Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Photographing a Bat Mitzvah - The fun, the challenges, the emotions and the results!

Last Saturday, I posted a couple of photos on Facebook, from the Bat Mitzvah I was photographing. Numerous people contacted me and asked how I photographed the event and how I overcame certain challenges. So...I decided to write this blog to walk you through my day and tell you my thought processes and camera settings from morning to night.

The photography commenced at 8:45am, with just myself and Campbell. I like having some time with just the two of us capturing some photos. Normally this is a great time to gain their trust and get them warmed up in front of the camera. In this case, Campbell and her mom had already spend hours with me the month before, shooting portraits that would be used in the party venue (which you will see in a little bit). When we did the portraits in July, I was struck by how mature this 12 year old was. She just radiated with self confidence and poise, so I knew that the mitzvah day was going to be a blast.

I was really happy to arrive at their Temple with overcast skies above. A giant softbox in the sky - awesome! I liked the repeating lines of the brick wall and used those with Campbell in the foreground. I shot this with the Canon 1DX and the 70-200mm lens at f/3.5.

And then we added in the rest of the family...

I usually try to get a photo of just mom and dad. Even though their child is the star of the day, I find that many couples do not have any recent photos of just the two of them.

Campbell's grandfather showed up with this great hat. Some of the kids were playing with it, when I saw the opportunity to grab some really fun shots. I had little Jasper stand by the wall and asked him to cross his arms. He did that and then gave me this look. Oh my goodness - it was hard to shoot this while cracking up! What I love so much, is that you can totally see Jasper's personality in this photo.

After shooting the portraits outside, we moved inside the Temple to shoot photos in the synagogue. And once again, we kept it light, fun so that I could capture Campbell's personality. What a great smile!

At 10:15, it was time for the service to start, so I set up my Canon 5D Mark III and 100-400mm lens on a Gitzo tripod and Acratech ballhead, in the back of the room. More and more people were arriving and they kept adding chairs. With this, I was forced to keep moving back. I was glad to have the reach of the 400mm. But I also wanted to get a photo showing the large crowd, so I put a 16-35mm lens on the Canon 1DX and shot this (and cropped it to remove excess ceiling and floor),

My buddy, Andy who own Blue Moon Productions, was shooting video for the family, so I put the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens on the 1DX and shot this for him.

When I am photographing a mitzvah or wedding, I am looking for those unscripted moments which show the emotions of the day. This is one of those moments when Campbell and her mom shared something funny between themselves.

I shoot most everything from the camera mounted on the tripod, except when the Torah is carried down the aisle. For this, I have a Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens on the second camera body (handheld) and move into position. I change the settings of the camera to a high ISO (in this case ISO 3200) to achieve a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. I also set the camera to servo focus, with the focus point up on the face, to track the child moving towards me.

More great smiles from the family...

For a split second, Campbell's dad reached over and touched her face. I was really glad to catch this brief moment. (Photographer's note: This is why it is important to be by your camera at all times. I see many photographers who walk away from their cameras during a service and cringe at the thought of them missing a moment like this.)

Another touching moment...

Once the service and luncheon were over, it was time for me to head over the Golden Gate Bridge to their party location. It was 2:30pm and the party did not start until 6pm, so I figured that I had a little bit of time to shoot some photos from the Marin Headlands. I figured that this could be a good background for their album, and I did something similar for them at a previous event for this family. I grabbed this shot and a couple of others and then headed to the party venue. Even though it was 3 hours before the start of the party, I knew that I had a lot to do. I went through all of the photos from the first half of the day, and built a slide show of the best 200 images. I also photographed all the detail shots of the venue (and there were a ton of them).

Then the family arrived and it was time to take more portraits of Campbell. The coordinators did an amazing job at this event, making all these cans, which were the place cards for where everyone was sitting.

Since there was a window right by this display, I asked Campbell to turn towards the window and shot this image. It is hard to believe that she is only 12 years old (about to turn 13).

Remember, at the beginning of this blog, how I mentioned that we did a photo session at my house? Well...these are some of the photos that I took. Campbell and her mom knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted black and white images and they wanted them to be high contrast and grainy. I shot many different photos of Campbell and then processed them in Adobe Photoshop and NIK SilverEfex Pro, to get this look. for this photos, I position the family members along the wall of displays. The challenge was, the displays were so bright that the camera metered the family members so that they were dark. Even though I was using a flash on camera to fill-flash them, I had to go into Photoshop and use the adjustment brush to brighten each of their bodies. This one photo took me 30 minutes to retouch.

I love having fun with the family. It makes the whole experience better for them and me!

The party was located at the Design Center in San Francisco, which is a really cool building. There are many floors to the building which surround this large open foyer, with a glass ceiling above. This posed a photographic challenge, since there was no ceiling for which to bounce light from my flash. But it also meant that I could set up a remote flash (using the Canon 600EX-RT flash) on the second floor balcony and aim it down at the dance floor. This was the first time that I had a remote flash that high above my party, and it worked really well.

Before I ran up to the 3rd floor balcony, I asked Adam Goldstein, (the DJ) to have all the people wave to me after they were done dancing. I had my Canon 1DX and 16-35mm wide lens for this shot.

At one point during the party, Campbell gave a speech. I stood in front of her and took some close-up shots with the 70-200, but wanted something different. Anyone who has watched me shoot, knows that I am very "Type A" and like to move around a lot. I quickly moved to the other side of the room, and shot this photo of Campbell speaking (side lit by my remote flash on the second floor) in front of all her quests.

Here is a photo of mom and dad on the dance floor. I took numerous shots during this dance, but this photo stood out, with them looking at each other showing complete happiness and love in their smiles.

Another really nice moment with Campbell and her dad.

I usually do a group shot of all the kids when I photograph a mitzvah, and this time was no different. What makes this photo different is that I did not use any flash. I relied on the small video light from Andy's camera to center light Campbell and the girls in the middle, and let all the others gradually fall into a slightly darker exposure.

Another fun moment to capture...with this little guy up on the shoulder of one of the DJs.

Towards the end of the night, I had photographed countless photos of the kids dancing and I wanted to do something different. So, I took off the Canon 24-70mm (which is my workhorse lens at these events) and switched to the Sigma 15mm fish eye lens. I asked Adam and his DJ to turn around and look my way. (Photographer's note: It is always good to capture photos of the other vendors for their web sites and social media pages. Trust me, they will appreciate it.)

Adam having some fun with Campbell's little sister.

As soon as I saw the DJs break out the glow sticks, I went back up on the 3rd floor balcony to get some wide shots of the dancing. I tried shooting this with the on camera flash and remote flash, but the light from the flash would overpower the glow sticks. So, after some experimenting, I turned down the flash power (by 2 stops) to both flash units (which I can control from the 600EX-RT flash on the camera) and grabbed this shot.

After shooting the shot from above, I ran back down just in time to get all the kids throwing their glow sticks in the air.

This last shot was a request from Campbell. She had seen one of my photos from another mitzvah, where I was on the ground and shooting up at the kids. She asked for this shot, so I had her get all her friends together for this photo. This is taken with the Canon 16-35mm lens and a diffused flash on camera. I put the focus point on one of the kid's face, hold the button half way down, and then reposition the camera to get them centered, and then shoot.

After it was all said and done, I took 3700 photos, changed camera settings hundreds of times, walked more than 9 miles, burned 5000 calories (according to my Fitbit). and enjoyed every second of it!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New York - Central Park and the 911 Memorial Museum

Many of you know that I was in New York last week, presenting in the afternoons at B&H Photo. That gave me the first part of the day to play tour guide for my wife and daughter. On Wednesday morning, we walked over to Central Park to relax and take some photos.

Soon after arriving at the park, Ali spotted the old carousel and insisted on taking a ride. This carousel was built in 1908 and was restored in the 1950s. More than 250,000 people ride this every year, but there was nobody else there when we arrived, so Ali had the whole ride to herself.

After shooting photos of Ali being a little kid again, I walked around and took photos of some of the details of the carousel. All of the photos taken in this blog post were captured with a Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 24-105mm lens.

I love repeating elements in my photos, so this was a fun shot for me to take. I took this photo at f/4 to create a shallow depth of field and have only one of the horses in focus.

My guess is that most people pass this small element and don't even see it. My wife and I took numerous photos of this post, showing the character and colors.

I walked them from the carousel to the Bethesda Fountain. Instead of taking the "standard photo" that everyone else was taking from above the fountain, I chose to shoot through one of the walls to get this view. I took numerous photos at different apertures to determine which look I liked the best. This photo was taken at f/14 (with the focus on the fountain) to maintain details in the fountain and the wall.

I could not take the family to Central Park and not have them see Bow Bridge.

Since I had to get back to the hotel to prepare for my B&H presentation, we started making our way out of the park. But not before stopping at the Conservatory Water. As we approached the small pond, we noticed the amazing reflections in the water.

There were a couple remote controlled sail boats in the water at the time, and they would create a tiny bit of ripples in the water. These ripples added just enough distortion in the reflection to add interest to the photo.

Seeing the ripples, and how they effected the reflection of the buildings, I quickly zoomed in and grabbed this photo.

This was a fun photo to capture. What you see is the reflection of the trees, but also the reflection of Ali and Annette who were across the water from me.

Here is the same photo which has been rotated 180 degrees. To me, this almost looks like a painting.

Fast forward to Thursday morning, when we had reservations at the new 911 Memorial Museum at the site of the original World Trade Center buildings. We spent almost 3 hours at the museum, and could have been there for another 2 hours, if I did not have to leave for my next presentation. It was really strange to be at a museum like this, looking at history which I remember so clearly. For me, this was not like seeing a museum of a past event, to which I could not relate. I remember that day, that event, that horror, like it was yesterday.

The museum was really nicely done, respecting the event in a classy way.

It was amazing to see solid pieces of metal bent and sheered as if it was paper.

This was once an old motorcycle in really bad condition. One of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11th was hoping to restore this bike. Well after that fateful day, a group of his fellow firefighters got together and restored the bike in this honor. Many people were photographing this motorcycle, like you see in the photo above.

I saw the eagle on the front fender and got down close to shoot this photo. I love the lines and the colors in this detail.

As we were leaving the museum, I turned around and saw the new World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) surrounded by these great clouds. I moved to a spot where the trees would frame the building and shot this. This was taken at f/10 to have everything in focus. This photo has special meaning to me, since this is the first time that I have been back to NYC with the Freedom Tower completed. To me, it completes the skyline and fills a void that has been empty for way too long. It isn't the quality of the photo per se, as much as the story it tells. And, as a photographer, this is our tell the story.

With a great sky like this, I wanted to get more photos of the World Trade Center . I saw the tower reflecting in this building and had to capture this shot. I love seeing the WTC within the clouds and the grid lines of the other building. This was my last photo taken that day, and one of my favorites from the trip.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New York City and a visit to Ellis Island

It has been a while since I have been back in New York City to present at B&H Photo. I am usually here every 3 or 4 months, but since my travel schedule has been crazy, I just have not had a chance to get back here. But, long last I am back, and this time I brought my wife and daughter who made their very first trip to the big city.

On my one free day, we decided to go to Ellis Island. I was happy that they wanted to do this, since I had never had time to visit this iconic area where so many of our relatives had entered the United States.

We waited for almost an hour to catch the ferry over to the island, making a quick stop at Liberty Island to walk around the Statue of Liberty. The weather was perfect, thankfully not too hot or humid.

I brought my Canon 5D Mark III and my Tamron 28-300mm lens. I like this lens for walking around a city, since it is small, light weight and a wide focal range allowing me to shoot wide shots and zoom to 300mm without carrying numerous pieces of glass. For the photo above, I decided to shoot Lady Liberty a little tighter, leaving out the flame. I liked the way that the lines and body filled the frame, and felt that it was more interesting than including the whole statue (like most people would shoot this).

Then we were off to Ellis Island, where we toured the museum. I loved the Great Hall, where twelve million people were processed for entry into the US. Not only was it a pretty room, but it was hard not to stand there on the balcony, looking down at the main floor, and not think about all those people flowing through this room with hope and uncertainty in their eyes as they entered a new world.

As always, I am always looking for cool detail shots. My wife spotted this one.

The lights were so intricate, and I loved the way that they looked against the tile ceiling. I went straight below this fixture and shot directly up.

For this shot, I wanted to highlight New York City in the distance, with the new World Trade Center building. I metered the camera to expose for the city and not for the inside of the Great Hall. I was happy to have all the people silhouetted in the foreground, as it adds to the overall shot.

Another shot of the Great Hall, this time photographed in portrait mode. What really makes this shot for me, is the little girl at the bottom of the frame, pointing up to the flag. She makes me think about all those young children that entered this room so many years ago and probably had the same energy and curiosity.

After walking around the museum for a while, and watching a 30 minute video, we decided to head outside to find one of my wife's relatives on the wall of honor. I saw this view of NYC behind the wall, and framed it to highlight both.

Annette used her Canon G15 to grab a photo of her grandfather's name.

I was framing this shot of the wall and the city, when I saw a family walking to my left. Seeing their repeating shadows on the wall, I quickly grabbed this photo.

My daughter, Ali, wanted a photo of herself in front of the city, so I had her pose for me. After more than 30 visits to New York, it was great to finally have them with me!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

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