Workshop/Demo Announcement, 10/27/10

When: Wednesday, 10/27/10
Time: 8:00 PM, doors open at 7:30
What: Light Modifiers: How to Use and Make Them
Where: Wantaugh Library
3285 Park Avenue Wantagh, NY 11793
Directions: http://www.wantaghcameraclub.com/Meetings.html
Sponsored by: The Wantaugh Camera Club and Sekonic Meters
Admission is Free. There will be a drawing for Door Prizes at the end of the evening
More info: http://www.wantaghcameraclub.com/Presentations.html

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Posted on September 23, 2010 at 9:42 am by Steve Sint · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Workshops & Lectures

Cheetah Stands Update

As readers of my blog posts have noted, I was happy and excited to announce the return of the fast operating, Redwing type of light stand from the company called Cheetah Stands (model C8).

Well, I have now used my new Cheetah stand and can report that my happiness was justified! The new Cheetah stand design seems sturdier than the older Redwing design and has a couple of cool wrinkles incorporated into its design that improves its operation and will probably make it last longer in the trench warfare that is the wedding photography arena.

The new Cheetah C8 stand definitely qualifies as one of my favorite things!

Check out the photos below comparing my new coolness to my old and broken! The photos of the old stand are all on the left.

The first two shows how the old stand locks with a clamping action while the new one uses a metal block (the silvery thing shaped like an hourglass) to apply pressure on the center pole of the stand. From experience with older designs I can tell you the block works better.

The second two show the bigger, easier to grip, locking knobs on the new version and notice the big washer between the knob and the stand on the new version.

The third two shows the addition of a little cylindrical shaped casting on the mechanism that automatically opens the legs when you set the stand down. The little addition stops the legs from getting stuck between the leg braces so the automatic leg opening feature doesn’t get sticky. It works much better than the older design.

The NEW Cheetah Stand C8….I love it! (cheetahstand.com)


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Posted on June 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm by Steve Sint · Permalink · 3 Comments
In: My Favorite Things, Uncategorized

NewsFlash – Cheetah Stands

An old favorite returns with a new name!

I don’t know about where you live and work but one of the hottest accessories in my neck of the woods (NYC) was the RedWing automatic light stand. Sadly, the distributor stopped importing them a few years ago and soon after (when the stock of them sold out) they were nowhere to be found.

Their main claim to fame was the fact that they could be opened or closed with only one hand. Lift the main pole of the stand and the three outrigger legs automatically folded inwards. Place the base of the stand on the floor and the three outrigger legs automatically extended. The whole operation was amazing simple and FAST! The totally unique design let a photographer, who was working alone and holding his camera in one hand; move a second light on a stand around easily and QUICKLY!

There were two versions of the Redwing stand: a lightweight, 7-foot model and a taller (but much heavier) model. In honesty, I bought two of the taller, heavier ones but returned them because they were… well…. too heavy! However I also bought two of the lightweight ones and they immediately became part of my “kit” until finally (after years of hard use) one, then the other, finally broke. I used good parts from the two broken stands to cobble up one working unit, and although it still soldiers on, it is now on its last legs (pun intended).

Last week in the middle of 4 consecutive, wedding assignments I got a call from an old friend telling me that the Redwing line had been resurrected under the name Cheetah Stand (CheetahStand.com). I went to their site, looked at the fun little gifs showing how the stand worked, and immediately ordered two of their model C8 (the lighter weight one).

They arrived today and I can’t tell you how happy I am with my new purchases! What can I say, it’s the end of June, I’m exhausted, and I now find pleasure in the little things! Each C8 costs about $ 90 (plus UPS ground shipping) and, although I make no money if you buy one, I still think they are the best things since sliced bread!

The C8 Cheetah Stand really improved my mood at the end of a long June and if you’re looking for a Redwing replacement (or just a FAST light stand), this is it! CheetahStand.com

BTW – I drill two holes in the top section of my light stands and screw on an aluminum plate covered in Velcro to hold my radio slave. I used aircraft style locking nuts so the plate never loosens. See photo below.

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Posted on June 24, 2010 at 11:08 am by Steve Sint · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: My Favorite Things · Tagged with: ,

Get Organized – A book excerpt

What follows is a sidebar in the equipment chapter from my upcoming wedding photography book, “Digital Wedding Photography: Art, Business, and Style” published by Lark Books and available in stores in early 2011. Trying to finish the new book and keeping up with my May/June wedding schedule has me a bit frazzled and that has been to the detriment of my blog entries here. To anyone out there reading my scribbling, my apologies! I hope you find this info interesting and helpful.

Get Organized!

Throughout this chapter I keep harping on having backups (or multiple backups) for all your equipment. But, although I’m not a nag by nature, I can’t help but tell you how dumb you’ll feel if you find yourself at a wedding without a critical piece of equipment!  More importantly, you run the possibility of ruining a bride’s wedding pictures and finding yourself with a tarnished reputation. Both are something you should want to avoid at all costs! Here are some ideas for keeping track of all the equipment and stuff we carry with us.

Develop a packing plan for each of your equipment cases

Shortly after starting to shoot weddings you’ll realize that you don’t need to bring every lens you own (nor the kitchen sink!) to every wedding you shoot. But, after finding out which items you absolutely must have with you on every assignment (including backups), why not get into the habit of always packing your camera bag the exact same way. Some photographers I know just stuff their bags and cases with equipment in a willy-nilly way but I find this non-system has huge disadvantages. Where did you put that spare camera battery? Did you leave your battery charge plugged into the catering hall wall? Where’s that spare sync cord or radio slave you just know you packed? Every one of my bags cases is packed exactly the same way. This means that before I close it up (either before I leave my house to go to the wedding or as I pack up to leave the wedding I can glance at the open case and see if anything is missing. What’s that old saying? Oh yeah, “a place for everything and everything in its place!” It may sound old fashioned and offend your freewheeling, digital era sensibilities but it works.

Number it and Date it

On every assignment I carry two Nikon flash units, two Lumedyne flash packs along with two Lumedyne flash heads, and three Dynalite 1000 packs along with four Dynalite flash heads. Every flash unit, every flash pack, and every flash head is numbered. If the unit is black I put a small square of grey (or white) Gaffer tape on each item with the item’s number written on the tape with a Sharpie pen and if the item is a lighter color (than black) I just use the Sharpie to write its number right on the item. That way, when something breaks (and something is always breaking!), I don’t have to go nuts trying to figure which of the three packs (or the four heads) has to be sent in for repair. On assignment, when a pack or a head stops working I just note the pack’s (or head’s) number in my trusty little brain and pull out a spare. Doing this saves my time and my sanity!

Another numbering idea is to number your camera batteries. Currently I carry two batteries for each of my cameras and when I pack up at the end of the wedding I change the batteries in each of my two cameras. That way, when I get home and it’s time to charge my batteries I only have to charge the spare ones (outside the camera bodies) in my case.

To take this a step further, all my CF cards are numbered too. I use my initials followed by a number, then a dash, then the card’s capacity (written in another color ink). I use my cards in consecutive, numbered order because that way, when I download them I can do so in the chronological order I used them. Since I shoot about 100K images per year, doing this helps me to keep sane. There are three asides worth noting here:

  1. I’ve settled on 4 GB cards so each card fits onto a DVD with no hassles.
  2. I no longer bother to carry cards smaller than 2 GB
  3. For Nikon shooters: On Nikon DLR’s you can change the file prefix from “DCS” to letters of your own choosing. My two D300’s are named SS1 and SS2 so, if there’s a problem with a camera (dirty sensor, etc.) I can easily trace the problem back to which one is the culprit (numbering again!).

Likewise, I also carry about a 12-16 Lithium “AA” batteries to power my Nikon flash units and my Pocket Wizard radio slaves. By the way, Lithium “AA’s” come in packs of 4, last about 5-6 times as long as an alkaline equivalent, and each Lithium “AA” weighs about a half ounce less than its alkaline counterpart. Although they cost about 3X what an alkaline does (shop for them carefully, I find there can be an over 100 percent price differential in their price between the stores that stock them!) I find their longer life and lighter weight more than counters their higher cost. When I buy them, I cut the display card they are packed in down to a smaller size so they are more compact to pack and, before they are packed away in a ditty bag, I flip the blister pack over and write the date (mo/yr) they were bought on so I use the older ones first. Lastly, everything that gets new batteries also gets a small square of gaffer tape in it with the date the battery was last changed. It helps to know if the batteries in a unit are 6 months old when I’m trying to trouble shoot a problem!

Ditty Bags

One way to organize similar items in your bag is to organize them into ditty bags. A ditty bag is a small pouch that closes with a drawstring. They can be found in camping goods stores and if you look for them remember to get a thing called barrel locks (sold in blister packs of 2, 3, or 4) that can be used to ensure your ditty bags stay closed. Both the bags and the barrel locks are inexpensive and I usually buy the sizes I need in various colors so I can know what’s in one just by looking at its color (and, as mentioned above, where it’s packed in my case). Currently, there are three ditty bags in my camera case; one for my tool kit, one for my Lithium batteries, and one for my CF cards. There are also two in my battery powered flash case; one for Nikon flash accessories and one for Lumedyne flash accessories.

In a way, getting organized can help you be more creative. Once you get your system up and running, you won’t have to waste your brain power on mundane junk and be more free to concentrate on the images you’re making. All of these ideas can help you. They can make your life in the wedding arena easier. Use them, don’t use them, the choice is yours!

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Posted on June 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm by Steve Sint · Permalink · 5 Comments
In: My Favorite Things, Tools & Organization · Tagged with: , , , ,

A Second Grab at the Brass Ring

A Second Grab at the Brass Ring

On old time merry-go-rounds they used to have a brass ring dispenser set up on stand just outside the ride’s perimeter. If you had an outside horse you could lean out and grab a ring as you passed by. Collect 10 rings and you got a free ride. Some riders got very good at grabbing the rings and, with fast finger work, could actually get a few brass rings on each pass around. Those riders got to enjoy a lot of free rides! This blog post is about getting as many free rides as possible out of your digital photography.

I have this professional photographer friend (I shot his daughter’s wedding) who is quite the businessman. When digital imaging first started to catch photographer’s imaginations and attention he and I were talking about how things were changing and he said; “ you can’t make any money from correcting mistakes in your digital imagery.” Interesting point! He went on to say that if you did something unique with a digital image, something you couldn’t do easily in the camera, then that could become something you could sell, people would buy, AND something you could make money on. Another interesting point! Wow, after 40 years of being a photographer, and always working hard at understanding my craft, it is no longer often that I hear two interesting points about professional photography in less than two minutes.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have learned (and then written) that for every hour of shooting time I am faced with, and I should budget for when figuring out a pricing structure, one hour of post-production time.

Before you jump to disagree with my figure (and start screaming “No Way!) Consider these facts: Using a dual core big Mac, and running my Sandisk card reader, DVD burner, and external drives through a Firewire 800 connection it takes me between 20-25 minutes to download a 4 GB card, burn a DVD of the files (for offsite storage), and back them up to two external terabyte drives (more if I stop to get another glass of ice tea!). On an average 6-8 hour wedding I shoot 1000-1500 images put onto 4-6, 4 GB cards so for an 8-hour shoot just my DBB (Download, Backup, and Burn) for 1500 images (6 cards, 250 images per card) takes me approximately 2 – 2-½ hours.

Accepting my 1-hour shooting equals 1-hour of post formula, this downloading time allotment means that for my 8-hour shoot day I no longer have 8 hours to make corrections and prepare my files for the printer but 5-½ – 6 hours because of the time DBB takes. Now, my average customer chooses about 100 images per wedding and if I take just three minutes per image to crop it and make image adjustments my post production time to prep the images for my printer is about 300 minutes. 300 minutes is 5 hours and that, added to the 2-½ hours of DBB time, makes for a total post-production time for my 8-hour shoot of 7-½ hours!

Now before I rest my case, I must point out that if I take just 1 extra, single, measly, minute per image to correct bad I mistakes made when I shot the original image my total post production time increases by over an hour and a half which puts me at 9 hours of post for a 8 hour shoot. You can disagree, or tell me that you pay an assistant or other local geek to do it for you (but at $10/hour [which is dirt cheap] that will cost you a cool $ 8K plus), or squirm around some other way with the figures I just quoted but they are facts and, as they said on Dragnet, “just the facts”.

At workshops, I have joked that if I have to open more than 5 raw files out of every 100 images I shoot to make corrections for mistakes I made when I shot the original image (I shoot a raw plus a hi-res jpeg of everything) my first assistant (who lives 22 miles away from me) says he can hear me cursing at myself (and the digital deities) all the way at his house!

I have pointed out (in my books, articles, and workshops) that if you shoot 100 8-hour days per year (a worthwhile goal to have a profitable photography business) then you will spend 800 hours per year sitting in front of your computer doing your post-production work and not making any money. For those without a calculator handy, 800 hours equals 20, 40-hour weeks. 20 40-hour weeks is over 4-½ months (20 weeks divided by 4.33 weeks per month equals 4.60 months)! And here’s the real problem; that’s 4-½ months of unproductive, no profit generating, boring work!

Then I got an email from one of my Maine Media Wedding Workshop students who was extremely depressed. He (or she) told a tale of woe about shooting a wedding under mixed lighting conditions and then spending close to 60 hours correcting his (or her) images. 60 hours? 60 hours! Holy Poor House Batman; if he (or she) figured out his (or her) dollar rate per hour, he (or she) would make more money driving a cab!

This led me to thinking, as I often do when faced with a dilemma, and here’s what I came up with. Why not consider everything that happens from the moment you decide to take a picture until the moment you hold a finished photograph in your hand as a timeline. Then, the game becomes figuring out how to do anything that happens on that timeline as early on the line as possible. See that piece of paper on the grass next to the bride? Think you’ll just clone it out in Photoshop later? Pick it up now! See that tree growing out of the groom’s head? Take a small step to the right or left before you push the shutter release. Take that small step one way or the other now!

It seems so easy to tell yourself that you’ll fix something later in Photoshop (or whatever image editing program you use) but the reality is it will take time and it’s that time that kills your profitability. The simple reality is there will still be dozens of things that you might miss seeing and still be able to fix in Photoshop instead of making things totally right in real time (when you shoot the image). But the more often you fix things earlier on the timeline the more you’ll see your post-production time nosedive. Less post-production time will make your profitability soar but this will only happen if you start thinking of your post-production efforts as the second grab at the ring instead of the first one.

Sorry, no pictures this time….this post is about business!

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Posted on May 13, 2010 at 7:34 am by Steve Sint · Permalink · 3 Comments
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , ,