Ode to Fluffy

Fluffy was a nasty cat. But, that's not why we put her down on Sunday, December 28, 2008. Fluffy was suffering. Her kidneys had shut down and she was severely dehydrated ... it was the humane thing to do. From what we can gather, Fluffy was around 18 years old. She came to my wife at six and that was almost three years before Sue and I got married. We've been married for almost ten years ... so, Fluffy was old. She was 88 in cat years. That's a long time for a family pet.

It's hard to tell if Fluffy ever really liked anybody. Visitors were cautioned about her disposition and frequent visitors shied away and kept their distance. She could be brutal and indifferent yet, still sought affection and gave companionship albeit on her terms.

As much as she could be a threat, she could be a complete goof. There was nothing she liked more than boxes. Any open box immediately became Fluffy Headquarters. If the box lid was folded shut, it immediately became Fluffy Lookout Tower. Cardboard was her preference but, an open briefcase would suffice.

It was the oddest thing that truly endeared her to us. As she aged we were her friends, her comfort, her assisted living center, her box provider.

Over the last couple of years Fluffy was having increasing difficulty getting to her perches; the couch, her chair, anything that required her rear legs to propel her to a level above the floor. She took to howling and we don't think she could hear very well. As she became pitiful and weak her majesty never waned. Her coat was flat and matted ... but, she loved to be brushed. During a typical brushing one could easily remove enough hair to make another cat. In fact, several cats over time.

Unfortunately, relieving herself became much more convenient wherever she was versus in her designated box always in the laundry room. She may have been perfectly okay with that but to us it became more and more undignified ... definitely signs of things to come. She was waning.

It's very sad. She had a comfortable and long life and as much as she tormented some (including the dog, although the dog was onto her more than we were) she was still our cat, very much a part of our family and above all, our pet. And so ... here's to Fluffy! The crotchety old curmudgeon who will haunt our lives forever and remain perched on our hearts for a long time. We love you Fluffy and we will miss you.

i shoot nikon


Transitions - and other bittersweet changes

I understand that I haven't posted anything new for a long time. Although, I'm really surprised at how many hits this blog still harvests. Thank you everyone for your patronage. It's nice to know that I can contribute something to our community.

Times are changing ... the economy is in the shithouse, my 401(k) looks like a deflated Under Dog balloon from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Big Three want $25 billion to cover the mistakes they've been making since Jimmy Carter was in office.

On the up side, I bought gasoline for $1.62/gal this morning, we have a new president, and I found a brand new, in the box, untouched warranty card, Nikon D200 on sale at Amazon for $799. With the blessing of my beautiful bride I was even allowed to purchase it. As of this writing it is in Indianapolis having shipped from Lexington, Kentucky yesterday on it's way to Minneapolis scheduled for delivery on Tuesday. I'm very excited.

Unfortunately, I will have to sell my D70s. The camera that got me started on digital photography. A great little camera with only a few drawbacks (for me) I've discovered. I toiled with this decision for a long time. Especially with the questions about which other camera. Is the newest technology really essential? Is the expense something I can live with and/or prosper from? The D300, D700, even the D90 seemed to be much more than I was willing to deal with. I just wanted a kick-ass Nikon workhorse that won't let me down ... reputation comparable to the F2 so many years ago.

Here's what I think I've gotten over the D70s: a broader ISO range, a larger (and much needed) LCD screen, much more accessible functionality, 67% more pixels, heftier build, 2 more frames per second, 10 more focus areas, better subject tracking, noise reduction, and a little bit of an ego boost. Is that fair?

I purchased the D70s under similar conditions. It's production was discontinued in 2006. I bought mine in November of 2006. The D200 production may not be discontinued but it's close ... at least it seems to be at closeout prices.

Anyway, the D70s has served me well. I've made a little money with it, I've re-learned the fundamental principles of photography, I've ventured into flash photography including off-camera (something I had never done before), I'm having a blast sharing with other photogs on the likes of Flickr and I'm looking to demand more from my camera.

Just as a sidenote: When I was still shooting film I was using a Nikon N90s. What a great camera! The D200 is very similar so it's almost a homecoming. I'm looking forward to the change but I'll always remain thankful for my D70s, my training wheels.



i shoot nikon


South By Southwest

We escaped Frostbite Falls and spent the later part of March in Arizona. The itinerary included Phoenix, Fountain Hills, Flagstaff, The Grand Canyon, and Sedona. It quickly becomes very obvious why it's one of the most photographed areas of the United State once you step outside your door ... no matter where that door is.

This is one of my favorite shots. We were at the Bright Angel Trail trail head about 800 yards down the trail when it turned back running parallel to the Bright Angel Lodge which you see at the summit on the right. Afternoon had been about two hours on when the canyon started to cloud over. The Sun still found its way into the gorge through broken clouds and offered some great color and depth.

Grand Canyon

Once you get to review your images on your laptop you realize that the Grand Canyon offers a great shot in every direction. I wandered around all afternoon with my D70s equipped with the 18-70 kit lens and just got great shot after great shot. I was very pleased.

Grand Canyon



Single Light Portrait

I've been working on single light portrait techniques trying to use what I've learned on Strobist and in "Light Science & Magic" by Hunter, Biver and Fuqua.

Portrait Night #1 Portrait Night #2 Portrait Night #3

First off ... let's cover the equipment:

  • Camera: D70s (ISO 200, WB Flash, Manual Mode)

  • Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 (like using a 75mm on a film camera)

  • Strobes: SB-800 & SU-800

  • Modifier: 43" White, Shoot-through umbrella

  • Stand: Westcott & Justin clamp

  • Background: mottled, gray muslin

The D70s will sync at high shutter speeds (1/500) than most cameras so, I wanted to make sure that I took advantage of that. The way I came to the exposure was I started by setting the shutter speed to 1/250th and snapped some images without the flash firing until the image was completely black. (Note: that the normal room lights were at about 50%.

This gave me an exposure setting of 1/250th @ f/8. I didn't want the background to reflect much of the warmer ambient light if I could help it. Now, I knew that I didn't want to have the background in focus so I opened the f-stop up to f/1.4 and increased the shutter speed to 1/500th.

For those of you doing the math that would actually give me about a 2 stop underexposure of the background instead of completely black which was tolerated for this shot. Then I would chimp in the amount of flash power needed.

When I set up the umbrella, there were two things that had always concerned me. 1) is the flash set to the right zoom amount to fill the umbrella and 2) how can I get the flash head to point to the center of the umbrella. Previous attempts just didn't seem to get a nice soft, well balanced light even when I shot through the umbrella.

Justin ClampI set up the umbrella so that it would reflect the light instead of shooting the flash through the umbrella. Then, instead of using the flash shoe on the umbrella holder I put a Justin clamp on the post underneath the holder and positioned the flash head so that it pointed straight up the umbrella shaft into the center. I think that this was the first big improvement that I made to the setup.

Once the flash was positioned, I triggered the flash and moved the umbrella closer or further away from the flash until (at 50mm zoom) the light filled the umbrella without spill. That was the second big improvement I made to the setup.
single light diagram
After that, the setup was pretty traditional. I positioned the umbrella at a 45 degree angle to the subject camera left and raised it so it pointed about 30 degrees down to the subject. I made some further adjustments as I shot to get some light on the background in order to give some definition to the outline of the subject.

The SB-800 was set to remote and assigned to Group A/Channel 3. I was able to control it from the SU-800 that was on the camera. The group and channel combination are not that important here. The SU-800 and SB-800 allow me to use any combination of Group/Channel. Group A/Channel 3 just happens to be what I chose and had nothing to do with the only group/channel combination on the D70s to fire a remote flash using the built-in flash in Commander Mode. (See Strobist Style with a Nikon D70s). The SU-800 takes the D70s' limitation out of the picture.

The flash ended up being set to 1/128th power for the entire shoot and was positioned about a meter from the subject. The subject was almost 2 meters from the background, this gave a nice fall-off of the light but still added definition to the subject with just enough light hitting it.

Then, with my trusty ML-L3 remote, I fired away. I was really looking to get that triangle of light described in Light Science & Magic under the left eye in this case.

In the next session I'll compare this setup to a setup with the addition of a reflector camera right to lift some of the shadow from the unlit side of the subject.