All posts by Michael Banks

A Soldier, Photographer, and Developer

Free-Running is my New Found Respect

At the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to learn and take photos of something that I was completely clueless about at the time, but now very impressed by, Free-Running. Free-Running is more formally known as Parkour. The group that I shot calls themselves Team Apocalyptic.

Team Apocalyptic is a part of Hayden’s Freerunning Academy, which is a program taught out of Hayden’s International Gymnastics Academy. These are really some talented individuals. They spent a few hours running in the park… I had a blast. rained a bit and then the sun came out and left again into the sunset while they continued to run free…

I took most of these shots with two lenses: a 35mm f/1.8 and a 55-200mm variable apertured lense. Most of the photos were shot between 1/400th of a second and 1/800th of a second. The reason I shot them at that speed was because I didn’t want any blur or camera shake in the photo. I rarely like motion blur in my photos. I shot most of the pictures at f/4 because I wanted a shallow depth of field, while keeping them in focus at the same time.

These are a few of the Gravity Defying shots from s photo shoot I had the pleasure to shoot… They blew my mind with how good they are. They didn’t fall once…

Keeping it Simple

Keturah Portrait-1

A lot of time people look for photos to be these elaborate things. Today a part of this photoshoot was dedicated to a simple portraiture style. A lot of time photographers create photoshoots that have so many moving parts to where the model or the subject gets overpowered and lost in the scene. Sometimes it is as Poet Robert Browning originally said, “Less is More…

This portrait is of a good friend of mine Keturah Mingledolph.

A Day at the Lake


Here is a candid that I took at the lake.

Since it is Shark Week I thought it would be neat to get a perspective actually in the water… So I daringly took my camera with a 70-200 f/2.8 out in the lake, handheld, and took this shot.

I was a little nervous take it out on the lake, weather ceiling or not. This wasn’t a photoshoot or anything just a casual time at the lake. The shot was 1/500th of a second at f/4 @ 70mm. I did all the editing and post processing in  Lightroom 5 . I wanted to stay out of Photoshop  if I could.

Overall I had a great day at the lake today….always nice to relax or swim with heavy DSLR’s lol

My Issues with the ChromeCast!

Well first off, I can’t complain too much since it’s 
35 Bucks

Overall It works well and does what is says it will do, but I have some issues controlling it from device to device.

When I start a Youtube video from my #Nexus4 and try to control it with the #iPad it doesn’t work well. General initial casting and starting a video from all of the sources work well. Obviously the android interface and interaction with Chrome cast works better than the desktop as well as #iOS. The reason I say that because it works better on #Android because when I cast something on #YouTube it makes an ongoing notification and can easily come back to it. On the iPad if I navigate away from the remote interface and try to come back it takes it as I want to cast that video again from the beginning.

Since I see on #XDA that you can root it now. The developer in me is getting excited for the future and I can’t wait for the other networks to implement the api in their app. The rumors say #HBOGO will be next which will be EPIC. Once #Amazon jumps on board too then all is complete.

Is Orange Really the New Black???

Over the past week or so I stumbled onto this +Netflix original. I recently enjoyed a good bit of Netflix original like Hemlock Grove and the Infamous House of Cards. The quality of content that Netflix has become to do with the help of ChromeCast is going to keep me subscribing to Netflix a little bit longer.

Orange is the New Black is definitely an original idea that is different and intriguing at the same time. The reason I like it so much is the because there is a symbiotic nature to the characters and their situations. Not one of them is overpowering the show more than another and while there is a main character they don’t harp on and on all about her. They don’t introduce everyone’s problem too quickly like in other films. Another realistic quality to it are the sort of, and forgive me for my Game of Thrones reference, houses or lands that they come from. They achieved a nice well rounded series with only 13 episodes, which in some cases series that have 24 can’t even achieve. I usually have a favorite character, but I didn’t in this series.

Overall it was a great series as all of Netflix originals have been so far.They ended the last episode with a nice epiphany (cliffhanger), so I look forward to the next season of it. If you have a #Netflix account I definitely recommend you watch it because apparently Orange Is the NEW BLACK!

A New Era of Ads… Ads acting as Mail… From Google

Last night I was doing my nightly sweep through my inbox to make sure that I haven’t missed anything important and low and behold this weird looking red mail in my inbox, BUT WAIT! It’s an ad! 

Now I am one of the first to not complain about ads when it is a free service, but this is setting a alarming precedence that I don’t think I care for.When I was clicking on my tabs in GMail I thought it was viewing a new labeling look for mail, YEH I WISH, because I use the crap out of some labeling in GMAIL.

It even acts as mail. You can open it and forward to other people… Ironically in the right hand of the “admail” it describes itself as:

It’s a new type of ad which you can forward to a friend, or star to save it to your inbox. If you dismiss this ad, you won’t see it again.

 I have never noticed this before so I did some digging and turns out that this ad is based on information from my Google Account.

I have never noticed this settings page which made me speculate that is was new:

So down and down the rabbit hole I go. I found the page that allows you to control your ads:

This page was very interesting to me because if I go edit and view some of the information Google’s algorithm has collected from me I can tell that it’s pretty accurate. Like my interest for example.

What I can tell though that their ad setting help page has gone from this:

On April 5, 2013 to this:

Updated On June 27, 2013:

So that’s what those blanket privacy Terms of service that we agree to while ago… lol
 I don’t know how many of these can fill up in GMail or how often they pop up, but I’m keeping my eye out.

Grunge Effect | Achieved in Photoshop CC (Tutorial)

I’ve done this effect a while now and Here is a step by step of how to achieve this. This is done in Photoshop CC but should work with any version of Photoshop.

The photo was taken at 1/50th of a Second at f/1.8, ISO 1000 with a Nikon 35mm lens.

Here is the comparison of the photo:

I didn’t exaggerate the effect because I wanted to keep the photo usable, but It’s a nice tool that you can use. It’s mainly an effect you can use to bring out a lot of details in certain areas.

After you load your image in photoshop simply duplicate the background layer so we aren’t affecting the original image. Ctrl J or Command J on the mac is the shortcut key to do this.

With the duplicated layer selected you need to invert with either using the shortcut key Ctrl I or Command I.

Change the blend mode of that layer to vivid light.

At this point convert the layer to a smart object. If you are on an older version of photoshop that doesn’t have a smart object option duplicate this layer because what we will do next is destructive if it is not converted to a smart object.

Now we will apply a Surface Blur filter. You will have to play with the sliders to find where it works for your taste. Usually it is a balance between the halos and the details. For this photo though I used: Radius – 50 and Threshold – 25.

Now apply a layer adjustment to get rid of the color. To achieve this use the layer adjustment of Hue/Saturation and bring the saturation down to 0.

At this point we need to merge all of the work you have done to it’s own layer using the shortcut: Ctrl + Alt + Shift E and Command + Option + Shift E.
Now you have the option to hide the “layer 1” and the “Hue/Saturation 1” because we don’t need to use them anymore. 
At this point change the blend mode of your newly created layer to “Overlay.” Note it will apply the effect to the hold image, but don’t panic. You will have an opportunity to control it in the next step.
Now to restrict the areas of the effect you will need to apply a layer mask to this layer filled with black.
Now can make a selection of the area you want to reveal and fill it with white or you can paint with a brush in white. Note: You must paint or fill in the layer mask and not on the image. Parts of you mask with White in it will show the effect parts with Black will hide the effect and parts with Grey will show part of the effect. After your selection is made you can use the shortcut key to fill with the foreground color with Alt + Delete or Option + Delete on mac.
Once you chose which parts to reveal or hide you are done and now have your final image.

Buying Accessories is Mandatory! (Top 5 Reasons Why)

I recently bought “The latest generation iPad! So the first thing I did after buying it is hopped on #AmazonPrime to check out what was available for it. In Fact, that’s the first thing I do for buying any accessories for any of my gadgets. You can easily go to your local bestbuy or walmart and find all kinds of things.

When you spend a good bit of money on things like cameras, phones, and tablets you should always have accesories. Here are a few reasons that buying accessories are a must:

1. Accessories makes your device’s value increase. When or if you resell it to someone else. Things like a stylus you can couple with a tablet or phone to sell as a bundle if you don’t intend on using for another device. More relevantly are things like device specific docks are excellent accessory items that you can bundle to increase your selling price.

2. Accessories looks better. While some accessories are for increased functionality others are for style and decoration. Cases that are leather and simple have a professional look to them, but many people have been known to bedazzle cases. You can get a look that is right for you based on your interests. The sky’s the limit with loos.

3. Accessories protect your device. Accessories like the Otterbox and other hard shell cases has saved a lot of my devices from getting shattered on the pavement to being whole. I bought the Armored Survivor case that is military grade that serves the look I need and is very protected. A case like this is protects from wind and rain. It claims can withstand a drop from 6ft. on a concrete floor.

4. Accessories vary in amount and price.. There’s an accessory for everyone’s budget. I personally buy my accessories online more than in a physical store. Online there are very inexpensive accessories and very expensive accessories that do basically the same thing and sometimes even more. I bought the Bamboo Executive Stylus, which serves as a pen and stylus. An off brand stylus does the same thing, but would cost less. There are other factors like build quality and look, but again it is all your choice.

5. Accessories expand the capabilities of the device. Accessories like bluetooth keyboards, speakers and displays allow you to utilize your device in more ways than most people use. The Apple Bluetooth keyboard is something I use all the time that helps me type long emails or post when on mobile devices.

If you can think of a decent negative reason to getting accessories I’d love to hear it.

Here is a list of some of the accessories that I bought for the iPad that are mentioned here:
Bamboo Stylus+Pen:
CTech Leather Case:
Griffin Survivor Case:
Apple Bluetooth Keyboard:

Can You Really Ditch Your Mouse?

A long time ago. I made the effort to try to ditch my Mouse for a Wacom Bamboo Tablet: 

Well today I am happy to announce that I have made the final plunge and my mouse is no longer on my desk. I gave up for a few months and went back to the mouse, but that was because I didn’t have my tablet configured correctly. I tried to have it function in the same way as a mouse and not as a tablet. I decided to revisit it and dive in the configuration and discovered the correct way to set it up and it works wonderfully. I use it all the time for #LightRoom and #Photoshop and now I use it full time for everything else.

Don’t get me wrong… It is a HUGE learning curve to use a tablet for non retouching and photo-editing tasks, but once you accomplish that it is a great tool to add to your technology toolkit.

If you are interested in getting a Bamboo Tablet check here

Now I see why all the other #photographers use #tablets for #photography and everything else.

Here’s my desk now.. (Mouse removed… lol)