Saturday, September 26, 2009

DIY Radiopoppers RPcube

While I love the Nikon CLS system, I find that it can be problematic at times. The flashes aren't always able to "see" each other. I decided to go with radio triggers. I started with gadget infinity triggers; then I graduated to pocketwizards. However, when Radiopoppers announced their JrX line of triggers and receivers and the potential to adjust the level of flash output, I decided to give them a try. Unfortunately, the JrXs require the not yet released "RP Cube" to adjust the flash output. With how long it takes Radiopoppers to release their products, I chose not to hold by breath.

I decided to build my own RP Cube.

I ordered a couple of Nikon AS-900 cords from BH Photo. The cost around $10 each. I chose these cords because I have an SB-800, SB-600, and an older Vivitar flash that supports (maybe) Nikon TTL (an older version). As a result, I cut it, and used the hot shoe for the SB-600, and the female three prong side for the SB-800.

It is pretty cool to wirelessly control the power of my strobes. Another reason I went with the radiopoppers is that the ability to control my alienbees is built into the JrXs without modification. Here are some non-scientfic shots of me wirelessly adjusting the flash in my kitchen. Note that there are two flashes in the picture. However, the SB-800 is turned off and is not firing. These images include just the SB-600 firing from the DIY RPcube hot shoe.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Downtown Phoenix at Night

This is downtown Phoenix at on Friday night. This is Phoenix City Hall. This shot was taken close to midnight. Pirates had just downed the Diamondbacks. Regardless, there were fireworks above the ballpark. Have a few more shots from that evening over at my smugmug HDR gallery.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Read Hot Shoe Diaries and other cool books online

UPDATE: Scott Kelby's latest book: The Digital Photography Book, Vol. 3 is up at Safari Online. Hey it just came out - that was fast.

Okay, so only four people "read" my blog. My wife, my aunt, and... I read it. Okay, so only three people "read" my blog. Maybe it will catch on before 2039.

Read more after the jump...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wedding Shoot

Summer has gotten busy! My cousin was married last week. She asked me to help take wedding photos. I really enjoyed it. I worked my butt off. We got some great shots. More photos can be viewed from my smugmug galleries (link on the upper right hand area of this blog page). I am still in the process of reviewing and uploading reception shots. Image shot at 1/20 s, f/2.5, ISO 500, Nikon D90 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens (I borrowed the lens from my friend Matt). I had two Nikon SB-600s mounted to a monopod, and shot through an umbrella. I was firing the strobes using commander mode on the D90. However, I was manually controlling the flash power, and don't remember the exact flash setting.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

DIY Nikon SB-600 speedlight Flash Tube replacement

In a previous post I mentioned that one of my kids knocked over a light stand with an sb-600 attached. Well, I ordered the $8.52 USD flash tube from Nikon for the sb-600 speedlight, and did it myself last night. Works fine.

Things you need:
- 1 Nikon SB-600 Speedlight with a broken flash tube.
- Small philips screw driver (the small screwdriver set at the dollar store is fine).
- Soldering iron and solder (a solder sucker came in handy - borrowed it from a friend - thanks Matt).
- Replacement bulb (obviously): Part number: XE701 BTW (not required when phoning Nikon).

- A way to drain the power from the capacitor/thingy that stores the energy to allow for a high powered flash.
- Small flat head screwdriver.

Prep: I didn't actively drain the power from the flash before I began working. After my flash broke, I could see that the tube was snapped in half. I removed the batteries. It sat without batteries for about three weeks. When I touched inside wires, I felt some power still in the flash, but never got zapped (though I have been zapped before while working on flashes).

Step 1. Place the flash bottom up and remove the two long screws at the end of the flash head.

Step 2. Pry off the rubber "Push" button on the hinge that allows for the head to be manipulated. There is also a spring underneath. I used a small flathead screw driver, but anything would have worked. It came off easily. Then unscrew the four screws underneath.

Step 3. Remove the cover on the opposite side of the hinge. Underneath the rubber cover is a very thin black adhesive film. Remove the film to expose the screws. Don't worry about tearing the film. Remove the four screws.

The bottom of the flash head should then easily be removed exposing the internal electronics. Notice the four small copper prongs that protrude from the bottom of the flash tube assembly. These prongs rub along the circuit board, and control the head's zoom. Try not to bend them, and definitely don't break them off. Make sure to check that they contact the board before reassembling.

Step 4. (optional). Drain the power so you won't get shocked. Here are some ways you may want to do it:

Step 5. Four screws hold the zoom motor to the flash head. It is best to remove these screws to allow easier access to the solder points. However, eight screws are visible(ish), and only four need to be removed. Remove the two black ones on the far side opposite the pcb/circuit board. The other two screws to be removed run along the metal post on which the flash bulb assembly slides. The bulb assembly may actually obscure the one of the screws. The bulb assembly can gently be slid out of the way. The silver screws hold a pcb board to the flash head and don't need to be removed. The other row of screws (in between the two rows we are removing) can also stay in place.

Once the screws are removed, the only thing holding the bulb unit to the flash body are wires. Remove the wires from the clip to get more working distance between the board and the flash tube assembly.

Step 6. Remove the solder from the flash tube. The flash tube is solder at three points. One on each end, and a white wire that is also attached to the bulb. If you have a replacement bulb, it should be obvious the points that you need to desolder. Note: there is a second white wire that will also become desoldered; it joins the white wire from the bulb, at the same solder point.

Step 7. A transparent "rubber band" holds the bulb in the flash tube assembly and will need to be removed. I recommend removing the side with the white wire first, because on that side there is a slit in the rubber band to facilitate removal. Take note of which way the ends of the rubber band are facing in order to replace it the same way.

Step 8. Remove the tube. Kind of a pain, but it comes out.

Step 9. Slide the new bulb in and resolder. This is the simplest step, but this took me the longest. I preferred to solder the end without the white wire first. My rationale was that because there is a slit in the other side (the side with the white wire) of the rubber band, it will go on easier. Who knows? Also, my solder skills are lacking, so if I can do it, so can you.

Step 10. Put it back together.
A couple of things to remember: make sure that the copper prongs mentioned in step 3 are contacting the circuit board, you may want to check them out before replacing the screws that hold the flash tube assembly to the flash head. Also, make sure that the wires connecting the tube assembly to the flash are tucked way back. I put my flash back together, and it worked fine, accept for the 85mm zoom. The tube assembly was bumping the wires, and couldn't zoom all the way back. I had to reopen, and tuck the wires out of the way.

While I didn't try to break any components, I wasn't particularly gentile. The flash head seemed pretty durable, and moderately simple. If you can grow a third hand before beginning this project, it would be helpful.

Happy soldering!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thanks Matt for getting me out of the house to shoot some photos.

My friend Matt has been wanting to do a few night time HDR shots of certain building he and I saw a month or two ago. Here is my version of the building. It is near Deer Valley Airport in a business park just off of 19th Ave. Matt took some great shots. I took three photos, and this is the one I liked most. It is an HDR shot with exposures taken at 510 (8:30), 256 (4:16), 128 (2:08), 64, 30, 15, and 8 seconds. I am glad Matt got me out, and got me home when my voice started getting raspy.

On an unrelated note, I hope to soon a post on replacing the bulb in a Nikon SB-600 speedlight. I had the strobe on a light stand when my 1 year old knocked it over, and it landed bulb side down on the tile in the dining room. ARRGGHH. The zoom feature works, and I can easilty see the broken bulb through the clear plastic. Nikon's part dept. was closed 5 minutes before their scheduled closing time :p by the time I tried to order the part.

The bulb is on ebay for $29 + shipping but I hear that they are cheaper from Nikon. I have my soldering iron ready (three solder points), I just hope I can save it. It is on life support, and I hope it doesn't die on the operating table (my soldering is pretty bad).

Note: I am not a big fan of the "fakey/surreal" looking HDR photos, though they do have their place. If you look at this photo at full size. It looks more realistic.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Shot this photo of my sister-in-law in the garage. Two lights: an SB800 gelled blue shooting on a white background, and an Alienbees 800 with a large softbox camera right. I would have liked a little more distance between the subject and the background, but this was in my garage. Oh well. Then did about 3 minutes of post in Photoshop, just a quick high pass filter set to 75%ish opacity, vignetting, and desaturated just a tad.

Arnon, good luck on getting your black chair back. I love it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Black chair on the hill

Tessa always does a good job of helping me compose photos. Borrowed a black leather chair from the Livingstone house, and went up to a little hill not far from home. The chair turned out to be a lot heavier than it looked. Shooting through an umbrella, I think I would have preferred a softbox to control the light fall-off a little more. But I don't mind a little illumination on the immediate surroundings.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


My aunt was given the assignment of using strobes to take portraits. She decided to do a series of "dumped" photos. Here is one of the shots. We did it in my garage (I think it may have been a ploy to keep her own garage clean). Check them out here.

Three Alienbees total. Two on the sides and slightly above with 7inch reflectors (come standard with the strobes), and one alienbees shot into silver umbrella as the key light. We tried an sb-800 on the floor shooting at the background for a few shots. It was set to fire with the built in optical trigger. With the exception of two sb-600s, we used all my light.

We were able to shoot between 3.5 frames per second and 4.5 frames per second. The alienbees did a good job of keeping up, but a little power was lost. The first frame of each burst was noticeably lighter than the following.

Here are a couple of the setup shots. The shots are from our second sitting. As result, we managed to keep the mess somewhat under control. The chair front and left is where I stood to pour the food product on the poor recipient.



Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dance on white wall with butcher paper floor

I help out with the photography club at the high school. We started out with 30+ participants, and we are down to about 4-6 regulars. Which, to be honest, is on par with how most of the clubs at the school work. I dragged three Alienbees (800 x2 and 400) to school, and set them up in the teacher's work room. We laid some white butcher paper on the floor and went to town. 6.5 foot ceilings? Not recommended for shooting dance. Oh well, that is what we had, and it was a good learning experience for all involved. Thanks Sarah and Chris for being our guinea pigs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wednesday and Thursday Night HDR Photos

Thanks Ryan for taking us to Knight Transportation. I created a HDR gallery at my smugmug account here. The shots taken at Jesse's Auto Body Shop have been moved to smugmug gallery due to a google snafu with yesterday's post. I like last night's shots.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Childhood Memories

Here is my latest project: I am taking pictures of things associated with my childhood. Occasionally I am going to include some photos not taken by me, but taken when I was a kid. I am inviting my family members to come to the blog and comment on any memories that they may have of the photo, or the object in the photo.

Here is my teddy bear appropriately named "Teddy." He has been around a long time. I literally don't remember not having Teddy. He has one bad eye, and I don't remember very well where he came from.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday night's HDR

I am on spring break. As a result, I actually have stuff to post. After the last couple of nights I am getting the feeling that the better HDR photos have less lights, but more light. For example, all the above shots were made at the same location. However in the shot with the trucks I use the construction machinery to block the actual light bulbs. The light still enters the picture, but I don't get the nasty flaring. Maybe a star filter over the lens wouldn't eliminate the flare, but help control it?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I can't solder worth...

My aunt has a Canon Rebel XTi. In an effort to help eliminate camera shake, I decided to try to build her a remote for her camera. Fortunately, the XTi has a pretty simple remote control interface. It is basically a stereo 3/32 (smaller one) headphone jack connected to some buttons. To be honest I wish my Nikon D90's interface was as simple, but I digress.

I searched the web and I found very simple instructions here:

I bought a couple of push buttons at radio shack. I used a Goo Gone bottle as the housing. The wires were left over from other projects, I tried to use a jack from a cell phone headphone/microphone head piece. However the jack was designed to carry 4 signals instead of a regular stereo jack which carries three. As a result, the cell phone jack didn't line up in the body of the XTi as it should. I may have been able to get it to work with a little more effort, but it was more simple to just go find a stereo jack.

Here it is. It works, and isn't flashy but hey. I think it would look cool to put a bunch of L.E.D. lights in there, but...

As an aside: My soldering sucks. You would think that after all the "do it yourself" projects I have tried to do, I would start to get better. But no... I may be worse than when I started.

Nighttime HDR 3 and 4

My aunt and I went out last night to do some HDR shots. Cherry pickers: I like it. Other than importing the images, I ran a noise filter on the final image and set the white balance to auto.

The building under construction wasn't so hot. I think that I was getting too much light from the overhead lights that were over us. Also, there is a light haze over the image. Again, I think it is due to the lights. Too much lens flare. It looks like I am shooting behind a plate of glass. I could do some work on it, but I am trying to do as little Photoshop as possible on these. I may revisit after the kids and I get back from the dentist.

When we first pulled up to check out the building, a security guard noticed us. We didn't like the angle anyway, so we pulled around back, and parked in the parking lot of an adjacent bank. A few minutes after we set up our cameras and began to shoot, a van pulled into the picture (lower left). Then a few moments later a couple of police cars showed up. The police were very courteous (really how scary do we look with our cameras on tripods, and us just chillin' on the curb).  They indicated that the property we were on was private property. The police officer just asked us to speed up the process, and not stay too long. Thanks, officer friendly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Night time HDR 2

Okay, I just got back from the local fire station. This time I wasn't loosey goosey with my shutter speeds. I took a stop watch, and wrote down ahead of time how long I would keep the shutter open for each image. I planed on doing five images: 1 sec., 4 sec., 15 sec., 60 sec., and 250 sec. In the end I did these, and while there I decided to do a 125 sec.,  1/2 sec. and 1/4 sec. as well. Above is the image of the merged files. Below is the long exposure (4 minute and 15 sec. shot.), notice the lack of detail in the windows of the fire station versus the HDR image. Also, in the HDR version, I removed the moon in light room. 

Nighttime HDR

Just shot loosey goosey with random variable shutter speed (didn't have a watch to time the exposure  in "bulb" mode). Brought the images into photomatix to merge the images. Then I took the resulting image into Lightroom to adjust the white balance, and crop the image. A few notes: the street light was putting out a very orange light. And the house is purple. Here is the non-white balanced shot:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Black Curtains Mexican Poppy

Tessa and I bought some black curtains to cover up the shelves in the garage. They double as a black background.

Friday, February 27, 2009

red bench = cool

I have done a couple of family portraits at the park. Every time I go, I borrow my aunt's bench. It is a great bench. It is the perfect size to carry to the park. It fits in my trunk (how can you beat that, really?).

On bulk trash day a few months ago, she let me know that there was a bench in someone else's bulk trash. Not one to pass up someone else's trash, we went over and asked if we could take it.

After I saw it, I wasn't too keen on taking it home. I kind of took it just to be nice to a family relative who was looking out for me.

The white paint was flaking off of the bottom, and the green paint was flaking off of the top. The top piece was particle/compressed wood. The top layer had peeled off in places exposing all the compressed particle. It had nappy dog hair stuck to it, and gnaw marks on some of the corners. I was thinking it may go from one person's bulk trash to another's.

...But in the end I am cheap (mainly out of necessity). I can't afford some kewl hip new antique bench so I decided to work with what I had: nappyness.

Well, a lot of sanding (I am not handy enough to have an electric sander) and scraping later, and a layer of stain, and some vinyl from Joann's, and I have a new bench.

Thanks, Arnon for seeing the diamond in the rough. It still needs a nip and a tuck on a few of the corners, but I think it looks pretty good from it's humble origins.

If nothing else it is sturdy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best flash mod yet

Okay, I found a couple more camera flashes. Here are my latest modifications.

The first one is an Achiever EZ 250. I did two mods to this one. I clipped the wires off of the light sensor and attached them to a potentiometer for adjustable output. I wanted it to look a little more refined than the last one, so I took the lid from one of my 9 month old's juice bottles, and drilled a whole into the center to cover the potentiometer. Then I spray painted it black. I bought a four pack of knobs for a couple of bucks at Radio Shack, and added one to the potentiometer. I hot glued the potentiometer to the speedlight body.

I drilled a hole into the front of the flash. I ripped a head phone jack from a broken Sony discman (given to me by a friend), and soldered it into the hole. As a result, I am able to fire the flash using Pocket Wizards.

Flash $4.99 at Goodwill
Knobs $.75 ($2.99 for a four pack)
Potentiometer $2.99 (I like the audio taper)
Wire pulled from an old ethernet cord free
lid to a baby bottle free
Broken discman free
Totally adjustible flash for $8.73

The second flash I didn't modify much. It is a Sunpak Auto 411 S. It allows for manual adjustable flash over a five stop range, so I decided to forgo the potentiometer mod. It also had a sync port, but it was tiny. So I removed it, enlarged the hole, and added the bigger 3.5 mm jack. Now I have been able to fire the flash with my pocket wizards. I bought the flash for $5 from a person on craigslist. Then the above mentioned discman actually had two audio jacks, so I used that jack for the new sync port.
Total cost: $5.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Goodbye Ebay Gadget Infinity Triggers: I loved you

Last week I bought two Pocketwizard Plus II transceivers from a craigslister, then I traded a Canon Flash for a older style Pocketwizard transmitter and receiver.

As a result it was time for me to let go of my Ebay Gadget Infinity wireless triggers and receivers. Twas a sad day. I loved those things and they worked great.

I modded the transmitter with an external antenna. I bought a 1 dollar Xbox adapter from the dollar store, and used that to create a removable antenna.

Then I modified the receivers to operate on AA batteries. Once I "enhanced" them I rarely had a misfire (I can't think of a time), and I could use them from a considerable distance (200+ ft.). I was going to add antennas to the receivers to try to increase the distance even more, but I couldn't pass up the pocketwizard deal.

This post pays homage to my Gadget Infinity triggers whose total price for one transmitter and four receivers is less than the cost of one Pocketwizard (But firing my strobes from around the block was pretty cool last night).

Here is my Gadget Infinity trigger Haiku:

Triggers never fail
So cheap I would buy ten more
Sexy: not so much

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fully adjustable speedlight for $8.

I have been getting into off camera flash - strobist style. Off camera strobes can be pretty expensive (at least for me).

However, I found a SunPak Auto 2000 DZ Thyristor at Goodwill for $4.99. Unfortunately it only has one setting - full power. The power can't really be adjusted. While, browsing flickr, and other blogs I found some people who have "modified" their flashes in order adjust the light output.

I decided to give it a shot. Many older flashes have a light sensor (or something), that can sense when the light from the fired flash bounces back and hits the flash. It then cuts power. Two wires go to this sensor. It is usually a little hole on the front of the flash. On this strobe, the hole is surrounded by a florescent green circle.

I opened up the flash, and cut the two wires leading to the sensor. I then went to Radio Shack and bought a potentiometer for $2.99. I bought the 100k-Ohm Audio-Taper Potentiometer (Product No. 271-1722). I first tried the linear potentiometer (based on another blogger's recommendation), but it didn't work as well. I soldered those two wires to the potentiometer.

The good news is that my flash is now totally adjustable.

I think I could probably do an exact job of marking of power settings if I owned a light meter. But instead, I set up the strobe next to a Nikon SB-800. I took photos with my SB-800, and then with the SunPak, adjusting the light output of the SunPack to match the images from my SB-800. (Both strobes were set to 35mm). This picture has my SB-800 (left) next to my SunPak. When I did the test shots I actually aimed the strobes at an object to compare the light.

At full power my SunPak equals the power of the SB-800 at 1/4 power. I was able to mark off stops on my SunPak at 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, and 1/128. Pretty cool! It worked much better than I anticipated. I used a different color sharpie to represent different light output.

I still need to make it look prettier, but right now it is function over form. Here are some samples of varying output:

Here are a few links to people who posted some good info:

Most of the information came from here: kaisphotos on flickr

Some more reading here (good but not as useful):