I'm off to Africa, something I've dreamed about since I was a kid. Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar is the plan, along with a shoot for a travel agency that will take me on safari and hiking Kilimanjaro. This should be good.

With a 5 hour connection in Atlanta, I thought I'd buy a Boingo internet connection. For $7.95/24 hr period, you get a slow connection that will get blocked if you are using a lot of bandwidth. At least that's what happened to me while watching youtube and transferring files. Rebooting seems to get me back in though. Buyer beware, especially when buying things that ought to be free.

Editing to add: Seems like I didn’t have any problems with being locked out by Boingo in Amsterdam. Another communication problem popped up though and it seems AT&T did not enable roaming for my account and now my phone doesn’t work. I’ve been with them for years but in the absolute mess with their merger with Cingular, my account was transitioned from the old AT&T to the new AT&T and my roaming ability seemed to have dropped along the way. In trying to log into my account on their website, it seems like my old Cingular password didn’t work so I got locked out and applied for a new password. Instead of sending it through email, they text messaged me my new password. Brilliant idea on AT&T’s part for customers who are having service problems.

Today I tried calling their service number (long distance from Kenya), only to have my call dropped after I enter my phone number (when they try and transfer you to an agent). After getting dropped 3 times, I gave up. It just reminded me of my consulting days where I quickly found out that companies are often the worst at doing what they sell. The software companies had the most fragmented databases, the management consulting companies had the worst management structure, and here AT&T can’t seem to route my calls without dropping them. Now that I am thinking about this some more, photographers have the worst self portraits, I’m guilty here too. Agh....

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Dual Flash Umbrella Stand Adapter

As every Strobist knows, we're often working at the limits of what our flashes can put out, so anytime we can improve efficiency and output, it's a good thing. One way I wanted to do this was by using an improved umbrella stand adapter. The idea was to have an umbrella adapter that could mount 2 flash units to double the output and also allow them to lay perpendicular to the umbrella to minimize the amount of light that the flash bodies would block. Here is what I came up with:

Dual Flash Umbrella Clamp Adapter

Here you can see how much less light is blocked from the umbrella by laying the speedlights perpendicular (left) vs parallel (right) to the umbrella:

Dual Speedlite Umbrella Clamp Adapter

The components:

Dual Speedlite Umbrella Clamp Adapter

Here is a list of items you'll need to make one:

  1. Photoflex Shoe Mount Multiclamp.
  2. Mini ballheads with flash shoe mounts. I used the ones that came with my Novoflex Unimarm Flash Bracket but if you don't want to buy the entire Unimarm kit, these look like they will work also. They're pricey but they're nicely built and offer a lot of flexibility. This flexibility is useful not just for holding the flash units perpendicular to the umbrella but also if you want to manipulate the speedlites as independent lights with snoots (without the umbrella). Another advantage is the arc is shorter than if you mounted the flash on top of the multiclamp like it's typically done, this allows the flash to sit further back from the umbrella. Lastly, the flash shoe mounts are made from plastic so you don't have to worry about your flash shorting out.
  3. Reversible male stud that comes with the Photoflex Shoe Mount Multiclamp.
  4. A Bogen 3/8" to 1/4" adapter.
  5. A 5/16" lock washer (middle) to keep the stud and adapter from slipping. You can get these at any hardware store. This 5/16" washer will have to be reamed for it to be able to slip over the 3/8 threads. I used a Dremel with a cone shaped grinding stone to do this. In case you're wondering why not just buy a 3/8" lock washer, I tried these and they are just too big, the teeth protrude out from the stud which limits its ability to lock the pieces in place and interfere with the stud being able to slide in and out of the multiclamp.
  6. Two 1/4" lock washers to keep the Novoflex mini ballheads from slipping.
Putting this together is pretty straightforward (I hope). The only trick is to resist the temptation to Loctite all the parts together. You have to remember to keep at least one the mini ballheads off the stud assembly when you put it together so that you can pass the stud through the hole in the multiclamp.

The speedlites I used were a Canon 580EX and a 550EX but of course you can use just about any flash with a standard shoe. The umbrella you see above is the Photogenic 45" Eclipse Plus umbrella which I find to be more efficient than the Westcott collapsible umbrella but the Westcott is more compact so I'll use the collapsible umbrella when I'm tight on luggage space.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Photographs of the Festival

I've been a fan of National Geographic photographer Nick Nichols for a while, you gotta admire anyone that has had malaria as many times as he has. A while back I was watching an NGS documentary where it mentioned that he lived in Charlottesville, Virginia. I remember my first thought was he could live anywhere in the world, why there? Well this past weekend, I went down there and found out.

What started off as a slideshow in his backyard has become a full blown festival in Charlottesville this year. Aptly named the "Festival of the Photograph," it was billed as being a 3 day celebration of "peace, love, and photography" - my interpretation was a Woodstock for photography, but with more hygiene.

Throughout downtown, there were galleries of various photographers. My favorite was probably William Albert Allard's:

There was also an area called YourSpace where anyone could exhibit their work. You can tell they worked hard to make the festival about everyone not just the big names in photography.

Downtown Charlottesville has a beautiful promenade (doesn't look like much here though) and there were large format prints of Nick Nichol's work hanging throughout.

Friday night, there was a slideshow/party at an abandoned warehouse. The setting was perfect and nicely accented with lightning lighting up the sky in the distance. I wish I had my camera with me that night, this is a shot from when I came back the next day to pick up my car. I was worried that it would be closed off but it was open and there was even a dance company in there practicing.

The legendary Eugene Richards at the Paramount Theater:

The crowd waiting for Eugene Richards to speak:

Live music and dancing at the Charlottesville Pavilion before the "Works" presentation, which showcased new photos from some of the top names in photography. Some of the stuff just blew me away.

Photographers being the hippies we are, many preferred the lawn to the chairs under the tent:

This guy preferred the sidewalk, comfort clearly isn't his thing as he was also lugging around an 8x10 (to the right, outside the shot):

Sam Abell greeting fans after his presentation. Quiet photos, loud applause:

David Alan Harvey looks up at his slideshow after coming down from the stage. He was showing his new work on hip hop:

After the sideshows at the Charlottesville Pavilion, there was a party at a building on the other side of the bridge near the pavilion. Here is Andy Levin adjusting his makeshift photographer's scarf. Or at least I hope it was makeshift.

At the "The Bridge" was a slideshow showcasing the works of Lightstalkers. In the foreground is Lance Rosenfield and Anna Maria Barry-Jester.

All in all I thought it was a great experience and definitely inspiring.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Comments are now enabled, agh!

Sorry folks, I didn't realize that the comments weren't enabled on my previous entry on how to build a portable ringflash until I read the always excellent Strobist blog today. I've enabled comments but you can't go in and retroactively enable comments on previous blog entries with blogger, so you can comment here if you want.

Stay tuned, more gadget fun to come....

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Pocket Ringlight

Ever since Maxim magazine made ringflashes/ringlights popular again, photographers have been using and overusing them to get that "look". I gotta admit I'm a sucker for the soft yet harsh quality to the light. Since almost all my photography is done on the move though, the large studio ringlights out there don't really work for me. The small macro ringlights are too weak and do not accommodate lenses with large filter diameters. The closest thing to a portable ring flash I've found was the Sunpak DX-12R. I ordered one and although it says it will work with lenses with filter diameters up to 77mm, they aren't really designed to work with wide angle lenses so I found it vignetted heavily with my Canon 16-35 lens.

Without anything commercially available, I thought I'd try making my own. My first attempt involved using 3 Canon Speedlites, a Novoflex Unimarm, and some music wire. It wasn't pretty and turned out to be as ungainly as the studio lights. My second design was much simpler:

Ring Flash

Basically it's just a ring shaped diffuser made from 2 flat sheets of plastic and reflective fabric for the side walls. Light is supplied by a Speedlite, here I'm using a Canon 580EX. To see how well the light is dispersed around the ring, I took a test shot of the ring itself:

Ring Light

As you can see, it is darker at the top of the ring since the light is being pumped in from the bottom but that's not necessarily a bad thing, it adds to the dark "halo" above your subject, which is one of the trademarks of the ringlight look that I like.

Here's a test shot to see how it works.

Looks pretty good IMO. The range is decent too, I can shoot up to 15 feet or so at f8 and ISO 800. Not great but good enough that I can use this as opposed to dragging around a large studio ringflash setup. You can also use it as an off camera diffuser:

I actually made this ringlight over a year ago thinking I would use it for my trip to Cuba but I never got around to using it. Finally on a recent corporate photography assignment to South America, I thought I would finally put it to work. I've found my corporate clients usually have grown tired of the typical corporate photos and want something a little different, a little more contemporary, but still appropriate for corporate literature. This time, I wanted to do this with the ringlight look. My main client is an oil company and we fly all over the world to their regional offices and I only have a few minutes to photograph their employees, sometimes as little as 5 minutes per person so that doesn't give me much time at all to setup and get the shot. That's where something as simple as this with TTL metering really becomes useful. Also since it maintains full compatability with your flash and camera, you can still use features such as high speed sync (actually came in handy with some "lit" dark sky shots I took), rear curtain sync, etc.. which may not be available with other ringlights. Here are some shots from the trip:

The last photo also used 2 Speedlites as slaves to spotlight the guys in the background.
I was pretty satisfied with the pocket ringflash. The best part is that it adds virtually no weight and requires almost no additional space in my already overloaded camera bag. It folds flat and fits in the side pocket:

If you'd like to make one of your own, here is how. First you're going to need the following materials:

  1. A clear plastic sheet for the front panel. I used polycarbonate (Lexan) for its durability.
  2. A reflective sheet for the rear panel. I used mirrored acrylic (Plexiglass) which is not as tough as polycarbonate but I couldn't find any mirrored polycarbonate.
  3. Flexible reflective material for the side walls and the inside "tube." I used silvered fabric.
  4. Reflective material such as Mylar to mask off the parts of the front panel where I didn't want light leaking through.
  5. Velcro to attach the panels to your flash.
  6. Strong clear tape such as packing tape. Don't use celophane or other types that tear easily.
  7. Large rubber band or scrunchee.
  8. A means to link the flash with the camera. I used the Canon Off Camera Shoe Cord 2.

I bought the plastic sheets and Mylar from a local industrial plastic supply company, search in your yellow pages, the local hardware stores would charge a lot more for the material if they even have them. If that fails, a Google search will turn up several sources. The silvered fabric was purchased from a regular fabric store. I bought from the scrap pile and I think all the materials ended up costing me ~$8USD altogether.

You'll also need the following tools to construct the ringlight:

  1. A means of cutting the plastic sheets. Preferably a Dremel tool with a cutting bit or a jigsaw.
  2. 200 grit sandpaper to diffuse the front panel. I used an orbital sander which made it easier but you could do it by hand also.

And here is how to put it all together:

  1. The first thing you need to do is to cut out the panels. I used a Dremel tool fitted with a cutting bit. The front and rear panels have the same dimensions as shown below. You might want to alter the dimensions based on your setup though. I made the inside diameter just large enough to accommodate the widest lens hood I would use it with, which in my case is the hood for the Canon 16-35 lens. The ring was made to be roughly 1.75" "wide" since I've found from my previous design, if the ring is too wide, the dark "halo" you get from the ringlight tends to be too soft (for my tastes anyways). The width of the bottom was based on the width of the flash I would use it with (the Canon 580EX). After cutting, I sanded the edges smooth.

    Ring Flash using Speedlites Since I'm sure someone will write and ask, that flash was fired wirelessly. No reason really, I was just bored:)

  2. After cutting the panels to shape, the clear front panel will need to be sanded to make it diffuse. I just used an orbital sander with 200 grit sandpaper but using your hands will work. Just run it over the panel in a circular fashion until it turns white. I chose to sand the inside surface since the roughened surface gets dirty easier and keeping it on the inside keeps it cleaner.
  3. Next put some velcro on the end inside surfaces of the panels so it can hold itself secure to the flash head.
  4. Next the front panel needs to be masked so that light only comes out from the ring area. I just cut the mylar to shape and taped it to the inside of the front panel. Make sure there is a cutout for the velcro.
  5. Now for the most tedious part. Cut a strip of the reflective fabric so that it is long enough to cover the edges of the ringlight. Also create a strip to form a tube around the inner hole. I used a thickness of 2" since that is the thickness of my Speedlites. I also put a taper so that it converges at the tip of the ringlight. My thinking was that it would force the light to the front which would help eliminate the shadow on the top of the ring. I'm not sure how much a difference this really makes, you could just make it 2" throughout to make things easy. I attached the fabric using tape, doing the inside tube first. Make sure you leave the fabric unattached on one panel near the area where the flash is attached to give the panels room to be spread and accept the flash head. Here is what it should look like from the flash head's perspective:

That's it! Put your flash in, connect it with your camera (I used a Canon Off Camera Shoe Cord 2 to connect to my 1Ds Mark II), and you've got a ring light for $1,700 less than what a typical ringflash would cost! One trick you might want to use to get the flash in without getting snagged halfway on the velcro is to cover the velcro with paper. Then when the flash head is in place, pull out the paper. On the outside, I use one of those scrunchie things to secure it a little more. It always sits on the flash and is also useful for securing bounce cards, snoots, Lumiquest diffusers, etc...

-Tommy Huynh

Friday, May 18, 2007

The latent image

Well I've been meaning to start my blog for years now and it looks like I've finally managed to drag my lazy self off the couch and do it. Actually.... I'm blogging from the couch, agh...

I'm not sure how this will be organized or what I'm going to post. I've wanted to write about various photography related things, gear reviews, travelogues, etc.. for a while. Consider this blog to be the random ramblings of a vagabond with a camera.

I guess I should also explain what "The Feral Photographer" means. I've been using this moniker for various profiles around the web like on Lightstalkers and people are always asking me what it means. To be honest, I never knew what the word "feral" meant until there was that Hogzilla craze a few years ago. I looked it up and found out the word is usually used to describe once domesticated animals that have escaped into the wild. I thought it perfectly described how I felt when I left my "normal" jobs to travel and do photography. I think it's best described by paraphrasing Renton:

"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday night. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got photography?"