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.


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.


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.


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+.


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.


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.


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…


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!!”


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.


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 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!!!

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

Hello everyone!! I’m back!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brief Photo Shoot in Mexico City

Hey, everyone!!

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

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

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

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

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

A tribute to Sophia Loren…

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

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

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

Wait, who’s under the covers???

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

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

A beautiful smile…

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn on the auto focus, dummy!!

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


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!!

Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City

After taking a few days off, I decided to get back on the horse and share some images that I took the first night I was in Mexico City last week. I got together with a friend for dinner and decided to head over to the Monument to the Revolution that stands not too far off of Paseo de la Reforma just about a mile away from the Angel of Independence.

This beautiful copula-styled structure was recently remodeled and reinaugurate. I had visited it about five years ago when it was simply the copula with nothing else in the plaza. At the base of each leg of the structure, an integral patriot crucial to the revolution is interned there. I couldn’t tell you who they are right off the top of my head, but I remember reading a plaque that talked about them. Since the renovation, there is now an observation deck that was installed in the dome with an elevator that takes up about a dozen people at a time. There is also now a museum in an underground level under the plaza, along with two fountains that operate on the weekends. I arrived shortly after closing time, so I wasn’t fortunate enough to go up to the observation deck.

I enjoyed the detail in the bricks from underneath along with the reflection of the memorial in the building across the way. I won’t go on and on about these photos, so here they are. Enjoy!!!

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 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 for the week. For the longer rental periods, 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!!!