Spare time…

…of which right now I have quite a lot. My store/studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) is still open, but only for passport/ID photos and curbside delivery/pickup, so the days are super slow.

So I get to do some hobby stuff. And my hobby intertests are wide. They also include electronics and computers, and the other day, I bought an Arduino-based Altair 8800 simulator kit (from www.adwaterandstir.com). An excellent kit, by the way, highly recommended.

The Arduino is a modern microcontroller, and the Altair 8080 was really the first personal computer, way back in 1974.

After seeing that article, a couple of young students from Harvard decided to write a BASIC interpreter for it, and the rest is history – you may recognize the names in the Altair BASIC manual:

Anyway, the Altair looked like this…:

And the simulator I built looked like this:

And then it looked like this:

And now, after seven hours of soldering and constructing, looks like this:

And it works! So now I can watch blinking lights (loom up “blinkenlights“). And I can program some BASIC to calculate primes:

..and I can rum CP/M, play Othello and Star Trek and Zork, and in general, do the things you could do in 1977.

Why on earth would I want to do this?

Because it’s a cool conversation piece. And it looks super cool: the Altair with its lights and data/address switches was based on the Data General NOVA.

And because it’s a special thing to run the original Bill Gates/Paul Allen Basic (even “Micro-Soft” did not exist yet) – the project that made Gates $100 billion, and that is responsible for most computer stuff you have now. And to type the same “PRINT 2+2” command that Paul Allen typed in New Mexico to demonstrate the project to MITS, the makers of Altair, and to see the same “4” appear that impressed them enough to buy this BASIC, is quite an experience too.

And above all else, because just like photography, this takes me back. Back to the 1970s and 80s. I feel like I am 20-odd years old again!

And it’s always handy to know prime numbers. I guess.

“Mastering Your Camera”, 4th Edition

Of my seven books, the one you should read first if you are a beginner or intermediate user, is “Mastering Your Camera”. It starts from zero, and will make you a competent photographer technically, and it also starts you off in terms of composition and subject selection.

The FOURTH Edition of this e-book has just been released. It contains many corrections, some clarifications, a few new flowcharts and tables, and general updates. As before, it is a PDF that you can use on any device, and you can also print a copy for personal use. The new edition’s ISBN is 978-0-9950800-8-9.

And if you do not have it yet, I have some great news: for one week only, it is available for just C$4.95. After that week, the price will revert to the usual $19.95.

Check it out here: www.michaelwillemsphoto.com/ebooks.html

COVID Self-Portraits, day 33: Much Of The Day.

In my continuing series of interpretive self-portrait, Day 33: “Much Of The Day”. These portraits are staged, but real: they reflect both what I am doing on the day, and the mood—not just my mood, but the way I think the world’s mood is developing as we all realize that the world we know will not return for a long time, if ever.

Apart from cropping plus some desaturation and an increase in presence, I do minimal editing. Doing self-portraits is not easy, both in technical terms and in terms of subject and composition, but with some training and some equipment, it can be done.

If you are interested in honing your skills, do it now, while you are stuck at home. I now teach my courses online, live, interactively, in very small classes: just like at the store, really. Contact me if you are interested: details on http://www.michaelwillemsphoto.com.

Stay well, everyone!

A portrait a day

And I continue to do a COVID-19 period self portrait every day. Here, for example, is yesterday’s:

Rembrandt-type light, using two small flashes. One, in front of me, with a small 8″ Honl Photo Traveler8 softbox; the other right behind me, using a “chocolate” Honl photo gel. Both in manual mode at 1/4 power; both driven by simple (manual-only) pocketwizards.

Watch Out

Someone recently asked me “how do I take good photos of my wristwatch?”

Good question. A lot of people have hobbies that they can practice while quarantined at home. And two of those are (a) nurturing a wristwatch collection, and (b) photography. So the combination of the two is a logical thing to engage in.

Here, for the record, is what I am wearing on my wrist today:

So how do you do it? As so often, there’s not one answer: there are a few. Here are some of my quick recommendations. I will give you technical tips for SLR as well as for cell phone cameras; a few composition tips; and a few words about post-production.

Technical: SLR

If you are using an SLR or other sophisticated camera, especially using flash, these are my technical recommendations.

  • Use a macro lens if you can, so you can get closer. But not too close, because that will give you limited depth of field and image distortion.
  • Use an aperture of at least f/8; when using a macro lens, start around f/16 if you can.
  • If you are not using flash, especially if using a macro lens, you must use a tripod.
  • Using available light? Make sure there is lots of good diffuse light, e.g. from a north-facing window (no direct sunlight).
  • Use an ISO value as high as you need: when using flash, 200-400 is fine; when not using flash, you may need to go up to as much as 1600 ISO or more if not using a tripod.
  • Using flashes: Use off-camera flash, modified by softboxes or umbrellas; or use an on-camera flash by bouncing it off a white ceiling/wall behind you. Use manual exposure mode. 1/125 sec.
  • if using a tripod, focus manually (using live view preview).

An example, lit with two flashes equipped with softboxes, both 45º above the watch:

Technical: Cell Phone

It is perfectly possible to use a hand-held cell phone, as long as you do the following:

  • Light, light, light! There’s no such thing as too much light. The brighter your room, the better your picture. Why? Because when it is bright, the resulting faster shutter speeds result in less motion blur, lower ISO results in higher quality, and smaller apertures result in more depth of field).
  • Avoid direct sunlight, though.
  • Shoot from a little distance away and crop later. This gives you easier focus with less error, and greater depth of field. If you are close, focus is unreliable and depth of field is usually too shallow.
  • But sometimes you will want to be close in order to get a blurred background; see the compositional tips below.
  • Focus on the watch, if necessary by tapping it on the phone screen to tell the phone “focus on this”
  • Hold the phone – and the watch! – very still while you do all this.

Compositional:

Composing a good picture is the most important thing you can do after the technical requirements are met. Some tips:

  • A good picture is a simple picture.
  • Did I mention: A good picture is a simple picture. “Simple” means everything in your photo is there to tell the story – or else it should not be in there. “Simplifying” is the most important difference between a snapshot and a “professional” photo. Crop off anything that should not be in the photo. You’ll see the difference!
  • Consider using the “rule of thirds” (look it up) – although watch photos can also have the subject in the centre. make it look good.
  • 10:09:31 is the prettiest time for a watch. All watch adverts have the watch set to this “aesthetically most pleasing” time. Just saying.
  • Turn the watch, turn yourself, reposition everything to minimize the refections in the crystal. Especially with watches without anti-reflective coating, this is important. Find a simple dark background, like a neutral dar wall, if the watch reflects it.
  • Have background objects help you “tell the story”. Your car, your suit, your hand.
  • Consider blurring out the background. You can do that without portrait mode, by being close to the watch, perhaps in slightly subdues light. (Yes, that flies in the face of the prior advice: yup, life is complicated and you have to decide what is more important for you!)

For example;

Post-processing

It is very important to post-process your image. This includes cropping and exposure, but also white balance (colour temperature), definition, and sharpness. Your phone can edit photos very nicely: especially recent iPhones do a truly excellent job.

but for a “pro” photo, dust removal is also needed. For this, use Adobe Lightroom or similar. See this post for more about this essential step: https://www.speedlighter.ca/2019/11/05/product-work/

Conclusion

It really is not difficult to make good photos of your watches, jewellery, or other small objects. Follow the tips below and go have some fun. I am looking forward to seeing your results!


Michael is an experienced photographer and educator, who teaches photography courses that are now available live, interactively, online. Check them out and learn more about Michael, his books, and his courses at www.michaelwillemsphoto.com