Long Exposure #8 : My holidays

I have been married to Celine since 2006, and for the first time, we are going to be in France at the same time, together. In the past it was a hassle to leave the US and we preferred to stick to all the things we wanted to do there. Now that we can travel freely, we opted to spend our holidays among family.

Issue is, my parents live in Alsace (ie East of France) and Celine’s family is basically everywhere but there. It means we will travel a lot while we’re there and Celine has been working like hell to create a schedule that will accommodate most people. Here are the big steps of our trip:

  • We fly from NYC to Paris
  • We drive from Paris to Mulhouse to see my parents
  • We drive from Mulhouse to Rennes for Christmas
  • We drive from Rennes to Marseille
  • We drive from Marseille to Paris for New Year’s eve.
  • We fly from Paris to NYC.


I’m curious to see how these holidays will shape up. Last time I was in France was in 2008 for work. I can’t recall the last time I was in Alsace but I’m pretty sure it was before 2005. I want to show Celine where I grew up and why I am who I am. I wonder if she will like it, show me stuff I’ve never seen, thought of before. Then she will do the same for me plus will show me her friends and family. It will be a trip of “first”.

  • First time my parents meet my wife since our wedding
  • First time we will share where we used to live
  • First time my parents and brother will meet her mother, brother and sisters
  • First time I will meet her family and friends
  • First time in Rennes, Marseille
  • First time out of the US since 2008…

I can’t wait for these holidays to start, can’t wait for them to be over too, back in my home sweet home with my crazy cats and my loving wife.

Wherever and whenever you go, I wish you happy holidays and a safe trip. See you in 2014!


Long Exposure #7 : My first critic

On Tuesday Celine took me to our first ever photo critic. There was a bit of frenzy on Monday night to pick up what we would present. I wasn’t initially supposed to go but with a little bit of pushing here and there, I was convinced into going. It was at the B&H Event Space.

I ended presenting from my Studio Projects gallery. The idea was that I thought that a lot of people would present travel and portraits and I also wanted to be able to progress on this with targeted assignments. Thought it would be more difficult to re-shoot a landscape in Monument Valley on a whim ;).

Here are the 5 shots I picked in the same order I presented them.

Macro of a 1$ bill

1$ bill detail shot with the 100mm f/2.8 @1/10s

Play with paint

Processing experiment with paint. Shot with 100mm at f/11 and 1/15s

Detail of AlienWare laptop

Detail of my old AlienWare laptop shot with 60mm f/2.8 @6/10s

Detail of Angus Mc Donald Burger

Detail of a Mc Donalds Angus Deluxe shot with 60mm f/2.8 @1/125s

Troopers and Vador

Troopers and Vador with 100mm f/4 1/125s

I thought this would be one on ones, us versus the panel of critics. Instead the pictures of everyone where put up on screens and discussed by the critics and often times other participants. Celine went first, and I thought it went pretty well. I went close to the end and left with a ton of questions. I’m very grateful for the critics and the opportunity. I was able to see what I’m up against and how to better myself. I think I’m currently following a similar process than grief and am currently between denial and bargaining. I will eventually be there, but I will need some time.

Don’t hesitate to leave your critics in the comment section or if you want to get some constructive criticism put some links of your own there.

By Sebastien Grobelny

Long Exposure #6 : My photography Equipment

After filling the form on photoblogs.com and DPChallenge this week, I realized that I have never shared with you my photography equipment.
Here’s a picture of the bag we took for last weeks photo walk in Greenwood cemetery

Petrol DSLR inMotion photobagThe bag is a wonder from Petrol. It is the DSLR Camera Rollpak. Celine loves to roll it and I find it personally more convenient to put is a backpack.

Here’s what you can see in the bag in the picture above (from left to right):

Not in the picture but in the bag, we also had spare batteries and memory cards as well as a cleaning kit for the lens and a cover should it start to rain.
To be complete here’s the list of lenses that didn’t make the cut this time but we could take with us next time:

IS stands for Image Stabilizer.
USM stands for Ultrasonic Motor.

We used to have a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. It was the king of the quality/price in our house and you can still buy it for about 100$. We loved it so much that when the first one broke down (dropped on the floor and exploded) we immediately bought a new one. The second one just died on us (the focus can’t be trusted anymore) and we will replace it eventually with his big brother the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM.
We also have a Canon MPE-65 that is amazing to do macro shots if you are able to do the focus.

Snow shot with the Canon MPE-65

Snow shot with the Canon MPE-65

I love the 100-400mm for the very powerful zoom and the 85mm for the intimate depth of field. If I were to play and win the lottery I would probably by this lens from Sigma.

We have also several accessories:

Don’t hesitate to contact me or leave a comment if you have any question regarding this equipment or would just like to share your equipment or dream equipment.

By Sebastien Grobelny

Long Exposure #5 : To edit or not edit?

As mentioned in “What is a photographer?” and again in “Fiat Lux“, a photograph is a succession of steps.
Once your camera caught the scene the next step is to deliver it to your public, but before you do that you need to answer the question that haunts a lot of photographers: Should I edit this picture or post it “as shot”?
For some people, to not edit their shot is a credo: the shot is over as soon as you push your shutter. For others the push of the shutter button is just one of the many steps towards their final picture. For me editing is a way to bridge the gap to my ideal shot.
Below is a before (left) / after (right) shot I edited recently using Adobe Lightroom 4. I played with the colors and tones a bit in order to get a picture more vivid. Don’t you think the right one looks better? (for a look at the final result just click)

Bryce Canyon Before / After EditSome photographer have more restrictions than others. If you’re a photojournalist you will not be allowed to amend details that alter the meaning of the picture. It means that cropping might be allowed, contrasts and tones amended but you won’t be allowed to remove or add anything from your picture. I suggest you have a look at this article on Gizmodo to see how pictures were edited in the past.
Recently, I went with Celine on another roadtrip and our starting point was Las Vegas. We have been there several times but never really thought of capturing the Welcome sign. Unfortunately for us we just remembered it on our way to the airport, during our final day. If I were to be a purist, I might end up with the shot below.

The Las Vegas welcome sign unedited

I didn’t like much all the cables or some of the buildings but it’s not as if I could just go an bulldoze the buildings or cut the cables down. The sky was also pretty uniform as the sun was high in the sky. With Lightroom and Photoshop I was able to get the result below, with more textures in the sky and a dreamy effect, closer to what I’d like my shot to be.

Las Vegas Welcome Sign Edited with Photoshop and LightroomEditing is for me one more tool, a way to get more control on the final result but like a super power it must be used responsibly. One of my proudest edit is a very subtle one. People liked the shot below, but very few people know that it was one of my first edit (to see the original version just click the image).

Statue of Liberty editedIf you want to see what edit can do for you I suggest you read Mike Campau guest post on Scott Kelby’s site.

By Sebastien Grobelny

Long Exposure #4 : Fiat Lux

As discussed in “What is a photographer?“, I believe there are 4 big steps in a picture:

  1. To think
  2. To see
  3. To capture
  4. To deliver

The most difficult part in my opinion is the capture. You have to make compromises between what you think and what you see in order to be able to deliver something.

On film or sensor, your picture is always created by light (or its lack). If you can’t control the light, you’re at a disadvantage and will have most likely to compromise on your ideal shot.

With your camera and lens you can directly impact your light with:
– the time of exposure
– your ISO configuration
– the aperture.
Any of these changes comes with its consequences:

  • Increasing the time of exposure will most likely increase the motion blur.
  • Increasing the ISO will probably increase the noise.
  • Playing on the aperture will impact your depth of field.

Unfortunately we can’t always control all these parameters as some are driven from our subject. For Water Droplets for instance, speed is very important.

Water droplet

Water droplet

To get this shot, I was at f/7.1 and 1/250s. It was “stuck” at 1/250s due to the fact I was using a flash in order to help me control the light.
Lighting is the most critical part of a shoot. With a good light you will be able to control your contrast and details and give more life to your picture. Note that controlling the dark side is as important.

Shadow in the New York Grand Central Crowd

Shadow in the Grand Central Crowd

I believe it’s one of the areas where I can learn the most.
I found this article from Scott Kelby about lighting a BMW650i reassuring in a sense, as it looks like even the best have to make a lot of tests and adjustments to find the right balance.

Long Exposure #3 : Challenge accepted!

Celine built Photoblogchallenges from the ground up almost 3 years ago. She was already very passionate about photography and very involved in sites like Moody Mondays, Two for Tuesdays and posting/commenting daily on Aminus. Each challenge site had its specialty and its core of participants. The idea behind photoblogchallenges was to try to federate all the various sites into one and showcase the pictures to as much people as possible. It’s not because you don’t do macro photography that you can’t appreciate it and can’t vote for it.
After more than 440 challenges offered (about 3 per week), I’m really glad to be part of this adventure. It gave me the opportunity to see some amazing shots over the years and interact with great people. I’m always sad when I realize that some regular is not participating anymore but I’m overjoyed when I see someone new giving the challenges a try. There’s a lot of anticipation and questions. Will he have fun? How “good” will his pictures be? Will they be on topic? Will he come back? Will he participate to all the challenges or only some? These questions are important to me as Celine puts her heart, soul and countless hours in the site without expecting anything back. (donations or comments are encouraged)

Art is subjective and is about feelings and expression(s). What I look for in a challenge is to see how my pictures are received. I know what I wanted to achieve with my shot, but if it doesn’t translate to the viewer, I failed. When I participate in a challenge, winning is not the most important thing. I want to know where I’m at and how I stack against the competition. I’m still learning daily and I find that to challenge yourself is a way to move forward. I discovered Smoke Photography, Water droplet, macro (among others) through challenges and I do believe that I’m a better photographer and editor because of it.

I have the feeling that I’m ready to move from Single-A to AA and maybe one day I will join the Majors. For that I still need to work and learn a lot but I still have plenty of time.
Here are 2 galleries of contests with inspiring shots:
PopPhoto August Best submissions
Winners of the 2013 Red Bull Illume contest

Long Exposure #2 : What is a photographer?

By definition a photographer is a person that takes photographs.
Does that mean that all the person that take photographs are photographers?

Being a photographer is more than the mechanical action of pushing a button.
Being a photographer is more than sharing your craft.

To be a photographer, you need to think, see, capture and deliver.

To think is to look for what your subject will be. Will it be something personal or something mundane? An object or a person? Is it part of a bigger project? Is it a one-shot? What is the story you want to convey?

To see is to imagine your subject in your ideal picture, your perfect shot. If my subject is a striker, my ideal shot would be to see the ball leaving his foot for the winning goal, with the expression of the beaten goalkeeper caught.

To capture is to bring life to your ideal shot, put in the box what you dreamt of, to get as close as possible from your ideal shot. A photographer will often look at his picture and tell you how it could have been better; this is the difference between what he saw and what he caught.

To deliver is to release your catch in the wild, after you tamed it and made it yours. Once your delivered your final result you shouldn’t have to retouch or edit it anymore. It should be the vision you thought of, as close as possible to what you wanted it to be.

If you’re lucky, your delivery will touch a lot of people and be well received, but it’s not the number of people that sees your shots that make you a photographer. You are the photographer and taking pictures is just one facet of who you are.

When you leave and breathe photography, you’re a photographer.
I’m lucky enough to see what a photographer looks like with Celine, and I only wish it will make me better over time.

Sebastien Grobelny in the wild - caught by CelineHere’s a presentation at the Photoshop World keynote of 2013 about being a photographer (start around 15:22 until about 26:00)

Long Exposure #1 : My role model

The goal with the Long Exposure series is to share weekly with you my point of views .

As we still get acquainted, I thought it would be interesting to start with a little more about myself and more especially my role model.

The oldest camera I remember owning was one of these flat horizontal ones. You couldn’t set anything up. You just had to put the odd-looking film in, point and shoot. I think I liked it because I could pretend to be a spy and also pretend I was taking pictures like my father. I remember him carrying a black leather bag, red in the inside with his precious camera and films. It was an old fashioned reflex. I can’t remember what brand it might be as I haven’t seen it in years but I know that he cherished it. When people were sending their films to a studio lab, he was developing his pictures in the basement. I never had the opportunity to see him in action but I wish I had.

This first photography period of my life ended up with me giving up on it for a long time. Maybe I grew up and didn’t want to be a spy anymore. Or maybe I felt ashamed of being a master of beheading. I believe that if at the time my life depended on it, I wouldn’t have been able to take a shot without maiming my subject. This was a time when there was no second chance, no way to check the result before the print version and even if I love all the chemistry involved in old films and the mechanics, I believe I wasn’t made to be a photographer at that time.

When the DSLR boom happened I had just started working and I felt pulled back in the photographic work. Being in a new city, Paris, and pretty shy I had a lot of time to read the National Geographic and swim in the books from Philip Plisson and Yann Arthus-Bertrand. They all gave me a great feeling of freedom and a beautiful view on the Nature and I thought that I’d like to give photography another go. With my hard earned cash and single life, I splurged on a Canon EOS 300D that was not Rebel at the time and had barely half of the current 6+Megapixels. It was a new experience for me. Not only was I not killing people off but I could also see immediately the result of my genius shot. Back home I could put my masterpieces on my computer and admire my work without printing it.

One of the first pictures I’m really proud of is this portrait of my father. I like it because I believe I was able to catch a moment and make it forever mine.

In 2004, I moved to New York with my new toy and was amazed and in awe in my new playing field.
In 2005 during an epic New York blizzard I met Celine. More than anyone else she his my role model and I wish I could emulate her just a little. I love her passion. I love her dedication. One thing that brought us closer was photography. She just had a camera that could be described today as cute but she was already took mind blowing shots. She didn’t really edit her shots yet but I’m not sure she really had to. To give you an idea here’s a picture from that time that I do still envy her for.

Celine Ruffino – Photography

Today her equipment may have improved but so does her passion and dedication. She always looks for new techniques and new tools to do better shots. Have you ever heard of Lensbaby? Photomatix? Built a camera from bits and pieces? I do and I’ve seen it. She spends hours a week working on Photoblogchallenges and when she’s not, she’s writing comments and visiting photoblogs because she can’t think of a world without photography. Without her, I would never had done a tenth of what we did and I would never be where I am today.

Celine Ruffino – Photography

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