The Impossible Hollywood Shot

When it comes to removing elements within an image, the clone tool is the first thing Photoshop users go for; and rightly so. Using it alone would be a mistake and all too often, this is the only tool people use. Sure it may look like fixed in the end, but fine details are what separates an acceptable image from an exceptional image or even a “believable” image.

A Touch-Up Nightmare - Not for the Timid

I have learned several things over…the years that carried over from when I used to lay hardwood floors: sometimes even though a single board would fit perfect, I would cut it into smaller ones as well as looking for dark and light ones – were they grouped together too much? too little? It was a fine study of textures, tints and shades all working together to produce a stunning variation no matter where you looked; and it looked natural. Every time I had a local crew come in to sand for finishing, they were always amazed I had laid them myself: I have had several job offers to which this day I just smile.

I apply the same technique to my cloning and that is what separates Vortex InterActive’s work from the average. The clone tool does not stand alone, I also use the Spot Healing and Healing Brush when appropriate (away from edges). I use different blending modes and opacities to lighten and darken areas – fine details often overlooked. Feathering on my edges when I cut and paste. A variety of selection tools – lasso, polygonal, ellipse marquee using “shift” to add, “alt” to subtract. Every now and then, even adding matching film grain!

The Impossible Hollywood Shot - Final Image

Another esoteric technique I use is peripheral vision – the same seasoned stargazers use – sometimes objects show up better staring off a little to the right or left instead of directly at it. The image is translated by from the back of our eyes with rods and cones that haven’t been “burned” by so much use, and as a result, one can see fine subtle details that are just a few shades or tints off; things show up better. All for making the believable and exceptional image such as shown in our Impossible “Hollywood” Shot.

Painting with Light

When we found out The Great Oaks Career Campuses wanted us to shoot a student project car to promote their Auto Collision Class, we thought it was great until we realized it would require a lot of light to do it right – (4) 800 watt-second studio flash heads to be exact – flash heads that we didn’t have at the time. Coming up with extra cash to buy a $400.00 studio flash head, or yet alone even rent one in Cincinnati, wasn’t an option. Sifting through the internet, we ran across a photographer who was using an arcane technique of long exposures to paint his subjects with light for better illumination, versus what a single light source can do, with an added touch of drama. So we decided to utilize the same technique on our car. Having a long exposure allowed us to spread the light in time, so-to-speak, using multiple flashes from a single head unit to effectively create a virtual bank of lights while providing a unique, defined look that hadn’t been achieved in any of Great Oaks’ previous images. 

What is it?
In our image of the car, we shot the light facing away from the camera. If you were to shoot the light facing the camera, the image would result in 1.)multiple rather brilliant light sources or 2.)streaks of light similar to the way a paintbrush streaks a canvas with paint. The type of result you get depends on the light source used. Speedlight flashes and studio strobes yield multiple light sources while fire and ordinary handheld flashlights (the kind you use on a campout) gives you the paintbrush effect.

Final Shot for Great Oaks Auto Collision

The Process
Using a Neutral Density Filter, we stopped the light down by 4 f-stops (designated as ND4), then we set the camera’s f-stop to 10 which allowed for a 15 second exposure on the shutter. Using such a high f-stop value achieved several things: it allowed for a longer exposure, which would have been around 7 or 8 seconds otherwise, it provided a larger depth-of-field (DOF) – ultimately this means the image is sharper throughout – and it allowed us to perform our biggest trick yet – Melissa was able to walk in front of the camera with the studio flash head unit without showing up in our photo!

On a sharper note (pun intended), one would think the higher the f-stop used, the sharper the image will be throughout; however, this is not the case. As a rule of thumb, one should never go above f/16. Above this number, the image you are trying to take gets soft again due to light being scattered internally by the lens: a prism affect that results in Chromatic Aberration or CA for short. Also, knowing the sweet spot for most lenses occurs between f/8 and f/11 helps.

Another secret to such a quality shot is the lens itself; we were using a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, which happens to be among Tamron’s sharpest of zoom lenses. It was a workhorse lens when shooting with the Canon 40D at that time.

On to Painting with Light…with fifteen seconds on the clock, Melissa was able to walk one 800 watt-second studio flash head around the car, setting off the flash at prescribed intervals. Looking closely near the driver’s side turn lamp, one can see the multiple umbrellas indicating the number of times the flash was actually triggered. We also used a large Super White 107” wide paper background roll off the right hand side of the car, held up by a Promaster Background Kit, as a giant reflector. Both of these items are readily available at Cord Camera.

Highlighted Umbrellas Indicating Individual Flash Triggers

The image was shot in .RAW, a whole other topic, to give us further control over the final look – custom white balance, saturated colors, image lightening to specific areas – and in this untouched version one can see the minimal ghosting by Melissa that was cloned and blurred out using Adobe Photoshop.

Minimal Ghosting May Occur

Fire Me - Self Portrait - 4 Second Exposure

Using the same technique; an ND4, a higher f-stop value and a long shutter exposure, we have painted several subjects and created various painted images using studio flash heads, off camera speed lights, flashlights, fire…almost anything bright. And sometimes, we just capture ourselves in front of the camera for the duration doing fun and goofy stuff like painting smiley faces, lighting sparklers and spinning fire poi  – just a few ideas.

A painted street lamp - I was standing in this photograph using multiple speedlight flashes on the column, the long exposure allowed me to enter and exit the scene without being captured:

Street Lamp Column Painted with a Speedlight


Existing street lighting combined with painted flash via long exposure: Photo 1.) Existing Light, Photo 2.) Painted tree with a bus passing by as indicated by the high light traces, Photo 3.) Painted tree with car traffic going by.

Two Various Looks with Speedlight Painting

Sparkler with Long Exposure




Practical Tips & Tricks
Can you capture a night time shot of the city this way? Sure, but be aware, the longer the exposure, the more individual street lights will flare out into star patterns. You may like the creative look, but then again, maybe you need a cleaner image in which case, a longer exposure such as 10 or 15 seconds wouldn’t do.

20 Second Exposure - Doug Bowman - Vortex InterActive Student

If you don’t have a flash to paint with light, look for street lamps illuminating things such as this tree in a downtown parking lot. Against the darker sunset, it really stands out. In such a case, you don’t need a long exposure either. Just a tripod and a low ISO if you want to capture it in the best way possible.

Tree Illuminated by a Street Lamp

Another Tree…

Ethereal, Surreal, Fantastic Lighting

Here are three various looks we achieved when painting with an off camera speedlight aka flash; Photo 1. is simply the shot with existing light (without any flash). Need more flashes in your shot? Increase the exposure time!

Various looks achieved depending on the speedlight's position when fired.

Photo 2. was painted with the speedlight turned away from the camera. Photo 3. was painted with the speedlight facing the camera. Photo 4. A painted photo with a very still Melissa…

This brings us to the last tip: this technique is excellent for still subjects, but for people it poses a challenge. Have fun with it though; take your time as people can be photographed when painted with light – they have to be extremely still. More than likely, you will have to shoot them multiple times unless you are fortunate and get lucky at the start. Enjoy!

Zivan Mendez - Thanks for Reading!

Depth of Field

The first thing a photographer should have in mind is what type of look they’re trying to achieve. Should it be soft or should it be hard-edged? For portraits, it depends on the textures and colors involved; whether they’re high or low contrast. It depends on the background – is it a farm or is it a city? Is the background in tune with the clothing? Is the subject a male or female? In other words, there are guidelines, as to all kinds of subject matter, and guidelines are just that: they should be followed most of the time with the understanding they can also be bent.

In general, portraits generally take advantage of a shallow depth-of-field or DOF for short. A shallow depth of field is a narrow plane of focus where blurring can be found a short distance both in front of and behind the subject. A shallow DOF is obtained by using a fast lens and by that we mean the aperture value of the lens is either f/2.8 or lower. Setting a camera to this low aperture value is what allows us to achieve the look below:

Shallow DOF

For landscapes, or for high-contrast textures and colors, it is a general rule that a large DOF be used where the entire image appears to be sharp throughout. A large DOF is used by setting the aperture value of the lens to f/7.1 and above.

Large DOF

Getting the correct, or better handle, on DOF also depends on how close you are to your subject and whether the lens is zoomed in or at a wider angle. The final shot below could have been taken either way – a large or shallow DOF  We choose a shallow DOF to seperate our subject from the background and to blur out some distracting telephone lines and some undesired city elements. We also used a touch of flash to further enhance our subject.

City Walk - feat Brittni Johnson

Slow Motion Backyard Fireworks Display

We hope everyone had a blast celebrating the Fourth of July. We enjoy firework displays of all kinds: this was nicely done with a touch of creativity using a Casio Tryx camera in slow motion at 240FPS. No Audio – typical of slow motion capture. We will try to post a few more…

Getting a Good Moon Shot with a D-SLR

Super Moon Shot


Many customers have asked how to get a good moon shot. A good moon shot is one thing; one must realize better moon shots are obtained with a camera t-mounted to a celestial tracking telescope. So, as an average consumer, this is a fine example of what is possible without a having to apply for a grant or some sort of federal loan…

First off, you will need at least a 300 mm lens. You won’t get an image like this with less. Ideally, a quality higher focal length lens would be sweet – take Tamron’s 200-500mm f/5-6.3 for example; it’s a great lens and easy on wallet (relatively speaking of course).  This was shot using what we call a standard 300mm zoom lens to prove a low-cost point, it was Sigma’s APO 70-300 f/4-5.6 on a Canon 40D – initially not cheap, but can be found at a reasonable “used” price in today’s market. The aperture was set high to achieve a maximum sharpness at f/13. The ISO was set to the 40D’s native low: ISO100. Finally, the shutter speed was set to 1/25th of a second. It may be tempting to go for a long exposure with the shutter speed in actual seconds, but one has to remember the earth rotates and it’s this movement which will cause blur in the image (we’re not sure where that barrier is off the top-of-our-heads, but we’ve seen it). Back to the celestial tracker for that!

Second, you’ll need a good tripod. Not your average compact pocket camera tripod either – a Sunpack will hardly do - a good quality one like an Induro, Benro or even a Bogen/Manfrotto tripod that can be had for 150.00 or less. It may not sound like less, but there are a lot of higher priced ones out there; carbon-fiber anyone?

Third, you’ll want to trigger the shutter remotely: let’s face it, it’s hard to keep your hands still isn’t it? Much less with an entire camera system in those hands right? Wired or wireless will do, but do note wireless especially works better if you’re the get-all excited type like us (we get highly animated with our hands). We shot this one with a Promaster Sys-Pro Wireless Remote using the Canon 40D’s “mirror up” option . Please note, some cameras label this as a “Quiet Shooting Mode”. This is important for a good moon shot: it eliminates even the slightest vibration caused by the mirror movement. What is mirror movement? It’s the actual “click” we hear in a camera; the sound of the mirror getting up and out of the way - after having done its job of metering and focusing – hitting the upper edge of the body cavity behind the lens. If your camera “clicks” taking this shot, you’re not shooting quiet or “mirror up”. Properly done, you should only hear a slight “ssssshsssss” swish sound as the shutter electronically slides open-and-closed. Someone smart out there may be wondering, “Couldn’t this be done using the camera’s 2-second or 10-second timer instead?” Possibly, but rare. Most cameras don’t combine that feature with the “mirror up” option unless you’ve paid buku bucks for the body in the first place and in that case, please find it within you to give us a grant so we can write about that…

On the first push of the remote, the camera’s mirror goes up and then you wait - we waited five seconds for the “mirror up” movement to work it’s way out of the system – and then press the remote a second time to actually take the shot. Remember you should only hear the swishy sound of the shutter movement at this point. Ah, perfect.

Okay, so you’ve done all this and the image is just a big, bright, blurry blob right? It’s all out of focus you say. I can’t even get that blurry blob picture you say. Here is a detailed method point: you have to manually focus the thing. With something that big, hard to miss, but its reflecting a lot of light (the sun to be exact), and most camera focusing systems are thrown off by it. If left in autofocus, the lens may just move back and forth and jitter a lot before coming to a stop, or if the lens is in manual, it may just sit there and not allow any shot at all bringing us to another detailed method point: both the camera and lens have to be in manual if you haven’t already figured that out in the first half of this blog. For most lenses, there’s a slider switch on the side of the barrel A, A/M (auto with manual focus override) and M. Make certain the slider is in the M position. There are a few cameras out there that have to make this change within the menu system; Olympus being one of them we think.  

The night we took this photo, it was the middle of November. The wind was cold wicked crazy and we were standing behind a half-wall next to a high rise apartment complex looking all creepy like from the windows no doubt! It was a lot of fun and a pleasure to get. It’s this kind of crazy that can bring two people together if not make impressionable memories. Oh, one last technical method to use if you’re really up for it, whew, would be to use a dark frame (gasp). What’s a dark frame you ask? A dark frame is where you shoot a totally black image before taking your (night) shot - a shot with the lens cap on. Whhhaaaat?? You take this shot so there would be less film grain or what we call digital noise in the second shot (the moon in this case). It can’t be done with the autofocus on and that’s a method point… your photo will come out smooth-as-silk-righteous, or at least to the best possible shot your camera system will do for a good moon shot!

Price Hill Chili

Cincinnati’s Price Hill Chili

We  are enjoying a fine day off and had a wonderful lunch at Cincinnati’s Famous Price Hill Chili Restaurant earlier this afternoon on Glenway Avenue. Our dining experience was a throwback to the good customer service years that we remember growing up with - and in this day and age is almost non-existent if not hard to find. Our glasses never got much below half before a waitress would swing by to fill it up. When we asked for mustard, which seemed a bit unusual in its request, she brought it out within minutes while making rounds to packed tables beside us. All with a wonderful smile!

Melissa talking with Sam - Owner of Price Hill Chili

We were fortunate enough to talk directly with the Owner, Sam, as he is always around checking to make sure everyone is enjoying their food and time at the restaurant. He is a wonderful man that has indeed founded a Cincinnati favorite. He makes it very clear his restaurant is oriented and devoted to wholesome family values and will promptly address anyone with improper conduct or language in his establishment; “Even if they’re bigger”, he says, “I’ll toss them out by their ear anyway!” Price Hill Chili has successfully been around for 50 years (1962-2012), and besides his vigilant watch, a lot of it is also due to the loyal servers that have been by his side for up to 45 years. It definitely says Sam takes care of business! Even his grandchildren, now helping out in the restaurant, have affectionaly called him, “A mean Papoose; the Greek word for Grandpa”, Sam explained, “as I made them work their way up from the dishes.”

Price Hill Chili Entryway & Kitchen

We also learned a rich deeper history to Sam and how his family’s house was burned during The War. That his father actually made the transition for his family to America and that Sam was a U.S. citizen – a fact that he wouldn’t find out until after his father’s death in The War. We learned how his family endured The Depression and how the restaurant itself used to be a Jewish parlor previously.

Regarding The Taste: The chili is a bit meatier than Cincinnati’s other favorite, Skyline, making it a bit less soupy (as some would say). I noticed it contained a bit deeper spice, a little more sodium and less cocoa. In summary, my order of Chili Cheese Fries was excellent as was the Seasoned Greek Bread served with a scrumptious tomato sauce! Here are a couple of shots we took within the restaurant while getting the tour from Sam “The Man” Himself. We encourage you to make the trip to see why Price Hill Chili is a Cincinnati favorite!

Price Hill Chili Back Entrance


Price Hill Chili’s Bar
Price Hill Chili’s Heated Patio – A Winter Favorite!


VIA Photography, Videography and Adobe Class Fees

A Basic Introduction to Digital Photography class is $180.00 for four 2-hour sessions totalling 8 hours of class time at our studio on 821 York Street, Newport, KY. The class meets once per week for one month. Class times vary as invdividuals are paired to accomodate. Classes can be in groups or private.

Contact us for more information or for specifics and rates on Specialized Classes that can be taken at our studio or in the comfort of your own home. We teach, but are not limited to, Animals, Commercial, Food, Flash, High Dynamic Range (HDR), Landscape, Model, Natural Lighting, Night Time, Macro, Portrait, Product, Studio Lighting, Wedding, Pets, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects.

Pet & Animal Photography

Melissa and I have a deep fondness for all types of animals and why not? They exhibit their own characters, quirks and habits. They adapt to various, and sometimes extreme, surroundings and become highly devoted to their owners when treated properly. It is a shame when animals are poorly treated for they are entirely at the mercy of their owners; we support animal rescue groups such as Forgotten Paws, SAAP, The North Shore Animal League, The Animal Rescue Site and the SPCA to mention a few. Pet and animal owners need to reciprocate the love animals show us because when given the chance, they will be your best friend for life! Let us help you capture those moments, be it through digital photography or video, by scheduling an appointment today.


Check out our extended gallery of Pets & Animals

The Question of Security

From time to time, we have been asked, “Who can I trust with my photos and memories?  Is there a place I can trust that won’t copy it for their use? Will it be shipped to another lab? Will it leave your site?” And those are valid questions, especially concerning the proliferation and ease of the digital environment! Can you trust a young employee who might only be in their position until the school year is finished? Can you trust a bigger chain that has little concern for their employees; not to mention the sheer number of them who are often monitored for internal theft or large turnaround? We have worked at places where employees had to be let go due to a stolen video card, money taken from the till, and deep discounts given to family members and contractors; we wouldn’t have guessed and were surprised to find out who at the time!  There are many small details we often observe that from time-to-time legitimately raises these questions.

Having experience, Vortex InterActive works with its eyes wide-open. We know what security means and we want repeat business – trust is something we will not allow to be violated, but can it be proven? History tells:

Throughout the years, Vortex InterActive has been trusted by many fortune five hundred companies with proprietary work that could not be shown publicly nor discussed due to trademark or the prying eyes of competition, companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric and Mitsubishi Motors to name a few.  One that can be discussed is the Health Care Research Center (HCRC) move preparation for P&G from the Sharonville site to its new and current site in Mason. The Sharonville site was massive: the main P&G facility was large enough, but it also included some 18 to 22 separate buildings spread throughout the surrounding area. Workers can only gain keycard-access to their building or in most cases, only the area within the building where they work. We were given access to the entire campus: every building, every space and every piece of equipment for the purpose of generating the first Computer Aided Facilities Management database of its kind. Very few people have ever had that kind of access – only two on site; Bob McDermott, site manager, and his boss who reported from corporate headquarters. After P&G, we moved on to do the same work for The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County downtown which included some design and drafting work under the watch of Tim Timberman, John Siebert, and Marcia Algiers. Companies have performed extensive background checks on the work we provide and they continue to trust what we successfully do. One can rest assured; it is this same trust with which you can place your own precious memories!

Zivan Mendez – Owner/Director Vortex InterActive


Skyline Chili in South Florida

From the Vortex InterActive Circle:

Enjoy Cincinnati Skyline Chili in South Florida!

Read more from Dianna Mendez below:

Vortex InterActive 2014