Photographing the Spa at Bella Collina

Hot Stone Massage

I recently had the opportunity to go on a commercial photography shoot for a spa owner I’ve worked with in the past.  The owner is opening up a new spa at the beautiful Bella Collina Golf Club. The clubhouse is designed to look like a Tuscan villa and the architecture is breathtaking.

The shoot consisted of two models portraying  a couple and enjoying the spa services; including an outdoor massage, pictured above. For that shot, the owner wanted the setting sun’s rays breaking below the archway. So I set my aperture to f/22 to get the star-effect from the sun. I also had an off-camera flash with a CTO gel camera left to help overpower the sun. I also took a second exposure to bring back some detail in the sky and blended it in the final image.

Couple at the Bella Collina Spa

For this shoot, much like the last with the spa owner he would look at my LCD screen to evaluate the image. While this might drive most photographers nuts, I actually prefer it. This way, I know exactly what the client wants and he can give me immediate feedback. Granted, I wouldn’t work the same way for, say, a wedding or portrait session. It was also nice because the owner would help stage shots and direct the models.

Couple's bath at the Spa at Bella Collina

I’ll post a link to the entire image gallery once the client has had a chance to review and download all the images.


Lightroom Deals and Tips

Adobe Lightroom’s Gold Box deal of the day is Lightroom 3 for $188.99. That’s 37% off the full price.

Adobe is also offering a 10% discount on either Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3 with offer code: FEB10CSW1

Speaking of Lightroom here’s a good post from Tip Squirrel about 10 Things Beginners Should Know in Lightroom.

One Tough Camera – Canon Rebel XT Takes a Free Fall

Damaged Canon Rebel XT

Credit: Calin Leucuta

Ok, so I might be the last person to find out about this as it’s from December 2009 and covered by CNET, Engadget and others; but I just ran across it now, so humor me.  It comes from photographer Calin Leucuta. As Calin tells it, he let a friend borrow a Canon Rebel XT for a skydive in Florida. The friend mounted it on his helmet but it came off when his chute opened and hit the ground at around 100mph after falling some 3-thousand feet. They found the camera and much to their amazement….it still worked!

More images and the full story on Calin’s blog. Video is below. Fast forward to the last 20 seconds or so to see the camera tumbling.

Canon Announces New DSLRs, Speedlites

Canon T3i/600D

Canon T3i/600D

Canon just announced a slew of new products including two new entry-level DSLRs and two new speedlites.

The Rebel T3 is the new entry-level DSLR with a 12MP sensor and 720p HD movie capability.

Next is the Rebel T3i with an 18MP sensor, a titl/swivel LCD screen and a pop-up flash that can trigger remote speedlites. Canon is pairing it with a new version of the 18-55mm kit lens which features the latest generation of image stabilization with some minor cosmetic changes.

The T3i will reach retailers next month and cost $800. Paired with the new 18-55 the package will run you $900. The T3 with kit lens will cost about $600.

DPReview Hands on Preview of the T3i

DPReview Hands on Preview of the T3

There are 4 digital compact cameras, a 600mm and 500mm lens and an announced 200-400mm with a built-in extender.

The other prodcuts are two new speedlites. The 270 EXII replaces the entry-level 270 EX. The compact design won’t get you anywhere near the flagship 580 EXII, but you wouldn’t expect it to as an “entry-level” flash.

The 320EX can be used as a slave, but what’s really interesting is its LED video light function. With all new DSLRs capable of recording HD movies, having an LED to record in low-light settings can come in handy. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

In a first for Canon Speedlite, the Speedlite 320EX features a Video Light function, complementing bodies with EOS Movie by enabling users to illuminate low light scenes continuously when capturing HD video. When using the Speedlite 320EX in combination with the new EOS 1100D or EOS 600D, Auto Light mode ensures that the LED light automatically turns on or off according to the ambient light of the scene when in Movie mode.

Expect the 320EX in April for about $250. The 270 EXII comes out in March for $170.

CNET doesn’t appear impressed by either the T3 or T3i

What are your thoughts about the new products?

Choosing the Right Tripod

Manfrotto 190 CX PRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

Manfrotto 190 CX PRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

Tripods are like camera bags. You spend a lot of time researching for the one that suits your needs and not long after you’ve found the perfect one you find you need another one.

When choosing a tripod, make sure it’s a solid one. That last thing you want is to put your thousand-dollar DSLR on a 20-dollar tripod from Best Buy. It might get you by for a little while, but if you want to get serious about taking rock-steady and tack-sharp images, then you need to step up to the professional level; and as you’re about to find out, it’s not as expensive as you might think thanks to a little known brand.

So when do I use a tripod? Whenever my shutter speed is below 1/60th of a second. Or when shooting portraits and I need to lock down my composition for repeated shots.

My first  tripod is the one pictured above; the Manfrotto 190 CX PRO3 Carbon Fiber. I was attracted to carbon fiber from my days shooting TV news. The carbon fiber sticks were rare and on the few occasions I got to use one it was a dream compared to the big, bulky tripods needed to support a huge television news camera.

Pros and Cons

There’s nothing wrong with my tripod. It’s super light, which is great ’cause my camera bag is a back-pack and the tripod attaches to it and I hardly feel the weight. Another cool feature is the center column can go vertical which, when you spread the legs, allows your camera to be just inches from the ground; great for low angle or macro photography.

Check out this review for close-up pictures and images of the different configurations.

The only drawback is a purely aesthetic one. I was surprised at how thin the legs were. Sure, this contributes to the low weight, but when I look at my tripod, it just doesn’t look professional; at least not like the sticks I used in news or see other pro photogs using. Then there’s the concern that thin legs can lead to instability, not that I can report that problem.

Hey, Nice Legs!

Let’s face it, “carbon fiber” is sexy. It sounds a lot better than “aluminum”. I use an aluminum Manfrotto for my interior/architecture shoots and it’s not that heavy. The legs are thicker, and two of the them are padded (adding, in my opinion to that professional look) so I’m not sure I’d want to carry it on my back for extended periods of time; but what I’m saying is, aluminum has come a long way and you can save money by forgoing the “sex-appeal” of carbon fiber.

The problem with carbon fiber, of course, is cost. The big names like Gitzo, Manfrotto and Slik charge a hefty premium for its respective carbon fiber line.

Induro CT-213 Carbon Fiber Tripod

I don’t know how I first heard of it, but there’s a company called Induro that makes relatively inexpensive tripods, both aluminum and carbon fiber. Some of their legs+head kits go for as little as $136.

Well, there has to be a catch, right? Maybe poor quality? So I researched and found only positive reviews, including this one by Scott Bourne.  He reviews the CT 414, Induro’s largest carbon fiber. I have my eye on the smaller CT-213 pictured above. I don’t have it yet so I can’t tell you what it’s like; but I like what I’ve seen and read.


There are essentially two types of heads; ball heads and pan/tilt. Ball heads give you quick adjustments. I use the Manfrotto 322 RC2 joystick style head.

Manfrotto 322 RC2 Joystick Head

Manfrotto 322 RC2

There are more traditional ball heads, I just liked the pistol grip of the RC2. I also use a pan and tilt model for my interior work. I find it gives me more exact movements on three different planes or axis.

But what if you could combine a ball-head with a pan/tilt and achieve motion on FIVE different planes? That’s just what Induro did with the PHQ 3.

Induro PHQ3

Induro PHQ3

 Again, I don’t have it yet, but Scott Bourne reviewed the PHQ3 here. What’s so special about it? Well I can’t say it any better than this video from the company:

I know this seems like a love-fest for Induro. I may be infatuated, but remember, I have not tried these products. Induro also makes more affordable heads (both ball and pan/tilt). I suggest shopping around and comparing the brands and models. Manfrotto is a well known name with some affordable options and Scott Kelby swears by the  Really Right Stuff brand.  

Weigh Your Options

One last consideration is the weight of your gear. Check the specs of the tripod AND head to make sure it’ll hold the gear you have now and plan to use in the future. On my 190CX, for example, I can mount a Canon 40D with battery grip, flash and lens (either the 17-55 or 70-200) with no problem. But when I tilt the whole rig vertically, the head starts to slip; just too much weight. The box or instructions for your equipment should list its weight (usually in grams). Add this up and if you need to, look for a grams-to-pounds converter on the web.

Also make sure the legs extend as tall or collapse as low as you need it. The number of sections (more sections usually means lighter, but less stable), the type of feet and features like the moveable center column I mentioned are all things to consider.

A good tripod will last you years but it likely won’t be your only one.