new year’s resolution

i’m sure you’ve seen the bumper stickers… “my dad has more megapixels than your dad”. they are mean-sprited and hurtful, and even though i am a proponent of free speech, i think they should be banned. although it has subsided a bit, there is much buzz to be had about megapixels. it’s really nothing more than marketing hype. i would say that the casual picture taker is fine with anything more than 3 megapixels. you can very safely print an 8×10 with a 3 megapixel file. really, are you going to be putting those pictures of your dog on a highway billboard? most likely not, so there’s no need for 15 megapixels. on the other hand, more megapixels does afford you the ability to crop your photos after with less loss of quality.

** warning – there is math in the following paragraph **
wait a minute, what is a megapixel anyway? well, a pixel is short for “picture element”. it’s basically a dot. a megapixel is 1,000,000 pixels. actually it’s 1,048,576 pixels (2 to the 20th power), but who’s counting? a really low resolution picture could be 800 pixels by 600 pixels. multiply those together and that gives you the number: 480,000 pixels, or roughly a half of a megapixel. let’s keep with the standard aspect ratio of a typical photo which is 4:3 (800 over 600 gives a 4 to 3 aspect ratio). at 10 megapixels you have (10 (megapixels) * 1,048,576 (pixels in a megapixel) = 10,485,760 total pixels). think of it like a rectangle with a 4:3 aspect ratio and you get two equations:
(1) Area (in megapixels) = X * Y
(2) 4/3 = Y/X
take equation 1 and solve for X
(3) X = Area/Y
sub X into equation 2
(4) 4/3 = Y/(Area/Y)
solve equation 4 for Y
(5) Y = sqrt((4*Area)/3)
sub in megapixels into Area and solve for Y
(6) Y = sqrt((4*10,485,760)/3)
(7) Y = 3739 (rounded to nearest whole number)
sub Y into equation 3 to get X
(8) X = 10,485,760/3739
(9) X = 2804 (rounded to nearest whole number)

there you have it – a 10 megapixel shot will give you a photo with the dimensions of 2804 by 3739. now that i’ve written that out i realize it’s pretty close to useless, but maybe it’ll help you understand what all the numbers mean and where they come from.

before you start drooling over the pixel count on some new camera that you want, i must warn you that more is not always better. the sensor in the camera is only so big and the pixels can only be so small. in order to fit more pixels onto the sensor, they have to get squeezed way closer together to use every bit of sensor real estate available; the result is that the pixel density increases. i’ll use an illustration to explain: imagine setting up bowling pins in a row evenly spaced 2 feet apart from one another. when you roll the ball toward the pins, chances are you’re only going to hit one pin since the ball is not two feet in diameter. the ball is the photon of light and the pins are the pixels on the sensor. this would be a low-density setup. now get those pins so that they’re all touching one another with no spacing between them. roll the ball again. you’ll probably knock down three or four with the one ball. if you were using the amount of pins that fell down to determine how many balls were thrown, that would be a poor representation because it would be indicating three or four balls were thrown. this is roughly equivalent to the photons of light spilling over into adjacent pixels because they’re too dense. on dslr cameras and probably even some point-and-shoots, the pixel density is specified. take a look at it when you’re doing your comparisons – it’s a much ignored but important camera specification.

next up: focal length

white balancing act

sometimes the color is off so much in a photo that people look like oompa loompas from charlie and the chocolate factory. once in awhile your friends might end up looking like smurfs. what gives? the white balance is off. modern cameras do an awesome job of calculating white balance, especially when flash is used, but there are times when it can get messed up.

the way it works technically is that the camera (or computer if you’re doing post-processing) does its best to pick what it thinks is supposed to be a neutral gray tone in the picture. once it determines that, it bases all of the other colors off of that gray tone. if the camera picks the wrong color for its nuetral gray, you can see why the colors would get skewed. here’s the same photo with different extreme white balances:

color temperature : 2450K

color temperature : 10100 K
notice the labels on the pictures. white balance is measured on a kelvin scale, which is a temperature. it’s the same temperature scale on the boxes of fluorescent light bulbs at lowe’s or home depot. the higher the temperature, the warmer the color (orange and red hues). conversely, the lower the temperature, the cooler the color appears (blue and greenish hues). a textbook photo has a perfectly balanced white point for true color reproduction. you can purposefully alter the white balance from its neutral point to emphasize something in the photo that you feel is there. color is a strong tool because it can evoke different emotions and feelings. subtle differences can make a big impact. take the next three photos for example. same photos, different white balances. do you see and feel the difference?
color temperature : 2850K

color temperature : 4550K

color temperature : 9900K

you can put white balance on auto mode or you can set it manually. even point and shoots will allow you to change the white balance, they just give it cute code names like “portrait, night scene, indoors, cloudy, etc…” on dslr cameras they just let you choose the color temperature.

i’m not going to delve into the jpg and raw shooting differences, but i do want to mention that if you shoot in jpg (all point-and-shoots force you to, dslr cameras give you a choice) then you cannot non-destructively alter the white balance in post-processing. you can change it slightly without noticeable degredation, but it’s not the best. if you shoot in raw, you can use the entire spectrum of color temperature during post-processing in a non-destructive manner. there are reasons why but i’d hate it if my blog readers were all passed out in front of their computer because i started talking about image compression.

next up: resolution

ISO – how sensitive are you?

you may have heard the term ‘ISO-9001 certified’ before in some boring business conversation or seen it stamped on a big business ad somewhere. ISO stands for international standards organization. they set guidelines and absolute measurement scales for things so everybody can be on the same page. one day, long ago, cameras used to have this thing called “film”. it was a thin plastic-like material that you shoved inside the back and the picture was saved onto it. this so-called “film” had speed ratings, which were measured in ISO numbers. the speed of the film was actually referring to how sensitive it was to light. the higher the number, the more sensitive the film, the quicker it could get enough light to expose properly which would allow you to shoot in low-light with faster shutter speeds. remember shutter speed? conversely, a low ISO number like 100 would be pretty insensitive to light. this would be the stuff you’d load into your camera if you were shooting outdoors on a bright sunny day.

ok, who cares, no one uses film anymore, right? that’s pretty much true for 99% of people. we still care because digital cameras also have an ISO setting. in our fancy shmancy digital cameras there is a “sensor” that captures the image rather than using a roll of film. the sensor gets blasted with photons of light when the shutter opens and it records the intensities of the photons on each tiny subsection (these subsections of the sensor are called pixels – more on this in the future post about resolution). the ISO parameter controls the sensitivity of the sensor, the parallel of the film speed in analog world.

still wondering why you should care? i’ve talked to a few people who say their pictures keep coming out “grainy” or “blotchy”. this is referred to as “noise”. i will spare you the origin of the term or else i’ll start talking about least significant bits and resistive ladders and delta-sigma modulators. generally the higher the ISO, the more noise will be introduced into your photo. noise most typically shows up as pixels being blown out completely. in addition, at very high ISO levels there can be severe color degredation and other negative effects. if your photos look real bad, check to see if your ISO is manually set high. keep in mind that the better the camera, the more capable it is to produce clean photos at higher ISOs. if you’re shooting with an entry level dslr, you probably will start seeing degredation once you pass ISO800. with a point and shoot you’d want to have it set to auto and let the camera calculate what it needs. the exception to this rule is if the camera keeps producing poor quality photos because the flash is off, there’s not enough light, and the only option it has is to jack up the ISO so it has a prayer of exposing the picture properly. in this case you’d probably want to enable flash so the ISO can be reduced.

here’s an example of a clean image shot with ISO200

here’s an example of a noisy image shot with ISO6400

the easiest place to see the difference is on the hardwood floor and the back wall. coloration varies between the photos and most textures appear pixelated. the differences are easier to see when the photos are larger.

now you know about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. these are the big three for cameras. go mess around with your camera – the only way to learn is to try. good luck, and let me know if you’ve got any questions…

unrelated useless info: the bench cushion and the pillow in the forefront in these pictures was handmade by my lovely wife tara and the bench itself was built by yours truly. maybe i’ll start bluefurniture if i find enough spare time.


next up: white balance

scam, fraud, and grand theft bridal

we interrupt your regularly scheduled camera basics mini-series to bring you this breaking news… in a recent blog post there was talk about the boston 411 spring home and bridal show. i have been registered for the show since october and was very excited about it up until this afternoon. why would the excitement die off one week before the actual event? one very big reason was this:

the bridal show was a scam

i wish i was kidding. i really do. $1400 for the hotel room and the booth, hundreds more dollars for printed material, hundreds for booth setup items, and tons of hours planning and thinking about it – all gone in an instant. you see, the show was supposed to be at the hynes convention center in boston, but i received a disturbing call from them today notifying me that there is no show scheduled for next weekend. to make a long story short, i ended up speaking with the legal department of the convention center and was told that the show never existed and that federal authorities were being contacted to investigate the case. jamie edwards of the boston 411 had sold numerous booths to unsuspecting wedding vendors. on top of that, she sold hotel rooms that were supposedly blocked by the boston 411 to be sold to vendors at a discount. a phone call to the hotel returned the fact that no rooms had ever actually been booked. fraud. lies. how many tickets were sold to attendees? how many people will show up friday night expecting a bridal show only to find locked doors to the convention center?

this woman, this ‘company’, lied to so many people, deceived so many people, stole from so many people, and now has fallen off the face of the earth. she stole from brides who were trying to plan their wedding, families of brides who were supporting their daughter/sister/friend, and vendors who are trying to move their business forward by investing in it so they can make an honest living. it blows my mind that there are people who have such a calloused conscience that they can mess with so many unsuspecting and presumably honest people. i spoke with jamie edwards on the phone multiple times leading up to the show. this woman had conversations with me about table sizes, booth colors, and rules about food samples not being more than 2 ounces. the detail that was invested into this calculated and premeditated fraud scheme was impressive. my guess is that jamie edwards is not new to the con-artist game.

to the people that were planning on attending, i apologize.
to my fellow vendors that were slated to be involved, i sympathize.
to the blog readers that are not directly involved, be warned that these types of people are out there.
to jamie edwards and the boston 411, you should be ashamed of yourself. enjoy the money, hopes, and aspirations that you stole from us all, you obviously needed it more than us…

nice aperture

ever wonder how professional photographers get shots with the person in focus and everything else encapsulated in a dreamy haze? it doesn’t require any photoshop magic, but rather just a little understanding of aperture.

there is a part of the lens that is close to the lens/body junction, basically a hole, whos function is to let light through when a photo is taken. the amount that the hole opens is called the aperture. aperture is measured on a numeric scale where a smaller the number indicates a larger opening on the lens. the aperture control can be thought of as your eyelid and how much you open it. the wider you open it, the more light comes in. when it’s real sunny, you squint. why? to reduce the amount of light intake. cameras are very similar except they can’t wear sunglasses.

in isolation, the aperture’s main influence on your photo will be the depth-of-field. here’s a couple examples to explain depth of field. this first picture has an aperture of 1.8 (referred to as f/1.8) while the second photo is taken at f20. the object focused on is the garlic clove (the white thing that looks like a small alien spacecraft) in both photos.

above picture at f/1.8

above picture at f/20

notice how at f1.8, the objects in front of and behind the alien spacecraft get blurrier the further away they are. at f20, everything in the picture is relatively clear even though the focus point in both photos was the same. that’s it. you want dreamy portraits? flip that camera into ‘aperture priority’ mode and start playing around with different aperture sizes. your camera will be gracious enough to adjust your shutter speed so you have perfect exposure every time. go crazy.

ummmmm, hang on. that’s not the whole story. let me tell you one more thing before you go open a photography business and put me out on the streets with your newfound knowledge. the other thing that aperture has a big influence on is how quickly it can get enough light into the sensor to correctly expose a photo. you can think of this like holding a poland springs bottle out in the rain as compared to holding a trash barrel out in the same rain storm. which will collect more water quicker? the trash can. that’s a larger aperture (remember – lower number, like our f/1.8 photo). ok, now you can go crazy.

here’s a quick summary of aperture:
* smaller aperture, bigger opening, more light, shallow depth-of-field *
* larger aperture, smaller opening, less light, deeper depth-of-field *

dead horse beating section below (reader caution – could be considered rambling beyond this point):
still not clear on aperture? man, photograph puns are horrible. anyway – hold your arm out in front of you and put up a few fingers. close one eye. you are now a camera. now let’s set you to a low aperture. open your eye all the way and focus right on your fingers. without shifting your focus from your finger, try to take note of how blurry the objects past your finger are. this is mildly difficult to do, but it is possible. in this mode, you’ve got a shallow depth-of-field. let’s switch you over to f/16. keeping focus on your finger and one eye closed, squint so your eye is barely open. you’ll notice that even though you’re focused on your finger, the objects in the background are nearly completely in focus also. you’ve got a deep depth-of-field, but your sacrifice is the amount of light you’re able to take in with your eye all squinted and bunched up. let that sink in, it’ll all make sense, i promise. don’t forget to open up your other eye before reading the rest.

each lens has its limit to the lowest you can go with the aperture. more expensive lenses can open up wider and are referred to as “fast lenses”. low-light situations such as traditional church wedding ceremonies require fast lenses. the rule for wedding lenses is usually no slower than f/2.8, but that’s going to hit your wallet pretty hard, take it from me.

next up: ISO

scrutinizing shutter speed

most people know that the shutter of the camera is what opens and closes when you take a picture. we’ll start with this component because it’s the easiest to understand of the three main contributors to your photo capture (the other two being ISO and aperture). shutter speed is measured in seconds, although more commonly in fractions of a second. the shutter speed can affect a few things in a photo, but in isolation its main impact is on the ‘fluidity’ of the picture. the easiest way to illustrate this is with some examples.

this first photo is taken with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second, f/5, ISO 250, and with on-camera flash. for this post we’re only interested in the shutter speed parameter. notice how the water looks pretty sharp and ‘frozen in time’.

this second photo was taken of the same exact drip stream of water, but with a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second, f/11, ISO 1600, and no flash. the same flow of water now looks more fluid, almost like a complete stream. the use of the flash makes a difference, but the concept is illustrated the same.

what’s the deal? why does it do that? when the shutter snaps quickly (generally anything faster than 1/100 second) you typically get a clean picture that doesn’t have any blur. most things don’t move very much in 1/100 second. when you shoot with a shutter speed down in the range of about 1/30 second all the way down to multiple seconds, you are essentially taking a video that keeps overlapping onto the same photo. lots of things can move in a few seconds, even lazy people. as long as the shutter is open, it’s letting light in to hit the sensor and recording it.

“matt, my point-and-shoot camera pictures keep coming out blurry and i don’t know what’s going on, plus i don’t care about all this technical stuff. how do i fix it? ps – i love your blog.” well first off that’s very flattering. secondly, chances are that your friend, mr. shutter, is too slow. the simplest and most casual way to remedy that problem is by turning your flash on. this will allow your shutter to fire faster than 1/60 of a second and your blurs and ghosting should disappear. there are other ways, but they’ll be explained in a later post after we learn about a few other things.

due to a high risk of beating a dead horse by continuing this little shutter biography, i will end this post here. if you have any questions, feel free to leave’em in the comments and i will reply as quick as i can and try to help you out.

next up: aperture

sharpen your pencils

as a photographer i often get “how do i” type inquiries and questions from people regarding basic camera control. i thought it would be a practical and appreciated use of blogspace to write a short miniseries on camera basics for all that are interested. i realize the majority of people use point-and-shoot cameras (or even iphones and other cell phones) to take casual photos. entry-level dslr cameras are also becoming more common (nikon D3000, canon rebel XS, etc…), so these posts will be written accordingly. those of you with the aforementioned dslr’s that use them in automatic mode all the time are only using a small part of your camera’s capability. even with the simplest camera, a basic understanding of how the camera works will allow you to use it in ways you hadn’t before and can open up new photo possibilities.

we’ll walk through shutter speed, aperture, ISO, flash, white balance, dynamic range, exposure blending and HDR techniques, focal length, and resolution basics. i’ll dedicate a post to each topic and try to get one out each day. i promise to try not to make it too nerdy, although as an electrical engineer by degree it will probably be very difficult for me.

keep me in check. just leave me a mean-spirited comment reprimanding me for talking about bits and logic levels and analog-to-digital converters if it gets out of hand.

feel free to fire off any questions about any of the content along the way. i hope this series helps you guys out. stay tuned…

i need the bluecube

it’s time to formally introduce the bluecube. in case this gets as popular as i think it will, i will write this blog post as if it were a wikipedia entry so in the future i can simply copy paste from here to wikipedia, the source of all internet knowledge. in the third person, here we go…

This article does not cite any references or sources.
Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed(February 2010)



the bluecube is a photobooth that was custom designed by blueflash photography. it nominally measures 8 feet wide by 8 feet long by 8 feet tall. it is 128 cubic feet of photographic goodness. its size is adjustable ranging from 6′ x 6′ x 6′ all the way up to 10′ x 10′ x 10′.


origins
the bluecube is the brainchild of matt celeste, owner/operator/photographer/head of marketing and sales/chief financial officer/secretary/biggest fan/first employee/graphic designer/janitor of blueflash photography. he felt as though most photobooths that were available were either one or both of the following: overpriced and too small. the large size of the bluecube allows bigger groups of party/wedding guests to pile in. a picture of auntie edith and cousin bill is nice, but wouldn’t it be better if grandma gertrude, uncle jerry, the bride and the groom, and a few other guests could get in the picture? heck, you might as well grab the photographer and have him in there too. the more the merrier. as for price, a quick internet search will reveal the fact that most photobooths will run you well over $1000 for a four hour rental. after hours, days, even weeks on end of grueling brainstorming by the blueflash think tank, the solution to this problem was found: don’t make the price that high.

after a hundred paper designs, a prototype was finally built using pvc piping and ikea bed sheets. the concept was proven and steps were taken to move the idea from prototype to saleable photobooth. standing in the prototype setup, a conversation went like this:


matt: so what do you think dad?
matt’s dad: it’s ok… except i feel like i’m standing in the plumbing department at lowe’s

the decision was soon thereafter made not to build the final unit with pvc pipe. thanks dad for the input.

guts
the heart of the bluecube is mostly proprietary and cannot be divulged on such mediums as open-source internet encyclopedias. it does include, but is not limited to, a professional dslr camera in conjunction with studio strobes to provide high quality photographs.

branding
the following logo will be used to market the bluecube

output
the photos that the bluecube produces look a lot like matthew celeste’s profile photo on facebook. they are bright and full of energy. all the photos from a bluecube session are posted to the blueflash website under the bluecube section. all photos are posted in both color and black and white. they can be ordered in any print size and on pretty much any item you can think of, i.e. mousepads, keychains, tote bags, coffee mugs, elephants, buttons, etc… you can also order a digital download of the file and walk to your favorite cvs and purchase some low quality prints at your leisure.

references
blueflashphotography.com
ineedthebluecube.com

what do you think?

the boston 411

the title of this post sounds like it’s trying to be clever, but really it’s the name of a bridal show coming up the first weekend in march. the boston 411 spring home and bridal show is march 5th, 6th, and 7th at the hynes convention center in boston, massachusetts. blueflash will be there in the corner booth, a giant 20 foot by 10 foot booth right near the main stage where all the shows are happening. this will be my first bridal show, either as an attender or as a vendor. when my wife was going to bridal shows for our wedding planning a couple years ago, i was conveniently doing stereotypical male activities like using power tools or riding my motorcycle.

i’ve got boothmates… i will be joined by rachel rosati of sweet somethings – a custom cupcake company doing business in the new england area. i’ll write more about sweet somethings in a future post. she’s bringing 5000 (five thousand!) cupcakes for samples to hand out to show attendees. i figure that at least 3000 will actually make it to attendees and the other 2000 will mysteriously go missing throughout the weekend.
rounding out our eclectic assortment of vendors in one booth will be ashley tucker of inbloom. she makes the custom hairpieces that are rapidly growing in popularity across the country. some of her work can be seen in the shots of molly in the previous blog post. she makes much more than what’s seen in the photos, you’ll have to come by the booth to check it all out. she’s going to have roughly 50 sample pieces on hand for display and for sale. more and more brides are opting for a unique hair piece rather than a traditional veil.
lastly, i will be there. my display will consist of a bunch of prints of different sizes ranging from 6″x9″ up to 20″x24″. i’ll have photobooks for people to browse through, a slideshow running on a large monitor, 5000 business cards (we have a “5000” theme we’re trying to push), and my wife whose job is to increase the aesthetic appeal. in addition to all of that, the bluecube will make it’s official debut. the bluecube needs enough explaining to warrant its own post, so i’ll devote the next one to bluecube and dump the details there. all i’ll say here is that it’ll be setup the entire weekend and will be open for anybody and everybody to use for free.

yes, our booth will be happening. very, very happening. there will be flashes going off from bluecube and frosting flying all over the place from the cupcakes and all of our hair will be neatly pinned in place during the chaos courtesy of the inbloom hair clips.

if anybody is interested in attending the show on any of the three days, let me know. leave a comment and i can get you some complimentary tickets. i have a limited amount since i am a vendor in the show. i’ve already distributed a decent amount of them to most of my brides but i still have some left. let me know as soon as you can, i’d love to see you all there! next post – what the heck is the bluecube?

the molly project

being the wedding off-season, i felt it was a perfect time to organize a shoot purely for creative purposes. i started by searching around for a model and eventually stumbled across molly. good find number one. i wanted to do this right, so i was going to need hair and makeup. i threw out a facebook message asking if anyone wanted to be involved or knew someone else who’d be good for it and got a connection from a previous wedding client’s sister to kelly o’keefe of blush. good find number two. the hair spot was filled by ashley tucker, a friend of mine who is a hair stylist and also runs inbloom, a business that designs custom hair clips. not only would she style the hair, but she could throw in her hair clips for a little more interest. good find number three. the last link was the location. trunk show chic is a rhode island jewelry company that i’ve done a couple shoots for in the past and who just happened to grab a storefront in downtown providence. they actually signed the lease the night before the shoot. the space had high ceilings, huge windows, concrete floors, rough walls, and it was still kind of dirty. it was perfect. they were cool enough to let us use the space for the day and style the shoot with their jewelry.

at seven o’clock on saturday morning i loaded up the van with all the photo equipment and every potential prop i could scrounge up and headed over to the shoot location. a couple hours later molly, kelly, and ashley showed up and everyone went to work. we setup the first shot in the corner with a giant trunk i had, some old books, some twigs and branches, and the secret weapon – the fog machine. kelly and ashley turned molly into a dark, almost menacing looking model. we did a quick outfit change and took some more shots. i love this one below of her climbing out of the trunk.

kelly and ashley transformed molly into a totally different look and i tried some shots purposefully blowing out the background to get some real bright shots. we ended up with what you see on the right. the last look of the day was real natural looking makeup and some teased out hair. my terms for hair and makeup are probably incorrect, that’s why i take pictures instead of working in a salon. this was my favorite look of the day. molly’s outfit is actually a sheet that ashley skillfully held together with some hair clips (there may have been some duct tape involved too). here’s a couple from that look…

the day was awesome. molly was great to work with and was game for anything, including climbing out of a dirty old trunk, wearing a sheet, and getting sprayed by a fog machine over and over and over and over again. ashley did a great job with the hair and her clips added a lot to the shots. she also interpreted for me when i used boy terms for anything related to makeup, hair, and clothing. kelly nailed the makeup on every look and was a pleasure to work with. i would highly recommend her to any bride in the market for a makeup artist for their wedding. she’s way more than competent and has a great personality. stay tuned to the blog in the future because there will definitely be more from me and kelly on new collaborative projects. we’re in the process of planning some big stuff, but i can’t let the cat totally out of the bag quite yet. i’d like to give a huge thanks to everyone involved, especially trunk show chic for hooking us up with the space to use for the day. check out their website for some unique jewelry. be sure to also check out kelly’s site and learn a little more about her business. ashley’s inbloom site will be up soon and i’ll link up to it once it’s ready to go. more photos from this shoot can be found on the facebook page or on the blueflash website.

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