Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Top Ten Finish

I (Jason) managed to eke out a top-ten finish (barely - I was tied for tenth) out of 76 entries in Digital Photography Review's "Gimme Shelter" challenge. The requirement for the challenge was to include two of the following in one's image: shelter, fire, stone. Strangely, a very similar (virtually indistinguishable) shot I entered in the same challenge came in 43rd. This shot was my best finish - overall, I'm managing a mediocre 46th percentile or so, which means you only have to be slightly less mediocre than I am to claim your $25 prize...

Marketing 103

Here's a flier promoting a two-background dance. On the left is yours truly, along with yours truly's then-girlfriend, now wife.

Props Part Deux

Here's another example of props in action, Nunes style. John Nunes is a photographer in Petaluma, CA. In addition to the creative and effective use of props on the part of its inhabitants, Petaluma is also known as the former host city of the world arm-wrestling championships, not to mention the city where the cinematic tour de force "Howard the Duck" was filmed.


We're still entering as many challenges as possible on Digital Photography's Review Web Site, from "Eyes" to "Vertical Panning" to anything and everything that addresses the ten or so new challenges that come up each week. And of course, we invite you to participate, too. In fact, it's free money. If you beat us, we'll give you $25 from your next rental. Click here.

Had you entered the "Ultimate Panorama" you would have won the money, no sweat, as I was humiliated with my "Bonneville Salt Flats" panorama, five images that I stitched together. Apparently critics thought I might have been better served by using my "delete" button on my camera a little more judiciously.

I feel better about this one. Carl's Buick finished 10th out of 250.

Nasty Lines

Jadyne and I joined this “single file line” to get our passports stamped so we could sail from Brindisi, Italy, to Piraeus, Greece. You can make your lines work a whole lot more efficiently than this if you...(1) let thirty or so couples make “appointments” by signing up in half-hour increments, and (2) set your background up in such a way that people in line can’t see and distract the couple you’re photographing. Or throw M & M’s at them. Which happened to us at Santa Rosa HS’s Homecoming.

We were comfortable shooting about 60-70 couples an hour. One person posed (my trusted assistant, Alan Bartl), one person accepted orders, checks, and cash (Jadyne), and one person lazed by the RB67 with its long roll back, smiled at the couples after Alan had posed them, counted to three, then repeated the operation about seventy times an hour.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Early Bird Actually Does Get the Worm!

From Nancy Bouliane, one of our favorite clients, and perhaps the only person who has ever emailed us to say how much she enjoyed reading the pointless, ridiculous, and nonsensical text that accompanies our backgrounds...

This is my 21st prom to do here. When we plan the theme...I do a display with the whole "look" to promote it. It has been great...using your backdrops the last few years because that always sets the stage for their "getting the picture"...that and the invitation.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A 7th Place Finish for My Dad

Jason and I are still entering images into Digital Photography Review's Challenges. (He's doing better than I am). This image finished a respectable #7 in a 50's theme. After my father died I went through his endless carousels and dredged up several Kodachromes from my childhood, including this one, taken in Cincinnati sometime in the fifties. One of the three boys is yours truly, but I'm not saying...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Spot the Differences

Here are two copies of 3D57 (Party Gras), as painted by two different artists. We've had copies of our most popular backgrounds painted by as many as four or five artists, each of whom has a slightly different style and technique. We've even had the same artist copy the same design at two different times, which can also lead to small variations. When we send out multiple quantities of the same background, we send out copies painted by the same artist at the same time, whenever possible. Barring that, we'll send out backgrounds painted by the same artist at different times. If that should prove to be impossible (very rarely) we'll let you know that you could be receiving backgrounds by different artists. The variations between these two images are typical of what you might expect to find. Some of our clients worry that their subjects will prefer one over the other, but in our experience, this only happens in the case of two totally different designs, and even then, only sometimes.

Marketing 102

Here's Jan Lundberg, of SF, CA, going all-out for one of her clients - she made this background "menu" for a jazz-themed party last year, using high-res JPEGs we sent her. If I'm remembering right, the client decided to rent a couple of obviously, we heartily encourage this sort of approach.

Props Part One

This scene was put together by Dirk Bietau, of Santa Rosa, who's also featured in our "Double Prom Set-Up" posting. Here he showcases how a few small (read: easily transportable) props can add to one of our backgrounds, in this case, 3D24 (Dock of the Bay). We design all of our backgrounds to complete scenes by themselves, thus eliminating the need for props, but that doesn't mean a couple of carefully chosen items can't add additional interest.

Digital Photography Review Rejection

I (Jason) submitted this to the "Autumn" Challenge, but there were "several complaints that it has nothing to do with Autumn." When else are you supposed to play mud football?

Return of Trompe L'Oeil

What Does it Mean? How Does it Work? And How in the World Do You Pronounce it?

Let's start with's pronounced "trômp ˈloi", which is French, meaning, "Trick the eye."

What Does it Mean? According to Wikipedia, "It's an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three-dimensions, instead of actually being a two-dimensional image."

How Does it Work? That's the hard part. Our artists know that to successfully create the three-dimensional illusion the entire floor of the background has to be painted with exaggerated brush strokes, rendering the appearance of objects as common as a suitcase completely unrecognizable. Railway tracks have to bend, an asteroid is stretched to the breaking point, and marble pillars curve. When the camera lens sweeps across the floor, suddenly the suitcase, stretched across the vertical and horizontal planes of the background, becomes a real suitcase, the railroad tracks and the pillars straighten, and the asteroid becomes round again.

Here's an image of 3D106 (Call Me Flowers), stretched out, as it was painted, laid out flat. Click here to see the completed transformation, courtesy of Peg Buckner, in Fallon NV.

High-Tech Set-Up

Here's a high-tech set-up from Kendrick Shadoan of Muncie, IN, featuring background 3D70 (France Inatra).

Marketing 101

Here's a Tolo Dance ticket made from an image of 3D77 (Sweet Dreams), from Jason Alvord of Extreme Sports Photos in Yakima WA. We can provide high-res JPEGs of our images if you have to make tickets, posters, etc. for your dances.

Group Shots

Here are some great examples of group shots from a few of our clients - the top one comes from Diana Cooke at Cooke's Fine Photography in Bishop, CA. Note the triangular composition of faces, which is much more pleasing than a police line-up-like horizontal row. On the bottom left is a piece of Fred Molesworth's work, out of Encore Photography in Salem, OR. Fred squeezes in 15 people in our background, using three separate levels—the floor, unspecified (and apparently backless) stools, and for the three young men in the back, their own two feet. In addition, Fred disguises poles, cords, lights, and other distracting elements by simply and selectively burning in the edges. Bottom right is another triangular composition from Jim Wham, of The Dalles, which is also in the Beaver State. Here he uses a bean-bag sort of thing to help create different levels.

Another Digital Photography Review Entry

Okay, so it isn't going to be hanging on a museum wall anytime soon, but the theme of this challenge was "Laughter," and this fits the bill in triplicate. Here's the description I posted:

"My dad's 60th. On the pretense of showing him our new car, my wife and I picked him up at his SF Bay Area home, only to collect a hitchhiker (my brother, who had come in from Sacramento), and then stop at a lemonade stand (which was staffed by my aunt and uncle from Colorado.) When he opened the trunk to pack up the lemonade stand, he discovered my sister and her husband, who'd secretly flown in from Kathmandu."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Photo Tip - Corsages and Boutonnières

Look carefully at wrist corsages and boutonnières. Make sure that boutonnières are straight (especially challenging on some shirts!), and wrist corsages are turned so that you reveal the flower, not the strap!

Unsolicited (We Swear!) Client Testimonials

"THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! You are so awesome...Thank you!"
Nakita, Portraits by Nakita, Roeland Park, KS

"Thanks!...The kids will love it! We have told other photographers about your business, as we realize our time is valuable, and your backgrounds save us tons of time and angst with worry about how something will look."
Tyann, Marc Nathan Photography, Sugar Land, TX

"...I will be happy to vouch for the tremendous product and service you guys provide."
Jeff, Lifetouch National School Studios, Roanoke, VA

"Thanks...background photographed great."
Michael, Cooke's Fine Photography, Bishop, CA

"Just to let you know I thought your background looked great! Even the 'individual close-ups' were good looking...I would recommend your service to anyone. You have been so easy to work with and your product is super!"
Carolyn, Ambiance Portraits, Roswell, NM

"Everything went GREAT! Thank you so much for all your help. We really appreciate it!"
Holly, Minds Eye Photography, Saint Marys, PA

"Thanks for all you do!"
Lisa Dunlap, Dunlap Photography, Minerva, OH

"...We loved the 'pocket' for the backdrop rod on the back of the Taj Mahal backdrops. Either we never noticed it or it wasn't on the other backdrops we have used but it mad life soooo much easier!"
Donna and Greg, Greg Villegas Photography, Santa Maria, CA

"Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. Always a pleasure working with you!!"
Yvonne, Class Photography Inc., Crown Point, IN

"Both Great!!!! Love the bkgs!!! Look forward to next prom season!!!!...Thanks again!"
Jonathan, Lifetouch National School Studios, Allentown, PA

"It worked well. The kids loved it."
Rick, Realife Photography, Kennewick, WA

"Thanks, this worked out great. The students were very pleased."
Tony, Santa Clara Valley Photographic, Campbell, CA

"The...prom backdrops worked great. This was their second year to use your 3D backdrops and they are planning on using them again next year. The students appreciate having a background that matches their prom theme...and I appreciate how easy it is to set up and shoot. Thank you."
Tim, Lynn Grove Images, Navasota, TX

"Thanks for everything...I will be using y'all again!"
Kay, Treasured Portraits, Sealy, TX

"Just wanted you to know it was a great success. Will be using your services again."
Mark, Montgomery Photography, Laguna Niguel, CA

"Everything went well with the muslin as you can see. I really liked it and so did the kids. Thanks!"
Colleen, Fotobug Portrait Studio, North Bonneville, WA

"I rented one of your backgrounds for a recent prom and I could not be happier with the product and the service. With such a convenient and easy to use system we are looking at pursuing the market a lot more aggressively than in past years. Part of our plan involves a redesign of our website to direct prom committees to in order to see the backgrounds available."
Tom, Burtchaell Photography, Billings, MT

"Thank you! It looked great and the kids loved it! We are really pleased with how the backgrounds photograph and the ease of setup and of course your excellent customer service!!"
Jan, Camera Works Photography, Bullhead City, AZ

"Prom background was another big hit following up the hit from last year."
Buck, Jackson Photography, Port Lavaca, TX

"We have had nothing but exemplary customer service from David and Jadyne at Dozens of Muslins. They are true professionals and their backgrounds photograph outstanding. It makes it easy for us to sell our service as we almost always match a special event theme by using the Dozens of Muslins web-site. Customers have been thrilled with the images we provide using their backgrounds and my photographers love the simplicity of the background fitting into a small box or bag for transport."
Alex, Lifetouch National School Studios, Reno, NV

"The prom committee loved the backdrop and we delivered the packages 5 days after the prom. Thanks again."
Sam, Sam Santilli Photography, Philippi, WV

Photo Hobbyists Snapping Up More Business

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story this morning about something that we all know, that amateurs are taking over the business—"It'd be nice to get paid, but I don't really care," said the San Francisco resident. "What are they going to pay me, a hundred dollars? I'd rather get copies and show them to my friends."

And later, the owner of a publication wrote, "The quality was great," said Heather Luplow Hartle, owner of 7x7 publisher Hartle Media Ventures. "The average person wouldn't know if it was amateur or professional."

To read the entire disheartening article...

(On the other hand, sites like "Flicker" and "Istockphoto" are buying shots from everyone, not just amateurs. Perhaps this will open up new opportunities for us all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Double Prom Set-Up

Here are a couple shots of a double-background set up, courtesy of Dirk Bietau, in Santa Rosa, CA.

Top Image:
Dirk uses 3 lights—a key light (45 degrees left of camera position), a fill light (black umbrellas next to tripod), and a hairlight (softbox on a boom). While students are waiting in line Dirk shows old black and white movies on the big white screen in the rear of the image.

Bottom Image:
A closer look at one of the two setups. The background is stretched and taped to the floor. Velvet is suspended on either side not only to prevent students from seeing those being photographed (he very wisely has them line up behind the backgrounds, so they won't be a distraction), but to obscure lighting equipment when photographing groups. (Our muslins are 10' wide, and groups of 12-14 can be accommodated without the need to go beyond the muslin itself. But that's another article).

Digital Photography Review Entry

If you've read out September newsletter, then you know that we're actively entering images in Digital Photography Review's web site challenges. Since every entry is ranked according to the votes it receives from members, we're risking the possibility of finishing dead last, which is pretty awful for a contest that doesn't really award any money, trips to Disneyland, or gas for life.

Also, since our names are published along with our entries, we're opening ourselves to the possibility that people will click on that, see our names, visit our profiles, and send us obscene rants about Obama's health care plans, or more likely, suggestions for Canadian pharmacies, or how we can improve ourselves in the bedroom.

Okay, enough. This was a macro-shot I took on Kodachrome about twenty years ago, sold to a company that was making a flower calendar, waited for a couple of years for the calendar to sell a zillion copies. When it didn't, they returned the slide along with $100. And that's pretty much why I never went into the stock photography business. Thanks for looking.


Client-Suggested Poses

These come from Wallace T. Wiggam, of Santa Rosa, CA - poses 1, 3, 6 and 7 are top secret and could burn your eyes out if you look at them directly.

Lighting Our Backgrounds


I've been asked from time to time how I light the images that appear on our web site. Here's a brief synopsis and explanation. I always use at least three lights—the key, fill, and a boom with a softbox. Occasionally, I may use a background light, an accent light of some kind, or a focusing spotlight. But these are the exceptions. Most every conventional image was illuminated the same way—with a key, fill, and hair light.

Michael Libutti some years ago discussed the four main factors that determine the quality of light a key light produces: angle, size, distance, and intensity. All four principles apply to proper key light placement in dance photography.
Key Light

The key or main light is the principle source of light. I place the key light on about a 45 degree arc from the camera position and raise it to a position two or three feet over my head. I then feather the light considerably, which allows only the edge of the light source to light the couple. It may seem counter intuitive to watch 95% of the light disappear off to the side of the couple, and indeed, many times my assistants have wanted to pivot the light stand so the light appears to be directly falling on the subject. However, flash readings confirm for me that the light that's falling where I want it to fall (on the couple itself) will measure f11 with 100 ISO. There is little light left over for the background itself.
Once the key light is correctly raised and feathered, the second issue, size, needs to be addressed. I either use large Balcar white umbrellas (w/ a black back) or Larson softboxes to produce large soft light without fear of lens flare. Since I’m sometimes operating in inconvenient places, it is important that I control as many variables with my lighting as possible, while still retaining the flexibility that large soft lighting provides. With Powerlights and Larson soffboxes, I can often bring in my key light just out of view, feather the light, and still get f 11, which is amount of light I want from my main light.

Fill Light

I place the fill about shoulder height, just out of view, on the opposite side of the key light, and measure it at f 6.3, or halfway between f 5.6 and f 8.

If I want to lighten the background I exchange the Larson softboxes for large Balcar umbrellas. White on the inside and black on the outside, these large umbrellas provide an even soft light, which may spill onto the background enough to render it a bit lighter in photographs. The black surface of the umbrellas prevents lens flare.

Hair Light

I used to use a Plume wafer softbox as a hairlight, but I found that removing it from the ceiling of my studio is such a nuisance that I abandoned it in favor of a mini-softbox of indeterminate design and origin. That’s where I hold my meter, and where the heads of the blond surfer boys are likely to stop. I shoot at f 11

At this point we're ready to go. For us, it's at this time that one of our employees takes the money; another checks gum, wrist corsages, ties, boutonnieres, then guides the couple to an on-deck circle, off-camera, in a visually advantageous position, then poses the couple. I refine the pose, if necessary, removing hands that grow out of shoulders, getting hair out of faces, making sure that jackets fall properly, etc., I generally don’t like to have people watching the couple whose portrait I’m doing, but if the next couple sees us set up, they can be a little easier to pose.
There is no "right" way to light a dance photograph. Many of our clients use a simpler one light solution. The boom can be a nuisance, especially in Father-Daughter affairs, where the light has to be carefully monitored in order not to illuminate those "follically challenged". (How's that for a euphemism?). Nevertheless, I've found that my system provides an attractive three dimensional depth and modeling without deep dark shadows that I've only seen achieved with a multiple light system. I like it.

3D49 - National Champ

Sam Baugh, Lifetouch and Prestige Portraits Photographer from Reno, Nevada, entered this photo in a National Portrait Excellence Contest held by Lifetouch. With 250 entries in the Special Event Category, his Prom and Dance portrait was selected as National Grand Champion. The background is 3D49 ("Papa Razzi.") We've got 11 copies, some of which are currently in the shop, undergoing carpet re-redification. We don't get many "Pink Carpet" themes.