Sunday, March 27, 2011

A fun Bar Mitzvah in Walnut Creek, CA (on a rainy day)

On Saturday I made the drive to Walnut Creek, CA to photograph Michael's Bar Mitzvah. For those of you who are not in Northern California, you should know that we have been inundated with rain for the last couple of weeks. For us photographers, a cloudy sky is perfect for outside shots (creating a perfect softbox in the sky), but when it is pouring rain, all shots need to be moved inside. Bummer!
I started by shooting images at the front of the Temple and noticed this awesome flower arrangement. I said something to Michael about the cool flowers, and he replied with "You know, that is what my father does, he owns a flower shop." So I asked Michael to sit down in front of the bouquet so that we could include them in our portrait shots.

And then we had his mother join in on the fun. For these shots, I was using my flash and pointing it off to my left to bounce the light off of the Temple walls. You will notice how the right side of their faces have more light than their left. This creates more dimension than a straight flash shot.

An interesting thing happened to me yesterday. I had photographed at this Temple before and was able to do so during the service. But, it appears that now, they do not allow still photographers to shoot images during the service. I was really disappointed, because I feel that shooting images of the service is where I capture the true emotions of the day. But, of course, I had to honor the wishes of the Rabbi and Cantor, so I scooted out of the synagogue at the start of the service.

But then I noticed that they had glass windows at the back of the synagogue, at either side of the entry doors. I asked one of the Temple employees if I could stay outside the synagogue and shoot through the glass. They told me that nobody had ever asked that before, but that it should be OK. So I held my camera, with a 100-400mm lens, as steady as I could and made sure that the lens was very close to the glass (to avoid reflections) and shot away. The image above was one of those shots. This turned out to be an awesome solution to a tough problem. No clicking sounds, no distractions from me. Perfect!

Since I was standing by the doors, I also became the doorman. When a father and his twin 5 year old daughters came outside for a break, I noticed that it was an interesting "double exposure look" if I pulled away from the glass and captured their reflections, and I took this shot. 

Again...looking for something different. I saw a woman taking pictures of Michael, under his name in balloons, and caught this shot (focusing on the LCD of the camera and not the true background).

This was a funny moment during the party where everyone's attention was on the Bar Mitzvah boy. 

Another first for me. I wanted to shoot an image of a large group of family and friends from the ground. So...I was on the ground looking up (with a 16-35mm lens and diffused flash), to get this shot, and someone fell and landed on me and my camera. Pow! The camera smashed right into my nose. Ouch! But, hey, at least I got this shot. :)

As Michael did his candle lighting ceremony, I thought that it would be interesting to tilt the camera and get a different perspective.

After the party was over (at approximately 4pm), the rain had all but stopped and I asked Michael if he would go outside with me for a couple more portrait shots. He was still wearing his party hat, so we decided to play with that. This is one of my favorites.

Congratulations to Michael and his amazing family.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One Last Poem For My Mom

Yesterday was the party to celebrate my mother's life, and I decided to write a poem for her. My mother use to love it when I wrote poems, so I decided that it was fitting to write one last one for her.

My brother, sister and two good friends of my mother's, all spoke before me and I was the last one to speak in front of the hundreds of people who showed up to pay tribute to my mother. It has now been 5 weeks since she passed and I figured that I would have no problem delivering the poem. Well...we showed a video that we created for my mother when she turned 80 last April, and then Anne, who spoke before me, ended by saying goodbye to her dear friend. Well...that set me off and I had a hell of a time reading this to everyone. So...for all of you who asked me to post this on my blog (and for those of you who never met her but want to know more about her), here you go.


Mom was a special person known by us all
Standing out in a crowd, when only 5 feet tall

There was nobody for whom she would not talk
Morning or late, heck around the clock

You heard her stories about her family and friend
She told them quite often, to any ear she could bend

You probably even heard the dreaded "Jeff's baby story"
How people saw ugly me, and would tell mom not to worry

When we grew up, she first taught us tennis
Even with me, though I was a quite a menace

She was not the strongest or fastest at all
But she was consistent, rarely missing a ball

Mom was known for her true love of the arts
She knew all of the opera singers and all of their parts

The opera, the symphony and also the ballet
The mornings would blare loudly each Saturday

She taught us a love of music, something I embraced
Even though my love of rock was far from her taste

She loved her cuisine, and really good wine
Being served at a table, the service so fine

When we lived at the house, mom would love to cook
Taking countless recipes out of that tattered old book

We recently shared great time on our cruise
Eating, relaxing and even having some booze

She loved to travel and would leave on a lark
Crossing the globe or staying in Yosemite park

She loved San Francisco because of the weather
But most importantly was for her to be together

With friends and family who she cherished the most
With us 3 and grandkids for whom she would boast

Playing ping pong and bridge, playing for hours
She loved living here, being pampered at the Towers

All of the things to do here in the city by the bay
All her favorite things, we knew she always would stay

Mom, we will miss you as you left us too fast
It is hard to think of you only in the past

Now when I shoot my photos and post them on the net
I won't get the feedback from you that I wanted to get

You loved life and made your mark on every one of us all
You may have gotten shorter, but at the end you stood tall

Now you are gone and we have this giant hole in our lives
An end to a generation; a mom gone; it's tough to thrive

Mom, we love you and know you are still here
In our hearts, our minds, we keep you quite near

I better stop rhyming or we will be here well past seven
But then again, mom is probably up there still talking in heaven


My mother and her 4 grandchildren (taken 3 months ago)

For those of you who visit my blog to see my photography, you will probably notice that I am a better photographer than a poet, hence the reason that I never started a poetry blog. Thanks for obliging me in this post.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creative flash photography

On Monday I attended the Flash Bus Tour with my good friends Joe McNally and David Hobby. These two guys are the kings of flash photography and they inspired me to try new things with my camera and flash. So...what did I do when I got home from the all day session? Without even breaking stride, I walked in the door and went straight to the camera bag and cranked out one of my cameras and a couple of Canon 580EX II flash units. Time to play!


My friend, Bob (who is another photographer), was with me and I asked him if he would be my model for some shots. Now, what you have to realize is that Bob is a total ham and loves being in front of the camera. Perfect! I put a Lumiquest LTP softbox on one of my flashes and handed it to Bob. I set my camera to manual at 1/200 at f11(making everything black) and asked Bob to hold it out away from his body and pointed towards his face. After some experimenting, this is what we got. Very dramatic!

You can see that Bob's arm is reaching out with the flash and diffuser in his right hand. 

And then my son came home from school and, voila, we had a human activated light stand. :) Now Bob could use both hands and Connor could move the light around Bob's face with ease. We also added a second flash (gelled blue) behind Bob to add some separating light to the back of his head.

And then it was Connor's turn to get into the act. Bob was holding the flash unit and coaching Connor as I shot images. It is easier for you to see the blue light coming from the second flash in this image. Without the second flash, Connor's hooded sweatshirt would blend right into the black background.

This very directional light really creates a mood in the image. I took some shots of Connor smiling, but really liked the serious look for these shots. 

This is one of my favorites of the bunch. When I look at this image at full resolution on my 30" display, Bob's eyes just draw me into this image. I darkened the back of his head a little but left enough light to create separation. I also darkened his hand in the foreground and blurred it a bit. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun shooting these images, and I had an equal amount of fun in the editing process.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A really fun Bar Mitzvah and party

Yesterday was another good long day of shooting, as I started photographing at the Temple at 9am and then ended at 1:30pm. I arrived back home and then edited images for an evening slide show, with just enough time to get to the JCC in Palo Alto to shoot the party, which ended at 10:30pm. Combine that long day with day light savings time and I am really tired today. But, it was well worth it. We had a great time celebrating Michael's big day.

I love shooting images at Temple Beth Am in Los Altos, CA because the colors inside the Temple are just amazing. As I have been doing lately, I used the new Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens (wide open) to get this nice shot of Michael at the bema. (Photographers note: Using a wide aperture really helps to separate the child from the background, and in this case, really draws the eye right to him and away from everything else.)

Also, during the service, I like to break out the 15mm fish eye lens to capture the entire synagogue from the back of the room. 

This is one of my favorite images from the service. Michael was carrying the Torah behind the other Bar Mitzvah boy and I wanted to key in on "my family" (since the other family had their own photographer). I put the focal point right on Michael's face (keeping the camera in AI Servo focus) and tracked him as he came towards me. What really makes this shot is the sunlight highlighting his face, drawing the attention right to him. Part good planning and part good luck!

And then it was time to party... They had their evening party at the JCC in Palo Alto, CA. I had never photographed there before, but really enjoyed the venue. This was one of my favorite shots from the party. mostly because of everyone's expressions. (Photographers note: Because my flash was closer to the people in the foreground, they were a little too bright, drawing undue attention to them. So, in Photoshop CS5, I darkened the people at the bottom of the image to draw the viewers attention to the people on stage (which included Michael).

Not all venues have a place for a photographer to shoot from above. But, this particular location did, and I found it in advance and planned on getting some shots from up high looking down at the festivities. As luck would have it, I ran up there right as they were starting a conga line. Fun stuff!

Shooting with the Canon 50mm 1.4 lens and keeping the aperture to f2, I grabbed this shot of Michael dressed up in some of the DJ's props. I really like the genuine smile on his face. Nothing forced in this image. (Photographers note: Like the image of the dancers on stage, I darkened the boy in the foreground to draw more attention to my subject.)

To me, this photo says it all. You can see the love and admiration that the parent's have for their son. I shot some images of just the parents and then realized that the best shot would be from behind Michael. So, I moved behind him and focused on his parents (using a 70-200 2.8 lens wide open) blurring him but keeping his parents tack sharp. The key to successfully shooting a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is to tell the story of the entire day. This shot helped me sum it all up!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Having fun shooting some portrait shots

A while back, I was talking with my wife and mentioned to her that I wanted to try my new beauty dish (a great attachment to my studio lights). She said "I know who we need to call", and immediately called friends of ours who have two great looking red head girls.

They came over for an hour and we had some fun together. How about that expression on the younger sister's face?

The little one had a TON of energy and was not easy to pin down for more than 5 seconds, so I decided to start with some images of their older daughter.
My goal was to shoot all of the images with only one light, although soon after starting, I did break out a reflector to add a little extra light to the darker side of their faces.

My wife had the good idea to give her an old telephone (from the house I grew up in) to play with. It is always funny to see kids reactions to the dial telephone. So old school! :)
Hello? Anyone there?

 And then...back to being her goofy self.
We also went outside to take some shots in our backyard. Even though the goal was to shoot indoor studio shots, I still prefer natural light shots. Funny that almost every shot was taken in the indoor studio but my favorite of the day was this one.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Photographing a Track and Field meet (for the first time)

This weekend marked another first for me, as I photographed my first track and field meet. My son just started this sport (adding to his hockey, swimming, basketball...) and asked me to bring the camera to their first meet. The great thing about photographing a meet like this is that there are so many different types of events happening, all of which present unique shooting opportunities.

The day started off with running races. I positioned myself by the first turn and shot many images from this spot. I did this for numerous reasons:
    1. I felt that the turn would provide a better image than a straight-on shot.
    2. The sun was out in the morning and the light was better on this side of the track.
    3. There were minimal distractions behind the runners in this area.
    4. In the relay races, this is where the baton was passed, giving me more action.

The races with hurdles make for some cool shots. The level of activity and the intense concentration really adds to the image.  

This is one of my favorite shots from the day. I really like the position of the runner with his shoe flat out in front of him. He has a great expression on his face and he shows good form in the shot. It also helps that he wore the red shoes and a black and white uniform. (Photographers note: I shot this meet with the Canon 5D Mark II, mostly using the 100-400 L series lens and a 32GB 600x Lexar CompactFlash card. I kept the camera in aperture priority mode for most of the time, adjusting the ISO to make sure that my shutter speed was at least 1/1000 sec or faster)

I did more to the finish line area to shoot some images of the runners coming across the line. For many of the images, I laid down on the surface and shot images from just inches above the ground. This gave a much more appealing background and also enhanced the power of the runners.

Once they started the high jump, I walked over to this area and shot some images, trying to freeze the girls at the height of their jump.

I really wanted to use my 15mm fish eye lens to get in close and exaggerate the height of the jump, but the only way to do this correctly would be to be on, or at the base of the mat, which would not have been safe. 

For the discus throw, I went out to the edge of the flags and used the 400mm lens to get in as close as possible.
This is another shot from down low on the surface at the start of the race. There is actually a funny story to this image. I was shooting some images of the different races when I heard someone say my name from behind me. It was one of my favorite clients and their son was running in the next heat. I made sure to key in on him (dead center in the red) so that I could get a shot for my friends.

And then, towards the end of the day, I decided to slow the shutter speed down to get some motion blur.

I shot this image at 1/40 sec and panned the camera along with the runners as they went around a turn. (Photographers note: The key to shooting panned motion blur shots is to get the motion of the hands and feet but try to keep their faces sharp. It is not an easy technique and takes some practice to get it right. It's not easy...but final result is well worth the effort.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More fun on the train tracks (Others wanted to get in on the act)

The last blog post had pictures of my son on the nearby train tracks. daughter saw those images and said "I want some pictures there too", so off we went to take some more photos. This time I was joined, not only by Ali, but her best friend, Danielle, and my wife and our dog.

I wanted to take some pictures of Ali on the train tracks, but also wanted to try something different from the shots of Connor. This time I went down the embankment and shot images of the girls from the side of the tracks.

For all of these photos, I used the new Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens ( This lens really rocks! Shooting wide open at f1.4, I was able to focus on the girl's faces and heavily diffuse the background.

This shot really shows the depth of field of the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens. Only the very front of the railroad spike is in focus, and everything else is soft. Love that!

Best friends. Enough said. :)


I even got my wife, Annette, to let me take a couple of shots of her. I took these shots in the last remaining light of the day. You can see the golden sunlight bouncing off of the tracks behind her.  

You what they say...marriage is a balancing act. Isn't that the truth!

For the parting shot of this blog entry, I had to save this image as my grand finale. This shot just cracked me up. This is our dog, Bailey, laying down on the train tracks. I love the look on his face. I can not decide if he looks bored or depressed. The caption could say "Come on Jeff! Enough shooting... let's get moving!" or it could say "I am really depressed...when does the train come?".

Oh - and happy birthday Ali!