Monday, April 30, 2007

Constructed Realities

This weekend I did a photo shoot for a local development company, Conduit Development. Their growing speciality is building with ICF, or insulated concrete forms. Basically, instead of using wood to frame a house, they use foam forms that shape the walls which is eventually filled with concrete. This creates a solid, well insulated, fireproof and more eco-friendly structure.

I was hired to shoot some portraits of the principals as well as some lifestyle images telling the story of a family moving into a new home built by Conduit. I got to work with real clients who were actually walking through the frame of their new house. It was a fun shoot but also a challenge. I had to direct people but also keep it loose enough so the images look natural.

Shoots like this take lots of quick thinking. I had a storyboard of some images I knew I wanted to get, but I also had to keep myself open to impromptu images.

I did an e-interview with the folks at If you've never been, it's a great site run by bike commuters. Some good practical advice, equipment reviews and observations on being a utilitarian cyclist. If you need some more inspiration to hit the road, definitely check out the site.

The site also posted some pics of my Xtracycle with advertising, which I don't think I've mentioned on this blog yet. So here it is...


I had my first spill on my fixie this morning. It happened unceremoniously while I was coming back from Seal Beach. I was just about to go over the small bridge to 2nd Street, standing on the pedals, when my right foot unclipped. In some instantaneous chain of events that I don't fully comprehend, I ended up "flying over the handlebars."

I always thought that "flying over the handlebars" was thrown around metaphorically or as a bit of playful imagery to spice up a story. Apparently, when people fly over the handlebars that is literally what happens.

I flew and landed on my left arm. Thankfully, nothing broken, just a little road rash, some sore muscles and a pair of out of true wheels.

Friday, April 27, 2007

It always takes longer than you think...

My view from the San Gabriel River Trail

My adventure yesterday took a little longer than planned. The mileage came out closer to 50 miles for the day after a few wrong turns and a stop for lunch. For the most part it was nice and straight with a little urban freestyle once I left the river trail.

Some highlights included hearing gunfire, which I thought was coming from the Walmart, but was really coming from the police academy shooting range next to it.

I also almost ran into a horse. About mile 15 you pass by a lot of homes with horse stables and people apparently ride their horses down the trail.

I saw a falcon-type bird eat a smallish-type bird (I'm not an ornithologoist), plucking it right out of the sky and tackling it into some high grass. It was very Animal Kingdom.

The assignment itself was a little wacky. It was given to me by District writer, Theo Douglas. The last time I photographed something for a Theo Douglas story it involved an automatic assault rifle. So I was a little weary, especially since he closed the email with an ominous "good luck."

My subject was a house in suburbia that was embroiled in a lawsuit of somesort with a certain television makeover show. When I arrived I circled the house on my bike, half-expecting a police perimeter and snipers on the roof. I decided to eat my muffin and picked a shaded tree that wasn't too far from the house so I could see if there was much activity on the street.

Some gardners packing up their truck. A woman watering the lawn. The ocassional mini-van pulling in and out of a driveway. Things looked reasonably still.

I steeled my nerves and rode up to the house, whipped out my camera that was in my handlebar bag (it was already turned on and dialed into the right settings) and began snapping away.

Wide establishing shot. Horizontal. Vertical.

A little closer. Wide shot using the driveway as a visual lead in. Horizontal. Vertical.

Step back and get the street. Horizontal. Vertical.

All this while I'm thinking about my legal defense as a photographer, should someone come out of the house frying pan or assault rifle in hand. "I'm on public property. Your house is in plain view from the street. Your house has no reasonable expectations of privacy being out in the open like this."

Of course, nothing happened. No cars with sirens came whipping around the nice wide sidealks. No sniper (atleast that I saw) was locking down on me from one of the 2nd story bedroom windows. Just another day in suburbia. Although, I still packed up pretty quickly and zig zagged down some streets incase someone was following.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Somewhere I've Never Been

Today's Adventure

Out on assignment today for the District. They're sending me to Santa Fe Springs. It sounds far. Santa Fe ( I think, New Mexico?) Springs (I think, there's nothing in LB even remotely pastoral). I found the location on Google Maps and although it was further than average (20 miles one way, 40 miles round trip), it was atleast located near the San Gabriel river trail.

I've never been that far on the San Gabriel, nor have I ever even heard of Santa Fe Springs, so it will be an adventure. I always think of Diane Arbus' statement in her Aperture monograph.

My favorite thing is to go where I've never been. For me there's something about just going into somebody else's house. When it comes time to go, if I have to take a bus to somewhere or if I have to take a cab uptown, it's like I've got a blind date. It's always seemed something like that to me. And sometimes I have a sinking feeling of, Oh God it's time and I really don't want to go. And then, once I'm on my way, something terrific takes over about the sort of queasiness of it and how there's absolutely no method for control.

I get the same mixture of queasiness and fear, but the prospect of something new and different always pushes me and my bike out the door.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Xtracycle Documentary

Just saw this on the Xtracycle Blog....if you've never heard or seen the Xtracycle it's an amazing invention. Why these guys haven't gotten more props than they have is mind boggling.

Reporting Road Hazards

A friend of mine just started a blogspot page to report road hazards in Long Beach. The idea would be to document and aggregate road hazards for cyclists and present them to the city in hopes of holding them accountable. If you're in the LBC, you can contribute.

Check the page out here.

Bike Commuting? Lost your license?

Bike commuting in Los Angeles isn't the easiest thing to do. Beyond the limitations of the car-centric infrastructure, there's a great cultural bias against bikes. I remember when I first started commuting by bike, people would say to me with a knowing smile, "So you got a DUI? I feel you man."

When I tried to explain that I was doing it by choice, they'd either think I was trying to play off the DUI or that I was crazy. Often when I shoot events or work for some clients they will offer to validate my parking. I tell them I'm coming by bike, they ask me if I mean my motorcycle. When I tell them, "No, a bicycle," there's a strange silence followed with, " You mean the one with pedals?"

Yes, the one with pedals.

If you listen carefully at most meetings, parties or gatherings of more than three people, the first five minutes are usually devoted to parking woes and traffic problems. No joke. The ebb and flow of traffic is so integrated into our daily lives that it has become part of our language.

For example, few things strike such an emotional chord to most Angelenos as the three numbers 405.

405. Say it. Bring it up at any party and it will illicit looks of scorn. If you're late to class, a meeting, wedding, funneral or even the birth of your own firstborn, all you have to say is, "405" and all will be forgiven.

It is no wonder then that when I explain I arrived by bicycle I get such incredulous looks, as if to say, "Bikes? They have those here?"

Yes they do.

When I first decided to try commuting by bike I relied heavily on the internet as I had no one to model myself after, no one to ask what a good bike for commuting was? how do you put on a rack? how do you pronounce pannier? what is a pannier?

So for those of you that would like to brave the big bad world of bike commuting, I offer you these links to get you started and to find a community of other strange souls.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bikes and HGTV

Today was rather fortuitous. I was hanging out at Bikestation when some people from HGTV came in with cameras. They had picked up the LA Times story and were doing a video piece. After they had filmed some footage of Bikestation and the Executive Director they asked if they could interview me. I did a short interview and they were good fun. The cameraman asked if he could strap his camera to my bike somehow to get some B roll. I had the Xtracycle so I was able to sling it in one of the panniers and took a few quick spins up and down the street. Hopefully they'll contact me so I know when it will air.

I decided I wasn't happy with the snaps of my bike yesterday so I brought it to the park to take some pics to submit to Fixed Gear Gallery , the great repository of fixies from around the world. I found a tree stump in the park that also happened to get a nice shaft of light and took some snaps and mailed it in.


Bike Route to Grimm's

Here are some images from a photo essay that ran yesterday in the Downtown Gazette. It's a story on Burt Grimm's tattoo parlor, a historic tattoo shop in Long Beach that has reopened under new ownership. It's in a bit of an odd place, seemingly hidden beneath new luxury condo-loft-oriums, but is doing well. The shop is filled with photographs from customers and old tattoo and piercing tools. It has the old-timey feel of a time capsule or a museum, enough so that you can almost forget about the incessant construction going on across the street.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Since I've been doing lots of local assignments on my fixed gear, I decided to try to smack some advertisement on it :) I have mini billboards that hang off the side of my Xtracycle but nothing for the fixie.

I've been thinking about it a for a while but the nice big aero profile of the Veloctiy Deep V makes a great canvas for artistic expression. I rode down to Lyons, the local art supply store, and bought some 1 inch black vinyl letters.

10 minutes later...I've got something for people to read as I trackstand at lights :)

When I reinserted wheel I made sure that the text would be legible when my pedals are at 3 and 9 o'clock. I think I'd like to try a photoshoot where I'm skidding and someone is panning the camera so everything is a blur except for the text.

I took the bike to the bluffs to take some pictures. I convinced someone there to take some pics of me while I was on the bike, but she misfocused and it came out blurry, but still sorta neat looking.

Where do they all go?

Unfortunately, not every photo I submit for assignments get printed. Most stories will only have one or two accompanying photos that are selected from a group of images I submit. So where do they all go? Well, a lot of them sit on one of three of my external hard drives. I'm planning to research submitting them as stock so they do more than just take up MBs.

Here is a good example. I was assigned to shoot Cambodian New Year. If you've never been, it's a treasure trove of images. Everything is colorful and lively it's hard not to get a good picture. Here are some of my faves that never made it to the printe page.

Bike Route to Assignment

LA Times Article

I did a phone interview a few days ago with reporter Deborah Schoch from the LA Times. Article came out today.

Read it here.

Here's the blurb:

Long Beach residents can check their bikes at the downtown Bikestation, where they can get free air for their tires and on-site repair service. A Santa Barbara self-service bike center opening May 1 will feature hot showers and a locker room for changing from sweaty nylon-spandex jerseys to suits, ties and heels.

Valet bike parking would seem a quintessentially Californian response to clogged freeways and overflowing parking lots. By encouraging more cyclists, cities are promoting environmental consciousness and outdoor cardio workouts.

Most important, for some cyclists, is knowing that someone is watching over their bike.

"You can have all the bike lanes you want, but when you get to your location, you need a place to park," said Russ Roca, 29, of Long Beach.

Roca, a freelance photographer, travels exclusively on a bike retooled to carry 200 pounds of camera equipment. He is a regular at the local Bikestation, which, he says, has become a social spot for area cyclists.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Art on 2nd Street

Bike Route to and from Assignment

Some snaps from the 4th Annual sidewalk chalk drawing contest here in Belmont Shores.


Almost all photos need some tweaking in photoshop. White balance can be a little off, exposure is a little under or a little selective doding and burning is needed to make the subject pop. Below (and below that) is an example of a more finished image.

I usually use Bridge to do a quick edit and crank out a gallery for review. For final tweaking, I'll bring the image into Nikon Capture NX, which is a Nikon specific RAW development program. I tried it reluctantly because it was just another program to learn and I enjoy shooting much better than sitting in front of a computer. It runs a bit slow, but it has amazing control over the RAW files. You can do changes to specific parts of the RAW file as if you were working on a JPG in photoshop.

Amazing. Worth the price of admission.

For example, in this image I wanted the subject to jump more so I added "control points" to the background and darkened it. The same with his shirt. Then I added a control point on his face to give it a touch more brightness. Something like this is impossible to do in ACR. Changes occur globally. But with Capture NX you can edit RAW files as if they were jpgs.

Now if it would only run a little faster on my 'puter.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Portrait Improvisation

Bike Route to Assignment
Bike Route Home

I really try to think out my portraits. When I get the text of the story I'm illustrating I'll read it and start trying to come up with some visual strategy. The problem is, you can't over plan. You have to improvise.

Most of the time I have no idea what my subject or location will look like. Sometimes the images I had in mind called for a certain type of look that the subject doesn't match. Or, the location will be a dull office with stucco ceilings or the size of a shoe box. This is when thinking on your feet is important.

This portrait was shot in the foyer of his office. It was small and there was several light sources coming from different directions adding up to a pretty flat picture. I closed the blinds and set my shutter speed as high as it would synch so I could cancel out any stray light coming from the overhead flourescents and the other rooms.

Don Clarke is a geologist who has done some work with the city of Long Beach studying what happens to the land as it is being pumped for oil. Thankfully, Don had a mini oil pump. I first envisioned using it as a gobo castign a shadow of a large oil pump behind him. However, it didn't work out because I couldn't keep the shadow from becoming too abstracted. I finally settled on setting it so it would appear in the background. I gelled it with a snooted strobe to make it look more dramatic.

Don is lit by small softbox on a lightstand. I had forgotten the swivel head for the strobe so to make it tilt forward, I propped a small book beneath one of the legs.

I also took some shots without a strobe for a lighter less posed feel just to cover the bases.

Tools of the Trade

People always wonder what I carry during assignments since I am on bike. It usually varies with what I'm shooting.

If I'm shooting a protest or an outdoor event, I pack light. 2 cameras (one wide, one long), one strobe and no lightsands.

If I'm shooting for an image with multiple people that requires that I overpower the sun, I'll bring some stands, umbrellas and a pair of Norman 200Bs, which usually give enough juice to keep the sun in check.

Today, I'm shooting a portrait of a single person in his office. I'm bringing some strobes to help control the light as typical office light is ghastly and flat. Here's the breakdown:

1 D200 with 17-55
85mm 1.8
1 SB800 strobe
1 SB-24
Pocket Wizards
TTL cord
Bogen Superclamp
Bogen Monopod
Bogen small lightstand with umbrella adaptor
Small Chimera Softbox with speedring and mountings
Roscoe sample filter packet
Memory Cards
Leatherman Tool
Bike multitool, patch kit, compressed air and water

Recent Shoot...Stoping Irvineification

Bike Route To and From Assignment

One of the publications I shoot for is a new start up called The District Weekly. It's a Long Beach based alternative weekly, which is pretty much comprised of all the talent from the OC Weekly that defected after it was purchased by Village Voice media.

Here are a few shots from my first assignment with them. I was assigned to take a portrait of a activist Tarin Olson, who is trying desperately to keep some of the new development projects in check by bringing the public voice into discussions. This city, like others, has a habit of moving forward without any community input especially in terms of new development. When it does seek input, it is usually perfunctory and is more like a "listening tour" rather than honest to goodness debate.

Hello World

This is my first post. Ok, actually it is my second first post. I had started an account almost a year ago and got about as far as one post.

Things are different now. I'm a different person now. More pro-blog. Committed. So this is officially my inaugural post.

Whew..glad that's over with (again).