Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jessica Steffens - Teaching Photography With An Olympic Gold Medalist

It was just a little over a week ago and I was teaching at the WPPI show in Las Vegas. I was asked to present at numerous locations, and shoot portraits on the show floor. As part of that, they wanted my sponsors to provide our own model. Well...heck...I don't know models in Las Vegas, but then a thought occurred to me:. I thought "Instead of having another model dressed in a wedding dress or evening gown, why not bring an Olympic athlete?" So I hopped on Facebook to connect with some of my friends from the USA Water Polo team and decided to team up with Jessica Steffens, silver medalist from the Beijing Olympics and gold medalist from London.

I started shooting with a Canon 24-105 lens, shooting some standard images of Jessica in front of a constant light in a soft box to her left.

To demonstrate narrow depth of field, I grabbed a Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens and shot this image wide open at f/1.4, focusing on the gold medal and diffuser Jessica.

During our dinner conversation the evening before the show opened, Jessica was telling me that the medal had "Aquatics, Water Polo, Women" inscribed on the outer edge of the medal. I had never noticed this before, so we made sure to shoot an image showing this inscription.

I wanted to get that iconic shot of Jessica biting her gold medal. If you look closely, you will notice that she is not actually biting the medal. Since she had let so many people touch the medal, she was a little reluctant to bite it, and rightfully so!

After shooting images on the show floor, we both thought it would be fun to shoot images out by the pool at the MGM hotel. I wanted to get some nice images of Jessica that were more in context with water polo. What better than a pool for a background?

We shot images in the area of the pool which were free of people and lane lines. Since we took these at 4pm, the light was not great. But, the hardest part was getting the shots in between all the people curious to meet Jessica and see the gold medal up close. We decided to delay our dinner plans and shoot some more images close to 6pm to get good evening light.

We photographed in several locations around the pool, but I really wanted the sunlight behind Jessica, so we moved to the farthest point of the pool and shot this. I liked this so much that I asked my good friend, Eddie (from Epson) if he could print a bunch for her to sign the next day of the show. Eddie was amazing and printed a whole stack of 8x10s for her to sign and give away. He also printed some large 13x19 images on canvas that were awesome!

Jessica asked me if I could shoot a nice image of the medal in front of the water. I shot all of these images with the Canon 1DX at full resolution. Check out the clarity of the image up close below).

We then took some images of the medal in the Olympic box. I wanted to angle the box towards me, and since we were at the pool, with lots of empty beer bottles, we used one of those to prop up the case. Thank goodness you can not see that in the final image.

One last shot before dinner, as we were leaving the pool area.

The next day, we were back on the show floor shooting more images. I had Jessica sitting on a stool for all of the first day's photos, so we decided to have her standing for the second day.

Again, focusing on the medal to demonstrate wide aperture shooting and focus technique.

I framed this shot so that I would highlight the gold medal in it's case, but also use the USA on Jessica's shirt as my background.

This last shot was taken by Ken Sklute up on the Canon main stage. It was nice to have a photo of Jessica and I. 

This whole event was a win / win for us. She got a bunch of images, we got to know each other better (since I did not have much face time with the team at the Olympics) and we had a blast. Mostly, I was honored to partner up with such a great person. I think we may have to do this again at the Photo Plus Show in New York in October.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

New York City: A Walk through Central Park in the Winter

One of the great things about visiting New York City, and being a photographer, is that there is so much to photograph. On my last trip to the Big Apple, I had a free afternoon, so I grabbed my camera, a couple of lenses, my tripod and headed off to Central Park for a long walk. I started at 105th on the East side of the park, by the botanical gardens.

The winter weather had left all the trees bare, and a little snow on the ground. One might think that this has diminished the photo opportunities, but as you can see here, it is quite the opposite. I shot this image knowing that I would turn it black and white. I used NIK SilverEfex Pro to convert the image to B&W and to add contrast to the scene.

Since I was wearing my FitBit and tracking how much I was walking, I decided to walk around Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir before exploring more of Central Park. After a couple miles of exploration, I headed for the Bethesda Arcade.

I had been to the Bethesda Arcade once before, but not since they had restored the tiles in this amazing underground walkway. This first image was shot at at ISO 100, f16 for 2.5 seconds (mounted on my tripod) and exposed for the tiles.

This next shot was taken at ISO 100, f16 for 1/1.7 of a sec and exposed for the outside fountain. I actually shot numerous photos at different exposures to create an HDR shot here, but liked this particular shot as is.

Just after leaving the Bethesda Arcade, I came across a gentleman making huge soap bubbles. I saw someone doing this in London, when I was there for the Olympics, but did not have a good opportunity to shoot images at that time. This time I had a little daylight left and shot some photos, focusing on the bubbles. I like this particular photo because it highlights the bubble but includes the passers-by in the background, who were also attracted to these multicolored bubbles.

Since it was just before sunset, I waited for a bubble to blow in a different direction, so that I could grab a photo like this, with the bubble in front of the late afternoon NYC skyline.

My plan worked well, with me exiting the park just after sunset, so that I could shoot some evening shots by the Apple Store at 5th Ave and 59th.

To me, there is nothing more beautiful than great architecture highlighted in front of a deep blue night sky. After carrying the Gitzo tripod with me for the entire afternoon, I was sure glad to have it for these photos.

That short window of time, with the deep blue skies, had come and gone and I decided it was time to head back to my hotel to get warmed up and grab some dinner. But, when I came across this old street clock on 5th Ave, I couldn't help but stop and take another night shot.

This last photo was taken across the street from Radio City Music Hall, using the fountain as a reflection pool. This photo was taken at ISO 100, f18 with a shutter speed of 3 seconds. Overall, it was a great day of walking around the city. How far did I walk on this little photo excursion? I checked my Fitbit when I got back to the hotel and I had walked 24,343 steps for a total of 11.33 miles. And you know what? I enjoyed ever step of the way.

Monday, March 4, 2013

New York City: Chinese New Year Parade 2013 (Year of the Snake)

Last week, before my son's accident, I was retouching images and getting ready to post them here to the blog. Well, now that my son is improving and things are settling down back at home, it is time to get back to the photos.

These photos were taken on my trip to New York City, when I got a chance to shoot the Chinese New Years Parade with my good friend, Joe Dimaggio.

We got to the parade at 11am, to shoot the preparations. Even though the weather had been pretty good all week, this particular Sunday turned out to be a really cold and windy day. Not easy for a California guy to deal with 20 degree weather and 40 mph winds, but I bundled up and made the best of it.

It was a little comical watching these poor people trying to inflate balloons and keep them from blowing away.

About 45 minutes prior to the start of the parade, these two people came out in full costume and made perfect subjects for some portraits.

I photographed them from all angles, trying to key in on the beautiful colors and patterns of their clothing.

As they hopped in this amazing old car and prepared for their ride along the parade route, I got down low and shot this image of them. I used the Canon 24-105mm lens at 24mm to accentuate the long hood of the automobile.

Even the police were getting in on the photo opportunities.

At one point, I got down low to the car to see if I could get a photo of the two subjects reflecting in the front mirror. As it turned out, I could only get one of them at a time, but I still liked the angle and shot this photo.

Final preparations for the grand marshall.

The color guards moved into place as the parade was minutes away from starting.

There were lots of kids in the crowd...

...and the crowd was rather large. I was really happy to have parade credentials, so that I could move around freely to photograph, and not have to fight the crowds.

This guy came cruising up the parade route, before the parade started. I have no idea what he and his dog were doing there, but I found him humorous and shot this photo.

And then the parade started at 1pm.

For this shot, I held my Canon 5D Mark III low to the ground and, guessing at the composition, shot numerous frames to see if I could capture the flags from a unique angle.

As with most Chinese parades, there were lot of people with poppers and confetti.

The grand marshall made his appearance, now all buttoned up and ready to go.

Senator Chuck Schumer made his appearance.

I watched these girls marching towards me, and quickly decided that this would make a good slow shutter shot, to show movement in the flags, while trying to get a sharp shot of the girls. So...I slowed the shutter to 1/80 sec and waited for them to swing the flags around quickly.

And, you can't have a Chinese New Years Parade without the dragons! I waited for the head of the dragon to come close to me and grabbed this close shot. But, I really wanted something more interesting than this. I wanted to get a photo showing all of the people working the dragon and show it's length.

I waited for the dragon to pass by me, and then I held my camera as high as I could, and shot this photo over the crowd.

Knowing that I got the wide shot that I was looking for, I then ran ahead to get in front of the dragon once again.

The parade only lasted one hour, which was a bit of a surprise, but it was fun nonetheless. This last photo was taken towards the end of the parade, and it made me laugh. This one girl was smart enough to climb on a trash can to get a better view, high above everyone else. She was also nice enough to wear a bright red jacket, making her stand out from the crowd. And what does the sign say right above her? "No standing", but then again it was Sunday and there is also an exception sign for that!