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.

A Backlit Photo Shoot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco w/ Brittany Stinson

Hello everyone!! I’m back from a seriously long hiatus with new work to share with everyone!! Were you all patiently waiting?? Of course you weren’t, but I appreciate the fib to help make me feel better. So sweet…

Let’s get right down to it, cause I have a lot to write about and share. But where to start? Let’s start with the events leading up to the photo shoot and we’ll go from there. I have only recently grown interested in having my photographic subject be a model that was aware of the camera. For the longest, I focused all of my attention on landscapes, architecture and inanimate objects that sat perfectly still for me as I moved around and composed the shot that I wanted. Working with a model can be as simple as that, I have since learned, but it felt like a daunting task. So, I stayed away.

When I say that the model is aware of the camera, I mean non-candid shots where the subject is holding a pose for the intended purpose of the image being recorded. Do I work with models when I photograph the Giants at the ballpark? Absolutely!! A model is just a fancy name for a subject that is willing to let you photograph them. So, does Angel Pagan swing the bat in hopes of landing a triple cause he knows that I’m pointing my camera at him? I sure hope not!! He’s unaware that I am present, so I would categorize any sports shot that I take as a candid shot. I would say the same as with the shots that I took back a few months ago at my son’s end of the little league season party when the kids were all running around and didn’t know that I was photographing them while goofing around.

But point a camera at someone who is aware that their picture is going to be taken, and EVERYTHING CHANGES!! So, the thought of having to direct the subject to the vision that I have in my head was something that was holding me back. Well, no longer, my friends!!

I joined ModelMayhem.com a few months back with the intention to change just that and befriend a few models that would allow me to photograph them with the hopes of working on my “people” skills and get more comfortable with the idea of directing a shoot. It is free to join, and with only minimal requirements to prove that you are one of a few set categories, it is fairly easy to join. As a photographer, you are asked to submit a minimum of 5 shots of different models or looks on the same model in order to be considered. As a model, you would also need to fork over a few images that show you as the model. The website has proven in a very short amount of time to be a great resource and forum for the collaborative effort between all parts of the photography industry. It gives you the ability to reach out to models, photographers, makeup artist, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, image retouchers and any other part of the industry you can think of on a global scale.

Starting out as a photographer has its particular challenges, especially if you don’t have a working portfolio, you if you dedicate yourself and have good intentions, you too can make it work in your favor. As you gain experience and post more work, more and more models in need of a portfolio will reach out or be more receptive to you reaching out for a collaborative effort. Once established, it is a great marketing tool for anyone in the trade looking for your particular skill. You can find all walks of life and all collaborative efforts from the trade of services to the established folks that have a going rate for their particular skill.

Somewhere in that mess, I messaged a lovely model who had a great look and was on the new side to the site, just like me. Brittany has been a pleasure to work with from the very first email, and I am very pleased that she decided to write back about the possibility of working together. You’ll be meeting her very shortly…

After going back and forth via email in regard to possible concepts, we settled on a backlit photo shoot and felt that it would be beneficial to both our portfolios to give a different look. The backlit photo concept is not anything new by a long shot. It usually goes hand in hand with trying to shoot for sun glare as a photographic effect, but not always. Anyway, I had been fascinated by a few wedding themed shots on Flickr that used this technique, so I had started to do all sorts of research on the internet to see how others achieved this very desired look in contemporary wedding photography.

Don’t get me wrong, I want NOTHING to do with the wedding photography industry. Waaaaay too much pressure as a photographer, and I’m here to have fun. If it’s not fun for me, I don’t care how much you want to pay me, I’m not doing it!!  But the look of that type of photography is something cool to have in your back pocket as an option when something different is just what the doctor calls for in your images. The funny part is that after many nights of searching on the internet, I found that there is no right or wrong way to get the job done!! And that, folks, is why I love photography!!!

Are there any rules or requirements that do need to be met? Yuuup, but it’s as simple as having the sun out, having a camera and a subject to photograph that gets in between the line of sight between the sun and your camera lens. I took notes while I surfed the internet, and I would love to be able to give everyone credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, I didn’t jot down any of the websites, so I will have to apologize if I can’t credit the author of the techniques that I used. Just please be aware that I did not come up with anything new, and any techniques mentioned were learned through extensive searches on the topics of “sun glares in photo” and “backlit photo” in Google searches.

One of my favorite parts of this backlit photo concept is that there is usually a soft dreamy look to the images that goes along with it that gives them an added comfort feel if taken correctly. The way I see it, it adds another dimension to the image that doesn’t always get transmitted to the viewer with a properly exposed shot. So how did I do it? Well, I first set the camera to Manual mode, cause without this, you aren’t going very far. Why is this? Well, every camera, regardless of its complexity or skill level required to operate it, has an internal light meter that is relaying information to the processing system in order to take a “proper exposure”. When you are pointing the camera into the sun, the sensor gets blasted by all that light coming through the camera lens and wants to make an adjustment. What results in Auto mode is a silhouette of a model with a complete lack of detail. Maybe this is what you’re going for, so don’t think that I’m knocking on you. But in order to capture any kind of detail in your model, you have to override the camera’s auto settings.

Once the camera was in Manual mode, I opted to set a few fixed parameters that would allow me to make easier decisions and adjustments. So, I decided that I would shoot the entire photo shoot with ISO 100 and at f/4.0. ISO 100 is probably the best setting for my Canon 1D Mark II N for image quality and lack of noise throughout the entire image. The aperture value of f/4.0 was decided upon since I was using my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0 lens, and that aperture setting is the lens at its widest setting along a flood of light in. If I was using a lens with a max aperture of f/2.8, I probably would have opted for that. The point is that you want as much light flooding into the camera as possible with this type of concept.

Having these set parameters, the only variable would be shutter speed, which is easy to work with on the fly. Now, had I not set fixed parameters I would have been second guessing myself with not only one setting, but a number of them at ALL TIMES!!! So, I’m glad that I did it that way. I decided to start with a shutter speed of 1/180th of a second and made adjustments as needed. The point of trying to properly expose for a shot like this is having to over-expose the image in order to keep the shutter open longer so that enough light bouncing off your subject can reach the sensor and be recorded.

Another technique that I read about and used to my advantage was trying to expose your subject while the light source (the sun in this instance) was being complete blocked by their head. I would hold down the exposure set feature and then recompose the shot with the sun just peeking out from behind her, and the exposure was just right. In the event that I released the exposure lock, the camera’s internal light meter would begin to go all over the place. Another trick that I read and employed was using the image histogram as a guide. If you set your histogram to flash the areas where there is an absence of color, you can see all the parts of the image that have been overexposed to the point of losing detail. If I kept the model’s face from blinking at my in the histogram, I knew that I had a good exposure.

The point is that this has to be practiced. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. I still suck at it. But I will keep practicing it until I feel comfortable with the consistent results. If you take any advice from me at all regarding this post, please listen carefully. Pointing the camera at such a bright light source such as the sun can be very dangerous for your vision. Even with a UV filter or ND filters, you are essentially looking right at the sun through a very tight and intense beam of light coming into your camera. Do not look directly into the sun and please stop if you start seeing sun spots all over. I found myself blocking out the sun with my model’s head most of the time to obtain the proper exposure, but would close my eye looking through the camera as I gradually moved around slightly and taking multiple shots while doing this. Did I take a bunch of images that were crap?? Hell yeah, but I still have my eyesight, baby!!!

Now that I’ve written nearly a novel just on how I got to hook up with Brittany and the techniques I used, it’s on to the fun stuff. We met up at Ocean Beach in San Francisco just off of Taraval St and The Great Highway at about 6pm a number of weekends ago. We had tried to get together the weekend before, but the beach backlit photo concept would only work if the sun was actually out!! For those of you that know just how socked in with fog San Francisco can get understand this comment completely. For those of you that don’t, we can usually get a very thick band of fog that just sits right on the coast line for days and days at a time that provides the coastline with wonderful air conditioning, but not so conducive for the type of photo shoot we were going after. Luckily, the following weekend was great, so it was ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!!!

The sun was bright, the wind was steady (which is great for all the shots with the long hair whipping around) and the fog was way off in the distance. The down part to the wind situation was that it usually is cold in the Bay Area this time of year, so there was that to contend with. But, Brittany muscled through, and coupled with a coffee break at the local java spot on the beach while we waited for the sun to set a little further, we made it through the shoot just fine without any frostbite and all our limbs intact.

So, here are my favorite images from that shoot. I still have a few points that I’d like to share about the shoot, but for the sake of not having this posting read on until tomorrow, I’ll just leave you with the goods. Tomorrow, I’ll share with everyone what I learnt in the experience of shooting with a model for the first time, my list of DO’s and DONT’s with working with a model and how to get the most out of your experience. Stay tuned, folks!!!

A Night With The Golden Gate Bridge and a Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod

Hello everyone!!

I’ve been here and there, but not nearly everywhere. But, I have something new to share with you all, so let’s get to it!!!

Sometime last month (or perhaps the previous), I headed out to the Marin Headlands to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge with a nice wide-angle lens for a few long exposure nighttime shots. I shared a few of the better ones here in the blog, but truth be told that I wasn’t too pleased with any of them. Why, you ask? Well, the tripod that I own is a cheaply made tripod under that was purchased in a big box electronics store. It was the right price for my pocketbook at the time, so I’m not ripping on the thing for being less than what I currently need. As far as tripods for a lightweight digital camera or point and shoot go, the thing is solid. But, strap a 1D mark II N along with a badass Tokina 100-300mm that both weight approximately 7-8 lbs combined and add a little Marin Headland crosswind coming in from the ocean, and you have a shaky platform that does not yield a steady shot.

I tried a few things, like standing in front of the tripod to try to block the strength of the crosswind, but that didn’t work. I tried timing the cross winds along with my 20 to 30 second long exposures, but that worked even less as the wind refused to cooperate. Naughty wind!!! I even tried pushing in a downward motion on the base of the tripod thinking that this may aid in keeping it steady. Wrong again, ol’ chap!!!

What’s the cure to the ailment? Get a freakin’ good tripod!! There’s quite a few names out there that are really good, but it is more than apparent that the Italians have the market cornered on good tripods. Maybe it has something to do with the stereotype of them having a large third appendage earning them the nickname of “tripod” that put them as the frontrunner in the industry. However, it is clear that their dedication to produce quality merchandise on which professionals rest their equipment worth into the several thousands every day is not up for debate, although the same can’t be said about the stereotype…

Manfrotto happens to be one of the names that is usually at the top of every pro photographers short list for their tripods, so when Gasser Photo had one of their Manfrotto carbon fiber tripods still sitting in the rental department this last friday afternoon, I couldn’t resist taking it out with the Bridge in mind for a re-shoot. I believe the combination that I rented consisted of the Manfrotto 055CX3 carbon fiber tripod and the 498RC2 ballhead. Paying full retail price for this combination would put you easily in the $550 range. If you shopped around a bit, you might be able to get closer to the $450-$500 range, but still you are putting out a pretty penny for this setup.

Is it worth it? As Tim Lincecum from the San Francisco Giants said in the 2010 season leading up to the World Series win, “FUCK YEAH!!!!” But, please keep in mind that this enthusiastic response is based on the criteria of requiring a steady tripod at the top of the Marin Headlands while dealing with 20 to 30 mph gusts of wind while trying to keep camera equipment weighing around 8 lbs steady for a 30 second exposure shot. Given all these conditions, the Manfrotto was worth the rental price of $20 for the weekend and the inconvenience of going out of my way on Monday morning to get it back to them before the noon deadline for the rental period.

Although I loved the tripod, am I going to run out and shell out the $500 for the combination right away? FUCK NO!!!! The reality is that I usually don’t have a need for that level equipment in the type of shooting I do. Most of everything that I shoot (or try to shoot) is handheld. Obviously, there was no way around hand holding the camera for these shots, and that is why the camera equipment rental industry is thriving!! They fill a niche of having the investment made in the inventory that most amateur and semi-pro photographers require in order to break into this field with a decent portfolio without having to shell out tons of cash. Without them, I’d be more lost than Clint Eastwood was while rambling off to an empty chair during his speech at the RNC.

So, the night started out with a killer Giants game that netted us a win. The game was over at about 10:30pm, and that was a perfect time to head out. I geared up with the Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod/head combination, a Canon 24mm L series lens that I also rented from Gasser only to not use, my new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 and my Tokina 100-300mm f/4.0. I dressed in layers just to be sure I wouldn’t either freeze my ass off or get uncomfortably hot, and headed out.

On the way across the bridge, I noticed that there wasn’t much traffic at the lookout point on the Marin County side just as you cross over the bridge, so I decided to make a pit stop. Although I was there for almost an hour taking many 30 second exposures with various lens combinations, there were very few tourists that came around at that hour. I shared the space with two other photo enthusiasts such as myself and even engaged in conversation with one regarding equipment choices. I found that I enjoyed the Tokina and the tight point of view that 100mm was offering best, so I went with it!! Here is one of my favorite resulting images…

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300 ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual at f/5.6, ISO 100 at 120mm for a 6 sec exposure in AWB

With the northbound traffic being the predominant traffic pattern occurring at that time of night, I was at a real disadvantage trying to properly expose the shot without washing out the bright white of the headlights and maintaining the bridge itself properly exposed.

Since I had the zoom on the camera, I zoomed in and out just to mess around and stumbled upon the next image in passing. As the focal range got tighter, I noticed that I got closer to the towers, but the fascinating part was the orange glow that was coming up from all the bridge lighting in the image. As you can tell from the previous shot, the lights that line the bridge on either side and illuminate the two towers are nowhere near the cool spectrum of white light, but go to the warm extreme of being almost orange. I am sure that this helps the color that the bridge is painted achieve its golden look. Here is the resulting image when zooming in on the north tower with the south tower in the background.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual at f/8.0, ISO 100, 225mm focal range for a 20 sec exposure in AWB

Next, I took off from the lookout point on the Bay side of the bridge and headed over to the Marin Headland side near the ocean. Coming northbound from the City, you would take the Alexander Exit and follow the signs to the Marin Headlands. It will take you under the bridge and over to the other side. Also, keep an eye out so that you don’t miss out on the right turn that comes up right before you get back on the bridge to head into San Francisco.

I decided to only go out to the second lookout point on the road. I keep meaning to head over there during the day so that I can hike all over the place in daylight and find the perfect spot where the hillside won’t be obstructing any of the bridge, as I’ve seen in other photographer’s work. But, pitch black at almost midnight with strong winds and plenty of camera equipment on you isn’t the best time to be hiking around looking for the best shot. I’ll do my homework some other time and revisit this shoot yet again. This bridge is soooo beautiful that I can’t imaging ever tiring of photographing it….

Since I already had the Tokina mounted on the camera, I decided to stick with the tight shots and zoomed images prior to going back to something that would provide more of a wide-angle view. The first image that immediately came to mind was to focus on the top of the north tower and capture the tower standing tall. Although I tried this next shot several times with a smaller aperture setting in order to obtain the star shape around the red light, I found that there wasn’t enough light for a proper exposure with the camera’s limitation of a 30 second exposure. Unfortunately, most of the Canon lineup comes with a max setting of 30 seconds for the shutter being open. There is a way around it though, which involves a shutter timer that allows you to program in any time that you desire to keep the shutter open. This is how very long exposures for nightscapes and star tracking is done. I don’t have one of these just yet, so I dealt with the 30 second exposure limitation and shot this image at f/4.0. I could have shot all the way down to f/8.0, but anything lower than f/4.0 would require a lot of brightening in Photoshop, and it just wasn’t worth it. Here is the resulting image.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 300mm for a 30 second exposure

Next, I wanted to take an image that would involve the background lights of the city. In order to do this, I figured I would shoot through one of the spans in the bridge. Although the point was to blur out the background, I was surprised at how much the city was in focus while still maintaining the Tokina wide open at f/4.0. Here is the resulting image.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Tokina 100-300mm ATX f/4.0 shot in Manual mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 300mm with a 5 second exposure in AWB

Finally, I switched out the Tokina and decided to go with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 to see what would happen. Although I did eventually switch over to the Canon 24mm, I found that the extreme wide-angle was resulting in a very small image of the bridge relative to the background it was recording in the image. So, the 50mm fit the bill, but there was no chance in hell I would be able to get the entire bridge in a single image. So, I decided to switch the AWB setting to a custom white balance with a color temperature of K 5200. Yes, it was a little warm for what I was doing, but I knew I would be able to adjust the color temperature in camera RAW in Photoshop and all I needed was to have the white balance in a level plane for when I used my image stitching software to join the three images together.

Just as expected, I turned down the warmth of the K 5200 white balance setting and am fairly pleased with the resulting image that includes a portion of the Seacliff and Richmond Districts lights.

Canon 1D Mark II N, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 shot in Manual Mode at f/4.0, ISO 100 at 50mm for a 20 second exposure at K 5200

That’s what I have for you for tonight, folks. Overall, I had a blast shooting these images regardless of how close I got to frostbite and losing my ears. I spent about an hour at each location and made it back home by 1:45am. A worthwhile outing with a worthwhile tripod that did the job fantastically. If you have the money and want the best for your equipment, please give Manfrotto a real serious look. If you’ll only need every once in a while like I do, you can rest easy in knowing that camera equipment rental houses like Adolf Gasser will have them in stock for you to rent any time.

Good night to 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 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!!!

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…

A Visit to Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park for 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July everyone!!

With Gasser being closed today, all one day rentals were automatically a two-day rental for the single day price, so I couldn’t resist and dropped by to see what I could snag. Unfortunately, Tuesday is not one of the deal days, so I would have to pay full price for the one day rental. They happened to have one of their Canon 70-200mm IS f/2.8 L series zoom lenses on hand, so I took that home with me. I’ve used this lens a few times now, and each and every time makes me want one all the more. But, at a price tag of almost $2,300 retail, the restraint to go out and buy one comes easy… However, it’s still a badass lens, and one that should be rented from time to time for those special occasions or shoots.

There were no real plans on the agenda today, so we just winged it. I came up with the idea to visit Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park and everyone else followed. It was my first visit to Stow Lake and LOVED every minute of it. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there is a bad spot in all of Golden Gate Park, but that may just be cause I’m looking at everything through a photographic eye and seeing awesome images flash in front of me constantly. Be it the wildlife, the plant life or the people walking around, there is a great image at least once a minute. So, I headed over to Stow Lake with my photo eye open and ready to snap.

Now, we went in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was at its highest and strongest. Any photo junkie can tell you that this is the wrong time to be photographing. I know this and you know this, but my shutter finger doesn’t, so it snaps away. I shot in Aperture Priority mode and let the camera make the rest of the decisions for me just to see what it would come up with. I didn’t set the white balance either, so I winged it on Auto White Balance. The images were all over the place and exposures were pretty wild, but I tried to keep the sun to my back. I would have to say that today was more about the experience of Stow Lake and not trying to come home with an image worthy of much praise.

I believe Stow Lake to be man-made, but has a great feel to it. It has a beautiful Chinese pagoda and a small waterfall known as Huntington Falls, kindly donated by the same Huntington’s of the Big 4 railroad owners that helped bring the California railway system east. There is a pedestrian path that leads all the way around the lake with various bridges to take you to the center island where the waterfall and pagoda are. Although this isn’t as popular with the joggers and health enthusiasts as Lake Merced, there were quite a few people using the path for more than just a leisurely stroll.

At one end of the lake, there is the famous boathouse that features a snack shack and paddle boat and rowboat rentals for $19 per hour. Stow Lake is pretty well-known for this and they were in full force today with a wait line to rent one. We had contemplated doing it, but as soon as we saw the wait line, we decided to leave it for another time. Anyway, we’ll be back soon enough…

Along the way, we saw some Canadian Geese, a momma duck with her ducklings, a turtle foaming from the mouth (gross) and a bird with a mohawk!! I enjoyed my 4th of July. Feel free to share how yours went!! Enjoy.

Why Getting Your DSLR Sensor Cleaned is Badass!!

With any DSLR camera, the best part about owning one is the flexibility that they offer with all the different lens choices. The bad news about having lens choices is having to interchange the lenses. Any opportunity to replace the lens leaving the inside of the camera body exposed to the elements, is another opportunity for dust to get in there. The worst part is that sensors are like a dust magnet, so keeping your sensor clean and free of dust can be a real challenge. Obviously, there are steps that you can take to minimize the possibility of dust getting in there. When replacing the lens, you can turn the camera body downward, so that gravity is helping you keep some of the dust out of there. You can even take the extra step to blow off any potential dust that may be sitting on the inner element of your lens, since it gets to hang out with your lens inside your camera. But, still, you can go through serious heroics and still need to clean your sensor.

How often should you clean it? Well, that depends on how picky you are of your images. I’m sure that there are folks that could go for years looking at their images start to degrade with specks before they really notice what’s going on. Of course, some photography lends to having this stand out more than others, so it may be hard to pick out. I can even imagine having some folks convince themselves that the images are turning out as poorly as they are simply because its normal or the process of the dust accumulation is so slow that it isn’t noticeable. Then there are those that are ultra picky and would notice the first speck of dust within a few days of it attaching itself to the sensor. The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer on how often you should get your sensor cleaned.

I’ve had my Canon 1D Mark II N since the new year, so I haven’t been with it for very long. At first, I started noticing small speck on the images wherever I was photographing something very light in color, such as the sky. Or if something was intensely bright, I would usually pick it up as well. Shooting wide open at the max aperture of whatever lens I was using helped minimize the effect, so I would just spend the additional time in Photoshop using the spot healing brush to do away with the flaw in the image. I would notice the majority of the specks on the top half of the image, which happens to be the bottom of the sensor inside the camera and where the dust tends to settle most. Oh, yeah, as light comes into your camera body, the lens inverts the image and your sensor flips the image back right-side for you. Neat, huh??

Where it became most apparent to me and where I drew the line was when I was trying to photograph with a very wide depth of field, such as f/16 or higher. When shooting landscapes, sometimes you want everything in the image in focus, so you would shoot with a wide depth of field. In doing so, every single speck of dust and debris on my sensor was blacker than the rest of the image. I could have sworn that someone had sprinkled pepper inside my camera looking at those images. So, something had to be done.

Now, you have two routes that you can take on this, the DIY and the repairman. Most shops will charge in excess of $60 for sensor cleaning. Is it worth it? Absolutely, but keep in mind that if you want a clean sensor and do a lot of lens replacement, you may be in the shop every few months for exacting requirements. But, there are those of you that could incorporate the cleaning in a yearly service appointment to make sure that everything is working properly. The other option requires a little more involvement and responsibility on your part. Sure, there are plenty of sensor cleaning kits on eBay and more than a few cleaning videos on YouTube that will teach you how to do it. Do any of these options offer you the security of guaranteeing that you won’t damage your sensor? Absolutely, not!! And, most of them will issue a disclaimer that they are not responsible for any damage you cause to the camera. Does the pro in the shop guarantee his work?? Yuuuuppp!!

So, what did I do? I took my camera down to Adolf Gasser’s in San Francisco to get looked at. Scott, the head repair tech, was around and not too busy, that he was able to look at the camera while I waited. I was in and out in half an hour, and the job was fabulous. I was able to see the before and after using a loupe with LED lights that illuminates the sensor, and let me tell you that this sensor was DIRTY!!! The folks at Gasser’s are top-notch and I can’t recommend them enough. A typical sensor cleaning will run your $65 if you need it real quick, but the pricing dips quite a bit if you are willing to give them two weeks turnaround time. Then it’s only $45. Will they take two weeks to get it back to you? Nope, but it’s the point that if you need it now, you’ve gotta pay a little extra for the special attention. If you stop and think about it, a pro photographer that wants a cleaning really isn’t going to think twice about paying an extra $20 to have his/her camera serviced.

So, I was super excited today to get out and shoot a little bit to see how the images would turn out. IT TURNED OUT AWESOME!!! I specifically shot in the f/16 and higher range today to test it out and it passed with flying colors. I was able to pick out ONE little spot on one image that was a dust speck, but that goes to show you how easy you can get dust on there from one day to the next. So, instead of working on an image for almost twenty minutes to clean it all up, I was done with the image within a few seconds since I only had to process one little speck.

One question that I had for Scott was what about the camera models that offer a sensor cleaning function either at startup or shut down, or both. Don’t they advertise that your sensor will be clean? Well, his answer was very interesting and makes a LOT of sense. The probability that this sensor cleaning operation is just another marketing ploy is pretty strong. To prove my point, let’s go through an example. Let’s say that you do have dust on your sensor and the vibratory action of the function gets the dust off the sensor. Where does it go? And what keeps it from re-attaching? Well, the answer is it doesn’t go anywhere!! If the camera is sealed with a lens or lens cap attached, the dust is trapped in there along with the sensor, only to get re-attached at the next opportunity that it can. There isn’t a tiny black hole in there to swallow all the dust, so it can’t go anywhere unless you physically remove it by blowing out the cavity with air. Does it help? I’m sure it does if you follow it up with a quick blow of air to get everything out, but it definitely isn’t the end all, be all answer to why you shouldn’t have to clean the sensor.

So, here I leave with you a few images that I shot down by the Pacifica Municipal Pier this evening using a Canon 70-200mm IS f/2.8 L series lens and my Canon 1D Mark II N with the freshly cleaned sensor. This is just too awesome, folks…