shoot reports

A look back at 2010

2010 has come and gone and it was a pretty good year, both personally and professionally (both the day job and the photography business.)   Here are some of the highlights:

  • My folder for 2010 weighs in at 235 GB.  That includes all the raw files I've chosen to keep plus all the photoshop versions.  That number is up from 195 GB in 2009, 145 GB in 2008, and 120 GB in 2007.   There's a trend here...I'm being a little more selective about when I press the shutter and throwing away more bad photos, but the files are getting larger.   Luckily I revamped my photo editing workstation with a two-way RAID stripe for speed and got a better backup solution, so I'm able to deal with the surge of data pretty well.
  • I did some aerial photography this year, including some formation flying and shooting from a helicopter in Hawaii with no doors.   I love flying and I love photography so combining the two is great.
  • I did a nice location shoot and some product stills for Osocalis Distillery.  They're based out of a cozy little barn in the Santa Cruz mountains and they make small batches of brandy.  It was a real challenge to try to find angles to accentuate the atmosphere of the small space and make it really look like the craft distillery that it is.   Their website is still under construction but you can friend them on Facebook to keep up to date on them.
  • I had fun shooting the Maverick's surf contest.   I was almost not going to go to this, due to the lack of information and having never been out there before.  I finally decided (at 5:00 am) to go for it and it turned out to be a good decision.   It's hard to stand in one place for 8 hours straight but in the end there were some great performances by some talented surfers and some monumentally bad planning on shore by some people who apparently know very little about how the ocean works.There are three ways to shoot an offshore surfing contest:  from land, from a boat near the surfers, and from a helicopter.   I think I did pretty well for shooting from land, (which means shooting through about a half mile of haze and sea spray) but there's nothing that's going to blow up to poster size art.  Next time I'll try a boat or a helicopter.
  • I moved my blog to Wordpress.  I finally gave up on maintaining the home-built blog solution I was working on and switched to Wordpress.  I'm pretty happy so far and I've migrated more than half of the old posts to the new system.The main challenge I have now is to get a good gallery system working so I can show some more photos here.   I've had a couple plugins recommended to me but I haven't had a chance to play with them yet.  (NextGen Gallery and Lightbox2)
  • I had a couple trips to Florida to shoot some private parties and one convention.  At the convention I was really the digital tech and "second shooter" instead of being the primary photographer.   This was a good trip for me and it let me concentrate on the workflow and keeping the main shooter working at a fast pace, while dealing with a huge volume of incoming images, making prints, etc.  Situations like this remind me that photography can be a team effort and when the team works well the results can be great.I did manage to get some photography in, notably of some rescued animals from Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.   I also worked on my travel skills and accumulated a bunch more mileage on United.
  • No football games in 2010.  :-(  I missed the whole season and Cal Poly had another "rebuilding" year.  I'll be shooting the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl next weekend though, so that'll be fun.
  • No good lava shots from our trip to Hawaii this year.  :-(  The volcano was relatively active during our visit this year but there was no active ocean entry which makes for a great photos, and I couldn't quite make my schedule line up with a guy who was going to go out on the lava with me for a night time lava shoot.   We'll be back to Hawaii though, so there's still hope.
  • On a personal note, my daughter was born this year.   I couldn't be more thrilled about being a parent and I look forward to everything the next couple decades will bring on this front.   Being a parent will probably make it harder to jet off around the world for photography but I'm betting it'll be a net-win overall...  ;-)

2011 is off to a great start so far and there are a lot of possibilities:

  • There's the aforementioned football game next weekend.
  • I'm thinking about a big trip to Dubai in March to Gulf Photo Plus, but we'll see if that pans out.  It's a part of the world I've never been to and it would be a huge cultural win to go see.  It's a lot of time away from the new baby though, and not the cheapest place to visit.
  • I'd like to do second editions of some or all of the three books I've done.  As time goes on my eye gets better, I accumulate more images, and technology gets better.   I think Blurb is still printing with the Indigo 5000's, but I haven't had a chance to try their PDF submissions yet, which should yield much sharper text than I got before.

That's all that comes to mind right now.

Quick trip to Florida with the ThinkTank Airport Takeoff bag

This weekend was my first cross-country trip for a photoshoot and it went very well.  I've done long trips with photography before but this was the first trip where the whole point was to fly cross-country just to shoot an event and then turn around and come back home.   It was also my first event with a Canon 5-D mkII, and my second event with the Think Tank Airport Takeoff combination roller/backpack.   I want to pass on my thoughts on the trip as well as review the Think Tank roller/backpack. They say to never do a job with new equipment but in this case it was unavoidable.   Due to the last minute booking of my services for the event, the new camera was shipped to Florida to meet me there.  I unboxed the camera for the first time when I checked into my hotel room at 2:00 am Friday night.  (For a Saturday night event.)

Everything with the camera went flawlessly.  It works almost identically to the 40-D so there was zero learning curve.   While editing the shoot at the airport, I could tell that everything looked pretty good.   The depth of field on the full-frame camera is a lot narrower than I'm used to and it's a whole new creative element that I look forward to exploring.

There's a big travel component this trip since Orlando, Florida is a long way away from Santa Clara and there aren't any direct flights out of SJC.  That means a plane change in Denver or LA and it all adds up to a day spent in each direction.  My return flight gets in at midnight so tomorrow might be a bit rough.  I was starting to adjust to Florida time which makes Sunday's arrival feel more like 3:00 am. Monday morning.

The upside to the travel is how well my new Think Tank Airport Takeoff bag is working out.   The size is pretty much perfect - it's international carry-on size which really means that it's a good size for domestic carry-on.  Any larger than this and the flight attendants are liable to make you gate-check the bag through to your final destination and that's not something I want to do with this much valuable equipment.

There are only three downsides I've found to this bag: First, the four-section telescoping handle you use when you roll the bag seems loose and a little flimsy.   This is the only "delicate" thing about the bag.  As soon as you extend the handles you realize there's a lot of play in the sections and a lot of flex.  It seems a little sloppy compared to the precision and durability in every other aspect of the Think Tank products I have.   After loading the bag to capacity and then putting the straps of my other carry-on over the handle (the way the smart travelers make their roller do double-duty by carrying their small duffel) the strain started to worry me.   Time will tell if it can handle to strain or not.

Secondly, the straps are really padded and comfortable which means they kill almost an inch of depth that could otherwise be dedicated to gear.   I don't plan to use the straps very often so they're more of an emergency-use thing for me.  (There was that hotel room in Vietnam that was 7 stories up with no elevator…)  I actually wish the straps were thinner so they would take less space.

Finally, I couldn't figure out for the life of me how to use the rain cover for the bag.  All Think Tank products come with a great custom-fit rain cover and I've had to use them in the past.  This bag comes with a cover but I can't quite tell how it's supposed to go on.   I'm not sure if it's supposed to cover it while it's lying down or standing up but either way it seems to be cut a little too short.

Regardless of those downsides, this bag is carrying a lot.  Two camera bodies, five lenses, a flash, two lens hoods, a laptop, 4 chargers (laptop, new camera, old camera, AA), a card reader, USB cables, ethernet cable, Garmin GPS, and other assorted supplies.   It's a mobile office that let me touch down, arrive on scene, and set up a small office, offloading and processing images throughout the evening.  It even had a space between the dividers that seemed custom-made for a PB&J sandwich The Wife made for me before heading out.

Even with all of that there are a few things that were left behind on this trip so I could get by without checking any bags.   I would have preferred to bring my Think Tank belt system to carry more on my person, and if I had been here any more than two nights I would need to bring more clothes.   The goal of this trip was to be light and quick though, and it worked out OK.

The home computer is cranking away on hundreds of huge files from this weekend and doing a backup run, and I've gotta run myself.  The trip was a huge success and I'll be doing a small review of the 5-D mkII at some point in the future.

Flying with the new 5-D mkII

This afternoon I got a call from my friend Bob asking if I could be at the airport pretty much immediately to tag along for some formation flying practice before the sun went down.  Well, yeah I can be there!   I've been flying in Bob's Lancair before and I remember there not being ANY spare room, so I just grabbed one camera (the new one, duh), one lens (the 24-70, which is absolutely awesome on the full-frame camera), and the GPS and ran.Flying with Bob

I haven't done much aerial photography before other than a quick trip around the playa during Burning Man but I love the perspective you get from a small airplane and I've wanted to try it for a long time.  One of my favorite photo books is African Air by George Steinmetz which is a book of photos shot from very low altitude (less than 1,000 feet) using an ultralight.  I was working on my private pilot's license once upon a time so I'm no stranger to small planes.

Bob's plane is REALLY small.  So small that we had to take out the seat cushions so I had an extra inch or two between me and the bubble canopy.  The Lancair is the airplane equivalent of a Miata, but with more horsepower and less than half the weight.  (You start to realize the sort of performance going on here...)   The cockpit is small enough that the full-size camera with the 24-70 lens was pretty big.

Flying with BobWe flew down South to meet up with Bob's friend in the air and do a couple formation patterns.  Nothing too fancy - joining up, breaking off, gentle turns in both directions.  Meanwhile I was taking shots when I saw something interesting and the gallery below is the result.

I think the shots turned out really well.  I was concerned with how the focusing would work through the bubble canopy but it seemed to work out just fine.  Almost all the shots were in focus and reasonably sharp.  Of course the files are huge and detailed (as you'd expect from a 21 megapixel camera) but what really impressed me is how well the metering and exposure worked out.   It's way better than I've come to expect from the 40-D and it was really nice to not have to massively adjust every file.  The shots in the gallery below are slightly tweaked but even straight out of the camera they look good.

One thing that really struck me is how large the files are.  I consider myself well versed in the art of managing data but this camera is really going to put my to the test.   RAW files weigh in at around 30 Megabytes each, which means this afternoon's little trip cost me 6.5 GB, including about 40 seconds of 1080p video.  My computer was pretty hot stuff a couple years back but it's really slowing down when trying to import and sort even the 250 files from this afternoon.   The 1,100 files from last weekend really threw it for a loop!  Getting a new computer right now is out of the question but some more memory might be called for in order to but down on the swapping.

There's certainly going to be some adjustments to my workflow and my shooting style due to the new camera but that's to be expected.  The full frame experience can't be beat and if I have to buy some more memory or another hard-drive or two, so be it!  In the meantime, take a look at the 20 shots in the gallery below and let me know what you think.

Gallery is Here I'm still working on embedding galleries in blog entries...


Sorry for the long silence - it's football season again and that means I'm busy!  I love photographing football even though I think it's the hardest thing there is to photograph well.  It's a live event which means there's no second chance, and it can be pretty unpredictable.  You never know exactly what's going to happen and at the Football Championship Subdivision (Division 1-AA) level things are more likely to get crazy.  Any play can end up with a turnover, a touchdown, a gimmick, etc. It also demands the most expensive equipment, which I don't always have.  I've been renting a 1-D mkIIn recently and it's pretty darn nice, until the lights go down in Spanos Stadium.  There's just no way to get good blow-ups and shadows at ISO 3200 from a four year old camera.  Even after the new stadium lighting before last season, it's still a little too dark in there when there's no help from the sky.

The good news is that those problems will all be gone in a year or two.  The lights aren't going to get brighter, but the cameras are getting a lot better.  I've seen some good looking shots from the new Canon 7-D at ISO 5,000 and Nikon just came out with a camera yesterday that goes to ISO 12,800.  Assuming that 6400 is OK, shooting at Cal Poly should no longer be a problem.  All that great technology will filter down through the product lines soon.  (Hopefully Canon can concentrate on image quality and drop their addiction to megapixels.)

I've shot two games so far (Cal Poly hosting Sac State at home and then Cal Poly visiting San Jose State).  This weekend is Southern Utah at home, which is also Homecoming, so that should be a lot of fun.  I've heard there are still 1,000 tickets available for the game so if you're in SLO, come on down!   The weather should be really nice in the evening and the game should be a lot of fun.  Come see the new scoreboard too!

In other football news, a shot of mine of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was selected for the Miami media guide.  I shot Miami and Cal in the Emerald Bowl last year and got a lot of good shots.  It's good to see some of them getting some usage.

Charlie Cramer's fine art printing class

I had the great pleasure of attending Charlie Cramer's excellent Fine Art Printing Class this past weekend, held at The Picture Element here in Santa Clara, California.  It's an intensive three day class running from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm Friday and Saturday and 9:00 to 5:00 on Sunday.  That's 32 total hours of time talking about printing, looking at prints, making prints of your work, and having your prints reviewed by classmates.  It's an intensive session to say the least and with only eight students, getting the attention of Charlie or his assistant isn't a problem at all. The first half of the class is mostly lecture, as you follow along on your own computer with what Charlie does on the projector.  We covered a lot of good Photoshop techniques for enhancing images and making them more pleasing to the eye.  By Saturday afternoon we switched to working on our own images, making test prints as we went, trying to get the most out of each image.  As the images became more refined we made larger prints, all the way up to 36" x 24".  (Or even larger for wide panoramic shots)   I worked on about 12 images which is probably more than most people did, and I ended up with about 10 nice 11 x 14 images,  a few 24 x 20 images, and a large 48 x 20 panorama.   It's safe to say that I got a lot of prints.

The main part of the class revolves around his "master file" idea and the "print, evaluate, refine, reprint" workflow.  There were a lot of Photoshop techniques to help an image's contrast, color balance, etc. that were discussed and I ended up much more comfortable with Photoshop CS4 than I had been before.  (A lot of the Photoshop interface changed with CS4 and the repetition of doing all the exercises in Charlie's book really helped it become second nature.)

If you're interested in the print as the final destination for your photography and you feel like something's lacking in your prints, then I would recommend this class whole-heartedly.  It's biased toward nature photography but the concepts carry over to any sort of photography.   I happened to get lucky and find this class being offered so close to home but he also offers it in Yosemite Valley, combined with a couple days of shooting.

Quick trip to Yosemite

Erin and I made a really quick trip to Yosemite National Park this weekend and since the main goal of the trip was to hike Half Dome, I only took a few pictures.  Saturday was completely consumed by hiking Half Dome and getting cleaned up and fed afterwards, and then getting to bed pretty early.  This morning I woke up at about 4:30 though and got my butt in gear to get somewhere before the sun came up.

A quick look at Michael Frye's Photographer's Guide To Yosemite told me that Cathedral Beach to catch the early sun hitting the top of El Capitan would probably be a good bet.  I managed to jump in the car and get there well before the sun rose, to find the area completely deserted, and the "beach" completely under the very-high Merced River.  Just as I had staked out my place and started to wait for the sun to hit El Cap, another photographer hiked up and proceeded to set up his brand-new-to-him Fotoman 6 x 17 panoramic camera (See my note about Fotoman below)

We chatted a bit since we had some time to kill waiting for the light and it turns out we have quite a bit in common.  He's in software in the Bay Area too, and like me he was shooting with a reduced-frame dSLR and just getting fed up with the limitations of the system.  Although he'd never shot film before, he decided the next step for him was medium format panoramic so he bought the Fotoman used last month.  Like him, I'm trying to decide what my next step is going to be, and I'm frustrated with the large-print-making ability of my current system.  I've often thought that medium format film was the way to go - I'm just not sure how I would deal with the workflow of film, the lack of instant gratification, etc.

While we were chatting he mentioned that the sunset the previous evening had been one of the most spectacular he had ever seen in The Valley.  Erin and I had noticed the bright color even though the thick canopy of the North Pines campground but by that time on Saturday neither of us were in much shape for going out photo hunting.  We had pre-allocated all of Saturday to be a hiking day and I certainly can't complain about how well our hike went - it's just hard to sit around the camp fire getting ready for dinner when you know there's something spectacular only a few miles away, and knowing that it'll be gone by the time you're ready to capture it.

The light finally hit the top of El Cap and we both got in a few shots - 30 for me, and probably about 4 or 8 for him.  He only gets 4 shots per roll of 120, so it's a bit of a pain for him.  I'm sure there are plenty of people that will say the patience and precision his equipment demands probably makes him a better photographer.  I don't disagree with that.

After I got a shot I was happy with I wandered around and found a steaming log in the sun that looked cool.  After that the sun was getting pretty high so it was time to head back to camp for breakfast, now having been out and about for about 3 hours.

On our way out of the park we got lucky and found a young bear grazing in a meadow near the turnoff to Toulumne Meadows, causing a "bear jam" of spectators.  He was pretty far away given his size, so even the 70-200/4.0 with the 1.4x tele-extender didn't bring him very close.  There was a guy behind me with a 300/2.8 and a 2x tele that was letting random passerby look trough the viewfinder at the bear.  Could I look through your lens too?  With my CAMERA???  :-)

Overall, we had a great weekend trip.  I think I got three or four nice pictures - which is pretty good for not really planning to take many pictures.

Note about Fotoman:   According to their company news blog, they've apparently gone out of business as of April.  I hate to see small makers of neat equipment go under.  Apparently they made over 1,000 cameras over their entire career.