Monday, August 29, 2011

Kayaking with my wife and my camera

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I decided to get out of the house and go kayaking, by ourselves, with no kids. We headed up to Stevens Creek Reservoir, which is located near our house, and took off for a couple of hours. She told me that on a recent outing, they had seen some cool birds, and encouraged me to bring a camera. Nice! Not wanting to risk my 5D Mark II and L series lens in the kayak, I rigged up my Canon 40D with a 18-250 Tamron lens and off we went.

Here is a shot of my wife, Annette, as we headed away from the launch area.

And a rare shot of me (since I am usually on the other side of the camera).

We did see some cool birds as we paddled across the reservoir. I was focusing on this Double Crested Cormorant (identified by my friend Rob Aramayo - thanks Rob), who was sitting on a tree branch, when I saw it prepare to take off. I quickly repositioned myself in the kayak and followed him on his takeoff to grab this shot. (Photographer's note: Shooting images from a kayak is pretty limiting. Not only are you rocking from side to side, but you are also confined to a pretty small sitting area. You really need to position the boat to allow you to shoot in certain directions. This works much better than trying to twist your body in this confined space.)

A couple more shots of the local wildlife. This is a Black-crowned Night Heron (also identified by Rob).


It was fun to shoot photos of these birds from the kayak because you can paddle in very close (slowly) and get some tight shots.

Annette, paddling through the narrow passage at the back of the reservoir.

As always, I wanted to take some photos from a different perspective, so I put the DSLR low to the bow of my kayak and took this shot of my wife in the distance. I shot multiple images, trying to keep the camera straight and at the right height.


For this shot, I put the camera even lower than the previous image, and also pulled it back against my body. For the two shots above, I think that they help tell the story. If the images did not have my kayak in the frame, you might think that I shot the images from the shore. Having the front of my kayak in the frame tells the viewer that I am in a boat too. In this shot, I lined up my kayak directly up the cove and made sure that Annette's kayak was in the corner of the frame.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cool photo opportunities traveling to / and at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA

Before the summer was over and the kids went back to school, we made a week long trip down to Southern California. As you may have seen from a previous blog entry, I was shooting the U.S. Open Men's Water Polo tournament in that area, and it was right around the corner from Disneyland...so...off we went to combine the two.

We were heading east on Highway 152, only about 45 minutes into the trip, when we came across this beautiful field of flowers. Before I could plead my wife to pull over (since she was at the wheel), she was already pulling over. She knew that this was too much for me to resist! We were on the other side of the 2 lane freeway, so I had to play a game of Frogger (for those of you who remember the video game) to get to the other side, without becoming road kill. It was worth the mad scramble. :)

As you can see, the tough part was deciding where to shoot the images. Moving 10 feet in any direction, or shooting from different heights, gave a completely different look to this field.

It was early enough in the morning that the skies were still overcast, so I did not have to fight any harsh sunlight and shadows. I did shoot some images straight down the rows of flowers, but preferred the lines going diagonally across the frame.

And then, mid afternoon, we drove into Santa Monica, CA to stretch our legs and check out the beach. For this shot, I waited for many of the bike riders to intersect each other in the middle of my frame.


Two days later, after photographing the water polo tournament, we headed to the Magic Kingdom. As always, the place was crowded, but we had a great time on all the rides and avoided a lot of the congestion by having a good plan. To make the most of Disneyland, you need to make creative use of the fast passes and avoiding the park in the middle of the day. I took this image to show the congestion along Main Street. (Photographer's note: This is what we call a scene setter. Although I took many other images of the kids and the park, this one helps set the scene and give the viewer an idea of the location and the crowds. Make sure to capture these to help tell the whole story in images.)

As much as I love photography, I did not bring my camera on the first day of the trip. I wanted to give that day to the family without any distractions. This is not an easy thing to do when your brain is saying "Oh - look at that - that would be a cool shot!" On the second day I actually dragged my 5D Mark II with me. I am glad that I did. This is a shot of my daughter (3rd from the right) and her friends on a swing ride with the "California Screaming" roller coaster and the moon in the background.

This is probably my favorite photo from our vacation. I remember seeing this view on our last visit to "California Adventures", but did not have the right equipment for the shot. This time I went to the park with my 5D Mark II and a monopod. I went onto a nearby bridge, to get above the water line, rested my monopod against the railing to sturdy it, and grabbed this image. I love the colors of the rides and the reflections in the water. My wife looked at this shot and asked how much post-processing I had done to boost the colors. Believe it or not, I didn't have to modify this image, this is how it looked!

I really wanted to photograph the "World of Color" show from the best vantage point. Earlier in the day, I called the media relations group at Disney to see if I could get press access for the show. Being a last minute request, I was denied. But, I used other creative techniques (don't ask) to get a prime position and shot images of the show. For these images, I used the same technique as the shot from the bridge, with the monopod resting against a railing. Normally I would have brought a tripod, but the limited amount of standing room made that impossible.


This is another favorite image from the trip. What really makes this shot special isn't all the water and color in the background, it is the silhouette of the little girl presumably on her dad's shoulders. (You can click on the image to see it better.) I have a couple of different shots in this sequence, but in this shot, she was turned perfectly towards Mickey. I have to admit that I did modify this image. In the original shot, there were a couple of other tall people in front and a couple of outstretched hands with cameras, which I cloned out. I really wanted to draw attention to the little girl up front. (Photographer's note: It is very important for your image to have a subject, or a point of your image where you want to draw the attention of the viewer. This image really helps to show off that point. When I show this image to friends, even though there is a ton of color and action in the background, they immediately comment on the little girl high above the crowd.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A beautiful Bat Mitzvah outside in the Santa Cruz Mountains (at Maison Du Lac)

Many months ago, I was approached to see if I could shoot a young lady's Bat Mitzvah on August 13th. I talked with the family and their coordinator for quite a while to get all the details. One of my first questions is always, "Which Temple do you belong to?" This time the answer was totally different from the normal response. They told me that they were doing the service and party outside, up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At this point, I almost insisted that I be their photographer! This was such a cool opportunity to shoot something totally different. If you know me, you know that I live for this type of opportunity.

A couple of weeks before the event, I drove up to this amazing private property called "Maison Du Lac" to scout the area. As I walked around the grounds, I realized that this place was so amazing that I would have to resist the temptation to shoot portrait shots at every great spot. There were too many!

We met at 8:45am to allow plenty of time for family portraits. I did this for two reasons. First, I knew that there were a lot of cool locations on the property which would make for great family pictures. Secondly, I never like shooting images right up to the start of the service. This causes too much stress on the family (and me to a certain extent).

I picked this location by the large redwood tree, because Emily wore this light colored dress which really popped against the dark background. I used my flash to help light her and separate her even more from the foliage. (Photographer's note: Most photographers do not use a flash when shooting outdoor, especially in the shade, but adding just a small amount of flash helps to even out the small shadows under the eyes and nose. I usually set my flash at -1 stop and stand back pretty far so that the added light is very subtle. You never want your images to look "flashed". )

A nice family portrait in the same location. I could have moved them back into solid shade, but I liked the patches of sunlight on the grass by their feet. It adds a bit of contrast to the image and also gives a hint to the viewer that the morning was progressing and the sun was rising above the trees.

The family had a quick rehearsal before the service started, which allowed me some time to shoot images directly in front of the makeshift bema. One of my favorite shots is to get low and shoot a detail shot of the torah and the child at a wide aperture. I usually shoot this in portrait format, but really liked the star of David in front of the scroll, so decided to do something different. (Photographer's note: If you click on the image to see it a little larger, you will notice that the focal point is very narrow and directly on the end of the yad (pointer). I do this to draw attention to the yad and torah, but allow enough detail in the foreground and background to keep the image in context.)

I have photographed many mitzvahs but never had a chance to take photos with a natural background like this. I stood in the back of the tent and used my 100-400 lens to get in nice and close. And...for the first time ever...I used a flash during the service, with permission of the Rabbi. (Photographer's note: Since my subjects were in front of a very bright background, without the use of a flash, they would appears as silhouettes. BUT, I really did not want to draw attention to myself or pop a flash directly at the participants. So, using the white ceiling of the tent as a giant reflector, I pointed my flash directly up and bounced the light from above. Since it was in the middle of the day, nobody could see the flash, but it really made a huge difference to the final images.)
At one point, I walked outside the tent with my other camera and took some shots from a different vantage point. I was really glad that I did this because it sets the scene.

In any Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there are certain critical moments which have to be captured. When the child reads from the torah, this is a key moment that can not be missed.

But...it is the unscripted moments which I REALLY love to capture. This is one of those shots. During the speech from the parents, something was said that cracked them all up, and I fired off a couple of shots (hoping that the flash would keep up) and grabbed a couple images which highlight this great moment. Yep - this is why I love being a photographer!

Once the service was over, it was time to break for hors douvres, lunch and party. It was during this time that I saw this gentleman shooting images and video with his iPad. Hey, I have seen countless people taking pictures with their point-and-shoot cameras and cell phones, but this was a first! I had to get a shot of this.

Another key moment during a mitzvah party is the horah, when they put the child (technically now an adult) on a chair and lift them high in the air. I have photographed this many times, but never with a grove of redwoods in the background.

There was a nice pond on the property, and I saw these two young girls off by themselves having a chat. Too priceless not to photograph this. :)

This image just proves that it does not have to be nighttime for the kids to dance and have fun.

At 4pm, the party had ended and I was packing up all my gear, when Max (the very awesome DJ) held up this centerpiece. I quickly unpacked one of my cameras and took some fun shots of him. This is why I never leave a party before it is over. There are always fun opportunities to photograph right up until the end...and somethings even after the party has ended.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photographing the 2011 Men's U.S. Open of Water Polo in Costa Mesa, CA

Last weekend was the 2011 Men's U.S. Open of Water Polo down in Costa Mesa, CA and I was down there to photograph this event for USA Water Polo. It was a perfect day in Southern California, with the sun high and the temperatures pretty mild.

The great thing about water polo is that there is always a lot of action to capture.

At this high level of play, it is amazing to see ho high these guys can propel themselves out of the water.
At the beginning of each of the medal matches, the teams would line up for introductions. I took the classic shot from across the pool, but then quickly moved to the side of the pool to shoot a photo down the line of athletes.
I like this shot, because the offensive player is setting up for a shot and the goalie is concentrating, but relaxed.
When shooting water polo, it is good to shoot a combination of wide shots like this, and also zoom in to isolate the action, like the shot below.


Here is a shot of the goalie in the right place at the right time.




It may not look like it from this photo, but the NYAC goalie (the MVP of the tournament) made an amazing stop on this shot. This image was captured after he deflected the ball with his left hand.



The New York Athletic Club won the tournament to match the win by their female counterparts two weeks before. This team was the favorite to win the tournament with half of the team being made up of silver medal winners from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Nashville, Tennessee: Jack Daniels Distillery, A Field of Sunflowers, Nightlife

So...if you read the previous blog entry, you know that we saw some and heard some cool music while in Tennesee, but actually got out of the city and saw some other cool sites. Since we had some spare time after shooting corporate footage all day, we decided to make a short road trip to Lynchburg, TN to check out the Jack Daniels distillery.


The tours are free and it was very interesting to see how this whiskey is made. And...no...there is no tasting room since the distillery is located in a dry county. Funny...but true!


This is one of the older buildings on the premises, where JD is still made. There are large barrels (approximately 21 feet high, filled with 14 feet of charcoal) where the raw whiskey is poured in from the top and filtered through all of the charcoal. After the distilling process the whiskey is put into burnt barrels for 5 years.
The town of Lynchburg is really small. Most of the town's inhabitants either work for Jack Daniels or are somehow affiliated with the distillery in one form or another.

As we made the hour long drive out to Lynchburg, we passed an amazing field of sunflowers and thought "we need to photograph that on the way back", which we did. We parked the car on the side of the road and walked down into this field and basically shot images and video there until the last light of the day.
As I walked around and shot images of the sunflowers, I caught a glimpse of this beautiful butterfly out of the corner of my eye. I follow it until it landed and quickly grabbed images before it took off again. I was (and still am) very excited about the amazing brown and blue wings against the yellow pedals.

After getting some close shots, I zoomed out (using the Canon 100-400mm lens) to show the butterfly and more of the field in the background. I shot this at f4 to maintain a focal point on the butterfly but give a hint to what is behind my main subject.

For the last day of our trip, we headed towards Chattanooga, TN to shoot some more video, but the day was filled with lots of rain and thunder storms, which scrubbed those plans. So...we decided to check out a local cave in Lookout Mountain. You could not take tripods into the cave, so I set my Canon 5D Mark II to  ISO 3200 and held still for shots like this one.

The most amazing part of this cave is Ruby Falls, which is the nation's largest and deepest underground waterfall (at 1120 feet below the surface). They have really cool LED lighting in this chamber, which changes color every couple of seconds. After getting my "safe" shots at ISO 3200, I turned the ISO to 800, wedged myself up against a rock on the wall, and while holding the camera very still, shot images like this one. The shutter speed slowed down to 1/4 second which helped create more drama in the waterfall.

After many hours of driving (in heavy rain) we returned to Nashville for a quick shower and dinner. After we ate, we were walking back to our hotel and I realized that I really had not taken any shot of Broadway, which is where a lot of the fun bars and restaurants are located. So, being the crazy photographer that I am, and the fact that sleep is overrated, I headed back to the hotel, grabbed my camera and tripod and walked back downtown to shoot some night shots.

Funny story: I wanted to shoot images from the middle of the street, but wasn't sure, even at midnight, how to avoid the traffic to get my shot. Well...as luck would have it... a concert had just gotten out and the police closed off the street to force traffic in other directions. Voila - I had the street to myself! There I was shooting images with the police blocking all traffic, and people assumed that they stopped traffic for me. I had all kinds of questions, like "which star is here?" or "what is happening tonight that is so special?", and I just laughed and let their imaginations run wild.


After shooting numerous images of the bars, I thought that the photos needed something more, so I started rolling the zoom during the long exposures. (Photographer's note: For most of these exposures, the shutter was open for approximately 4 seconds, with me rolling the zoom at various times during that time. You will notice on the image above, that the neon signs are visible at the beginning and end of the light trail. This is because I left the lens at 200mm for one second at the beginning of the shot, then zoomed for 2 seconds, and left the focal length at 45mm for the last second.)