Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Three Tricks

Me, doing my best Orson Welles impersonation
Also in this issue:
  • Articles That Didn't Make it to Cameracraft Magazine
  • Sony's new Webcam software - comparison
  • Being a Virtual Speaker at your Photo Club
  • Giving Back with the Virtual Reading Project
  • In the Pipeline

Articles That Never Made It to Cameracraft

I pitch a lot of ideas for articles for Cameracraft magazine; most get accepted but some do not for various reasons.  The subjects still fascinate me, though.  Here are a couple that didn't make it (and I wish I had permission to show you some of their examples.  But you can click on the links below to see some remarkable works):
  • Photographer Esther Honig did a fascinating experiment - she took a picture of a model and sent it to photo retouchers in 27 different countries and asked them to "enhance" the image according to their cultural preferences.  Beauty is a subjective thing but it amazes me how entire cultures can buy into a certain ideal.
  • Seth Casteel takes pictures of dogs underwater and cats in mid-air.  I have no idea how he got the cat shots - they are super sharp (no autofocus works that fast), extraordinarily well-lit, and the cat is often looking directly at the camera.  I was hoping to do an article about him to learn how he did it; alas my emails and instagram messages were never answered.
  • Haruhiko Kawaguchi is a Japanese photographer who approaches people on the street and convinces them to come to his studio, get naked, get into a vacuum-sealed bag, and have their pictures taken.  To me the images are the least interesting part; what's amazing is how he convinces total strangers to do this.  (Warning: Probably Not Safe For Work.) (On the other hand, you're probably working from home right now. :-) )
Cameracraft is a substantial read with superb images and repro. It’s not an obscure art fest either. Every two months it’s a shot of inspiration, with solid technical content, and it’s written by experts, not interns.  Subscribe today and experience the last "proper" photo magazine standing!

The Three Tricks

There are three projects I've been getting a lot of questions on regarding how they were done.

Let's start with that Xaphoon video I made back in March, the one where I'm playing both parts of a duet.  There were two tricks to this - the first was I did the piano part first, and then had to listen to a recording of it while I played the Xaphoon part.  Look carefully and you can see a wire going to an earbud in the Xaphoon close-ups.

The other part - how I did the split screen - required a video editing technique called an Alpha Channel.  Alpha Channels work like layer masks in Photoshop - you can have two video clips sitting on top of one another, and have an Alpha channel specify which part of the top video is transparent, revealing the video beneath.  You'd better make sure both videos are lined up exactly to get the effect to work.  Below is the Alpha Channel Mask I made showing how the right 3rd would become transparent, allowing the piano playing me to show through:

Below is a BTS shot, with the 3 cameras highlighted in red:

For the camera angle showing both of me playing, I chose a small-sensor camera (A6400) to get greater depth-of-field for a given f/stop.  And I had to keep the camera on between takes otherwise it would have been impossible to get the EXACT manual focus position once it was turned off, throwing the alignment of the two video takes off and ruining the split-screen illusion.  (A huge drawback with modern cameras.  Manual Focus cameras always kept their focus until you intentionally changed it.)

Fidel's Beard

The second image is one of my Quarantine Beard photos, where I try to do my impression of the late Fidel Castro.  (Click on any image to make it larger and sharper.)

Compared to the video above it was remarkably simple.  Just one wireless flash (with a beauty dish - which provides pleasingly harsh light for drama), pointed at my left eye.  This put the right side of my face (the side that's facing the camera) into just enough shadow to give it the right look.  Manual exposure and manual flash control were necessary; otherwise the whole image would have looked 18% grey.

I don't smoke, so that had to be added in later.  I lit a candle and blew it out, and captured the resulting smoke.  The smoke was lit exactly the same way, from the same angle.  The cigar was a black marking pen wrapped in construction paper. :-)

The Orson Wells Shot

The third image was my impersonation of actor, producer, writer, director, and industry giant (and a giant in general in his later years) Orson Welles.

"You people are such pests!  In the depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Here I used two wireless flashes - one with a beauty dish to light the face; a 2nd scraping the backdrop to produce this classic Hollywood lighting.  Oh, and same cigar.  

The lighting for Orson.  Two flashes and a white backdrop.  This little studio has been getting a workout lately.  I've been using it for portraits, teaching classes over Zoom, taking copy shots, and tomorrow I'm going to reconfigure it for shooting jewelry.

(The Obscure Orson Welles quote above is explained here.)

Using your Fancy Camera as a Fancy Webcam

Back in May I blogged about how to turn your expensive camera into a high-quality webcam using expensive video capture adapters.  Since that time Sony has joined Canon, Fujifilm, and Olympus in coming out with software that does the same thing, requiring only a USB cable.  

Of course I compared them:

Here are the free download links for Sony, Fujifilm, and Olympus cameras.  It should be noted that Sony's software ONLY works with Windows 10.  (Sorry, Mac fans.  But you should be used to this - remember in the 1990's when Hewlett Packard came out with the world's first photo-quality inkjet printer, the PhotoSmart (tm), which only worked on Windows computers because their brain-dead MBAs decided that a single-digit market share wasn't worth pursuing?  That pissed off the entire creative community (read: This Printer's Exact Demographic).  So it's not like any of this is new.)

In the Pipeline

Olympus E-M1 III - pre-order now at at discount
Sony A7S III - Should be out in December.  Pre-order now at a discount!
Sony A7C - Hasn't been announced yet, and I know nothing about it.

Virtual Reading Project

Recently our daughter told us about a volunteer opportunity at Easter Seals North Georgia.  Unlike most volunteering opportunities, this can be done remotely.  "Easterseals North Georgia provides early education and early intervention services to nearly 4,000 children from birth to age five living in metro Atlanta and North Georgia who are disadvantaged or disabled. With the COVID-19 crisis, we aren't able to teach our children in the traditional way, so we're reaching out to volunteers to assist with the literacy program."

The activity is very simple, just make a video of you reading a book that you would think is age-appropriate. The children for this project range from the age of 2-5 years old.  You can do this too!

Here's one of the videos I made:

The video looks simple enough.  Here's the behind-the-scenes shot with my wife Carol (she read some books too).  Even though there was lots of window light I still used a video light and two cameras (circled in red) - one wide, one over-the-shoulder.  Not shown (but visible in the wide shots if you look closely enough) is a large ugly HDMI cable and the edge of a giant screen over to the right - I had set up that monitor to make sure I put the book in the right place, and so I could see if I was getting some glare on the page.

Looks like a lot of trouble for making a simple reading video.  On the other hand (and not meaning to be arrogant), it's a heck of a lot more engaging than that one of actor Ed Asner reading "Goodnight Moon"

You can learn more about this volunteer opportunity here!

Being a Virtual Speaker at your Photo Club

Many photo clubs took me up on my offer to be a virtual speaker at their club, and I have to tell you they all went really well.  People asked great questions, everyone had a good time (and learned a few things! :-) ), and I got a chance to cover more photo clubs geographically than I ever would have in person.

If you're a member of a photo club, have your president get in touch with me!  (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com ).  It'll be a presentation you won't soon forget.  (Kind of like the photo below. :-) )

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman
Author of the densest blog posts on the planet (tm)

Authentic Frontier Gibberish


  1. Covid beard! Looking good Gramps!!

  2. Gary, Thank you for your latest posting, which was fascinating, as always. My wife found the article on photoshopping the picture of the girl interesting.

    I notice that as well as Sony books, you also often mention Fuji camera books, and wonder if you have done one on the Fujifilm GFX 50S, or on the Sony A7Rii, which are the two digital cameras that I currently have (although I mostly shot medium format film before the lockdown and the closure of the processing lab that I use - now back open).

    Best wishes, Trevor

    1. Glad you liked it. I did write a book on the Sony A7R II ( ), but there was seemingly no demand for the GFX. I'm guessing that when you are serious enough to want and afford such a high-end camera, you don't think you need someone to explain things to you.

  3. Hi, Gary - really like the pics (one of which reminded me of Orson Welles). I was expecting an update on the modified adapter for A-mount lenses, or at least a discussion of the LA-EA5; is there any progress on that?

    1. There's a separate mailing list where I've been keeping people informed about every sordid detail. Short answer: for now, I'm not going to take this project on.

    2. Send me an email if you want much more detail, along with 'unlisted' youtube videos showing my test results with the unit.

  4. I could be wrong but the leaping cats look photoshopped to me.

    1. Me too, but the question remains... how did he get the cats to give those expressions? How did he achieve his results?

    2. Luck maybe by taking hundreds of shots. Cats aren't very cooperative animals but at the same time their faces are naturally photogenic so it's hard to take a bad cat shot.

  5. Gary, love the low key lighting on the bearded gentleman. Reminded me of work produced when studying with Bill McIntosh, M.Photog.Cr. of Va Beach and Van More, M.Photog.Cr in SC.

    We shot split 5x7 on wooden portrait cameras, wet darkroom. We'll not see those days again. Shame.

    I continue to enjoy your post.

    Tommy Connell, M.Photog.Cr.

    1. As great as those "wet darkroom" days may have been, I would not wish to go back to that. (Obviously I'm not a hipster or involved in art sales.) GF

  6. Hi Gary ,thank you very much for your blogs , always a good read . A question if I may ,..with the new LA- EA5 adapture , you you think that " A Mount glass " would be able to resolve the detail on the Sony A7R IV with its 61 Mp sensor ?

    1. Some definitely will. The Zeiss 135 f/1.8 and the 85 1.4s (three different models) and the Minolta 80-200 f/2.8 to name just a handful. (Those quarantine beard shots were taken with the 85 and 135 lenses on the A7R IV using the "Monster Adapter" LA-EA4r prototype).

  7. hi Gary. I have been a recipiant of your emails for many years now. unfortunately my work commitments prevented me from taking part in my hobby as much as i would like. Now that i am nearing a stage in my life where i can explore a little more, I would like to understand photo manipulation a little more. i own a Sony a7ii which i have found to be an excellent camera. can you advise me which program i should use to enter the photo enhancement world. i already shoot in Raw (as well as jpeg). i look forward to your reply.

    1. Hi, Ross! That innocent question actually has a big answer, which I'll get to in a minute.

      But first, why do you think photo manipulation should be the next thing you learn? Are you happy with your images now? In my experience people have been brainwashed into thinking that they need to learn Photoshop in order to make pictures that make people say, "Wow!", but in my day we did that in-camera with transparencies; where no form of image manipulation was possible.

      I invite you to look at my gallery at - nearly all of these images were .jpgs straight from the camera. Great light and composition are the keys to getting people to say "Wow!". If you're not getting that reaction now, learning post-processing won't get you there. If you need help in that area, send me an email.

      Now then, which program to learn... if you're just starting out it probably doesn't matter, since all the programs handle the basics (just with a different user interface): curves, color balance, sharpening, etc. If you think you're going to be very serious about it then the tools that will provide the most growth are the Adobe products, although these also have the steepest learning curves. Capture one Express for Sony is free and is probably 80% as capable as Photoshop.

      Hope this helps, and I hope also that I didn't over-answer your question. :-) GF

  8. I thought for sure someone would have commented on that Japanese Photographer's work by now...

  9. Hi Gary I attended a seminar you had in Melbourne Australia some years back that I really enjoined & also learned a great deal due to not only your experience but also your easy to understand approach to education on photography. I am not a fan of manipulating photos if anything the most I do is a fiddle with the blacks & whites on the histogram. I am sure you would not remember this but you made the comment That I did not have much to say my reply was you learn more listening than talking you replied that your (Father) always said you have 2 ears & 1 mouth use them in that ratio. Best wishes to yourself & your family & stay safe in these troubled times

  10. Not that my input or opinion matters but I like giving it anyway. I wholeheartedly agree with your statements about photo manipulation and getting it "right" in the camera. But than maybe I feel that way because I'm too old, lazy, stupid, or all the above to learn photo manipulation.
    Stay Well and Best Regards


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