Things have been fairly quiet on the blog while I make some final arrangements to be truly “in business” as a photographer in the state of North Carolina. I am contemplating a very large order of roll paper in anticipation of opening up my HP Z3200 to making prints for fellow photographers. Hopefully, that will include some of my dear readers here!
However, most of my new work of late has been around the house, especially Elizabeth’s garden which is now producing lots of tomatoes. This afternoon I made a photo of our harvested tomatoes that are ripening on the kitchen counter…or atop the microwave, to be more accurate. In years past, other creatures have gotten to Elizabeth’s tomatoes before she had a chance to pick them, so this season she’s trying to pick them when they’ve begun to ripen, and allowing them to finish the process indoors. So far, so good!
While soaking some lettuce harvested from our garden (it makes the dirt come off more easily when rinsing), Elizabeth called me into the kitchen because an Assassin Bug had evaded her inadvertent attempt to drown it, and was perching on a leaf of lettuce. It may not be a very good attempt at macro photography with insects–see my dad’s Web site for an idea of what good macro photography can look like–but it was entertaining while it lasted.
Ultimately, we set our friend free on the back porch so it could continue on its quest to rid our garden of more pernicious six-legged creatures.
So things have been a bit quiet on the blog for a couple of weeks. I’m finally re-settled in my office after being temporarily displaced into the living room while lots of sanding, scraping, cutting, taping, and joint-compounding took place before a bucket of paint was splashed on the walls and a ceiling fan replaced a less useful light fixture.
The office was originally a less-than-attractive shade of blue. Maybe the color would have made more sense in a house right on the Atlantic Ocean, but but the Piedmont of North Carolina, it just seemed out of place. I wanted a warm gray for the walls of my office, and after looking at a few samples I found “storm,” a Pottery Barn color offered at Benjamin Moore. The Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College switched its walls from off-white to gray in my senior year, and while it was five years ago, I still remember how I thought artwork just “popped” right off the walls with that background color.
While Elizabeth worked on preparing the walls–sanding them and filling in the cracks in the drywall with joint compound and tape–I was busy in the attic with my Dremel 300 to cut away the original electrical box brace and install one rated for a ceiling fan. Cutting through 1/4 inch metal with the Dremel takes a few minutes and sends sparks flying everywhere so I recommend a face shield, but it works in close quarters much better than does a hack saw! After spending some time upstairs, I switched out the attachments on the Dremel and cut a larger hole in the ceiling for the electrical box.
Frankly, the biggest hurdle was keeping the Z3200 printer covered and out of the way. Unfortunately, since assembling it in the office in March, it is a “ship in a bottle.” We can push it into the hallway, but it cannot go further into the living room or kitchen without being removed from its stand!
It took an entire weekend to move (most) everything out of the second bedroom and remodel it for my purposes as an office, so the living room felt like a refugee camp for all of my stuff. But the cat didn’t mind too much so long as she could get in her beauty rest!
Here’s the office after finishing the paint and re-arranging the furniture:
Last week I flew back to Columbia, Missouri to attend my friend August Kryger‘s wedding to Amanda Shea. I flew into Saint Louis on Thursday and the following day, a few hours after consulting with my committee members to figure out the right direction for my master’s project on Asian carp, a tornado touched down at the airport. By the time I flew out on Tuesday, STL was up and running once again, and plywood replaced the glass that had been shattered during the storm.
The other day I received my Lumiquest Softbox III that I ordered at the Joe McNally and David Hobby “Flash Bus Tour” in Durham, North Carolina on 4 April. A new light modifier? Well, I simply had to play with it. Trick is finding cooperative subject matter. As I mentioned a few weeks back, Elizabeth and I have been working on a new garden/cooking/home improvement blog, and it was high time for an update on the crop of peas growing along the “whimsical trellises” that she made in the back yard.
So I set up the Softbox III on my 580EX II Speedlite, gelled 1/4 CTO on a stand at camera right as my key, and placed my 550EX in the back, zoomed out to 105mm and gelled 1/2 CTO to work as a kicker. While outdoors I tend to use my low-end radio triggers for wireless flash, in cloudy conditions and after sunset I find that I can get away with wireless ETTL with either my ST-E2 or a flash as the commander. This makes setting the light ratio and also the amount of light a lot faster when I don’t have much time (like when the sun is setting and the sky is getting really dark and really fast). In this case, I think the warmer light created by the gels contrasted nicely with the cool sky at dusk.
While testing the Zeiss 85mm two weeks ago, I ran into Katie at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and made a quick portrait. While I’d really need to have them side-by-side to do a more thorough comparison, it seems that the Canon 85mm f/1.2L Mk. II has far superior bokeh, but that the Zeiss might actually be a sharper lens from f/2.8 and smaller–but the Canon would definitely win at the largest apertures. Either way, the Zeiss has fantastic micro-contrast, good bokeh, and clearly has potential for portraits…so long as your subject understands that it will take a second to (manually) focus!
While I was not able to use the Zeiss 85mm lens I rented nearly as much as I had anticipated during the week that I had it, I will say that it is disappointingly soft wide-open, but sharpens up dramatically by f/2, and is wickedly sharp at f/4. The detail in the fallen cherry blossom petals is amazing!
Also, some big changes are coming as I am in the process of becoming an LLC in the state of North Carolina. More to come…
Last week was far busier than I had anticipated when I scheduled the rental of a Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZE lens. I feel that I wasn’t really able to put the lens through its paces, mostly staying close to home due to a couple of developments that I’ll be announcing here shortly. Since I was working at home I worked with subjects at hand: loaves of bread, the cat, and our garden.
While soft wide-open at f/1.4 (to the point of being almost unusable), by f/2 this lens is razor sharp, and features the oft-fabled Zeiss micro-contrast: in-focus part of the image does seem to defy its two-dimensional nature. However, working in close quarters is where this lens struggles: the minimum focusing distance is three feet.
For this photograph of the daffodils that were in bloom in our front yard until yesterday, I had to resort to a 25mm extension tube, which presented me with the opposite of my problem: suddenly I had no choice but to be closer to my subject than I would have wished! That said, I think it works in this example. I’ll have a couple more to share after I get a spare moment to work them up.
Last week I hinted that I was beginning to explore baking my own bread. For the past couple of days I’ve been working with “No Knead Bread,” which became popular in 2006 with Mark Bittman’s article about baker Jim Lahey’s process that involves quickly mixing a rough dough and then letting it rise for at least 12 hours. I hope to perfect it soon, and with it, introduce everyone to a project we’ve been working on here in Durham for a few weeks now. More to come!
Craters on the surface: light wheat bread recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice featured on Smitten Kitchen | Canon 7D and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200 | 580 EX II Speedlite fired in the DIY Beauty Dish on camera left.
Over the past month Elizabeth and I have been working on a new project I’ll be unveiling soon. Part of it is a new-found interest of mine: baking bread. I’ve never considered myself a good candidate for the Atkins diet because I simply cannot get enough bread in my life. Elizabeth has a bread machine that she purchased from a second hand store, and while neither one of us particularly likes the loaves it makes, I’ve found that it’s a fantastic dough-making machine–plus it takes care of the first rise. Pictured here is the top crust of a very basic, but very functional sandwich bread: Light Wheat Bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and featured on the Smitten Kitchen.