Posts Published in September 2009

Exploding Lightbulbs that Shatter Water

Editor’s note: A few weeks ago I discovered James’ photography in PetaPixel’s Flickr pool and was completely blown away by his photos of exploding lightbulbs that shattered drops of water instead of shards of glass. The concept was so creative that I asked him to teach all of us by guest posting here on PetaPixel. I hope you all enjoy this walkthrough and his photographs as much as I did.

Bulb 1

The Idea

The shot I had pictured was an exploding light bulb, but instead of glass, the bulb was water. I’ve seen shots of water balloons popping, where the water retains the shape of the balloon right before it splashes everywhere. Well, I wanted to take that shot a step further.

The idea of the lit bulb with exposed threads came from this post on

What You’ll Need


  • Light bulbs
  • Water balloons: the larger “party balloons” don’t work as well, they take a lot more water before the rubber gets tight enough for a clean break
  • Pellet gun: I bought the cheapest one at Wal-Mart, about $20
  • Safety pin or some other means of popping the balloons
  • Cut extension cord and some electrical knowledge

Camera Settings

Most of the images were shot at 1/250 and F 6.3. I was having some technical difficulties that morning but you could sync at much higher speeds although the 1/250th seemed to freeze 99% of the motion.

Shooting the Photographs

There is no safe way to break a live bulb and a water balloon at the same time, so I knew that I would do each separately and then combine the final images in Photoshop.

First I set up for the bulb breaking. I wanted to see the threads of the bulb, so I soldered a cut extension cord to the threads and the base of the bulb. Please don’t try this; it can be very dangerous (or deadly). The bulb was suspended from a stick that went through a piece of black foam core. I set up my flashes, one to camera left and one under the bulb. I believe they were both set at 1/8th power. Also, wear safety goggles due to the breaking glass and ricocheting pieces of lead.



I stood to the right of the camera with my pellet gun and shot through the bulb. I had a cardboard box on the other end to catch the pellets. I did not have a sound trigger (but it would have been nice) so I just pressed the remote when I squeezed the trigger. After about 5 bulbs, I figured I had enough to work with (and enough glass to clean up).

Water Bulb_001

Water Bulb_002

For the water balloon the setup was very similar. I replaced the bulb with a balloon and I placed an aquarium under the balloon to catch as much water as possible. For lighting, it wouldn’t be very economical to have a speedlight under the balloon so I cross-lit the balloon from front camera left and behind on camera right.


I tried using the pellet gun to bust the balloon – bad idea. It popped back and hit me in the forehead. So I took a stick off of a set of blinds and taped a safety pin to the end of it. Popping the balloon was the same process as earlier; I stabbed it and pressed the remote trigger at the same time.

Water Bulb_015

Water Bulb_016

It took about 20 balloons before I got what I wanted, and then I took the images into Photoshop.

Editing the Pictures

Editing was fairly simple because I set up the shot with the final editing in mind. The background was black, so any pieces of glass or water that was not wanted could easily be cloned out. I took a few of the bulb shots and ended up photoshopping all of the glass out and leaving the threads. In some on the final images I left the smoldering filament also.

Water Bulb_003

When I had the bulb shot cleaned up, I pulled in the bursting balloon shot. I selected all of the black area and deleted it. I then matched the size of the water balloon base and the bulb base to make one seamless image. Then for a final touch, I flipped the images so that the bulb would be facing upward.

Bulb 2

Things to Watch Out For

I had to watch out for a few things, but it will all depend on your setup.

  1. I had to avoid spill light on the background to keep it as black as possible.
  2. When you shoot and shatter the bulb, make sure you unplug the power cord before messing with the bulb. Just because it isn’t on, doesn’t mean the power isn’t still there.
  3. Make sure to use Water Balloons – the big party balloons do not work as well and take a lot more water before they are stretched enough to burst correctly.

Tips and Tricks

Experiment, that’s all I can say. There is no right or wrong way to take a photograph. Just think through the issues, look at the results you are getting, and keep tweaking until it works like you want.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this was a fun shoot. It had its risks, but nothing went wrong and I was very pleased with creating a unique image that looked like what I had first visualized. Sometimes these “fun days” of experimenting are exactly what it takes to spark your creativity out of a slump. Keep shooting, be safe, and have fun!

bulb 3

bulb 4

About the author: James Davidson is a photographer based in Cochran, GA. Although the majority of his work revolves around rustic country settings, he also likes to test the limits of his creativity. Visit his website Edgewater Media or his Flickr page. You can also follow him on twitter @edgewatermedia.

Interview with Adam Taylor

Adam Taylor is a commercial photographer based in Sydney, Australia. His clients include Coca-Cola, Olympus, Rogaine, and Canon. Visit his website here.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself and what you do?

Adam Taylor: My name is Adam Robert Taylor. I am a photographer. I work mostly here in Australia and increasingly throughout other parts of the world.

PP: How did you get started in photography?

AT: My dad was into it. I remember being 5 or 6 and discovering his collection of kodachrome slides from all his travels before he met my mum, and also some beautiful stuff from when they first met and the beach parties they used to have with all their friends. I was super fascinated with the feel and colour of those images. I remember having slide nights with our family and friends and the atmosphere within the darkened room , the images projected onto the wall and all that gorgeous colour massive on our lounge-room wall, and everyone just looked so young and attractive! It was totally intoxicating!

So that was the early seed being planted or blueprinted into my imagination and it just grew from that. Setting up my own darkroom under our house in the cellar. Digital hadn’t arrived just yet so I was processing and printing all my own black & white film.

I remember having a really interesting art teacher in high school, she was into photography and we had another darkroom there that we could use during art lessons. All this gave me a wonderful base to start from with photography. I developed a real passion with photography and a way of interpreting my world. Also I was incredibly shy as a teenager and it was a great way to be a little isolated and outside of things with a camera and a darkroom. I used to photograph my family, friends and girlfriends. The whole feel of being the “director” when you’re doing a portrait session was just awesome.

When I was about 20 I went for this job as a photojournalist and I had no experience at all in journalism but the editor really liked my photos, so I got the job and was thrown in the deep end and really learned a lot. I had to work quickly with the capturing of images and juggling the interview side of things as well. I became quite social, the shy teenager had disappeared . I did that for a while then decided it wasn’t really my thing and then went onto a wonderful art school in Sydney “National Art School” for 4 years and majored in photography – this was very liberating and such a discovery. I finished Art school and went over to London and assisted advertising and fashion guys for a couple of years, I traveled and explored some incredible cultures and peoples with my camera during that time. My first jobs as a freelance photographer were doing portraits and fashion stories for surf and music magazines.


PP: What was your first camera?

AT: A Canon F1 – which was stolen from our car! Then I saved up and got a Hasselblad.

PP: What gear do you use now?

AT: I like to shoot with the Canon 1Ds Mark 3 – or the Hasselblad with a phase, leaf or imacon back – I don’t really mind through – whatever is available.

Mostly broncolor lighting – but profoto is good too.

PP: How do you go about taking a portrait? Can you tell us about your process?

AT: I do my homework and have a few cards up my sleeve for the day of the portrait. By “homework” I mean having worked out a creative angle for the shoot. Also if the person is well known, I do research on the Internet. This is always helpful. I see how that person has been photographed before, this helps me find my own path for the portrait. I do all the work beforehand in my head. I pre-visualize the image that I am aiming for and I also have backup image(s) that I’m thinking about as well.

My approach is to find the “humanness” to break down the barriers and the power. I go a lot on my intuition and gut feeling with people. Sometimes you have to ease your way into the portrait slowly, other times “wow” you can get the portrait in the first few frames.
I was a boy scout when I was about 11, and the scout’s motto’s was: “be prepared” !


PP: What advice do you have regarding photographing strangers? How do you go about doing this?

AT: Strangers, people in the street, someone you walk up to and say, “excuse me, can I take your photograph”. This is always so challenging and the fear of rejection is ever prevalent. I find that you really have to be totally 100% committed for approaching people like this. People can sense when you are honestly enthusiastic, excited and buzzing about them and will feed into that vibe and 95% of the time you will get a positive response.

Otherwise it’s a reportage approach and the trick is to capture your subject totally unaware — a moment of grace. This is very difficult with the large bulky 35mm SLRs. I find it works better with the smaller more discrete cameras.

PP: Is there anything you wish you had known before becoming a professional photographer?

AT: Not really – what I’ve learned is that there is no set path to becoming a professional photographer.

PP: What is the most challenging aspect of what you do?

I’m continually challenged – that’s what I love about it.


PP: Can you tell us a little about how the advertising photography business works?

AT: I will try my best to talk about this – but it’s such a large subject we could talk all day on just this subject !

I think the first thing is to have a really strong folio of your work. Once you have a great portfolio its time to get around and see as many art buyers and creatives as you can.

Its difficult, I started out in editorial – doing work for magazines before I moved over into advertising. I am pretty lucky now because people come to me for my unique style. I usually get to approach the project like I’d do if I did it on my own.

The creatives send over a layout, we talk about it, I try to understand and get my head around what they are trying to accomplish. Once you get an advertising job its up to the photographer to work out how you are going to achieve the results and put together
estimates and sometimes a treatment for the campaign. I work with my producer on the nuts and bolts of the shoot and I take control of the creative direction of the shoot.

I spend quite a lot of time researching and envisioning how I want the campaign to look. Usually you are bidding against other photographers at this stage until you win the job. Then its time to move ahead on the job. I always spend weeks of time and effort planning for the shoot. Double-checking everything to the nth degree so that I’m satisfied everything will go smoothly on the day of the shoot. Fine tuning the creative, location scouting, castings, pre-production meetings with the art director, copyrighter and the client. Then the shoot day(s). Usually a lot of people are involved – producer, talent, crew, agency people, clients, stylists, hair & makeup. Then into postproduction and working with my retouchers and the creative team for the final outcome of the image(s). Mostly my projects are quite involved and can take anything from a week to a few months. It’s a collaboration of a whole bunch of people – a team effort.


PP: Why did you choose to do advertising photography rather than other types of photography?

AT: I do like the collaboration of working with talented people on exciting concepts and ideas. I get to travel and make great pictures. I love it.

I get to do personal work too. At the moment I’m looking for a gallery to exhibit some of my personal work next year and publish my first photo book.


PP: Would you recommend a beginning photographer start out in film or digital? Why?

AT: That is a good question! I learned so much by starting out in film. You become more thoughtful and more considered when you are using film.

Digital gives the more instantaneous results that can be reviewed and applied. It’s so easy now to go out and buy a relatively cheap digital camera and just start shooting. Digital is great, you can craft and finesse angles and lighting a lot quicker than with film. A lot of the photographers that I really admire have started out in film and have that filmic sensibility and thoughtful composition to their work, even when they have gone on to shoot in digital.

But in saying all this – the most important thing is the strength of your vision, what you have to say and your passion for making images. This will shine through no matter the medium – digital or film.


PP: Are there any specific things you’ve learned along the way that caused big improvements in the quality of your work?

AT: Always try new things and take risks. Show your work to as many people as you can and seek out those people who you trust to give you honest constructive criticism on your work.

Surround yourself with good people, mentors and friends.

Don’t be in it for the money. Do it because you enjoy it. The money will come.

PP: If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you might be doing?

AT: A painter or a sculptor.


PP: How many hours a week do you work?

AT: It’s a way of life, so I’m always working. I love it.

PP: Can you tell us a little about the Canon 1Ds Mark 3?

AT: Excellent camera. It works great for me for a lot of my work. Lots of great features – I like the zoom and toggle control for reviewing images on the back screen, also the focusing points to choose from are very helpful. Works wonderfully with all the canon lenses.

On the downside it is quite heavy and it’s taken them too long to finally get it all good for working tethered to the computer with the capture one software.


PP: Who are some photographers you’re a fan of?

AT: Henri Cartier Bresson, Irving Penn, and Larry Sultan.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to be interviewed by PetaPixel?

AT: Larry Sultan.

Interview with Justin van Leeuwen of JVL’s specs

Justin van Leeuwen is the photoblogger behind JVL’s specs.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Justin van Leeuwen: Sure, the whole thing? This is where I get to be a self-centred narcissist; so if you’re not interested in a biography or serendipitous romance I suggest you skip to the second question:

I grew up in Toronto Ontario reading comics and playing video games. While I always admired art, I was never able to produce it. I ended up working at a Comic Book store for several years [read: eleven!] called the Silver Snail where I was able to interact with some VERY talented storytellers working in the medium. From there I was able to travel to New York, L.A., and San Diego to various conventions and really get a feel for that industry and know some of the major players in Comic from the past, and a few leading the way to the future. Sadly, eventually, I had to move on from that career and ended up Fundraising at Sunnybrook Hospital, also in Toronto.

Here’s where the story gets a little interesting (to me at least). I got the job at Sunnybrook through a reference by my then room-mate Kari – she and I were high school friends – ALSO through her I got to meet and really enjoy the company of her fantastic group of friends from University. Two of the guys in particular I became pretty good friends with, Aaron and Attila; and they both had digital SLRs.

Like everyone else I had a digital P&S that came out at parties but nothing more thoughtful than that, but after seeing the work Attila was doing, I was blown away, and thought that if I could do a fraction of that maybe I could find my own creative outlet.

Attila and Aaron both blogged, still do, sorta. Attila’s much better known for his remarkable photo-blog, and Aaron’s is Naturally I wanted to join the group (just a wanna-be) so Aaron helped set me up a photoblog on his server and we were off!

Eventually, almost solely through Thinsite, I picked up some traffic and came to know a few other bloggers, some of them from Canada too. One who we struck up a number of conversations with was Xtina from, another gifted photographer. She was out in Ottawa at the time and I was kind of eager to spread my wings a bit, go “somewhere,” so Aaron and I booked a roadtrip to visit Xtina and see what Ottawa had to offer. Apparently what it had to offer, both Aaron and I, was women.

To sum all of this up, because I’m sure your readers aren’t nearly as interested in me as I’m interested in myself; Xtina ended up moving to Toronto and is now engaged to Aaron, I met Xtina’s friend Mel that weekend, who I then knocked up (after months of dating of course) and ended up living with in Ottawa, now we’re engaged too, with our CRAZY CUTE son Quinn, a second boy is on his way for December or so.

While photography has encompassed a small portion of my life, it has certainly influenced the direction I’ve taken it over the past 4 years.

The moral of my story? Photo-blogging makes babies, always keep your lens-hood on!


PP: How did you first get into photography?

JVL: For years it was just based on this point and shoot film camera my mom got me in kindergarten. I took a lot of photos with that and I suppose that’s where my affinity to take photos in general came from. Later I enjoyed composing shots on field trips and making sure to include people in architectural shots (because I couldn’t figure out how to make them interesting on their own). But I never seriously thought about it as a means of expression until I got my first Digital SLR.

Attila at really was my inspiration to take better photos. He also was my tutor since I knew bunk about it – of course he could never teach me to be artistic, he certainly helped me figure out the groundwork of aperture, shutter speed, exposure and how all those things tie together… I think it got to a point where he wanted me to figure the rest out on my own. But that first bit of help he gave me really propelled me forward and probably helped keep me from giving up on it too fast.

I tend to return that favor now to anyone I meet starting up – reciprocation and teaching others is part of the experience.

After that I basically carried my camera around until some people asked me to take pictures for them (at events or cheque presentations)… once I found out that they liked and used my photos I asked if they’d pay me. I’ve been slowly progressing with this working amateur photography career ever since (better than a non-working pro right?).


PP: What was your first camera?

JVL: My first REAL camera, where I had some control over the photos I took? The Canon Digital Rebel XT. Though right away I opted to stay away from the “kit” lens, on recommendation from friends I had heard the quality doesn’t compare. Since the whole REASON of getting a SLR was for quality, the first lens I got with that camera was the Canon 17-40 f/4L.

Everything before that I can hardly remember; there was this 1 or 2MP Sony camera I used at work – it took floppy disks which I thought was so convenient because everyone had floppy drives! I own 3 computers right now, none of them take floppies!


PP: What equipment do you use now?

JVL: This, my friend, is a slippery slope.

· Canon 1DMKII that I got used off the Fred Miranda forums (probably the best buy-and-sell community I’ve found) a year or so after I got the Rebel XT and felt I had outgrown it’s controls. A huge difference was the ability to change ISO on the fly. With the rebel xt setting ISO was in a menu, so you’d always try to push the one you had selected, often to the detriment of the final image.
· Panasonic DMC-LX3 – a great wide-angle, fast, high-end point and shoot that I’m not convinced I should own (but have gotten some great images with!)
· Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye (a very fun, if limited use, lens)
· Canon 50mm f/1.4 (Always. always-always-always happy with the shots I get with this lens)
· Canon 100mm (got this one at Christmas – slow focusing, eats light, but CRAZY sharp)
· Canon 17-40 f/4 L (my first, now underused and under-appreciated, lens)
· Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L (this is my go-to lens, it’s on my camera first and last – usually. Looking at my Lightroom catalogue, about 60% of all the photos I’ve ever taken have now been with this lens.
· Canon 70-200 f/4.0 L (also a very sharp lens, affordable too since Canon has 4 70-200’s to choose from. Despite it’s weight, I plan on upgrading to the 70-200 f/2.8 L someday)
· Lensbaby 3G (another one of those fun lenses – one that I don’t put on enough – tricky to figure out at first but the results are usually quite rewarding)

Then I got into lights with this whole strobist thing, though the strobist thing is just people wanting to take better photos by learning light really:
· Canon 430ex (first flash, the 430 line is perfect for those wanting to start out)
· 2 Canon 580EXII’s (much more versatile and multi-featured, one can act as command units to fire other speedlights remotely – but within the limitations of Canon’s flash system)
· And before I get into anything else I have sto-fen diffusers for all of these. I basically don’t buy a flash without sticking one of these on top anymore – it’s like there’s no point (since we all know direct flash usually sucks right?).
· I got the Canon CT-E3 battery pack to give me a faster recycle time and help out at long events and the Canon OC-E3 off-camera shoe cord which is sometimes just too short for what I want it to do.
· 2 pocket wizard Type 2 Transceivers (for when the Canon wireless system doesn’t work… and often even if it will)
· 1 pocket wizard mini TT1 (this little guy lets me synch at higher shutter-speeds than I could remotely before, and when if I get the flex TT5’s I’ll have full E-TTL control of the light)

Then I’ve got a wack of modifiers, lots of Honl stuff, the Lumiquest SBIII which is great and portable, probably my favourite single light thing now is the Lastolite EzyBox with hot-shoe adapter; gives me studio quality light wherever I go.

I carry it all in a Pelican 1510 Case or a Think Tank photo Streetwalker Pro HD and a Hakuba PSTC 100 Tripod Case – for a more casual shoot I pop what I can into a Crumpler 6-Million dollar home. I also just got the Think-Tank Skin Belt system and look forward to trying that out at some events and weddings.

Rounding it off I’ve got a Blackrapid R-strap – which totally rocks if you want something to roam around with but keep your camera out ready to shoot – makes me feel like a gunslinger. A lastolite trigrip diffuser for bounce and controlling the harsh sun. For support I have a Manfrotto 190CL and an Acratech GV2 ballhead which is smooth and sweet and, as David DuChemin of told me “makes me hate my tripod less.”

Since it’s digital, of course, there’s my trusty computer. Which is a PC – hate me how you will – it’s what I’ve got running Adobe Photoshop CS3, Lightroom 2.4, Nik Software plugin suite for lightroom (that I’m just starting to use). I have a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet which I don’t work on much anymore; it’s great for Photoshop, I just stay in Lightroom most of the time nowadays except for portrait touch-ups and the like. For locations with some time I bring my Asus V6V which has been a workhorse over the years – for anyone looking for a PC laptop Asus customer service ROCKS and their hardware is rock-solid. I’d buy one again in a heartbeat.

You have a pretty monstrous list of gear… is there anything on your wishlist?
Yeah, there’s always something, different classifications too (I’m very organized). For lenses I dream about getting the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II – but that thing’s like two mortgage payments for me so forget about it, like I said, someday I’d like to “upgrade” my 70-200 to something faster with IS but there are also advantages to having the one I have (weight… don’t have to spend more cash). A lot of people want the latest camera, but the 1D MKII is still a major player, and there’s no way I could afford a modern equivalent – your money’s usually better spent on glass anyways.

I’ve been focusing a lot on my lighting, so I look to different mods and other gear that’s both effective and portable. I usually shoot solo so I have to be able to carry it, set it up myself, and put it on a light stand for want of an assistant. There’s some really cool “big light” stuff that I’m interested in like the Elinchrome Ranger Quadra – but realistically I have a long way to go with what I got now.

Right now I’m pretty happy, as well I should be, I’ve got more stuff and am doing less good work than MANY people out there. I have the tools, now I need to find the talent.


PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it?

JVL: For the most part it’s “found” stuff. If you visit my blog you’ll see more photos that I’ve taken while walking around. I’m pretty Sure Attila put me in my place once when I started calling it art and he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Art? I’m pretty sure we just walk around and take pictures of shit we find.” Very true. I remind myself of that often to keep me humble.

Lately I’ve been spending more time with portraits, location shoots and environmental portraiture – basically taking a picture of a person, in a place, and trying to do a good job of showcasing both. It seems that’s what I’m better at, and what I’m most interested in – the result of years of retail I suppose – I just really like interacting with people and telling their story through a, or a series of, photos.

What are some tips and/or tricks you’ve learned from buying used gear online?
If it feels like a scam it probably is. I’ve never been burned but I do a bit of due diligence on Fred Miranda there’s a bit of a ranking system so you can see if they’ve done some trades before, and how active they are in the forums (see if they’re real) if I’m getting something shipped from the US or meeting someone in person – no MO’s to Nigeria or anything. The later is always best for any transaction – it’s a lot of cash and if you can see and handle the gear before you pick it up you’re less likely to lose out. Come to think of it, all my used gear I’ve picked up on FM or directly through friends…

I definitely know what I want before I go out and get it though, doing the research on how a piece of equipment is supposed to perform. You usually stand to save at least 20% on what you’re buying when it comes to glass, bodies drop like a rock since they’re usually out-dated in 6-12 months (which is a great way to get your first or better SLR cheap!) First party (Nikon, Canon) lenses usually retain their value more than 3rd party (Sigma, Tamron) so while you may expect to pay more for them, you can also hope to get more back for them should you choose to move along.


PP: What advice do you have for someone just starting to publish his or her photographs on the web?

JVL: Set an obtainable goal for yourself, make it easy, and don’t expect anything in return. I’m not talking a 365 project goal – but those work too – I’m just saying make it your goal to post every weekday for a while, or post your best photo every week, or do a theme, just something to keep you focused, motivated and shooting. The best way to become a better photographer is taking more photos, so if posting online is your “product” then go out there and take photos until you have the best shot you can make at that time. I’d also suggest looking around at other blogs and other people’s photos – what do you like about them? Randomness? their Photoshop technique? the quality of their colours? the flare of their site?

I never worried too much about the look of my site, pixelpost is free and does a good job, I don’t know HTML CSS or all the other stuff so I stick with the templates at hand – that’s what works for me. Some people custom make their sites like Brad from he knows how so, y’know, good for him. Also make sure your blog is RSS friendly, I don’t’ use bookmarks anymore so if I can’t subscribe to your feed I likely won’t ever see you again.

You can’t expect anything from the internet; viewers, comments, nice-ness, praise, scorn – nothing. I think I’ve had some posts practically begging for comments and got nothing, then I say something “controversial” in my own comments and I get a stream of stuff. I find that mostly, people look at your photo, like it or don’t, and move on. In the end I’m taking photos for me – hopefully someone comes across and likes one and I’ll just have to assume that happens sometimes.

There is a great social element to it though, and you can get valuable feedback – know that ANYONE can leave a shitty comment – so don’t take 1 person’s vocal decent as the definitive answer to your creation. If they offer some critique, listen, but you’re free to disagree. I ‘met’ most of my readers through other blogs, my leaving comments (constructive at times, sarcastic and pointless on others) on their photos, and people clicked through to my site. Recently, though, I’ve been getting a lot of site traffic through Twitter and the #photo hashtag.


PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

JVL: Every single day. from 1 – 1,000 photos.

PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

JVL: For me it all starts at the camera – it’s a cycle – after a shoot my Camera is reset, zeroed out, with my 24-70, ISO to 200, WB to Auto and usually a battery into the charger. This way, I’m ready to shoot whenever I have to, if it’s last minute, unexpected, or if I’ve just forgotten to properly prep before a shoot. Oh, and I shoot in RAW, almost always… sometimes there’s a reason to not, but I will attribute those times to laziness.

So then when I get home I pop my CF card into a card-reader (this is faster and less prone to screwing up than using the USB cable from your camera), turn on Lightroom (which will prompt me to backup my catalogue from the last time I used it, which I do, onto a separate HD in my computer) and then when that’s done I import the card into Lightroom. I have a copyright metadata template so that’s usually set, and I do some basic key wording here like the location of the shoot or the content if it’s consistent throughout. I tend to have them sampled to 1:1 right there because my PC can’t render large previews on the fly (if you have a decent speced computer you can probably just render standard previews up-front and you’ll be good). I then follow, basically, the proofing and editing method I learned from Scot Kelby’s “Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers” which I won’t go into detail here because, well, it was his idea and you should really just get his book to help you out.

After I’ve done my selects in LR I go through them again and rate them with 1 to 5 stars, I then sort for the 4+ stars and hopefully I’ve got enough there for my client or personal uses… if I don’t I’ll go to the 3 stars and maybe lessen my harsh judgment. Of those photos I’ll finely tweak settings for each one, and maybe drop one into a nik software plugin that could do it justice. I’m still learning a bit about RAW sharpening (included in Nik’s sharpener software) – I’m pretty comfortable with Lightroom’s sharpening.

Lightroom has really spoiled me, I hardly ever go into Photoshop anymore, though when I do my photos get that extra edge that I’m really looking for. Basically I’d say Lightroom can usually bring me 90% of the way there, and then that bit of polish needed to get to your own personal 100% Photoshop supplies.

Once a week I plug in my external Hard-drive and back up all of my music and photo files. I’ve also been using a software program called Backblaze to backup my computer to “the cloud” it takes a looooong time depending on how much you have to backup and how fast your connection is… I’m a little over 50% done (in 6 months!) but once it’s done I’ll know that my stuff is fireproof. It actually just caught up to photos of the day my son was born so that’s huge for me – that peace of mind is worth the cost of the service.


PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

JVL: Sadly I’m not very well educated on the “photography greats” I never went to school for this and have learned through, basically, doing, and the internet! But boy, are there some great guys out there who take some killer photos and just make being a photographer so approachable.

In the category of “people I know” I love Attila at (can you tell I have a man-crush on him?), Brad at – sadly they’ve both seemed to get out of the blogging game. I also like Jonathan Greenwald‘s style of carefree “snipe from the hip” photography – not what I’m personally into but I have had my fun with it.

For people I don’t know but I should because they’re Canadian (we’re all neighbours) I’ve really been into the blog of Stephen Waterfall at “” his images are just so clean and colourful – and his Iceland Pano’s put every shot I took on my trip to shame. Mile’s regent of “” is an incredible photographer whose landscape evoke mood that I can barely comprehend. And I’ve recently been very impressed with the compositional elements and processing of Faisal Sultan of FriskyPics.

To round it off some staple photographers whose blogs and images should be on everyone’s list are: Joe McNally; Scott Kelby; David DuChemin; Chase Jarvis; David Nightingale; and David Hobby – what’s great about these guys is that they do take some, arguably, great photos – but what really sets them apart is that they are all teachers. So even if you don’t like their style, they might have some insight into the industry, or how to “do” something to one of YOUR photos that you think needs a bit of a push to get it to 100%.

David DuChemin recently “reviewed” one of my photos on his “within the frame” podcast and I found it a HUGELY rewarding experience. You can see his feedback on my photo here and my follow-up response to his podcast here.


PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

JVL: Probably my buddy Attila at, he inspired me so much, likely many others too, and since he’s been absent from photo blogging community I think his fans are ready for something… anything!

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

JVL: Just thanks for taking the time to read all this, hopefully you figured something useful out, if not about me, maybe about yourself. If you’re ever looking for help getting started in photography, I’m more than happy to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I’m probably better at knowing the technical answer to a photography question than figuring out how to take a good photo.

You can visit me on my blog or follow me on twitter @justinvl.


Childhood Memories and a Lensbaby Winner

composer2Our Lensbaby giveaway has come to an end. In the past week, we received 566 entries (a new record), with 310 comments and 256 tweets. Our previous record was 510 entries a couple weeks ago when we gave away a Streetwalker backpack by Think Tank Photo.

I think our question, “What is your favorite childhood memory?”, is the most interesting one we’ve asked so far, and many of you wrote quite a bit in response to it.

More about favorite childhood memories in a bit, but first let’s announce the winner of the Lensbaby Composer. The randomly selected winner is…

#41: Maria

Climbing in parents’ bed and making clock-faces on Dad’s bare back… with my baby teeth! Yeah, he would half-laugh half-scream but still let me make multiple ones… I think/hope I tickled him more than I hurt him. Thanks, Dad, for enduring with love, you always warm my heart. <3

Congratulations! Please email me at [email protected] to claim your prize.

Thanks to everyone who entered and shared their favorite childhood memory with all of us! We’ll be giving away something again very soon, so stay tuned!

Here are some childhood memories we received this past week:


When I little my father was severely ill in the hospital for more than three months over the Christmas holiday. We were told Christmas would be very simple that year one gift for each of us. Then on Christmas Eve total strangers showed up and brought us gifts and food. With no income because my father was in the hospital, I remember my mother in tears of joy and gratitude over their kindness. We never knew who they were or how they knew, but it made Christmas very special that year. Also my mom let us keep up our artificial tree until he came home in March. We wanted him to enjoy Christmas at home , too.


My favorite memory is watching my dad taking family pictures with his Roliflex camera that was in a brown leather casing. Now I am fourty years old, a father of three sons, and my dad has passed away. I own his Roliflex camera and look at it in amazement everytime I take it out. It brings back fond memories of my childhood and who would have known that after almost four decades I would be into photography just like him. If only one day, my boys can follow my footsteps and enjoy photography as much as I have begun to.

Jennifer Squires Ross (website):

My favourite childhood memory was not having tv because I grew up in such a small town, so small that we didn’t even qualify as a village. There weren’t cable lines running out there (and there still aren’t) and aerial antennas didn’t do much because we were in a valley. We had to make our own fun which included building our own Ewok village and counting and installing our own population sign (262 people in case you were wondering). This small town called Hockley Village is what inspired me to become a photographer.

boris (@borborigm):

Being able to play for hours with a piece of wood

Stanford’s Open Source Camera Project


The web is abuzz over a project over at Stanford that aims to revolutionize how we think about photography by building an open source camera (dubbed Frankencamera).

That’s right…

Open. Source. Camera.

While you try to wrap your mind around this new paradigm, I’ll point out of a few of the important aspects of the project and throw in some of my thoughts on it.

Linux, Firefox, and now Frankencamera

The established order of things up to this point has been for behemoth camera corporations (i.e. Canon, Nikon, etc…) to sell consumers (i.e. you and me) hardware and software that they spend years and billions of dollars developing and tweaking. The same was true of operating systems and browsers before open source projects like Linux and Firefox crashed the party.

If this research group at Stanford successfully releases an open source platform for imaging, a whole new world of opportunity opens up for photographers and developers alike. Instead of attempting to have features added to future cameras by making noise and requesting them, we would be able to take matters into our own hands, building hardware or developing software to suit our needs.

Advanced In-Camera “Post”-Processing

Imagine if you could program your DSLR with some common Photoshop actions that you always run when post-processing your images, so the photos come out the camera with your edits already applied.

Even more advanced post-processing techniques could be moved into the camera, providing photographers with features that the large camera makers would never add to their DSLRs, since they prefer sticking to the fundamentals and leaving post-processing up to the photographer. For example, a photographer could choose to have his camera automatically bracket, merge, and tone map, allowing him to download HDR photographs directly from his camera.

Camera Apps

The team behind the Frankencamera also envisions a future where photographers can download applications onto their cameras, just like apps can be downloaded to the iPhone from the App Store. Wifi on your camera? Directly uploading photographs to Flickr? Different photo styles and camera effects? The possibilities are endless, and it would definitely be interesting to see what applications developers would come up with.

As Apple’s App Store has shown, it definitely pays to put application development in the hands of individuals rather than keep it behind closed doors with your relatively small group of developers and engineers.


How would an open source software platform change the game in terms of hardware? The Frankencamera is currently being developed with a hodgepodge of parts — everything from Nokia cameraphone sensors to Canon lenses. If an open source camera gained any significant piece of the camera market pie, then third party lens manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma would no doubt join in on the fun.

I’ve read elsewhere that third-party lens makers are forced to reverse engineer the mounting and focusing systems of camera makers such as Canon and Nikon. This would be completely unnecessary for an open source camera, and the third-party companies would even be able to contribute towards the software side to improve the functionality of their lenses.

A critical piece of the puzzle, however, is the issue of sensors. I’m sure the bulk of the billions spent on R&D has to do with sensor technology, and pretty much no one can compete with the larger companies on this front. No matter how popular an open source camera might be, adopters will likely have to take a hit on sensor quality unless one of the big players decides to contribute their sensors.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I think this is a great idea and really hope the research group succeeds in getting something off the ground and into our hands. I only wish it were a project being done over here at UC Berkeley, though I do know there’s some pretty interesting work being done related to camera sensors and bokeh rendering.

To learn more about the project, you can read the Stanford news article, or watch this YouTube video put out by Stanford.

Interview with Ilan Bresler

Ilan Bresler is the photoblogger behind Ilan Bresler Photography. You can also find him on Twitter as @ilanbr.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Ilan Bresler: Hi, Michael, and thank you so much for interviewing me.

About myself… Well, I was born in Russia, and when I was about 7-8 my family immigrated to Israel. As a young fellow, it was hard to overcome to language barrier and the lack of friends so I turned to photography using my grandpa’s old Russian camera (I don’t even remember the brand now). The camera allowed me to become an observer to life and ignore the difficulties of finding friends in an unknown country. A few years later, I’ve neglected my camera when it became awkward to hang around with, and by then I already had friends so it wasn’t too difficult. But the love for photography was already part of me, and when digital cameras became available, I rushed to ask my parents to get me one. They bought me a 3.1 mega pixel, Nikon 3100. It was a birthday present that changed my life.

I’ve enjoyed the frames I got from this little marvel, and when posted them on an Israeli photo forum, the feedback I got was like a long needed “drug”. The photographers I’ve met on that forum taught me most of what I know today and my style and approach to photography is rooted in those first years on that forum. Since then I’ve established (or was part of a group that established) two major photo forums in Israel, and even though now I took a step back from running them, I’m still very active in the online photo community.

Nowadays, I concentrate mainly on my blog and my new hobby – Twitter :)


PP: What was the forum you posted your photos to? Is it still around?

IB: The first forum I posted my photos on was one of the largest forums systems in Israel, The forums are in Hebrew, so I’m not sure how much people reading this interview can enjoy it. The second forum was called Click Art, and the main goal was of that forum was to group photographers and find any community projects we, as photographers, can participate in. We helped orphan kids and arranged Bar-Mitzvah parties; we went to the northern part of Israel, to entertain the kids during the second Lebanon war. The kids were locked in bomb shelters 24 hours a day and we asked for toys donations and any entertainers who could volunteer and come with us. We ended up a full bus of toys and people who came to ease the time for those kids. Our job was to photo the whole event, print the photo and give it back to the children and their families. In our ‘peak’ we had about 60 photographers, ready to volunteer and help the society in any project available. The group fell apart at the end, and the reasons are not that important now.


PP: What do you shoot?

IB: I enjoy street photography. Most of my photos are of people in different situations. When I was first introduced to street photography, I heard a very clever phrase – “I don’t take photos of people, I take photos of situations” – And I think that’s very true. Our lives are a puzzle of mundane moment we never stop to consider or notice. These are the moments I love the capture: While we eat, while we talk, while we pick our noses. I try to mix my love to street with two elements – I enjoy playing with light – Edward Hopper paintings, with their selective dramatic lighting are one of the inspirations, the works of Martin Parr with his strong colors and light is another. The other element is humor. I’m considered a ‘joker’ by those who know me, and in my best photos I manage to transfer that part of my personality. In the best of my photos – I use both elements.


PP: Why do you shoot?

IB: I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. I’m not shy, but I always put walls between me and other people in my life. I guess we all do. But camera allows me to be someone else, a kind of foreign observer, thus allowing me to feel more comfortable, more ‘open’ in my dealing with the surrounding. When asked to write a short bio on my Twitter account, I wrote – “Photography for me is a way to find my inner peace. Same with blogging. So I combine the two” – I guess it’s pretty accurate for both of these hobbies of mine.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

IB: Today I use Nikon D80 with Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens. Recently I sold my ‘arsenal’ of lenses, amongst them Nikon 18-200mm, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-210mm. I find that I most enjoy the wide lenses and the Tamron is wide enough and fast enough to satisfy my needs. Few months ago I also purchased the compact Ricoh GX200, which never leaves my bag. It’s not very comfortable to go around with the bulky DSLR, and the GX200 is exactly what I need (wide angle, RAW support, 2 dials, fast… ) during my daily routines.


PP: How much do you think a photograph can be post-processed and manipulated before it is no longer considered photography?

IB: That’s a tough question. This topic, today, is a bit of a controversy. Some say, that if given the tools, photographer, as any other artist, should use any tool he can to improve and refine his work. With the possibilities we now have, no matter if you use Adobe products or free programs like Gimp, the options and the expected results are endless. Even though I’m still only close to my thirties, and I’m very open minded and enjoy technology very much, I’m pretty conservative in my views of photo art. I shoot only RAW, which gives me great flexibility, but when I work on a photo, most of the time – I will only use the tools that were available in a dark room – crop, burn and dodge tools are my most trusted companions. Very rare for me to erase something out of the frame, and I’ll do that in extreme condition only – Can’t even remember the last frame I did that. Obviously, resize and sharpen are used all the time, and in times when it fits – I’ll convert the photo to black and white. Color manipulation, heavy processing – It’s just not me. I believe that a good photo can stand by itself, without all the extra hoo-ha. Lately, I’m tempted to try Lightroom but I’m just too lazy to change my workflow.


PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

IB: As mention earlier, I shoot only RAW. The RAW file is taken to Nikon Capture NX2 software where I refine all the RAW setting, exposure especially. The file then saved in a TIFF format, which I open in Photoshop (CS3). There I go through the little details; burning and dodge tools are used. The result is saved in a PSD format, for any future use, mostly for cases when I send photos to competition or publications. The image is resized to fit the Internet format and I save it in quality of about 7. That low resolution and quality saves me the need to use watermark/signature on my photos – Even if someone ‘steals’ my works, the low quality won’t allow them to print it. The final result is that each photo has about 4 files and all this is kept in two separate hard drives.


PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences of shooting strangers?

IB: One of our first Click Art projects was a visit to a delinquent youth club. It wasn’t even a ‘real’ delinquent youth, but more of young fellows from broken home who are at high risk to become well… delinquents. A group of volunteers run a kind of neighborhood club, where these boys can meet, play social games and enjoy toasts and coke for few shekels. The volunteers contacted us and asked us to share a project, to follow the club during a long period of time, and see these boys grow up. When we came it became very obvious that the guys there weren’t used to be in center of a big group specially when lenses of every kind were pointed at them. Their excitement was very pronounced. After most of the food stored in the club was thrown in a mini food fight, the couch was broken, few fist fights started, and a window smashed, the volunteers asked us to leave and comeback some other time – when the idea of us being amongst them will settle. We weren’t really afraid of being hurt, but the atmosphere was pretty scary. We came back the next week.


PP: What is one thing you learned that had the biggest positive impact on your photography?

IB: One of the best things I’ve learned and I feel lucky to learn it from my first step in digital photography is – Shoot digital but think film. Many people love to say that after coming back from a trip (for example) they have thousands of photos. Digital camera will surely allow that. But I don’t think that quantity of frames is a guarantee for quality. If you enjoy clicking the frames so much, maybe it’s better to buy an HD video camera, shoot the whole trip, and then just choose the good frames. I don’t shoot much. Even though I’m in digital world, I use my camera as I once used my film camera. I try to think before I click. That’s one of the reasons I find it hard to go out with another photographers for photo walks. I just can’t concentrate with all the pixels flying around :)

PP: When did you start your photoblog? What inspired you to start it?

IB: I started my photoblog on a whim. I had my flickr gallery for few years, and I really tried to put myself into it. I commented photos, participated in different groups… And one day I just snapped. I thought – why I do so much “work”, when the gallery is not even really my own? It belongs to flickr, and all my content is buried under millions of photos and comments uploaded to that site – every second. Moment later I was already creating my own blog on Blogger platform, never even imagining that these were my first steps to something that will change my life and my view on the virtual social side of photography.


PP: What role does Twitter play in your life and what you do?

IB: I started my Twitter account on April, 2007. After few tweets, the account was neglected for more than a year. Can’t remember now why and when I decided to give it another try but today I can say that I’m a Twitterholic. As a tool, I think Twitter was designed to be a social platform, but as things tend to evolve by themselves, it became a very strong and solid self-promotional / marketing platform – Good platform always finds its course between what it was designed to be and what it really becomes. Personally, I think I use Twitter approximately 85% for the social aspect and about 15% for promotional benefits. My blog is updated once a week, so I don’t really have that many things to promote, specially when I don’t sell anything and just looking for comment and reviews for my work. Putting promotion aside (easy when it’s only 15%), Twitter became the best source for meeting new photographers and some of them became almost like real friends. Through my new friends I found more photoblogs to follow, and became a part of an international photo project “Around the World, Street Photography in BNW”.

Another great example for Twitter effect is this interview – It’s the platform that made it possible for us to meet.


PP: Who are some of the photographers you follow online?

IB: There are over 150 photoblogs I follow on RSS and over 350 photographers on Twitter, so it’ll be very difficult to point only a few :)

Aldo Risolvo (@AldoRisolvo) – We met on Twitter and became (almost like real) friends – Professional photographer and great guy. Francesco Gallarotti (@gallarotti) – a very talented photographers and I always enjoy reading his posts. Sephi Bergerson (@fotowala) – Amazing wedding photographer. His tweets are something worth waiting for. One of the busiest photographers and tweeterer I know, and would warmly recommend is Wong Kin Leong (@WahliaoDotCom). He is the mastermind behind the previously mentioned “Around the World” project, and I just can’t understand when this guy find few minutes to rest. Last but not least is Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) – Just visit his blog, you’d understand why I follow him.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

IB: Apart from those mentioned above, I think it would be very interesting to read about Ron (@rtd13) .

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

IB: Stop reading (for today!), take your cameras and go outside ;) Thank you for having me, Michael, it was a pleasure!

Some Thoughts on the Canon 7D


Yesterday Canon announced the Canon 7D, attempting to “redefine the mid-range DSLR category”. My first thought after hearing that it’s a crop-frame camera was, “Is it the older brother of the 50D and the younger brother of the 5D Mark II?”. Turns out it’s neither, but is instead something that definitely belongs in the high-end lineup and a camera that 5D shooters can switch to without “downgrading”.

So what’s so special about this new camera? Why was it grouped with the single digit, high-end cameras rather than the prosumer ones like the 50D?

Crop vs. Speed vs. Quality

The 7D actually fills a hole in the high-end lineup that existed before it was introduced. For the Canon’s flagship cameras, they’ve offered a choice between crop factor and speed since 2002. The 1Ds line is full frame, but shoots “only” 4 frames per second. The 1D line has a 1.28x crop factor, but shoots a whopping 10 frames per second. This is good for sports photographers in two ways:

First, the crop factor gives the photographer “extra zoom” great for sports, where you’re usually somewhat far away from the action. If you’re using a 300mm telephoto, the 1.28x means you’re essentially using a 300×1.28=384mm lens. Second, sports photography is all about capturing quantity and selecting the best images and the higher frames per second helps in this.

Back in high school when I played on the tennis team, it would always be an interesting experience when the local newspaper’s photographer came and photographed us as if he was using a machine gun rather than a camera. The action in sports is unpredictable, so a higher number of frames per second makes it more likely you’ll end up with a good sports shot.

In terms of resolution, the 7D boasts 18 megapixels, less than the 5D MkII’s 21.1, but a step up from the 50D’s 15.1. The lower megapixels than the full-frame 5D is to be expected (1D’s 10.1mp vs. 1Ds’s 21.1), and will make transfer times between the camera and the memory card faster, which is yet another plus for sports photogs.

Prior to the 7D, the high-end category that the 5D line occupied was missing its equivalent of the 1D — a camera of similar quality, but non-full frame and offering a higher frames per second. By offering the 7D, there now exists a “5D for sports photographers”.


The 7D has a whopping 19 autofocus points… That dwarfs the 9 user AF points of the 5D Mark II. Again, this a great for sports photographers.

My guess is that the next DSLR in the 50D line will still have 9 points, while the next version of the 5D will get bumped up.

RAW/JPEG Toggle Button

An interesting feature Canon decided to include in the 7D is the new RAW/JPEG toggle button located on the back of the camera above the LCD screen.


This allows you to capture the next frame as RAW+JPEG, regardless of which format you’re currently shooting in. Say you usually shoot JPEG, but occasionally come across something you’d like to have a RAW version of as well. Instead of changing back and forth in the menu system, you can use the new button to selectively shoot in both formats whenever you feel like it.


The 7D also improves on the 5D Mark II in its viewfinder frame coverage. It boasts a 100% frame coverage, the same as the 1D and 1Ds lines, and more than the 98% offered by the 5DMk2. In comparison, the 50D line only has about a 95% coverage. This means that the camera actually photographs 5% more than what you see through the viewfinder.

With the 7D, what you see through the viewfinder is what you get in your photograph.


The 7D also contains a built in Speedlite transmitter in its built-in pop-up flash. This allows you to control off-camera Speedlites without purchasing a separate transmitter that could cost a couple hundred bucks.


When the 5DMk2 was released, the estimated retail price was set at $2,699. The 7D will be released at a much lower price point (to be expected for a crop sensor, right?) of $1,699, putting it in the range of 50D series photographers.


Another thing that separates the 7D from the 50D line and makes it similar to the 5D is the HD video recording capabilities. High-definition video is appearing more and more in newer DSLRs. Perhaps it will become a lower-end feature before long…

Many of the other features of the 7D are the same or similar to the 50D and 5DMk2. You can view a simple comparison table of Canon’s entire DSLR lineup on Wikipedia.


The 7D announcement is definitely exciting news, and gives both something easier for users of the 50D line to jump up to, and something existing 5D line users can switch to if they prefer something like sports photography, but don’t want to downgrade in quality.

I think the 7D is a camera that could have been easily predicted by studying Canon’s lineup and groupings.

What’s next? A cheaper prosumer full frame? That would surely set the bar.