Friday, December 18, 2015

How I Shot It: The Limit of Linear Thinking

This photo was entered in December’s Enchanted Lens Camera Club competition Group A Open Digital category.

The Limit of Linear Thinking

Camera Info
Canon 5D Mark II
Lens Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L zoom, set at 46mm
Exposure: Main subject: ISO 400, 1/160 sec, f/11; for the square puzzle, the exposure was a little less
Shutter triggered with Canon IR Remote set to 2 second delay
White balance: Flash

Canon 580EXII Speedlite
Canon 430EXII Speedlite (2)
Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe 24x24” soft box mounted on a boom stand (580EXII in soft box)
2 light stands
Honl Photo Speed Snoot/Reflector, Speed Gobo/Reflector, Speed Straps
PocketWizard MiniTT1 transmitter, AC3 zone controller, and 3 FlexTT5 receivers

Links to gear: 

Other Gear
Laptop with USB cable to connect to camera
Canon EOS Utility on laptop. Other manufacturers have similar software to capture pictures over a cable while shooting.
Wooden puzzles
Striped shirt
Table and chair
White paper backdrop, bed sheet, or blank wall
White foam board
A willingness to look silly in front of the camera, wife, and other club members. (This item can be hard to find.)


I have done the Assigned category for the last couple months, so I did Open this time while Rozanne did Assigned entries. We take turns doing this so she doesn’t beat me every month we don’t compete against each other. So I took the meaning of “Open” to be “Wide Open.” As in anything-goes, sky’s-the-limit, wild-blue-yonder Open. No straight photography with color and tone adjustments to make a pretty picture. Time to dig into some of those things that I knew was possible to do with Photoshop, if I only knew how.

This gave me an opportunity to get an idea out there that has been rolling around in my empty head for quite some time…years, actually. Rozanne gave me the two wooden puzzles seen here a few years ago for Christmas, and I always wanted to do a shot like this using the puzzles. Time to get off the sofa and get it done.

I had a general idea for the shot, and even a rough title. I wanted to photograph the quality that I have seen in some people over the years, both in my personal life and more often in the public media. I’m looking at you, all you short-sighted politicians and bureaucrats I see on the news every day.

The general concept that I wanted to convey was one of a person encountering a new idea that didn’t conform to their normal way of thinking. Because they were so accustomed to their ideas about how things should work, they get flummoxed, confused — even downright angry — when this new idea doesn’t bend to their narrow worldview. 

So let’s have fun! 

I had two puzzles, similar in many ways, but with a major difference: One was Round and the other was very much Not Round. The Round object is the metaphor for the new idea, and everything else in the shot (except for my very round body) should be very angular and linear. Lines are straight, simplistic, sensical, predictable. I’m even intentionally wearing a rigidly striped shirt for this project. 


In Studio A (Rozanne prefers to call it the Dining Room), the table has orthogonal lines in the surface. I positioned the camera/tripod to align with the main centerline in the table to give the foreground a very strong symmetrical look to emphasize rigidity in the scene. It’s a minor detail, but I think that if the camera was even a little bit off-center from the lines, it would lessen the impact from the shot by being a subtle distraction. 

Behind the table, I hung a white paper backdrop. I put the two 430EXII strobes on lightstands on either side, pointed at the backdrop. I put flags (the Honl modifiers) on the strobes to prevent them from lighting me when I was in the chair. The strobes were set to overexpose the background. All this was done so it would be easy to isolate me in post so I could put in an artificial background.

Above the table and myself, I put the Lastolite soft box suspended on a boom stand, pointed straight down. It’s just out of the frame at the top. This gave me a soft even light over the whole table area. The 580EXII strobe lit the soft box. 

I did a few tests, and I saw that my face was not being lit enough. I got a piece of white foam-core, and taped one edge to the table out of  the frame, with the other end resting just under the camera lens. This caught some light from the soft box and bounced it into the shadow areas to lighten my face a little.

At camera-left, also out-of-frame, I had my laptop running the Canon EOS Utility. The camera and laptop were connected by a 10 ft USB cable. When I took a picture, the image was transferred to the laptop screen. This way I didn’t have to get up and go around the table to check the shots each time. This made it easy to make adjustments to my posing rapidly. 

I positioned a chair across the table from the camera, also aligning it with the line in the table for the same reasons as above. I had to get up and down from the chair a few times while making lighting adjustments, but I always tried to not move the chair when doing so. I also tried to always to position myself on the chair in the same place between shots. 

Once I had the lighting dialed in, I checked my shirt. I tucked the back snugly into my pants so that fabric wouldn’t bunch up behind my collar. I also tugged at the front to try to get the stripes as vertical as I could. I also tried to align the buttons in my shirt with the line in the table, but I missed that on most shots.

Before pressing the remote’s shutter button, I made sure that my hand holding the round puzzle was positioned directly over the line in the table, and that I held the puzzle’s axis as close to vertical as I could make it.

Then, using the Canon IR remote set to a 2 second delay, I began shooting. I started making silly poses and expressions, evaluating them on the laptop as I went along. I would push the button and set the remote on the table, and I had about a second to position my left hand and pose. The remote was in most shots, which I took out later in post.

After I got the shots I wanted, I got out of the way and placed the square version of the puzzle on the table so it had the same lighting conditions. It sat on a piece of foam-core so I would be able to isolate it easily.


Loading my poses and the picture of the square puzzle into Lightroom, I narrowed down the choices to one of each, plus a different pose that I could use to remove the remote control. I adjusted the colors so they would match each other. I opened the 2 pose photos in Photoshop, leaving the puzzle shot alone for now. I deleted the remote control and flattened the file.

Base "pose" shot

Square puzzle on white foam-core under the same lighting. The white board made it easy to isolate. 

I increased the Canvas size by adding to the top so I had a roughly square picture. This gave me some room to “pop my top.”

In PS, I masked out the white background so that the only thing left was myself and the table. Then I duplicated the layer, and used the elliptical marquee tool and rotated it to match the contour of my forehead. This is where I would chop off the top of my skull. I made a new mask to just show my forehead and hair. I moved this layer up and to the left.

Next, I had to make the “cut” of the skull. I used the Pen tool to draw a path that looked like it was the shape of my skull, which took a few tries. I made this into a selection, did Selection > Modify > Contract until I had the thickness about right. I converted this new selection into a path. I modified this new path’s shape so that it looked like it wasn’t just a shrunken copy of the first path.

Then I made the first path into a selection, so now I had a blobby oval selection. I loaded the second path as a selection too, but subtracted it from the first selection. Now I had rough ring shape selected, which I saved as a Channel just in case I needed to go back to it again.

I made a new layer and filled it with a pink color, and made a mask for it from my ring selection. Now I had a flesh-colored ring. I added some noise to it to hint at a bone marrow type of texture.

Now I needed to fill the ring area so it would look like the inside of the skull. I made a new layer under the ring layer, and filled it with the same pink. My background color in the tool pallet was a darker version of the pink. I ran the Clouds filter to give it some texture. I masked this layer to only show through the inside of the ring layer. Most of this will be hidden by the square puzzle, so a lot of attention isn’t needed on this layer.

The ring and the skull interior looked excessively 2-dimensional. To fix that, I made a new layer, and set it to Multiply. I used a soft black brush and painted some shadows on this layer. I played with the opacity of the layer to get the look I thought looked right.

Now it’s time to fill my head with the linear puzzle. I opened the puzzle as a separate file in Photoshop, and then layer-dragged it to the "pose" document. I made a mask to isolate the puzzle, and then used the various Transform tools to position, rotate, scale and distort it. Then I added to the mask to hide the bottom of the puzzle behind my forehead. On the shadow layer, I used a soft black brush to darken various areas, and to make it appear that it was somewhat shaded by the top of my head.

For the background, I scanned the paper solution supplied with the square puzzle. I placed this at the bottom of the layer stack. The drawing section had a blank area at the bottom right, so I Clone Stamped some of the image in from the top center of the instructions. I lowered the opacity and set the layer to Multiply. It was only necessary to have this as a subtle object, so as to hint at the “linear-ness” of the image. 

Instruction sheet scan placed at bottom of layer stack.

Behind the instructions layer, I added another layer that had a brownish paper image that I got from a free stock photo site. 

One thing that kind of looked odd was the bottom edges of the skull top and the surface of the skull cut. It looked just too “cut out” and fake, even though this is a pretty silly and unrealistic image. This stumped me for a while, but I hit upon an easy solution: They needed some shadowing and highlighting. 

For the skull top, I just added a soft black brush stroke on the bottom edge. This made it look like it curled inward a little. For the skull cut, I lightened the very edges a little bit with a soft white stroke, creating a subtle bevel effect. 

Back in Lightroom, I cropped the image to 1:1, making sure that I had the center line in the table in the center of the crop, and double checking that the edge of the table was straight. Lastly, I added a subtle vignette to the whole image.


It was a fun image to make. I had never done anything like this before, and it came out better than I expected.

There are some problems with it, though. The table surface has some really bright highlights that don’t make sense in the final image. These come from the reflections from the overexposed backdrop. A bone-headed error I didn’t see until after I submitted the image to the competition. 

It has exposure errors, too. The top of my head and left hand are a tiny bit overexposed, while my face is a bit dark despite my addition of the reflector under the camera. I should have improved these in post.

A happy accident was that the redness of the tabletop put a bit of red in my face. I think this adds a little bit of red-faced frustration to my expression.

I think I should have come up with a way to make the round puzzle have more emphasis. As it is, the open skull is the focus of the image, and the round puzzle is secondary. I should have raised the round puzzle higher and moved it closer to the camera, or shot it separately and enlarged it. A wide-angle lens might have exaggerated the effect, too.

I would love to hear comments and/or questions!

Friday, December 11, 2015

How I Shot It: Roll Dem Bones!

This photo got a 1st Place in November’s Enchanted Lens Camera Club competition Group A Assigned Print category, which was Motion Blur/Out of Focus, judged by Dana Foy.

Roll Dem Bones!

For those of you in ELCC (and other interested people), you may be wondering how it was made. Or if you are the type that likes to read through long blog posts, then this one is for you.

I’ll start with the gear.

Camera Info
Camera: Canon 5D Mark II 
Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 Series L, zoom set to 51mm. 
Exposure mode: Manual
Exposure: ISO 200, f 9.0, 1 second, RAW Image Capture
Exposure delay: 2 seconds
White balance: Flash

Canon 430EX II Speedlight, on-camera, Custom Setting of 2nd Curtain Flash
Streamlight Microstream LED flashlight, mounted in a lightstand 
Dining room chandelier

Other Gear
24” x 36” sheet of black foam-core
1 sheet of white Letter size paper
Rubber band
5 dice

That’s it for the gear and camera stuff.


The assignment was to show motion blur or out-of-focus without using the Motion Blur and similar filters in Photoshop. If you were at the October ELCC meeting, Dana took the mic and specifically said that he didn’t want to see computer effects simulating blur. Which meant it all had to be done in-camera.

Basically, after I did After the Rain, I had no ideas that weren’t grotesquely cliche (like taillight shots) and time was running out. My lovely wife Rozanne went on Flickr for ideas. She thought that photographing rolling dice was kind of cool and showed them to me. I saw them and thought I’d try it.

So I ran down to the corner drug store and bought 5 dice for $2.50. I didn’t like that they all had a big red Bicycle logo on the one pip side.


My studio (A.K.A. my dining room table) set-up was very simple. A 24x36” sheet of black foam-core was used as the surface for the dice, placed on top of the table. Since I had the camera pointing downward, the far end of the foam-core also became the backdrop.

The camera was placed with the lens very close to the edge of foam-core, pointing down at about a 40 degree angle. I put a couple dice down where I planned to throw them on the foam-core. I used back-button focus to auto-focus on the dice, and then didn’t touch the focus button any more. If you don’t use back-button focus on your DSLR (you should, it's pretty useful), you can instead turn off autofocusing on your lens or camera, depending on what you use. This way the camera won’t hunt for focus on an indistinct dark background. This also forced me to be accurate when I threw the dice in front of the camera. Focus distance to the subject was set to about 12 inches or so, if I remember correctly.

Even at f9.0 and focusing at a close distance, the depth of field was still rather shallow. For this assignment, that’s okay, even desirable. Remember that the assignment has “out of focus” in the name.

There’s a chandelier above my table, controlled with a dimmer switch. I set the light level very low. Since I was using a 1 second exposure, I was going to get some ambient light in addition to the flash. I also had to see what I was doing. The rest of the room was very dark.

The Speedlight was mounted on-camera, and the was head pointed up, using the ceiling as a great big diffuse reflector. After a few test exposures, the light was too soft, and the dice didn’t “pop” enough for my taste. I tried upping the flash compensation, but that just brightened the foam-core too much. I returned the flash compensation back down to zero, which gave me the look I wanted on the background.

I had a sheet of Letter size printer paper nearby. I curled it and wrapped it  around the Speedlight, holding it on with a rubber band, creating a reflector. Most of the paper was sticking out above flash. A couple more tests, and it was better, but the dice were overexposed a bit. I folded the paper in half and put it back on with the rubber band. The next tests looked really nice, making the white of the dice separate from the dark background. The reflection of the flash on paper put the specular highlights in the pips on the dice.

I mentioned 2nd-curtain flash up in the Gear section. On its default setting, my Speedlight will fire as soon as the shutter opens. Normally, this is okay when you are using a flash, because you are usually in a situation where you want a somewhat fast shutter speed. 

On the 1 second exposure I was using, with the Speedlight set at the default of 1st curtain, the shutter would open (the 1st shutter curtain revealed the camera sensor), the flash would fire right away, the sensor continues to gather light for almost a full second, and then shutter would close (the 2nd shutter curtain would cover the sensor). 

Left this way, the result would be that the dice would be exposed nicely early in their trajectory, and then have trails of movement away from them. I wanted the opposite: I wanted the dice to be illuminated at the end of their trajectory. With 2nd Curtain activated on the Speedlight, the shutter would open, almost a full second would elapse, the flash fires, and the shutter closes.

Got all that? No, that was a poor explanation. Here’s a better one about 2nd Curtain Flash.  Or you can Google “2nd curtain flash” for lots of other explanations and examples.

At this point, I’ve got the camera settings where I want them, ambient light from the chandelier to give a little fill light, and the flash set to fire at the end of the exposure. After more tests, the dice trails were too dim. The ambient light from the chandelier wasn’t enough to show strong trails as the dice skittered around in front of the camera. I didn’t want to increase the chandelier brightness because that would also brighten the background too much. What to do?

Let’s bring in another light! I needed a light that was constantly on for the whole exposure, and very directional so that it wouldn’t brighten the foam-core too much. Turns out that a small flashlight was a good solution.

I had a little Streamlight Microstream LED flashlight that I use when out shooting at night. It also has the bonus feature that it is small enough to clamp in the umbrella hole of a lightstand. You don’t need to go out and buy this one, probably any flashlight would do. It was handy, so I used it.

I clamped the flashlight in the stand, turned it on, and positioned in a couple places and did some tests. In my situation, I got the best results by placing the flashlight just down and to the right of the lens hood, with it aimed to skim across the surface of the foam-core and highlight where the dice would go tumbling around. I made sure that the lens hood shielded the front element from the flashlight.

A couple more tests, and now I think I’ve got the lighting nailed! What I didn’t realize is that this was going to take a lot longer than I originally thought.

I set the camera to have a 2 second delay after pressing the shutter button before the exposure actually starts. I did this because after I pressed the shutter button, the delay would allow the camera to stop vibrating after I touched it, and give me time to position myself to throw the dice. I had to do about 20 exposures to get my timing down so the dice were in the frame when the flash went off. One help was that my camera will beep when it is counting down the 2 seconds, which helped a lot while learning exactly when to throw the dice.

I did many exposures over two evenings. The first session, I made about 150 exposures. I got a few keepers, but I wanted to get better ones, so I kept on. The next night, I did 150 more. Most of the shots were trash, as the dice were well out of frame and on the dining room floor by the time the flash fired. It turned out that the one I submitted to the competition was around the 50th shot on the first night.


While shooting, I dumped my camera card into Lightroom every 50 shots or so to get a better look at what was going on, adjust exposure for the next go-round, and to assess my dice-throwing technique. I deleted the vast majority, basing my decisions primarily on composition. Many shots had the dice out of frame, so those were easy to eliminate. So were shots where the dice had come to rest when the flash fired and the dice were sitting flat on the table, which I thought made for a boring shot. I wanted the picture to look dynamic and energetic.

The three different lighting types of tungsten (orange), LED (bluish-white), and flash (white) made the image kind of odd-looking. I tried various things, but settled on moving the whole thing to black and white. It also simplified the image visually and made it stronger, in my opinion. Color would probably detract from the image rather than add to it in this case.

Straight out of the camera

After brightening and contrast in Lightroom
In Lightroom, I cropped to a better composition, flopped the image so the “motion” of the image would move left-to-right, and desaturated quite a bit, but not to a complete monochrome. If you look closely, you can still see a bit of red in the right-most die’s Bicycle logo. I also applied Lens Correction and CA Reduction. I took the image into Photoshop and did a Content-aware Fill to fix the leftover unwanted bright areas after the crop.

Other settings:

Contrast +100
Highlights -4
Whites +71
Blacks -5
Sharpening 80/Masking 36

I use vignettes in a lot of my work, because I think it leads the viewer’s eye to what I want to show them. I applied a Radial Adjustment to darken Exposure at the edges, and Erase Brushed the Radial away around the dice. I guess you could call this technique a “shaped vignette”. 

Shaped vignette


I printed this at 12 x 18” on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth 305 gsm, using an Epson SureColor P800.


I like this particular image because it really satisfies both requirements of the competition. It shows motion blur, and not all the dice are sharply focused, though the original expectation I had was to just show the motion. A happy accident, which is a good thing.

Of all the ones I shot, it is one of the few that show all six sides of a die. The one that is not so obvious is the three side, which was caught by the LED flashlight in the central streak. I forgot about the fact that LEDs “pulse” when emitting light until I saw the image in Lightroom. In essence, the flashlight was behaving like a high-speed strobe light. 

All the dice are in mid-air. This really made it appear that there was a lot energy was captured in the photo.

Looking back, I think I was a bit heavy-handed in the vignette darkening, but it’s not too bad.

The title “Roll Dem Bones” comes from some hazy memories throughout my life. I had heard the term a few times over the years, and knew it had something to do with dice-throwing. I looked it up, and it was used as part of a song, which tells the story of a gambler playing craps with Death. Another reference I found was this one that also contains the phrase “My baby needs a new pair of shoes!”


I have a tendency to literally throw dice when playing dice games like Yahtzee or Monopoly. Meaning, stand back, because it’s Todd’s turn to roll. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I think I’ll get a “better roll.” It’s illogical, I know, and it is the completely wrong thing to do when photographing rolling dice. 

I found that I got the best results by just letting the dice fall off my hand. I also dropped them from a low height, so low that I got my hand in the frame on many shots. Although my photo makes it appear that the dice are moving very fast, they really weren’t. Remember that the exposure time was a full second. Dice can travel several feet in one second if tossed with too much energy. I learned that the correct technique was to simply drop them, but give them a little direction towards the lens. Dropping the dice almost vertically also made them bounce up off the foam-core more, which usually produced more dynamic images.

If you try this, I would suggest using other surfaces for a backdrop. A cheap sheet of glass or plexi from a hardware store would give great reflections, maybe. Or some green felt to make it look like it was in a casino.

If you have comments or questions, I would love to hear them!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How I Shot It: After the Rain

How I Shot It: After the Rain

This photo got a 1st Place in November’s Enchanted Lens Camera Club competition Group A Assigned Digital category, which was Motion Blur/Out of Focus, judged by Dana Foy.

Camera Info
GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition
Lens: 15mm
Exposure mode: Hacked, explained below
Exposure: ISO 100, f 2.8, 2.7 seconds
White balance: Auto

Ambient fluorescent, sodium, LED, halogen, incandescent

Other Gear
GoPro Suction Cup Mount
GoPro Waterproof Case
My car


To show motion, I wanted to do some night car photography, but not the typical taillights-on-a-highway scene. I figured that a a lot of entries would be that type of shot, so I wanted to kind of reverse the concept by having the car be the static object and the scenery in motion. Turns out, this one was the only car light trails shot entered, I think.


I initially wanted the camera mounted on the hood, aimed at me with the lights and reflections all kind of pointing toward the center of the frame. 

I thought I could mount my tripod to the grill of the car with some cargo straps. I did some experiments with my tripod with the car was in the garage, and couldn’t come up with a way to secure it well enough to be confident that it would hold the camera securely.

I had a GoPro and a suction cup mount, but the GoPro has very limited exposure settings. I needed some long exposure times, and the GoPro is not designed to do that type of thing. So I hit the internet and found some stuff where people had hacked a GoPro to do long-exposure stuff. I wrote about it in my last post.

With the above hack installed on the memory card, I mounted the GoPro on the hood with the Suction Cup Mount. I set the camera to start taking pictures, and drove down to SR 550 in Bernalillo.

I returned home and pulled the pics off the GoPro. Turned out that they were boring.

The next night, I put the camera on the driver’s door of the car, way down low. This made me a little nervous, because if the camera fell off, there was a good chance I would run over it with the rear wheel, or it would bounce into oncoming traffic. It held on fine until I was making the turn into the driveway, where I heard it fall off onto the concrete. The waterproof case got scuffed up, but at least the lens window was undamaged. Whew!


During the run, the GoPro took about 250 pictures. I loaded them into Lightroom and picked the best ones. I settled on 3 that had the most interesting lights. I toyed around with the Basic sliders to recover blown highlights, lighten the shadows, and boost the vibrance and saturation to give some bright colors to liven up the images. Then I copied the settings from one picture to another.

Opening the 3 photos as layers in Photoshop, I ran the Auto Align Layers function. I tried a bunch of different transparency settings and opacity amounts to see what gave the most interesting arrangement. While doing this, I also tried arranging the layers in different ways. 

When I was happy with the general arrangement, I added layer masks to the top 2 layers, and masked out places with a soft brush. Most of the problems were areas where the brightest areas coincided, such as the headlights of oncoming cars. These highlights were very bright, so those got the most attention.

I then flattened and saved the file, returning to Lightroom. The only adjustment that made it into the final edit was taking the Blacks to +100. I tried sharpening the image, but it actually detracted from the image. I remembered that the assignment was to produce blur.


It was a fun picture to make. And I learned that a GoPro can be hacked! 

I find it interesting what you can see in long exposures that you don’t see with the naked eye. LED signs produce very intense light, and they pulse rapidly. Fluorescent lights also pulse with the 60 Hertz cycle of the US electrical grid. You can see this effect in the top left quadrant of the photo if you look for the McDonald’s sign.  

You probably don’t think about it much when driving, but even on the smoothest pavement, a car’s suspension is constantly working. If you look closely, the wheel of my car is moving up and down a little bit.

What I like about the picture is that there is so little that is familiar and in sharp focus, but once you see the fender of the car and figure out what is going on, it all seems to fall in place and the rest makes sense. 

Technically, despite my work in Photoshop, there is still lost detail in the highlights. Pixel-peepers may howl at that, but in a photo like this, blown highlights might actually add to the impact of the photo as I think it imparts an energetic feeling. Besides, with the goal of “blur” in the assignment, detail must be inherently lost, anyway.

If you try this type of shot, make very sure that your camera is mounted securely. I drove at about 40 MPH while making this photo. 40 MPH doesn’t seem like it’s very fast when you’re driving a car, but imagine your camera on a tripod in a 40 MPH wind. And then factor for the additional bumping, vibration, and G-forces that your car endures while driving. If I were to do it again, I would add a safety string to the GoPro to keep it from hitting the ground if it were to fall off.

I would love to hear comments and/or questions!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hacking a GoPro Hero3+ Black to take long exposures

I wanted to make a photo for our photo club’s monthly assignment with a long exposure by attaching my GoPro Hero3+ Black on the hood of my car with the Suction Cup mount. 

The problem was that the Hero3+ Black (I’ll call it “H3+B” from here on) tries to shorten the exposure time as much as it can by increasing the ISO, which is the opposite of what I needed it to do. I wanted to keep the ISO low, and increase the shutter open time to a few seconds to get light smears.

I searched DuckDuckGo for a solution and found this page ( by Konrad Iturbe. 

Konrad has worked out an autoexec.ash boot script that is copied to the top level of the MicroSD card  for the H3+B. He also lists a table of values that are put in the script at the X and Y values that determine the shutter speed in seconds.

How-To when using a Mac:

What you need:

GoPro Hero3+ Black. Some people have had some success with Hero3+ Silvers and Hero2’s as well, but I don’t own any of those. Some or all of these older cameras may need a modified version of the script.

A MicroSD card from SanDisk, Lexar, or Delkin. According to Konrad's site, not all cards can support this hack, but I wonder about that since I tried a Kingston 16GB card and it worked fine. Check Konrad’s site for a list of known working cards. I think the key issue that many people have is that the autoexec.ash file isn't saved properly in UNIX format.

A MicroSD card adapter, and a card reader of some type. If you have a MicroSD card, it should have come with an adapter to fit a standard-sized SD slot. Again, reports are that not all card readers seem to work properly. I’m using an old Griffin Simplifi from 2007. It works fine for me. I doubt that the card reader is much of a factor, but I've seen bizarre stuff happen with cheap hardware over the years. 

A text editor that can save the text file as UNIX format. This is VERY important! I’m on a Mac running OS X 10.11, and I tried TextEdit and BBEdit 10.5.13, neither of which worked no matter how I twiddled with the Save dialogs.

If the file is not in UNIX format, it will be ignored when the camera boots. Instead, I used nano, which is installed with all recent versions of Mac OS X. Worked like a champ, and it's free.

Here we go!

Step 1: Set the GoPro to have the power-on default mode to be the Single Still Image mode, which is the icon of just the camera, not the time-lapse one. Shut the camera off, and remove the SD card. Put the SD card in your computer.

Step 2: Open the Terminal program. It is in Applications > Utilities. A window like this will open.

Step 3: Type (or copy and paste) the following command into the Terminal window.

nano ~/Desktop/autoexec.ash

and press Return. This will start the nano editor and create an empty text file on your Desktop called autoexec.ash.

Step 4: Copy this code and paste it into nano in the Terminal window. 

t app appmode photo
sleep 1
t ia2 -ae still_exp P X Y
sleep 1
t app button shutter PR
sleep A

Step 5: You will be editing lines 3 and 6. Using the arrow keys on the keyboard (nano doesn’t respond to mouse movements), navigate the blinking cursor up to line 3 and over to the P character. Delete the P, and enter the ISO you want the GoPro to use. I entered 100.

Step 6: Next, navigate to the X in the same line, and delete it. In its place, I entered 55, which translates to about 6 seconds of exposure time. 

Step 7: The Y value is supposed to be the lens aperture, but GoPros have fixed apertures, which is 2.8 on the H3+B. Delete the Y character, and enter the same value that you did for the X. For some reason, both the X and Y values need to be the same.

Step 8: Using the arrow keys, navigate down to line 6. Delete the A, and replace it with a value in seconds that you want between exposures. I used 9 seconds.

Except for saving the file, you’re done. Here’s what my nano window looks like.

Step 9: Check over your values and make sure you didn’t add any blank lines to the script. When ready, press Ctrl-X. The bottom of the nano window will read “Save modified buffer (ANSWERING "No" WILL DESTROY CHANGES) ?” Press Y, and then, if you are happy with the name of the file, press Return. This will save the file and close nano.

Step 10: Go back to the Finder, and drag the newly modified autoexec.ash file to the SD card. Put the file in the top (root) level of the SD card, like this: 

Step 11: Eject the SD card from your computer. Put the SD card in the GoPro and power it up. When the camera comes up, it will take one picture with your ISO and shutter speed changes, and then reboot the camera and take another picture. It will keep doing this until you power the camera off again.


The P value is the ISO setting. Use 100, 200, or 400 to get less noise in your images. 

The A value is the shot interval amount in seconds. In use, the actual time between shots seems to be longer than the value entered because there is some time added due to the script rebooting the GoPro. I think the time is from the moment when the exposure starts to the start of the reboot. If your exposure is 5 seconds, and A is set to 4 seconds, I’m not sure what would happen. Remember that the camera needs some amount of time to write the picture to the memory card. Also, if you want to stop the camera and the interval is too short, you might have a hard time getting the camera to stop. As I play with this, I’ll see if I can figure out what a minimal setting would be.

The X and Y values determine the shutter speed. Values range between 2 (8.5 seconds) and 1000 (0.000158328 seconds). Below is a table copied from Konrad’s site. In the right column, the Exposure Times are in European format, which uses commas as decimal points instead of the American style of using periods. So if you are in the US, read 8,5 as 8.5.

Value (number to write in hack file)Exposure Time (seconds)

If you don't want to go through editing autoexec.ash files, Edward Czajka has a collection of pre-configured files that you can download through DropBox. It's here:

How to return the camera to normal operation

There are two ways to get your camera back to it’s normal configuration. One way is to format the memory card while it’s in the camera. This will delete the autoexec.ash file, and it will also delete all your pictures on the card, too. So think carefully before doing this!

The other way is to delete or rename the autoexec.ash file from the memory card manually using your computer. I’ve read that some people with an Android phone and a compatible card reader have done this. 

Alternatively, and probably easiest, you could carry two memory cards, one with the autoexec.ash file, and another one without it. Switch out the cards in the camera as you need.

Will it damage the GoPro?

Probably not. The script seems to just direct the camera as to what to do at boot. But of course, this is a non-official hack, so if something goes wrong, don't blame me. 


Here's a picture I tried. ISO 100, 3.3 seconds (X & Y setting of 160).
It's been cropped in Lightroom.

Friday, October 16, 2015

History has found us

A staffer from the popular TV show American Pickers contacted us about a month ago about some pictures of antique gas pumps we had taken on our first trip to New Mexico in 2010. We sent them a few, and they used them on this week’s show! If you want to watch the episode, it is currently available here:

It’s the episode entitled Like Father, Like Daughter

It will also re-air on the History Channel on Oct. 21 at 8:00 pm ET, and later that same night on Oct. 22 at 12:01 am ET, so set your DVR to record it.

In the show, the stars Mike and Frank are interested in purchasing a Frontier Oil sign. As they negotiate, Mike has a voiceover with our pictures onscreen, talking about the history of Frontier.

The pictures only appear for a few seconds, but it was fun to see them on a TV show. 

We sent them color photos, and the editors at AP changed them to sepia and added other treatments.

Here’s one that we sent…

and what they did with it….

Some others….

They asked us how we wanted to be credited, and we just told them “just put copyright Todd Hakala” and “copyright Rozanne Hakala”, thinking that they would use the © symbol. But no, they did exactly what they were told!