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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Had a fun assignment to shoot a portrait of Brian Ulaszewski for a District article. It worked out well, because we are acquaintances already. The portrait was shot on the site of a proposed park that Brian is spearheading. It also happens to be in one of the most dangerous intersections in Long Beach!

As I was waiting for him there, I couldn't figure out the logic of that intersection. It REALLY is a nightmare. You could turn the number of close calls into a drinking game.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Audio concepts for a photographer....

Well, I've been slogging along with teaching myself audio. I haven't had any formal training and no friends that are audio technicians so it's been a bit of trial and error and error, though I am making some correlations. I don't know if this is helpful to anyone but myself and other fledgling photographers poking their lenses into the strange world of audio, but here goes:

ISO in photography is a number which measures the sensitivity of the recording medium to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light and the lower light you can shoot in and get a usable image. ISO 1600, for example, is considered a high ISO (50 ISO is low) and can be used to shoot at night with a fast lens.

Audio gain, is similar. The higher the GAIN setting the more sensitive the mic is to picking up sound. So if the signal is weak, you can increase the gain to capture the sound, just as if the environment is dark, you can increase the ISO to capture the light.

However, you don't get something for nothing. As you increase ISO, you get "noise" in your image, which appears like weird discolored pixels in the shadows. As you increase GAIN, you also get "noise" which sounds like hiss or crackling in your sound.

Fascinating huh?

In digital photography, the "negative" is a RAW file. It is the raw unadulterated data collected by a camera. It is typically a large file, but with it you can control exposure, color balance, etc.,

In digital audio, the WAV file is the equivalent of a RAW file. You can manipulate a WAV in post-processing just like you can a RAW file in Photoshop.

MP3 is to audio like JPG is to photography. Both are compressed formats that lose information and don't offer the editing possibilities that RAW/WAV files do.

Another interesting corollary is the waveform and the histogram. Both the shape of a waveform and histogram tell you about the image. A waveform where the form hits the ceiling is similar to a histogram where the highlights are clipped. They both represent lost information that can't be retrieved.

Interestingly, just as it is better to err on the side of underexposure in photography, it is also better to record with lower levels in audio. You can always bring out details in the shadowy part of an image or the quiet part of a recording, but you can't recover highlights or where the waveform has clipped.

Levels = Correct Exposure

To "monitor levels" in sound is to make sure that your'e not clipping your audio, that the mic sensitivity is set so you can capture a good range of sound without clipping loud sounds. Similarly, in photography, you monitor your exposure so you get a shot where there is detail in the shadows and you don't blow your highlights.

In sound, level monitoring is done by watching a light ladder or some kind of visual representation of the loudness of the sound. In photography it is done by peaking at the histogram and making sure the histogram doesn't slide off the left or the right.

more to come as I figure things out....

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Memorial Centennial

I'm lucky to have Memorial Hospital of Long Beach as a good client. They're celebrating their 100th year this year and pulled out all the stops on a few events. This is a sideshow from their Centennial Dinner at the Hyatt. As always, I'm available for event photography so if you need someone to shoot an event, email me at russ (at) russroca (dot) com.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An oldie but a goodie...

Thought I would repost this as a YouTube video to get a little wider distribution....This is actually the first day in the life of portrait type shoot I did and I still love it. I think the combination of the images and the music ("At the Hop" by Devendra Banhart) just yanks on the heartstrings.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Episode 2: Fear and Loading

My mild ride with District reporter Rachel Powers through the port of Long Beach.

The Same but Different

Well, today I'm 30.


It's sort of a weird feeling. I remember thinking in college that 30 was the end. Every one of my favorite writers had been published before they were 30. By 30, I was suppose to have been in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. I was suppose to have been best drinking buddies with David Foster Wallace and George Saunders. Conde Nast would have me on speed dial.

Somehow, things didn't quite turn out like how I had envisioned when I was 20. First of all, I'm a photographer now (not a bad lot in life). Back then I was to be a writer. A Writer. A writer of our times.

After months of writing for dotcoms during the boom then the bust, I found myself writing the cheesy trivia you see on DVD "special features." (rent Meet the Parents...truly great literature buried within its menus)

So I left writing for design.

I worked for a design firm, then got scooped up doing design for one of the nation's largest law firms. It paid well, but after about 6 years I was tired of being the mouse jockey of a bunch of lawyers who didn't know what they wanted and whose idea of art direction was koan-like "make it the same, but different."

During my time with the law firm I started experimenting with photography and over the course of say, three months, I knew that's what I wanted to do next. Things worked their way out and I left the law firm and was set loose on my own.

I became a photographer. Not quite the Photographer of our times, but a photographer.

That was almost 2 years ago. When I was still in my 20s.

Now I'm 30. My photography business is doing well and I'm still learning all the time. I don't think I've "made it" or "arrived" yet, but I do feel ok with certain things. Like the New Yorker, I'd still be happy if I got published in the NY before I was 40.

I'd be totally okay with that.

The funny thing is, looking back at the (short) arc of my life so far, those enigmatic words that were given to me at the law firm, "the same but different," take on new meaning. In a way, I've been doing the same thing but differently.

I remember in high school, I had made up my mind that I wanted to be creative when I grew up. Of course, "creative" isn't a job. It's not something you can check mark on a marketing survey. I just knew that I always wanted to be doing something different, something unique, something that didn't involve a tie.

So far I've succeeded. This "creative" has taken on different forms (writing, design, photography), but the essence is the same.

I'm still not wearing a tie.

Now I'm 30 and I feel good with the things I've accomplished. Nothing grand, nothing that has made it in the national headlines (although I was quoted in a Time article :). I'm starting to realize that My Work is just beginning and I have a longer journey ahead of me and if I'm doing the same but different, things will turn out alright.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Miracle of Life....

Today I got to witness the miracle of life, about 20 times....Photographed the opening of the Labor Simulation center for Memorial. They were demonstrating a new female human model that "gives birth." Pretty fascinating in a Blade Runner sort of way....

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A few more family snaps...

Just finished post on another family portrait session. Great time. Got a work out chasing Cole around. He's got the greatest eyes.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Snaps from a birthday party...

Went out last night for a birthday dinner (30!) with friends. It was nice and relaxed. We went to the BBC, which happens to have the best hot wings and beer in the LBC. I passed around my voice recorder to my friends that are a little order than me and had them talk about their recollection of turning 30 or what their 30s were like. I'm hoping to turn it into a mini multimedia piece about my experience of turning the big three oh!

PS - Laura says "give me photo credit!"

Photos by Laura Crawford.

Happy Friday!

Note sound recorder.

Phantom cake.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Some family snaps

Shot a family portrait last weekend and broke in Lightroom with it. The processing was speedy and the pics looked good....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Things I learned from episode 1....

I recently downloaded Adobe Lightroom and it is awesome. It has cut my post-processing time nearly in half. Interestingly, assembling the below video, the images took the least amount of time.

I spent about 4 hours listening, splicing and ordering the audio. I was working with three tracks...interview/narration, live audio, ambient sound. It was tricky juggling the three in Garage Band, though that may be more my fault than the software since I'm still trying to figure things out.

I realized while listening to the interview I have to become a better reporter and ask better questions. I got just barely enough to flesh it out and there were some instances a little more explanation would have been helpful.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased. This third attempt is a bit more complex. The timing is different in between the slides and I tried to link the visuals to the audio more. I deliberately used the song at the end as a closer because it was upbeat and made it feel richer.

The last few seconds have Davy talking over the music...that is two tracks, with the music track ducking beneath Davy's live narration. I was a bit worried about how much they would compete, but it turned out well.....

Episode 1: FOUND Magazine

Finished the production on my multimedia soundslides on FOUND Mag founders Davy and Peter Rothbart. Great guys. Here is the highquality soundslide version.

And here is an embed of the slightly bastardized YouTube version:

Slideshow from the Santiago Canyon Fire


Had the great pleasure of photographing and interviewing Davy Rothbart and traveling crew of FOUND Magazine at OPEN bookstore. FOUND is a hilarious and touching magazine made up of found letters, receipts, etc., that act as miniature windows into people's lives.

I broke in my H2 in an interview setting today. I did the interview in their tour van outside the bookstore while they were preparing for the reading (which included beer and whiskey). They're great guys. I hope to have my first reportage SoundSlide done in the next few days.

For now, here are some pics:

Monday, November 05, 2007

Great response!

So far the response to my venture into multimedia has been great. I'll be the first to admit that it needs a bit more polish, but I'm really excited by this. Hoping to complete Part 2 of the bike tour soundslide by friday.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My second Youtube video! and 1st SoundSlide!

I've been itching to use all the software and hardware I've recently acquired. I haven't had a chance yet to take it out on the field so I decided to work with some images I already had (like my bike tour photos from this summer). So, here's my 2nd attempt at voice-over and sound mixing.

I feel like I made a few improvements from the first one. First the overall image quality is better. I figured out some better output settings. Second, I feel that the sound is more consistent. The first one I did with the built in mic in my mac, so the sound is a little tinny and the levels are uneven. I recorded the sound for this second one with my H2 in a room with lots of soft surfaces and with properly adjusted levels. So far, I'm pretty happy with it. Can't wait to get all the technical stuff out of the way so I can concentrate on the storygtelling!

I also originally made a SoundSlide version first and was hoping to output it to quicktime with that software, but the conversion software wouldn't work. So if you want to see the SoundSlide version (which I actually think is better quality), check it out HERE.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A whole new bag of worms....

Since getting into this multimedia kick (by which I mean a span of three days), I'm discovering it's a whole new world. The vocabulary (for audio) is different from anything I've worked with. I'm still trying to build corollaries between audio and photography (gain = iso?, omnidirectional = wide angle, etc.,) so I can better wrap my head around it.

I got my H2 recorder yesterday and brought it to happy hour to test it out in possibly the worst recording area available, a crowded bar. It was fascinating to play with. I guess I've never had any decent audio recording equipment before. When I switch it so it uses the front mic with a 90 degree patten, it was pretty directional, dampening the ambient sound behind it (I guess its the equivalent of using a wide aperture in photography which renders the background soft and indistinct).

I also found this video series with Ira Glass talking about storytelling.

I watched all four videos of Ira and it was interesting to see how structured his storytelling techniques were. It's similar to photography where you give a wide shot, then move in closer, then find a subject and try to bring it to some visual climax. All this also ties back into my background as a literature major from UCLA, where we studied narrative structures and literary techniques.

My head is spinning trying to synthesize it all because I feel like I'm coming full circle including another media into my work. Expect to see some rough multimedia stuff on the site soon as I slowly wade through the learning process.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Test YouTube embed...

Here's a little teaser of one of the new projects I'm working on. Tentatively titled "Stories of Long Beach" (it may change for more oommph!), it will profile different people and events in Long Beach. I'm going to start carrying my sound recorder (that I just got today) to collect ambient sounds and interviews.

Did I tell you I loooooveeee my new mac? It's awesome.