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Sunday, April 26, 2009

••◊ I'm too young to keep up with these old guys

Last night I attended a gallery showing for Robert Whitaker at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in La Jolla. Robert is perhaps best known as the Beatles staff photographer during the height of their careers in the 1960's. The exhibition this particular evening included both his work with the Beatles and his photojournalism tour through the Vietnam war. Which brings me to the most important part of this blog entry. Who did the Vietnam prints for the show? ...yours truly, of course (brushing my fingernails against my chest).

I consider myself a pretty fit individual. I exercise daily and eat right, but these duffers seem to give me a run for my money energy wise. The gallery is filled with pictures mostly from the 50's through the 60's, so as you can guess most of the photographers are past retirement age. I'm exhausted from last night, but these guys were running around until 10pm joking, drinking wine, and flirting with women. Take Paolo for example. This guy's got game. He was running around all night flirting with cute girls and displaying his mastery of John Travolta's signature Saturday Night Fever pose. I caught him upstairs entertaining four young women with his little Leica camera. All I could do is emulate the master. Note that they were hugging him closer.

Rich Horowitz is one of the owners of the Morrison Hotel Gallery. He hosted the event along with his staff (Gail, Chantel, Kris, and Meghan). During the evening Rich's cousin Deana stopped by and asked if I could get a picture of them together.

Henry Diltz, a gallery owner and well known music photographer, also stopped by for the evening. His print of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash album cover was featured in my February Susan G. Komen photographic fundraiser event. I'm very grateful for his donation because it was the cash cow of the event. Quite a few of Henry's pictures are in gallery and he's still out shooting live shows and documentary work. Here, he's posing for a picture with Lena (a.k.a "Mys Britt") on meetup.com.

...and finally, Chantel wouldn't let me get away without taking a picture of her looking all pretty in her little red dress. Chantel is a photographer who is a gluten for punishment only shoots film; no digital. She also wouldn't let me shoot with a proper lighting setup, insisting that I just bounce a flash (so don't blame me too much for the lighting). Knowing that I didn't want to miss a chance to photograph a pretty girl, I agreed to her terms and conditions. Rich, not being a photographer, busted out laughing while I was explaining to Chantel how to pose like a lady. After the ritualistic ridicule of the numb skull with the camera subsided (I'm used to it) we went back to business and fired off a few shots. If I had to do it again I might use a ring flash and hair light to emphasize her golden locks. I would probably also bounce a little light off the floor to get into her eye sockets.

Off to shoot model-types tomorrow.

Monday, April 20, 2009

••◊ I see fit people

This was one wild weekend. I'm still recovering. I spent Friday and Saturday working at the Emerald Cup Bodybuilding Championships in Bellevue Washington. My job is to run the audio for the show, so my freedom to roam around and take pictures is quite limited. I've been doing the live audio production for Brad and Elaine for over 15 years now and managed to survive every show somehow. I do most of my work when the bodybuilders are on stage, so lucky for me I have more time to take pictures when the fitness/figure/bikini divisions are doing their thing. We basically play background elevator music for them, whereas each bodybuilder has their own custom music.

Since I didn't want to bring my SLR to the show for logistical reasons so I was relinquished to borrowing my mom's point and shoot. Warning: rant coming on. Normally I refer to point and shoots as point-n-pray or piece-o-... you get the picture (pun intended). I've been so spoiled by my SLR with nice glass that it's difficult to go back. I thought of this self-assignment as a challenge. How can I use a cheap camera and get reasonable shots worth showing

After many failures I found a few techniques that seemed to work OK. The first problem with point and shoots is that they are really, really terrible in low light. For this first shot I stabilized the camera against a hand railing and used the other railing to frame the woman's face. Even at ISO 400 I was shooting at 1/10th f/2.8. She already had nice cross lighting coming off the stage (random bonus) and an interesting expression with her eyes. I didn't notice this until later, but the white stripes on the stairs point to her because they converge at the middle of the frame. The color rendition in this shot was quite ugly so I just desaturated and called it "film grain."

Since the framing with the railing worked well I decided to try to use the athletes' bodies as framing figures. From my seated position in the production pit this is how I see the show...yes, for *both* male *and* female competitors. The two ladies were standing and waiting to be introduced before going on stage and the person onstage was perfectly framed between her legs. The legs shadows also act as leading lines. I was able to make a trade off of exposure and get reasonable color as well (metering on P-n-S cameras will typically make the wrong choice in high contrast situations), but gave up detail of the woman on stage as a result. This is a point and shoot so the exposure latitude is lacking and the woman on stage was probably going to get blown out no matter what. Since I was at a low angle I used a railing for stability and a wide angle lens to accentuate the length of their legs - which works well for this purpose, wouldn't you agree?

Next up was the use of "dutch" angles, meaning pictures taken at off angles. The heavy weight bodybuilders were waiting to be introduced so I had a second to catch their nervous anticipation. I aligned the camera with the athlete on the left so as to highlight him and used the railings and lighting at leading lines since he was looking off in that direction. The color (unintentionally, but gratefully) came out quite saturated. The EXIF data says I was using -1 stop of exposure compensation - I was mainly working between -1 and -2 all night and most of the time don't remember which picture was taken with what setting.

Since backstage at just about any show is controlled chaos, I wanted to capture some of that energy. For this I used long exposures and allowed the shots to be quite blurry, but detailed enough to represent motion. The first picture is of the guest performer climbing the stairs onto the stage and the second are a group of women competitors coming off stage. In both cases I really like the beautifully saturated backgrounds, which typically occur with long exposures in darker environments.

Lastly, I was walking behind the curtain and found a little gap that was just large enough for a point and shoot lens. During our guest performer's six minute routine, which I was quite familiar with from years of working with Russ Testo, I ran over behind the curtain and took a couple quick shots. I knew from looking through there earlier that I could get some beautiful backlit-type shots, but there was no chance of that during the competition portion because I have to be in one location. The trick was to wait for Russ to stand still for a second because my shutter speed was still lacking and use the stage as a virtual tripod for camera stability. As a side note; guest poser routines also double as run like mad bathroom breaks for the crew.

I need sleep. Peace, out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

••◊ Simple Beauty

Today we headed up to Skagit Valley, about two hours drive north of Seattle. In April Mount Vernon holds their annual tulip festival. Although the Tulips have about two weeks to go into full bloom, the daffodils and hyacithns were out and putting on their yearly show. Flower watching is more my mom's type of activity (pictured above). I'm typically a 'people' photographer, however this year I had my camera and thought it would make a good photo op. Besides, mom deserves a little time with her loser son who only visits twice a year. I had to guilt her into the picture by saying how unfair it would be to walk away without any memories of her from this trip. She caved. Hey, she's the one who taught me.

A few farms open their doors to visitors, for a fee of course, and allow you to visit their well groomed gardens. We visited the Roozengaarde farm garden. It's about two acres of various varieties of flowers. A few pictures are shown below.

Later I met my long lost friend Ashley at Starbucks in Mill Creek for coffee. She and I haven't seen each other in nearly 10 years. She's a mom now, but hasn't lost a bit of her bad girl. Her car, you may ask? A super charged BMW with an Eddie Bauer child's car seat in the back. Ashley was the one who taught me that red head's are a good thing. Yes, I realize she's blonde now, but everyone should be allowed to go a little 'Brittany' now and then. I probably won't see her for another 10 years after that comment, but I digress. It's funny, ten years ago we would have gone for drinks and a night on the town. Now? Coffee and grocery shopping (have pictures to prove it). Oh well, time progresses... her fiance is still a lucky guy.  Just to tie this into photography - I chose a table near the window so I would get a cross light.  After sitting down I noticed the window shade provided just enough subject separation.  Subject separation is always a bit of a crap-shoot.  Your eyes can deceive you into thinking that you have enough camera latitude to get good seperation, then reality strikes when you get home on a real monitor and find... oh crud.

Tomorrow begins the onslaught of the bodybuilding show in Bellevue. I have audio production duties, but I'll try to take a few photos backstage with a borrowed point-n-shoot. My DSLR isn't going anywhere near spray tans and body oil. That stuff gets everywhere.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

••◊ Downtown Seattle By Foot

Today I took off by foot to explore Seattle. The trek started at the Seattle Center, a park and events location that includes the trademark Seattle Space Needle and now the Experience Music Project. When I was in high school my friend's dad knew the manager of the Space Needle so we took a free ride up to the top - literally. Most people only get to go up to the observation deck. We went all the way up to the roof and walked around (no railings), then went up to the actual Needle. Not OSHA approved?...probably. Fun?...hells yeah! At the EMP I tried to take some photos, but the building is crammed up against Westlake Ave, two side streets, and the "Fun Forest" amusement park. I just didn't have a wide enough angle lens such that the shots weren't blocked by something. The EMP build is supposed to represent Jimi Hendrix's smashed guitar. You have to see it to understand it's beauty or understand it's wonderful ugliness - depending on your opinion.

It's early spring here and the flowers are in bloom. It's good to see all that rain going to good use. These flowers were in a garden at the base of the Space Needle.

Seattle-ites know this location. The Pink Elephant Car Wash has been operating as far back as I can remember. The sign reinforces the unique funkiness that Seattle embraces. Also in the area is the "toe truck" - a tow truck shaped like a foot with a big toe, and the sit-n-spin laudromat where people have been known to hold weddings and music shows.

After this it was about 10am so I decided to stop at at Ralphs Deli, a well established and nice grocery store downtown. A slice of banana bread and some clam chowder later I was refueled. Lauren, pictured here, was working behind the counter. I thought with the lighting and all the wonderfully colored items this would be a good picture opportunity. Besides, any redhead is a good picture taking opportunity in my opinion. Thanks Lauren.

After stopping in at a couple art galleries I met David at the (formerly) Washington Mutual building downtown and we headed for Lasermotive. I can't show you what exactly they are working on since this is a multi-million dollar competition, but it looks impressive so far. Lasermotive definitely embraces the garage sale shop mentality. There was a sign up in the shop declaring "I bought retail for the last 22 days," infering Jordan hasn't bought anything surplus or from online auctions for the last three weeks. Good for him. Although, knowing these guys - they are mostly supportive of his addiction.

Here's a picture of David hard at work on the power supply. We did a little testing on it, went for lunch, then my day was complete.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

••◊ Relaxed @Home in the Pacific Northwest

Twice a year I travel back home to Seattle to help my friend Brad with his bodybuilding show productions. I've been doing this for the past 23 years, believe it or not. My first show as a general purpose runner was the North America Bodybuilding Championships back in '87. In the early to mid-nineties I took over the audio production for the show. We have a tight crew that knows how to get the job done, so the show always seems to land on it's feet due to experience and quick thinking - as well as knowing that there's no way to completely plan for over 200 starved, tired, and testosterone driven individuals over two days. I have stories...

More importantly this allows me to travel home twice a year to go see mom.

Today I hopped on a plane at 8am headed for Seattle. After a recent trip I now know to avoid travel on Monday mornings. It's an exercise in cat herding out of Lindbergh Field. Everyone is on their cell phones trying to figure out the logistics of their destination and security checks are backed up down the corridor. Seattle is usually OK except at Christmas, with the exception of the Alaska terminal. Now for a polar bear like me I was excited to go jacket-less and feel the wonderful cold of Puget Sound. Cold is bitter and dry in Southern California, whereas it feels so good in the Pacific Northwest. It even rained a little in my honor - just enough for a welcome.

What I notice every time I come home is how much concrete is used in construction. No, this picture wasn't taken in monochrome, but it might as well have been. The roads are even a different color in southern California.

I was voraciously hungry after arriving off the plane, so the mom and I stopped by the Agua Verde Cafe in the 'U' (University of Washington) district off of Boat Street to grab some grub. Burritos and Orange tea - hey, it's appropriate for Seattle where people get muffins and tea at independent movie houses. The temperature outside was in the lower to mid-50's and sure enough the two women on the terrace at the cafe were wearing tank tops. Take that Pacific Beach! Wussies.

Just to visually explain to you what kind of neighborhood we were in here's a photo from one of the cars along our walk from our car to the cafe. I named it "Villagers Against Bush." Right next to the 'U' district is the Fremont district where people grandly display their "Keep Fremont Funky" bumper stickers on their '80's Volvo station wagons in revolt to Adobe's corporate headquarters at the Fremont draw bridge and the movement of the "Red Door" bar. Every year Fremont holds a solstice parade which begins with with naked cyclists. You'll have to look on other blogs for those pictures (Josh).

Tomorrow I'm off to lasermotive to see where my engineering consultations have helped them in the space elevator competition. The adventure begins with me bumming around Seattle until about 11am, so I'll be out hunting for photo opportunities of course. My friend David, the part time underwear model, part time spacecraft builder, is going to meet me downtown and we are going to run down to their office for a demo of the 10kW laser powered space elevator. We will NOT be pointing the laser in the direction of Seatac, just for the record. In fact we won't be firing up the laser at all. See their blog for details on why.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

••◊ Panoramic People

I was futzing around on the net and ran across an interesting project by the german photographer Simon Hoegsberg. We pretty much all know about panoramas. Some point and shoot cameras even have panorama assist modes. I tried it on my SLR with limited success (got bored and disinterested in doing them quickly).

Panoramas are beautiful when done correctly. Take for instance the panoramas done by Bjorn Holland during a multi-month motorcycle trip across multiple continents.

What makes Simon's project special is that he took a panorama of people walking across a bridge. The panorama took 20 days to complete and the print is 100m long! Panoramas aren't just for mountains and trees anymore. The project is called "We're All Gonna Die - 100 Meters of Existance" and can be found here. Note that only one person gave him a rude gesture and he decided to include it in the photo.