Sunday, February 27, 2011

Photographing my son (and shooting photos on train tracks)

On Friday, my wife and daughter had some errands to run and it was just my son and I at home. I asked Connor what he wanted to do and, to my delight, he said, "Dad, Let's get the cameras and go shoot some photos." The rain had stopped. so we drove up by Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos, CA and looked for some cool things to shoot.

It was a cold crisp day and there was a lot of run off from the previous days of rain. As we drove around the reservoir we came across numerous spots with running water coming off the mountains. So, we broke out our tripods and shot some slow shutter speed shots of the water. Connor also shot some macro shots of banana slugs and mossy logs.
I saw this sole piece of ivy climbing up a water barrel and liked the composition. Nothing spectacular, but interesting nonetheless.

After shooting images for an hour or so, we were driving back towards our house and I stopped by some train tracks which are located less than a mile from our house. I have always wanted to shoot images there, but never have. Connor was willing to be my subject, so we hopped out of the car and shot some photos. As you can see from the image above, we started with Connor just standing on the tracks. Even though I liked this pose, I felt like it needed something more.

So for the next pose I got down low and I asked Connor to do the same thing.

I wanted to use the train tracks to "frame" Connor. (Photographer's note: I shot this image using the Canon 100-400 lens at f5 to put the focus on Connor's face, allowing the train tracks to fall out of focus fairly quickly.) We both liked this shot but it didn't seem natural to be laying in the middle of the tracks.

Next, we decided to try some other poses with Connor sitting on the tracks and we liked these the best.

This photo is Connor's favorite which is now printed and enlarged to 13"x19" on the wall of his room. I had him move to the other side of the tracks to get more sunlight on his face. I also wanted to have the trees behind him without the power lines coming out from behind his head.

(Photographers note: When shooting portraits like this, don't be afraid to turn your camera and try different angles. As you can see from this image, the 45 degree angle really helps create drama in the image. I also brought this into NIK Silver Efex Pro to covert the image to black and white.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Flowers for my mother

It was a week and a half ago that I went up to San Francisco to see my mother after her first surgery. She looked great and there was no way that we would have known that she would not be with us for much longer. She was sitting up and looking good, but needed to get some rest. In classic Betty style, she asked us to go visit the Conservatory of Flowers, which was located in Golden Gate Park, and near the hospital. So...while she rested, my brother sister and I all went over to see the flowers and train set.

There were some really beautiful flowers at this time of year. It was great to take pictures of them and then, bring the camera to the hospital to show them to my mother.

A reflection of the ceiling of the Conservatory photographed in one of the ponds and through some bamboo shoots.

I am not sure why, but this one brown leave caught my attention. It seemed to stand out from everything else, as if it was craving attention.

The ceiling of the Conservatory had some rainbow colored stained glass windows and I wanted to capture that in some images. But I wanted to show them in a creative way. So, I found this pretty formation of leaves and shot this at an aperture that would highlight the leaves while giving a hint of the stained glass.

As I turned the corner into a new area of the exhibition, I came across this tree trunk and thought "wow, that looks like a tortoise".  And then I looked down at the sign and noticed that this is called a Tortoise Plant. Voila!

My father used to love orchids and he passed that on to all of us. When we came across this grouping, we all stopped and admired them. My sister, who likes to paint, asked me to shoot this image for her.

And the last room of the exhibit, we found the model train. Most of this display was made with recycled parts (old cassette tapes, computer parts....). I took a couple of pictures of the train set, since my mom has mentioned it to us. But in looking at the images, it really needed something else to make it more interesting. And then...I saw this really cute little boy who was memorized by the trains. A perfect subject for my photos!

I love the innocence in his expressions and that childhood wonder is his eyes. I made sure to show these to my mom when we returned to her hospital room.

It was my mom's wish for us to go to the Conservatory of Flowers, but now knowing that we had so little time left with her, I wish that I had just stayed and held her hand while she was sleeping.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Goodbye to my mom

It’s 4:30 am and I am sitting next to my mom, as she slowly slips away from this life and into possibly yet another one. Normally my blog is focused solely on photographs, but this entry is dedicated to my mother. On Monday, she went in for a routine operation, although not trivial, but due to complications, she had some major setbacks. After a failed attempt to repair the damage with a second more invasive surgery, and with yet another major surgery and a long grueling recovery ahead of her, she decided that she had enough. With tubes protruding from all different places in her body, including multiple tubes from her nose and mouth, we explained the situation to her. When told about the potential surgery she shook her head to say no and she used her hand, tracing letters on my hand to spell “I want to die” and later she repeatedly wrote the word “Now”. She was a very strong woman with conviction. She knew what she wanted and there was no other way.

The graduation picture of my mother, Betty Cable

My mother was a hell of a woman. She had the gift of gab and bestowed that upon me. My mom would talk to just about anyone, sometimes embarrassing us all. But her outgoing attitude drew people together.

She loved all things that were, as she called it, “culture”. In her life, there was nothing better than fine food, fine wine and the fine arts. She had an unwavering passion for the opera. When we were younger, we would often come back into the house on Saturday mornings to hear the opera of the week blaring on the radio. Us teenagers would roll our eyes and crack jokes about the fat opera singers screaming at the top of their lungs, all while covering our ears. But we all enjoyed the music coming from the CD player in the hospital room, as mom listened to her favorite opera during her last hours.

My proud mother with her 3 kids. Suzanne on the left, David in the middle, and me on the right.

In her younger days, she spent just about every day on the tennis courts. I think she taught me how to swing a racket just about the same time that I learned to walk, and for many many years we would walk down to the local courts and play. I still remember the first time that I legitimately beat her. Was she upset? Nope. She was so proud that her son had excelled at the game and was surpassing her. And she was happy to have me as a doubles partner.

Now, so many years have passed. I haven’t picked up a tennis racket in a long time and she was forced to stop playing due to a bad back. But mom missed her tennis too much and, while wearing her back brace, she took up ping pong. But mom’s passion for fine food, playing bridge and the arts never wavered, Although we enjoyed very different kinds of arts, with mom favoring opera, ballet, and museum visits, and me preferring rock concerts and ice hockey, it was my mom who taught me the passion for music and the arts.

My mother with her 4 grandchildren

My mom was thrifty. Most people who knew her would try to get her to spend her money, but she was the person who insisted on taking the bus when everyone else was hailing a cab. I remember one time when she wanted to take my kids to ice cream in San Francisco, and she pushed for us to get the ice cream cones at Rite Aid because it was a better deal than Ghirardelli Square. The grandkids had another idea. But, at the same time, mom could be unbelievably generous and take the entire family to Club Med or on cruises to Alaska and Mexico. That was her way to get the whole family together and have meals with us each day. Great plan mom!

The whole family (before my sister was married) before a formal dinner on our Alaskan cruise in 2006.

Mom was a latecomer to the Internet and the computer world, but, surprising many of her family and friends, she learned how to use her Mac and loved emailing people. My grandfather used to love mailing us jokes that he typed on his old typewriter, and mom followed her father’s love of joke telling, using email to forward her favorites. She was also one of my most avid readers of my blog and would call me many times to comment on the latest post or ask when the next one would be written.

Here are the 4 grandchildren showing how much taller they had gotten and how short my mother had become (due to her osteoporosis).

For as many years as I can remember, mom would always say “There is nothing that makes me happier than having my whole family together”, and as we all watch her slip away from us, we are all here together, together for her.

Mom, we will miss you more than you know. I hope that you have Internet access wherever you are. I look forward to your comments about this entry.

My mother never liked herself in any of her pictures, but once in a while I would capture one that she really liked. This is one of those images. I took this only 3 months ago while on board our cruise to Mexico. She looks so beautiful and so happy. This image is the way that I want to remember my mom. 

(As a photographer, I sometimes forget the power of the images that I am taking, and the fact that I am capturing history with my cameras. This single image will always remind me of that fact.)

My mother passed away at 6:35am on Sunday morning and we already miss her too much!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

High School Girls and Guitars - A Charity Event

This past weekend, I was asked to shoot some photos to be used at a charity event at Presentation High School. Our good friend, Tracey, was in charge of this event and wanted to have a group picture in a cool place. Since the theme of the charity event is going to be "On Tour", she thought it would be cool to have the pictures taken at a local guitar shop. So Tracey called The Guitar Center in Santa Clara and they agreed to help out.

The people at the Guitar Center were great and they opened their special room (with the really expensive electric guitars) and removed all of the price tags, which would have been distracting to the image. The problem was...there was a glass wall on one side and a wall of glass doors on the other. To make things even more challenging, the ceiling was black. All this is perfect if you are trying a guitar, but not so great if you are trying to "compose" with your camera. (Good pun, huh?)

So...what did I do? I angled the 580EXII flash at a 45 degree and lit the room with a bunch of reflecting light. And you know what? It actually worked. :)

The goal was to get one nice group shot of all of the girls together in the room. My wife and I positioned the amps so that they would make good props. Then we asked for some cool looking guitars and I fired away.

When we were done shooting the group shots, we had completed the "job" but I thought that it would be fun to get individual shots of each of the girls. Here I positioned the subject so that her glasses would reflect the wall of guitars (and not the photographer!).

And then my wife (the creative director) had the great idea of having the girl throw her head back to give us that rocker hair. Fun stuff!

And so we continued...shooting different images of each girl.

Of all the "rocker hair shots" this was my favorite. I love her expression and the way that her hair is flying up but not covering her face.

All of these pretty girls help make the photographer look good. And all of them were so nice and had so much fun with us.

More rocker attitude!

If you know me, you know that I will try anything for a good shot. Here I asked Tracey to join her daughter, Kennedy, for a mother daughter shot. As you can tell, Tracey has no shortage of personality!

Here is Kennedy giving me her "senior" pose, guitar in hand.

I am always trying to break out of my "rigid mold" and in doing so, I am trying to shoot more images that are not perfectly straight.

Here I rotated the camera to match the line of the guitar, not worrying about lines of the background. It adds a different dimension to the images, and since these are supposed to be a little more edgy, I think it works well.

Photographing these girls was a lot of fun for all of us. My wife and I liked the fact that we could help out a worthy cause. The parents had fun watching their kids ham it up for the camera. But most importantly, the girls liked being models for a day.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An amazing couple of days with Denis Reggie and Joe Buissink (2 of the world's best wedding photographers)

For the last 3 days, I was lucky enough to spend quality time with two of the best wedding photographers in the world. Denis Reggie and Joe Buissink have shot weddings for people like Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, JFK Jr, Arnold Schwartzeneger, James Taylor, The Trump family, and the list goes on. These guys are the best of the best and learning from them was amazing. The goal of my week was to take my photography to the next level. And so, off to Los Angeles I flew...

I flew into LA on Monday evening, and right before we landed, I saw this pretty sunset with just the hint of islands in the foreground and got this shot through the airplane window.

The next morning, the instruction began with Denis talking about his photojournalistic shooting style.

Denis showed us how to use lighting to creative a more dimensional image. Even though I have been shooting for many years, I learned some unique features of my camera that I did not know even existed. Some of them are in the documentation of the camera and some are not.

And then it was Joe's turn to both educate and inspire us with his images and shooting style. I shot this image of him as he was talking about some of his images. As you would expect, he was talking about the technical aspects of each shot, but more importantly, he was talking about the emotions that were captured in those moments.

It reinforced my belief that the key to good photography is capturing those precious moments that are not posed....they are reality.

Here is a fun shot of my friends Joe and Denis goofing around at the hotel. This is what happens when you take a guy from Atlanta and a guy from LA and throw them together for 4 days. :)

We finished our second day of instruction and had an hour before the group dinner, and instead of relaxing for a little bit, I immediately grabbed my camera and went out looking for some shots of the nearby harbor.

And then, after dinner, a couple of us (myself and my new friends, Gina and Corey) decided to go out shooting some more.  So...we hopped in a car and headed for the Santa Monica pier.

On the last day of the workshop we spent a little less time in the meeting room and more time shooting images. We had a model for a couple of hours, and practiced shooting images both inside and out. I converted this image to black and white, but can't decide which I like here are both versions.

The key to the inside shooting is to bounce the flash off of the walls (as Denis calls "foofing") to create directional light. You will notice that the far side of her face is lit more than the right side which falls into shadows. This creates a much more natural and beautiful image than flat lighting from a straight flash (diffused or not).

I love this shot of Joe teaching his shooting style. He is explaining how important it is to see and capture those key moments of the day. It might be a very quick but poignant moment, or a time when the subject does not know that they are being photographed and they have that perfect expression. "There is that perfect moment - you have to get it!"

I shot this image from high above the model. I climbed up some nearby steps and as the small group was shooting images of her, I yelled down to her and grabbed this image just as she looked up at me.

As I mentioned earlier, my goal for this week was to take my photography to the next level. I was hoping to learn at least 3 new shooting techniques with the camera and hoping to learn more about their shooting styles. After spending 3 days with them, I came away with so much more. Yes, I did learn some new shooting techniques, but I also came away with a new appreciation for photojournalistic shooting, new ideas for my web site and new ideas to help me be a better business person.   Overall, the workshop with Denis and Joe was amazing and I look forward to using some of these new techniques in the weeks to come.