Monday, July 30, 2007

Lighting Spork!

So what do I do when I'm not photographing families, weddings or important city officials? I like to take pictures of my eating utensils :) I bought a titanium spork from REI a few weeks ago for my upcoming bike tour. When I first saw it I thought it was a bit absurd. However, after a few rounds in the store it began to dawn on me how perfect it was as an object. Half spoon. Half fork. All titanium. It is the culmination of man's ingenuity and learning.

Anyway, I decided to photograph it heroically, as is only befitting such a singularly perfect object.

It took about ten minutes to set up. Grey matt board as the background with a Nikon strobe with a snoot and gel for a splash of color. The only other light is another Nikon strobe gaffer taped to a gridspot and held by my hand. I had the camera on a tripod and moved the main light around to get different looks....something with even lighting, smothing high key and something low key.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Acres of Books...

When I first moved to Long Beach after graduating from UCLA I had a job writing content for a now dead dotcom in downtown. It was then that I discovered Acres of Books, one of the greatest used bookstores in all of Southern California. No joke.

The place is cavernous, yet the familiar smell of old paperbacks made it feel like wrapping yourself up in a down comforter. I have bought many books from there that have changed my life. I bought a copy of Barbara Savage's seminal bicycle touring travelogue, "Miles from Nowhere" from Acres about a year ago and it has since inspired me to go on my own bicycle tours.

This week, I had the great pleasure of meeting Jackie, the current owner of Acres. She was great fun to photograph with her quick smile and dry wit. The building itself is also so photogenic, not only a treasure trove of books, but also filled with little details. Arrows guide you around the fiction room. On the board where the Westerns are, is a half torn book cover with a man drawing his gun.

And the light! The fiction room has great light streaking through the bookshelves.

Unfortunately, the city, in all its infinite wisdom is slowly forcing businesses like Acres to close. They've already forced Terry's Camera out of business and bulldozed it (an eternally sore spot for me). They tear these great buildings down for the sake of progress, but what progress is it if you just end up with another carbon copy city?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Poll Added

Blogger has finally added a polling function. Awesome. Now I can ask all those deeply profound questions that keep me up all night.

Okay, so maybe my first poll question isn't so profound, but it is a real concern. I sometimes wonder how random people perceive me when I'm rolling down the street. Am I not taken seriously because of the bike or am I seen as forward thinking and just practicing for the impending carpocalypse?

Buzz in.

Tell your friends.

If you want to qualify your answer beyond the very descriptive "Genius" or "Professional Suicide" choices, please comment in this posting.

Ta Da! Finally done!

Press the play button!

Well, my opus thus far for documentary family portraits is done. I shot about 20 gigs of images. Approximately 1600 RAW files. Of that, I did a first round edit to about 366 images. I had to pare down the 366 to 144 images for the slideshow.


When you do an edit like that, everything comes into play. You measure carefully the value of each image, not only for its own weight, but also its relationship to other images. I think that's where the true art of editing takes place. It reminds me of this quote:

Perfection is achieved not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

SLO Journey...

A few more pics from my recent trips to SLO....

Some beautiful light in Union Station at 6:45 in the morning...

My BikeFriday loaded and ready for adventure...

Trains coming and going...

A combination of the dirty Amtrak windows and sleep deprivation make everything impressionistic...

One Perfect Thing

It seems in life, I'm always searching for that one perfect thing. The perfect bike or the perfect camera or the perfect cup of coffee.

It has led me on some strange journeys.

When I first started shooting, I jumped in with an insatiable appetite for information that only a true amateur (from the latin amat, "he loves") can have. I first started with my dad's Nikon F2 and a small darkroom that fit on a desk. Once the bug bit, it sunk its teeth in. I was then obsessed with rangefinders (as oppose to SLRs) and that led me on a long strange trip jumping from a Canonnet G17, to a Bessa R, to a Leica M2 then an M4P and finally ending with Hasselblad Xpan. Then, not satisfied with 35mm film, I started playing with medium format (Hasselblad, Mamiya C330, Rolleiflex 2.8, Holga), but apparently even that was not enough so I bought a 4x5 camera.

I was first an "available light" shooter, if the light is not there, don't add any because it will spoil the mood. However, I got fascinated with Avedon and Irving Penn, studio shooters that weren't opposed to lighing. So of course, I had to get myself some lights. I learned on some enormous Norman 2000, but eventually bought a few scaled down 200Bs. Since then, I've scaled down my studio kit even more, to just a few Nikon strobes and some select light modifiers.

The same thing happened with bikes. I wanted one perfect bike that could do everything. Of course, there is no such thing. That is why I have the Xtracycle to carry large loads, the Bike Friday to carry medium sized loads and to go multi-modal, the Surly Steamroller for in town errands and my Mondonico road bike for the pure pleasure of going fast.

I suppose my personality is predisposed to photography. When you think about it, photography is all about searching for that "perfect" moment, where all the elements of light , color, action, expression miraculously fall into place for a single beautiful beat...then disappears once again into the mundane reality. Still photography is freezing an action into a moment, distilling it to its purest essence.

I have learned however that there is no such thing as perfection.

Or if there is, it certainly doesn't last for very long. It's like christmas. You remember the anticipation leading up to it and then the long drawn out period of recovery, but those few blissful moments when you're opening your present and it's that shiny red bicycle you always wanted seems to fade so quickly. It can't be comprehended or observed. It escapes our mind's ability to capture it like a fickle butterfly deftly avoiding our nets.

So if you find perfection (send me some :), enjoy it but know that it will not last. Everything changes.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Just a little compositing...

Well, still bummed about my lost memory cards. I was going to spend the money on a new tent for the tour, but that will have to wait. No cards. Can't shoot.

I can't really do much about the lost images, but I can work with what I have. I reworked one of the images from the shoot. The sky was totally blown out if I adjusted the exposure for the subject. Luckily, there was enough info in the RAW file that I could darken the top part of the image and bring the barbed wire and sky into better view. I think it definitely adds to the image to have that ominous barbed wire running across the frame.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Andy St. and a minor tragedy....

Well, I had a good and bad day...mostly bad, I suppose. I was out on assignment shooting a rough little neighborhood in North Long Beach. I was with the reporter and the story was about a street in Long Beach that was riddled with violence and drugs, but managed to turn itself around with community effort.

Andy St. was rampant with gangsters and drug dealers. The SWAT team made weekly visits there. At one point, the US Postal Service refused to deliver mail to the individual apartments and instead put up a group of mailboxes at the end of the street. So, to say the least, it was a little rough around the edges.

I met some families that pulled together to get rid of the troublesome residents, plant trees, paint a mural and more or less revitalize the neighborhood. I got some great shots of the families on the street.

When I was photographing some kids playing on the street, my wallet of memory cards fell out of my back pocket and someone either walked off with it or it grew wings and flew away. We scoured the street for a good forty minutes with no luck. I'm more upset with the lost images than I am with the cards, since I got some great stuff that I can't shoot again. Fortunately, I had enough variety in the final card that was in my camera to hopefully cover the story.

C'est la vie.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I've been doing more black and white conversions lately. I use to feel that turning digital color images into black and white was a bit of affectation. Coming from a strong traditional black and white printing background, I had the attitude that if you want it black and white shoot it with black and white film. Of course, it has become cost prohibitive since black and white development and printing is becoming a rarefied art and the production costs are going through the roof. I'm still perfecting my technique, but have been satisfied with the results so far.

Monday, July 16, 2007

An amazing experience....

I'm back from SLO. It was a long journey and a great weekend. I spent the weekend with the family I was photographing, documenting everything from when they first got up in the morning, to making pancakes, to playing in a creek behind their house, to reading under the tree on their front lawn, to putting the children to bed, etc.,

For me, it was a pretty intense and amazing experience. Intense, in that I had to be constantly aware, looking for where the light was best, waiting for just the right moment and watching my camera settings. In all honesty, I didn't really know how it would go over. I've shot several sessions like this with families before, but never to this length of time and in such close quarters. Luckily, the family I was with was very open and willing so it made my job easy.

The entire train ride over I tried to empty my mind and be open. I knew something like this would only be successful if I was fluid in the moment. If I tried to force shots or over direct, it would ruin the delicate balance of the situation.

I remember reading about Cartier Bresson, the great Magnum photographer, talking about his style. He said something to the effect that one must always place the camera between his shirt and his chest.

That is to say, you have to shoot with the heart.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Test Flight....the little bike that could

Well, I've been testing out my equipment for my assignment this weekend. This is a photo of me tooling around the Bikestation with my loaded Bike Friday trying to get the feel of the bike with all the load.

I'll be taking a combination of bike, bus and train to travel the 226 miles to San Luis Obispo where my assignment is. It should qualify, easily, as the furthest car-free assignment I've done so far (I'm still waiting for Oprah to give me a call so I can ride out to Chicago and take her portrait).

I modified one of my Pelican cases so that I could mount it on my bike. The Pelican case is one rugged case. I often use it as a step stool to get a little height during photoshoots.

I purchased some mounting hardware from Ortlieb and drilled holes into the case.

So far, it has held up admirably without popping off the rack once, which is a testimony to how great the Ortlieb hardware is.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My furthest assignment....

This weekend I'm going on a mini-adventure! I've been hired to shoot a weekend documentary portrait of a family celebrating their new reloaction. In many ways this is my dream assignment. I've found a client that understands my approach and he also happens to be the CEO of a wonderful company called, Blue Marble.

Blue Marble is an investing firm that specializes in creating socially counscious portfolios. We're both in tune with many issues and he loved and understood why I bike. He asked me if I would be interested in taking a trip to San Luis Obispo and I said yes!

San Luis Obispo is quite a way by bike and as much as I'd love to ride the entire stretch, I won't be able to this time around. I am, however, taking Amtrak. There is a station in SLO and it's a short ride from there to their house.

I still find it pretty amazing the places you can go without a car and a little ingenuity.

I'll be documenting my trip as I go....

A little more dramatic...

I photographed another lawyer this week from the same firm. We did the regular backdrop shots and he was game to go outside and do some portraits there. I could tell he wanted something dramatic so I tried to find a patch of sky with some clouds in it with a building. I shot low, underexposed the background and hit him with a nice hard light. It was hazy so I had to work the clouds over in PS but it came out pretty well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Photography can be loud!!!!!!

I had a relatively peaceful afternoon today. I met with a family about ordering prints. Had some tacos at my new favorite taqueria stand (Taqueria Mexicana for the LB locals). I put on a new front rack for the bike I'll be taking on the bike tour this summer.

Then, I had to go to San Pedro for a band shoot. San Pedro is a terrible city to get to by bike from Long Beach. You have to take Anaheim (heavy traffic, crappy road) to Gaffey (heavy traffic, crappy road, hills), since it would be a near death wish to ride over the Vincent Thomas bridge.

One thing I've learned is to work smarter, not harder. I took my folding bike and piled on two light stands and a pelican case with my camera and strobes and went multi-modal (part bike/ part mass transit). I rode to the transit mall, picked up the Commuter Express to San Pedro, got off on 7th and Gaffey and rode the remaining 8 blocks to my job. It would have been feasible to do it all by bike, but by the time I got there I would be too wrecked to shoot.

The assignment was the hardcore punk band, 46 Short. They were practicing in the basement of the drummer's house. It was a small hot room that filled up with loudest punk rock I have ever heard in my life. Luckily, they had a spare set of ear plugs so I wouldn't go deaf. I could feel the air literally vibrate when I was shooting. It was hard to get a good shot of the whole band in the room, so when they went on break we went outside to shoot.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Photography is Improvisation...

Plan but don't over plan.

Have a vision of the final image, but be willing to let go of it.

This is usually the mantra going on in my head as a I pedal to a job. Most of my assignments require me to shoot in a limited amount of time with a limited amount of information. Most of the time I have no idea what my subject will look like, what the environment will look like, if the light is good or bad, if my subject is willing or ornery.

At first I found this extremely stressful. I would stay up the night before and storyboard, or dream up different approaches and contingency plans, all of which I either forgot or went out the window once I got to the location.

Needless to say, I've learned to deal with it. I simply accept things won't be perfect, that there will be constraints, but within those constraints is my arena.

This assignment today was a good example. I had talked to the PR person for the two DJs and had anticipated being able to shoot inside the club. When I arrived it was in full swing and there was no way I could set up in there. Luckily, the club had a foyer with a big green wall. Unfortunately, there was a whole bunch of stuff in front of it. So the first fifteen minutes was moving stuff away from the wall and then dragging a speaker from the other side of the room into the frame.

Also, there was a lot of outside ambient light coming in, which wasn't helping the picutre. So I had to dial down to my lowest ISO and my hightest flash synch speed so I could make my strobes the only light source. But to do that, I had to pump the strobes up to almost full and bring them in really tight, giving me a limited number of shots and slow recycle times.

It's organized chaos.

I feel most alive when I'm shooting, it's as if everything in my head turns on and I'm observing and judging variables all at once to create the picture. It's turning the survival instinct into art.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Life's Funny Moments...

I photographed another great family at their home the other day. This is one of the first photos that jumped out at me while doing the edit. Sometimes you get little gems like this given to you. A nice visual koan where all you have to do is click!.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cycle Hero!

Grabbed this from another bike bog....I'd like to think that people think of me as a hero rather than just a road target :)

Sometimes you have to bring it all....

I was hired by a local attorney's office to shoot some portraits. They requested something shot against a background. I usually try to avoid carrying a backdrop because it is a bear to carry around town, setup and take down, but sometimes you have to just do it.

Fortunately, my subject was great and it was a fun quick shoot. I tried out some environmental shots outside the building as well.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another Great Family Portrait Session....

Sometimes, it's hard to not love my job :) Nothing beats running around the park on a summer's day photographing an adorable family.

Hire me today!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A much less philosophical entry....

Happy 4th! Many of you should be are approaching a nice level of intoxication. Here in Long Beach, not even noon, and the beach is teeming with people. Large groups have set up tents along the bluffs, on the sand and in the parks as if it were a city wide religious revival.

Up above, I can hear the first helicopters of the day. By evening there will be more, much more.

It's cloudy and humid and there's an expectant buzz in the air. I wonder if this is what the apocalypse will be like.

On a lighter note, here are some pictures of drinks from a recent assignment.

Drink up! It's the 4th!

Aptly named, "Drive-By Shooter."

You don't want to know