Friday, December 4, 2009

Texas Snow

We don't get snow every year in North Texas and even more rarely in the beginning of December but, we did this year.  We only got about a quarter of an inch of snow and it all but disappeared before noon. 

Whereas the natural world up north had been bracing for the winter for a few weeks already, the people, plants and animals in the lower latitudes tend to get caught off-guard with Mother Nature's surprises like this.  The kids love it.  My daughter was no exception.  She took the opportunity to jump on the snowy trampoline and tried to catch snowflakes on her tongue.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Airshow 2009!

I went to the 2009 Fort Worth Airshow at Alliance Airport.  I was one of the volunteers working hospitality.  We drove around in golf carts handing out water bottles and boxed lunches to the aircrew that were there.  We got special badges that also allowed us some special access to areas off limits to the general public.

The US Navy's Blue Angels also performed.  I've been watching them and the US Air Force's Thunderbirds since I was a kid and it just never gets old for me.  Actually, I got to watch the Blues practice the week prior because my office is right at AFW airport towards the south end of the parallel runways and the window facing the runway is right behind me.  So, when they perform it is pretty exciting.  I'm three floors up and we get a pretty good view out of the floor to ceiling windows.

When the Blue Angels performed on Saturday, we took a golf cart and went to the show line off to one side away from the general public.  It was nice to be able to photograph (don't want to use the word "shoot" with regard to military aircraft) without having to compete for space or to worry about being accidentally bumped causing a blurry image.

About ten minutes into their show a car drove up and four guys with London accents start frantically breaking open pelican cases and assembling video and computer equipment.  It turns out that these guys were from the BBC and they were sent to tape the show in high-speed HD video.  They got slowed down coming in from El Paso for some reason.  I'll look forward to seeing that video when it comes out.

After the crowds left and we were done with hospitality duties, I got to have a few beers and BS with some of the aircrews who weren't flying out that evening.  It was fun.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Ever since I started blogging I've been waiting to post this photo from a few Halloweens ago.  This is one of my favorite photos.

My wife and her friend Leslie went around as witches on their electric scooters handing out candy to kids.  The electric scooters were a little mojo challenged, so they had to walk the scooters up our hill.  The hill peaks right at the point where I took this photo.  So, I had the open sky from the angle where I was standing in the middle of the road down the hill a bit in front of our house.  The light and the timing could not have been more perfect.  They went out just as the sun was going down and there was an orange glow off of the clouds.  Our road also happens to face to the west in the direction of the setting sun.  So, it all came together.

I realized this all after I had snapped the shot.  This was done purely on reflex.  I saw their silhouettes against the cool sky and bang, bang, bang I fired away a few frames.  I realized afterward right away that this had potential and I just hoped that one of them was in focus and that I hadn't done anything stupid with the exposure settings.  I was really glad when I saw it on the computer monitor a few minutes later.

They've since upgraded their brooms to gas power.  So, we'll see what this year brings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Streets of St. Johns, NL

It rains a lot in St. Johns.  This is St. Johns, Newfoundland, not San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Whereas San Juan is remarkable for its sun and beaches, Newfoundland is an island about the size of Texas hanging out in the middle of the North Atlantic like a big green iceberg which is remarkable because it seems to have large chunks of the North Atlantic just hanging airborne over the island in cloud form most of the time dumping that moisture back to earth.

I always look forward to jobs in out of the way or unusual places for their photographic possibilities.  This wasn’t looking good so far.  No car and rain, rain, rain.  I was to only get one opportunity to take any pictures in St. Johns.  After two days my SD card was as empty as the day I landed there.

I found out when sunrise in St. Johns would be then planned to be out of my hotel room about half an hour before then.  (I’m such a photo-nerd, thinking back on it now.)  “Sunrise” was to be kind of an optimistic misnomer because it continued to rain heavily steadily and the prospects of seeing the sun at all that day were not great.

I understand why armies make their soldiers get up at God-awful hours and perform calisthenics.  There is a special kind of mental hardening that takes place when you train while others are sleeping comfortably.  Forcing myself to shoot in bad weather, limited geographically by walking distance, wet, cold and trying to make something artistically out of nothing was going to be my form of morning exercise. Actual calisthenics probably would have been more heart healthy and less cold.

Every place has its own charm if you are willing to go out and find it.  In the case of St. Johns it came in the form of the gingerbread houses that lined many of the old streets, many of which were probably built before the turn of the previous century.

The new age technology street lights cast out a display of subdued chemically colored lights at night.  Just like adding various chemicals changes the colors of fireworks, the different technologies that use different chemicals makes the lights have different color casts.  The early morning light provides a nice balance of natural sunlight to the greens, blues and pinks from the periodic table of elements colors in the newer lights as well as the dingy yellow from the old fashioned Edison lamps.

The human eye doesn’t notice the color casts as much as a camera does.  This is kind of a cool artistic trick to make the scenes more surrealistic due to the highly saturated colors.  Timing is everything to being there when the light is balanced just right.





Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Felton - Wandro Wedding

I was really happy when John and Tracey asked me to photograph their wedding.  I got the job because their wedding arranger, Gayla is a friend who was familiar with my work suggested me to the bride, Tracey.

I had a long email dialog with Tracey starting months before the wedding but, because of schedules we never actually met until the night of the rehearsal.  I was a little scared that some of my location shot ideas might be a little too out there for the couple but, as it turned out Tracey was very adventurous and was all for it.  She let me have pretty much complete artistic control which was a real pleasure.  Like most grooms, myself included, John was up for whatever would make his new wife happy.

I got lucky because they’re a very handsome couple which helps a lot for making nice photos.  John was really sensitive to the lights from the flash.  There were a lot of photos where I used the strobe and Tracey looked fine but John looked like he was in pain.  That’s because he was.  He rolled with the punches really well though.

When it came time for the location photos, one of the last things that we were going to try was to take a few shots near the Justin, Texas firehouse but, we would need permission to be near the equipment.   Tracey was absolutely awesome.  She turned on the girl charm and knocked on the door where the firemen were in her wedding dress, of course and said “I just got married.  Could we take some pictures on your fire truck?”  The guys absolutely melted.  She could have ANYTHING she wanted.

Thanks to Tracey, the picture I took of her and John laughing at something one of the firemen said is probably one of my proudest images.

This was my first professional wedding shoot.  As such, it was kind of a nail biter for me.  I’ve done photo shoots before but, they were never professional jobs.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.  I probably took more images than I needed to.  I took about 1,000 in all.  I handed my second camera over to my daughter who was assisting me and she shot about 50 and her friend Alyssa who wanted to do it also took about another 150.   It’s so easy to just snap away, especially at the reception when you’re taking mostly candid shots because there is just so much opportunity for interesting photography.

My Nikon D-90 camera will also take video, though it’s primarily designed for still images.  I took some video snippets here and there.  If there is something that I need to work on it’s my video skills.  Because I was there to take stills, I would shoot what seemed like a reasonable amount of video then quickly switch over to stills again.  In my post-processing I discovered that what seemed like 30 seconds of video was really more like 6 or 7 seconds.  I also took some vertical video thinking that I would just rotate it in post.  No such luck.  I’m sure that there’s a way to do it but, I haven’t figured it out yet.  I’ll still deliver the amateurish video because I think that would be a nice unexpected bonus but, I will polish up my act in the future.

Anyway, cheers to Tracey and John!

All of the images and video can be found here.






Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mendenhall Glacier - Juneau, Alaska

Alaska is easily one of the most incredibleble places that I’ve ever been. I’ve been there twice on business.

When I was in Juneau I went out to the Mendenhall Glacier a few times. This was winter so the lake by the glacier was all frozen over. The local people; mostly moms with kids would go to the lake, strap on their cross country skis or skates and push a stroller along in front of them. Some brought their dogs with them usually off of their leashes.

There was a sign posted that said that there was a lone wolf in the area. I was chatting with one of the park rangers at the visitor center there and she told me that the wolf was probably kicked out of the pack by one of the alpha dogs and is now looking for a new pack. So, he would try and hook up with the local dogs that came to the park. The only problem was that when the wolf got hungry then he would sometimes eat the park goers’ pets. A domestic pet is no match for a wild wolf.

One of the local guys told me that he had seen the northern lights from his deck the previous night around 10pm and that usually if you see the northern lights at a particular time one night then it is likely that if you are going to see them the following night that they would likely be visible around the same time.

So, I went out to the Mendenhall Glacier at 10pm the next night with the goal of seeing and photographing the northern lights. Who knows when or if I'd ever be back here again?

It gets really cold at night in the winter in Alaska. The trash cans are also bear proof which means that there are bears in the area. So, I’m hanging out outside in the middle of the night, in the dark, where a wolf has been hanging out near the trash cans that the bears like to try and get a meal out of hoping not to run into any of them.

The best that I saw was a green glow coming from above and behind the glacier and the mountain behind it. It was still pretty cool. I had to take LONG exposures of it. Some of the shots came out pretty cool, I thought.

Such a wonderful place!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ohio, USA

I found this wonderful house right by the client that I was visiting about 45 minutes north of Dayton in Sidney, Ohio. I don’t know what moved this person to construct a little tribute to America right there on their front lawn but, I’m glad that they did.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

We got invited to a private party at the Lightcatcher Winery for the 4th of July. Everyone brought a covered dish and Caris and Terry provided the venue, drinks and fireworks.

We met some really nice folks. The food that everyone brought was really good and Terry must have spent a fortune on fireworks.

We got to hear Terry's take on what Independence Day means to him. He told the story of the founding fathers and how they really had to have been crazy because they were not destitute outsiders in British society. All of the founding fathers were wealthy men who had done quite well under the crown but, still felt like they needed to create a free country of their own. They had a lot to lose.

Very well put, I thought.


Nothing screams out "North Texas" to me as much as an image of a Longhorn Cattle.

These guys weren't photoshoped other than some color and contrast tweaking and a bit of cropping. For the benefit of those that haven't seen these type of cattle before, this is what they really look like in real life.

I found these guys in a holding pen about half a mile from my day job office.

The guy in the bottom photo wasn't too happy about me being there and let me know it. He took a few steps to charge at me. He got my attention. I got the photo and quickly stepped away from the barbed-wire fence between us.

I was unsuccessful getting a model release in this case. I hope that they don't google me and have good copyright lawyers.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Kids Sports Photography Tips

I’ve shot literally thousands of images at my kids sports events over the years and I think that I've got some tips that other parents and photographers might find useful.

Get Inside the Fence
Shooting through the typical chain-link fences at baseball games in almost all cases does nothing for your photography. Don't be shy but don't be dumb. If you are shooting a baseball game then stand inside the fence but far enough down the base line where the ball is unlikely to come your way. Use a long lens to get the action up close.

If you have to shoot through or around the fence then get the lens really close up so that the fence does not become part of the photograph. I find that I can get my 50mm fixed focal length lens to shoot through a chain-link fence to get pretty good shots of the batters. Examine the fence. If you look closely sometimes you can find one hole that it stretched out slightly. If you look where they attached the fence to the poles, sometimes the holes are stretched just enough to not be in your way. You might have to hold the camera upside down or at some other strange angle. The 50mm 1.8 lens has the added benefit of being really fast. So, this is great for night games.

Anticipate What's Going to Happen
For example, if there is just a runner on first base and someone is up to bat then you know that it is likely that they are going to try and steal second base. Watch the coaches to see what signals they are giving the batters. If this is your first time shooting this team then you can sometimes learn what the signals are by listening to the coaches instruct the kids before the game. You can also just ask one of the coaches and they’ll just tell you if you are shooting their team.

If there is a batter up and bases loaded then you can focus on home plate and get both the batter and the play at home plate. You could have focused on first base but, the real excitement is watching the player get to home plate.

Sometimes the excitement or interesting moment isn’t out on the playing field at all. It could be in the dugout, or maybe a coach teaching or practicing with a player outside the fence. The warm-ups can also be interesting because the fact of the matter is that not everyone gets to touch the ball during the game. But, if you can get a few shots of these players throwing the ball during practice then it makes the whole series of photos more interesting.

The Autofocus Lock Button is Your Friend
Modern cameras all have an autofocus feature. But, this takes a fraction of a second or possibly a whole second to lock on if all you are doing is pressing the shutter button when you want to capture the image. That's a very long time in a sports event. The better thing to do is to focus on something near where you anticipate your next shot. So, if you plan on getting the play at home plate then focus on home plate itself. Get the camera to beep at you that it has the focus and exposure correct then hold the AE button down. This way when you press the shutter button then it will more or less be instantaneous. If you have the camera set to take multiple exposures then it will just fire away like a machine gun. Some point and shoot cameras let you do this by just holding the shutter button half-way down then you just have to hold it there. I find myself rocking back and forth between my pointer finger on the shutter and my thumb on the AE lock button the whole game. You may want to avoid using the automatic exposure setting doing this because the bases are normally bright white whereas nothing else in the photo will be causing for some under exposure.

No Flash
You don't want to become part of the game yourself. If you are not invisible for the umpires then you run the risk of getting tossed outside the fence. More importantly, it could be dangerous for the kids if you temporarily blind them and then they end up getting hit by a ball or bat or a runner runs into them. You will probably be too far away for the flash to do much anyway.

Capture the Celebrations
I’ve seen other parent photographers make what I consider to be a mistake by getting so caught up in the celebration of a win or a home run that they forget to press the shutter button. It’s completely understandable but, if you are trying to capture images of the event then you have to use some discipline. So, snap a few shots then join in the fun yourself. It just takes a fraction of a second to snap the photo. So, you won’t miss much then you’ll have images to remind you of that moment forever.

Take a picture of the score board once in a while so that people can put the images in context of what is happening. Or don’t. I’ve shot games and walked away with a whole series of really flattering shots of the kids making great plays and hitting the ball, etc… Truth be told, they might have lost that game miserably. The casual observer would have no way of knowing just by looking at a series of pictures. It’s up to the photographer. If you do take photos of the scoreboard now and again and you don’t find them useful later then you can always trash them or choose not to show them on your photo sharing web site or however you choose to show them. But, if you don’t take the photo then the moment is lost.

Focus on the crowd once in a while as well
The parents, siblings and visitors are as much a part of the event as the kids playing are. Including a few shots of the other people can be interesting and also anchors a sense of time and place of the game.

Use a Tripod or Monopod
There is enough camera shaking going on already around because you’ll be doing a lot of quick moving around. You’ll need all the help you can get. VR lenses are also very useful especially as the sun goes down and the shutter speeds get longer. You tend to get softer focus images and completely blurry images. If you try to hand hold the camera then that worsens the problem. You’ll also likely be using longer lenses which are usually a lot heavier. Your arm is going to get tired which means that you won’t be as steady as you could be and you will not have your lens ready to go which means that you are probably going to miss more shots.
Shoot in JPEG. Most DSLR cameras and a couple of point and shoot cameras have a setting to choose which computer file format that you want to record the images. I almost always shoot in raw image format for other types of photography other than sports. In the case of Nikon this is the NEF format. The raw image files save all of the information about the photograph as opposed to JPEG which is the raw information compressed down into a smaller file size. Having the extra information captured in the raw format is better for post production purposes especially if you need to do some color correction but, because the files are so much larger, it takes the cameral an extra fraction of a second to record the data to the media, either a CF or SD card in most cases. This extra time might be the difference between being able to shoot a burst of three or seven shots. If someone is sliding into home plate then you might miss the part where the runner actually touches the plate or when the catcher’s glove comes down with the ball, etc… I find that the time delay isn’t worth it. You can also fit a lot more JPEG files on a card than you can raw files.

Get it Right in the Camera
It is easy now days to rely on post-processing software to correct mediocre images and make them acceptable. But, this takes time. If you can do things like use the color correction options in the camera to avoid having to do that in post production then you can save yourself a lot of time. Sometimes using the shady day setting even on a bright sunny day will punch up the color saturation and make the images bolder.

Discard Images Aggressively in Post-production
It is not unusual for me to shoot over 300 exposures during an hour long game. One of the toughest post processing events is to be brutal about getting rid of the trash. If it is out of focus then it is pretty much trash. If the players faces are all turned away then it's also probably not important, etc...

Use a Photo Sharing Site
If you’ve ever tried to email images then you’ve no doubt run into all kinds of headaches because of spam filters, misspelled email addresses, email systems that won’t accept large files sizes or filters attachments out altogether, etc… I use just because I’ve been using them for a long time and you can also order prints right from their site. There a lots of others. and google’s picasa web albums are among the more popular. You can set up the images to be viewed by invitation only if you want. If you have photographed children especially then using the privacy function on the web sites is probably a good idea.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Front Door, Back Door St. Louis

St. Louis stands proud on the banks of the Mississippi River. It has a very rich history. Mark Twain wrote a memorable story about the Adventures of Huck Finn on the riverboats. I don't know if any of it actually took place in St.Louis but it is easy to imagine that it could have. It seems like a friendly place. It has a home town feel. Strangers make eye contact and say hello when they see you. There are colorful flower boxes on some of the buildings. There are green parks that people congregate to. The Gateway Arch makes the boldest statement about the city's proud role as the gateway to the American west.

I also walked down the alleys behind the hotel that I stayed at and between some of the other downtown buildings and parking garages.

There was one doorway in an alley that caught my attention. The doorway was deep and there were bars even with the line of the building thereby creating a tiny jail cell looking room. Even more curious, there was a thick chain and padlock hanging ominously from the brick wall. You could almost imagine a prisoner locked to the wall in there.

I'm sure that the reason for the little cell and chain were to allow the inside door to swing open and the chain was probably to hold it open and allow air in the building without allowing vagrants to wander in from the alley. It just seemed odd that it appeared like someone went out of their way to create an ominous looking image to make a statement. Mess with them and you might find out the hard way what the little room on the alley with the chain on the wall is really for.

What's with the chains?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Two Californias

I recently visited southern California. I was working in Ventura and staying in Oxnard. Ventura has a nice beach and marina area. The marina is kind of touristy. There are several shops and restaurants and of course some very expensive boats visible behind locked gates. The tables in the restaurants look out either inland to the marina or out to the Pacific. The beach and marina area were obviously the result of careful town planning combined with beaucoup real estate development dollars to create this comfortable place for visitors to enjoy and leave some of their dollars behind.

Less than a mile inland the scene was very different. There were fruit fields being farmed by migrant farm workers. They were busy doing their thing; people hunched over in the fields picking crops and men moving various farm equipment around. I doubt that they noticed the beautiful hills with a marine cloud layer wrapping one mountain range like a cotton-candy turban.

One day on my lunch break I drove down to the beach. I stopped along the way at a farm stand and bought some strawberries and pistachio nuts. I was just there alone with my camera and my iPod, so I had some time to dwell on the situation and snap some photos. The strawberries must have been ripened on the vine. They were really, really good.

I wonder how many of those farm workers drive down to the beach on their lunch breaks? I didn’t see any.

I didn’t really pity the farm workers and I don’t think that they pitied themselves either. They all seemed to work very earnestly from what I saw. My guess is that they were probably just grateful for the work. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to eat some California fruit or walk down the produce isle in the supermarket without feeling a bit grateful myself for what I do have.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Kind of Town, New York City

You know that you’re a New Yorker when you don’t really care about the tourist stuff. I grew up in the New York City area and certainly spent a lot of time in the city. I spent my senior year in college literally next to the Brooklyn Bridge at Pace University on Park Row across from City Hall. We used to sometimes hang out at a bar called Jeremy’s which was almost under the bridge between the school and the East River. But, it never occurred to me to walk out onto the bridge to check it out or just to admire the scene of Manhattan from it.

I haven’t lived in the Northeast for over 14 years but, I had to travel there recently for a job in Brooklyn. I decided to treat part of my stay in Brooklyn like a tourist. I did check out the sights of the city and I did walk out across the Brooklyn Bridge a few times. There were some locals running and biking but, for the most part the crowd consisted of tourists from all over the world.

That area of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan are probably some of the most photographed scenes in the world. It is easy to see why. In addition of NYC having a high concentration of the best photographers in the world, there are just a lot of stunning scenes everywhere you look. The landscapes of the skyline and architecture especially of lower Manhattan set in New York Harbor are really impressive. The bridge itself is both a piece of art and a piece of American History all at the same time. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of things happening all in a very concentrated area. I think that I took much of NYC for granted when I lived there. I suppose that I had to step away in order to see what was in front of me the whole time.