Rants, raves, and the odd photo of kludgery
The ever-changing list of my go-to gear – Most of the work I do is performed out of my (hand crafted) creative studio, behind the wheel of a heavily modified Land Rover, or through the viewfinder of a Canon. Many of the tools I use are custom fabricated by yours truly, sometimes because what I need doesn’t exist, or more often because I simply enjoy building things with my own hands. I originally posted this on the about-me page at The Layne Studio after being asked “What __________ do you use?” once too often, but since the studio involves more than just me now it’s time this list moved to the blog proper. This post is just an overview, I might write up an in-depth with the how’s and why’s of each category if anyone would find it helpful. Read along for the details or just click here to skip down to the bullet list of links so your inner-consumer can run wild and free. Camera Gear The Big Guns: I shoot with a variety of Canon gear, but my go-to and favorite is the 80D. It’s durable, light weight, and inexpensive enough to take risks when getting the shot. I use three main lenses: a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art (my personal favorite) for most portraits and some travel/vehicle/landscape work, a Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 macro-capable travel zoom, and a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 wide angle for grabbing wide vistas or interior shots. The Canon 10-22mm wide is due to be replaced…likely with Sigma’s superior constant-aperture variant. Yes, I’m a Sigma fanboy…because, science. Rolling Light: I’m also very fond of Canon’s S line of cameras: they’re small enough to go unnoticed, reasonably sturdy, and produce RAW files that come surprisingly close to the quality of a DSLR. My old S95 sits in the studio for quick snapshots, and I usually have an S100 handy (there’s a reason the long-retired S100 still costs ~$200 used). When I don’t have a “real” camera, the HTC One M9 is always with me, which creates passable RAW files. Computing Gear Hardware: In the studio my workstation is a personally built Intel-powered, liquid cooled, quad-core PC tower. It’s currently clocked at a conservative 4.4GHz, drives multiple color-calibrated monitors (lead photo), and houses a RAID array large enough to eliminate the need for a separate file server. Communication and general office needs are handled by Google for Work, with weekly on-site and monthly off-site backups of all data. In the field I use a custom modified ASUS X202E with enough… Tools of the Trade
Long live the 70D! – Not long ago, believing I was fighting with a damaged Canon 50mm f1.4 lens (which is notoriously fragile), I started shopping for a replacement. I considered picking up a Canon 35mm f2 IS USM at first, but after the frustration of a botched shoot caused by failed focus on the 50mm, and stellar performance from Sigma’s rock solid 18-300mm lens, I decided to give Sigma’s Art glass a go and ordered a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art. I’d only just finished calibrating the new Sigma to my trusty 70D when I noticed a dark shadow cropping up in the bottom half of the frame… After a few “WTF?” moments, and a few lensless exposures later, the 70D produced this tell-tale image… That was while pointed at an entirely white screen. I may or may not have been fighting with a damaged Canon 50mm earlier, but I definitely have a dead shutter in the 70D now. In all fairness, it’s hard to fault Canon as I do have around 100,000 actuations on the shutter…and they were not easy miles. The final verdict on the 50mm’s fate will have to wait until my camera is repaired or replaced, but either way, I’m keeping the new Sigma. This last photo is the last photo that my 70D successfully took, and really showcases one of the Sigma’s seldom mentioned talents: macro photography. Web-resolutions really don’t do it justice—those are scratches in the switch, not blur. If you’re considering the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art, and are curious just how sharp it really is, click here for the full-resolution copy of the above image and start counting the grains of dust… I picked up the Sigma as a reliable replacement to the 50mm for portraiture, thinking I’d be able to do landscapes as well since it zooms out to the 18mm mark—one less lens change is one less chance for dirt to enter the camera in the field. I had no idea the minimum focus distance was so low, or that it would be so incredibly sharp. For reference, I’m almost touching the base of that lamp with the front of the lens, and the switch is only a fourth of an inch wide. I can’t wait to get this lens on a new body and see what it can do.… The 70D is Dead
"Sign up or we'll destroy you." – That’s a short, but accurate, summary of the message I’ve received from Google shortly after they lost control of their crawlers and shut down one of my servers. As it turns out, the default is for their bots to consume up to unlimited resources while indexing a site’s content. Google has also declared themselves free to probe a site using any means at their disposal (via their terms of service, which you’ve “agreed” to unless you’ve opted your sites out of their index), including massive POST queries for which there are exactly zero legitimate reasons (dozens of megabytes, repeated thousands of times). Sound familiar? It should, it’s one of several tools malicious hackers use to conduct denial-of-service attacks. It gets better. There’s no way I can fight Google on this without gobs of money and a lot of free time, so I gave in and signed into their Webmaster Tools. After adjusting the preferences and reducing the size of the stick their search bots are allowed to carry when visiting, the following message popped up: To: Webmaster of, Google Search Console has detected that you or a verified site owner of changed the maximum crawl rate setting for your website. Within a day or two, Google crawlers will change crawling to the maximum rate that you set. Because crawl rates impact how quickly users can see your updated content in search results, we recommend not limiting Google’s crawl rate. Only do so if your server experiences severe traffic load problems. New crawl rate: 0.031 requests per second Status: Begin within 2 days, effective for 90 days. So not only am I being extorted by a company that’s too big for the rule of law, and forced into setting up an account under the threat of a server-melting denial-of-service attack, I’m also required to hop back on their system every three months and beg them to let my property alone? If I threatened to burn down Google’s data center for not subscribing to this blog, at best I’d get thrown in prison. But, because they are big bad motherfucking Google, I’m at their mercy? Meanwhile my techs and I are out hundreds of man-hours fighting off their malicious attacks, not to mention the loss of business from days of downtime (which just happened to occur at a critically important time). Sure it’s a rare occurrence, it only affects a handful of sites, whatever.… Google is a Digital Thug
Geeking-out with a ground-up build. – As you can see above, I have a pet Dalek that handles all my color calibration needs. Ok, not really, but “CALIBRATE! CALIBRATE!” was the first thing that popped into mind when I set about taking the newly-calibrated workstation for it’s first edit run after an absurdly long, four-monitor calibration process. But, I’m getting ahead of myself… Many of you know I’ve done photo edit for a certain premium magazine for the last few years. Unfortunately, due to some recent eye-health concerns, I need full control over my environment (especially lighting) to get any significant amount of time at a computer—a difficult feat in an office space shared with a half-dozen other employees. I had access to a fairly decent workstation on-site, but it had three fatal flaws: The iMac’s built-in monitor is notoriously difficult to properly calibrate. Note: none of the Apple displays offer wide gamut or accurate color reproduction. The Mac OS, from Lion to Mavericks, is horribly bug-ridden and inefficient (Yosemite isn’t half bad). It wasn’t mine, so I couldn’t exactly move it to a dark cave during edit sessions. My creative consulting business picked up around the same time, and as generously accommodating as the magazine was: working for Client B while on-site at Client A’s facility is just plain awkward. A home studio was the answer, and that new studio naturally needed a new workstation at the center of it. Some of HP’s latest offerings sounded enticing, but a $5,000 investment before approaching the specs I wanted did not…time to go custom. Things haven’t changed much since I last built. Things have change a lot since I last built. The last time I did a chassis-up build AGP was the standard for performance graphics. Other than my custom notebook—which was really just a matter of swapping drives, memory, and wireless cards—my last custom build was over a decade ago. That’s a lot of time for old technologies to die off, and new complexities to be invented. Fortunately, the new hardware is more forgiving of incompatibilities, and there are great sites like PC Part Picker to help minimize such issues before purchase. The best change I’ve noticed? It’s easy to find blacked-out hardware and components. Here’s the PCP Build Sheet, but in a nutshell: Liquid-cooled Intel Core i7 4790K 4.0GHz quad-core processor (running at 4.4GHz) 32GB of DDR3-1600 memory Twin EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti “For The Win” Edition (I couldn’t resist) video cards 250GB M.2 Samsung 850 SSD for boot and apps… Workstation
9 common mistakes, and how to avoid them – Are you an aspiring photographer dreaming of getting your imagery published, or an author suddenly tasked with shooting your own photos? From a guy who gets stuck fixing all your photos, here’s a list of the most common—and easily avoidable—photographic mistakes made by both novice and experienced author-photographers alike. We’ve all done some (ok all) of these at one time or another, often without even realizing it. Watch for these mistakes every time you shoot and the quality of your photos will improve dramatically. Dust, Dirt, and Stains on Product No one wants to buy a muddy tent, a hair-covered jacket, or dust-covered kitchenware. Contrary to how easy a good photo editor makes it look, sweeping up your dirty floor while keeping the scene realistic takes an incredible amount of time, concentration, and skill—it’s far easier to simply wipe it down before shooting. It’s a dusty planet, so get in the habit of checking before each press of the shutter. A mini-broom, soft cloth or feather duster works well for dust; a damp rag or small mop comes in handy for difficult spots. In a pinch, I’ve even used my Rocket. Exception: deliberate filth to show how dirty something is, such as a blown shock leaking oil or a mud-covered trailer in a “torture-test” article. Inappropriate Scenes or Backgrounds I was working on a camp oven review when, about five shots in, it dawned on me there was a fuzzy-but-unmistakable roll of toilet paper in the background (the perfect garnish for medium-rare filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes). Likewise, if your subject is a camp chair review, your chairs should be in an environment that at least somewhat resembles a camp, not your downtown apartment balcony. You can’t rely on a shallow depth-of-field here either, make sure anything that detracts from the subject is completely out of the frame. Keeping the scene realistic and true-to-purpose helps legitimize a product review. Would you trust the “stability rating” of a camp chair when all of the photos show it placed on a solid, flat balcony? A note on pets: we love animals, but it is best practice to keep the dogs and cats (and other pets) out of the background unless they are relevant to the story. Even then, do so sparingly—Fido should not be the subject of every single photo from your trek across South America. Inappropriate or Incomplete Props True story: during a table review for a certain… Photographic Faux-pas
Why did I abandon Flickr? – You might have noticed the error above popping up all over the place in the last several months. This isn’t because the photos were removed as the error suggests, but because the folks at Flickr decided to change many of the photo URLs without so much as an email to let us peasants know. This wasn’t a global change, but seems to be totally at random affecting about half of the photos I have stored there. If I were just another free user it might merely be annoying, but as a paying “Pro” customer it’s totally unacceptable. Three months (that I’m aware of) later, and my photos continue to disappear throughout the internet with not so much as a peep from Flickr. If that wasn’t bad enough, about half way through the process of editing every article I’ve ever published the new and “improved” Flickr site was released, with an individual photo page design that nearly tripled the work involved to download the original photo. While the photo page’s design has since been improved, clearly Flickr can’t be trusted for photo hosting and sharing (off-Flickr) anymore so I’m in the process of moving the bulk of the photos to my own server. Until that’s done, missing photos can be viewed by clicking on them since links to the photos are (so far) unaffected.… Flickred Out
I missed those words. The Tumblr experiment did not turn out quite as expected. Instead of being liberated by the simplicity limitations of the system, the task of writing and posting became overly complicated by Tumblr’s inadequacy for anything but photo/status streaming. “There’s an App for that!” proved to be far from true, and the site was all but useless on my newly-discovered travel companion, the iPad. If that wasn’t enough, Tumblr’s servers spend more time offline than on, which meant when I had time to post I usually couldn’t. 11 months later and nothing has changed—Tumblr appears to be an abandoned step-child… Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging! WordPress, on the other hand, has continued to evolve and grow under the careful guidance of a very active development community. In the time since I left the platform, it has embraced touch-technologies and simplicity of posting. Everything I left WordPress to find is now available out-of-the-box… and there really is an App for that. I’m working to reformat the articles into the new site, finish up and publish articles that have been sitting on paper for the last year, and rebuild several that seem to have been lost while rotting over at Tumblr (WTF!?). In the mean time, content might be a bit messy around here.… Hello world!