Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dayna Malow

Dayna Malow is an up and coming country singer that I think you should know.

If you check her website, you will find that she grew up in Skokie, IL. Yes, that's local for us here in the Chicagoland area! While I suppose we all may wonder how a girl from the midwest could possibly sing country music, I have news for you... she does and does it well too!

Go to her website to hear for yourself. Dayna has streaming music running on her site and the songs are full versions of her latest CD. I became an instant fan after I checked out her site!

This evening, Dayna purchased a pair of speakers from me because I was selling them at a great price. While I continue to play live, I don't do it all that often anymore and so I wanted to sell the speakers while they were still popular. Dayna saw my ad and responded. She spent something like 30 seconds listening to them before saying, "I'll take them!" Fastest sale I've ever made! :)

Besides paying me more than I asked for them (I didn't have exact change for her and so we were off by $2.00) she also gave me a copy of one of her CD's! Wow, I made extra money and got a free gift as well! But stupidly, I forgot to have her autograph it for me. So I suppose one day, I'll have to surprise her at one of her concerts and get her to do that for me!

Dayna's website has her concert schedule as well. She's consistently booked, so that means she's in demand. That's great! She's even opened shows for such artists as Billy Ray Cyrus, The Doobie Brothers, John Hiatt, Alana Davis, Michael McDermott and Blake Shelton.

Thanks again to Dayna for the speaker purchase and the free CD. I'll return the favor with some photos one day!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Multitrack Recording on a Computer

After holding off for years, I've finally moved to multitrack recording on my computer.

I've always been one to prefer hardware for recording purposes. Having a mixer in front of me and an open-reel multi-track tape recorder at my side was the way I learned how to work in a studio. Years later, that equipment was replaced by an "all-in-one" digital workstation recorder. It still had a mixer and recorder, but it was all built-in as one unit. See my February 12, 2009 post on these recording items.

Now, I'm recording music using my computer and software designed to replace all of that hardware! While I have used my computer for years to work on forensic audio cases and to work on the final mix after recording on the digital workstation, I resisted doing multitrack work on the computer. Something about it just felt foreign to me because I always liked to put my hands on a mixer. With the recording program on the computer, everything is done on the keyboard or with a mouse. But to be fair, there are some mixers available that can be used in conjunction with computer software, but it just adds cost to something that can simply be done just with a computer. Luckily, the audio soundcard that I use for forensic audio work is of a high quality and works just fine for multitrack work as well.

I knew eventually, I would have to learn to record music via multitrack recording software, and so this weekend, through the encouragement of my daughter, I decided to do it. While I'm still a novice at it, I'm picking it up rather quickly because my years of working with recording hardware all applies to this method of recording as well. All the functions are the same as using actual hardware, but it does take a little time learning where everything is located. Wow, computer recording programs are very sophisticated! What would have taken up an entire control room with gear now resides in my desktop computer. That's a big plus!

The sound quality is top notch as well. I recall all the "tape hiss" I used to get from my old analog tape recorders and having to apply dbx noise reduction to control it. Not any more! Digital is so quiet that any noise you hear today is probably noise recorded through the microphone of the ambient room noise!

I had always hoped that one day I could work with 24 tracks but I never thought I'd be doing it on a computer. I had owned 4 track and 8 track equipment since I was a teenager and always wished for more tracks. Now I have more than 24 tracks at my disposal on the computer. This program has unlimited tracks, not just 24. Cool!

I'll keep you all informed when I finally have something recorded that's worth listening to!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Camera Image Sensor Cleaning

Last Friday, I set out to clean the image sensor on my Nikon D3 digital camera. I have cleaned my own image sensors for years and have never had any problems doing it. But these past cleanings were done on APS-C sensors (smaller sized sensors) on cameras like the Fuji S-5 Pro, Fuji S-3 Pro, Nikon D200, D100, etc.

The Nikon D3 is a "full-frame" camera which uses a much larger image sensor. This is one reason why my images today are so much sharper than my past images on the older cameras. But cleaning this larger sensor proved to be a lot more difficult than with the smaller APS-C sized sensors.

The full-frame "DX" sensors go from one edge to the other when the camera's mirror is retracted. This makes it very difficult to get a cleaning swab to cover every part of the sensor. I typically use a Pec Pad cleaning cloth dampened by a cleaning fluid called "Eclipse" which dries almost immediately. The Pec Pad is wrapped around the handle end of a plastic knife from Wendy's (yes, the hamburger place!)

What I found after numerous attempts to clean the D3 sensor was that the Eclipse fluid did not dry "cleanly" enough leaving behind "dried" residue. It was very faint by the naked eye, but when test shots were taken, you could clearly see the darkened "splotches" that the residue caused on the image. These were mostly gathered around the outer edges of the frame because it was difficult to manuver the cleaning pad near the edges. Very frustrating! On APS-C sized sensors, the sensor is small enough that one swipe from edge to edge could be made making it less likely to leave behind any fluid residue.

In the end, I found that I needed to clean the sensor with more wiping of the Pec Pads without fluid. The problem is that this "dry" cleaning could cause scratching on the sensor which could damage the sensor. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about this! Luckily, I did a good job and now the sensor looks nearly perfect.

The D3 does not have any built-in sensor cleaner and that's too bad. The newer D700 has this however. While the D3 is a model that's considered the "better" camera over the D700, the performance of the D700 does rival the D3. So if you want to get a camera that's easier to clean, get a D700!

It is also important to remember that before cleaning any sensor, be sure to blow off any loose dust with a bulb blower. NEVER blow air from your mouth! You could accidentally spray the sensor with spit and that would be disasterous to a sensor! Invest in a bulb blower. One came free (is anything really free?) with my Fuji S5 Pro cameras, and it works great!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HDR Image Vs. Standard JPG Image

Standard JPG Image

HDR Image

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It's a technique of creating a photographic image by combining several different exposures of the same scene into one image. Typically at least three images are combined... one exposed as indicated by an exposure meter to make a "proper" exposure and then one taken one full f-stop above and one taken at one full f-stop below the norm. While it is possible to make an HDR image look extremely dramatic, I believe the best HDR images make the scene look more natural.

In these examples, the first image is a standard image taken with the exposure settings indicated by my handheld exposure meter. The second image is an HDR image made from combining seven exposures into one. You can clearly see that the HDR image shows both the inside boardroom as well as the outside through the windows. Even the "shadow" areas are easier to see as well. Take a closer look at the details you can see of the chair closest to you. The standard JPG image exposes the inside scene nicely, but everything outside the window is totally "blown out." And, the chair closest to you has no details that you can see. It's just black. Now look under the table at the chair legs of the chair on the right. Which image can you see details? The HDR or the Standard JPG image?

Which image do you like better? Only the natural ambient light is used on these images. A flash was not used.

HDR images take a little more work (ok, a lot more) than a standard image. It requires multiple photos be taken and a lot more post production work to create the final image. But the results are often spectacular.

By the way, this is an image of the boardroom at my office. I meet my clients here as well as teach photography out of this room. Be sure to click on each image to take a closer look.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Me or I

It seems a lot of people don't know when to use the word "Me" or the word "I" in a sentence.

Too often, I hear people saying things like, "My mom and me went to the party." That's wrong. It should be, "My mom and I went to the party." People also say, "Me and my mom..." That's wrong too!

Or how about this one, "The party was for my Mom and I." That's wrong too. It should be, "The party was for my mom and me."

So what determines the right way to say something? Well, just think of what the sentence sounds like without the other person being in the sentence.

For instance, would you say, "Me went to the party" or would you say, "I went to the party?" The latter of course is correct. So by adding in your mom, it would then be proper to say, "My mom and I went to the party." By the way, you always put yourself LAST in the sentence, not first!

The same thing is correct with the other sentence. Would you say, "The party was for I" or would you say, "The party was for me?" Again, the latter is correct. So the proper sentence would be, "The party was for my mom and me."

I think people sometimes use the word "I" wrong simply because they think it sounds more "proper" to use I than me. That's just wrong.

So, I hope me have helped you. That's wrong too. :)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Is This Really Film?

Is this really film?

Think about it... if this was truly a strip of film, would it be a positive image or a negative image?

This was created from a series of digital images I photographed and then inserted into a template which creates the look of a film strip.

So no... this is not film... it's digital.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Is It Monday, Already???

You may be wondering where all my "new" photos are.

In the past couple of weeks, I've worked on a couple of new projects, but can't show the images because of nature of the photo shoots. Some are commercial and some are private sessions. As much as I would like to post these new photos here, I can't.

Sometimes as Mondays and Thursdays come along, I struggle trying to come up with something interesting to post for my blog readers when the past week has generated some interesting photos, but I can't show them.

So considering that, let's just talk cameras!

Recently, I have been doing quite a bit of tutoring of new photographers at my office. Each have different cameras... Nikon, Canon and Sony and of course, each have different models from these three companies. While most of the things I teach can be applied to any camera, finding the way to do it on each camera is different.

I am spoiled now that I shoot with a Nikon D3. Being Nikon's top-of-the-line camera, the D3 has just about everything you can imagine in terms of features. (OK, the D3x is technically Nikon's best camera, but it's exactly the same as the D3 in terms of features, except it costs $3000 more and has 24.5 megapixels instead of 12.1 MP. But it is a slower camera than the D3 and it has lousy "high-iso" compared to the D3... it's not designed for the wedding or portrait photographer or for a sports photographer, it's a studio camera really.)

What I noticed is that the basic camera offerings from these companies make you do a little more work to get a similar result. Whereas I can find virtually anything I want to do on a Nikon D3 fairly quickly, I need to go into the "menu" system of the other cameras to accomplish a similar task. Some cameras may not even have as complete of a series of options either.

This is why the big cameras cost what they do. While there is some cost involved in making such a rugged camera in these high-end price ranges, other cost factors involve including convenience features and having more in-depth options to make the camera more precise.

Some cameras offer features that aren't really necessary too. I've noticed that many of the lower priced cameras offer various "automatic" modes which can easily be accomplished manually or by just knowing what to do to get the same effect. So I suppose you can say that these lower-priced cameras offer some convenience features not found on a top-of-the-line camera. Can you get the same effect though if you know how to manipulate your camera? You sure can. But for the amateur, it's often easier to let the camera make the decision.

What I find that is a common thing among my students is many of them come from a "point and shoot" background. Graduating to a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera often requires you to really learn about photography in order to get a good photo. Sometimes, the point and shoot camera's photos come out BETTER than the DSLR camera's photos simply because the camera is making all the decisions. Having a more expensive camera does not guarantee good pictures all the time! To get that, you need to set up the camera properly. There are more controls to mess with to get a good result and that takes a little bit of "know how."

I think all photographers who move to a DSLR for the first time would benefit from a basic photography class. Knowing what various lenses do to a photo or when to change the shutter speed or bump up the ISO rating can make a big difference in your end results. What my students often find out after their first lesson with me is that there is a lot more "thinking" involved in making a quality photo! But once you have the basics down pat, you no longer really think, but rather react. It becomes natural and instinctive. But you can't get to that point without a lot of practice.
OK... now what do I write about on Thursday? :)

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Funk Brothers - Motown's Studio Musicians

Everyone knows Motown.

Berry Gordy's record company popped out hit after hit of songs that are still popular today. Songs like, "My Girl," "Get Ready," "Baby Love," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "What's Going On," and "Mercy, Mercy Me." The groups were unforgettable too... "Gladys Knight and the Pips," "The Supremes," "The Four Tops," "The Temptations," and of course who can forget artists like, "Marvin Gaye," "Stevie Wonder," and "Smokey Robinson & The Miracles."

But have you ever wondered who were the musicians behind many of these big named artists?

The Funk Brothers were the guys who played on more number one hit records than The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined. But nobody's ever heard of them, right? Well, that's because they were studio musicans. They played all of the instruments behind the big names. So while you may not know their names, you know their music because it is music that you continue to hear today on the radio and TV.

Here are their names: Earl Van Dyke, Joe Hunter, Johnny Griffith, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Robert White, William "Benny" Benjamin, Richard "Pistol" Allen, Uriel Jones, James Jamerson, Bob Babbit, Jack Ashford, and Eddie "Bongo" Brown. These were the guys who recorded all the great music you remember from the Motown era.

If you get a chance, go get a copy of the video called, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." It's the story of these guys.

Growing up, I remember hearing all these great Motown tunes on the radio. I even bought the 45's of the hits. As a musician, I've always been aware of the studio players. While other friends would only look at the names of the artists on the cover, I'd always go to the back of the LP covers and check out the names of the people who played on the record. I could consistently see the same names of players from one record to the next. But even so, for some reason, I never paid any attention to the names of the players on the Motown label! And, I had grown up listening to virtually every top song that label produced too!

Go around and ask anyone if they have ever heard of the names of the artists from Motown. I'll bet you'd have a hard time finding someone who doesn't know at least one or two Motown artists. Then ask them who played the music for them. I'll bet they won't know.

These are among the best studio players around. Check 'em out!