Thursday, June 30, 2011

Having fun taking portraits on a rainy day

It was a couple of weeks ago, on a Friday evening, when Maddie (a family friend) joined my son and I on a photo journey. Maddie is such a beautiful girl and I asked her if we could shoot some portrait shots of her around our town. She readily agreed, so off we went to find some cool locations. Before we took off from the house, we grabbed a couple of umbrellas. We did this for two reasons. First, the clouds were rolling in and it looked like rain was only minutes away, and secondly I thought that it would make for a cool prop.

We started out at the train tracks. If you have been reading the blog for the last couple of months, you know that I have shot here a couple of times in the last 3 months. Maddie had seen the other portraits that we took here and she really liked this locale. The rain had not started yet, but I liked the umbrella in the shot.

Upon returning to my home studio, and editing the images, we wondered if the red umbrella clashed with her purple shirt. So, using the "replace color" command in Photoshop CS5, I changed the color of the umbrella and also removed the text.

After shooting the images above, I asked Maddie to take a walk along the tracks and photographed her walking in both directions. I really like this shot, because unlike so many of the other shots, she is looking away from the camera. (Photographer's note: This image is made stronger by the fact that she is in perfect position on the train tracks - not too close and not too far - and right in mid stride.  The fact that she is not looking directly at the camera, gives the impression that we caught her in the middle of a walk, and not part of a photo shoot. On this shot, instead of changing the color of the umbrella, I changed the color of her sweater to a deep shade of blue.)
And then the rain really did start coming down. If you look closely at this image (you can click on it to see it a bit larger), you can see the rain drops in the background.

To avoid the rain, we hopped into the car and decided to drive into new areas of Saratoga to see if we could find any new areas to shoot portraits. We came across this tiny little park, and since the rain had stopped, we hopped out to try some shots on a small bridge.

For this image, I edited the RAW file and then used NIK Color Efex Pro 3.0 to add a "glamour glow" to the final piece.

As I was shooting these images of Maddie on the bridge, my son walked along the nearby dry creek bed and found some cool mossy trees. After grabbing numerous shots on the bridge, we followed him to check it out. I came across this one area where the tree trunks came together and I asked Maddie to go behind the tree and rest on the mossy trunk.  There was perfect light coming from behind Maddie, lighting her hair, and I added a hint of light from my flash.

As a gift to her, I made a 13"x19" print of this image on my new Epson R2000 printer. I printed this on Epson's Velvet Fine Art paper and it looked awesome. She now has this hanging in her room. (Photographer's note: Shooting images like this is a win/win for you and the "model". She gets some nice images for her Facebook page, her parents get some nice shots to print and use at home, and you get the satisfaction of capturing photos for friends. Oh, and we had a fun time during the process!) 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A chance to photograph a very special event

Over the last 6 years, I have photographed many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, but yesterday was the first time photographing two sisters of different ages. Michelle is 13 and her older sister Nicole, who has down syndrome, is 16. I was honored to be able to capture images of the two of them as they celebrated their big day.

Last month, in preparation of the B'not Mitzvah (not called a Bat Mitzvah when there are two girls - yep, I just learned this too), I took portraits shots of the girls at their home.

Taking these portraits was a lot of fun for all of us and also allowed me to get to know the kids (and the parents), so that yesterday we all knew each other and everyone was at ease in front of the camera.

These images were taken at Temple Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA. It is an amazing Temple for photography since the synagogue is surrounded by clear windows and the colors are amazing! As you can tell from this shot, we were having some fun while taking the Torah pictures.

Whenever I photograph these types of events, I am always looking for those moments where the kids (or other participants) show true emotion. This is one of those moments. I am not exactly sure what happened, but Michelle broke into a big smile when her parents were reading a Hebrew passage. Did they make a mistake? We will have to ask Michelle.

This is another one of those moments when the family was all having a good time. Capturing a big smile on one person is really nice, but getting a shot like this, with everyone showing that emotion, is just awesome! (Photographers note: It is very important to be at your camera, ready to shoot images, at all times during a mitzvah, wedding or whatever event you are shooting. You never know when a special moment will present itself, and it is your job to be there to capture that for the family. For this shot, I used a Canon 5D Mark II with a 100-400mm L Series lens mounted onto a Gitzo tripod. This was in the back of the synagogue at approximately 200 feet from the subjects. Settings: ISO 3200, Shutter speed of 1/80, and aperture of f5.6)

At almost every Mitzvah I get a picture of the person lifting the Torah, but I like this one because it was taken mid-way through the lift, and you can see the reflection of the Torah in his glasses.

This is another favorite of the day, because it shows both sisters having a good time. It was so touching to see the bond between these two, and I think that comes out in the photos.

The DJ (Alan Waltz Entertainment) was amazing as always, and had the kids all decked out in paraphernalia. I asked the girls if they wanted to take a fun shot with them all around me and it was their idea to don the glasses for the shot. (Photographer note: In order to get a shot like this, you need to use a wide lens, like a 16-35mm on a full frame camera, and an external flash with a diffuser. Then you lay down on the ground and shoot straight up, focusing on one of the kids faces, making sure that you light everyone evening. This is a great way to set yourself apart from all the other photographers, trying something new and fun.)

This last shot is special, because Nicole spent a lot of time hanging with friends but not dancing too often. Then, towards the end of the day, she got up and joined the fun. This was the perfect time to key in on her and get pictures of her breaking loose. Love that!

When I got home from this long day and started going through the 2234 images, I realized why I love doing this job. For one day I get to become a part of another family and experience the day along side them. I am there to help calm them in the morning, to share the relief and excitement when they have completed the service, and to celebrate with them afterwards. And celebrate they did. Congratualtions to Michelle and Nicole for being great sisters and now great adults.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photographing a swim meet

If you have been reading my blog for many years, you know that I have photographed many swim meets (and swimming at the Olympics in Beijing). is swim season again, so it was time to break out the camera and head to the club for some shots at the first swim meet. I wanted to post this blog at the beginning of the swim season to give some tips to those other parents and future photographers.

My favorite swim stroke to photograph is the butterfly. You can get some great wide shots of the kids with their arms outstretched, but more importantly, you can see their faces when they come out of the water to take a breath. I usually photograph the kids from the far side of the pool, straight on. (Photographer tip: To get the best images, set your camera to continuous shooting mode, set your camera to shutter priority and select a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to freeze the action. You also want to set the focus mode of your camera to "servo focus" which will follow the swimmer and keep them focused as they come towards you.)
It is always fun to shoot images of the older kids, because their strokes are more pefected and they provide better action shots. But, don't forget about the little kids. They can provide a whole bunch of fun moments for you to capture. In the shot above, you can see that this little girl makes the mistake that almost every young swimmer makes, she spends a lot of time looking to see where the other swimmers are, as opposed to swimming faster and beating her best time. I love that in the younger kids!

Here is another picture of the young swimmer who is just taking off from the wall to swim backstroke across the pool. For this shot, I stood on the starting block, right above her, and shot this photo right as she pushed off. Notice the way that the water envelopes her, and looks really cool. (Photographer tip: Try to find new and interesting views of the swimmers. Most every other parent will stand at the side of the pool and shoot images from their height. Try moving to unique vantage points and try getting images both from a low and high position.) 

This is one of my favorite images from the day. Partly because I am a sucker for cute little kids, but also because it was this little 4 year-olds first time swimming in a meet and she gave everything she had to get across the pool (and she did). I got down to the water level and shot this image of her. This vantage point really brings the viewer right into this little girl's world.

The nice thing about the newer DSLR cameras is that they can take 3 or more pictures per second, thus making it easier to capture your subject at the height of the action. But, even with this advantage, it is still difficult to capture the exact moment that you might be looking for. I still find that the best way to get the peak of action is to hit the shutter at the exact point where you want the image. For this shot above, I purposely waited and shot this image to get the swimmer right before she came up for a breath. I like the fact that you can see her eyes (goggles) through the water.

Here is another favorite shot from the day. I shot this image of this boy doing the breast stroke  and grabbed a couple of shots where his face is masked with water. What makes this so cool, is that, most people would never see this during the meet. Because the camera can freeze the action in a fraction of a second, you can expose the unseen moments. I love that! (Photographer note: This was shot at1/2000 sec on an overcast day, which is ideal weather for shooting outdoor swim meets. Overcast skies help you avoid the deep shadows, while still giving you ample light for fast action shots.)

As I mentioned before, I normally photograph the breast stroke from the end of the pool, straight on to the swimmer, but since I practice what I preach, I went for a different angle this time, and really liked it. Not only does this show my daughter from a nice perspective, but it also shows that she is ahead of another swimmer in the race, helping to tell the story.

One more tip. Don't just photograph the swimmers. There is a lot action happening around the pool deck. Keep your head up and look for the unexpected moments. In this picture, taken during the final relay, you see this girl's teammates encouraging her to finish strong. This shows real emotion and shows the team spirit. I hope that these tips will help someone out there get better pictures of their kids and their friends. Happy shooting

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Goodbye to our dog Bailey - another sad day in the Cable family

I will be the first to admit that back in 2005, I was not in favor of getting a dog. But my wife and kids convinced me that we needed a canine in the family. Reluctantly, I agreed, thinking about all of the added responsibilities, costs and chores that the kids would most likely not perform.  And then...we found our little puppy, Bailey.

At the time, he was a cute little thing (but not little for long).

This is one of our all-time favorite images. Ali holding Bailey for the first time. Both of them were so small at the time.
Bailey quickly grew to a whopping 107 pounds. Yep - My wife wanted a medium sized dog that did not shed, and we got this big guy! He was our gentle giant. My friend came over to the house and said "Wow!  That isn't a dog, he should have his own zip code!" That made us laugh. This is a picture of Bailey up in Mammoth, CA where he used to love burying his head in the snow. Photographing a big black dog is not very easy, since it is so hard to see his eyes. But, photographing a big black dog in the snow is ideal since all the white reflects in their eyes and makes them more visible.

Here is another family favorite image, with our three "kids" having fun with their eye glasses. Yep, Bailey would let us dress him up in all kinds of outfits, and he really didn't care. 

Another outfit for Bailey. Guess what time of year this was? :)

Bailey was the subject of many of my images. Almost everyone who knew him would comment about there being something very human in his eyes. He was a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Standard Poodle, otherwise known as a Golden Doodle or Golden Poo (although I always refused to call him by those terms since they sounds too weird).

My wife taught Bailey all kinds of tricks. This was his "so embarrassed" posed where he would lay down and put his head on the ground and hide his eyes. This always made us laugh.

Now that Bailey has "crossed the fence" and gone to another yard somewhere in the sky, we hope that he is making other people as happy as he made us. Bailey had many other people who loved him, who are no longer with us today, and we hope that he is playing tug-o-war with them now. Bye buddy - we miss you a ton!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Photographing a graduation

For our family, the last 4 days were all about graduations. Tis the season for graduations and my daughter joined the throngs of kids who graduated from middle school and are heading to high school. Her school had a 45 minute ceremony on Thursday afternoon at 4pm. The sun was out (which has not been a normal occurrence this summer) and it was pretty warm. All this direct sunlight made it tough to take pictures of the kids during this outdoor ceremony.

The sun was to our backs and the poor kids had to look into the direct sunlight for the hour.

I took this picture of my daughter using a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x adapter, giving me a 300mm equivalent on the Canon 5D Mark II. Not the greatest of shots, but the best that could be had, given the tough environment.

I had the advantage of using a good camera and knowing how to control the light (as much as I could). Most of the people who attended did not have this luxury. As a matter of fact, as you can see, many of them were using their cell phones to take pictures and video. So I decided to write this blog to help others take good pictures of their loved ones during this special day.

First tip: Take a lot of photos to ensure that you get great expressions. If you have enough memory in your camera (and I was armed with a Lexar 32GB 600x Professional CF card), take a lot of images to capture your subject at their best. There was numerous kids who had the self confidence and composure to stand up and sing in front of everyone. I took at least 15 pictures of this young girl so that I could get that perfect expression on her face. 

Tip 2: Make sure to capture the key moments. Just like a wedding has the exchange of the rings and the first kiss, the graduation has the handover of the diploma. This is a moment that you do not want to miss.

Tip 3: Make sure to take pictures of your child with their favorite teachers (and principles). Most of us have the one or two teachers who not only inspired us, but also made our school time more enjoyable. Make sure to document that in your family history.

Tip 4: Look for those un-posed moments. After the graduation ceremony, I saw everyone posing their children with their friends and family. Sure, you want to get some posed images, but don't forget to take pictures of your child and their friends showing "real" emotion. You will not get these same reactions in a posed shot!

Tip 5: This might be the most important tip for your posed shots - know where your light is coming from and use it to your advantage. Most novice picture takers do not think about the lighting situation and often take pictures in the worst possible environments. If you really want a nice keepsake, take the time to move your subjects or yourself to use the sunlight to your advantage. In the shot above, our friends asked me to shoot this picture of father and daughter. I took the image quickly and then asked them if they would turn around so that the sun would be at their backs and not directly in their faces.

This second shot was taken about 10 seconds after the first shot. You will notice how much nicer this shot is! In the first shot, both father and daughter have raccoon eyes (with deep shadows) and they are squinting due to the blinding light coming directly into their eyes. I moved behind them, they turned around, I framed the shot...and voila... Not only do I have nice lighting on their faces, but I also have beautiful hair light coming from the sunlight behind them. So much better!

Tip 6: Make sure to get a family picture. Since I am the family photographer, it is rare for me to be in the pictures. But, I really wanted to have a picture of the family to remember this day. Luckily my daughter's photography teacher was talking with us (she actually became teacher's assistant - making dad very proud) and I asked him if he would take my camera and grab some images of the four of us.
Thanks Mr. Lozano!
Tip 7: Make sure to take lots of pictures of your child and their classmates. This will likely be the last time that they are all together in the same school, and it is a nice way to remember the tight-knit group.

Tip 8: Be proud of the accomplishments of your child. I am!

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Long Hot Walk In New York City

It was late Wednesday morning in New York City and the weather was turning from hot to hotter. The humidity was increasing by the minute. Not exactly the best time to take a long walk...but any time that I get free time in NYC, I take advantage of it. So, while most New Yorkers were hiding in their air conditioned buildings, I took a cab to Battery Park at the very Southern tip of Manhattan.

This was one of those days when I was walking around with thousands of other tourists, camera hanging off my neck, snapping away.  My first photo opportunity was the Statue of Liberty, since she is just to the South of the city. The weather was hazy and overcast, which has it's advantages if I was shooting portraits, but not great for cityscapes. As I watched all the tourists taking pictures of the statue, I realized the importance of finding a unique perspective. I found this area with plants and flowers and crouched down to allow them to be in the frame. I positioned myself so that the statue was right in the middle of the pylons and took my shot.

I love the old lights in the park.

After walking through Battery Park, I followed the path along the water (partly to get some of the breeze blowing in) and found this cool "pier" area. What drew my attention to this area was the multiple curves in the frame. You can see the curve of the wood overhang, the curve of the bridge, and the curve at the top of the building in the background.

As I made my way towards the World Trade Center area, I came across this memorial for the NY Police officers who have died while serving the public. Since it was only a couple of days after Memorial Day, their were fresh wreaths placed for them. I took numerous shots of this memorial, trying to find a unique view, but really did not like any of them. And then as I was walking away, I saw that I could shoot an image with the name of the memorial and the wreaths and wall in the background.

I then walked by ground zero to see how the new construction was coming. It was weird to be back in this area, since the last time that I photographed this area was ten years ago, only a month after the  tragedy. I took this image to show the classic crowds in the city.

I shot about ten images of the crowd scene, and when going through them back at my hotel, I noticed this shot with this nice looking woman standing out of the crowd. (Photographer note: For a shot like this to work best, you really need to have a "subject" that draws the viewer's eye to one spot. I wish that the older gentleman in the foreground was a foot or two to the right, so that this lady in her red dress would really stand out, but...of well.)
Next stop on my 6 mile walk was Union Square. In the 30 or more trips that I have made to NYC, I have never been to this park. I really liked this perspective with George Washington in the foreground with the Empire State Building in the background. In this case, the hazy skies made this image more interesting. (Photographers note: Since you can not control the weather, take advantage of what you have. Do not let hazy or rainy days stop you from shooting photos. Many times, the overcast skies, puffy clouds, or rain puddles will bring you more opportunities than a bright sunny day.)

As I continued my walk towards Central Park, I saw this man cleaning windows above a busy street. So I crossed the street to get a better view and took some shots of him at work. Why? Not sure, but it is different than most people see everyday. :)

An hour passed and I really did not see any subjects that interested me, so I decided to slow the shutter of the camera and get some shots of the streets. Panning along with the taxi bike, I grabbed this shot to show a typical New York street scene. (Settings for this shot: ISO 100, f10, 1/10 sec, 24-105mm lens set to 24mm)

After 5 and a half hours of walking, I decided to go up to the top of the Rockefeller Building, otherwise known as the Top Of The Rock. I knew that the weather was not ideal for this type of view, but figured that it would be worth the $22 to see what view was offered at the top. I used this excursion as a scouting trip to plan a future visit to this location when the weather is better. Since my feet and legs were hurting, I took the time to sit up at the top of the building for an hour. I waited for this big cumulus cloud to cross behind the Empire State Building and grabbed this shot before heading back to the hotel to get cleaned up for my dinner meeting. Next time I think I will head up there at sunset (and hopefully with the fall colors in Central Park, which is the view from the other side of the building).