Rolling With The Punches / A Vintage Themed Portrait Session with Sylvia Elizabeth

I travel quite a bit for my day job, which affords me the opportunity to work with models from all over and see the vast amount of talent out there. Last year in September, I attended an industry conference in the Tampa, FL area and took my camera along under the premise of an agreement with a model that proved to be a flake once I was there. After sending a series of messages of desperation to a number of models in the area for help, I was pleased to get a response from one of the most talented models I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Sylvia Elizabeth.

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When scheduling my trip to the same conference this year, there wasn’t a question about whether or not I’d reach out to shoot with her again, but only a matter of whether or not she’d be booked while I was there. Luckily, we set on a date and time, and her friend Nicki, who is a hair/makeup artist with equal talent, would be coming along. We decided on shooting a vintage themed shoot and couldn’t wait.

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The day of our shoot, I would have conference meetings to attend to, but I’d get things ready before I would leave in the morning. I would go down the checklist and make sure that I had enough batteries to power my flashes, had my main and backup memory cards handy and make sure I put my camera battery to charge. Ummm, I said put my battery to charge…. WHERE THE HELL WAS MY BATTERY CHARGER?!?!? Well, it appeared that my battery charger for my Canon 1D Mark IIN was sitting at home while I was in the Tampa, FL area. So much for a photo checklist while packing! Wait a minute, I don’t have a photo checklist while packing either!! Damn… and that’s why everyone needs a checklist, folks.

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What the heck would I do? I can’t cancel the day of the shoot. Not only is that really unprofessional, but a total douche move. So, I would take inventory and see what I could make of the situation. I had a dead digital camera with no chance of finding a local photo shop with a battery charger for that particular battery. Trust me; I called everyone in the surrounding Tampa-St. Petersburg area. BUT, I had brought along my Pentax 6X7 medium format film camera for casual shooting and plenty of film to shoot a few hours worth. My initial thought was, “I’ve been meaning to shoot an all film portrait session, so this is perfect!” Hardly!! I didn’t have a flash meter on me and didn’t have the available cash to go out and buy one at $300+.

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However, I could always use the meter built in my Pentax. That would mean that I would be dependent on ambient or available light and not use my flashes. I did bring along a couple of fluorescent clamp-on lights that I was planning on using for focusing aid, but it appeared that they would then now be my may light sources. No light modifiers, no flags and no white balance adjustment capabilities. I can do this, right?!?! Just rollin’ with the punches… and keeping my fingers crossed.

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She showed on time, I explained the situation and we got to work. She was ready to go in half an hour and we shot for about an hour and a half longer. In that amount of time, we had three wardrobe changes and I managed to shoot three rolls of film at 10 exposures per roll for my 6X7 format. In comparison with my digital format and the comfort level of shooting with my digital setup, that’s a huge difference. In that timeframe, I could have shot about 250-300 digital images versus the nearly 30 images I brought home on film.

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I developed the B&W film first and later the color film when I received my C-41 color home developing kit. I carefully inspected the images and was not impressed one bit. Why was that? I always love to look at my negatives with astonishment of reliving the moment of taking the image. Yet, I was disappointed. Not at all with Sylvia’s performance, but with my own. Imagine how wonderful it would have been had I remembered to bring the camera battery charger…

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It wasn’t until a few days later that I swung by Adolf Gasser’s in the city and was talking with one of my buddies at the video rental counter that he gave some very valuable advice. He said to give it a few days and go back. He assured me that there would be a few gems, and my response was “yeah, right!!”

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I waited a few days and came back to them as he said. I needed to get the images scanned and sent over to Sylvia, as per our agreement. I would brace for her to tell me that they were all crap and I would have to profusely apologize. As I sat there scanning away, the images would pop up on the screen and I would think “that’s not bad at all.” Then I started working on a few and I understood what I had been told.

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Here are a number of my favorite images. Because of the color of light from the fluorescent lights used, the daylight color balanced Ektar film I was using picked up a lot of yellow tones. I decided to leave the yellowish tones in tact since they gave the images a little more of a vintage vibe. The B&W images were shot on TMax 100. Not too bad for my unexpected film portrait shoot and rollin’ with the punches.

The takeaways here should be that Sylvia is awesome and always double-check your photo gear to ensure that you have everything you’;ll need before you head out the door.

No Pressure At All, But We Need You To Be The BEST Photographer You Can Be!!

Let’s face it, folks. The title of “photographer” carries a HUGE burden. Why? Because the moment you declare yourself a “photographer” you are held to the highest of degrees of performance and are usually shown very little pity when you crash and burn. So, why is that? This is a question I have asked myself many times before. Do I have the answer? Absolutely not! However, I have formed an opinion that I don’t mind sharing and would even welcome it challenged if someone felt differently. Let’s explore…

In today’s social media and technology scene, we must realize that we are all photographers. Every day, you walk around with a cell phone that has some capacity to record images in digital media to be uploaded to any number of social media sites. Whether it’s your daily selfie or the cutest video ever of your cat chasing its tail, you, my friends, are all photographers. So, where is the difference between the every day selfie queen and the professional photographer? It’s as simple as realizing that anyone can take a image, but a photographer MAKES the image.

Keep in mind that shelling out $6,000+ for the latest and greatest “full frame” camera that the big guys are throwing in your face as if saying “buy this and you too can be a photographer” does nothing to get you closer to becoming a photographer. I have had acquaintances that fit the profile and couldn’t figure out how to snap a picture, let alone make a beautiful image, if they took their camera off auto settings. The photographer’s gear is simply the tool that he/she uses to record the image, but the photographer him/herself MAKES the image using the tool in their hands. Medium is irrelevant, autofocusing is just an aid and Photoshop is just another tool in the arsenal of the trade. The photographer relies on NONE of his/her tools alone as the make or break in the creative process of this art form.IMG_20140304_0003As a photographer, it’s easy to start obsessing about your equipment. It’s in every magazine, every online article and every “unboxing” video on YouTube. There will always be someone out there with deeper pockets that has to have the very latest and show it off. It’s also easy to get caught up in the marketing hype and jump on the “I need better gear in order to become a better photographer” bandwagon. I’ve been there and have been lucky enough to not have the deep pockets to entertain such notions for a long enough period of time to do damage. And the best part is that unless you are another “photog”, no one really gives a CRAP about what kind of camera you have or what it can do. Well, maybe the guy across the room that’s been eyeing you and figuring how much he’s going to get online for it knows what camera you have… 🙂

Making my way back to the point of this blog entry, the question you should then be asking yourself is “why should I try to become the best photographer I can be?” As a photographer, you have your whole life to perfect your art (or until you walk away from it) as long as you understand that you will never get to the finish line. Practice makes perfect, and photographers practice their whole lives to only come close to perfection or are fortunate enough to be celebrated as one of a few contributors to the art form.

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If you never reach the finish line, why is it worth pursuing this hobby or career? Because people are depending on you. Perhaps it’s your friends and family that designate you as the official photographer for the day. Perhaps it’s the family that picked you out of a line up and are paying you to capture a family portrait to hang over their mantle. Maybe its the casual window shopper that walks by and is moved by the image you captured enough to pay their hard earned money for it. The reality is that as a visually dependent being, people are moved by images that trigger a memory, a feeling or a longing.

As a photographer you carry the responsibility to be the very best you can be at your art because others recognize that you have an “eye” for what makes a moving image and creates the desired emotion. Come to think of it, when a baseball player lays off a bad pitch, folks scream out “good eye, good eye!!” Why shouldn’t photographers receive the same??? “Hey, great image!! Good eye, good eye!!”

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What keeps me in the hamster wheel, you ask? Every so often, I have the opportunity to be part of someone’s life, someone’s memories and am honored to have been chosen to share that moment with them and record it for all time while praying to God and thinking “don’t fuck this up!! don’t fuck this up!!!” I owe it to them to be the best I can possibly be and always strive to become better.

The images I’m sharing today were taken back in Mar 2013 for a friend I happened to work with at the time. There was no doubt from the start that she and her then boyfriend would transcend the friend/coworker barrier. Today, I consider them family and would be honored to record all the special milestones in their lives for as long as they’ll continue to have me.

When she first came out that she was pregnant, I offered to do a “baby belly” shoot and was given a look of “are you crazy?” Months went by and I had forgotten about the offer when she came around and brought it back up. I jumped at the opportunity knowing that I was being asked to be part of something incredibly special while they awaited the arrival of their first born.

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We knocked out the shoot in about two hours and then had lunch. I brought along both a digital and film kit and tried to shoot both mediums. If you must know, I shot the 1st, 2nd and last images on a Pentax 67 with a 105mm f/2.4 on Ilford Delta 100 and the 3rd and 4th images were shot with my Canon 1D Mk IIN. The negatives were scanned with my Canoscan 9900F MKII and all images were tidied up in Photoshop.

The takeaway is simple: if you are going to call yourself a photographer, you have a duty to be the best photographer you can be for the people depending on you with their recorded lives. Whether it’s a little league game, a majestic shot of Yosemite or simply a group shot of friends holding up shot glasses after your 6th tequila, people are depending on your to be the best photographer you can be regardless of the equipment you have at your disposal.

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Nuff said…

The Hasselblad X-Pan Is Pretty Cool – But I’m Not Running Out To Get One !!

Looking down Market St to the Ferry Bldg while crossing 2nd.

Looking down Market St to the Ferry Bldg while crossing 2nd.

What do you do if you’re Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad and want a panoramic 35mm camera? You go to Fuji and have them design and build it, of course!!!

The Hasselblad X-Pan is a fantastic 35mm film camera that can switch between standard 35mm frames  (24mm X 36mm) and panoramic frames equal to that of approximately two frames (24mm X 65mm) mid-roll. Yes, I said midroll. The film canister is loaded in the same manner as any 35mm camera, but the first thing you notice when working with this beast for the first time is an unusually long film winding process. What the camera is doing is winding the entire roll of film out into the take out spool. The idea is genius since the camera then continues to wind the film back into the spool as you shoot through the roll. Not only does this allow the camera to compensate mid-roll for the difference between standard and panoramic frames, but it has the added benefit of protecting any images already exposed within the film canister should the back door come open and the film be exposed to light. It would take quite a bit to make this mistake with this camera, but the redundancy gives you added comfort that the engineers really put some thought into this little baby.

The F streetcar line on Market St.

The F streetcar line on Market St.

Back in late Oct 2013, I found myself not knowing what I wanted to rent from my Friday afternoon go-to rental place, Adolf Gasser. I decided to try something different and the X-Pan happened to be there. Definitely a crowd favorite and rarely available for a weekend rental, I jumped on the opportunity and took it home with the 45mm f/4.0 lens option. The camera was manufactured with a removable lens and Hasselblad/Fiju manufactured three lenses for the system: a 30mm f/5.6, a 45mm f/4.0 and a 90mm f/4.0.

A row of old Victorian homes on Oak St in Oakland.

A row of old Victorian homes on Oak St in Oakland.

When previously researching this camera, I came across some information on the internet that basically said that the camera would have two different perspectives with any given lens choice because of the difference between the standard 35mm format and the panoramic format. Well, it must be true then because you can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true. Where did I read that, you ask? The internet, of course. Ha!

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

That’s not true, folks. The only thing that changes between standard frames and panoramic frames is the film format, but a 45mm lens remains a 45mm perspective regardless of the format. If not, the 45mm lens in a panoramic format would have all sorts of distortion and curvature to the image. I picked the 45mm lens simply because it’s the closest option to a human field of view perspective, but I’d be interested to see how the camera feels with the 30mm wide angle and the 90mm short zoom.

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

Speaking of feel, the camera is a freakin’ brick and heavy at that. It’s rather ridiculous, but at 720g, this thing easily weighs a little more than two mainstream 35mm cameras without the lens. The lens is no joke either and the whole kit weighs in at a little over 1,100 g. Built like a tank, the X-Pan is built for whatever task you want to throw at it.

Entrance to a horse ranch in the back of the valley in Pacifica.

Entrance to a horse ranch in the back of the valley in Pacifica.

Since I had a few other things going on that weekend, I only managed to put a single roll through the camera over the entire weekend. I had a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus 35mm b&w film handy so that’s what I went with. Pan F is one of the slower film offerings from Ilford with medium contrast and HUGE resolution capacity and an excellent choice for outdoor shooting. I do, however, develop a little longer than recommended to boost the contrast up a bit and love the look. It’s got bright whites, and very black blacks. Like buttah…

Horse ranch. Too bad the camera can't capture smells as well...

Horse ranch. Too bad the camera can’t capture smells as well…

After shooting SLR cameras for the majority of my photographic journey, shooting a rangefinder for the first time took some getting used to. And what you can’t imagine is how much this can affect your ability to properly focus. I found after developing this roll that a number of my images were out of focus and it left me thinking “WTF?!?!?!”

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

What does it mean to shoot a rangefinder? Rather than looking through the viewfinder and seeing the image as it comes through the lens and up the pentaprism, with a rangefinder, you are looking through a viewfinder that is off-center and focusing relies on a “ghosting” effect where duplicate images of what you’re looking at come together as you manually focus until the meet. Once the two ghost images meet as one, your focal point has been reached.

Trees...I think.

Trees…I think.

So, what don’t a like about this little magical image maker? For starters, the camera takes a bit to get used to working with the exposure settings compared to other SLRs. In AUTO, the photographer gets to set the aperture, since it’s located on the lens itself, while the camera’s meter adjusts the shutter speed to compensate for the center weighted average it’s set up for. The camera can completely work in full manual, but with no meter reading in the viewfinder due to it being a rangefinder, it makes it a bit more challenging. The camera has quite a number of modern camera features, but the lack of autofocus is really apparent as something that is missing. But, at the same time, it was done by design since the camera was rather expensive  when new and still remains a little out of my price range on the used side may years later. I can only imagine that the conversation was had during the design phase of the project and autofocus had to be left off for weight consideration and consumer cost.

So, do I really not like the X-Pan? Nah..it’s pretty awesome! I can work around the slight inconveniences mentioned above in order to obtain beautiful panoramic images, but I’m still not running out to get one! Boom!

Look, Ma'!! You can hold the X-Pan vertically as well...

Look, Ma’!! You can hold the X-Pan vertically as well…

Getting My Mind Blown By A Little Wonder Called The Agfa Isolette !!!

Back in late Feb of this year, I happened to stumble across another awesome camera store, this time down in San Mateo, CA, that also had a full range of film and digital camera offerings and accessories for me to lust over. This Shangri-La of camera collectibles is none other than Kaufmann’s Camera on 25th Ave just off of El Camino Real. Although the part of me that remains loyal to Adolf Gasser’s screams all bloody hell every time I set foot in Kaufmann’s, I’ve found ways to appease my tendencies and have been favoring both equally. Sometimes its just as easy as whether or not I want to drive into the city or take the easy route into the Peninsula.

It’s at this treasure trove that I have come to find refuge in the vast knowledge of Ron Kaufmann, the original owner’s son, and where I cross paths with today’s blog topic. While perusing in the extensive used film camera display cases that contain many consignment and store owned pieces, I came across a very unassuming folding camera tucked off to the corner and amongst other cameras that called out for much more attention. I asked to see the camera and was quickly attended by the staff.

Although I won’t bore you with the gist of the conversation with the salesperson about the camera that almost certainly has become exaggerated in my mind and ends in my getting a complete steal for a camera that I undoubtedly knew would be an incredible hit, I’ll just say that I was shown how to work it and was offered a deal I couldn’t turn down. If I remember correctly, I paid no more than $40 dollars for it.

I brought it home and instantly jumped on Google to find out as much as I could on it. What the hell did we do before the internet??? That doggone, fandangled Google!!  Anyway, I found an online manual, figured out how to take it apart, clean everything, put it back together CORRECTLY (ha!) and adjust the focus ring to correctly match up with the markings. I won’t go into the process since a simple Google search will undoubtedly lead you to the same tutorial that I followed, but perhaps I’ll make comments in a future post.

The Agfa Isolette was an inexpensive camera made by the German film company, Agfa, who was trying to capitalize on market share away from Kodak by offering a cheaply made camera with decent optics to promote their film and keep customers coming back for more. This particular model was manufactured between 1952 and 1960 and sold for approximately $65 dollars in the early fifties according to a Popular Photography magazine I happened to come across. At the time, most medium format camera were being sold for nearly two to three times that amount, which is why the Isolette was such a bargain. The camera takes 120 and 220 spool medium format film, shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm image frame size with an Agfa Agnar 85mm f/4.5 lens with 3 coated elements. The camera also feature a Pronto shutter capable of 1/25 to 1/200 of a second with no double exposure prevention, for all you artistic double exposure types. The flash sync was at 1/25 and no flash option was available, although a provision atop the camera was made to allow the mounting of a few accessories. The camera measures 143 x 96 x 39mm (closed) 143 x 96 x 99 ( open) and weights approximately 520g.

So, I now have what I presume to be a fully operational medium format camera that shoots 6X6 frames for a total of 12 images per roll of 120 film. What am I going to do next? Test it out, of course!! The following images are the results of the first roll of film I put through the Agfa Isolette I. Keep in mind that these images are a result of a completely manual camera that required the use of a light meter app on my iPhone for correct exposure settings and my best guess on focusing using the estimated distance gauge found on the rotating lens. All images were shot on Delta Pro 100 b&w film, scanned using my Canoscan 9900f mk II and passed through PS for auto everything just to clean up the images. Not bad for my first time shooting a camera at least 64 years old!!

There will be plenty more to come from this little treasure. Enjoy!!!

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

While not the exact model I have, the Agfa Isolette II had all the same features and options as the original Agfa Isolette with the added right side knob in case the operator wanted to reverse the film once shot back into the original spool.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Backside of building on the corner of Oak and Embarcadero in Oakland.

Railroad tracks

Railroad tracks

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

2nd and Oak St in Oakland

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Peerless Coffee storefront on Oak St.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Parking lot view from my former office in the Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Front courtyard in Portobello complex.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

Walkway to Embarcadero West lined in maple trees.

View from driver's side through Pacifica while pulled over...

View from driver’s side through Pacifica while pulled over…

View from driver's side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

View from driver’s side on I-280 N without looking through viewfinder.

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn't back into the receiving bay to save his life!!

Waiting for a truck driver that couldn’t back into the receiving bay to save his life!!

A Previous Excursion with the Mamiya 645 AF at the Ferry Bldg and Justin Herman Plaza

Hi folks! I’m back from the Chicagoland area where I was fortunate enough to listen to our San Francisco Giants clench our third trip to the World Series in the last five years. Yes, listen and not watch, to my dismay. Not only did my hotel not have a sufficient cable package to offer Fox 1, but the hotel bar’s TV sets were fixed on Thursday Night Football. I tried the MLB at Bat app, but the Wi-Fi service was crap and only had one bar of service on 3G that didn’t get me any closer. So, I had to go all MacGuyer and use the hotel alarm clock radio. Luckily, I was able to track down the ESPN radio station and rode the ups and downs of the game until victory.

For today’s post, I thought I would continue in the theme of the shots taken with the Mamiya 645 AF w/ 80mm f/2.8 lens. A few months earlier than our dinner party, I headed down to the Ferry Bldg area on a weekend. I was able to figure out that it was on January 24-25 of this year since the ice-skating rink was still out, which tells me I need to start keeping better track of my equipment rental dates. The only reason I was able to determine those dates were thanks to the record keeping habits of Gasser’s. After placing a quick call to my friends in the still rentals department, I was able to determine the rental dates. I have to say that having a date imbedded in digital file is extremely convenient…and the point goes to digital on that front.

I do recall having a bit of trouble figuring out the selector button on the body of the 645 AF that would allow the change between manual focus, single autofocus and continuous autofocus. The previous renter of the camera had placed the body in continuous focus, so as I focused and composed my shot, I noticed that the focus point would always shift to the center of the image. I only recall all of this because I had reached a stand in the artisan marketplace just in Justin Herman Plaza that sold handmade coffee mugs with very interesting and funny catch phrases. I managed to snap a picture of one of the mugs, that I included below, before I started playing with the buttons to figure out the focus issue. I happened to continue to pick his mugs as my focus test spot to his displeasure since he figured that I was taking “too many” pictures of his mugs. He was rather rude about it, so I was happy to hand the rudeness right back and mention that I would have bought one of his mugs, but his lousy attitude got in the way. He tried to take his foot out of his mouth when he realized that I had a film camera and had no intention to copy his mugs for profit, but we walked away.

The optics available on the autofocus lenses for the Mamiya 645 AF system are top notch. Although the body is more than happy to take the manual focus lenses as well, the autofocus lenses transmit data about the image to the camera that allow it to meter and expose the image properly, such as focal distance and aperture settings. Although I did find with this particular shoot that the small hood available on the 80mm f/2.8 is rather shallow, it did the job on most every shot. There was one shot that I put the hood to the test, and as you can see below, it appears as if it manages to block out the direct sunlight in only part of the image, while the rest of the image is blown out quite a bit.

Other than that, the camera is rather brilliant. It is very intuitive, quick to respond on the autofocus and appears to have its meter tender spot on exposure settings for awesome images time after time. The biggest perk of the camera is that the film back used with the cartridges is replaceable with the Mamiya and Leaf line of digital backs that make the camera completely digital with one simple (yet extremely expensive) accessory. The camera even with the film setup is on the pricey side, but photographers understand that most of the time you have to pay for quality.

Will I run out and spend nearly $1,000 for a body alone anytime soon? I seriously doubt it when I have the convenience factor of being able to rent it from Adolf Gasser’s nearly anytime I desire. But would it be a welcome part in my photographic arsenal? Oh, hell yeah!! For now, I’ll stick to my photographic guerilla tactics of taking the cheap route until someone chooses to start paying my ass for my imagery!! Ha!

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

F-line Street Car

F-line Street Car

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin' me some zombies...

Handmade clay coffee mugs. I do LOVE killin’ me some zombies…

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer...

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer…

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture...

How about we stop in the middle of the street and take a picture…

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze...

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze…

Clock tower

Clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

More kiosks...

More kiosks…

Dolores Cemetary in Mexico City in Black and White / Panteon Dolores en Blanco y Negro

Hello everyone!! I’ve been pursuing a few opportunities to further my portraiture experience and have more pin-up and portraits to post on here, so I have not been posting a whole hell of a lot. Be patient, grasshopper, I hope to have some good stuff soon enough. After all, I have to give my public what they want to see, and it was clear with the number of visits I got to the blog when I listed the few pin-up pictures I have that you demand more!!!

But, today’s post takes us back to my last trip to Mexico City. One afternoon after my meetings ended for the day, I found myself with a few hours to kill. Yep, I could have slept a bit, but I grabbed the camera instead. When I asked the driver to take me to an old cemetery, I first got the “are you crazy?!?!?” look that I was expecting. Not only because that is the last request that he would expect for me to make, but also because the cemeteries in Mexico City are so convoluted, that they are not very safe at times. Stories of people who have been assaulted and robbed at gun point at the cemeteries had even reached my ears, so I needed to be sure that I would be safe. Once he got over his initial shock and got a chance to think about it, we decided on Panteon Dolores, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in Mexico City. He would accompany me throughout my walk around the place, so I felt pretty good about going.

I couldn’t have imagined the size of this place. Living not too far from Colma, which is has the largest population of deceased folk in all the Bay Area, I didn’t expect to be taken aback by a large cemetery. Holy shit!! This place was waaaaay bigger than anything in the Bay Area!! We drove around for a good fifteen minutes before we found the right stuff that I wanted to photograph.

The majority of the images featured here were either taken at the Italian or German cemetaries within Dolores, which were meticulously kept with caretakers in both areas when I arrived. Actually, both cemeteries had their respective chains with opened padlocks that I had to remove in order to gain access through their gates. I went to the Italian cemetery first and was immediately greeted by the nervous grounds keeper asking what I was doing with the camera. Obviously, my 1D with the Canon 24-105mm lens doesn’t exactly give me the option of saying “nothing…” He gave me a line about how it wasn’t allowed to take photos in the cemetery. So, my initial response was to ask, “Are the tenants going to complain???”

I didn’t get even a chuckle. He continued on with his complaining that if his boss came by he would get in trouble since it was listed in the cemetery policy that photos aren’t allowed to be taken. So, I decided to do what naturally you would do when in Mexico. So, I asked, “what if I gave you $20 pesos to go grab a soda and take a quick break and I’d be gone by the time you get back?? You can always tell your boss that you didn’t see me cause you had to go to the restroom…” He nodded his head that it seemed like a good idea, so I forked over the $20 pesos and off he went. What did that cost me with the currency exchange? It was about a dollar fifty…

I was out well before he got back and went on to the German cemetery. There I found myself with another groundskeeper that stood up to look at what I was doing. I waved at him, he waved back and went about his business. I guess he didn’t want a soda break…

After the German cemetery, I headed over to an area known as the Rotunda of Illustrious Men. It was a large rotunda that includes prominent authors, musicians, artists, and military figures that have helped shape Mexico into the cultural powerhouse that it currently is. This rotunda featured the tombs of the likes of Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros.

There was only one image that I took in the “regular” part of the cemetery that houses the general population that I decided to include. I must say that I was extremely disappointed with the lack of maintenance that the general population’s area received. There were overgrown weeds, memorials that had been defaced or damaged, there were many stray cats and dogs all over the place, garbage left over and around graves and a lot of food left for the deceased that perpetuated all the filth that I was witnessing. The Mexican culture believes that leaving your deceased loved one’s favorite dish will help them in the afterlife or will please them now that they are deceased. I’m no one to say that my beliefs are any better than theirs, but I just don’t understand why they can’t go out and buy prop food like all the restaurants do so that it doesn’t rot. I guess that can be funny how it came out, but I’m serious on a practical standpoint of not having all the strays and garbage that edible food left out results in.

Anyway, here are the images that I liked best. I converted them all to black and white for additional impact and used a lot of structure to make them pop. There were two images that were too tempting to use masks to allow the color to pop through for an added creative look to them. I like how they turned out.

Enjoy the images and feel free to leave any comments below. Good night all!!

Midtown Manhattan Is Beautiful In Dreary and Rainy Weather

Most folks would think that dreary, overcast or rainy weather is time to put their cameras to sleep. But, if you know what to look for, you would be surprised at the awesome images you can take by waking that camera up and taking it out for a walk. Obviously, I am not endorsing going out in pouring rain where you will not only get soaked, but your camera equipment’s weather resistance may be put to the test. That kind of experiment may end up a very expensive one if you don’t have pro level equipment. Better yet, let me describe the weather I was faced with in Manhattan last Monday when I flew in. The forecast was of 50% precipitation with an overcast day. It was pretty dreary, and yes, it did rain on and off, but it was a very light series of showers that I was able to wait out under overhangs or in assorted shops while pretending to be a shopper. The sky was completely gray and it made everything look colorless.

I would have thought like a great deal of you to just stay in the hotel room and rest up for the week-long marathon of meetings, but I was determined to take advantage of my being in Manhattan while a few hours with an open schedule. Then, I remembered a few years ago reading an article somewhere that said that dreary and overcast weather is the perfect opportunity to photograph in black and white. So, with this in mind, I headed out of the hotel with a small umbrella in hand ready to take on that colorful world with a black and white mentality.

My camera has a black and white preset, but I chose to shoot in color to see what would happen and later adjust the image to black and white in post processing using Photoshop or something of the sort. I did a fair amount of walking around all of Midtown Manhattan, but focused most of my efforts around the mile or so area surrounding the hotel to make a quick getaway back to the sanctuary of my room if it got to wet outside. I visited Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, The Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

I photographed Grand Central Station inside and out, and featured a few of the indoor shots earlier this week. The Chrysler Building has been one of my favorite buildings for a very long time, probably since I became aware of architecture and how it can be the artistic expression of an engineering and structural masterpiece. I don’t care that it’s not the tallest building in the city or the country. I fell in love with the art deco styling that makes it one of the architectural wonders of this country.

What I do care is that it no longer has an observation deck, and hasn’t had one in my lifetime. From what I’ve been able to find on the internet, the last time the Chrysler building had an observation deck was back in the 40’s. I can only imagine that the Empire State Building being much taller, offered visitors a higher view that left the Chrysler Building in the shadows. What surprises me is that today’s inhabitants of the upper floors of the building haven’t thought of opening it back up and charging admission for a glance out of that iconic building. Hell, I would pay $40 to $50 to hang out for 1/2 and hour on one of the upper floors that have the Chrysler eagles on the sides just for the photo opportunity. That building oozes BADASSNESS!!!

I have a funny story that I’ll share with you. Later in the week, I had dinner open to myself, so I thought I would get out there and see what trouble I could get myself into. Then I thought that it would be pretty cool to find a restaurant that was close by to the Chrysler building, possibly get a window seat that faced it and take the camera along for a good meal and some great up close pics. I had seen in my room that the hotel featured a top floor restaurant that boasted great views. It was a little pricey, but I figured I’d call to get a little more detail.

My first call was to the front desk. I’ll keep my part in standard text and will italicize their responses. I kinda went like this: Front desk. Hi, I was thinking of having dinner at the restaurant on the top floor and was curious if you knew what kind of view I would have. Well, you would see all of Manhattan. Okay, well, from the pictures on the brochure here in the room it looks like all I would see is Queens. No, sir, you could ask for a view of Manhattan. Okay, do you know if we can see the Chrysler Building from here? Absolutely; would you like me to make you a reservation? Nah, I think I’ll hold off a bit and think about it. Then I hung up. It was pretty weird, so I thought to call the restaurant itself. Here is that conversation.

Blah blah blah restaurant, may I help you? Hi, I am a guest at the hotel and was just asking the front desk if you guys would happen to have a view of the Chrysler Building from any one of your tables. Well, sir, we haven’t seen the Chrysler Building in about 15 years. Do you mean that you haven’t been allowed to leave the building in 15 years?? No, sir, I mean that in the last 15 years another building has obstructed our view of the Chrysler Building. Oh, the way you said it sounded weird. Well, if you’d like to come up for dinner, I can sit you at a table that gives a view of a building that resembles the Chrysler Building. But it wouldn’t be the Chrysler Building?? No, but most people can’t tell the difference at night. Well, I can and wouldn’t want to be staring at a building that looks like the Chrysler Building if it isn’t the Chrysler Building. (At this point, the conversation starts to get testy by both parties…) At what time would you like to make your reservation? Well, I don’t want a reservation if I can’t have a view of something interesting. Do you have a view of anything else? Well, the Empire State Building is further away, but I can offer a corner table by the window that would give you a partial view. Partial view? What’s that? Well, it means that if you lean a little towards the window, you are able to catch the corner of the Empire State Building. Oh, well I once sat through the Phantom of the Opera in a “partially obstructed view” seat and it really sucked. I would venture to say that this might suck as well. You may be right, sir. Is there anything else I can help you with? Nah, thanks for your time, you were very helpful. Click…

I ended up going out for pizza down the street from the Empire State building, but that was just one of many odd conversations I had while in NYC…

Going back to my photos, the color renditions of the following photos I am sharing with you came out very bland and flat due to the dark and gray sky. They almost looked to be black and white, even though they were taken in color format, because of the weather. I converted all of these to black and white using Photoshop and enhanced the sky a bit by bringing out the contrast in the angry and rolling clouds. I added a little sharpness and away we go…

After photographing the Chrysler Building, I made my way over towards Rockefeller Center. I stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral only to find it covered in scaffolding on one entire side. I did have a very enjoyable photo session inside that I will share with you guys tomorrow. After leaving the cathedral, I went over to Rockefeller Center and decided to spring for the admission ticket to the observation deck. It was totally worth it, even if the admission ticket gal warned me that the observation deck wasn’t offering a clear view of much of the city that day. I decided to go up anyway and still enjoyed myself. The pic of the Empire State Building with the city all around was taken from the Rockefeller Observation Deck.

The black and white photo of the Brooklyn Bridge that I featured yesterday was thrown in just to give an example of what can be done with pictures even on the clearest days in black and white. It is simply a classic medium that will never go out of style and adds class to just about any image if contrasted well. Enjoy!!