SHOTBOX Photo Studio: a review

SHOTBOX Photo Studio: a review

When it comes to light boxes for photography, there’s no shortage of options. They come in a wide range of prices, sizes, and materials. You can spend anywhere from thousands to tens of dollars. I hadn’t had much experience with trying one out, so when the folks at SHOTBOX offered to send me one to play with, I was happy to give it a shot (pun intended).


Given my aforementioned inexperience with using light boxes, I asked my friend Dave to come help me test it out, as he regularly uses them. Dave has a rather unique use for light boxes- he shoots miniatures, often pairing them with food items. Having used a few different light box setups, and having heard of this one, he was happy to help me put it to the test. He brought over some of his gear and we had some fun trying it out.


The first draw for us was the portability factor: the entire kit folds up and fits into a flat tote, which can easily slide into the corner of your car trunk. Part of the reason for this is that there are LED lights built right into the frame; there’s no additional lighting required, unless you use the SideShot, which is a small arm with additional lighting that can be aimed at the front opening of the box.


The LED lighting in particular was another attractive feature: the box has a switch on the front which allows you to toggle between the left or right light strip, or, have them both on simultaneously. Better yet, there is a dimming switch which allows you to experiment with different levels of brightness. If glare or other lighting issues are a problem, there is a Shield Kit included, and the website has a FAQ section which includes tips and a video on ways to reduce glare.


While the design of the box is geared towards mobile photographers, we found that, for the most part, it also works just fine with a DSLR camera. The box has a set of openings at the top which allow for aerial views, which most ‘big’ cameras can shoot through also.  If you’re using the SideShot, you’re going to need to use a mobile phone to get a straight on picture. It’s designed so a phone can lay on it (upside down) and shoot through the opening.


While we didn’t try inserting our own backdrops, the set of four that came with the Deluxe Bundle worked nicely. They come in green, blue, black and white; we stuck with the white as it suited our purposes. The backdrop kit is made specifically to work with the base kit, with a small rod which hangs nicely on the back of the interior. For those looking for an easy way to provide a wider range of background colors, some colored poster board will do the trick.


One thing to keep in mind is the size of the box: depending on what you’re planning to shoot, the area inside might be a little tight. Of course with Dave’s miniature figurines, this wasn’t an issue. The inside measures 14 1/4″ wide, 15″ deep, and 15″ tall, and then, depending on what you’re shooting with, you’ll need to figure out what type of crop will work best for your photo.


A top professional light box model can cost upwards of $10,000, whereas the cheapest kits can be found for around $20 on eBay and other similar sites. The SHOTBOX base unit falls on the lower end of this spectrum, at $149 (currently on sale for $129), while the Deluxe Bundle — which includes a tote, a backdrop set, and the SideShot — rings in at $219 (currently on sale for $199). If you’re someone who is looking for a solid light box, with mobility and ease of use as top factors, then SHOTBOX is for you.


Finished shots by Dave:

IMG_1023 IMG_1024


Polaroid Swing: Not Just Another App

Polaroid Swing: Not Just Another App

You’ve heard it before: “omigosh you have to check out this new app, it’s so cool!” So you install it, but within a week, it’s just wasting precious megabytes, sitting unused on your iPhone.

With this in mind, I was a bit skeptical about trying out Polaroid Swing; I’m already an avid Instagram/ Snapchat user and I wasn’t looking for another distraction or creative outlet to take up my time. However, after a week of trying out the app, I’ve been won over.

by @postaljeff

To call it a photo sharing app is a bit of a misnomer, because in reality what you are sharing is something like a one second GIF, which then has an added dimension of interaction to it. That added dimension is this: when you tilt your device, or swipe across the screen, you see the GIF move or come alive, in a way. It’s ideally experienced on a mobile device, but for those viewing this on a regular computer, you can swipe your cursor across the image to get the effect. Go ahead, try it on some of the examples shown in this article.

by @jps

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with some of the folks behind the app, and there were several things in our conversation that stood out to me.

For one, the very birth of the idea started with a different process than most. Rather than starting with a concept, such as coming up with ‘the next Instagram’ or some similar theory, co-founders Tommy and Freds’ vision was focused on the Polaroid brand, and what it might look like were it to have continued its legacy of innovation into the modern age. The result was this app, which captures the same ‘instant’ magic of its namesake, while adding an element of hands-on interaction. In some ways, when you’re holding your device in your hand and seeing the photo move, you’re actually emulating the emotion produced when a piece of Polaroid film comes out of a physical camera and develops before your eyes. It’s like seeing a Polaroid come to life: a kind of before and after.

by @parkerj

The second thing that I was impressed by was the preparation behind the product. As an example, they had two hundred hand-selected beta testers spend an entire year working on developing and polishing the end result. One of those people is Cole Rise, who was influential in Instagram’s beginning stages. The two guys behind the app are no slouches either. Co-founder Tommy worked for Barack Obama on his first presidential campaign, and both he and his partner Fred have extensive business experience while holding degrees from the London School of Economics. These two aren’t just a couple of friends working out of someone’s garage; they know what they’re doing.

by @colerise

I should probably talk a little bit about what I love about the actual app, as well. Visually, the design is sleek and extremely appealing. Each creation is meant to look like a classic Polaroid photo, with the easily recognizable white rectangular border. On my iPhone 6, the feed runs super smoothly and the image quality is amazing: it’s sometimes hard to believe that these one-second images were all created on iPhones. Enabling a high frame-per-second ability was one of the primary goals when creating the app. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, the app will soon support Android devices.

by @lola
I’m also a big fan of the simplicity of the app: everything is done in-app (i.e. no uploading fancy DSLR videos), with just a handful of filters to choose from and a 48 character caption limit (make them count!). For me, the allure of this simplicity is that it really encourages me to be creative within the simple confines of capturing a moment. Photographers may be used to framing a scene in their mind’s eye, but framing a one second video scene becomes a completely different adventure.

by @molly
Currently users are only able to ‘swipe’ or ‘like’ someone’s Swing, but plans to add the ability to comment will very likely roll out in the future. If there’s one thing I’d love to see more of on the app, it would be the ability to interact and be social with other users. Given the attention to detail and user input that they have demonstrated thus far, I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before these things become part of the app. So, let me just say: omigosh you have to check out this new app, it’s so cool!

You can find Polaroid Swing on the App Store.

Dancing in Abandoned Places with Austen Browne

Dancing in Abandoned Places with Austen Browne

I can remember when I first found Austen Browne’s work on Instagram. The ability to upload video was still relatively new to the app, and I was searching for creative videos to feature on an account I’d cleverly dubbed “@creativevideo”. It was tough wading through what were mostly bad selfies, in video form, and finding anything worth watching. So when I stumbled upon Austen’s videos, it was like hitting the jackpot. They took my breath away. In fact, his videos still do.

making a dance reel for @kjuniverse and this is one of my favorite sequences we’ve made together

Seeing Austen’s work raised several questions for me. How come these videos are so amazing? What is it about them that produces such an emotional reaction in me? Why can’t I dance like that? Ok, the last one wasn’t a serious question, but I decided I wanted to try and find out what the answers were.

dancer: Adrienne (@adrlipson)

It turns out that it’s not a fluke that Austen’s work is of such high quality. A child of two artists, he grew up near Minneapolis and started dancing at an early age. Along the way, he met Kevin, who has been his best friend and fellow dancer since the age of eight; Kevin is often the subject in his videos. In addition to dance, Austen has had other creative outlets, including drawing, video, photography and pottery. When it came time to choose a course of study in college, he decided to choose filmmaking. The combination of film and dance felt like something he was always meant to do.

@kjuniverse asylum improv with @durty2shoes lurking in the back… music: @londongrammar

” Being a dancer myself, I was able to film in a way that other filmmakers, who are not dancers, couldn’t. I was able to anticipate how a person would move, or what they were going to do next… It became similar to a dance duet, where the dancer and the camera were interacting through space.”

One of the first things that grabs your attention when you view one of Austen’s works is the stark contrast. Typically filmed in an abandoned location, where things have often been stagnant for decades, he captures a fervent energy being inserted into these places; specifically in the form of a dancing figure.


dancer: Carisa ( @carisadrews )

“I loved how dancing could bring a dead abandoned space to life and create such a strong contrast between the space and the subject. The decaying, motionless backdrop is brought to life by the movement of the dancer and their interaction with the space.”

dancer: Zach (@zenquist)

A large part of that energy, as I found out, is because the movement is mostly improvised, which in turn is a large part of the style of dance that he both practices and teaches. One could call it modern, post modern, or contemporary, though Austen would contend it is more the latter than anything else. For Austen, improvisation is a large part of contemporary dance and how it is taught. However, while the improv clearly occurs within the parameters of trained motion, there is a raw energy that occurs that is anything but mechanical.

music: @humphreys.jpeg dancer: @kjuniverse 

“If I were to try and explain contemporary dance or improv to a non-dancer, I would say that it is an exploration of movement with your body, whether the moment is coming from within the body, or the body is reacting to external forces/shapes/spaces/energy. It is definitely an exploration.”

I was still curious, though, as to what caused such an emotional reaction in me when I watched these videos. Austen helped me figure it out a bit. Dance is an art form in which one’s own body is the medium through which the art is expressed. It’s different from just about any other medium I can think of. With other arts, the viewer is interpreting what the artist is putting forth through external means, whether it’s a musical instrument, canvas, or photograph. The dancer, though, is really baring their soul. What they are putting forth is literally a part of themselves, in a most physical sense.

dancers: Kevin ( @kjuniverse ) / Kacey ( @kchulk )

“I think that for most people, improv comes from somewhere deep within, and when you are truly in the zone nothing else matters in the world… I find dance to be one of the best art forms, because your body is the instrument, which makes it so raw, and the connection of the body and mind that dancers have is really something that is special to me.”

So while I don’t see myself anytime soon being able to move in the way Austen and his friends do, I do look forward to seeing more of his work, whether it’s his photographs, films, or, maybe if I’m lucky enough, a live performance. I secretly hope that the next time I’m shooting in an abandoned spot, he and his friends somehow magically appear. In lieu of that happening, I’ll have to be content with seeing his work online and sharing it with anyone who is willing to stop and watch.

If you’d like to check out (and help fund) Austen’s next project, visit here

dancer: Zach music: Olafur Arnalds

Find Austen on:  website  |  vimeo | instagram

A Phone-y Film Experiment

A Phone-y Film Experiment

It all started with a flea market find. I stumbled across a box of old cameras; sifted through them and picked a couple out, not knowing anything about them. At five bucks apiece, though, I figured that at the very least, they’d make good bookends. But then, I had an idea.

The idea was this: shoot a picture using film, shoot from the same spot using my iPhone, then attempt to edit the latter to look something like the former. After all, there are so many apps that seem to be designed to replicate film. Even the term ‘filter’, which is sometimes mocked due to its frequent use in mobile editing, comes from what was originally a film camera method. Anyway, I roped a couple friends into the adventure, and, many (many!) months later, we are ready to report to you, the esteemed reader, the results of our experiment.

from Megan:

Film photography is the only photography I really do. I prefer negatives to image files, I just always have. So there isn’t really any story to how I got into it, I’ve been lugging a camera around since I was a kid. The first was a plastic point and shoot, the sort you could pick up at any pharmacy in a hurry for cheap. It took AA batteries, it was bright blue, the lens cover broke and the photos it took were usually blurry. Basically, it was awful, but I carried it around all the time anyway. I made the jump to an SLR my first year of college, a gift from my parents. Since then I’ve experimented a lot with camera types and film formats. I wandered into digital photography a bit, at the urging of a friend, but didn’t stay long. They’ve always seemed like two different arts to me, only sometimes having the same goal. So I think that was the most challenging part of this project for me, taking one and forcing it to look like the other. Even though they look the same or, if I were any good at editing digital photos, practically identical, they don’t feel the same. It’s a silly observation, really, to most people the end result is more important than the process, if the photograph is good then everyone feels exactly what the photographer hoped they would feel. The process doesn’t matter. Well that and not destroying a roll of film so completely you couldn’t even tell there ever were images on it, but mostly the other thing.


Click on any photo to start slideshow. Order is as follows: iPhone shot, film shot, then edited iPhone shot. 


{shot with an iPhone 5s}

{shot with a Nikon N80 with damaged Kodak Gold 400}

{iPhone shot, edited with VSCO, Mextures, and PhotoWizard}

{shot on an iPhone 5s}

{shot with a Nikon N80 with damaged Kodak Gold 400}

{iPhone shot, edited with VSCO, Mextures, and PhotoWizard}

from Cally:

I’ll have to admit I know very little about film photography, despite being the only kid I knew that had a SLR, a camera I used for at least 15 years. But looking back through my childhood film adventures, quantity seems to reign over quality. I do have a decent collection of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes, not to mention a good number of mid-nineteenth-century thermoplastic cases that are works of art in and of themselves. The fact that they secretly scream out to me in the middle of the night, “sell us on eBay; you only look at us once a year; you need the money!” just makes me want to tell them all to screw off, but the ability to date them to within less than a decade (hair, clothes, and case mat styles) makes my little historian heart happy, although I guess that’s the thing about photos, right? You can look at one and just tell almost immediately when they were taken (with some research, of course, unless you were born before 1839). So here we are trying to subvert this little bit of fabulousness that has literally defined the photograph in all its forms, formats, and styles for the past 175 years.

That said, once I was asked to contribute to this project, I at once jumped at the chance while secretly, selfishly, mourning what a poor choice Jeff had made to include me, the procrastinator of all procrastinators. In any case, I went once again to the old Minolta SLR. I replaced the long-expired batteries (yep). I turned it on. Nothing. I cleaned it; I shook it. Nothing. Next choice was grandma’s old 1970s Instamatic 314. I removed the even-longer-ago-expired batteries (yep). I cleaned out the corrosion. I wistfully thought about how many pictures of my childhood were produced of this little gem. Then I found out they no longer made batteries or film for it. Film is easy; batteries…not so much. Moving on, I at last decided to brave the romance of the Brownie! A great idea, I told myself. Just point, er, look down and make sure your subject is level, and click. I found a decent one at an antique store for $20. Of course, the original 620 film isn’t made any longer, so I purchased an expired roll of 1983 film and hoped I wasn’t wasting more time and money.

The second camera and film experiment, another that harkens back to the retro days of the 1980s (yeah, baby, yeah!), is, of course the Polaroid. During the 80s my trusty Polaroid and I spent many hours documenting my stuffed animals, my live animals, and, of course, my very own self animal. I took selfies. I used a stick. A real stick. If only I knew then what I know now, I’d be rich. Rich, I tell you! But then again, 11-year-old girls don’t think too far into the future, as a rule. Just put on a hat and makeup, grab a stick from the yard, stabilize the camera, and, you know, selfie. But having said all that, I never really enjoyed the way Polaroids look. Still don’t, actually. But because of our history together, I HAD to go there. Again, I bought some expired 600 film, but this time I declined the stick method in order to see if I could actually take a decent photo with this thing. I couldn’t.

What did I learn? There’s more to film than just film, and the least fun part of this was recreating it with the phone shots. Especially the Polaroids. And old photos are pretty damn cool. If I had a ca. 1860s wet plate camera…I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with it. I would probably sell it on eBay for a decent amount of cash. The end of this finds me at a point where I am not in the least bit interested in editing right now, and making these pictures look worse didn’t help. So I did spend some time making edits I actually like. So, in the end, it’s been cathartic I suppose. And I do like the physical act of taking a picture with a Polaroid camera. So, yeah, maybe I’ll continue that, just for shits and giggles if nothing else. Hell, maybe I’ll pick up a stick and use it.

{shot on an iPhone 5}

{shot on a Kodak Brownie with expired film}

{iPhone shot, edited with Analog Film and VSCO}

{shot on an iPhone 5}

{shot on a Polaroid}

{iPhone shot edited with Mextures, ArtStudio, Afterlight}

from Jeff:

I think the last time I’d shot film was with a Kodak disc camera (anyone else remember those?) that my grandfather had given me. I was probably ten. I actually still had it, and tried it, but it was no longer working. Next, I tried one of the flea market finds–an old Ricoh–with some DIY damaged film. The pharmacy mail-order developer returned it with a note: “Film Received Damaged”. Duh. Then, a borrowed Polaroid camera from a friend, with some Impossible Project film. Success! After that, I tried out some water damaged film given to me, and then, developed by, our resident film expert. (that would be Megan, from above.) Finally, I had a handful of images I was able to work with. What did I learn? Well, for one, the random results that film will give you are really cool. I think, in fact, I’m starting to enjoy not knowing what I’m going to get, rather than trying so hard to achieve a particular look- it’s rather freeing! I’ve since had fun trying other films and cameras out, and I’m now constantly looking for thrift shop bargains. It’s like my photography journey has gone from one extreme to the other.




FullSizeRender (1){shot with an iPhone 5}

IMG_7370{shot with a Polaroid, using Impossible Project 660 film}


{iPhone shot, edited with ArtStudio, SnapSeed, Mextures, Polamatic, Union}


 {shot with an iPhone 5}


 {shot with a Ricoh TLX Focal 1000, using water damaged bnw film}

IMG_7513 {iPhone shot, edited with Snapseed and Mextures}

We’d love to see your film experiments, whether they are mobile phone comparisons or just straight out of the camera photos. Add the tag #wearegrryo_phoneyfilm on Instagram and share them with us.


Sorry Dad, You’ve Been Chopped

Sorry Dad, You’ve Been Chopped

Do your kids love to watch reality TV cooking shows? Mine do. I thought it was a good thing — though lately, I’m not so sure.

My wife and I both like to cook, and honestly, it’s one of the few common interests we have. So when our children began to take interest in a variety of these shows, we were excited. Here it was, a fun family activity we could all enjoy together! Little did we know what path we were about to embark upon. Here — along with photos taken by some Instagram friends — are a few things to watch out for.

photo credit: Meredith Rilley

It starts out innocently…

They begin speaking in a British accent at dinner time.

Usually this is manifested in phrases like ‘needs a bit more seasoning,’ and ‘I don’t think mine has quite enough sauce.’ It’s endearing. The first time.

They ask why you don’t own an assortment of specialty kitchen equipment.

It may start with the color-coordinated stand mixer. But soon it’ll be the kitchen torch, the mandoline and maybe even a sous vide machine. (Go ahead, google it)


photo credit: Richard Hill

Then, things start to get worse…

You’re out at the local family diner and they order ‘frites’ instead of french fries.

You cover by translating for the waitress, after you finish telling her that it’s OK that the chicken nuggets aren’t panko-crusted.

They request a birthday cake that requires fondant and, upon completion, four grown men to move it.

Never mind that they even know what fondant is now. In addition, they expect you to sculpt it into 1/20th scale models of their favorite pop culture icons.

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset

photo credit: Darren Johnson

Then, this happens…

You get a call from the school because they brought in a ‘mystery basket’ and challenged the cafeteria cook to create a dish for them.

The contents are dandelion greens, quail and kumquats. Admittedly, it might taste better than a corn dog and canned fruit.

They comment on your “plating technique,” and critically smell/examine a carefully assembled forkful before tasting it.

It’s just a grilled cheese, kid. And no, I didn’t use gruyère, sorry.

IMG_7937 (3)

photo credit: Leah Minium

And then, finally, the day comes…

They taste your meal, and resolutely declare “I’m sorry Dad, but you’ve been chopped.”

Hopefully, this is followed by them taking over dinner preparations and fixing gourmet meals for you. I’d happily take over dish duty, were that the case. Although I wouldn’t count on it. Perhaps they need to watch a few more seasons of MasterChef Jr. first.

Processed with VSCOcam with x5 preset

photo credit: Jeff Kelley