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…

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The San Francisco Giants Go For The Sweep In Houston on 8/30/12

Hello everyone!! I’m back!!!

I’ve been fairly busy with even a business trip that took me to Houston, TX to visit with one of our suppliers from Mexico who is entertaining a joint venture with one of my US customers. Whereas at any other moment, I would shrug at the idea of going to Houston for any period of time, this trip ended up being one of the few exceptions where I would actually be looking forward to heading out. It wasn’t until a few days before my trip that I was thinking about the trip on the commute ride home as I was listening to KNBR sports radio and the hosts were talking about the upcoming Giants road trip that would take them to Houston for three evening games. All of the sudden, the lightbulb went off over my head, and just like that, I turned that frown upside down!! It turned out that I would be free of any plans for the Thursday night game, so I hopped on the internet to secure a ticket.

What does $50 buy you? Well, at AT&T park in San Francisco, $50 can buy you a field level ticket in the outfield down either baseline, an outfield club level seat in the waaay outfield or possible a real nice view reserve box seat in the infield, but you’d still be in the third deck. What does $50 buy you at Minute Maid Park in Houston? Well, being that the Astros are quite possibly MLB’s worst team yet again this year, I was able to secure a second row seat on field level one section over from right behind home plate!! I was right in front of the visitor’s on-deck circle and just off from the visitor’s dugout. It was awesome!!!

Quite a number of players are actually pretty friendly and will acknowledge fans calling out to them. Obviously, they seem to perfectly deaf to all hecklers, but if you are encouraging them, you might even get a wave. Hunter Pence was among the few that actually made eye contact with fans and genuinely greeted them. I got a wave from Hunter and a nod of the head by Sandoval, Pagan and Blanco.

The Giants pulled out the win after falling behind early on. Minute Maid park is a beautiful place to see a game. The roof was closed, so the temperature was just right. The food options were great!! Parking was easy and I was in and out without any problems. I look forward to the next opportunity to head down to Houston during baseball season to see another game, even if it doesn’t involve my beloved Giants.

Anyway, I took the camera along and was able to get into the ballpark with my Tokina 100-300mm lens, even though the website listing for maximum camera lens length stated 4.5 inches. At four and a half inches, I think I would have only been able to bring along a Canon 135mm fixed prime lens, and hopefully sneak in an extender to get me some additional length. Luckily, I decided to call the media relations department and ended up speaking with someone that said that I wouldn’t have any problems as long as I wasn’t entering the ballpark with either a tripod or monopod. Like the man said, I showed up to the front door and had my back inspected and the young lady waved me through. I wasn’t going to stop and ask questions, so I went on through.

After getting to my seat and pulling out the camera, the Astros fans sitting next to me asked if I was with the Giants. After finding out that only in my wildest dreams would that be the case, he went on to mention how he had been given nothing but grief when he tried to bring in something much smaller, but over the 4.5 inch rule. Well, I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself as the ushers walked up and down the aisles, so I made sure to only have the camera up to my face just as I was about to shoot a couple of pictures. It worked out just fine and no one said a word to me.

Here are a few of my favorite images from that game. I hope you enjoy them. Good night all!!

A Brief Photo Shoot in Mexico City

Hey, everyone!!

I’ve been busier than a bee trying to get this portraiture thing jump started, and it appears to finally be taking off. Doing a trade shoot seems like a great idea, but I’m learning that it is definitely talked about a lot more than it actually is practiced. For those of you that don’t know what that means, a trade shoot usually involves multiple parties that offer their services free of charge in exchange for the experience and images that can later be used in their portfolio. So, the model, photographer, make-up artist, hair stylists and anyone else involved would do a freebie in order to advertise their “craft” for pay at a later date. Everyone needs to walk around with a portfolio, so it just makes sense.

Now, trying to find these people proves to be the greatest challenge. Of course, you run the risk of working with people of much less experience than you or someone just starting out, so one of you may drop the ball. In doing so, the collaborative effort may not end up a success, but you hope that in the experience, you take something away to make you a better artist.

Although I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to find anyone in that position to work with, I am happy to report that I have a number of prospects that I hope to be working with in the month of September to share with you guys shortly. I have been working different concepts with different models, so I’m hoping to give a little variety and not do more of the same.

Tonight’s posting comprises the last of the images taken on my last trip to Mexico City when I got together with a long time friend that had expressed interest in my photographing her. This is not something she was used to, so the photo shoot was improvised and kept short. To give you a better idea of how improvised it was, I hadn’t planned on going through with it so I hadn’t packed any lighting equipment at all!! So, when she agreed to it, I naturally panic internally and immediately had my mind going a million miles an hour trying to figure out how I would get the shots and work with the little light I had available.

The main shot we were going after was actually inspired by an image taken in the 60’s of Sophia Loren. This black and white image moved me a lot, so we were trying to mimic the styling of it. Were we going after a perfect replica? No, not really. But, I think we had both looked at the image enough times that it was embedded in our head, so the shot naturally shifted towards duplicating it. Can you go wrong with trying to duplicate genius? Probably not, especially while you are still trying to define your own style. But, alas, I don’t even know who to credit with the inspiration for the image, as I haven’t been able to find the name of the photographer that took the original image. We both loved how the image turned out. We probably shot for it about half a dozen times, but this one proved to be just the right combination of composition, shadows and positioning of limbs to make the image work.

A tribute to Sophia Loren…

I alluded to the fact that lighting was a challenge, so let me share with you the odyssey that ensued. With our schedules all out of whack, we kept missing each other and I was down to the last evening I was spending in Mexico City. When she did get a hold of me and asked what I was doing, I had a clear schedule. She asked if I would accompany her to get her hair done, and I obviously replied with an over-enthusiastic and mainly sarcastic response. When I figured out that she was serious about the request, I then figured I would take it to the extreme and asked if we would then go for the photo shoot that we had talked about many months before. She agreed and I thought, “Oh, shit!!”

I went along to hang out while she got her hair done only to realize that all the murals of fashion glamour images on their walls advertising the hair stylists work were actually taken by the hairstylist as well. As soon as he was done with her and we started talking “shop”, I swear that we were like two little girls going back and forth over photography concepts, lighting schemes and compositional techniques. Unfortunately, I had to be pulled away from the conversation since they were closing up shop, but just in that, I picked up a lot of great information from a portrait photographer that clearly had been doing it for years.

Once we were happy with the result of the above image, we were going to call it quits, but I convinced her to do a few other looks. The next shot that ensued was with her sitting up as straight as possible against the headboard with the pillows behind her for that soft and fluffy look. If you notice the direction that the light source is hitting her, all the light is coming from her left. Hindsight being 20/20, it might not have been the best idea to have her lift up her left arm, which caused the shadows that ensued over her face. Then again, the shadows add a little character to the image. I really like the shadows under her chin created by her hair and I don’t think that the shadows cast on her face were overpowering. What I didn’t realize I had created in the image is when I asked her to lift her knee, cause it seemed like the way she was sitting added weight and made her look heavier than she actually is. Of course, I didn’t realize that in doing so, I would inadvertently create an effect that made it look like someone was busy under the covers!! Good thing I was taking the picture!! Also, I like how soft the hands are. By this I mean that she softened her grip a bit on the bed sheet and the hand above her head is in a softly closed fist that doesn’t give the impression that she’s uncomfortable. It’s very important to stay away from grips or fists in photographs, as they never look good in these settings. Some would say that the image works, some would say otherwise. I happen to like it…

Wait, who’s under the covers???

Going back to the lighting story, we get into the room and I start looking at the lighting options. I have two sconces on either side of the bed, and those are WEAK!! I bring over the desktop lamp, but I can’t get the lampshade off of it, so it’s really muffled. At this point I’m desperate, so I head downstairs to ask the receptionist for help with another lamp. Luckily, I have stayed with this hotel for all six years that I’ve been heading down to Mexico City, so I have built a relationship with everyone there. So, when I described my dilemma, they were all for helping out and came up with a tall lamp that shoots upward. I took it to the room, but it still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I went down a second time and borrowed the receptionist’s desktop lamp did I feel that I had enough light to shoot handheld at a decent aperture. I do NOT recommend relying on hotel room lighting for capturing any decent images, but that’s a DUH….

In this next image, I was trying to capture a more playful image of her smiling. It was a natural pose that she came to, so I went with it. I tried this same image at a lower point of view, but it just didn’t work as well. There was waaay too much background and it was rather distracting. So, I went with this compositional shot which also got her extending her neck, which smoothed out any neck wrinkles and thinned out her chin. In the first take, her hand fell out of view, and a cardinal rule of portraiture is not to create amputees. So, I had her bring back the arm into the image and place it over the other arm. I think it works very well and she gave me a great smile.

A beautiful smile…

The last image that I’ll share tonight resulted from another idea while she was still sitting up against the headboard. The idea was to give the sensation of a very pensive and worried subject. At first I liked the image a LOT, but the more I got to looking at it, and it was apparent when I showed it to a good friend that has been doing portraiture a lot longer than I, I realized the mistakes I made. First mistake is that I cut off her arm so only her left hand appears in the image. So, it looks like it could be her hand or someone else’s. Not only that, but she was gripping a little harder on the sheets, which never looks good.

The other mistake that I feel I made is that her head is too close to her shoulder, which makes her shoulder a little disproportionate to her head. Had the angle of her head been higher, it would have also brought up her arm angle which would have minimized the shadows in her armpit. Yeah, not the best shot, but that just goes to show you that it’s always a learning process and what appears to be a good idea on location, doesn’t always turn out.

Her head needs to come up and separate from the proximity of her shoulder.

We are both very proud of how these turned out and we look forward to shooting again next time I’m in Mexico City. Obviously, I would come prepared this time around with better lighting so that I wouldn’t have to depend on black and whites to fix the yellow lighting. I hope you enjoyed these and I also hope that some of my pointers helps out in your endeavours, may it be how to deal with poor lighting in a hotel room or what doesn’t compositionally work. Good night all!!!

 

 

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!!

A Foggy Day at Muir Woods National Monument Near Mill Valley, CA

Yes, I know I made you wait a while for this next post, but believe me, it’s a good one. Well, the content is always subject to interpretation, but I think I came back with a few really good images from my latest outing that even left me asking myself “did I take that?”

Every once in a while I surprise myself, but it isn’t very often, folks. So, I’m excited to share today’s post with everyone in the hopes that I can break the monotony of my constant writing with only the spam commentary coming back telling me what a great site I have and don’t forget to visit my incredible sex-all-the-time website!! I mean, commentary from my readers is all I have, so when I get a notice that I have a comment, I jump for joy. When all I get is spam, it feels pretty lame, so go ahead and click the comment button and send me your thoughts. Stop by and say “hey, that was awesome” or “man, you suck!!” It doesn’t matter, as I’ll probably get excited to have someone’s feedback, although I probably won’t post the real bad ones. However, if you find a way to insult me while still making me smile, I’ll surely add it to the commentary for comic relief, just don’t mention your fabulous sex website, please…

So, back to the meat and potatoes of the post. We had some friends of the family that came out to the Bay Area to visit, so of course I want to play tour guide for them. Unfortunately for me, our friend lived in the Bay Area for many years before returning back home to the midwest. However, she was making the rounds with her niece that had never been out, so they had planned to hit a good number of the touristy spots in the area. On the list was our famed Muir Woods National Monument, so I offered to drive them over and come along for the ride. They took me up on the offer, so I made sure to make a pit stop by my friendly neighborhood Gasser’s photo rental spot and picked up a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens that was sitting there pretty for me to take home under the 40% discount program.

Now, I don’t know much about the history of Muir Woods, but I did take a quick gander at Wikipedia to have something to mention. Muir Woods is the result of major efforts of Congressman William Kent who took notice of the speed at which the logging community was cutting down the old growth redwood trees that had stood tall all along the northern California coastline all the way up to Oregon. Mainly due to its inaccessibility, a good portion of the land where Muir Woods now sits, was spared. President Roosevelt declared the area a national monument in 1908, making sure that future generations would have this incredibly beautiful place for all to enjoy.

Although Kent’s favorite tree was a douglas fir and not a redwood, it proceeded to lean at an alarming rate due to its height and weight. After a storm in 2003, the tree fell but still sits where it fell as a reminder of Kent’s love. Muir Woods is named after naturalist John Muir, who was instrumental in establishing the national park system. That’s all for the lesson today, so let’s get to the pictures.

The first one I’d like to share with you is just a testament to the fact that photography can be an accidental art form. In this image, which was one of the first I took as I was getting my settings down, was a result of not realizing that the previous renter of the lens I was using had left it in Manual Focus and my shutter button went off as I was waiting for the auto focus to kick in. You can barely make out the tree I had only two feet in front of me, but the soft haze on the entire image left me intrigued. Maybe you like it as I do, maybe you don’t. The point is that it spoke to me and this is my blog, so, damn it, I’m putting it in!!!

Turn on the auto focus, dummy!!

In this next one, I photographed the front entry signage, as I had a number of groups of people stand underneath the sign to get their picture taken. The one observation I made was that Americans as a group simply just don’t make use of the “peace sign” nearly enough as other nationalities do. Why is that? I don’t know. I have plenty of friends in Mexico that do that each and every time they have a camera pointed at them, yet when I ask them why they do it, all they can seem to say is that it’s almost a necessity when taking a picture. I vow to start a movement to get all Americans giving the peace sign in portrait shots along with bringing back most of the dance moves that the New Kids On The Block used in their videos. Awesome!!!

Winning!!!

For those visiting Muir Woods for the first time, here are a few pointers after having visited a few times. First pointer is to try to go during the week. Chances are that you’ll be able to find parking in one of their three parking lots that are at the entrance gate. If not, you won’t have trouble finding a spot on the road that leads to the Woods and parallel park there. If you must go on the weekends, be prepared to either arrive very early in order to get a parking spot, or use the website to find out which parking lot on the outskirts is most convenient for you and park there. The shuttle service is quick and easy, but will cost you $3 a person for adults and $1 for kids, and you must bring CASH AND EXACT CHANGE. They head out every twenty minutes and found it great getting in and out on Saturday.

The next tip I can offer is to dress in layers. That seems to be the recurring theme in all my suggestions in visiting sites in the Bay Area, but it’s true. You can never plan when the fog will decide to come in and lay a thick, cold blanket over everything and when the sun will come out. You can always point out the tourists since they usually show up freezing their asses off in shorts and a t-shirt.

The last tip I will offer is to remember that you’ll be doing some hiking when visiting Muir Woods. The main trail is a wooden boardwalk that will let you see just about everything the woods has to offer while never having to get your pretty little Prada shoes dirty. But, if you are a little more adventuresome and don’t have the babystroller with you, there are a number of very long trails that can be quite challenging. These are not boardwalks, but occasionally have wooden rails or stairs in the tedious areas. By no means is this a crack at folks that want to bring their babies or don’t plan on doing much walking. Heaven knows that my fat ass doesn’t do a lot of hiking, but I rather enjoyed the long walk we went on when taking the ocean side trail. The boardwalk takes about 45 minutes to walk all the way around. The ocean side trail would have taken a good part of about two and a half hours to make the roundtrip. That’s some good walking, folks!!!

A walk on the boardwalk

When I wasn’t getting my camera and lens setup checked out by every photo junkie that was walking by, I was trying to find the artistic view on things. One of my favorite things to try is to lay on my back on the floor to get an interesting perspective. If anything, I do this for the passerby that has the interesting perspective of looking at my ass crack as I’m trying to get back up from off the floor!!!

I think I farted trying to get back up from this shot…

At some point in time, there was a fire in Muir Woods. Some of the trees got burnt, but managed to survive because they are badass. There were a few that still had their burn marks like a tattoo or scar, so I took a few pictures. The texture of the burnt bark next to the living tree captured my attention. This one I took fairly up close and personal to get all that detail in the image and used a shallow depth of field to have the rest of the tree fall out of focus as it rose. Although I like the image, I probably think I should have gotten a little closer now that I think about it. Oh well, I’ll have to go back…

Look, mom, that’s a badass tree!!!

This next image worked for me because of the pattern in the image. Mating this with a shallow depth of field that goes out of focus off to your right gives the eye the illusion that it continues on forever. Sure, this behemoth went on for a good ten to twenty feet on the ground, but the person looking at the image can’t tell that. This kind of shot works well for me, but it’s real easy to go overboard and try this technique out on everything. So, give it a shot and maybe include it in with other types of shots without turning yourself into a one-trick pony.

Ribbed for her pleasure…

Not all the images I took when on manual mode came out properly exposed. I did my best, but I’m still trying to get all that stuff figured out on my own as well. This next image in particular came out a little on the dark side and trying to lighten in Photoshop netted a gross image. So, do I discard? Nope, go black and white!! I went B/W and punched up the structure and intensity of the image to give it a high impact look. I like it!!

Black and white badassery!!

Here is another using the same type of high impact black and white styling…

Whoa, I did it again!!

In this next image, my back was killing me and I was ready to toss the Tokina 100-300mm that I was lugging around off to the creek side, but I hung in there. I bumped up the shallow depth of field in order to get this singular tree amongst the woods surrounding it in a blur. I had to move around to compose the image just right, but it ended up working out in the end. Just like a portrait shot of a model, the tree is sitting pretty in the center of the frame with all the focus on itself. But, unlike a model, the tree won’t be asking you for any money for posing.

Sitting pretty

This next image almost gives the impression that I was using a fish eye lens of sorts, but this was taken at 24mm with the Canon 24-70mm I had on the whole time. Where I think this perspective is giving is in the fact that I am on the trail with the hillside to my right and it’s pretty steep.

In this next image, I purposefully underexposed the image to expose for the softbox being created by the thick fog over head and the bright sunlight coming through in a diffused fashion. This gave the image a black and white feel without being that way. As if they were silhouettes, I left them that way in post-processing.

silhouettes of the trees

These next two images were the main two that left me amazed that I had actually exposed them properly. Don’t give me too much praise, or it will go to my head…

Love that fog

Although we were only ten minutes from reaching the ocean side view, we decided as a group to cut down the Lost Trail back towards Muir Woods and the entrance. We were all pretty exhausted, as none of us had really planned properly on being out that long or going for that long of a walk. But, on the way back, I stumbled on this tree that re-affirmed the fact that Mother Nature is a female.

So, Mother Nature IS a female!!

Here are a few last images that I wanted to share and worked up. I greatly enjoyed my time at Muir Woods and is definitely a spot worth checking out with some frequency. With the annual pass only being $20 a person, you can pay for the pass with only your third trip to the woods. If you are a Bay Area local and haven’t been to Muir Woods yet, you are truly missing out on a great treasure. If you happen to not be a local, but will be visiting us sometime soon, don’t forget to add Muir Woods to the list of MUST DOs.

Thanks everyone!!

A Night In Mexico City After The Rains

Hello, everyone. I’m back!! Well, I actually got back Friday, but was real slow to work up a few images to share, so I took off Friday and Saturday.

I had a great time down there and got to see a few friends that I hadn’t in a while. Although I was not able to make it to the Villahermosa area as originally planned, I made the most of my time in Mexico City and had a number of very productive meetings. And, as promised, I took the camera along for the ride and got to head out a few times to capture some images. Tonight’s show and tell takes place after a quick torrential downpour that happened shortly after 5pm on the last evening I was there. Luckily, I had made it back to the hotel and was trying to set up last-minute dinner plans. They fell through, so I decided to hang out for the night and make it a pizza night.

Why on earth would I have pizza night in Mexico City, you ask? First of all, they deliver!! Then, after having mexican food all week, I needed a break. Not to mention that there are pizza restaurants on almost every corner. Yuuup!! You can get Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s and a few other lesser known spots to deliver just about anywhere.

While living in Baltimore, I had pizza night with Papa John’s for a long time, and that stopped when I moved out here to the San Francisco area. For the longest time, we didn’t have a Papa John’s anywhere within a deliverable distance, but luckily we got one put in over by SFSU. Of course, we usually forget about it, so my easiest shot at getting my Papa John’s “The Works” fix is when I go to Mexico City. And, since I can’t even fathom eating a whole pie by myself, I usually get a medium and end up split it with the night staff at the hotel. It earns me plenty of brownie points with them, which usually pays dividends on “extras” such as free room upgrades, free night’s stay vouchers on future reservations and stellar treatment during my stay there.

Luckily, the rain subsided shortly before 8PM after dropping a substantial amount of rain on the city. This leads me to tonight’s tip on night photography. Most places will look great in photographs after a good rainfall, especially at night. This tip works well in the daytime as well, but at night you have the added reflections off the wet surfaces that end of translating into great reflective and refractive images. Streets always look better after its rained. This is a technique employed by the advertising agencies that film car commercials all the time. Next time you see a car commercial where you see the vehicle driving on any kind of street  and look at the condition of the roadway. 9 times out of 10, they would have wet down the pavement to enhance the visual.

After calling a cab, I had an idea of the quick route I wanted to take through the city. I didn’t want to go too far, and I usually stay in the Zona Rosa (translates to Pink Zone) near to all the major monuments in the city. I first instructed the cabbie to head over to the Torre Mayor (translates to Major Tower) to visit the observatory. Unfortunately, the building hasn’t had a public observatory in over 5 years, according to the security guard that gave me a puzzled look when I asked about the observatory. You would figure that the tallest building in the city would have a working observatory, but I guess better use was found for that space a few years back. Luckily, the cabbie hadn’t gone far, so he was back to pick me up in a heartbeat.

We then headed over to the Angel de Independencia, which is the Angel of Independence that celebrates Mexico’s independence as a free and sovereign state. This monument sits on Paseo de la Reforma (translates to Reform Walk), which is a main arterial roadway in Mexico City where all the major monuments sit in roundabouts all linked together. There is rarely an hour of the day that the Angel isn’t visited by tourists and locals alike. Standing atop a tall pedestal, the Angel stands tall in gold leaf plate extending a laurel crown while holding a broken chain in her left hand, symbolizing freedom. The Corinthian style column actually has a tightly spun spiral staircase that leads to a small observatory at the base just a few feet short of the statues feet.

The monument is open for all the public to visit around the clock, but the stairway to the observatory is only open until 1pm daily. Weekends are especially crowded, so I would suggest to try to make it during the week. One thing you need to know before attempting such a feat is that the staircase is rather steep and offers no resting spot between the ground floor and the top deck. Please be considerate of others if you know that you will want to take your time and offer to be one of the last in the group to go up. There is only enough space for a group of 12 at most to travel up or down the staircase at any given time, so please be patient. Once your group is allowed access to go up, you will be given approximately 15 minutes at the top-level, which will give you a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. When times up, you will be asked to come back down. A few pesos handy will usually buy you a few more minutes, but you didn’t hear it from me… 🙂

For this shot, I wanted to capture some of the surrounding buildings along with the traffic rushing by using a slow shutter speed to capture the streaks of light. I had my handy Canon 1D mark II N along with a Canon 24-105mm f/4.0 IS L series lens that I rented from Borrowlenses.com for the week. Although the lens had image stabilization, I found it difficult to capture a perfectly still image while trying to shoot with the longer exposures. This one was probably the best of the bunch. There were some quick-moving clouds overhead that were lit up perfectly by the big moon you see in the background. I would have been much happier had I had a tripod to take these with, but I still have a tripod that sucks. So, until I have something else, I’ll be winging it hand-held.

The Angel de Indepencia on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Next up on the list was the Diana Cazadora, which translates to Diana de Huntress. This is a beautiful and rather large fountain that celebrates the woman, the wonder of the nude figure and freedom. The Diana sits just north of the Angel of Independence along Paseo de la Reforma at the next intersection and points her arrow north. She is very hard to miss and a beautiful site to see, more so at night than daytime. Why? Well, let’s just say that the water that is circulated in the fountain isn’t the cleanest water you would want to see, and even though the water is pumped through it at a rather fast speed, you can still make out the murky and brown water. At least at night, there are bright spotlights that shine bright and give that dirty water a bright appearance.

A few years ago, in protest of the increasing rate of crime and murders amongst the narco trafficking gangs, someone dumped red dye into the fountain to symbolize blood. To much surprise, it was well received with the public, as the dye gave the water a bright red appearance, which was an improvement to the brown water they were used to seeing. Of course, the mayor of the city would not stand for it and had the fountain drained, cleaned and refilled with the dirty brown water that can be had plentiful in Mexico City’s non-potable water system.

Another fiasco that involved the Diana was recently when it was discovered that the Diana awoke with a bandana that was covering half of her face from the nose down, reminiscent of the drug cartel that parade around the cities with like garb to avoid identification. The bandana was removed immediately.

Going with the theme of handheld shots featuring long exposures, this one is probably the best one of the bunch. Unlike the Angel, where pedestrian traffic is allowed on the center median, there is nowhere to admire this fountain if not from one of four surrounding corners. In my opinion, this is the best view which also includes a glimpse of the Torre Mayor in the background on the left. Shouldn’t those cars stopped waiting to turn left be on the opposite side of the fountain? Why, yes, mi amigo, but in Mexico City the only traffic law is that there aren’t any traffic laws. I have seen the wildest shit happen while in the back seat of a cab, but I just go with it and pray that it goes off without a hitch. Just plain crazy!!

The beautiful Diana La Cazadora on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Hey, doesn’t the street look real pretty??? Yuuup, it’s wet!!

The last stop of the night was to the Palacio de las Bellas Artes, which translates to the Palace of Fine Arts. For a moment there, it looked like I was going to have to bypass visiting it since there was rumors of possible protests in the nearby area. We waited out a few minutes only to see traffic pick back up, so we headed over there. Yeah, it wasn’t easy getting over there, but it was totally worth it. The Palace of the Fine Arts is home to murals by Siquieros and Rivera along with an extensive art collection and the Mexico City Orchestra.

With its blend of Art Deco and Art Nouveau styling, the Palace should definitely be on your list of sites to stop at during your stay in Mexico City. I haven’t quite figured out when it’s open, but I can tell you that you will find it closed anytime after 5pm and always on a Monday. Monday’s happen to be the day that I usually have time to run around, so I still haven’t gotten to see the interior in all its splendor. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next time…

For this first image, I wanted to get up close and personal with the building to make the beautifully lit top the main focus point of the image. I had to crop the image as high up as I did simply because just below were some bright lights coming from the underside of the porch that was overexposing the image.

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City

 

In this final image that I took, I was disappointed with the resulting images over and over again, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about them. I did see that there were some clouds hovering overhead that I wanted to include, but I couldn’t get an exposure quick enough to keep the image sharp, even with the image stabilization. So, I decided to turn on the auto bracket exposure feature of my camera and set the exposures at +/- 2 stops. This means that my camera took three images in rapid succession. The first was at -2 stops, the second at 0 exposure and the last at +2 stops, to give me a selection of exposure settings to choose from. I found that I liked the +2 stop exposure, which is the one I am including here. To tweak this just right, I brought up the “structure” in Photoshop and dropped down the brightness a little. It almost gives a HDR (high dynamic range) appearance, but I didn’t go that route.

I did experiment a little with the Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro feature, but I was unhappy with all the options and didn’t want to spend too much time correcting something that I didn’t like to begin with. So, that’s that… Look how pretty the sidewalk looks all wet after the rains. Badass!!!

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City after a little rain…

So that’s what I have for you tonight folks. I will have more of Mexico City for you tomorrow, including a few shots of the Monument to the Revolution and a quick trip to Panteon Dolores, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in Mexico City. have a great night and happy picture-taking to all!!!

 

 

Keeping It Simple at Filoli Gardens

Hey, everyone. My last post had a LOT of positive reaction, so I wanted to thank everyone that “liked” or has decided to “follow” me. Writing a successful posting each and every time is HARD WORK. It’s more evident than ever after sitting here in front of the keyboard for almost twenty minutes wondering what I’d be writing about today. Of course, I can’t expect to duplicate the results of a posting that clicks with so many of my readers each and every time. But, I do hope to be able to impart something to my readers with each posting. Whether it be a tip that has worked for me or just laughing at some of my comedic attempts, that works for me.

Would I love to have a uber successful blog? Well, HELL YES!!! But, I also acknowledge that the pressure to write really good stuff would jump up quite a bit. So, for now, I am happy to know that my blog is being read, followed by a small groups of my peers and that every so often I write about something that connects with others out there to help them out. So, I’m in it for the long haul, folks. I hope you’ll join me for the ride and get some enjoyment out of it while you’re at it.

Today’s images that I worked up were the last of the images I still had from my trip to Filoli Gardens a few weeks back. I had previously shared with you a macro series on the honeybees that I bumped into, a few images that I loved about the interior of the estate and my last post was about the cute little gift shop that they have on premises. Filoli Gardens definitely worked out to be much more than I ever imagined, and as the photographer part of my brain was going crazy with all sorts of ideas for future visits to the property, I still found time to enjoy the gardens for the serene tranquility that they offer and a great time outside taking in the perfectly manicured settings.

When visiting so many of those sites that could be lumped into the vague category of “touristy” or “travel”, I often find myself at a catch 22 with what to photograph. Do you go with the nice panoramic style images to record everything in front of you? Do you narrow it down and focus on something in an attempt to take an artistic rendition of the same spot that so many photograph? Do you just throw your camera as far as you can as you scream “to hell with it all?!?!” NO, PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!!

But, luckily there is a compromise that can be reached with any photo shoot, even those that have been photographed so many times that you can imagine the pages after pages of Google images scrolling through your brain. What’s the trick, you ask? Well, KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!! This obviously ties in to a certain degree to my last posting with being able to see the images before you record them. But, to be a little more specific, you don’t want to complicate the issue any more than it absolutely has to. So, my suggestion is to please DO take the touristy shots, but also try to find a more artistic eye to the image.

To try to illustrate my point, I’ll be varying my layout that I’ve used since Day 1 on my blog of keeping all my images to a gallery at the bottom of the post. I’ll try to go through a couple of images where I explain my thought process to see if I can make sense of myself. So, here goes nothing…

In this first image, I found myself waiting in a short line of a few other patrons that were photographing themselves or their partners in front of the shallow pool that sits in front of the gift shop. As I waited, I remember thinking to myself, I don’t want my picture to look like theirs. What can I do to change it or give it a different perspective? Just looking up provided the answer to my own question. Even though the layout of the area is clearly set up to have the shallow pool directly in front of the gift shop with everything perfectly centered, why go with a conventional photographic scenario? Change it up and photograph it from a different angle to give the illusion of stretching out the subject.

Shallow pool and gift shop taken from slight off center.

Is this image great? Nah, but it’s ok. Why did I cut off a small portion of the shallow pool? Well, I was trying to cut out the people who were standing a few feet away from me out of my image, but at the same time I realized that I wanted to make the clock on top of the gift shop my focal point. Following the rule of thirds, I tried to position the clock face right where the top right intersecting lines would lie. I also tried to frame it to get as much sky in the image as possible, cause I just love me some blue skies!!!

Quickly, for those that aren’t familiar with the rule of thirds, it’s basically a composition rule applied in photography that states that if you divide an image into thirds horizontally and vertically, you will end up with a large tic-tac-toe design over the image. This would also give you four point on the image where these lines would intersect. Each of these intersect points have proven to given an image a little more interest factor when the subject is placed in one of the these intersections.

Eventually, the folks in front of us moved and it was our turn to get up close and personal with the symmetrical setting. But, the view through the viewfinder was just bland, so I dropped to one knee to see what that would look like. Well, I found that I shortened the shallow pool in front of me, while giving the grass coming up in front of me more of a presence. I composed the shot to be as centered as possible and fired away. Here’s the resulting image…

Down on one knee…

Following the path towards the garden house, I found myself upon a lot of symmetry in the garden with trees and bushes. Obviously, this was done on purpose and is kept prestinely manicured by the arborists on staff. Anyway, another tip that I can offer is to look for the patterns in life. Most anything with a recurring pattern will work great in an image if shot properly. Yet, I saw no one else trying to get a view from where I was simply cause it was off the beaten path. I had a series of trees off to my right that were hugging the brick wall with a vast space of green lush grass before reaching another line of bushes that were running in parallel with the trees. Here’s the resulting image…

Patterns are your friends!!!

In this next image, I was able to attain a little more altitude as I climbed up a stairway leading up to an area that is used as a small stage venue for jazz concerts in the summertime. When I looked over towards the house, I saw the same bushes that were in the previous image in a different perspective. Because they were standing perfectly straight against the background of the house, I thought to turn the camera over to a portrait position to see what it would look like. I felt that it worked well with the image, especially since the clouds were lined up in a way that they made it across the entire image just above the roof of the estate. Here is that image…

A line of clouds…

This next image is a perfect example of finding the interesting in something that is overall not every interesting. As I walked through the garden, I came across a tree that appeared to be littered with moss all over it. Although the tree itself wasn’t too interesting, I had a branch that was running horizontally just slightly over my eye line that I felt would make an interesting image. I found the focus spot that I wanted to highlight and chose to go with a very shallow depth of field to highlight that moss. I lined up the image so that the branch was running from left to right and focused in on the mossy substance. This is the resulting image…

Moss covered tree…

In this next shot, I made my way over towards the rose garden, when I came across a lush field of lavender in different colors. This area was called the knot garden because it was planted in a way that the different varietals of lavender and intermixed plants created a knotting affect over the entire area of the garden. I couldnt’ resist all the color, so I shot away. I’m sure plenty of people walked away with the same image, but mine might have been the only one with no one patron in it. Thanks, Content Aware Fill in Photoshop CS5!!!

Knotty garden, not a naughty garden…

In this list image that I’ll explain before cutting off this post, I wanted to explain how I get good up close flower shots. First, you don’t absolutely need a macro lens, although this does help a bit. This particular image I took with a 28-70mm and it turned out just fine. What you do need is a lens with a large aperture. If you are using your kit zoom lens that probably has a outer end of a max aperture of f/5.6-6.3 when zoomed out, that’s not going to work very well. You really need to be around an f/4 or larger. With the 28-70mm, I set it to f/2.8 and focused carefully on the front flower. Another thing that you should consider it what is the more attractive composition so that the background isn’t too busy to detract from the main subject. So, my thinking on this shot was as follows. I wanted to focus on the main flower in front of me, and positioned myself so that the surrounding foliage provided a nice darker background to let the flower stand out in all its orange luciousness. The two flowers behind it would end up being slightly out of focus as to not overpower the image, while still keeping the eye in the middle with the main subject while retaining balance to the overall image. Buyaaa!!

beautiful lily

The rest of the images that I will share followed some resemblance of the processes described in the above examples. That, or I shot all caution to the wind and just winged it. I get lucky sometimes, so the good news is that if you shoot enough images, you’ll probably get lucky as well.

If you’re in the San Francisco bay area and haven’t ever made it to Filoli Gardens, you need to grab your camera and head right on over. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to be able to spend the greater part of a whole day. If you don’t live in the bay area, please be sure to include Filoli in your plans when you come out to visit us.

I saved the bad news for last, folks. I’ve been pretty busy at work, and it calls for me to head back down to Mexico this coming week AGAIN. So, you’ll have to do without me for a week, since I won’t be taking my laptop with me. I WILL be taking my camera and a nifty Canon 240105 f/4.0 IS L series lens that I rented from Borrowlenses.com for the week. For the longer rental periods, Borrowlenses.com is definitely the way to go. I got the lens for the week for $50 with taxes and insurance. That’s a sweet deal to have a lens that runs the better part of almost $1200 retail. While I’m gone, be sure to check up and read some of my archives, but if you decide to check out other folks blogs while I’m gone, I promise to not get jealous. At least, not too much…

Have a great week everyone!!!

In Order To Be A Good Photographer, You Have To Learn How To See

Good evening, folks. For tonight’s installment, I thought I would talk about one of the most important pieces of advice that I have picked up from other online photography sources and videos that I don’t believe gets mentioned enough. In order to be a good photographer, you have to learn how to see. What does this mean? What kind of cryptic message could he be telling us, you ask? It’s plain and simple. The art of photography, like any visual art, begins in your mind. Through your eyes, you see something that captures your attention and you try to record that image as you see it in your mind on a digital sensor or cellulose film. So what does it take? Here are a few pointers that I can offer that have clicked with me:

1. Photograph what interests you and try to find an interesting perspective. Obviously, the root of all art that begins with the artist involves his or her interest in what they are trying to achieve. If you are going out to record photographic art trying to record what others may like, instead of what you like, may not be the best point to start your photographic adventure. Of course, if you are a paid photographer on a gig, then you don’t have a choice but to be interested in what the customer wants, but this piece of the advice pertains more to people like myself that are doing this as a passionate hobby. So, once you focus on something that you find interesting, point the camera at it. But, wait, don’t start clicking away without considering good composition and some kind of artistic technique. Try looking at it in a different perspective. Try dropping to one knee. Try getting closer than you normally would and focus on a particular detail that you like. Try giving something better composition by including some of its surroundings, if it makes sense. Try finding a higher point of view. You get the picture, right??? (pun intended)

2. Don’t be too mindful of your equipment. In today’s technologically advanced world, cameras continue to get more and more sophisticated and dumb themselves down. Pretty soon you’ll be able to send your camera out to a favorite destination and tell it to bring you back photographs and you won’t even have to get off your couch. Now, what fun would that be? None!! It would suck. If you are still trying to get used to that new camera, by all means use the Auto feature, but pay attention to what the camera is doing and why it is selecting the ISO, shutter speed and aperture that it is. The more you understand how all those things work, the quicker you’ll get off Auto and start being the boss of your camera, instead of it being the boss. Once you’re off Auto, CONGRATULATIONS!!! Mess around with the settings to find your vision.

3. Remember that your biggest obstacle is your camera. Whoa, whoa, whoa!! What the hell does that mean?? Didn’t I just say that your camera is your best friend? Well, yes, but it is also your biggest hinderance. This is regardless of how fancy of a camera you have or even if you have a simple pocket point and shoot. The human eye is a marvelous thing. Just consider that through them, your brain is able to process and interpret all the light coming in and bouncing off of everything in your visual path. Now, consider that just like a camera, your eyes have to adjust the ISO setting, shutter speed and aperture to properly meter what’s in front of you. It can go from extreme detail vision where you are using a very large aperture and everything else gets blended, then a split second later, you look up to a beautiful expanding landscape and everything has to be in focus with a very large depth of field. Well, unfortunately, your camera can’t work as wonderfully as your eye. So, we have to be the ones to understand how to make the camera replicate what we just saw. We have to meter correctly, set the aperture correctly and select the appropriate shutter speed and ISO setting that will replicate that vision in your mind on a digital copy saved on your memory card. Damn, that’s hard stuff!!!

4. Remember that just like your eyes squint in extremely bright sunlight, you camera does too. Unfortunately, most of us head outdoors when the weather is beautiful and the sun is high and bright in the sky. This has got to be the worst time of day to bring the camera out to play. Although there are techniques that can be employed to minimize the effect of really bright sunlight on our subjects, most of them involve bringing out light diffusers of different kinds, also called scrims, that act as a filter to spread the harsh light into a softbox effect of sorts. Not everyone would like to walk around with one of those, but to each his own. The best time of day to photograph are the two hours as the sun rises and the two hours just before it sets. In between that, look for the shade, use a lens hood and avoid pointing the lens towards the direction of the intense light source.

5. And finally, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Would you expect to buy a tennis racket and have your first game go up against Pete Sampras? Nope. Would you expect to buy a flute and have your first few notes be played with the London Symphony??? Wrong again!! So, why would you think that just cause you’ve bought yourself a fancy camera, you’re ready to take top quality images that would grace the cover of National Geographic??? All photographers that have those gigs have them because they practiced intensely. They didn’t just get lucky. They got out there and got sooooo familiar with their tool, that they learned how to make it an extension of their own vision. That is a true artist with a camera, folks.

So, do I follow all these all the time? Nope. It’s a lot to think about all the time. Most of the time, I’m just hoping and praying that I was able to do one or two of these while heading out with my camera. I keep them in the back of my head and try to remind myself of all this before I snap a picture. But, even with all this, I still bring home a lot of duds. The good news is that they can be deleted fairly easily. Some images are just so darn horrible, that I delete them immediately upon looking at the play back on the LCD screen. Others have potential only to not meet the chopping block once they upload to my computer. But, if you’ve invested in a nice DSLR, chances are that you have a nicely sized memory card to play with, if not multiples. Fill them up, champ!! There’s no sense in coming home with empty space on the memory card. Who knows? Maybe one of those per-chance images ends up being the winner!!

For today’s images, I take up back to my outing at Filoli Gardens a few weeks back. On the grounds, there is a lovely gift shop that has the homiest of feel to it, so it captured my attention. It almost reminded me of being in a Smith & Hawken mixed with a country general store. Although I didn’t spend too much time (or money) in there, it was very enjoyable and a worthwhile stop when visiting the grounds. Enjoy and Good Night!!!

Watching the Fog Come and Go at Point Bonita Lighthouse

A few weekends ago, I got the chance to head out to Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands and take the camera along. Well, it wasn’t like I was going to go without it, cause that would just be plain silly.

I had been to Gasser’s the afternoon before and was able to make it before the cutoff for the 40% off deal. I ended up taking the Canon 28-70 f/2.8 L lens along with the Canon 200mm f/2.8 L telephoto lens. Where else could you have these two badass lenses for the entire weekend for about $40? Nowhere else but Gasser’s, folks!! Just don’t all of you go at once and ruin my awesome lens selection for when I show up, ok?!?!?!

The 28-70 is an awesome lens that has been discontinued after it was replaced by the updated 24-70 that gave it an extra 4 mm of wide-angle capability. Is 4mm that big a deal for landscape? You betcha!! But, being that I can live with taking a few extra steps back, as long as I’m not falling off a cliff in doing so, I can live with the 28-70 for a weekend. Let me tell you right now, falling off a cliff would not be pleasant…

I had been interested in the 200mm f/2.8 for some time now, but it was either usually out or I had another agenda that wouldn’t have worked well for that lens. There’s few instances where I would say that having a 200mm telephoto fixed lens would work well. In the case where you were at a ballgame with a little distance from the action, 200mm might just be perfect. So, what would you reach for first? That’s right!! A Canon 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens, which is a classic for short telephoto sports work, especially night photography. So, where does the 200mm prime fit? Delicious question!! The 200mm fixed telephoto is right at the end of the range of the 70-200 while still giving you a large aperture of f/2.8 along with giving you a slightly sharper image by being a fixed prime. While the 70-200 has to be one of the sharpest zoom lenses in all of Canon’s lineup, it just can’t beat the image quality of a fixed lens.

So, that was my rental arsenal, but even better than that, I decided to walk over by the retail side of Gasser’s store and took a peek at the used Pentax M42 screw thread lenses. Among the bunch, I noticed a Yashica 28mm f/2.8 fixed lens that looked to be in super sweet condition. Why would I want that for my Canon EOS system? Well, I’ve been messing around with manual focus lenses and have found the old Pentax M42 screw thread lenses to be a great source of good quality lenses to satisfy my manual focus needs with my autofocus camera. With a little adapter plate that acts as a thread to EOS adapter along with correctly spacing the lens away from the sensor for correct infinity focus, all the M42 lenses work great.

Along that Pentax system didn’t see a good number of decent zoom lenses, the number of fixed prime lenses that were manufactured for that system is rather extensive. And for $39, it was a steal!!!

So, I arrived to Point Bonita Lighthouse with a packed arsenal of just about every focal range I could want. I had my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0 for the long stuff, the Canon 200mm f/2.8, the Canon 28-70mm f/2.8 and the Yashica 28mm f/2.8. Damn, the bag was heavy!!

Point Bonita Lighthouse recently opened back up to public access in May after an almost two-year hiatus while the suspension bridge to the lighthouse was rebuilt. As the story goes, the lighthouse was originally place on the large cliff side that stands behind the area where the lighthouse currently sits today. Unfortunately, a few ships saw their end due to the lighthouse being too high up and the light not being able to penetrate through the thick Marin County fog. It was then moved to its current location where it is more visible to passerby ships. When it was originally moved, there was a walkable path to the lighthouse that eroded over time, leaving the lighthouse on an isolated patch of earth. It was then decided to create a suspension bridge that would connect the two masses that had not eroded, and this bridge stood proud for many decades. But with the weather as temperamental in that area, the bridge was deemed unsafe for passage a few years back.

Parks and Recreation closed the pathway to the Lighthouse while the bridge was recreated. The replica that we see today is reminiscent of the originally designed suspension bridge with all the modern-day security features that we would expect from a Parks and Recreation facility that sees a good amount of traffic each weekend.

So, what do you need to know when visiting the Point Bonita Lighthouse? First tip is to wear layers!! When we arrived shortly after 1PM, the fog was thick and moist. It was cold and windy, so a heavy coat and some time of head-gear to keep you warm was almost a necessity if you planned on being out there for any length of time. By the time we had decided to leave almost an hour and half later, the fog had receded and the heavy coat was no longer necessary. The second tip is to wear comfortable shoes. The parking lot suggested for the lighthouse is almost a half mile away from the actual doorway that leads you to the lighthouse. The walkway isn’t dangerous for the most part, but I wouldn’t wear any shoes that don’t offer good grip or are comfortable enough to walk in for an extended period of time. And finally, plan your trip ahead of time since the lighthouse is only open on Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 12PM to 3PM. Yuuuup!!! You heard right!! It’s only open for a three-hour period on those three days of the week. Any other time or day of the week, it would be a waste of your time to make it out there since the doorway that they close before the tunnel that gives access to the lighthouse will not allow for ANY time of vista from that angle.

Ok, enough for tonight. Have a great night, folks!!

 

Note to self: Unless Sitting in the Front Row of Field Level During A Giants Day Game, Leave the Camera At Home!!

Hello again, everyone!!

I’m back safe and sound from Mexico. Yep, I remember that I mentioned that I’d be writing you guys on Saturday. I came home pretty exhausted from this whirlwind trip to various parts of Mexico and just wanted to veg. Of course, part of that vegging plan included going to the Giants games on Friday and Saturday nights. Now, I was flying back into SFO and scheduled to touch down at 5:37pm, yet I was still able to make it to see the first pitch, and this included a pit stop at home to drop off my luggage. How did I magically go through customs, immigration, luggage and stop off at home in less than an hour and a half to make the first pitch? The Global Entry Program from the US Customs Border Patrol Department. I freakin’ love that thing. It is completely worth every penny of the slightly over $100 that my company paid to get me on the list. The Global Entry Program allows pre-screened individuals that travel frequently abroad to access a ATM-like kiosk that asks all the same questions as the customs forms that the flight attendants hand out during the flight. The pre-screening involves an extensive background search along with submission of finger printing. SO, when the flight gets off, I bypass the long line at Immigration and head straight over to the kiosks. There is never a wait and I breeze right through the process.

Although I usually check my luggage in, this time I chose to upgrade to the first row of economy, which has extra leg room and allows for boarding on group 5 on United instead of general boarding in groups 6 or 7 where space in the overhead compartments starts to get scarce. So, I was able to get on with the bag and was one of the first to get off since there weren’t many first class passengers on my flight. The Global Entry Program also lets you breeze right through Customs, so I got waved by as usual.

Although I didn’t take the camera on Friday night cause I knew we were sitting waaaay to far from the game to make my little 300mm zoom Tokina worthwhile, I did take it with me on Saturday when we were in Club Level in my company’s seats. But, as you can probably gather from my post title tonight, I wasn’t too pleased with the results. I always end up talking myself into bringing the camera along when we sit there, and almost always end up disappointed. So, I am solemnly promising myself that I won’t do that to myself again. That is, until I do it to myself again… Argh!!!!

The problem is that I am asking the lens to do too much. Not only am I asking for it to zoom to its limit, but then I am also asking for it to focus spot onto an object pretty far away and expect it to be as tack sharp as if the object was ten feet in front of me. So, most of my pictures came out soft on the slightly out of focus attempt for my lens to please me. I tried manual focusing a few times during the game, and those came out even worse. Everything looks so small in the viewfinder, I’m almost better off letting the lens take a stab at it.

So, what would work from the 222 Club Section that I was sitting in? Well, about 500-600mm should do just fine. But, since that would put me into some serious glass in the L series lens for Canon lenses, I would be limited to perhaps a 400mm f/5.6 L with a 1.4X extender or a 500mm f/8 mirror reflex manual focus lens. Neither option would be suitable for a nighttime game with poor lighting, hence, my title reminding myself that I should leave the camera at home.

I did try to make the best of it and try different composition methods in an effort to get something useful. One thing that I discovered is that when shooting baseball, I always find myself with the camera in the portrait position instead of the landscape position. Why is that? Well, since most players are standing upright while playing whatever position they are currently at, the portrait position lends to capture the full body doing whatever it is doing. I suppose of the player was sliding into a base, that would be a perfect opportunity to use the landscape position, but short of that, I hardly find myself wanting that compositional point of view. So, I decided to shoot mostly landscape to see what I would come up with.

The shots of the pitchers were lackluster, to say the least. Where I did find that I rather liked the landscape framing was when shooting batters. I am usually so focused on shooting the batter of my choosing, that I forget that right behind them the opposing team’s catcher is playing his position along with the home plate umpire that is calling the game. I found that photographing this way, I could fill the frame with not only the batter, but with the catcher and umpire as well. There are plenty of dynamic photo opportunities with passed balls, wild pitches, called strikes and swings and tips off the baseball bat.

Did I capture plenty of samples to share with you? Yuuup!!! Did most of them SUCK ASS cause they were out of focus??? Yuuuup, again!!! So, I leave with you with the two that I didn’t absolutely hate.

Did I mention that I won’t be taking my camera to anything but day games when I sit in the front rows of the Field Level? Good night, everyone…