Monday, December 31, 2007

Leap and the net will appear....

2007 is winding down and looking back I feel like I've accomplished a lot and am very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing. For those that don't know my story, I left a pretty well paying job at a law firm (doing design) and struck it on my own as a photographer. For many, including myself, this seemed like financial suicide. However, sucking it up at a job that was no longer fulfilling seemed like spiritual suicide.

So the choice was do I do what is good for the pocket or what is good for the soul.

I went for what's good for the soul and it has been difficult but fulfilling.

I don't own a car so I haul all my gear to assignments and photo sessions by bicycle. As if it's not tough enough to be a photographer, right?

I had a few lean months where I couldn't sleep wondering where money for rent and food would come from. Somehow, a job or a referral always came through. After six years of a steady paycheck, this was the most gut-wrenching aspect of being a gun for hire. You grow accustomed to the fact that every two weeks your money supply will be replenished. As a freelancer, I don't have that luxury.

Every month I face the scary site of an empty calendar. And every month the calendar fills. This year (and I suppose my life to a great extent) can be best summed up by a quote my girlfriend loves:

Leap and the net will appear.

A year ago, I was working with the most minimum equipment I could as a photographer. Now, I've slowly been able to replace my old computer, purchase a tele-photo zoom, recording equipment and other bits of gear. My workflow has become more streamlined, I am booking more jobs, I am making more in print sales and my reputation as a good reliable photographer in Long Beach is spreading.

Now I'm getting into multimedia work and it is opening many more doors. More importantly, it is keeping me excited to explore and see what new things I can create.

I don't think I've arrived by any means. In fact, I know am just at the very beginning. My equipment is still pretty slim by many standards but my images are strong. I can work with available light or I can use studio lighting. I can dissolve into thin air and shoot documentary style or I can compose a portrait. In other words, I have good solid foundation and if there is a problem I can solve it.

I still stare at empty calendar months, but I suppose what is different is that I know that they will fill. I know that I'm not meant to starve and linger in obscurity. I will make it, if not by sheer force of will alone.

Highlights from 2007

-addressing the City Council at a meeting about how to make Long Beach more bike friendly
-teaching a class on bike commuting via Bikestation to at-risk women
-interviewed by Environmental Defense for an article on bike commuting
-interviewed for articles on bike parking/commuting for Time and Los Angeles Times
-appeared on Toast Long Beach...cable access show celebrating Long Beach
-hired by Mayor's office to shoot Grand Prix and Santiago Canyon Fire
-photographed President Jimmy Carter at Habitat for Humanity work site for Conduit Development
-hired by a family to photograph them for an entire weekend to do a documentary style portrait
-creating my first SoundSlide
-doing my first extended bicycle tour, riding down the Oregon coast
-purchasing a new computer and 70-200 VR lens
-various cover shots for the District Weekly

Some goals for 2008

-purchase portable light kit (Dynalite, ProFoto)
-purchase Nikon D3, 17-35mm 2.8, 85mm 1.4
-acquire dutch cargo bike (Bilenky or Eugene CycleWorks)
-donate %5 of each job to World Bicycle Relief Fund
-work with more nonprofits and NGOs doing documentary work
-hone my multimedia storytelling skills
-work with every large institution in Long Beach
-work with every magazine within Long Beach and OC
-become known as a "multimedia photographer" that is capable of not only great pictures but of telling a compelling story
-do more bike advocacy
-do another extended bike tour
-no more living hand to mouth
-a spot on national television
-sponsorship from Nikon or other major photo manufacturer

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Some snaps from Crystal Cove...

Here are some pics from our stay at Crystal Cove...

Our last mini-adventure of 07....

Laura and I just got back from Crystal Cove where we spent the last few days with my family. We packed up our bikes and rode there and back. I usually just take my regular touring bike, but on this trip I wanted to break in some toys so I took the Xtracycle. One side had my Pelican case with camera gear and the other had my messenger bag with clothes, laptop and recording gear. It turned my $1000 bike into a $6000 bike :) The trip, thankfully, was uneventful. Although we got some honks riding there on Friday afternoon which I suppose is to be expected. We're back and tired, but also happy that we squeezed in one more adventure into 07.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Portrait: The Cellar...

Shot a portrait on assignment's for a new bar that is opening up in Long Beach called The Cellar. I shot the 3 principals at the location, which is this neat underground area beneath a historic building. Lots of brick. The interior was really rough. They just got the leather seating but not the boards that go behind it.

I decided to try shooting them on the seat first. Two lights with two umbrellas on either side. One set to 1/4 power as the main light and the other to 1/16 as the fill. Lighting was ok. I wish the board behind the seats was anything but white because it robbed the photo of some contrast.

Next set up I tried was a verticle shot low to get some of the work lamps in the photo to give it an under construction feel. One main light to the left on an umbrella. Not my fave of the three, but I just want to show what goes through my head on a shoot.

The final shot, we did in the brick stairwell going down to the club. I wanted to break up the composition so had one of the guys in the foreground and the other two in the back. I'm using two key lights here, both on umbrellas. I have an umbrella on the guy on the foreground and another one on the left of the two in the background (just behind the door frame so you can't see it). I like this one best. The composition feels dynamic and light is nice and directional.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Portrait Session...4 looks in 1 hour...

I shot a corporate portrait today that was a rather fun (read stressful) exercise in lighting. I was planning to shoot some of the portrait outdoors but that was scratched when I arrived and found the building had scaffolding all over it. It was also in an industrial part of town that did not afford any good backgrounds.

Luckily I brought lights. The interior of the office was typical office park set up. Which is to say white walls and florescent lighting, not the most compelling of backgrounds. The designer I am working with wanted a portrait of the president with their company logo behind him. It was tight quarters but I was able to get the shot. The main light is an umbrella and I had to light the logo with 2 nikon strobes from either side angled down and positioned to rake the wall.

This second image was photographed in the conference room, which luckily had a splash of color and some products that the company creates on little shelves. It made a great background. Only used one light on an umbrella, the spill was enough to give a nice halo over the background.

This image was shot down the long conference table. Luckily the wall was clear so I popped a light with a gel. It didn't get quite enough color because the main light (the umbrella) was spilling on the wall. I have to remedy this by getting a softbox.

This final image was just outside. I tried to position him in front of some greenery and not the tarp that was over the office building.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Latest soundslide...

Just finished another soundslide....this one was a Christmas present for my parents...Check it out!! Click on the image!

Just some tidbits about putting this together....Sound was gathered with an H2 recorder and Giant Squid lavalier mic. This will probably be my last project using the H2 as the main recorder for voice since purchasing the Sony PCM-D50. I plan on either selling it (if I find a buyer) or using it for ambient sound capture and as a backup recorder.

I've learned to treat the sound editing and photo editing as two separate jobs. The sound is a beast on its own. For this project, I tried out what they do for This American Life. That is, logging all the tape. Listening to all the audio and writing notes without stopping the tape. That way, you have a visual representation of what you're listening to. The logging itself was slow, but it made editing the sound very fast and efficient.

I've gotten a better handle on normalizing the sound (making sound volume consistent) and ducking music to add emphasis. So far, I've been able to do quite a bit with sound with free software (Audacity and Garageband). I'm pretty happy with the sound quality on this one.

So why all the emphasis on sound? I have found that when you put these multimedia stories together, sound is as important (sometimes more so) than the imagery. It is the ether...the thread that holds the images and the story together. You can have strong images back to back but without cohesive sound, there is no flow. That said, I don't plan to become a full time recordist. But I do understand its importance and am beginning to understand how to get good sound.

70-200 outside the house...

Here is some more 70-200 VR goodness....went on a short santa bike ride...dropping off presents at the doorsteps of some friends....I took the 70-200 and D200 out with me to finally test it outside. We rode up and over the Queensway Bridge and I tried the Continuous focus mode on the camera (something I almost never use because I didn't have a lens that needed it). The 70-200 tracked pretty well. Love it!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

70-200...around the house

Playing around with the 70-200 around the house in close quarters...not exactly what the lens was designed for but I'm trying to get a sense of how it handles....

Lighting was the morning light raking across our livingroom. Nice and contrasty giving a pretty cool rim light to objects.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

....and one more new toy

Ok...So I bought myself another Christmas gift this year. Completely work related though, I swear.

I purchased the Sony PCM-D50 and it just came in today. It's a sweet digital field recorder whose main strength, as posted by Brad Linder is that it actually has decent pre-amps for external mics.

I have a Zoom H2, which made for a great beginner recorder, but as with many things, I tend to learn fast and out grow things faster. The Zoom has great internal mics, but I found that I needed to use an external mic for interviews and that is where it failed. The mic pres on the Zoom are just too hissy. It sounds like someone is frying bacon whenever you're in a quiet room.

I haven't had a chance to test the Sony extensively, but I can already tell that I like it. It's got metal. That's a plus. The knob that controls the input levels and volume are...knobs. Not buttons that click click click. They're smooth and responsive (like the focus on my 70-200). It feels like a professional machine.

From the audio I've tested it 1) sounds awesome with the Rode NTG2 2) has enough oomph to power my EV635 (albeit with some strange low-level hum) 3) plays well with my giant squid lav.

More to come as I use it more.

One shot with the 70-200

Haven't had a chance to use the 70-200 on assignment yet. But did manage to get Laura to pose for a minute. Shot details: 116mm, ISO 200, 2.8 , 1/125 with my D100. Sharp details (even for the D100) and nice smooth yummy background. Can't wait to break it in on a job :)

Friday, December 21, 2007

An early Christmas :)...or my mini 70-200VR review

No one knows what you want better for Christmas than yourself:)

My Christmas came a little early this year. Just got a Nikon 70-200mm VR lens after about two months of hunting. It seems to be backordered everywhere. It dawned on me today that I have a friend that works in a small camera shop and they might have it. And they did!

It came in a huge box for a lens, or so I thought, until I unpacked it. It's a long lens. "One of those over-compensating lenses," my girlfriend tells me. Thanks. With the lens hood it measures over a foot long!

So what's so great about this lens? It's got pretty good range for a telephoto going from 70-200. Other nikon tele's go from 80-200. The little extra 10mm on the wide end makes a difference indoors or when you want to work a little closer to a subject.

The build quality is superb. Heavy, but because it's got metal parts! Remember when cameras came with those? Barring dropping this lens from a 2nd floor window, this will last me many many years. The focus and zoom rings are silky smooth and have just the right amount of dampening in them. Unlike 3rd party lens makers or lower-end Nikon lenses, where the rings are a little jerky, snagging in the middle of the arc.

This one is like butta.

And another bit of awesomeness....actually the thing that makes this lens so darn expensive is VR. Vibration Reduction.

Does it work? Hell yeah.

I was playing with it last night inside the apartment. Photographing things lit up only by Christmas lights, handholding the camera at 200mm 2.8! Doing this on a non-VR lens is a waste of time without a mono or tripod. You could do it, but the hit ratio would be pretty low. With the VR, things came out sharp. I'm not going to say tack sharp in that sitation, but definitely exponentially sharper than I could have done handholding without the VR.

I'm going to go outside and shoot something now :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mall Santa

Got the cover the District this week. Haven't seen the print issue yet, but the layout of the Santa photos is suppose to be killer. Pick up a copy if you're in the LBC!

Miracle on 14th Street

I was hired by Better Balance for Long Beach to photograph their annual event at 14th Street Park. They give gifts to over 2000 children every year.

This is my first job using the Rode NTG2 shotgun mic and I have to say it is pure awesomeness. All the audio was taken outside in a pretty noisy environment but the mic was able to isolate their voices. It's a great mic and has made an exponential improvement in my sound capture.

This is also the first time I gathered multiple voices. Still working on how to structure the narratives. This is a little rough, but I still like it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bike Footage

I shot a few more scenes of myself riding the bike around town....I'm thinking of putting together a DVD to send to clients that will be a mix of videos and stills as a fun promotional piece.

I'm still planning to shoot a scene of me actually doing a portrait in the middle of the street with all my equipment. Hopefully will get that done by this weekend so I can finish this vid.

Using Final Cut Express instead of iMovie now. iMovie kept crashing on me and was starting to get frustrating to work with.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Making Pies....

Here's a goofy little video I put together today....Laura was making Christmas cookies and I wanted to play around the the video camera a bit more. I saw a site about different camera movements and decided to try some out. To top it all off, Laura had Patty Griffin's "Making Pies" song, which is pretty melancholy and really plays well with the visuals :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My first foray into video....

Well, I have a great opportunity this week to possibly land a spot on a show that focuses on people involved in the current green movement. Spoke to a producer and after having some scheduling conflicts, she asked me if I could send a video of myself in action.

I didn't have a camera.

I did, however, have a friend that had one. So I called him up and asked if I could borrow it for a few days. So I got hold of the camera yesterday, figured out how it worked and how to get it into my computer.

Today, I hitched a ride to Samys Camera by South Coast and bought a Rode Shotgun mic (I was planning to buy one of these anyway) and decided to try it out on this video. I got home about 1:30. Jumped on my bike and shot all this footage in about 2 hours and have spent the last 4 hours editing it.

To get the audio, I am holding a shotgun mic just below the camera's sightline. Using the in camera mic would have sounded horrible, so I recorded the audio to a separate machine and mixed it in later. Not too bad, I don't think. Hopefully, I'll get a call back from the producer...

Friday, December 07, 2007

tis the season....

Braved the wind and threat of rain yesterday to photograph this cute kid. It was only about 8 miles away, but I was hit with a pretty consistent headwind that knocked my speed down to a paltry 10mph...the joys of bike commuting:) I did fly home though in record time with my camera gear...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Santa Claus behind the scenes....

Got to photograph a Santa Claus tonight at a mall in Downey....nice affable man. Funny, even though I knew he wasn't Santa and a Santa doesn't exist it took my head a few seconds to make that distinction.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Went to Naples Gourmet Grocer last night to photograph Heather Perry who is a world class barista. She has travelled internationally and competed in barista competitions. Shot it for a possible multimedia piece, but also the totally selfish act of wanting a cappuccino from the US barista champion :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Gatherer

Just finished my multimedia piece on Laura. Visit her site here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

iPhone vs. my complete and utter loathing of ATT

This post is a bit of a non-sequitor and is not about bicycling or even photography. It is about another subject which could be a blog on its own--how much I loath AT&T/Sin-gular.

My poor first gen. Blackberry is dying a real undignified death in its dirty plastic protective case and I don't want to replace it with another non-Mac friendly device. What are my choices? The Sidekick? I owned exactly 4 different Sidekicks and destroyed them all. The moving mechanisms are fun but are prone to breaking.

Another Blackberry? I wasn't really excited about my current Blackberry when I bought it. I've always looked at it as a sort of the adult's version of the Sidekick. Basically a Sidekick if it were designed by someone from Microsoft, turning a generally youthful fun device into something that feels more like one of those house arrest ankle bracelets. It's only saving grace is that I haven't broken it yet...well, completely broken it...

That leaves me with the obvious choice of the iPhone. Sleek design. Mac-friendly. It really should be a no-brainer, except for the fact that for whatever godforsaken reason, Steve Jobs decided to make the official service provider of the iPhone...the devil.

Yes, the devil.

I had AT&T for years and had marginally good service. When they "upgraded" their networks a few years ago I got no service. I literally had to stand in the middle of my street to receive and make phone calls. When I complained and complained about this, all I could ever get from a rep. was "sorry, we're still in the process of upgrading." This "process" lasted for almost a year until I was close enough to the end of my contract (and patience), that I paid off my indentured status to go to another carrier.

My case is not unique and isn't even nearly as bad as it gets (Look up "hate ATT" and read other experiences). However, it was enough to realize that the AT&T logo is actually the Death Star from Star Wars.

Yes. The Death Star.

We all know who runs the Death Star don't we?

Dick Cheney.

Ok. What the heck does this have to do with anything?

I have gear acquisition syndrome and I really want the iPhone, but it is complicated by the fact I must make a pact with the devil to use one. So strong is my loathing for AT&T I will act against every impulsive and obsessive fiber in my body to wait for the glorious day when the iPhone is released from the clutches of the devil.

Seriously, when I saw the AT&T adds advertising themselves as the "new AT&T" I almost wet myself with laughter.

Commercial: Cingular. Welcome to the NEW AT&T!
Translation: We're changing our name and our image so hopefully you'll forget about how our company ritually molests its customers.

Hopefully that day may be close at hand. I've been reading about hacking the iPhone to get it to work with T-Mobile. Hmmm...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

portrait of some artists....

Hope everyone had a good turkey day.

I've been working on a few multimedia stories, which I hope to finish this week. Shot some images of my girlfriend who makes jewelry from natural objects(visit her store here). I went out on one of her gathering walks and took some snaps.

Also took photos of my father, who is also an artist for a multimedia piece I'm doing on him.