Water Dog Production

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The creation of a photo illustration is an integrated process of planning, studio set ups, execution, and lots of post production. I am collaborating with Portland photographer, Steve Temple in the creation of a series of fluid based illustrations. We are fine tuning our methods so that we can predict and repeat the studio processes of throwing fluids around in a creative but non-destructive way. Splashing water¬†doesn’t play well with studio cameras and high voltage strobes.

The internet is full of Photoshop tutorials on how to achieve certain effects. But the results are only as good as the image assets that comprise the source material. The creation of the source material is the secret. Without revealing too much about our methods, I thought it might be interesting to show a few behind the scenes photos of this project.

Throwing water around the studio is the biggest issue. Protecting the equipment and limiting the range of the splashes creates some logistical challenges. But that is why we get paid the big bucks.

The lighting set up is basic “glassware 101″, but only with a strobes that have a really short burst duration of about a .0001 second. (1-ten thousandth)

A Simple Pour

Deflected Pour

A Splash

A Toss

Another Toss


A collection of several Gigabytes of water splashes and pours are then reviewed and a library of parts are cataloged. Then, sitting in front of the computer for several hours begins. Just like looking at clouds and seeing fantasy elements, I stared at the water shots and saw some components that fit an image I have in my archive.

This photo was made several years ago of an Irish Water Spaniel competing in a dock diving event. The concept of creating a water dog from water was self evident and so it was the genesis for this illustration. To watch a video of a dock diving Irish Water Spaniel, here is a link of my dog Cooper practicing.

Balloo, an Irish Water Spaniel makes a 20 foot jump into a pool at the Washington County fairgrounds during a dock diving competition

Now with all the parts, just apply some artistic license, a few dozen layers in Photoshop, and now we have a water dog. The techniques in Photoshop are relatively basic, but having the assets to make it work is the secret sauce. Steve and I are creating a few more of these productions and should have a video in the near future to share as well.

My new favorite camera and old favorite lenses

A Sony NEX-7 recently came to live with me. I am about to leave on a trip to Europe and wanted a very compact, light, but high quality travel camera. One of the significant attributes of this camera is the ability to fit and use hundreds of lenses from different makers and with few restrictions. I happen to have a variety of lenses from Zeiss that I keep around for their wonderful image quality. I use them on my Canons and now they have a home on this Sony.

Below is the 35mm Zeiss Planar made for a Contax G rangefinder camera. I purchased this about 12 years ago as a part of my last film camera system. Because of the popularity of retrofitting these lenses on Sonys and other compact cameras, the value of this lens actually exceeds what I paid for it new. How often does that happen?

The Zeiss 85mm f/2.8 T* Sonnar is another that I have from the Contax SLR film days. It even has “Made in West Germany” engraved on the barrel. This cost about $125 used a decade ago, and I will not part with it until something better comes along for less than a $1000. It will be a long wait.

The  portrait below was made with the Sony and the 85mm Zeiss.

Here are a couple of details at full resolution.When a camera that has a 24 megapixel sensor like the Sony NEX-7 (6000 x 4000) is combined with a lens of this quality, other factors now come into play that can limit image quality. The only way to assure that this level of resolution can be rendered is to make sure that camera does not move during the exposure. Here is a professional photographer’s secret tip that most amateurs ignore: use a tripod.

This camera along with a selection of Zeiss lenses are set to travel to Wales and Paris next week. Plus a tripod.

The perfect camera is the one I have in my hands

The discussion of the “perfect camera” will be debated forever, by every photographer who has ever had access to a camera. There are elitists, reverse-snobs, pragmatists, brand loyalists, agnostics, evangelists, geeks, and every shade in between. Over time, I have embraced about all those points of view.

If I could wave my magic wand and make every option available simultaneously for my students, I would have them use every camera and make the same images over and over again until the novelty work its way through their brain. And then everyone would find out which system, camera, method that they feel most fluid with, and then go make photos.

For the record, I definitely have favorite lenses and simply attach them to any camera that fits. (more on that later)

But what struck me today was the contrast between these two photos of my Irish Water Spaniel, Cooper. On the left is a studio shot made with a medium format camera and digital back that cost in the neighborhood of $30K. The image on the right was made yesterday with my cell phone. Cost? Free, if you don’t count the monthly charges from Verizon. (It is an iPhone 4)

The value of the iPhone is that it is the one in my pocket, all the time, and is available for times like this. It is limited in speed, resolution, color, dynamic range, focal length, aperture controls, etc., etc. But it is convenient and if it captures that moment in time otherwise missed, then it is the perfect camera.

Welcome to the blog

“A cobbler’s child goes without shoes.”

After helping maintain another blog for the last 5 years (about my dogs), I finally put this one together. One element I stress with my photography students is maintaining a public presence outside of facebook and twitter. I have been very fortunate with my own business, which I get primarily through word of mouth and direct contacts. And those circumstances lulled me into complacency about maintaining my own public presence. Until now.

So this week there is a new website plus this blog. This format will allow me to address a number of non-commercial aspects of making images, discuss some of the “behind-the-scenes” of my business, and also share some of the interesting things that I have discovered along the way about images, art, and interesting people.

Below is an example of a spontaneous photo from my Spring class of Studio Photography at the Art Institute of Portland. The topic and demonstration was about using a 7.5′ parabolic umbrella as a single light source. As this was the last class of the term, a little pent up energy popped through as the Summer break was just a few days away.

The primary lesson learned that day: Photography can be fun