Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bat Mitzvah on ice? Not quite, but the party was on ice.

I have photographed many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs over the last 7 years, but never had the chance to shoot an event like the one last Saturday. First of all, it was special because it was the Bat Mitzvah of the daughter of my second photographer.

That made this a little nerve racking since I know that Cheryl is as much of a perfectionist as I am, and I wanted to make sure that the images lived up to both of our high standards.

So what made this day so different from many of the others? I had never photographed at this particular Temple, which I really like. I love shooting at new places, since it is more interesting for me and provides different looking images for my portfolio. It makes me think more and find good angles, lighting and backgrounds to create the best images.

I really liked the blue background inside the synagogue and made sure to shoot so that the pretty colors were in the background.

The second thing that made this Mitzvah so different...well...I am getting ahead of myself here. Lets stick with the service first.

Since most Temples do not allow flash photography during a Saturday service, we must rely on ambient light, and this Temple had some great window light which side-lit my subjects. I love this look!
If you follow my photography, you know that I like to capture the spontaneous moments, and here are a couple of examples of that. In the image below, Cheryl was giving her speech to her daughter and said something really funny. It was at this very moment that her daughter and her ex-husband started cracking up. All three of them smiling and living the moment.

And below is another image, this one being a more poignant moment during the service, where Hallie rested her head on mom's shoulder. I was standing in the back of the synagogue and spotted this and quickly grabbed a couple of images which helps tell the story of the day.  (Photographer's note: If you want to be a successful event photographer, it is really important that you are aware of everything that is going on around you. You can't just look straight ahead at your main subject and assume that nothing else matters. You need to be looking all around for images that help tell the story of the day. This is what separates amateur photographers from the pros!)

The other big difference in this Mitzvah was that the party was held at Sharks Ice at San Jose, which is the ice rink where I have spent a lot of time over the last 11 years, but never for work.

Before I put my skates on, I had Hallie stand by the door to the rink (below her sign) to get this shot.

And then it was time to get the skates on and capture images on the move. This was the first time that I put on my ice skates and skated around the rink for an hour with a $5000 camera rig (instead of a hockey stick) in my hands. At first it was a bit discomforting trying to look through the viewfinder while skating backwards or doing cross-overs, but after a couple of minutes I was all warmed up and having fun. In all the years that I have played hockey and photographed hockey, I have never taken a camera on the ice to shoot. It was fun!

Knowing that the rink restaurant was a bit crowded for a group shot, I figured that the ice was as good a place as any, so I collected all the kids by the bench and shot this from center ice.

After an hour of skating, everyone went upstairs to Stanley's, the rink bar and restaurant, and the real party began. :)

I even got into the act on this one. Hallie's favorite hockey player from the San Jose Sharks is Mike Ricci (who is now retired but still working for the team), and I have known Mike for a long time. So, as a surprise gift to Hallie, I gave her a game used stick autographed by Mike Ricci. As you can probably tell from her smile, she loved it. It was great to have Cheryl there, since even though she was mom and not photographer on this day, she grabbed the camera and shot images of me presenting the stick to her daughter.

It was another really long day of shooting, but a great day to capture images for my friends. Oh, and in case you are wondering, Hallie was as cool and calm doing her Bat Mitzvah as she is on the ice.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The flowers of Hawaii: Beautiful vegetation on the big island

As we prepared to leave Hawaii to return to the rat race in Silicon Valley, I looked at my batch of images from the week and noticed that I had a lot of images showing the beautiful plant life on the big island. So this last post from Hawaii will focus solely on the foliage and talk about shooting techniques for these close up images.

I have always loved the colors of Bougainvillea, and the flowers on the island did not disappoint. As you drive around the island, it is hard not to notice the large bushes of Bougainvillea, as the colors are so vibrant. I did take some images showing the masses of flowers, but found that getting up close to these thorny bushes made for more interesting photos. As you can see from these two images, they bloom in different colors, which brings variety to the images as well.

In one of the previous Hawaii blogs, I wrote about the Canon 500D close up filter which I had connected to my Canon 100-400mm lens. (This filter, made by Canon, will convert any long lens into a macro lens.) I really love how I can focus so close to the flower, even with a long zoom lens. This saved me packing a separate macro lens and gave me the ability to get some nice tight shots of the flowers.

Using the same close-up filter, I shot very close to these White Plumeria. If you have been to the islands of Hawaii, you will recognize these flowers which are commonly used in the leis.

This is the same cluster of White Plumeria which I shot with the 100-400mm lens without the close up filter. A totally different view of the same flower, equally interesting but more common than the macro shot above.

This red Plumeria that grows high on trees, is just amazing. I shot this image from up on a balcony, looking down at the groups of flowers which were probably 25 feet in the air. (Photographer's note: When shooting foliage like this, you need to watch your background very closely, since it can either make or break your image. I usually try to find a background color that accents the color of the flower, and try to avoid branches that might be distracting from the "subject" of the image. One of the advantages of shooting with a macro lens, is that your depth of field is so extreme, that even if you have a bad background, you can diffuse it totally.)

You can't go to Hawaii and not take a picture of the Pineapple plants. Even though there were very few of these on the big island (since most of them are grown on Maui), we did see a couple scattered around.

Another cool cluster of Squirrel's Tail which drew my attention. (Photographers note: I try to either isolate one flower or find an interesting group of flowers which give me a pleasing composition. I also look closely to make sure that there aren't too many dead leaves or pedals on the plant. This can be distracting to the viewer.)

I did talk about complimentary colors, right? Well...this is a good example of that with these pretty red flowers which really pop against the green background.

And here is another example of complimentary colors. (Photographer's note: I shot this image and many of the others - without the filter - at f5.6 for two reasons. This is the highest aperture that the Canon 100-400 will achieve when zoomed to 400mm, and it also provided good focus on more than just one flower. If you look closely at this grouping, most of the images are in focus, but the leaves are soft enough as not to compete with the sharpness of the flowers.) 

When we were hiking around the volcano, we were hiking through one of Hawaii's rain forests, which were covered with large fern trees. I did take a wide shot to show what it all looked like...

...but once again found that the close up shots were more interesting.

There were plenty of these young ferns, but I liked this one because of the background, and more importantly due to the drop of rain which was suspended just under the formation.

In the previous blog post, I had photos of us hiking inside the volcano crater, in the rain. can't let rain stop you from shooting pictures. As a matter of fact, sometimes the rain can add to your images. In this case, like the fern images above, the drops of water which formed on the foliage added to the shot.

n all my trips to Hawaii, I always take pictures of the Red Ginger. There is something about the color and the shape of this flower that I really love.

This last shot was taken of a Chinese Hibiscus. Using the close up filter, I wanted to focus on the staminal column but use the red pedals as my background.

As a photographer who enjoys shooting even when I am on vacation (yep - it is a sickness), it was fun to give myself a little project, spending an hour or two walking around looking for cool plants to shoot. If you find yourself in a new area, try challenging yourself to find something unique and interesting to focus on (pun intended).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Volcanos on the Big Island of Hawaii: A trek inside the crater and a night view of the Halema uma'u crater

If you make a trip to the big island of Hawaii, you have to make the trip out to the Kilauea volcano to check it out. A couple of days ago, we got up early and made the 3 hour drive from Kona (with a couple of stops) out to Volcano National Park. Provided you take the Southern route, like we did, you will drive through some of the coffee growing areas and along the coast, passing numerous large lava flows formed over the last couple hundred years.

We stopped at a couple of the vista points to check out the view of the coastline.

You should definitely stop by the Black Sand Beach as you make the drive South. The weather was not great on the day that we made our trip, but it was still definitely worth checking out. (A note for those of you planning a trip to the island this time of year. Almost every day that we saw, it would be sunny on the Northern part of the island, but rainy and cooler as we drove South.)

Ali never wastes a chance to lay out on a beach, let alone one with all black sand.

We made sure to stop by the Punalu'u Bake Shop, which has the most amazing Hawaiian Bread. Our good friends, the Ikedas, told us about this place, which is located within walking distance of where their family grew up. As the sign says, this is the Southernmost bakery in the U.S. and not to be missed. Not only was the food excellent, they also have a beautiful garden area behind the bakery, with some nice foliage to photograph. Look for another blog on the island's flowers in the next couple of days.

Our first stop, after visiting the Kilauea Visitor Center, was the steam vents. We have seen steam vents before, in Mammoth Lakes, CA, but it was cool to see these on an actual volcano in Hawaii.

And then, after checking out some of the steam vents, I walked over to the edge of the crater and looked down. I have to say that I was totally blown away at the vastness of the caldera. Miles and miles of hardened molten lava!

We then drove further along the Crater Rim Drive and stopped at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. This is the closest point to the Halema uma'u crater and provided a look inside the sub-crater. (Photographer's note: I checked out this location and a couple of others in preparation for a night shot. I had heard that this large steam vent in the crater would reflect the color of the molten lava (out of site of the public), and I wanted to get a shot of that. I decided that, with the limited visibility caused by the light rain, this would be my best spot. I asked the ranger about other options and about the crowds of people that might be there in the evening. You need to have a Plan B in case the weather changed, or the crowds did not provide a good shooting position.)

This photo was taken from the Kilauea Overlook, which is not far from the observatory, but has no crowds at all. With better weather conditions, this would have been my location of choice for the night shots.

We did take a walk through the much talked about Thurston Lava Tube, although with all of the stalactites taken by souvenir collectors, this was a bit of a letdown. Amazing to think of lava flowing through a tube like this a couple hundred years ago, but walking through this was like walking through a short man-made tunnel.

After exiting the lava tube, my son perched over the Kilauea Iki Crater and saw people walking across the crater. This was too much for a 17 year-old to resist, so even though it was late in the afternoon and raining, we decided to make the hike down into the crater to check it out. We were all glad that we did. As you can see, there was some vegetation along the edges of the crater which became more sparse as we continued farther into the crater.

As you you look at the surface of the crater, you can just imagine the molten lava bulging and hardening...

 ...and folding over itself.

At each of the vents, you could see steam escaping from under the surface, and you could lean down and feel the extreme heat that was just below the surface.

As I mentioned, there is sparse vegetation in the crater, and I really liked the composition here, with the one plant amongst all the lava.

The family walking on the crater...

Along the edges of the crater, the lava is all buckled like this, similar to waves crashing along the coastline and hardening instantly.

Here is my son, Connor, straddling a large fissure.You would not want to fall into one of these, as the bottoms were sometimes not even visible.

And then it was time to drive back to the observatory, where we waited in the car (to stay dry) for the sun to set.

I was not sure that we would see any color in the Halema uma'u crater, due to the bad weather and lack of any color in the daylight, but was pleasantly surprised when I left the car to survey the situation. It was time to break out the camera, tripod and rain gear and get some shots. This first shot was taken from the observatory area.

After taking a bunch of images from the first location, I decided that it was time to move to the Kilauea Overlook and give that a try. I was very happy that the reflected light was enough to illuminate the crater walls in the background.

These shots, showing the awesome power of mother nature, made my day!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Big Island: Spending an Easter on the beach in Hawaii

This past Sunday was Easter Sunday and the second time that we have spent this holiday in Hawaii. We started the day with a hike to see the petroglyphs on the big island. These ancient carvings are many centuries old, with their exact meanings unknown.

 There are literally thousands of these carvings in a fairly small area.

Then, after spending a couple of hours checking out the petroglyphs, we met up with some old friends of mine who live on the island and they had a treat in store for us. They know of a very cool beach called Makelewena Beach, which is not used by tourists, and is only accessible with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There is NO WAY that a rental car or even a non-raised 4-wheel drive vehicle could make this hairy trek (see the video below).

It was a bumpy ride, but the whole family loved the experience!

It was also really nice to be on a beautiful beach with very few people.

Devin, the son of my college friend, really enjoyed digging in the sand, and of course, I enjoyed capturing images of him.

As we were hiking back to the trucks, we came across this sea turtle who was parked up on the rocks. We have swam with these large creatures many times, but it is still exciting when we see them up close. This guy was probably about 3 feet long, but some of the larger turtles can be double that size.

I had my Canon 100-400mm lens with me, so that I could get some really nice tight shots of the turtle without invading his space.

Just after seeing the turtle, I came across this lone tree on the shoreline. I love the composition of this images, with the lone tree and rock with endless ocean in the background.

Here is a group shot of my family and Julie's family just before departing Makelewena Beach.
We left this beach, went to the market and bought a bunch of food to BBQ, and then headed for another beach to cook up Easter dinner. What a great way to spend Easter in paradise.

These last two shots were taken from the beach at "mile marker 69", where we were treated to yet another pretty Hawaiian sunset.

Stay tuned for the upcoming blogs including our trip to the volcano! Aloha.