Monday, 16 June 2014

One Man and his Photo Booth

The Launch of FootPrint, The Photo Booth!

The last business decision Sharon and me took together was to invest in a Photo Booth.  I had been invited to Brick Lane by fellow EPS member, Brin Edwards of "Funbooths" to see one in action on a corporate product launch and was suitably impressed and this is what I reported back to the one who must be obeyed. Sharon hadn't anticipated though the difficulty I would have securing the services of a good, reliable 2nd assistant after her passing which has reduced me to a one man band. For us it was more about expanding and diversifying our product range, along with Chromakey, Montage and High/Low key photography. It was all about sending Events-Horizon up into the stratosphere while in reality, 18 months after her death, I was still chasing my tail and stuck in the doldrums. 

My "Ole Skool" style Photo Booth. All set up and ready to go.
So a couple of weeks ago after a totally unsuccessful recruitment campaign,  I took the decision to concentrate on getting the Photo Booth part of the business up and running, as it was the one thing I could do alone (with a little help from my friends).  The first time I used the Booth was during my 50th birthday party, where is worked flawlessly, ALL NIGHT LONG. 

My cousins,  (left to right) Donna and Nikki. The fool in the middle is ME!
I had brought the Booth Frame, bare bones and 2nd hand from Brin and then set about recycling my IBM Thinkpad, as the the booth's main XP Pro server. It had already been installed with Breezebrowser DSLR Remote Pro from it's previous duties as my main events photography laptop.  My old but trusty Fuji Ask 1500 dye sub printer was brought out of retirement one more time while Alan Potter (another EPS member) did me a good deal on a set of three Lencarta 200w/s studio lights which left Ebay to do the rest. That included a motorised head, a 27" touch screen, a Manfrotto Magic Arm & Clamp and two Canon 450D DSLR's, against the advice of Brin who wanted me to buy a Canon 40D instead.  Finally a trip down to Camden saw me buy all the props which are mandatory for a photo booth and I was good to go. Apart from the fact that the 450D lacked a native PC interface for the connection of an external flash,  the thought of a semi pro Canon 40D in a Photo Booth just seemed to me way over the top and I wasn't made of money. I was kind of vindicated by the booth's successful first outing at my birthday party. Alas,  this decision to go against Brin's advise would eventually come back to haunt me. BIG TIME!

The Canon 450D! An expensive mistake?

So I thought I was all set and ready for my first paid event with the Photo Booth, a birthday party which Brin had subbed out to me, located in one of those little remote villages just off the M40. It didn't take long for things to go pop! On unloading the car of all the gear, I quickly realised that I had forgotten to bring the touchscreen, which was still secure in it's Peli case back home. After 90 minutes and a 120 mile round trip, the touchscreen was finally installed into the booth, before this happened.

The black line of doom!
A simple flash sychronisation fault was my first port of call but a quick check with the settings within DSLR- Remote Pro quickly scotched that idea. I was shooting like 120th/sec @ F11, 400 ASA. Then a quick look see to make sure that Remote Pro's "external flash" check box was ticked. Yes it was! Just to be sure I dialled the down sync speed to 90th/sec but the black line of doom still wouldn't shift. So I thought, "OK!", maybe the DJ's radio mic was causing cross channel interference with my single channel in-line slaves with which I was using to trigger the studio flash. So I dug out a spare sync cable and a PC hotshoe adapter and hard wired a connection between the camera to the flash. Another test fire would quickly confirmed that this too was a dead end. I began to panic. I switched to an optical trigger using the 450D's on board flash to sync with the Lencarta. No go! I swopped studio heads. Replaced the usb lead coming into the server. Fell on my knee's and prayed for deliverence which came in the way of Christine, Brin's wife fetching a spare sync cable and studio flash from home. Alas even this sterling effort didn't cure the problem totally and the event organiser (Brin's daughter) was none too pleased. In the end, I kissed goodbye to £500 and a lot of goodwill. 

The following week after hours of stress testing and buying in a couple of new sync cables,  I prepared for another job, a office xmas party in a large hotel in the centre of Reading. This time to my relief everything went off swimmingly. I'd even remembered to bring along the touch screen. Everyone was happy, even Brin, I finally thought my troubles were over. I couldn't have been more wrong. The next job (I forgot where) was a total disaster from start to finish when the black line of doom came back with vengence. Total income lost to date was now over £1500. I was in despair. I simply couldn't use the booth with any kind of confidence and I ended up turning down work. So I turned to the forums for answers, figuring (incorrectly as it turned out) that I couldn't have been the only one to have come across this problem. Apart from posts telling me what I had already done, no new leads came back (especially from our photo booth cousins from across the pond in America). Ironically, my first break came from the one place I should have gone to first for answers, the user manuals and in this case the on-line manual for Breezebrowser's DSLR Remote Pro where I found the following: This the long story.......

"External flash mode: Studio strobes and external flashes which are not Canon E-TTL compatible can cause the live view images to appear too dark and the flash to not be triggered when taking photos. With a mid- to high-end camera such as a Canon EOS 40D, 50D, 60D, 70D, 6D, 7D, 5D Mark III or 5D Mark II the dark live view images can be overcome by disabling exposure simulation in the camera's live view settings and disabling silent shooting mode will fix problems with the flash not being triggered. 

Rebel series cameras (e.g. Rebel T3/EOS 1100D, Rebel SL1/EOS 100D, Rebel T5i/EOS 700D, Rebel T4i/EOS 650D, Rebel T3i/EOS 600D, Rebel XS/EOS 1000D, Rebel T1i/EOS 500D and Rebel T2i/ EOS 550D) automatically select live view exposure simulation and silent shooting mode when live view is active and these settings can't be disabled by the user. "External flash mode" overcomes these limitations and allows external flashes and studio strobes to be used with Rebel series cameras. When this option is selected the camera's exposure mode dial should be set to "M" for manual exposure and the aperture should be set to the required setting for the flash (usually a setting of f/8 or f/11 is best). 
When full screen photo booth mode is selected the brightness of the live view images is adjusted automatically. It can also be adjusted manually using the up and down cursor keys. It is recommended that the camera lens is set to MF (manual focus)  or the AF mode set to "Remote manual" in the main DSLR Remote Pro for Windows window when using external flash mode to prevent auto focus problems from causing the photo booth shooting sequence to be interrupted. Please note that there is a short delay restoring the live view after taking each picture when external flash mode is selected. 

This can be hidden from users by enabling the option to preview each shot after it is taken. 
Note: If you get a dark band appearing at the top of the photo when using external flash mode you may need to adjust the shutter speed. Normally external flash mode sets the camera's shutter speed of 1/200 sec when taking the photo which should sync correctly with most flash units but may be too fast if you are using a wireless flash trigger. You can adjust the shutter speed by exiting DSLR Remote Pro and changing the following setting in the Windows registry: 


Please try setting this to 2 or 3 (the default setting is 1) to tell the software use a longer shutter speed 
when taking the photo."

A little more digging into the FAQ's section and I came up with this:

"How can I prevent a black bar at the bottom of photos when using external flash with DSLR Remote Pro for Windows?
When "external flash mode" is used in DSLR Remote Pro for Windows different shutter speeds are used for live view and for taking photos to ensure that the live view images are not too dark. The shutter speed used for taking photos is one value below the 1/250 flash sync speed on most Canon DSLR cameras. This gives a shutter speed of 1/200 sec if the camera is set to 1/3 stop exposure level increments or 1/180 if it is set to 1/2 stop increments. If the triggering of the flash is delayed for any reason (e.g. when using a wireless flash trigger or a non-Canon flash) you may get a black bar at the bottom of the pictures caused by the flash going off after the camera's shutter has started to close. If this happens please try setting your camera to 1/2 stop exposure increments so that it uses a shutter speed of 1/180 sec. This can be set using a custom function in the camera (please see the camera manual for details). If you are still having problems you can use a slower shutter speed by increasing the value of the following setting in the Windows registry to 2 (or more):
Please make sure DSLR Remote Pro is not running when changing the setting. This option is only available in DSLR Remote Pro for Windows v2.3.1 and later." 

The short story (and after a quick chat with Alan Warner and John Wright who btw also uses Canon 450D's in his booth, to confirm my conclusions. My sincere thanks to both of them). 

The Yongnuo YN-622 C E-TTL Radio Transcievers.

My recomendations if you intend to install a Canon 450/550D inside your photo booth along with Breeze D-SLR Remote Pro, are as follows:

1. Use either a OEM ETTL Canon Flash or a ETTL pass through radio trigger (such as a Yongnuo YN662c, which also doubles as a intelligent PC hotshoe adapter). Whatever you do, stay well clear of the "dumb" maunal PC adapters and strobes that cannot communicate with the camera via ETTL when placed in the hotshoe. Even Canon USA admits on page 207 in their 550D/T2i manual (note USA edition) that and I quote:

" A non Canon flash will not fire during Live View shooting". 

This is in fact not strictly true, a non Canon flash will fire during Live View it just won't sync properly. A good test is to check if the camera see's the flashgun or trigger when they are slotted into the hotshoe, via the camera's on board flash controller which can also be accessed via it's MENU dropdown custom settings. If it doesn't see it, try again!

2. Follow the instructions from Breeze and go into custom settings of the 450D's menu and change the auto shutter speed from it's 1/3 stop default to 1/2 increments. 

On Saturday (after more extensive testing) I used my new setup for the first time in anger and lo & behold everything worked, with a Yongnuo turned on and slotted into the hotshoe and a sync cable hard wired from the Yongnuo's PC socket to the studio flash. Only time will tell if this proves to be a long term solution to the 450D LiveView/ flash sync problem but I am confident it will be. Just in case it isn't, I also picked up a real good deal on a 2nd hand quality used Canon 50D body and battery grip (the one up from Brin's recommended 40D) which will act as my 2nd sports body as well as backing up both my 450D's if God forbid anything else should go wrong. So far, so good!

My original mistake was thinking that I knew everything about tethered shooting and then mis-applying that knowledge to tethered shooting within Live View, of which I knew nothing. My second mistake was following my base instinct to save a few pounds and ending up kissing goodbye to a whole heap more. Making assumptions, not reading the manuals and not listening to my elders, cost me dear and it is a mistake I won't be looking to repeat anytime soon. 

I love it, when a plan comes together.

If you have any questions or comments about this post please feel free to use the feedback panel below and I will endeavour to answer them.....

Update: 21/10/2015: I always thought at the time, that my solution of using a single Yongnuo YN622c was a bit over the top and a waste of the precious resources of the 622c, so I began my search for a viable alternative that would still fool my pair of clever Canon 450D's into thinking that it had a ETTL flashgun sat in their hotshoe's. Eventually I came up with this, the Pixel Canon ETTL hotshoe adapter, which comes fitted with both a PC socket as well as a dedicated hotshoe.

So far (everything being work in progress) this solution has been a great little fix and now I have one of these permanently fixed into the hotshoes of both of my Canon 450d bodies. Problem solved!

Update: 10/12/2016: We have now all but abandoned Breeze Photo Booth Solutions and moved over to Express Digital Darkroom Booth. 

We can now offer our customers a wide range of custom functions (such as in-house designed templates) to better  tailor our services to your event. 

So now my new FootPrint Photo Booth is up and running (standalone website and all) and I'm very excited with what the future has to hold. It's been a roller coaster ride getting it ready but the investment in both time and money has been worth it. So if you're looking for a really good Photo Booth, look no further and check out FootPrint. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

And remember what happens in the Photo Booth, stays in the Photo Booth! 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Knowledge is Power

Digital's are not just for fun......they can also drive you insane!

I've always been a Canon man from day one and I've never really been able to get along with all things Nikon and so this proved to be the case with my first encounter with digital photography and Nikons first generation  Pro Digital SLR camera, the D1 but before we talk about what went wrong and the inevitable car crash that followed, let me give you some background. 

The Nikon D1
The first time I clapped eyes on a Digital SLR Camera was that belonging to press photographer and friend, Peter Corns,  then the number one contracted freelancer for the Daily Express and Daily Star in the Midlands. He had spent a truck load of his own money buying into this new technology, hoping that this would give him a jump on the competition and for a time it did but it came at a massive cost to his fragile finances. In those early days, we were talking mortgage money just for a digital body alone. Then there were all the other bits and pieces such as top quality glass, dx strobes, computers (both laptop and desktop) and software to run the whole shebang.  Then came the learning curve in getting all "this stuff" to work, which was steep, very steep. So straight away I knew my transition from analogue to digital was going to be an expensive one both in time and money. Going digital, Peter assured me, couldn't be done on the cheap! 

Back in the day, the Kodak DSC 760 cost as much as a house.
The short story? This is exactly what happened when I moved with Sharon from Telford to join a company called Barkers Trident as a staff photographer in the City of London and it was an truly awful experience. I was given little to no training and even less support when things inevitably went wrong. In the end my confidence was all but shot to pieces and I hated at times even feared going to work. Being forced to also use Sigma lenses which were universally regarded at the time as " 3rd party crap", ( whereby the lens wouldn't communicate with my Nikon D1 body and the D1 body wouldn't communicate with me) didn't help matters and soon I was left wondering if I had any future at all as a photographer. I was unhappy at work and increasingly unhappy at home and one day I simply couldn't take it any more and informed Sharon that I was going to leave and go freelance, leaving Shaz has the main bread winner. 

On leaving Barkers, which by now, three years later had transformed itself into Trident Communications,  I took it upon myself to liberate a few items which I was sure it's photographic department wouldn't miss. One of the items was a reference book written by a Canadian Photo-Journalist called Rob Galbraith and as irony would have it, this book "borrowed" from a department that had up until then had done everything in it's power to ruin my working life, ended up saving it. Ironically I was introduced to Rob Galbraith's website by my head of department who's name I will not mention here and who's singular act of kindness lead me to read from cover to cover "The Photojournalist's Guide to Digital Photography". 

The Digital Photographer's Bible.

By the end of the first chapter, I knew I did not have a long term viable future with Trident and that my goose was well and truly cooked. So after O-levels, A-levels and a year at Richmond College, Sheffield ( nuff respect to my main man Paul Delmar), I found myself once again back at the drawing board re-learning the art of photography. Only this time, it was digital. I cannot stress high enough the old saying that "Knowledge is power". In my case, it gave me the power to set myself free and begin my progression into event photography, as by then the viability of editorial photography earning me a decent living had become as dead as the future of negative film. Both were on their way out!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Year Zero

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Sharon Christopher, my wife, my partner and my friend..... 

Year Zero.

So why may you ask, have I chosen this time to start blogging? It's been almost two years since the death of my wife, Sharon. More than 10 years since we began our Events Photography business together and beyond that, more than 25 years since we first met on the editorial floor of the Express and Star, in Wolverhampton, she as a cub reporter and me as a pup photographer. In the same time, the world of photography has changed beyond all recognition. 

The Legendary Canon F1n 35mm Film SLR Pro Camera

When I first started on the Express and Star as an apprentice press photographer, my weapon of choice was the infamous Canon F1n 35mm Single Lens Reflex still film camera along with the venerable Vivitar 283 flashgun (Note the words "film" and "stills"). 

At the time, I was the only photographer in the entire department to be a Canon shooter and my colleagues, especially Mike Haywood NEVER let me forget it. I was surrounded by Nikon's of all guises.  Nikon FM's, FE's and F3's and even the odd F2 would pop up out of the blue. Off camera flash was still in it's infancy, with pioneers such as  John Arthur (Time/Life, Stern etc) leading the way with peanut slaves and homemade flashcards attached with lashings of rubber bands. It was then I began my love affair with carpet tape. I had yet to learn of things like Pocket Wizards and other remote radio triggers. They were still but a dream in the mind of somebody else's eye. If you were lucky and in full time employment with either "The Star"  (Wolverhampton) or the Post & Mail (Birmingham) you carried a Metz Hammerhead flashgun or a couple of Nikon SB28's in your Billingham attached to a Quantum Power pack. If you were not, like me, you made do with third party knock offs both to carry your kit and power your strobes. Either way both methods could and would produce beautiful light at the drop of a hat.

Those were the dying days when 35mm film was king and where the darkroom was the press photographers last refuge and domain. Legendary names such as Kodak Tri-X, Fuji Neopan and Ilford FP1, ruled the monochrome roost. Even shooting colour transparency was a luxury and a art. I never knew it at the time, I was having too much fun, to realize that I was part of a dying breed and witness to an end of an era, which kinds of brings me back to Sharon. When she died my past died with her and the only thing of use that remains from those days long past, is my trusty Vivitar 283 flashgun of which Shaz paid to be repaired on more than one occasion.

This blog is essentially about me starting over and charting my further adventures into the vast undersea ocean which now represents the world of event photography. Analogue is dead, long live the digital king and nature dictates that time waits for no man. In the five years that I have been out of the event photography business, event photography has moved on by leaps and bounds. Consequently I've got a lot of catching up to do, along with purchasing new equipment and relaunching the business.  Alas there are somethings and some people I can't forget, like my ole guv Johnny Johnson who both taught and tolerated me in equal measure and my beautiful, wonderful, werewolf toothed wife, whom without which I wouldn't be writing this blog now. 

The venerable Vivitar 283 Flashgun

My Vivitar 283 stands testament to them and their kind. Strong, dependable and loyal. This blog will be my attempt of making sense of the world and my part in it. It's about my re-entry into the multifaceted, multidisciplinary world of the modern all singing, all dancing professional event photographer. From lighting, posing subjects to wireless networking and the perils of e-marketing, today's event photographer has to find a way of doing it all.  Hopefully it will not be a journey where I will be travelling  alone but enjoy the company of others along the way and if in the course of finding myself,  I can teach others, well where is the harm in that? Like all journey's, mine began along time ago with Johnny and Sharon and a Vivitar 283 flashgun. So onwards and upwards! Small steps....