Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Just posting some Disney ambience shots done up in B&W here.  Left the little Canon SL-1 with single 28mm f/2.8 prime lens in Aperture Priority mode, and switched ISO levels when necessary.  That little camera allows me to shoot almost in pitch blackness!  Love it!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Looking back with some embarrassment


Christmas is coming up.

And as the job grinds through the holidays (Disneyland never closes, you know), my family manages to celebrate Christmas spread over a few days as we wouldn't all be available on the same day.  You get used to it.

That said, my mind is already into January of 2014 - it's always forward of where I physically am.  And the first big thing that happens for me is the NAMM show at the Anaheim Convention Center.  The general public is not allowed to attend as it is an 'industry' event, you have to be affiliated with someone in the music industry to attend.  As a musician, I get to be affiliated with different companies so I can attend as a visitor, the first couple of years it was with Acoutin Drums - a local drum builder who makes these incredible drums in Huntington Beach.  They were probably the only snare drums I heard that sounded different from everybody else's, and the retail prices reflected it.  
Due to various connections, I may be a guest of Pearl Drums this year, but I haven't been told yet.  It's just cool to go to the show (it happens over four days) see some musical stars, see the new products, enjoy the circus.  In reality, it's really just like a local RV or Bridal show, that's attempting to keep itself exclusive, for the sake of selling people their wares.  If it really was an "Industry Only" event, you wouldn't see many freaks on the floor seeking out autographs of the stars - which really has nothing to do with debuting new products, right?  

But it makes for a great photographic experience.  It's kind of like being a street photographer, but you're inside, and people generally want to be photographed.  So if you're in there with a camera, you have a captive audience of people that want their images taken.  Everybody who's anybody will pose for a shot, because afterall, the more press they get and exposure, the better.  Not that I expose them anymore than they already are, but I do fall into thecategory of "guy with camera", so they're nice and they pose.

The above shot is my wife with Living Colour bassist, Doug Wimbish.   The man is an incredible player.  He's such a great solo performer on the bass guitar, I would imagine playing in a band must be a little stifling for him - he can carry a whole show on his own with a four-string bass.  Remember that rap song "White Lines" with that crazy repeating bass part that was really the whole song?  That was him.  He's done alot of things since then, but that's probably the biggest music standard he's known for.   In Living Colour the man is THE bottom end for that band.  The man lays down some mean bass with those guys.

Anyway, the shot above is an embarrassment shot.  He was doing a small concert at the DOD Electronics booth, and I was shooting away while he played - it was incredible.  I'm wearing a Canon EOS-1D with a 20-35/2.8 Tokina zoom lens, totally playing the part of pro photographer, and this rig without a flash is about 8 pounds.  After he's finished, I managed to get him to pose with the wife for a shot, only thing is, after we're done and he's having a meet and greet with others, I discover the camera decided to act up on me and it didn't take the shot!

Mortified we hang out a little bit longer, and while he's trying to pack up his bass to go get something to eat, he notices that we're still lingering.  I told him the shot didn't happen and could he please pose again?   He's cool, he does it and we got the shot.  It's not perfect, but I'm not gonna bug him any more than I have to, and then he's gone like the wind.  

This was the event that got me mad at my gear - for not working when it should have.  I know it happens - but a Canon EOS-1D should not glitch.  I'll admit it could've been operator error, but who the hell knows?  I was shooting everything beforehand just fine - I got all those shots.  The one of him and the wife is a big deal, and the camera glitched

Part of me is angry because the camera did this to me.  Part of me is embarrassed because I may have done it to myself.   Had I known my gear a little better, it might not have happened at all.  This is what makes me embarrassed.   If there's anything you can glean from this experience, it's learn-and-know-your-gear.  You never know when that incredible shot will present itself and when it comes, you need to be able to solve the problem fast and get 'er done!  

After this incident, I started studying my owner's manuals with camera in hand and seeing what button pushes do so you can concentrate on running the shoot.   I'll tell you this much, that ain't happening ever again ;)

Monday, December 9, 2013

So the Canon 5D Classic does ISO3200!

What impresses me about the new crop of cameras, especially those Fuji X cameras, is the high ISO capability.  Even today I just read the little Canon Rebel SL-1 (the tiniest DSLR on the planet) can do stupid high ISO like 125600 or something.  I haven't seen any photos done yet like that, but I figure that must mean you'd get photos at least acceptable up to ISO6400, right?

So I had to consult my manual about my classic 5D cameras.  I'm somewhat of an idiot.  When I got the cameras I just pressed the ISO button and turned the command dial to see how high it would go.  It goes up to 1600?  I'm happy!  You have to understand, I cut my teeth on film and 1600 was as high I could've gone with the films I was using.  I have lighting too, so like Joe McNally, the best thing to do is shoot at ISO100 all the time anyway, which is what I've always done.  My attitude has always been that the images get softer and grainier the higher the ISO goes, so I was always about maximum quality - thinking every image had to be able to be printed with immaculate detail up 16x20 ;)

In the 5D manual, Canon has all these "Custom Functions" and one of the functions when turned on, extends your ISO to 3200 on the high end and 50 on the low end.  I can see using the 50 alot.  On the display, you hold down the ISO button and turn the command dial, then it'll read either "H" or "L" depending on which end of the scale you are. 

Excited I could do this, the shots above were shot around the house in the "H" setting (ISO3200).  The lights were dimmed and almost dark.  I wanted to see how well the camera handled in this kind of lighting.  The camera seemed to autofocus well, so long as I was looking at contrasting points, and with the White Balance set to the incandescent light icon, the pictures above are straight out of the camera.  With the exception of the black and white one, that was unsaturated in PhotoShop, but that's it.   If anything, I could shoot ISO3200 in black and white and get some cool art!

Being able to do this is what's holding me off from upgrading to anything new.  Again, I'll learn this gear through and through and drive it into the ground.  What's nice is now I can do a walkabout and shoot indoors without flash - which is what I initially did when I started with an old beat-up Nikon FM with a couple of lenses (a 24/2.8 and a 50/1.4) and ISO800 color film.  My photography was so simple then, I need to get back there.  It's so complicated these days because of the amount of toys I show up with.  Gotta cut that crap loose ;)

It's been TWO friggin' years - I KNOW!

I know - it's been about two years for my neglected blog - but I'm back with something to say!

I apologize for not keeping up, but it's been quite a busy time around here.  Got an additional job with my company, involving playing drums as a world famous mouse, got into new cameras (well, they're considered old and ancient by now), my dad passed away from cancer, my wife's dad just passed away a couple of months ago, the house got a slab leak, then got re-piped, then we got a new floor.....you know how it is, LIFE happens and here we are, two years later.  The family is now a bit closer to each other and we even went back home to Hawaii to spend time with the family - I realized that we hadn't been back there in over ten years.  Where did all the time go?  Relatives are getting older and passing away and I have nothing to show for it.  We took the time to reconnect with family, and I think that's pretty important after the two big losses we just suffered.

I've re-connected with my photography, my drumming.  I picked up playing the ukulele and got away from electronic music production (an interesting side-business, but hollow).  I have new attitudes about some things, and have let alot of baggage go since you only live once, and time is short.

Probably the one crazy thing I did was install a few rotary dial phones around the house, as evidenced by the opening photo. In avocado green, no less!  That's a nice connection to the past with something I can actually still use, so I got 'em!

As far as photography goes, I got into a couple of Canon EOS 5D cameras, after dumping my venerable EOS-1D's bodies.  I was getting pretty tired of hauling around all this huge gear and either getting lazy and missing shots because I wasn't ready with the boat anchor, or just didn't care because the stuff was digging into my shoulders.  So I went slightly lighter - didn't even get into the extra battery pack - it's easier to just carry extra batteries.  I dumped my zooms and got into prime lenses.  I started off with a 20/2.8 and a 50/1.4, and I ended up dumping the 20 since I didn't do that much with it because in some instances, it was simply too wide.

Then I started reading up on this new mirrorless camera thing.  And Fuji hit the ground running with a rangefinder-like camera that looked like a digital Leica, and ISO technology is just stupid crazy now - those cameras can literally shoot in the dark because it's now natural to be using ISO 3200 and 6400 nowadays.  For the last few weeks now I've been hot to dump my DSLR's and go with these new mirrorless cameras.  I'll take one pound hanging around my neck anyday, as opposed to 3-4 pounds using a single 5D with my one prime lens.

But I blame Zack Arias for my dilemma and cold feet about doing it.  For one, he turned everybody on to these Fuji cameras, and he himself has jettisoned his DSLR gear and has done major campaigns with his Fuji gear.  The lure of being stealthy is strong with me.  I rented a Fuji X100s for a week and it was incredible that I had a one-pound awesome camera that looked like a 1953 Leica M3, hanging on a Black Rapid strap - and when I put my jacket on, you didn't even know I had a camera!

You know how people just wear big cameras to broadcast that they are professional photographers?  I for one am no longer diggin' that moniker.  I like to make photographs, but I no longer want to look like I have to be doing that.  It gets in the way of getting a good shot, or it scares potential subjects away.  Basically you look like the proverbial creepy-guy-with-a-camera and my head is no longer there.

But of course, these new mirrorless systems have issues.  One of them being that it doesn't focus as quickly as a DSLR (yet).  I'm sure as time marches forward, the manufacturers will figure it out.  But for now, the DSLR is still king.  But it's days might be numbered.  Imagine the DSLR going the way of 8-track tape!  Mirrorless cameras have the advantage of being alot smaller (good), less moving parts (you know how many pieces move because of the DSLR mirror box?) and being extremely quiet.

Somebody posted a diatribe on how mirrorless can never replace the DSLR because when you shoot fast moving subjects, the mirrorless auto-focus just isn't there yet.   Well, duh!  Give it time though, and the manufacturers will have figured it out.  I've only replaced a shutter on one of my cameras over the years, and that was extreme.  But when you see the moving parts involved in making a picture with a dSLR, I'm surprised not more break or wear out sooner.

Anyway, getting back to this Zack Arias guy.  He hypes these Fuji cameras, but he also has videos on YouTube where he's teaching (before he got into the Fuji cameras) and he talks about staying with your gear and learning it inside and out.  He said when he started he only had one lens and did everything with it.  So part of me is thinking I should really run these 5D's into the ground if I plan on becoming a better image-maker, and I just might do that instead.  I'm sure if I wait a couple of years, the mirrorless cameras will be even that much better.

For me the 5D seems fine and does everything I need it to do.  It even does ISO 3200, and I practiced with that setting this evening in a darkened house, and you know what?  The dang pictures came out!  sure, it's a bit large, but not as incredibly hulky like the EOS-1D with a 70-200/2.8 zoom on it.   I think I can be somewhat stealthy with a 5D and a prime lens.  Maybe I'll go find a cool-looking hipster bag instead.  I think I might want to get into the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens though.  Sometimes I think the 50mm is too narrow, and I can't get far enough back to get everything in the shot.  So that might be a nice Christmas present to myself.

But yeah, I think I'm curing myself of GAS (gear-acquisition-syndrome), at least as far as my photography goes.  Two bodies, two lenses, I have various lighting devices and meters....what else do I need?  There are tons of photogs out there that get something new every other month, on the constant search for that newest magic bullet.

The cure for this is linked to my being a musician.  I've known for years as a drummer/percussionist: it ain't the drums, it's the drummer.  And this has been true for me from the beginning.  I've always played small drumsets (not more than four drums) because my idols all did, and they were able to say so much with just that.   Photography is the same way.  If you have nothing to say - having bitchin' gear is not going to take the pictures for you.  It's funny how it seems I've only gotten this together now.  But like I said, alot has happened in the last year.  I'm rollin' with the changes.

I'll leave you with this quote from famed photographer Edward Weston, who is one of the fathers of modern photography.  He had alot to say about photographers and photography, and this one sticks with me.  Stay tuned for new images coming soon!

"The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don't know what to do with it."

-Edward Weston

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I'm back with a new way of working!

Hey all - I know, it's been a while since my last post.  But like everybody else I know,  I'm busy.  Got a job and a bunch of other things to be doin', so the blog goes a bit to the back-burner most days.  That said, I think I discovered a new way of working that gave me three of my favorite portraits to date!

It all started when I was asked to shoot some backstage shots at a local performing arts theater, and I did the usual thing of showing up with everything I own (much like the 'gear porn' shot on my previous post).  So I'm running around backstage, out in the audience getting show shots, and I shot maybe, 250 or so shots.  I get them home the first night and nothing stands out.  I might as well have been a parent sitting in the audience waiting for his kid to perform and just shooting from his seat with the kit lens (not that some people can't do incredible things with the kits lens....).

So the next night, I decide to re-vamp how I was going to work.  I'm a portrait guy, so let's get some candid, semi-posed portraits of the performers doing what they do naturally.  I stripped down my gear to one body with a 50/1.4 lens attached.  I used an eBay wireless trigger to trigger a hot shoe flash that I held in my left hand with the wide-diffusion panel out.  This is what I used:

I liked using just the prime lens because that meant my left hand didn't have to worry about having to operate the zoom ring, I would zoom the old-fashioned way, with my feet.  What I was envisioning before I started was some portraits with the background completely blurry, I wanted no depth of field since where the performers were was actually ugly - it's a theater afterall - the part the audience doesn't see isn't very attractive to begin with! 

Then I thought about how I'd light it.  I knew from the night before that going without flash wouldn't be an option.  Faces would be in too much shadow, that kind of thing.  I just wanted enough flash to light the subject.  So I actually worked backwards, and this wouldn't work if you were shooting film because you need to do a test to know that it would work.  I took a manual meter reading from the camera, and at ISO 200, the camera came back with 1/15th of a second at f/1.4.  Perfect.  I set the camera to that, then bump the shutter speed around the 1/30 - 1/40 mark, and set my flash to manual power at first to 1/128th power.  Then I went up to 1/64th power and shot a test subject to see how it was working.  And I got this shot:

I played around with it in black and white trying to go for the George Hurrell look, and this image got me going.  I floated around the backstage area, and actually spent time talking to the performers and having a great time.  It's true - if you talk more, then the performers don't mind getting their pictures taken (actually, all performers want their pictures taken I've discovered).   But the ensuing photographs I got were all candid yet posed, but came across as very natural, but formal enough that they didn't just look like snapshots.  Here's a couple more:

 And the one that stunned me during the post-production, was one of the first ones.  I just happened to be walking by a performer sitting backstage, and as she turned to say hello, I stopped, the camera went into position and my left hand went up with the flash.   I swear I couldn't have posed this if I wanted to and it came out nearly perfect:

Yes, it's not technically perfect, and I think my camera's AF was set wrong.  I should've set the camera to it's ONE SHOT mode, which means, once you get the subject in focus, it stays at that focus so long as you hold the shutter button down.  The camera was actually set to AI SERVO mode, which is what you use for moving subjects.   The camera, as you pan with the subject, keeps adjusting focus on what it thinks is right.  This works great if you're panning a running animal or a flying aircraft, but for portraits you don't need it.  So what happened was the camera focused, and then as I re-composed the shot in the frame, the AF point when it was moved re-focused on the middle of the frame, which is the only focus point I rely on (being old skool, ya' know).  If I was at f8, it probably wouldn't have mattered, but when you're dealing with a shallow depth-of-field, you actually see areas go blurry because of the front-to-back relationship.  This wasn't that bad and I think it came out great anyway. 

But now that I have this new way of working, I'm going to explore this a bit more.  On this second night I only shot about 74 pictures.  But I got alot more keepers than I did the night before!

Now I'm debating getting a slightly wider lens to be closer to the 50mm aesthetic since, as you know, the smaller sensor of the digital camera means you actually get a telephoto effect.  Meaning that my 50mm lens is actually a 65mm lens (1.3 multiplier).  With these kinds of shots, I could stand to be a bit closer, or if doing a full body shot, I won't have to back-up so far.  So, the 35/1.4L or the 28/1.8?  I'd love the 35, but those cost $1500 new.  I had the 28 years ago and loved it, but it doesn't open up to 1.4, which is my magic number now (but it's only $500)  I already have the 20-35/2.8, but it only opens up to 2.8.  Decisions decisions.....

Your thoughts?

Friday, April 8, 2011

As promised - Gear Pornography!

It had to happen sooner or later.  I had to post a shot of the current gear I've been using. 

Funnier thing too - I was out shooting in public and someone saw me with all this gear and told me, "your pictures must be awesome!".   I tried to explain that I have all this stuff and could still come away with crappy pictures (and I often do), but this person just wouldn't have it.  Everything I shot was already apparently super bitchin'.  Go figure.

But also, in a nod to my "old-fashioned" ways, no one seems to notice that each of those Canon EOS-1D cameras holds the world's most incredible 4.15 megapixel sensors!  I know, I refuse to get into these megapixel arguments so I continue to stay hovering under 6MP to produce my work.  In a world of 24MP DSLR's I'm sure this is all just crazy talk.  But think about it:  if these babies were good enough for a two-page double-truck (to use an industry term for a magazine layout) back in the dark ages of the new millennium, then why wouldn't they be good now?  Have the magazines changed?  Have the newspapers changed?  The stories still suck, right?  In fact, the newspapers and magazines are now dying, and nothing really gets printed anymore.  So what's with the more megapixels, anyway?  Especially when images for the web look better at 72 dpi?  (And not the 300 dpi would we normally use to print).

I had given this some thought.  I once printed a beautiful picture of a sunset once at 16x20, from a Nikon D1 (this camera only had 2.47 megapixels, and it really sucked at ISO's higher than 200).  One of my favorite portraits was also shot with that same camera and we were able to go as big as 20x24 with it, and when I look at both of these pictures, I don't wish I had more megapixels.  I do wish I had better lighting, but that's a given.  I never complain about the given megapixels, ever.   I played around with the Nikon D40 when it came out (a 6.1MP entry-level DSLR) and almost every shot I took with it was a keeper (well, not all of them). When I went to print it was incredible. 

Someone made the argument to me that once you start cropping into the image then you need the megapixels.  Sure you do.  I argued back, "well what are you doing cropping in the first place?"  The reason I have the pro models is because I like seeing 100% of what I'm going to get in the viewfinder (most amateur cameras show you 92 - 94% of the actualy image in the viewfinder - which is why everytime you take a picture, when you go to see the file on your computer screen, there's always more space to see around your subject).  I also like the fact that the auto-focus is screamingly fast.  And I like the fact that the camera is built like a tank and weighs almost as much because I like to go down to 1/30th or 1/15th of a second and shoot handheld.  Those three reasons allow me to crop before I take the picture.  I definitely do not "spray and pray" when out making photographs - meaning I don't just shoot anything and if I see something in a frame I like, I crop that to make a photo.  I see the photo before I put the camera up to my face, frame it then and shoot it!

If you've gotten this far, and haven't written me off as some crazy wack-o spoutin' off his Luddite ways, then congratulations!  Like being in the Matrix, you're probably wondering why every year, when a new camera model comes out, do the manufacturers make you feel like your old camera is crap and you must have the new one or, you're just not what we can call a photographer.   That's OK.  You've probably contemplated taking the red pill and seeing just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Of course, if you're a budding new photographer and you're out buying stuff, then I wouldn't suggest you go searching for old digital cameras to get started.  Get the new ones, and that'll be part of your generation.  My decision on what I use has basically been proven to me.  I can print 20x30 with a 4.15MP camera, and really, how many of you are actually printing that big on a regular basis?  I sure don't.  But I know I can if I had to.  You will also be able to print just as big if not bigger with your new 24MP DSLR.  Colors and tones will probably look negligibly better, but like I said earlier, that's just that better lighting I was hoping for in the first place!

So, thanks for reading this far.  That's my stuff.  It's also heavy enough to break a window, 'cause you never know....

Thursday, April 7, 2011

And now for something completely different....

In my semi-continuation of why we photograph, I thought I'd go in a completely different direction and show you some absolutely crappy photographs.

Currently, and in the not-too-distant past, I prided myself on being a professional drummer (well, percussionist, for you people who go to the cinema, as opposed to the movies).  And one of the things anybody into semi-technical things are into is basically the pornography of the tools we use.  Photographers are like this, and sooner or later I'll get some pornography of what I shoot with and why up on this blog (if you can stand it).  However, as a drummer, I don't recall ever being interested in getting pictures of my gear and I don't remember taking any pictures, so the photos that I discovered in an old envelope must've been taken by someone else.

But the photos listed below are of a few of the drumsets I've played in my early years as a drummer.  The first set, the black Slingerland, was my first proper kit mom and dad got me when I was 11 (back in '77-'78 or so). Hardly state-of-the-art at the time and I recall dad complaining about it costing so much ($499 was the price then).   Of course, I wanted a bigger set, something with two bass drums and eight tom toms, because you know, when you're 11, you think you can play and your parents don't know anything about what you need to make music!  But I accepted it graciously and proceeded to drive mom and dad up the wall playing the drums everyday for two or three hours from the time I was 11 until my early 20s through college!  I grew to love the black Slingerland, as it got me started playing out with other people and actually earned its keep. 

Of course, other drumsets came and went too.  The next one below it, are clear Ludwig Vistalites.  I found them covered with duct tape piled in a corner of a Guitar Center in the late '80s.  The guy sold them to me for $150.  I brought them home, dismantled them and buffed them out to their former clear glory and added some new hardware to it - and then sold it in a month to a Japanese collector for $1500.  I did use them on a few gigs before I sold them, but I thought they were too distracting and they didn't encourage playing naked.  This little time capsule covers 1977 to about 1986.

The next two are actually the same drumset.   It's still a Slingerland (notice how I've been influenced by the famous drummers of my day?  Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa played Slingerland, along with a host of other great players, but when the Japanese companies rose to power in the '80s, Slingerland was one of the first to go under because they just couldn't keep up.  Sad.) and I got this white marine pearl covered kit after trading it to some kid in Burbank who really dug these other, ugly drums I had in '87.  I had to modify the spurs on the bass drum to help keep the drum in place because I was a slammer then and it wasn't odd for me to have the bass drum sliding all over the place because I hit it so hard.  Then around 1993, I took these same drums, found a slightly larger bass drum shell, and had the guys at Pro Drum Shop in Hollywood recover the entire kit in Black Oyster Pearl (yeah, Ringo's color).  And that kit served me until about '97.  

Of course, there have been other kits, like an old Gretsch I had, a Yamaha Recording Custom, Tama Superstars, more Ludwigs, Drum Workshop, on up to my current Tama Starclassic Bubinga Elite and my sidekick Sonor Safari.  But to me, finding these crappy snapshots really reminds me of how far I've come and how long I've been doing this.  And this has nothing to do with actually becoming a better player over the years.  These are just things I've owned and used, nothing more, nothing less.  As time marches on you tend to cherish those times that have passed, and seeing these kits again bring back that feeling of who I was with at that time and the music we made.  It was awesome.

And then, in '97, I went weird and stopped playing with others and became a solo act.  I played an instrument called a Zendrum, and sang and basically made music with computers and synthesizers.  Made alot of money, but didn't have quite as much fun.  Actually started working alot more with that and then began to question why I had studied percussion for so long.  Here's the wife modeling the Zendrum:

It was cool, and I initially dug it, but it was obviously not good for all things drumming.  It did what it did well.  Well, well enough.   So, see?  Photography can even remind you of things you probably shouldn't have done....