Sunday, September 30, 2012

Capturing special moments from a special Bar Mitzvah

Yesterday was another fun day of Mitzvah photography. I got to spend the day with a great family and shoot images of a budding hockey star. Evan is a really talented 13 year old kid, who is also the captain of his hockey team. And since I play ice hockey a couple of times a week, I always feel a special bond with a family that spends a lot of time at a rink.

As always, we started the day shooting portraits at the Temple. We had perfect overcast skies which made my job just that much easier, not having to deal with bright sunlight and harsh shadows. (Photographer's note: For this image, I shot at f7.1 to make sure that everyone was in focus. This is critical when shooting portraits when you have people at varying distances from you. If I had shot this at f4 and focused on the boys, mom and dad would have been out of focus. I also used a fill flash at -1 stop to add a touch of light without making it look overly flashed.)

One of my favorite photos to take before the service, is the tight shot of the child reading from the Torah (taken at a very wide aperture). This is the first time that I have had the child lean into the frame, but I really liked the composition. Good job Evan!

I really like this photo of Evan for two reasons. First of all, he has a really nice and relaxed smile, but I also love the lighting on his face. Instead of using a diffused flash, I removed the diffuser, and pointed the flash at the wall to my left. As the well known wedding photographer, Denis Regie, calls it, I "foofed" the light off the wall and back onto the right side of Evan's face. This creates a perfect light / shadow ratio on his face. 

Shooting many of these services, I am always looking for the unscripted moments that make the service special. the service progressed, and each family member would give Evan a kiss after their portion of the service, and it became an impromptu them.

Even the Rabbi joined in on the fun!

Being a good photographer means that you have to be ready to shoot those special unscripted moments without hesitation. And sometimes, it helps to be lucky and have your camera pointed in the right direction to capture great reactions. In this case, I had just swung my camera to my left to grab images of the family up on the bema, when mom and dad started cracking up. I love this moment! (Photographer's note: Just like playing hockey, it is very important to keep your head up and look all around you. Even though your main subject may be straight in front of you, there are plenty of other photo opportunities to either side or behind you. Don't just capture the obvious.)

This is one of those scripted moments, with mom and dad handing the Torah to their son. 

The key to successful event photography is to capture the story of the day. This particular image tells an important story for this family. The grandfather was not able to make his way to the bema, so the Rabbi came down to them for their portion of the service. I saw that Evan was watching his grandparents, and framed the image so that his grandparents were in prefect focus, while he was just soft another to be visible as a secondary subject.   

The whole family watching watching Evan read from the Torah.

This is one of those unscripted moments that I would hate to have missed. The Rabbi looked over at Evan's brother and complimented him on his reading of a Hebrew passage, at which time, he raised his hands in victory. This is one of those priceless moments which make a photographer really happy!

Before the party started, we took more photos of the family and friends, now dressed more casual than earlier in the day. 

As a surprise to Evan, 25 of his friends got together and planned a flash mob for his party. I took photos of the kids who were dancing and then quickly moved back (using a 16-35mm wide angle lens) to grab images of them dancing with Evan watching them.

These girls were too darned cute. Instead of taking the standard photo at their eye level, I held my camera up over them and asked them to look up at the lens. 

There are certain moments of any party that must be captured by the photographer. In this case, the mother son dance was one of those moments. I quickly switched to my Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens so that I could capture this photo with a narrow depth of field.

I used the same 85mm 1.4 lens to key in on Evan while he watched his photo montage. (Photographer's note: Notice the narrow depth of field when shooting at f1.4. Only Evan is in focus and everyone else is soft. This helps to draw the attention of the viewer right to Evan, and that is what I want.)

Towards the end of the evening, I felt like I had reached that point of the evening where I had covered everything. Instead of packing up and leaving (which I never do), I decided to shoot some images with a fish eye lens.

I have never used this lens at a dance party before, but had a great time capturing some unique photos with this 15mm lens.

I also used the extra time to go outside the Valencia Hotel (located in Santana Row in San Jose, CA) to shoot some outside shots of the venue. 

I have worked numerous parties with Grady, who is one of the most awesome DJ's in the Bay Area, and had fun shooting this photo for him. He was getting ready to hand out the glow sticks, but I asked him to hold them up for a couple of photos. I turned off my flash, and using the light from the glow sticks only, I shot some photos of Grady. I needed a little more light on his face, so I asked my son Connor (who was shooting video with a small video light) to throw a tiny bit of light on Grady's face.

As you can tell, I have a great time shooting these types of events, and try to find the unique shots in whatever environment I find myself in. What a fun job!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The last flight of the Space Shuttle: A fly-by around the SF Bay Area

Two days ago, the San Francisco Bay Area was treated to a special fly-by of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, piggy-backed on top of a modified NASA 747 jet, for it's last flight ever. Initially, I did not think that I would be able to shoot any images of the last flight, but with a change in schedule and taking a conference call from roadside, it all worked out.

On my way into the office, I took a different route which took me very close to Moffett Airforce Base, in Mountain View, CA.  Looking for a good vantage point, but not wanting to get stuck in a massive traffic jam, I pulled into a nearby parking lot, located directly across from the entrance to Lockheed Martin. I figured that this was appropriate since Lockheed was involved in some of the development of the shuttle. Before leaving my home office, I had checked online and found the proposed flight plan. This helped me determine a suitable shooting location.

I parked in Yahoo's parking lot and was intrigued by all of the Yahoo! employees who were eagerly waiting for the arrival of the Space Shuttle.

After waiting for 20 minutes, the Shuttle and ferrying 747 came into view.

It was a very low altitude flight, which helped me capture images of the shuttle from the side, as opposed to a belly shot of the 747.  

Here is a tighter crop of the photo above.

I like this last photo of the two aircraft heading out into the distance, while a bunch of the Lockheed Martin employees watch from their rooftop. It was a special moment here in Northern California, and one that I am glad to have captured.

Monday, September 17, 2012

New York City - An Evening on the High Line

During my last trip to New York City, I was honored to present my Olympic images to the amazing group at NYC SALT. If you are not aware of NYC SALT, it is a nonprofit program which gets kids from underprivileged families and teaches them photography. I have been involved in the organization for a couple of years now, but never presented to them. It was fun to share my Olympic photos and stories with them, and to tell them how I pursued my dreams.

After the NYC SALT meeting, I had dinner plans with the founders of the organization, but had to wait a couple of hours for everyone to meet up. This worked out perfectly, since this allowed me time to go out and do some night photos with a couple of friends from the group. Since we were very close to the High Line, we walked over to this cool area and shot images on our way to the restaurant.

The High  Line is a public park that is built on a historic freight rail line which is elevated above the Meat Packing District of the city. This area was once ignored, and is now a high-rent district. The photo above shows the walking path on what used to be train tracks.

As I was walking along the path, I turned around and saw the New Yorker Hotel peeking out between two office buildings. I really liked the framing of the hotel in between the straight building and the angled building.

A little further down the path, I had a nice view of the Empire State Building through the plants on the High Line. I shot this image and then realized that it would be a better shot if the leaves were lit a little bit.

Using the flash on the back of my iPhone, I lit the leaves during the 1.6 second exposure. At this point, my friend Adam Chinitz said, "Hey - we are using Phone Fill" for our lighting. I really like this. It wasn't fill flash, since we did not have a flash with us, it was phone fill, since we used our phones as a light source. Remember that everyone, "Phone Fill" was started here (by Adam).

We even used the phone fill to light ourselves for these images.

I saw this cool graffiti covered wall below me and set up for some shots. This shot is so typical NYC to me.

This is a shot showing the High Line and the street reflections off of a very cool metallic building.

Just before exiting the High Line, I saw these steps which were lit very dramatically, and thought that we could do some cool portraits here. Once again, we did not have any flash units to light ourselves, so we broke out our iPhones again, turned them upside down, with the flash light facing us, and shot these.

If you look closely at this "Phone Fill" shot, you will see my thumb glowing red. This shows how I was covering part of the light so that it would not be too bright on my face. I guess you could call that a "thumb gobo". :)

More phone fill fun...

Not only was this cool architecture, but I really love the colors coming through the windows at night.

Another shot of the Empire State Building through the buildings of the Meat Packing District.

This last image, taken just before we had dinner, was a 30 second exposure, showing the pillars from an old pier on the Hudson River. I set the camera to a very low aperture to give me a long exposure. My goal was to smooth out the water as much as possible, to help accent the pillars.

This is the same image converted to black and white using NIK Silver Efex Pro.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New York City: Walking the streets and a visit to The MOMA

Last week was yet another trip across country for a visit to New Jersey and New York City. I taught classes (Night Photography and Sports Photography) at two of my favorite places, Unique Photo in NJ and B&H Photo in NYC. And as always...whenever I have any spare time, I go out and take photos.

Usually my spare time is at night, but on this trip, since I was presenting during the evening, I went out and shot some images while it was still light outside. Even though it looked like it might rain at any moment, I took a long walk from my hotel to visit the Museum of Modern Art (otherwise known as the MOMA). Along the way, I walked by a fire station, and ever since September 11, 2001, I see these places differently. Even though it has been more than 10 years since the attack on NY, I still feel the sadness almost as much as a decade ago.

From sadness to Love. :) I have walked by this location many times before, but wanted to capture some images that were a little different this time. It was an overcast day in NY, so I knew that blue skies were not an option. Taking advantage of the lower light conditions, I decided to slow down the shutter of the camera to 1/4 of a second (ISO 100, f20 on the Canon 5D Mark III) to show the motion of people walking around the iconic piece. I did not have a tripod with me, so I braced myself against a nearby wall and shot this photo staying as steady as I could.

Even though I have been to NY City countless times, I had never taken the time to visit the MOMA. First of all, I am not a huge fan of museums. Generally, when I have free time, I would rather experience a city being out and about, as opposed to being stuck inside. And secondly, I am not a huge fan of modern art. After entering the museum, I was drawn more to the people watching the art, than the art itself. I also decided to stick with my slow shutter to try showing motion inside the museum, to match my images from outside.

I was intrigued by these three white canvases, with different colored borders. Still a little confuing to me, but I like the overall effect.

This one really had me laughing. Now, I don't mean to offend the artist or those of you who like this, but I just kept thinking "is this really art?" Serious? A wall pitted by a single air rifle shot? Hmmmm.

No comment...

This was one of my favorite photos of the day. I saw this white canvas on a white wall, and was still in my "what the heck?" frame of mind, when I saw this guy checking his phone and decided to shoot a photo of this. I loved the fact that everything was stark white except for this guy in a red shirt. I also love the fact that he is all alone in this room and not paying attention to the "art". The funny thing is...this guy became part of my "art" without even knowing it. How about that?

I did see some really cool (and very colorful) art in the museum. This is a close-up shot of a very large piece which was made completely in colored cloth fabric.

Another close-up shot, showing the third dimension of drip painting by the well known artist, Jackson Pollock.

More motion, this time taken from the 5th floor of the museum.

I really liked the clean lines of this staircase and decided that it was as interesting as many of the art pieces in the museum.

And then it was time to walk back to my hotel to prepare for my classes. But not before stopping by Radio City Music Hall and shooting a little more. At this point, I had shot so many images with a slow shutter, that I decided to keep shooting this way, and that this would be my theme for the day. Both of these shots were shot using the "motion pan" technique. For these, I kept the shutter at 1/8 sec and panned at the exact same speed as the taxi cabs. This is the same technique I used at the Olympics, and I actually have practiced this many times following taxis in NY.

Cutting through Time Square, I happened to walk right by the Naked Cowboy. I went behind him (but not too close!) and shot this image with Time Square behind him.

I love this shot, because the girl who is walking into the frame from the right, is sneaking a peek at the Naked Cowboy, with just a slight smirk on her face. Too funny!