Photographic Lesson Learned at Wild Wild West con 9

What does making a list of the problems you have taking photographs at a con have to do with writing Steampunk. Answer; everything. If you don’t learn from your mistakes you will not progress. If you don’t list and examine your mistakes, you will not learn from them.

There were several pictures I took at the con that were out of focus. That’s bad. The auto focus on the camera is good, but it can be fooled. Next time I need to set the area where the camera focuses to center weighted. Auto eye focus would not help, too many subjects were wearing sunglasses, dark sunglasses, and some were wearing masks. I don’t know how the auto focus would react to a mask.

The screen on the back of my camera is too small and the image on it is hard to see in the sun light. I knew this from last year’s wild wild west con. A professional photographer gave me some advice. She uses CamRanger. The device is a wireless link from your camera to an Ipad or Android device. Those devices have a bigger screen, so the subject can better see the picture that I just took of them. With the camera hanging from a strap around my next I can not hold the camera’s screen close enough to the person I just photograhed for them to see their picture without strangling myself. Also, if you’re lucky you can find a device that is viewable in sunlight.

I had two cell phones with me to use as view screens for the CamRanger to I could show people the pictures I had taken of them. I also had a battery stick for each of the phones. I did not have time to fully test the setup with the phones before the con. Big mistake. On the morning of the first day of the con I found that I could watch the battery indicator on the phone go down to no charge as I watched it. About every second the charge level dropped a percent. Using the Wifi feature of the phones is a big battery charge suck. I am going to get a bigger battery. That means I will have to haul around more weight.

Using the CamRanger will not only let the person I photographed see the picture. (Some of the people I photographed were in costume without their glasses or contacts.) What we do for steampunk. But it will also let me see the fine details of the photograph and catch things that make the photograph less than it could be.

A serious problem during the con was that I was tired. I had a deadline to meet at the same time as the con. I had to get a manuscript to an editor by Sunday. So I was working on it till I left for the convention, and after each day at the con I worked on the manuscript in the hotel room. Before the con I was also working on getting the CamRanger set up to work with my camera and the cell phones, which took away time from working on the manuscript. On top of that I drove 800 miles, some of it through heavy traffic, to Tucson. That and a couple of other things pushed me to the limit. Old Tucson is a big place and I walked all over it several times each day.

Next year I will have to make sure deadlines don’t pile up on the convention date. There is not much I can do about not sleeping well the first night in a strange bed, but I will try to leave a day early or break the drive up into two parts. I don’t know what to do about walking all over Old Tucson, maybe if I plan a route around Old Tucson I would have to walk less. I don’t think I can plan where the next great photograph will be, and I don’t think I can get them to move the talks I wanted to go to. Many of the talks were at the old church and the church is about as far away from everything as you can get. By the end of each day I was dragging.

During the con someone was wearing a vest just like mine. Luckily I had another one and a quick outfit change fixed that.

I ran out of memory on the micro SD card in the camera. I ended up stealing a memory card out of one of the cell phones. I had to spend a lot of time tracking down the Micro SD card, that was full of pictures, when I got back home. Those things are small.

Next year I am going to make sure that there are extra memory cards in the bag and I did not use the extra ones for something else, like put them in cell phones. I will also bring a storage container to keep the full and spare ones in so I can find the tiny things when I get back home.

I have a collections of old ribbons that hang off my con badge. The ribbons are getting frayed and worn.

Next year I will bring some of my own ribbons to advertise my books. PC Nametags here I come.

This year I had enough business cards. Last year I ran out. A Steampunker should have business cards.

This year I took several pictures that had reflections in the subject’s sun glasses.

This is going to be a hard problem to over come. Mirror sun glasses are almost impossible to photograph without something reflecting in the glasses. But there were surprise reflections in ordinary glasses. The sun was bright and made buildings, the ground and other things reflect in the glasses.

Getting CamRanger to work with a screen that will last eight hours on a battery charge, will help with the problem of reflections. The screen on the back of the camera is to small to see the reflections in glasses. You can sometimes see them but you have to look hard at the small camera screen.

I will add to next year’s check list, an item to take test shots looking for reflections. I may have to move to the other side of the street to get rid of the reflections or move under an over hang. This may take some work at home to figure out what to do.

I have always had a problem with things growing out of peoples heads in pictures I take. I photograph someone against a tree and it looks like a branch is coming out of the top of their head. Old Tucson was built to have lot of bric-a-brac. Not many flat featureless walls in the town. The pro photographer suggested I take a roll of seamless back-drop paper with me. Than would mean usurping a space to set up a couple of stands to hold the paper and I would feel I was getting in everyone’s way. Besides I was carrying a lot of stuff and it gets hot in Tucson carrying load of stuff.

What I need to do is get there a day early and scout the area. Find the places with traffic and good back drops. I have found a couple of places, but they are not very good places. I would need to find a subject to test the possible places out with and it would mean more walking around. Got to find a good doorway where I can open the door and pose the subject in the doorway.

Badges and root beer cups. I keep forgetting to ask the subjects to hide their con badge. Also, they were selling root beer and if you bought the cup you could refill it all day long. Too many of the subjects had the cups hanging off there costume. Looking at the pictures now, the cup looks out of place, it doesn’t fit the costume.

Add taking off the badge and root beer cup to the check list. Also add take several dollar-store combs along. Give them to a subject that needs to touch up his or her hair and let them keep the comb. Fly away hair is a pain to fix in post production (which means I’m not good at it and it takes a lot of time).

I did better this year in photographing subjects in the harsh Tucson sunlight. Still someone wearing a hat is difficult to photograph well with a bright lit background. Their face is in deep shadow and the background is over brightly lit.

I need to slow down and make sure I get the subject’s feet in the picture. That is my niche, or hallmark. It’s hard to make a selfie and get your feet in the picture, so I’m doing something they can’t do. That set me apart from other photographers.

The pro photographer suggested, actually insisted, that I take and use an inflatable beauty dish (it’s a light that gives a soft, but focused, light on the subject). One photographer there did use a blow up beauty dish Friday, but he did not use it on Saturday. It takes a light stand to hold the dish above the subject where it lights the subject the best, and it takes an assistant to move it around. It’s not that expensive, but it is a hassle. I like the freedom to move around quickly and not have to drag around a bunch of stuff.

I’m not a run and gun photographer, more like a stumble or lumber around and pause for a good shot photographer.

A small beauty dish does make a good fill light (so would a collapsible reflector). The fill light would add depth to the subject’s face and fill in shadows in the harsh sun. I need to go to where there are good pictures. Hauling a bunch of stuff around would slow me down.

I need to take a cloth to wipe off my boots. Old Tucson is dusty. The roads are not paved.

I need to buy a bottle of wine (each) for the author and the vendors that have helped me at the con. Is there a winery in Tucson? Is there a Trader Joe’s in Tucson?

I have to keep myself from getting lazy, but I was tired. I was dragging myself back to the car at the end of the day. I was almost crawling back.

I got to make a bunch of decisions for next year;
Do I get an assistant?
Do I get a wagon to hold my photography equipment? I could mount the light stand with the beauty dish to the wagon. I could build a chair on the wagon. It would beat the heavy shoulder bag I was lugging around. The bag gets heavy after I put all the books and other stuff I bought in it.
Do I work on posing subjects for next year? Where am I going to get a test subject?
Do I take a back drop? I can see where it would make for better pictures, but is it worth the hassle?

Next time you get a manuscript back from an editor make a list of the thing that were found. Use the list to study up on the things that you are weak on and keep making mistakes with. Also use the list to go over your next manuscript before you send it to an editor. The editor might charge you less if there are fewer corrections to make.

Stay strong, write on, and con on.
Professor Hyram Voltage

Photograhy and the Writer’s Voice

What does Photography have to do with writing steampunk or writing in general? They both have style.

I recently viewed a webinar on photography that was put on by Chris Orwig. He’s a landscape and portrait photographer.

In the webinar, he talked about how to develop your style. It occurred to me that a photographer’s style is the same as a writer’s voice.

Chris suggested that to clarify your style take a piece of paper, turn it sideways, and write the word photograph at the top. Underneath, randomly write the words that describe what you like about photographs. He had things like people, shadows, landscapes, sun downs, water.

This would work for a writer trying to find his voice. Take a sheet of paper and write Story or Novel or Book at the top. Under that randomly write the words that describe what you like about stories you read. If you like to read about funny heroes, then write that down. Same goes if you like to read about dark villains, humor, or serious stories. Don’t be afraid to add words that describe stories that you are not found of; slasher, serial killer, etc.

Chris then took the page of words and crossed out the words that didn’t fit what he wanted to photograph. Think of this as focusing on what you want to photograph or write.

If you’re a writer, do that. And if you read a book that has something you like, then add it to the page. This is a living document.

The next step, Chris made a list out of the words that were not crossed out. Next to the words in the list he wrote ideas of things to do to get the actions or things he like into his photographs.

Do the same. If you like funny heroes then write down how you could write a hero with a sense of humor. You don’t have to use any of your ideas, but it could remind you that at the worst of times your hero will crack a joke before taking on ten villains in a fight he can’t win. That is part of his character. If your hero can’t do that, then you need to bring a new hero on stage. I’ve had to do that.

Style will always change, it’s like re-inventing yourself. The list you develop to find and define your style and voice should be visited and possibly changed very 2 or so years. There’s no law that says your voice can’t grow.

I’ve got book two in the Deamon and the spy series in editing. Hopefully the editor will finish this time.

As I’ve said before, having an editor go over your stuff is like handing someone a hand full of cash and then a club and telling them to beat you about the head and shoulders, repeatedly. That’s only part of what I do to bring you a story.

Now, go buy my book

Stay strong, write on, and grow.

Professor Hyram Voltage

Taking photographs at a Convention, plus a recipe; Bacon Quesadillas.

I’m an amateur photographer and technology has let me down. I like to take photographs at science fiction and steampunk conventions. I take a lot pictures, close to 400 photographs at the last convention. See the previous three blogs for a sample of the ones that turned out good. Yes, just like in writing they don’t all turn out good. But in photography you don’t get to do a rewrite, maybe a little editing in the developer program.

I don’t like to use a flash. It annoys the people at panels and a flash in the face distresses some people. But I have no choice.You may not realize how much better the human eye is compared to a camera. Even new expensive cameras. Indoors, at the convention, it may look brightly lit, but it’s dark to the camera.

My indoor camera setting are 1/60 of a second for the shutter, f 5.6 for the aperture, and an ISO of 3200. What’s that mean. 1/60 of a second means the person I’m photographing can’t move and I have to hold the camera very steady. An aperture of f 5.6 means I should buy a better lens because f 5.6 is the biggest the lens I have will open up (f 5.6 is how much light the lens let get to the camera sensor, and it’s not much). And a senor speed of ISO 3200 means the pictures are grainy (they look blurry and noisy if you blow them up). For posting on the web the pictures are OK. But if you want a 5 by 7 print it’s a lot of work to get rid of the grain and you can’t get rid of all of it.

Outside, in the day time, the camera takes great photographs.

So, if you see me using a flash, forgive me. I’m driven to get a decent photographs. I try to keep the flash usage down and use it only before and after the presentation, but there are times I have to get that special shot.

I have been using the little built in flash on the camera. The professionals use the big honking flashes mounted above the camera. Watch out world, I got my big flash out and I’m going to use it. I missed several shots, at the last convention, because the pictures had too much grain in them. Or it could have been camera shake. Using the big flash will fix that. I may even get a new lens. It will cost over thousand dollars. You have to really love your hobby to spend that kind of money. The lens will cost more than the camera, the two lens that came with the camera, the flash and a bunch of accessory that I got when I bought the camera.

Stay strong, write on, and smile, you always look better when you smile. Have you ever noticed that when you photograph three people at once, one of them always blinks (you end up with a photo with one person’s eyes closed)?
Professor Hyram Voltage

Nothing says breakfast better than bacon.

Bacon Quesadillas

2 slices turkey bacon
1/4 tsp. powered garlic or 1/2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 onion, diced (can use one green onion)
1 tbsp. Taco Seasoning
2 tbsp. tomato paste
8 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 avocados, pitted and diced
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
1 large flour tortilla or small flour tortilla or corn tortilla if your out of flour tortillas
8 oz. or half a cup or a small hand full of shredded cheese white, yellow, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, or Mexican
1 lime, cut into wedges


In a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon with garlic and onion until softened, 2 to 4 minutes. Add taco seasoning, tomato paste, 1 tbsp water; cook on medium-low for 5 minutes. Set aside.
Warm a large non-stick pan over medium heat with 1 teaspoon oil. Place a flour tortilla in the pan and sprinkle half with cheese, beef mixture and more cheese. Fold tortilla over and lightly toast on both sides until cheese is melted.
Cut quesadillas into wedges and serve with lime wedges and sour cream.

Taco Seasoning, home made,
1/2 tsp. ground chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground paprika or smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cumin