DIY – build a loupe

Where’s the image? The LCD screen is difficult to see in bright light.


For years photographers have used a loupe to check focus on the groundglass of a view camera, or to inspect a negative or slide. A loupe is simply a magnifier for very close viewing. With the advent of digital cameras, a loupe takes on a new role.  It’s pretty hard to resist chimping your images while shooting; but out in the bright sun it’s almost impossible to see the image on your LCD screen. A loupe can help by blocking out the light while checking your screen.

This post will give you step-by-step instructions for building your own loupe. The parts will cost you less than $15 and it takes a little less than an hour to make.

The parts to make a loupe will cost about $15.
The parts to make a loupe will cost under $15.

Continue reading “DIY – build a loupe”

Blur + Detail = Action! (Part 1)

Kenny Roberts maneuvers his Yamaha cafe racer through a turn at Laguna Seca Raceway; July 1975
Kenny Roberts maneuvers his Yamaha cafe racer through a turn at Laguna Seca Raceway; July 1975


I have always enjoyed action and sports photography. In fact, it was my love of motorcycle racing that led to my love of photography. As a young adult, I spent countless hours tromping around the Laguna Seca Raceway, loaded down with camera gear, in pursuit of the ultimate racing photographs. Riders, like Kenny Roberts above, would race their motorcycles at lightning speed, challenging the expertise and fast reflexes of both themselves and sports photographers.

Action photography offers some special challenges. First of all, when dealing with high-speed action, it is important to capture enough frozen detail to give the viewer a “picture” of what is happening. Still photographs can disclose plenty of information not discernible to the naked eye. Check out the long-jumper below, frozen at the peak of her jump.

Fast shutter speeds freeze action, giving the viewer details about the movement
Fast shutter speeds freeze action, giving the viewer details about the movement

Her facial expression and outstretched arms are captured in great detail, this is something that you may not otherwise be able to see during the jump.

Continue reading “Blur + Detail = Action! (Part 1)”

Independence Day – 2009


July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

After the Sacramento Rivercats game ended on Friday night, they had a pretty nice fireworks display at Raley Field. This was taken from across the Sacramento River along the promenade. I included one of the towers of the Tower Bridge because I wanted a stationary and recognizable object in the image in order to provide some scale to the fireworks.

Fireworks photos are pretty easy, if you can control the shutter speed of your camera. For a time exposure, a sturdy tripod is essential to keep the camera from moving during the exposure. I used a 10 second time exposure for this shot – I also set the lens at f/22 (ISO 200). This gave me a good base exposure for the bridge. I just locked the shutter open while a few fireworks bursts went off. It’s hit or miss, sometimes you’ll get a lot of bursts (and sometimes more is not better), other times, there won’t be very many bursts.

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Getting There on Two Wheels


It’s getting easier to get around town on a bike. With more cyclists hitting the road to beat the gas prices, auto drivers are getting used to bicycles maneuvering through traffic. This photo is meant to give the viewer the sense of relative movement between cars and bikes. Even in a bike lane, it’s a little un-nerving when a car whizzes past my shoulder with a speed difference of 25-30 MPH.

This photo was taken with a remote setup. My Canon Digital Rebel XT was mounted on a bracket attached to the rear axle of the bike. The camera was remotely triggered with a radio trigger in my right hand. The bracket was made from a shelf bracket I picked up at Home Depot. I drilled out the holes so I could attach one end of the bracket to the bike axle and the other end holds a ball-head for adjusting the camera. (You can click on the photos to see a larger image.)

I set the camera to manual exposure with a slow shutter speed (1/30 sec.) in order to gain some motion blur from the moving car and roadway.

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Light from an earlier time


This still life depicts a soft moody setting, with the viewfinder lit much more brightly than the rest of the scene. Naturally, your eye will go the brightest part of an image, so make sure that the brightest part of the image is the most important part.

This image was taken in a very dark room with a 20 second exposure; the lens was set on f/22. Using a technique called Light Painting, the entire scene was “painted” with a small LED flashlight. I kept moving it around the center of the scene to give a brighter center and darkened, vignetted edges. I also held the light on the glass viewfinder for a couple of seconds to make sure it glowed brightly.

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Passionately Pink

I recently shot some images for a promotional campaign for the Sacramento Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation – the campaign is called Passionately Pink. I photographed a few prominent legislators at the State Capitol; they are showing their support for the Komen campaign by wearing pink ties, boas, whatever.

These are some of the final images chosen for the campaign. On all photos, I used a single speedlight with a white shoot-through umbrella. I needed to move quickly so as not to interfere with their busy schedules. In some cases, I had less than 5 minutes to move into the office, pick out a setting, establish rapport with the subject, set up the light, test exposure, move them into position and get the right expression, take some shots, then grab everything and get the heck outta there. (Click on the images to see a larger version.)

Senator Darrell Steinberg’s office had this great old brown leather couch, so I asked him to sit on his couch. I positioned the main light to the left of the camera and attached a white reflector to the door that is just out of view on his left shoulder. Senator Steinberg was very relaxed and quickly jumped into the picture.

Assemblyman Dave Jones was a lot of fun. He was busy that afternoon, he was literally putting on the pink tie while he was walking around his office discussing things with his staff. There was not a lot of floorspace in his office, so I set up the light stand on the center of his conference table and let the reflective wood paneling on the wall take care of filling in light on the dark side of the image. (I used three business cards as coasters on the table to insulate the light stand feet from the surface of the table.) When I was ready, he stepped into the photo and was immediately relaxed and present as I shot away.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (top photo) was very receptive, in spite of her busy schedule. I set up the main light on camera right and let the window light provide fill and nice ambient light for the scene. This photoshoot was the fastest, yet we had time to include Assemblywoman Patty Berg (right) in some of the shots. Both women were very down to earth and the images show their genuine support for the Komen mission.

This assignment was a lot of fun. It’s always a pleasure to shoot for the Komen group, they are very committed to eliminating breast cancer. These images will be shown on video screens in restaurants, in movie theaters between movie screenings, and on websites. The final video presentation required that all images be taken in a horizontal format; usually portraits are taken in the vertical format. It’s always important to understand the final usage of the images before taking them.

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Night Fountains


Downtown Sacramento has a pedestrian mall that connects Old Sacramento with the Community Center. Some of the blocks in between are a little under-developed, but at the end of the mall near the Community Center, several restaurants and outdoor venues provide a nice open area for quiet time. These fountains have a nice calming effect among the city traffic. I also have a daytime shot of these fountains, for a different perspective.

This photo was a 15 second time exposure, which allowed the flowing water to take on a very silky look. It also converted passing cars into white and red light streaks. Time exposures require a very sturdy tripod and lots of patience.

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Portrait with two lights…..and an ice chest lid.


Every once in a while you have to make use of whatever is laying around. In this case, I took a portrait of Kenny in a small space in a cabin. I used the bookcase to hold a black fleece backdrop and a hairlight on a clamp. I had two lights and wanted to use the second light as a hair light to keep the top of his head from disappearing into the black background. When I took a few test shots, I noticed the right side of his face was too dark. I looked around the cabin for something to use as a white reflector to add a little bit of light to the dark side of his face. I spotted a large white styrofoam ice chest on top of the refrigerator. I used a large rubber band to attach the lid from the ice chest to the back of a chair and placed it just to Kenny’s right. See the setup photo below.
(You can click on this setup photo to open a larger one in a new window.)

Main light: I placed a Vivitar 285 on a light stand, at camera right, with a white shoot-thru umbrella. This flash was set to 1/4 power and was placed about 3′ from him. I set the light stand on a table.

Hair light: I then used a Home Depot squeeze-clamp to mount another Vivitar 285 to the bookshelf behind and above Kenny. This flash was set at 1/16 power and had a gridspot on it to localize the light just on Kenny’s hair and right shoulder (opposite the main light).

Reflector: I attached the white styrofoam lid to a chair and placed it to Kenny’s right side.

Camera Position: I placed myself about 5′ away from Kenny.

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AMGEN 2008 Tour of California


AMGEN’s 2008 Tour of California came through Sacramento today. The rain arrived just before the cyclists reached the edge of town. They rode three two-mile laps on city streets before sprinting to the finish line for Stage 2 of the race.
This shot was taken with my camera clamped to the end of an extended painter’s pole, about 12′ above the ground. It’s like a miniature aerial view.
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