Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I love photography!

I have been a professional photographer for more than 8 years now, and have been teaching photography for the last couple of years. And since all of my classes are online at the B&H YouTube Channel, and available for free, people often ask me why I do all of this. So I thought I would write a blog to let you know why I love photography so much. If you take and share photos, my guess is that you will be able to relate to many of these.

A grouping of Tulips by a government building in Toronto. Something beautiful that I would have just walked by and not "seen" if not for photography.

I see the world and light in a whole new way

Believe it or not, before I got into photography, I would see a tree full of fall colors, drive by a beautiful hill of flowers, look at snow covered mountains, see someone's face with tons of character, and honestly, I did not pay attention to those details. I remember driving with my mother and she would say "look at the amazing colors in these trees" and I would say "uh huh" and think nothing of it. It was not until I started capturing photos and seeing the beauty on my screen, that I began to see details, colors and light in a whole new way. Now, I will be eating in a restaurant and see someone sitting by the window, and think "wow, look at the perfect light on their face. That would make a perfect portrait." I feel like a veil was lifted and I see what I was missing for all those years before. I was just telling someone today, "Photography has changed the way the world sees me and the way I see the world."

Jessica Steffens (USA Water Polo Gold Medalist and now Friend) and me

The camera helps me meet amazing people

The photo above shows me with an Olympic gold medalist, but as cool as it is to get to know Olympians and other well known people, I am talking about your average interesting people who surround us in our daily lives. I can not tell you how many times that people have seen me with all of my equipment and asked what I was shooting. Or, assuming that I know what I am doing with a camera, they will ask me to take their photo. Many times this leads to a conversation with these strangers. And I have met some really amazing people across the globe. Even just last week, if you read the previous blog entry, I met 3 people from Europe and ended up joining them for lunch and dinner and getting an invite to their place in London.

And it is not just people who I am meeting face-to-face, it is the chance to interact with all of you. I get numerous emails every day from blog readers, people on the Facebook page, and others who want to share images or ask questions. I was very lucky early in my career to have so many great photographers willing to share their knowledge with me. I like being able to do the same for others now.

One of the last photos of my mother, and one that helps define my photography.

I get to capture family history and memories

Sure, when I shoot an event like a bar mitzvah or wedding, I am making money doing that. But that is not the only reason that I shoot these types of events. I love being there to capture that important moment in time, a moment that will hopefully be remembered forever through my images. This was never more true than my own experience taking a photo of my mother, who passed away 2 1/2 years ago. Four months before she died, my mother took the extended family on a cruise to Mexico. I took a photo of my mother, on the formal night, that even she liked (and she never liked herself in photos). Four months later, she was gone and I am SO thankful to have that one photo. It was at this time that I realized that we are not photographers, we are historians!

I will also tell you that there is nothing that makes me happier than to walk into a friend or neighbor's house and see, on their walls or mantle, countless family photos that I have taken for them over the years. Did I charge any of them for those photos? Nope. But I feel like I was well paid, in their sheer appreciation for the photos.
Brooklyn being a 3 year old
This is better than any check I have ever cashed!

Note: I wrote this blog on Saturday morning, and then headed out for a day of fun with my family other family friends. When we got to our friend's home, we were happy to see that their granddaughter was there as well. Since I had my camera with me, I thought it would be fun to take some photos of Brooklyn in their backyard. I shot a whole bunch of photos of her, and then at the end of the evening, she came downstairs in her pajamas and handed me this thank you card. It just melted my heart, and, I thought to myself, "this is exactly what I just wrote about in the blog!"

My daughter learning to shoot at the early age of 8 years old.

I can inspire and teach others

I never once thought of becoming a teacher, and surely never pictured myself teaching photography. (Pun intended) But here I am many years later, and even though I never intended to become a teacher or mentor to others, it happened. I have so much passion for photography and really love sharing that with others. I have received many messages from others who tell me that I inspired them to take better photos or rekindled their love for the art. I love that my influence, in some way, has helped other people have that veil lifted to see subjects, color and light in a whole new way!

A recent family portrait for our close friends, the Ikedas.

I get to share photos with others

What good is it to take photos if nobody is ever going to see them? I love capturing images for myself and my family, but also to share with others. It is for this reason that I started this blog and created the Facebook page. Of course, when I first created the blog, it was for friends and family to see what I was up to. Now, with more than 30,000 readers a month, I am sharing to a wider group around the globe. And I am very thankful to have all of you who view the images, ask questions and give your opinions. You are a big reason why I love photography.

The Sydney Opera House. One of my favorite places in the world.

I get a chance to travel the globe and experience so many amazing things

I have been traveling the planet for more than 20 years, and feel so fortunate to see parts of the world that most do not. I have hung out of a helicopter (with the doors off) over New York City to shoot an ad, been on race tracks during Formula One races, been feet away from historic Olympic events. Because of my photography, I am invited to explore the world and capture its beauty. Even though I have traveled from the US to Australia 14 times, I still pinch myself when I get there. I never take any of this for granted. Some people like to come home from a new place with a t-shirt or mug, I like to come home with at least one great photo. I am about to go to Russia for my fourth Olympic Games to capture images of some of the best athletes in the world. I am lucky.

My son and two nephews having fun with me and my remote flashes.

I get to give back

To me, the most important word in the English language is "passion." And I try to do everything with passion. Whether it is interactions with my friends and family, playing ice hockey, driving, or shooting photos, I do it all with passion. And through my photography and this blog, I get to spread that passion to others.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Driving Down Highway 1 - The California Coast

Last week, I needed to head to Southern California to teach at each of the Samy's Camera store locations. After setting up my schedule, I determined that it would be just as easy to drive there as it would be to fly. I also looked at this as a rare chance to make the long drive by myself and stop whenever I wanted to. No family or friends asking me "Are you really going to stop here too?" So... I rented a nice car from Hertz on Monday morning and headed for Highway 1. Just me, my iPhone, my Canon 5D Mark III, camera bag, and a long winding highway.

So come along and join me for a virtual cruise down the coast of Central California.

My first stop was in Castroville, the artichoke capitol of the world. I pulled over and headed into one of the fields to take a wide shot of the endless artichokes.

Continuing South, I crossed over the Bixby Creek Bridge and found this patch of flowers to serve as my foreground.

While shooting images and zooming the lens, I came across this staircase to...uhhhh...nothing.

Another view of the Bixby Creek Bridge from farther down the road.

It was just after 1pm and my stomach was making noises louder than the engine of the car, so I pulled over at the famous Nepenthe restaurant. This restaurant is located in Big Sur, right along the coast, and offers great food and amazing views. As you can see from the photo above, the clouds were finally burning off.

While waiting for a table, this nice group of people from Europe asked if I would take a photo for them. I used their camera and then took a shot with mine. We started talking and I showed them a couple of things to try with their camera. At this point, they asked me to join them for lunch. What a treat.

While showing them some techniques with the camera, I shot this portrait of Peri. (Photographer's note: Whenever I shoot photos of people, I always get their email address and send them the edited photo. It's something nice that we can offer others!)

Honestly, the photos do not do justice to this coastline.

I framed this photo to show the coastline and the curving road. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to tell the Highway 1 story in one photo.

I was driving down the highway, doing my best to pay attention to the road, but also checking out the view of the ocean off to my right. At one point, I thought I spotted a spout from a whale. I pulled over and grabbed my Canon 28-300mm lens to see if I could spot any marine life. Much to my delight, right below me was a pod of dolphins and some whales feeding on a school of fish. I have lived my entire life in California and never really seen whales in my own state. This was exciting to see. Not the best photo, but it was special nonetheless.

What is a coastline trip without a lighthouse photo?

Just North of San Simeon (where the Hearst Castle is located), I was fortunate enough to come across a group of Elephant Seals. At this point I was thankful to have the 28-300mm lens.

Why can't we all get along?

As these Elephant Seals lay on the beach, they are constantly using their flippers to flip sand on their bodies. I held the camera steady and shot this photo at 1/50 sec to show the motion of the sand.

I had fun watching these two seals fighting for position.

I was shooting photos of this young seal when I heard a child nearby say, "Why do the baby seals look so cute and then grow up to look so ugly?" This made me laugh.

My next stop was Santa Barbara. I ended up stopping here for the night, since my first store visit was in this small coastline town. And the coolest thing happened. I got to my hotel, and 8 hours after meeting my European friends at Nepenthe, we saw each other again in the lobby of the Santa Barbara hotel. Dinner and drinks were in order for sure!

After presenting at Samy's in the morning, I wanted to go and explore this town. I walked around downtown for a little bit and then got into my car and headed for Mission Santa Barbara. I saw people walking in front of the mission and taking the standard "Mission photo" with just the building and nothing else. I wanted something more interesting than that. I was lucky enough to find chalk paintings in front of the mission, which made for a perfect foreground element.

I also looked around and saw these flowers on the other side of the park from the mission. This was another nice foreground element for a photo. (Photographer's note: When you are photographing a building or subject which is often photographed, try your best to find a unique view. Remember that a good photo will usually have a strong foreground, middle ground and background.)

A couple of hours after visiting Santa Barbara, I ended up getting caught in the very nasty Los Angeles rush hour traffic. Having nothing to do with that, I got off the highway and headed for Manhattan Beach. I walked around for a little bit and then headed to the pier, where I saw some surfers.

It was now late in the day and the sun was getting low on the horizon. This was a perfect time to shoot photos of the surfers (provided that they turned towards me, to get the last sunlight on their faces).

This one guy was really good and provided some awesome photo opportunities for me.

After shooting these images, I looked at the LCD of the camera and knew that he would like the photos. I waited for a break in the waves, when he was just resting on his board, and I yelled down from the pier, "Hey! What is your email address?" He paddled over towards me and yelled it to me, Once again, a win-win situation. I get some cool photos for my collection, and so does he!

And so ended my long drive down Highway 1. It was a really fun trip, capturing photos, seeing the beauty of the coastline, and meeting new people.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Exploring my own home town - San Jose City Hall

I have photographed so many cities around the world, that I have actually lost count. Cities like Sydney, Rio, Cologne, London, New York, San Francisco, Toronto... The list goes on. But what I realized a couple of months ago, that I really have not photographed any part of downtown of San Jose, my home city. So a couple or weeks ago, I met up with my best friend and we went on our own little photo walk in our city.

As part of that walk, we came across the new San Jose City Hall, which I had never visited.

Here is a wide shot of the City Hall, to show you what we first saw when approaching the building.

The building itself is really interesting, but I did not see the true photographic interest until I turned the corner and saw the amazing shadows.

I really liked the leading lines which draw your attention through the image.

And then, once I walked further into the complex, I saw these really bold shadows. This is one of those times when shooting at high noon with the sun directly over me worked to my advantage. The shadows were cast straight down below the architecture.

This setting just begged for me to shoot in all directions. (Photographer's note: When you find an interesting location or subject, take your time to really work it. Try different angles, shooting portrait and landscape, moving to different locations, and using different lenses and camera settings.)

The same angle as above, but photographed in portrait. When reviewing these photos on my computer, this image really stood out for me. I love the way that the lines converge from the top and bottom of the image.

I turned the camera and angled the image to emphasize the straight walkway against the circular lines.

This is a shot straight through the glass dome.

Again, using the shadows to my advantage, I moved to a point where the angular shadow would become the "frame" at the bottom of my image.

One could argue that the stair case is distracting to this image, but I liked the conflict between the angled lines against the circular dome. I also framed this shot to get the old Bank of American building in the background.

Here is a photo of my best friend, Glenn, sporting his digital camera and his medium format film camera. Yep - he is a purist!

Looking over Glenn's shoulder and down on his film shot.

Lastly, here is a view of a very quiet, and very hot Saturday afternoon, in downtown San Jose from the upper walkway of City Hall.

As I write this blog, I wonder how many other people have traveled long distances to photograph interesting places and forgotten to capture their own hometown. If you are one of those people, I encourage you to get out and find the beauty close to home.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A visit to the local nursery for macro photography - Part II

This is a continuation of last weeks post (with a fireworks post in the middle), showing images from my visit to a couple of the local nurseries in the area.

Numerous people asked me about the permissions needed and the access to the nurseries. I also wondered if I was going to need to call them first to get approval. As it turned out, I just drove over, grabbed my camera and started shooting images. Nobody seemed to care, and I even had a couple of the employees direct me to some unique flowers. You may want to check with your local nursery before making a visit, but I honestly don't think they mind us appreciating what they have at their places of business. You might even want to give them a shout out with your images. For me, I would like to thank both Yamagami and Summer Winds Nurseries for letting me photograph at their locations.

Once again, using the Canon 1DX and Canon 100mm macro lens, I decided to get down low to this flower, thus emphasizing the amazing colors and pattern in the center. This was photographed at f7.1 so that all parts of the flower would be in relatively good focus, but still separate from the background.

Here is another flower photographed the same way (low and straight on).

This is the same flower as above, but photographed directly from above. Notice how different it looks from the previous image! This is a really good example of how your shooting position can show the same object but draw the viewers attention to something totally different.

There are lots of other objects in the nursery and I thought that this mirror ball was interesting.

When I walked around, looking for interesting "subjects", I tried to find interesting clusters like this one. Shooting this at f6.3 and moving myself to show some greenery at the bottom of the frame, I was able to highlight the overwhelming colors and patterns in the pedals of these flowers.

I knew that there would be other creatures interested in the flowers, and took a little extra time to focus on them.

This is a crop of the previous image, showing you how macro can show things that most of us never see. In this crop, you can easily see the pollen that the bee is collecting.

Simple, but pretty...

A burst of red (photographed at f4 to highlight just the center of the flower).

Luckily, right as I was photographing these flowers, I was joined by a hummingbird. I quickly reframed and shot a couple of photos of my new friend.

In the past, I have photographed these birds at a slower shutter speed to blur their wings, but since I had my ISO up to 800 for shooting darker objects in close, and did not have time to change my settings, I ended up with a shutter speed of 1/2000 when focusing on the hummingbird. This was the first time I have photographed these super quick birds and frozen their wings.

As I was exiting the nursery to head home, I saw this group of gnomes and had to take a photo. I figured that it would make a suitable ending to the blog. Even if you take photos of your local nursery and don't get any images that you like, you can always photograph the gnomes. :)