Friday, November 28, 2014


I thought I had a good idea.  Actually, it probably is a good idea, but the execution needs some work.  I've been playing with panoramic stitching some more using individual images with low depth of field.  I thought it would be interesting to get in very close to a person for a tight portrait.

The first obstacle was how to get in close enough to be interesting.  I experimented a while and opted to put a Canon 500D close up lens on my 85/1.4 and use it at F/1.4.  I discovered that at 1.4 I couldn't lower my lights far enough, so I stuck a polarizing filter on the front of the lens to cut some additional light reaching the sensor. ( I don't have an ND filter -- but that may change, see below ).

As you can see the image leaves a lot to be desired. I  did this handheld which contributes to some of the issues.  I need to fashion a rig to keep the camera on a single plane, yet still be able to move it around quickly.  The exposure also varied slightly shot to shot which contributes to that blotchy look.  This worried me at first because I thought maybe the lens or the lights weren't being consistent.  But, I believe it was the polarizing filter being at slightly different angles to the subject now.

Photoshop doesn't want to merge these automatically, so I stuck the pictures and masked them by hand.  That was easier than I expected.  I added some noise to make issues a little less noticeable, but needed to keep clean enough to show the depth of field transitions.

The color picture is an uncropped frame to show how full each frame is.  This isn't possible without the close-up lens.

I will keep trying this, and hopefully come across a good tool set and good technique to get what I really want!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Headless Horseman

 After a very long time, maybe a few months, or more I set up my "studio" again.

It was down so long because I had to return the background stand I borrowed about 5 years ago.  To be fair, I didn't really borrow it.  My friend brought it over, dropped it off, and said "You need this.  I'll take it back when I need it."

But, I have my own now, and we are back rolling.

What better way than a new character for Tobias?

This one was relatively easy, fog machine, back light, dump a flash in a pumpkin, press the shutter a few times.... we're done.  Rolling.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Small gear thoughts (with lots of distracting photographs)

I made it a goal this year to purposefully try and think about different types gear.  I decided trying a small carry everywhere camera, and a large format pinhole camera.

This is about the small camera.  More specifically, this a bit of a retrospective of nearly a year with my X100s.

I have taken it Tennessee, and I have even written a bit about it before.  But, I have carried it with me nearly everywhere I went everyday since I bought it.

This had an immediate effect.  I stopped using my cell phone ( as much ) for taking pictures.  I started taking pictures of my kids in restaurants with it.  I used it to document such things as metro's incompetence, dinner, random things that caught my eye because of color or light, etc.  Yes, this was all stuff I had done before with the cell phone, but, at least from a technical quality point of view-- these are much better than if I had used a cell phone.

I can imagine some of you are thinking, yeah, but you own dSLRs you could carry one of those around and do the same thing.  Yes, I *could*, and I did carry an SLR around nearly every day for a year or two prior to picking up the small camera.  But, I didn't use it nearly as much.  In fact, I think the only good it did me was make my back stronger.  It certainly didn't help fill up my picture library with high quality images of everyday moments.  There are a lot of reasons for that, none particularly good.  It was effort to get an SLR out of a bag, my SLR attracts attention, its pretty loud, and did I mention it attracts attention?  In any event, none of those things matter to me if photographing is my primary focus, but for a quick shot it is paramount.

I have also used it for more staged and/or serious pictures too.  It works very well there too.  I tend to work pretty methodically and slowly making those kind of pictures, so the speed disadvantage an x100 has compared to a dSLR doesn't impact me.

This has made me consider picking up one of Fuji's interchangeable lens X-cameras and potentially selling all my SLR gear.  Unfortunately, there are a few things I do that would fall flat if I tried that, and I don't want to support two camera systems.  One is expensive enough.  But, the thought still lingers.

I doubt there are too many people out there that are still on the fence about buying one of these little cameras-- but if you are go try one.  It looks like a an updated model will be out soon so you have 3 generations to choose from!

Okay, this may have been written to give me a reason to put up a lot of different photographs from the year that don't really warrant their own post, and don't easily fit with anything else.

Friday, August 29, 2014

We've been here before

Over the years I've done a few posts like this one.  I don't know if they are remembrance posts, or good-bye posts.  I also don't know if the distinction matters.

Its never fun.

This one took me a bit of time to get around to, for a number of reasons.   The night I heard she had entered hospital for the second time and had a terrible prognosis I grabbed a camera and went walking through the neighborhood.  Throwing yourself into a craft can erase thoughts for a while, but it didn't work this time.  I managed a few things like this.  Subject sucks, colors are pretty.

My grandmother was the last living grand parent that I had.  I no longer have a direct link to that generation.  That is the kind of thing that begs for attention.  And when I started thinking about it, really thinking about, I felt just how little time we have, not just as individuals, but as continuing line of living family.  Its short.  Great grandparents are about the limit, and even then there is so little overlap with youngest generation in terms of time together.  Kathryn had 12 years with at least one great grandparent, Tobias had 8.

My grandmother is one of the most gracious people I knew.  She had to be.  She raised 6 boys.  Six.  She also put up with my grandfather ( he'd agree with me, that this is probably her crowning achievement ).  She was also patient.  Again, I shall point to the above.  However, it was also shown in how she spent some of her leisure time.  She built a dollhouse. She built it essentially from sticks and glue.  There were no pre-fabbed walls, or floors or frames.  Its huge.  It took FOREVER.  I remember this pretty well because she built it using their pool table as a work surface, and it was many, many, many, many visits of no billiards.  But, there was always progress being made on the doll house.

When she felt you would listen she would give good advice.  And when she felt it unnecessary she might have thought good advice, but held it back.  During one of the last few visits I had with her this filter wasn't in place. As I was leaving that night I told her when I would come back in to see her.  She said that sounded good, and advised me not to stop at any strange women's houses on the way. 

This is good advice. 

I will follow it the rest of my journey through this life.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


We've been married SEVENTEEN years.  I have some trouble wrapping my head around that number, because there are some days I forget I am older than seventeen.

I'll try and list a few "concrete" things, number wise, that occurred over the past 17 years.

[ No particular order ]
We've had 2 kids.
We've lived in 1 apartment, and 2 different houses.
I've had 3 jobs, Carly has done 2 stints with the same group.
5 cars, 2 of which we started with.
1 dog, 2 guinea pigs, and 3 aquariums.
3 guitars, 1 ukulele, and 2 harmonicas
4 PCs ( 3 of which I built during the course of our marriage ), and 2 laptops.
4 personal mobile phones
550GB of  digital pictures, 8 notebooks full of slides and negatives, and uncounted boxes of prints
2 couches
1 set of good kitchen knives

Not sure if listing this stuff really helps me put a perspective on things or not.  Not really.

As an aside if I got a do-over, we'd get the good set of knives much earlier -- like put it on the registry earlier.  Good knives changed my life.

When we reached twelve years, I did a post for that too.   Nothing I wrote there has changed, really.  I could add to it, but aside from stealing the picture theme I don't want to mimic it too much.  So, go read that one, and come back here.

But I want to focus a little on the future.  It seems to me my marriage is its own entity.  It was brought into being when we said some vows.  It is something that belongs to us, but at the same time it IS us.  I can't even think of myself apart from Carly.  I really simply think in terms of "us".

I'm kind of excited.  If the songs are to be believed 17 is the age when I person grows up, and starts becoming themselves.  It could be the same way for marriage, maybe any of the awkwardness or mistakes of the early years are built into something better.  The good gets magnified, and any of the not so good diminishes.  Despite how good the last 17 years were -- I want the next 17 to be better yet.  Its possible, no matter how good things are they can ALWAYS be better.

Now, I guess I should go.  As Meatloaf sings "We were barely seventeen... " [ ... and needed to go to sleep because, dang, we are old? ]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Beach Trip as Told through Interpretive Dance

As like previous summers we went to O.C. Maryland for a few days.  We weren't going to go this year, but Tobias really wanted to.  I should probably get this out of the way early. The title is a lie, there is no interpretive dance going on in this post.  I can't dance. Sorry to disappoint.

This was the first picture I took on the trip.  It still caught my attention going through the photos I took, so I thought I'd subject you to it also.

These next two are essentially record pictures of the Jesus sand sculptures that always are there.  One of my favorite things about them, aside from the religious and artistic aspects, is they are right across the boardwalk from some bars.  That makes me smile.

This is part of the decorations fora  "touristy" restaurant/bar called "Fish Tales".  Its an interesting place.  It seems setup for parents and kids.  The food is okay, but it is just noisy enough to be an enjoyable place to hang out.

Another restaurant decoration.  We didn't eat here.

This is part of the landscaping and design of a miniature golf course we played.  Tobias got three holes in one.  The first one was complete dumb luck.  He hit the ball way too hard, and it bounced off a wall, through a garden hazard, off a few rocks and tree in it, onto the retaining wall, onto the green, a few rolls and bounces and it stuck in the cup.  The other two were legit. 

It was his first time playing.

No wonder he wants to go the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Headphone Amplifier - Part 2 - And Bad Mistakes, I Made a Few

Previously, I discussed that I started building a headphone amplifier.

I "finished" building it in about a week or so.  I took my time, and didn't spend a lot of time at once.
[ A few in progress pictures are at the top of the post.  Top picture has the hardware in place the capacitors on the input side, audio input wiring, and power rails connected to their source.  The other two show the box taped up for drilling. ]

"Finished" is a poor choice of term, it was assembled.  But it really wasn't finished, testing needed to be done. When powered up for the first time it lit up the tubes.  I took that as a good sign.  As I would learn later, they were WAY too brightly lit up.  Measuring voltages showed me it wasn't correct.

I plugged some cheap earbuds in anyway.  This caused a high pitch whine of protest to emanate from the power supply.  So I shut it down.

The power supply was so pissed at me at this point it stopped working until the next morning.

The capacitors in the output stage were hot.  Even I knew this wasn't correct!

That led me to discover the first problem.  I put the wire from pin 3 of my mosfet on the wrong side of the output caps.  I had misremembered a photograph of a finished build.  Lesson learned, pictures maybe worth a thousand words, but schematics are more meaningful.  Especially when you don't recall the picture correctly.

When I noticed that I pulled the capacitors I ruined out of both channels and alligator clipped the left channel back together with a new capacitor.   No sense in making things permanent until I had it correct this time.  Voltages were measured.  Voltages were still incorrect.

Plugging in cheap earbuds at this time didn't create any squeals of protest (one problem solved). Measured the output rail again.  Still wrong.  Put audio through it.  Still wrong.  No sound.

This led me to start investigating this problem.

Through some trial, error, and conversations I realized I used my soldering iron way too hot for the mosfets.  Aha!  I learned how to check mosfets, and sure enough they were broken.  I put a new mosfet in the left channel and checked it prior to power up.  The mosfet worked.


The circuit didn't.  I was getting 30 volts on pin 3 of the mosfet/pin 4 of the tube.  I should only have had 12-13.

For giggles I tried to put audio through it.  It didn't work.

This led to a bit of frustration.

It also led to an accidental and very poor decision --  Somehow I ended up putting the power supply's full 48 volts on one of my tube's heaters.  It lit up in a beautifully bright golden light, and went dim.  Poop.

Dead tubes aren't much fun.

I'm not sure how I actually hit upon the solution, but while staring at the schematic one morning I simply realized I was feeding pin 1 of the mosfet from the wrong point in the circuit.  I fed it from the wrong side of a resistor.  When I made the change, magic, the voltage was correct at the output stage.

I put audio on it.  It worked. I was partially shocked, and I partially felt like a German soccer fan watching them kick Brazil's butt in the semi-final.

Fast forward a bit and I soldered it in place and redid the right channel too.

So, I got it working.

At times I found this a bit frustrating, but I learned a lot, and this is a lot cheaper than a semester of electronics school.

Things learned:
How to really read a schematic
Soldering is getting better
How to test a mosfet
How to use various functions of a multimeter
Don't trust memories of pictures

Tuition paid:
5 broken mosfets ( some were ruined while building before discovering the iron issue )
2 broken capacitors
1 smoked 12AU7 tube
~30 hours reading, gathering parts, building, thinking, troubleshooting, and correcting. [ I think I could build one in an afternoon now... and it would look more tidy. ]

Curse words invented:
0 [ But I may have used some conventional ones in creative ways.   I can't remember. ]

I've listened to it for a couple of days now and have a few general impressions of the amplifier. For headphones it is the best thing I have.  Bass is tight and big, even out of my headphones which are known for "anemic" bass response.  Mids and highs sound good to me.  I guess I'm not too much of an audiophile, I have no terms to wax poetic about the sound, but it is good.  I don't have any ground buzz which seems to be a common problem if you read some of the build threads on do-it-yourself forums.  This is probably because I used a ground plane, and not about anything skillful I did.

I also appreciate having a physical volume knob while listening from my computer now ( sound board is ASUS Sonar STX and I've got the amp connected through the RCA outs on it ).

This experience also cemented an idea I've always had.  Most audiophiles are full of crap.  If you ever go researching speakers or amplifiers like I did a while back you will encounter all manners people who, if their words are true, possess super-human hearing.   But, I think they should all build their own amplifier at some point.  It SHOULD dispel any of their magic faerie-dust notions regarding audio once and for all.