Sunday, October 23, 2011

The most interesting Bat Mitzvah in the world

Yesterday was a chance to photograph a really fun Bat Mitzvah in San Francisco. And, you might be wondering why I titled this "The most interesting Bat Mitzvah in the world". you read this blog entry, you will find out why!

I had been speaking with the family for more than a year, but met them for the first time a couple of weeks ago when we shot Aidan's portrait for her signature board. Not only did we have a great time, but it is a great chance to get to know each other before the big day.

This was the first time that I had the pleasure of photographing a mitzvah at Temple Emanu El in San Francisco (one of the largest and oldest temples in CA). We had a beautiful sunny day, which is not a guarantee for San Francisco in October.  We started our family portraits in the temple courtyard, where I captured this image of Aidan and her parents.

And then it was time to capture images of the service. Whenever I photograph a mitzvah, I am always looking for those special unscripted moments, and this is one of those. Aidan's parents were giving their speech to her and got choked up. Without missing a beat, both Aidan and her mother reached out to dad to give him that much needed support. Love that!

I really like this image of the rabbi and the bat mitzvah girl. The combination of her expression and his gesture help to tell the story. I also really liked the colors in the rabbi's talit (shawl), which really stand out against the wood background.

As I mentioned...the service was in San Francisco, but the evening party was located across the Golden Gate bridge in a small town called Larkspur. My son (who was shooting the video) and I decided to head directly over to the other side of the bay to grab some lunch and build the evening slide show. As we approached the bridge, we were amazed to see how perfectly clear it was. For those of you who have been to this area, you know that this bridge is frequently fogged in, even on the warmer CA summer days. We just had to stop to shoot some images of the bridge and the city. (Photographers note: As I photograph during the day, I am always looking for background images for the family's album. Since this family's mitzvah celebration spanned across both sides of the bay, and required everyone to make this glorious trip, it made sense to have some of these images for them - and me too of course!)

Then it was time to party at this really amazing venue (Tavern at Lark Creek). I grabbed this image of the family in front of the house later in the evening, but thought that I would show it to you now so that you could see the party location. (Photographer's note: In order to capture this image, I metered for the building, which would normally leave the family silhouetted, and then manually popped the flash - which I was holding in my hand - to light the 3 subjects. It is important to remind your subjects to stay very still for the 3 or 4 seconds of the exposure, even after the flash has popped.)

I shot this photo right after Aidan showed up at the party. You can see her great smile as she greets her friends and relatives.

When I got to the party venue earlier in the evening, I looked up and saw this large skylight with bright light above and thought "hmmmm...this could be challenging for the photo of the horah", which is the classic shot of the child in the chair. so many other things that came together yesterday, the family was running a little late in the schedule and the horah happened just after the sunset and we had this amazing blue light in the sky. I could not have planned that any better if I had tried. Perfect timing!!!!

OK - now is the time that you get to understand the title of the blog entry. It turns out that Aidan's uncle, Jonathan Goldsmith, is the actor who plays "The most interesting man in the world" in the Dos Equis commercials. He was gracious enough to let me shoot this portrait of him during the party.

I asked Aidan to give me a pose when everyone had sat down for dinner. I love this shot of her having fun.

It is quite common at mitzvah parties to have a candle lighting ceremony. I absolutely love this shot of the family lighting the last candle. What makes this image so special is that I did not use a flash to get this shot. I used the ambient light from the candles to light their faces and used a very fast 50mm lens to grab the image.

While everyone else is enjoying the video montage, I am looking for the reactions of the family members. 

If you have read my blog before, you know that I like to try different things with my camera. This is one of those shots where I twist the camera during a slow shutter and pop just enough flash to freeze the subject. This makes an already fun shot even better!

This was the last shot of the evening. I saw this last group of girls saying goodbye as the music ended. I quickly threw on a 16mm lens, grabbed a flash and diffuser and asked them to huddle above me as I lay on the ground. They formed a nice tight circle above me (and I got lucky with the light centered above them).

It was a REALLY long day. We left the house at 7am to drive to San Francisco and left the party at 11pm that evening. We were both exhausted as we headed off for the hour plus ride to our home, but were summoned by the Golden Gate Bridge which was amazingly still crystal clear. Connor actually convinced me to head back up the Marin Headlands to get some night shots. Good call Connor! It was a perfect end to a perfect day of shooting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Family portraits - A beautiful family gets a beautiful book

About 6 months ago, good friends of ours (from our swim club) asked if I would take their family photos. Like so many other families who I talk to, they had not had nice family pictures taken in quite a while, and really wanted to capture images of them. It doesn't take long before the kids are off to college and you realize that you don't have nice family pictures of you and your teenage kids. A couple of weeks ago, we set out to a local park and had some fun.

I started with individual shots of the kids. This is a good chance to loosen everyone up and let them get used to me and the camera. My goal with family photos, is to get their true emotions in the images. You can see in the image above, that this is Kendra's real smile. I really try to avoid that "posed smile" look.

I asked J.J. to lean against the post, but did not tell him how I wanted him to pose. I wanted to see what he would do naturally.

Then it was time to take some images of Jeff and Lee (the parents). Using the same location, I had them stand by each other and made some small changes to the position of their hands. 

For the final edit of this image, I cropped in a little tighter to avoid the hands and arms and concentrate more on their faces.

As we moved from one location to another, I noticed this great sunlight rim-lighting Lee. I asked Lee to stop and give me a smile and grabbed some images using the this great light off of her hair.

We headed down to the creek and I grouped the family together. I positioned my camera so that I could take their picture but also have the small waterfall visible behind them.

Once I felt like I had some nice images of the family, we added their dog, Mia, into the mix.This dog really made my life easy. Some animals are really antsy and difficult to work with, but Mia was so calm and well-behaved, that we just told her where to sit and she listened. All I had to do was call her name to get her attention. (Photographer tip: When photographing a family with a pet, make sure you tell the family members to keep looking at you, and not at the pet. It is your job to get the pet's attention. There is nothing worse than getting the pet to look right at you, but the family members are all looking down at the animal.)

For all of the previous images, I used the Canon 70-200 2.8 IS lens, but then I thought that it would be fun to break out the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens. I love the narrow depth of field of this lens and the way that I can blur everything but the subject's eyes.

We moved over to a large area of grass and I took some more family photos. As you can see, this location is very different from the family photos at the creek (which is just a couple hundred feet away from this spot). I prefer to take family photos in different locations so that the family has more choices. The family and I really liked this photo, but there were a couple of things that really bothered me. So, it was time to put Photoshop to good use.

The first thing that bothered me was that Kendra was a little too far from the other three family members, so I carefully selected her and moved her closer to her mother. I was also bothered by dad's foot sticking out to the right side of the image, so I cloned the grass and removed that distraction. After some skin touch-up, removal of fly-away hairs, and other little modifications, we were good to go.

After all the image retouching was complete, it was time for Annette to start the book making process. You can see the book by clicking here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photographing High School Football at Night (Prospect Panthers)

I live very near Prospect High School in San Jose, CA and have driven by their football field countless times and thought that it would be fun to shoot one of their night games. that my daughter goes to school there, and was heading to the game last night...I thought that this would be a perfect time to make that happen. So...I grabbed my Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 100-400mm lens and my Gitzo monopod and drove the kids to the game.

First things first. The key to good sports photographs is location. I found the person in charge and asked for permission to shoot from the sidelines. As I figured, getting access to the high school sidelines is a heck of a lot easier than getting access to an NFL game or the Olympics! But, it is always a good idea to ask permission in these situations. Not only were they happy to let me on the field to shoot, but once they found out my photography experience, they were asking for me to send them images. No problem! was time to start shooting.

Since this was a night game, with decent but not ideal lighting, I cranked up to ISO to 3200 and started to shoot. Seeing that my shutter speed was less than 1/200, I decided to do something I usually avoid, I cranked up the ISO to 6400. This allowed me to shoot images between 1/250 and 1/400, which is just enough to freeze the action and keep things in focus.

I made sure to key in on both the offense and defensive players to capture as many players as possible.

I moved positions during the game, sometimes lining up right on the line of scrimmage (which is not possible at an NFL game since this is a restricted area for the team members only).

I shot this image from the end zone. This is a good example of the peak of action, as the ball carrier is crossing into the end zone and the referee is signaling a touchdown. I really love the kid in the background who is also signalling. :)

Proper camera settings are really important for these types of shots. Here is what I recommend for anyone out there trying to shoot football.

1. Shoot your images in RAW.
2. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode
3. Try aperture settings between f2.8 and f5.6 (thus allowing more athletes to be in focus in each shot)
4. Adjust your ISO and Aperture to make sure that your shutter speed is at least 1/250.
5. Set your focus mode to Servo focus (so that your focus is constantly changing as the players move to and from you).
6. Use a zoom lens that can get you close to the action. Minimum of 200mm.
7. Use a monopod to save your back.

This shot was taken at 1/160 sec and you can see some motion blur, but I really like the added effect. The key to this shot is that the ball carrier (my main subject) is in perfect focus while the others are not. Why was the shutter speed slower on this shot? Did I change my ISO or Aperture? Nope. This was slower because it was a darker area of the field, out of the direct lights from above. 

The cheerleaders came out at halftime and put on a short show. Capturing these images is important, because it is part of the high school football experience.

Capturing their peak of action is just as much fun as photographing the football game.

And then it was back to the game.

The Prospect Panthers dominated this game, which meant that there were lots of opportunities to photograph them making big plays and scoring touchdowns.

An interception at the beginning of the 3rd quarter.

Earlier in this blog entry I recommended camera settings. No I am going to recommend some editing tips. Once you have shot your images, I would recommend the following steps in your RAW processing software (I use Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS5):

1. Adjust your exposure to make sure that your image is not blown out or too dark.
2. Straighten your image to keep the horizon straight (unless you are trying to go for that angled artistic shot).
3. You might want to lower your black level (since I find that my 5D Mark II overcompensates the blacks levels)
4. I added just a tiny bit of Fill Light to many of these images, to lighten the shadows and make the players faces more visible.
5. Reduce the Noise Levels. I adjusted my Luminance between 18-30 on most of these images to get rid of the digital noise (caused by the ISO being set high at 6400). I could have also used NIK Dfine, but this takes more time and I would only use that on a "portfolio image".

I hope this helps all those budding sports photographers to take better pictures at your next night game. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

First time photographing a triathlon

Last weekend was the "See Jane Run" Triathlon and my wife and daughter took on the challenge. They had to swim, bike and run. The only thing that I had to do was get up at 5am on a Saturday morning (ughh) and take the photos. I had never shot a triathlon before, so this was uncharted territory for me. 

This is a picture of my daughter, Ali and her best friend, Danielle, as they prepared for the race.

 My wife and daughter as they stepped into the starting area, to begin the swimming portion of the race.

This is my favorite "artistic picture" from the triathlon. (You can click on these images to see them bigger.) My wife, daughter, and Danielle are somewhere in this group of swimmers. I liked the group of swimmers as they passed in front of the lifeguard. I cropped this image to show less of the foreground water and trees, focusing more of the attention on the people.

One of the challenges of photographing a race like this, is that you only see the athletes when they are starting and finishing each segment of the race. This does not give you a lot of chance to photograph them. It is even tougher trying to find your subject amongst the large group of people. I was able to spot Ali as she came in and grabbed this one shot of her finishing the biking portion of the race.

I positioned myself just before the finish line to capture photos of everyone completing the run. Here is a picture of Ali, who came in strong!

Annette finishing the race and happy about that.

The girls showing their medals.

Annette, Ali, Danielle and AnnMarie (Danielle's mom) after they completed the race. Congratulations you guys!

For those of you looking to photograph a triathlon, here are some of the challenges that I faced that you might want to be aware of.

1. Since there are so many people, there are lots of people walking in front of you as you try to capture your images. Try to position yourself somewhere with a clean unobstructed view of the athletes.
2. Related to the first point, all those people can create a distracting background. Try to position yourself where you can photograph your subjects with a clean background, if possible.
3. Since these races usually start in the early morning and end in late morning, the light is not optimal. Think about the direction of sunlight when you position yourself for your shots.
4. Since things are happening all around you (some farther than others), it is a good thing to have a wide range zoom lens. I used the Canon 100-400mm which gave me lots of flexibility.
5. Try to get to sleep early the night before so that you, and your camera, can be focused in the morning. :)