Monday, February 3, 2014

San Diego and SolidWorks World 2014

I had the privilege of traveling to San Diego to photograph some of the events at the SolidWorks World 2014 conference a couple of days ago.  This was my second time at SolidWorks World, the first being last year in Orlando.

SolidWorks is an amazing software tool for 3D CAD (computer aided design) along with a host of other related tasks, including photorealistic renderings of items created with the program.  That's a gross over-simplification of what this software can do and I'm sure their sales folks would be clamoring to tell more about it.  For us photographer types, SolidWorks World is to engineering types what Photoshop World is to us.  This year's event was attended by over 5700 engineers, designers, and others from all manner of the manufacturing world.  I don't know what the attendance typically is at Photoshop World, but 5700 attendees is a huge number.  Consider that number represents many of the brightest engineers in the world and the things that they are working on are truly amazing.  

One of those folks is Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab.  Biomechatronics, according to Wikipedia is "an applied interdisciplinary science that aims to integrate mechanical elements, electronics and parts of biological organisms." For us simpletons, think of the Bionic Man.  Apologies to Professor Herr and his team for my simplistic description of what they do.  Their work is truly amazing.  Professor Herr is intimately familiar with what it's like to use prosthetics as he is a double amputee.  Professor Herr offered a demonstration of how SolidWorks is used  in the research, development and prototyping of their ideas.  Using SolidWorks and videos, he gave an explanation of how his robotic ankle-foot prosthesis works.  Quite an amazing piece of engineering:

Hugh Herr talks with SolidWorks' Rick Chin during Tuesday's General Session at SolidWorks World 2014 San Diego.

If you notice Professor Herr's "calves", you can see the batteries which power the prosthetics.  They are a "standard" power tool battery, similar to what you would find on a battery powered drill.  That, in itself, is a stroke of genius.  Take a look in your camera bag, how many different battery types do you have or have you owned over the years for cameras and related gear.  I know I have many.

In any event, the work of Professor Herr and his team is, as I said before, nothing short of amazing and it was fascinating nearly beyond my imagination to see what they are doing there.  This is a shot I took from a video showing one of their prosthetic inventions being tested on a treadmill:

Actually, I found every part of the conference that I was privileged to attend absolutely captivating.  How could it not be with the brilliant minds and tons of state of the art equipment there.  On Sunday evening, I had a chance to attend the unveiling of a new 3D printer produced by Stratasys, which has dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Rehovot, Israel.  I'm not sure what applications 3D printing will have in the photo industry however, I can say that it is all the buzz in the engineering / design / manufacturing industry and, in my humble opinion, will accelerate the rate at which new products are brought to the market exponentially.  What is 3D printing?  It's the ability to take a computer produced (read: SolidWorks) made design of, say, a pair of sunglasses, and actually "print" them out, hinged bows, transparent tinted lenses and all.  Yup, it is amazing.  If you visit this link, you can see a brief video of what Statasys printers can do.  I brought back a pair of sunglasses that were printed on their new Objet 500 Connex 3, which is the one featured on their home page.  When I have a moment or three, I'll take some closeup shots of the glasses and also another 3D printed toy and post them here.

During the general session on day 2, retired NASCAR drive Geoff Bodine presented the United States bobsled team sled that he and race engineer Bob Cuneo collaborated on for the US time.  Coupled with support from Dassault Systemes, the pair have created what they hope will be a gold medal sled for the upcoming olympics.  Here, Solidworks CEO Bertrand Sicot, in the red parka, Bob Cuneo and Geoff share a high five over the sled, named "Night Train" on the stage in San Diego.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I Love New York!

I just returned from a couple of days in New York City attending the PDN PhotoPlus Expo and also the "Shoot NYC" event.  Both were great events and I had the opportunity to listen to a number of great photographers and industry experts.

Joe McNally, whose work has been seen, regularly, in National Geographic for over 30 years, as well as Life Magazine and countless other publications and ad campaigns was there along with many others. 

Joe is a great guy and shares, quite candidly, his experiences as a photographer shooting in some of the most interesting places in the world, including the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, as he showed a great photo of his shoes, 2722 feet above the earth, taken with his iPhone.  I had the privilege of having dinner with Joe and his lovely wife Anne Cahill a couple of years ago and just have to say he's the "real thing."

Another person high on my list is Rafael "RC" Conception, from the Kelby group.  I've watched dozens of Rafael's training videos on the Kelby Training and National Association of Photoshop Professionals websites.  To be brief, Rafael is amazing in his knowledge of Lightroom and Photoshop software and I have never come away from watching his videos without learning something (actually, a lot).  Seeing him in person was even more of a treat, after Joe McNally introduced him to me at the PDN expo.  I had a chance to chat briefly with him and then attended a seminar on Lightroom that he presented at the Shoot NYC event.  Rafael is a great presenter and, I know why, after he told the crowd that he has a teaching degree and taught high school for many years before becoming involved in the photography field.  Joe would probably say that it's appropriate that a high school teacher could connect with a bunch of photographers from all levels.  
Actually, I guess photographers at any level have a fair amount of "geek" mixed in, especially in this digital age.  And, who else could go out into the audience and grab someone's baby to bring up on stage with him? 
In any event, Rafael is amazing in person and I, again, came away with a bunch of knowledge that I didn't have going in.  Thank you for that, Rafael.

The highlight of the two days in NYC, apart from simply being there, was to listen to portrait master Gregory Heisler.  How would I sum up his presentation in one word, I'm not sure; "Wow!" is woefully inadequate.  Let me put it this way:  Greg spoke for three hours, without a break.  There wasn't a person in the room who left; I would have peed my pants before missing a second of his presentation.  Apart from being an amazing photographer, he is, also, a great human being.  He is humble as a presenter, shares, openly, stories about himself, even those not so glamorous, while at the same time, he's driven  but not arrogant.  I'm not sure that all makes sense, but it does to me.  I've attended a lot of seminars over the years and, have left some thinking that the presenter, while being a known, published, successful photographer, were so full of themselves I wanted to blow lunch.  This is not Heisler.  His style of photography is that, by his own accord, there isn't a style.  As I listened to him speak, and having heard him in videos many times, he creates images that make people ask "who is that person", about the subject of his portrait, not "who was the photographer."  That's something that really resonated with me.

Greg Heisler will spend a great deal of time getting to know his subject before he actually shoots the portrait.  He spoke of having had a studio in Manhattan for several decades and, of how few portraits were actually shot there over the years.  His studio was more like a laboratory, where he would take ideas he had for a portrait assignment, test it, using one of his assistants in place of the subject and, then, execute that setup out in the field, where he was actually going to do the portrait of the subject.  He creates images which really capture the essence of who it is he's photographing and the results speak for themselves.  Absolutely amazing portraits.

Greg Heisler has over 70 Time magazine covers under his belt.  He has a new book, which was just released, called 50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer.  I have a copy and, while I haven't read it yet, Greg did use the photos from that book, along with a few outtakes, for his presentation.  In true Heisler fashion, despite the fact that he used images from the book, the presentation wasn't about the book, the sign of a real master.  I have more to say about lessons from Greg Heisler, but I'm going to save those for another post.

So, there are a few highlights from two days in NYC.  It really is a great city and, when you couple it with the opportunity to listen to folks like Joe McNally, Rafael Conception and Gregory Heisler, it doesn't get much better.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Playing with video...

For a while now DSLRs have been able to shoot video in addition to still photos.  The video function has been okay; image quality is right up there, but the design of a DSLR is truly intended to shoot still images, holding your eye to the viewfinder and "snapping" the shot.  When you switch to video mode, you wind up having to use the small LCD display on the back of the camera as your "viewfinder",  which, in my case, usually means having to have it a bit away from my face.  This puts you in a naturally unsteady shooting position.  That said, a tripod is really the way to go, but not always practical depending on where you are shooting.  A monopod is the next best thing.

Audio is another issue.  While a DSLR is capable of recording good audio, the tiny microphone built into the camera has some serious short comings.  First, because it's in the camera, it's very susceptible to all kinds of noise generated by simply using the camera.  In addition, it's quality is dubious because of it's size and location.  These shortcomings have spawned a plethora of aftermarket audio devices intended to be attached, mechanically and electrically, to a DSLR.  Being the gearhead that I am and, also wanting to venture into the video end of things (I did lots of high end video years ago, with dedicated video gear, long before it became in vogue), I purchased some of these cool accessories.  Among them are a Beachtek DXA-SLR Pro audio adapter, which allows me to connect high (broadcast) quality mics, wired and wireless to my DSLRs.  This is a huge improvement over the built in mic and offers a good deal of flexibility and features like audio monitoring and mixing of two channels.

I could go on for a bit, but suffice it to say that learning the ins and outs of video with a DSLR will be a fun road, filled with errors to learn from.  Last weekend, I shot some video of the annual Gilford Old Home Day Woodsmen's competition.  This is really my first "serious" experiment with video, so don't be too harsh.  It was shot with a Nikon D3s DSLR, the Beachtek audio adapter coupled to a shoe mounted Sennheiser microphone and I used my 80-200mm f/2.8 lens.

And, I've also been playing with a GoPro Hero3HD Black Edition action video/still camera.  Really a cool device and I have a mount for it on the inside of my windshield.  Coming back from a shoot last week, I recorded a couple of interesting clips:


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Something new....

I've been pretty poor at posting new stuff in here, something which I hope to remedy.  Since my last post, I've done some cool stuff, including the unveiling of the "The Faces of Laconia" project.  The response I received at the unveiling on June 17th at the Laconia Public Library was overwhelming, with the Rotary Meeting Room totally packed.  Thank you to Brenda Polidoro and the Laconia Historical and Museum Society for supporting this project by helping to coordinate the portrait sessions and getting the display up in the library.  We're now talking about making this an ongoing series and, perhaps, producing a book or two.

Been doing some more portraits, fireworks and scenic shots in the last few months, all stuff that I love doing.  Playing with light is such a cool thing and having learned a great deal about it from people like Joe McNally and David Hobby, it's fun to put some of that into practice.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to photograph Amanda, a lovely, local friend.  We used her barn for a couple of shoots and at the first outing, I was pleased as heck with nearly all of the images we did.  Here are a couple from the first shoot:

Any one who knows me "photographically", knows that I really enjoy shooting fireworks.  So, being in a touristy area in Northern New England, I seize every opportunity over the summer to shoot fireworks.  I also had a chance to shoot at Disney in January, which was great fun.  From Epcot:

And something more local:

Had the opportunity to do some sunrises along the Maine coast earlier this week.  Here are a couple of images from that shoot:

One of the next things I'm looking to try are some "hyperlapse" time lapse sequences, which are literally thousands of images, taken using a technique called "bulb ramping" a means of adjusting the rate of the time lapse images as they're being taken.  The inspiration for this came from photographer Geoff Tompkinson.  I have no delusions about creating anything that comes even close to Geoff's work, but it's an area that piques my interests as a photographer and a techno geek.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Review of Elinchrom EL Skyport USB RX Speed Radio Transceiver Slave, 8 Frequency Channels, 40-Bit Security Encryption

Originally submitted at Adorama

Elinchrom EL Skyport USB RX Speed Radio Transceiver Slave, 8 Frequency Channels, 40-Bit Security Encryption

Excellent very well

By Alan from Lakes Region, New Hampshire on 12/13/2012


4out of 5

Pros: Lightweight, Easy To Use, Reliable

Best Uses: Studio, Portraits

Describe Yourself: Professional

Was this a gift?: No

My primary mission for this was to be able to upgrade the firmware in my Quadra units. I'm liking the ability to store studio presets and, recently, used the transceiver to adjust flashes in a moderately complex macro setup doing product photography.


Monday, September 17, 2012

My Review of Photek Softliter 60" Diffused Umbrella

Great product for the money

By Alan MacRae from New Hampshire on 9/17/2012


4out of 5

Pros: Fits Elinchrom, Lightweight, Easy To Use

Cons: Ribs Are A Bit Light

Best Uses: Portraits, Traveling

Describe Yourself: Professional

Was this a gift?: No

I love the light I get out of this. It's size makes it great for outdoor shots. I'm a bit concerned about how strong the ribs are. The umbrella comes with a warning paper telling you to make sure it's unfurled before you open it. In an outdoor shoot with some wind, this could be a problem, but time will tell.