Monday, January 30, 2012

Another fun Bat Mitzvah: And Sophie's awesome party!

People sometimes ask me why I love to photograph events like Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Some people are in this business strictly for the money, but I shoot these events because I feel privileged to be able to capture family history and I push myself to create something very special for them. Not only that, but I am invited to be a part of the family for the day. For a typical day, I am with the family from 9am until 11pm. We better have fun together! This past Saturday I became part of Sophie's family and I had a great time capturing images for them. As always, I tried some new photo techniques and looked for those key moments that defined them (not me).

We started taking photos at 9am. In order to separate the family from the background, I chose to use the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens. The depth of field on this lens is amazing and allows me to have some fun. I also used a Canon 580EX II flash with a diffuser to add a little punch of light.

Sophie showed up in the morning and was ready for photos. She knew the routine, since I had photographed her for their signature board at their beach house months before.

As we started shooting images on Saturday morning, she and I looked at the back of the camera, and she said "I am so photogenic today" and she was!

Later that evening it was party time! They had the party at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood Shores, CA and the place was decked out! But before I shot images inside, I took Sophie outside to get some shots of her in front of these trees with lights on them. I knew that shooting the Sigma at an aperture of 1.4 would let me blur the background beautifully and keep her tack sharp. (Photographer's note: You might be wondering why I shot this image with Sophie so far to one side. I did this, thinking that this might make a nice cover shot for their album, or at very least, a good two-page spread. If you were to wrap this image, you would have Sophie on the cover with the lit tree on the back page - where you could inset another image. You should always think about your final product when shooting images at these types of events.)

There are certain "key shots" when shooting a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and this is one of those. I made sure to insert myself into the middle of the dancing to get this shot of Sophie being lifted in the chair. I love her reaction as she first gets lifted high. (Photographer's note: For this shot, I used the Canon 16-35mm wide angle lens at 16mm - aperture of f2.8. It is very important that you make sure to stand back a little. If you get too close to the subject, they will become too distorted and you will end up with some pretty hideous shots. The best shots are usually just as they first get lifted in the chair, since this is when they are most surprised.)

And then I quickly moved back onto the DJ's stage to get a high shot of the family dancing.

The DJ can make or break these types of parties, and Dan (from Denon and Doyle) is one of the best. He is great at getting people out on the dance floor, and I grabbed this shot of him working the crowd.

These two images (above and below) show mom having fun at the party. For these shots, I made sure to have the focus on her, but also shoot wide enough to include the crowd around her.

(Photographer's note: To draw a little more attention on mom, I lightened her face (and Sophie's) in Adobe Camera Raw. Remember that your viewer will be drawn to the lighter part of the image.)

My favorite part of shooting any event, is when something great happens that was not scripted. This shot shows one of those great moments. The DJ invited everyone to sit down for dinner and then put on one of Sophie's favorite songs. Without missing a beat, Sophie stopped in her tracks and started singing the song with her friends. I love this!

Speaking of "real moments", check out this shot of Sophie watching her photo montage. Do you think that you can recreate this moment? No way. This is the real thing. I knew that she had not seen the montage before, so I sat down on the floor near her, pre-focused on her eyes and waited for her moments of surprise. I was rewarded with this. (Photographer's note: While everyone in the room is watching the video montage, this is the best time for you to be taking images of mom, dad and the children. Because the room will be darker than usual, you should use a very fast lens and a diffused flash. I like to turn the flash down a bit, making sure not to over light my subject.)

Another great moment during the montage, as Sophie and her friend react to a funny picture.

If this photo does not make you laugh, something might be wrong with you. :) I saw these two putting on some props and getting ready to step into the photo booth. I set my camera to the proper settings, pulled the curtain back, and shot this. When going through the images at home the next day, my wife and daughter said that this was their favorite of all time. Too funny.

Towards the end of the evening, Sophie did a candle lighting celebration.

Of all the images of the day, I think that this is my favorite. Again, shooting this image wide open at f1.4, I was able to grab this image with no flash at all. I wanted to make sure to keep the mood from the candle light and not add any "artificial light" to the shot. I did lighten Sophie in ACR in post processing, but was able to maintain the great light that was surrounding her.

As the night wound down, there was time for one last slow dance. I saw that Sophie was dancing with this nice young man, so I ran over, hopped up on the DJ's riser, and asked them to look up at the camera. Another fun shot, and another memory for them forever.

Friday, January 27, 2012

San Francisco: A foggy day and night can make some really nice photos

Living near San Francisco, I have had many chances to photograph the city. The great thing about SF is that the weather changes so often that no two trips are the same. On this particular visit to the city, the fog was pretty heavy, and mostly covering the Golden Gate Bridge. Many people would look at this as an unfortunate situation, but since I have photographed this area with clear skies, I embraced the fog and used it to my advantage.

When we first arrived at Fort Point, the bridge was completely obscured by the fog, but as we walked around the area, we could see that the fog was starting to clear in certain spots. I waited for both towers to become visible and shot this image. I really like the way that the second tower is just barely visible in the distance.

We were walking away from the bridge, and when I turned around I saw this scene with the bridge half covered and all the people in the foreground. Notice how all the tourists and buildings create a strong foreground to better accent the background.

Further along our walk, we came across one of my wife's favorite areas. This is the rocky beach where people like to stack the rocks into formations. I got down low to this stack and shot this image with the Palace of Fine Arts in the background.

Towards the end of the day, we made our way across the Golden Gate Bridge to the small town of Sausalito. Just after the sun set, I saw this beautiful color appear over Angel Island. I set up my tripod and quickly grabbed some shots before it disappeared. So pretty!

You know how I said that fog can actually add to a photo? Well, here is a perfect example of that! San Francisco has a really pretty skyline, mostly defined by the Transamerica pyramid. When you see the typical postcard shot of the skyline, they are taken with perfectly clear skies, but I actually like this shot with the "key" buildings peeking out from the fog. The lights of the city are illuminating the fog and the light at the top of the Transamerica building is perfectly lit. The Coast Guard boat, to the left of the photo, helps fill what would normally be a dark void. (You can click on these images to see them larger.)

Fifteen minutes after shooting the fog covered skyline, the weather changed again and I got this shot of the skyline more visible. I like both images, but what makes them interesting to me, is that they are taken from the same spot, in a short time span, and yet so different.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

San Francisco Steets - Haight Ashbury Graffiti at it's best!

There is something really cool about returning to your home town and seeing it in an entirely new way. In all the years that I spent growing up in San Francisco, I rarely made the trip (no pun intended) to the Haight Ashbury area. But in December, I was driving through the area with my family, as we headed towards Golden Gate Park, and I saw all this great graffiti on the buildings. Not wanting to disrupt the family plans, I kept quiet and drove through. My mind was screaming "Stop and shoot some images of this!"

We drove another 1/2 mile towards the park and one of the kids said "That was really cool graffiti back there", and everyone else started talking about turning around and taking pictures there. Without any hesitation, I swung the car around and we went back, and I am glad that we did. 

The color and form in this street art is amazing. We walked around and found some really cool alleyways covered with this artistic expression.

I really like the way that the two guys sitting in the bottom left of the frame seem to blend right in with the art.

This place really is a trip (pun intended this time) and I found myself equally fascinated with the wall art and the people who inhabit this area.


The wife and kids were armed with their new iPhones (with a much improved camera) and they captured some really cool images.Everyone liked this "rainbow wall".

Here is my son Connor who was using the Hipstomatic app to gather some very nice shots. He has a really great eye for photography, as does my wife and daughter.

These are close-up shots of the rainbow wall (seen above). It was really amazing to see the detail in this mural.

I was drawn to the colors here, and really liked the fact that even a piece of plywood, which obviously was covering up something, could be camouflaged so well.

We took a lot of images of the walls, but I wanted to focus on the details as well.

Believe it or not, this was one of my favorite images from our walk. I saw this door handle (you can see this in the first image in this blog post) and really liked the colors and the way that something so mundane could look so interesting. What do you think? Am I nuts?

In one of the alleyways, I saw some more cool graffiti but was disappointed that cars were parked in the way of getting a full view. But, then it occurred to me that the reflection of the art onto the hood of the car actually made for an interesting photo, so I incorporated the car into the shot.

And then, after looking at the images of the car reflections, I started looking for other cars that were parked in front of graffiti filled walls to see if I could find more unique views. I found that the darker vehicles, that were fairly clean, would give me the best results. For this image, I got down low to the side of the car to find the best reflection. My goal was to highlight the reflection but still show enough of the vehicle to let you know what you are looking at. This just goes to show you that what first might appear to be a distraction to your image, may become the main subject.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Bat Mitzvah - Hollywood Style

This past Saturday was another mitzvah photo day for me. It was Sarah's big day at Peninsula Temple Beth El, which is a pretty Temple located just South of San Francisco. I had just returned to the SF Bay Area from another trip out of state, and was worried that my lack of sleep would effect my shooting concentration. But, as it turns out, I think I should shoot while sleepless more often!

OK, to be fair, my photographic skills were good, but my subjects and the environment is what really made this special. All I had to do was take control of the camera and be creative, right?

The inside of this Temple is very modern with blonde wood and amazing colored accents. I have photographed here before, and I love shooting the images at a wide aperture to blur the background and draw attention to the kids and their family.

It is important to get nice individual photos, but equally important to get a nice family shot as well. As I look at these images, it just makes me so happy to do what I do. I feel like the luckiest person in the world, to capture family history for all these families.

This is a photo from inside the Rabbi's office. Rabbi Eisner spent quite a bit of time with the family before the service and emphasized the importance of the day. As he spoke to the family, I stayed in the background and grabbed some shots at those moments when I felt that it would add to the story of the day. Yep, that is what this is all about. We need to tell the story of the day through images. I especially liked this shot since it shows the smiles, the admiration, and the love of the family.

After the service (which I am not allowed to photograph at this Temple), it was party time. And let me tell you, these people know how to throw a party! The theme of the party was "Hollywood", because Sarah is really into acting. They had rolled out the red carpet at the entrance to the party and also included mirrors with lights, like you would see inside a green room. Before all the guests arrived, I saw Sarah looking in the mirror and asked her to hold that pose for a minute while I captured this shot. I am SO glad that I did! I also had her strike a bunch of other poses for me (hey - she is an actress, right?!) which also turned out nicely.

And since I liked Sarah's "mirror shot" so much, I asked her parents to stand in this spot as well. (Photographer's note: There are a couple of key elements in this image which I used to my advantage. First of all, I wanted to shoot wide enough to include, not only their faces, but also their backs, so that the viewer understands that this is a mirror shot. I popped a little bit of on-camera flash to make sure that there would be a little bit of light on their backs to separate them from the background. I then manipulated the image in Adobe Photoshop to darken certain areas, lighten their faces, and clean up the dust spots on the mirror. I also noticed that one of the light bulbs was not lit, so I cloned a bulb from a different spot and fixed that. After I had retouched the image completely, I ran it through NIK DFine to remove digital noise and voila!)

After shooting the other mirror images and letting the video team steal my idea (but I love Andy and his crew so we are all good), I had Sarah turn towards me for a side shot. For this photo I did not use any additional flash, but relied on the light bulbs to light the front of her face.

Did I mention the big party? Oh yeah, this place was decked out with all kinds of Hollywood details. And the kids came ready to dance. Linda and Gary, from the Pinnacle Production Group, were incredible. Their attention to detail made my job that much easier. As many of you know, having a good background is almost as important as having a good subject and foreground. The decorations in this venue made this a perfect place to shoot!

I am always striving to get a different shot of the party. Do I have a bunch of images of the kids dancing? Yep. But, I also wanted to get a shot showing Mark (the tireless DJ from Denon and Doyle) and Andy (the king of event videography from Blue Moon Productions) working the crowd. So I held my camera above my head and shot an image over Mark's head and down at the crowd. I used Andy's light to highlight Sarah and my diffused on-camera flash to light up Mark. (Photographer's note: My flash actually made Mark's arms a little too bright, so I darkened them in Adobe Camera RAW so that they were not the brightest part of the image. The human eye is drawn to the brightest area and I wanted that to be Sarah. But, notice how the position of Mark's arms frame the action and draw your eye right to the center of the photo - right where Sarah is standing.)

I have photographed many speeches from the parents, but having this amazing background really made a huge difference. The statues and Hollywood sign frame mom and dad perfectly.

After the parent's speeches, some of Sarah's friends surprised her with a tribute. I knew this was coming, so I positioned myself behind Sarah to include her in the photo. You don't need to see her face to feel her emotion in this shot.

And the surprises kept coming, as Sarah surprised most everyone with a song. It is so cool to see 13 year old kids (or young adults) who have such poise and confidence.

As a photographer, it is easy to get captivated by the main subject, but it is also important to be looking around at all times. As I photographed Sarah singing her song, I noticed her parents standing off to the side of the stage, thoroughly enjoying her performance. I quickly moved over to get some shots of her parents, to show the pride and joy in their faces.

Towards the end of the evening, it was time for the father/daughter dance. But this time, dad decided to dance with both of his girls. It was an amazingly emotional time for them and I did everything I could to grab this image. I must have shot 25 images of this dance to get that one perfect shot with both girls visible and dad feeling the moment. After shooting these images, and seeing this one on the back of the camera, I knew that my day was complete!