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.

IMG_20141003_0003-11

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.

IMG_20141008_0010-11

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.

IMG_20141003_0004-11

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+.

IMG_20141008_0004-11

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.

IMG_20141004_0002-11

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.

IMG_20141008_0005-11

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…

IMG_20141008_0011-11

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!!”

IMG_20141004_0008-11

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.

IMG_20141008_0008-11

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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_20140304_0002

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!!”

_C3P0789

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.

_C3P0659

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.

IMG_20140304_0004

Nuff said…

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

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

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

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

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

The F streetcar line on Market St.

The F streetcar line on Market St.

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

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

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

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

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

The walkway to Embarcardero from the Portobello Complex in Oakland.

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

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

Hills behind the valley in Pacifica while on a hike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

Hiking trail in Pacifica.

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

Trees...I think.

Trees…I think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Justin Herman Plaza Ice Rink

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Inside of the Ferry Bldg

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Mexico City F-Line Street Car

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

F-line Street Car

F-line Street Car

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

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

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Ferry Bldg clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

Justin Herman Plaza ice skating rink

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

The 80mm lens hood could be a little longer…

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

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

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

Buns of steel!! Or maybe just bronze…

Clock tower

Clock tower

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

Justin Herman Plaza artisan kiosks.

More kiosks...

More kiosks…

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 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!!!

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!!

 

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…