Scrap the mug-shots

license-photoI went in to get my driver’s license renewed not long ago. As you can see, and no doubt have known from your own experience, the people who take the infamous license mug-shots need some serious help. To all the DMV photographers who read my blog, please take notes. First of all, I will say that my new picture isn’t quite as bad as my old one, but that’s mostly on my part. My old one was just pathetic, and it looked like a drunk squirrel. But no matter how good I can look on my own, their current lighting techniques, compositional elements, white balance metering, and just plain image quality, simply don’t meet my standards. If I use too many big, technical words in this post, I apologize.

I’ll start with the lighting techniques. One of my biggest complaints about the way they take the photos is that they use a single incandescent light source directly in front of the subject and a little bit higher than the camera lens. This greatly flattens the subject’s facial features and creates a very uneven light cast across the face with dark shadows and overexposed areas. It puts a very strong glare on glasses, and also creates an ugly shadow on the background behind the subject that is often mistaken for long hair. I would suggest using at least two soft lights of about 3400 degrees K. The main light should be a 600 watt lamp with a lightbox diffuser, placed at about a 45 degree angle. A secondary 250 watt light also with a diffuser should be placed at roughly the same angle on the opposite side. This will give the photo a much more natural look with a softer and more even light cast.

Now for the composition, I realize that you can’t really do anything too dramatic for a license photo, but they still could use some help. For a background they use a flat grey sheet, which is a large contributing factor to making the photos look so ugly. I would definitely use something with more contrast to help define the edges of the subject better. Another problem with the background is that it is placed too close behind the subject, which causes the shadows to be cast onto it.

Not to be too picky, but the color balance could use some adjusting. I would pull out some red and yellow, and add some blue and magenta. As far as the focus, the image is considerably blurry. I suggest using a wider aperture, and pay more attention to focus. It’s also underexposed, although washed out in places from the harsh lighting. I would like to see all these modifications implemented by no later than 2013 (when my license expires). Please, just get it over with and let me take my own picture so I don’t have to yell at you.

It’s no butterfly

Fly picture - Eye of the Beholder

Yes, I know it’s just an ugly fly and not a beautiful butterfly or something like that, but the detail and clarity and composition is what I’m looking at. This is one of the first images I took with my new camera, the Canon 1Ds Mark II. If you don’t know what kind of camera that is, just know that it’s not your typical point-and-shoot cheapo cam. We’re talking major resolution and quality, and I am truly blessed to have a camera of this caliber. It’s really huge, and the thing must weigh at least twenty pounds. It has endless manual options that I love to tweak to death, and it just takes amazing pictures. Now if I can only get something prettier than a fly to hold still long enough for me to photograph it.

The Foundry

It’s pretty obvious that a photography studio room with three 600 watt halogen lights and no ventilation is going to be pretty hot. I don’t mind it; in fact, I usually tolerate extremes pretty well. But I wanted to find out just how hot it gets in there. So this morning as I was in the studio, I brought with me a thermometer and recorded the temperatures at several minute intervals, starting when I first turned on the lights. Here is what I came up with:

10:45am: 75 degrees F

10:49am: 83 degrees F

10:52am: 94 degrees F

10:56am: 99 degrees F

11:00am: 101 degrees F

11:04am: 105 degrees F

11:11am: 110 degrees F

11:20am: 115 degrees F


I was asked to take pictures of a local high school basketball team a couple of weeks ago. I, of course, accepted the offer and went to take portraits of all the team members. The pictures turned out pretty well, and the team and everyone affiliated were quite happy with the results.

Well just yesterday, the team gathered for a banquet at the end of the season and I was asked to take a group picture of everyone. So I brought in all my equipment and got set up while some of the moms arranged the kids just the way they wanted them. Lo and behold, another one of the moms came by who happened to be a “professional photographer.” So she took over and dictated the room and started yelling at the kids to get them where she wanted. She actually did pretty well too. So I just stood there hiding behind my camera and waited for her to be satisfied with the arrangement. When the kids were finally in order, I was able to do my thing with the camera, until… she grabbed my tripod and started moving it back. It was nice that she came to help arrange the shot, but touch my camera? Trust me, you don’t want to go there. I asked her what she was doing, and she said something about making more room for when the picture is cropped. “Cropped for what?” I asked. “I don’t know,” was the response. I didn’t say anything more, but what I was thinking was, “HELLO, I have a zoom lens for a reason. It’s this newfangled thing that allows you to not have to drag your tripod back and forth.” Needless to say, I stood there and pushed the little button on the camera. I was tempted to say, “Okay, here’s the remote. I’ve optimized the settings on the camera for the current light conditions. But since you took over the show, and you’re the ‘professional photographer,’ why don’t you just push the button.”

I’ve been asked before if I considered myself a professional photographer. But even if I was the best photographer in the world, quite honestly, I don’t think I would ever consider myself a professional. For one thing, there’s always so much more to learn. Each and every experience can be a learning experience, as well as humbling. But probably an even bigger reason is that…I simply don’t have a big enough mouth to be a “professional photographer.” Especially after my adventure yesterday it seems that, particularly for portrait photographers, they need to have the characteristics of a dictator and take charge and yell at everybody and all that good stuff. But that’s not me. I could probably manage one or two people, get to know them, interact with them, and make a natural looking portrait instead of dictating their every move. But what I find that works best for me is non-portrait stuff. Nature, macro, still, abstract, and so on. Things that I can be creative with, and put a part of myself into every picture (not literally). I even have fun taking pictures of people in natural settings, doing something other than standing and smiling at the camera. But for me, just photographer is fine without that other big fancy word.

An essential tool of photography

Let me take a minute to describe to you one of a photographer’s most important tools. Not only does it keep all his equipment safe from being damaged, but it also keeps everything clean. And I won’t even mention what it’s most commonly used for, but despite both of these essential uses, the thing I use it for the most is the disposal of the secretion of the nasal mucus glands. (Yes, I mean snot.) Toilet paper is one of those things that I don’t stay far away from, especially when I’m sick and my mucus glands are very generous. I mean it, I’ve been sick for a couple days and I’ve used almost two rolls of it. Maybe some people can only find one use for it, but I say that whoever invented toilet paper deserves a lot more credit than he got.

The Life of a Leaf

The Life of a Leaf - Leaf Skeleton

Imagine my surprise when I logged on deviantART this morning to find loads of comments and favorites clogging my messages page. I was totally perplexed, until I thought to myself, “No way, I didn’t get a daily deviation, did I?” I found that all the favorites were pointing to my picture “The Life of a Leaf” and when I went to take a look, my jaw dropped.

This image was one of about nine total frames. I experimented with different aperture sizes and angles. I chose this one because I liked the short depth of field. Some of the other images with a wider aperture seemed to be almost too busy and didn’t really lead the eye anywhere. With a shorter depth of field, it really helps to isolate the leaf and emphasize the texture and detail.

The leaf was given to me by a friend who had found it some years ago and kept it sealed in a plastic bag. It had a natural curve to it, which I thought was kind of neat, and helped add some interest to the picture. The lighting was all natural. It was kind of a sunny day with the sun off to the side a little. The sunlight was filtered by a small bush, which cast some interesting shadows across the picture.