April 8, 2013

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2012

Dad Laughing

Yeah, I know it’s April. But better late than never, right? Between killer projects at work and a freelance gig that was in crunch mode too, I’ve had a pretty full plate. But things have started to get back to normal, and I thought I’d do some catching up on some photo bits.

I visited my family in Charlotte for Winterfamilytime back in December and I had a jolly time seeing everyone. Gosh, that seems like ages ago. Well, I guess it kinda was.

Jan. 1, 2013

Photos from Thanksgiving 2012

Mom Enjoying a Cuppa

I visited my parents over Charlotte over Thanksgiving. My brother and his girlfriend, Margaret, came to visit as well. They’ve been together for a bit, but I hadn’t a chance to meet Margaret until this visit—not that I had any doubts, but she was super nice and a fun person to have around.

I tried to take a few shots on Thanksgiving day, but I sort of ended up painting myself into a corner with a lighting setup that was a little too complicated for my own britches. (I had two flashes, one with a LumiQuest Softbox LTp, and one with a regular LumiQuest Softbox. I was using a line-of-sight flash trigger—Canon’s ST-E2—which usually works great, but my flashes were on opposite ends of the kitchen and that didn’t play so well with the line-of-sight part.)

In the following days, though, I pared down my setup to solely a LumiQuest Quik Bounce mounted to an on-camera 580EX II and that worked out much better—I was able to open the baffles on the Quik Bounce and that allowed me to bounce a some of the light off the ceiling, which helped soften the light quite a bit. When next Thankgiving comes around, I’ll probably try to stick with a more simplified setup (like I had on the latter days) rather than overthinking things quite so much.

Jan. 24, 2012

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2011

Adrian’s New Chef’s Hat

I visited my parents in December for Winterfamilytime. Pleasantly, the weather was really nice in Charlotte—it hardly felt much like winter some days (not that I minded).

Among the photos I’ve posted, I used the same lighting setup that I had used last year—I used one flash with a Lumiquest LTp Softbox that I attached to the second-floor walkway railing and I used my other flash with a Lumiquest Softbox that I attached to the mantle.

Cross-light often accommodates a fair degree of flexibility when photographing an environment, though for reasons that elude me, it seemed to work a little better for my shots last year than it did this year. (With a cross-light setup, two lights face each other on a diagonal axis to the subject that’s in-between them.) Although it’s somewhat a hunch, what may have happened this time is that I may have had too wide an arc between the subjects and my lights.

On one hand, it’s hard to say where people are going to sit, and on the other hand, there’re only so many places from which one can hang flashes. So as I daydream around how I might set things up next year, I’m pondering the idea of maybe getting a third flash to offer some fill-in light along the axis that may be getting the short end of the stick lighting-wise. (You could think of the lighting setup I’ve been using as similar to a “/” shape and the one I’m considering might look a bit like a lowercase lambda, “λ”.)

Jan. 3, 2011

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2010

Dad Laughing

I visited my parents and brother in Charlotte last month, and even though it had only been a few weeks since I had seen my parents for Thanksgiving, it was great to see everyone again (especially my brother, who I hadn’t seen in about a year). It happened to be a bit on the chilly side in Charlotte—the highs most days were in the lower 40s, if memory serves—but it wasn’t anything a little bundling-up couldn't solve.

I decided to try out some new lighting gear since I knew we’d be spending a good chunk of Saturday in the living room. As a key light, I hung a Canon 430EX with a Lumiquest Softbox to one corner of the mantle with a Gorillapod. (The Lumiquest Softbox was the smaller of the light modifiers I had on hand so I thought that would be a good fit for that spot.)

Then, as a back light (or fill light, depending on how people were facing), I attached a 430EX II with a Lumiquest Softbox LTp to the railings of the second-story walkway above the living room using a Gorillapod SLR. (The LTp is a 10×14 softbox—Lumiquest’s largest model—and I was really impressed by how much soft light it put out.) So, in all, I had two lights set up in the living room and I’m generally pleased with how things turned out; I’ll probably try a setup like that again sometime.

We happened to get a little snow while I was there (perhaps on Saturday?), and while Charlotte doesn’t typically get much snow, it was enough to cover the ground and trees. I didn’t exactly have the proper footwear for trudging around in the snow, but my one regret for the trip is that I wish I had managed to get some shots of the treetops (and other portions of the landscape) covered in snow; it was a pretty sight. Oh, well—there’s always next year.

Dec. 15, 2010

Photos from Thanksgiving 2010

Chris and Mom Looking Over Shots

I visited my family in Charlotte for Thanksgiving, and in addition to my mom and dad, we had something like seventeen other guests join us for the meal. There were cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends, neighbors—it was a full house, but good fun to see everyone.

On the other hand, my brother has been living in Cape Town for the past two (?) years, so he wasn’t able to join us. (It would have been too short of a stay to make the trip there and back, understandably.) He’s a cracking good chum, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing him over Winterfamilytime later this month.

Photography wise, I tried out a couple new lighting setups for some of my shots. For the exterior grill shots, I used my Gorillapod SLR to attach my Canon 430 EX II to one of the gutters (with a LumiQuest Softbox attached to it). That actually worked out better than I thought it would. (For instance, I think that helped fill in some shadows on shots such as this one of my dad checking on the turkey’s thermometer.)

Indoors, I used my second 430 EX (albeit not an “EX II”) to set it upon various spots on the countertop in out kitchen (with a Gorillapod functioning simply as a tripod). Partially through process of elimination—as I only have so many light modifiers—I used my LumiQuest Quik Bounce atop the flash in the kitchen. The idea with the Quik Bounce is that you can bounce some of the light upward while allowing the rest to project forward, creating—in theory—a balance of soft reflected light off the ceiling along with a dash of more focused light.

I have no qualms with the Quik Bounce as a product and I’m sure it often works quite nicely. In my case, though, I think the 9-ft ceilings in my parents’ kitchen probably weren’t ideal for bouncing one’s flash. Come to think of it, the ceiling in their kitchen might even be painted a soft creme color rather than plain white (which may affect the color of any light bounced off it). It’s a pretty great kitchen, but I may have to try a few more ideas in case there may be a lighting arrangement that works even better.

I think nineteen people may be a record for a Bischoff-family Thanksgiving and it worked out pretty well. The turkey was tender and I enjoyed many a conversation with family and friends. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite yearly holiday and this one didn’t disappoint.

Jan. 3, 2010

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2009

Coffee Dad is Happy Dad

I visited my family in December and it was great seeing all of them. I hadn’t seen my brother over Thanksgiving (as he’s been living in South Africa) and it was especially good seeing him again since it had been a while since he and I last had a chance to hang out.

I grew up in Pittsburgh and it’s been several years since my parents moved to Charlotte, but I'm still getting used to the weather there (in a good way). Usually when I’d visit them in December it'd be pretty cold in Pittsburgh, with snow more often than not. In Charlotte—at least for this most recent trip—we had a few days with highs in the 50s. Rather pleasant, that.

Photo-wise, I’ve posted a baker’s dozen shots (not that I was aiming for that number—it just worked out that way). (Bonus trivia: Apparently, a baker’s dozen is also known as a Roughrider’s dozen. Who knew?) I brought along one of my new flash toys for the trip, Lumiquest's Quik Bounce reflector. What’s nice about the Quik Bounce is that it can either be configured to send all light forward or it can be configured to send 80% upward (for bouncing off the ceiling) and 20% forward.

As it would happen, my parents’ family room has vaulted ceilings (while the kitchen has normal-height ceilings) and so a flash reflector/diffuser that relied upon one or the other wouldn't have really worked for me. (For instance, if I hypothetically had a Lumiquest 80-20—which is hard-coded to always send 80% upward and 80% forward—I would have been up a creek in the family room since the upward-sent light would dissipate before having a chance to bounce off the ceiling.)

With the exception of the on-the-trolley shots (like this one) and the ice-skating shots (like this one) I used a flash—predominantly fill-flash—on all the other shots in the set. Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how the Quik Bounce performed. I can see myself using the Quik Bounce again, and if anything, the one thing I’d consider changing—and this doesn’t really have anything to do with Lumiquest—might be to try setting up off-camera strobes for some of the shots. Maybe next time.

Dec. 11, 2009

Photos from Thanksgiving 2009

Dad and Angelika Talking

I joined my family for Thanksgiving in Charlotte, NC. Well, not my whole family—my brother Adrian has been living in South Africa since August-ish and so he wasn’t able to join us. I missed him a bit; he’s a good brother. Fortunately, I’ll be seeing him (and the rest of the fam) for Winterfamilytime later in December, so I’m looking forward to that.

My family doesn’t often have big Thanksgivings—sometimes it’d just be the four of us—but this year we had something like fourteen people. My dad’s sister Angelika’s family was all there including my cousin Ian’s new wife Brianna—uh, would that be cousin-in-law?—and some friendly neighborhood folks as well.

In my effort to try to be a good host to everyone, I ended up neglecting my photography a bit. In all, I took a few dozen shots and I’ve posted four of them. Interestingly enough, my Canon 40D’s autofocus system ended up leading my astray on one of my shots (the one with my Dad and Angelika talking, which is also featured at the top of this post).

My intention at the time was to keep my Dad in focus while placing Angelika outside the depth of field. As I later found out—and this was when I was reviewing my shots on my computer screen back here in Dallas—is that Canon’s autofocus system (at least on the 40D) apparently places a focal-preference to objects that are closest to the lens (even if they aren’t the largest objects in the scene). To be fair, I’m not really blaming Canon for this; I could have (and perhaps should have) used manual autofocus-point selection to ensure the precise focal point that I had in mind.

In the end, I still kinda like the shot for some reason. Maybe it’s the canonical Dad Face that my dad has at the time. (He tends to have that look on his face when he's listening intensely to someone. It’s part of what makes him my dad.) As my friends are fond of chiding me about, I only post a fraction of the shots I take on Flickr; put another way, if I didn’t like a shot, I wouldn’t be sharing it with other people. Even though I can’t quite put a finger on it, part of me wants to be able to put a finger on what I like about it (and I can’t).

Jan. 12, 2009

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2008

Mom Sipping Coffee

I visited my family in December, and even though it had been about a month since I had seen them last (for Thanksgiving), it was mere icing on the cake to be able to see them again in December.

Quite pleasantly, it wasn't all that cold (well, for most of the time). Sure enough, it was around 30° the first couple days, but toward the end of my stay, it did get up near 60° for a day or two. And, as it turns out, it was on one of those later days when my mom, my brother, and I decided to head into downtown Charlotte and check out a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink that my mom had heard about.

I probably hadn’t been ice skating since the dot-com bubble (back when I lived in Alexandria, VA), but my muscle memory was still mostly there—I guess it’s a bit like riding a bike in that way. Oh, what fun that was. Sure, the rink wasn’t exactly NHL regulation-size and, while not crowded, there were a fair number of people attending. I got the feeling that most of the skaters—like myself—were on vacation and so there was very little stress in the air. I had a great time and I might just have to see if I can find an ice rink somewhere here in Dallas.

My brother is also into photography he had brought his umbrella along. If you’re not familiar with photographic umbrellas, they pretty much look like regular keep-you-from-getting-wet umbrellas, except that they’re designed so that one can shoot a flash through them or, in some cases, so that one can reflect a flash off them. The gist of it is that photographic umbrellas, while not exactly small enough to carry around for casual party shots, can often create a lovely diffuse light from a flash.

It may have been the even before his flight home, but Adrian generously let me try out a few things with his umbrella. I hooked up my flash to the umbrella, a 430 EX, and after shutting each end of a length of black velour velvet in some cupboards, I took a few shots of Adrian as he coached me through some of the ins and outs. As it turns out, Adrian was a pretty good subject even through—and this isn’t his fault—I struggled even now and then at avoiding the reflection of the illuminated umbrella in his glasses.

I always knew in the back of my mind that umbrellas could help create flattering portraits, but I guess I just needed to see one in action (and with my own gear) to really believe it. I think those handful of portrait shots may have even reenergized my interest in flash-based photography. I even recently bought the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVDs (from what may be the most talked-about flash-lighting blog out there, Strobist). At $129, it’s not cheap, but with eight DVDs, the price per disc is pretty reasonable. I think I’ve watched three discs already and it’s simply a phenomenal tutorial series.