Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The 2015 UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Prom - The most rewarding and inspiring photography of my year

Many of you know that daughter has Crohn's Disease. And because of this, she has spent way too many nights in the hospital, especially for someone who is only 18 years old. For the last 6 years, she has been a patient at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, and they have treated her so well. For the second year in a row, they asked me if I would volunteer my time to photograph their annual prom. Last year I photographed (and blogged about) this. And this year, without hesitation, I agreed to do it again! You see, they have a prom for all the kids that can not go to their regular school prom. Either they are connected to various medical devices, in the middle of treatment, have a compromised immune system, or countless other reasons. They also invite previous patients to come and celebrate as well.

This year was especially cool, since it was the first prom at the brand new hospital location, and 12 of the San Francisco 49ers donated their time to share with the kids.

As the kids entered the hospital (via red carpet), they were greeted by the 49er players and escorted into the dance. Their parents are not allowed into the dance, but were invited upstairs for adult activities.

The 49ers would walk the kids over to a table to get their corsage or boutonnière.

The flowers, along with many of the clothes, food, DJ, and other entertainment were all generously donated by other organizations.

Here are a group of the San Francisco 49ers welcoming this beautiful girl, who is a cancer survivor.

They were very gracious and interacted so well with the kids.

As you can see from this photo, the parents were enjoying the athletes as much as the kids. (Photographer's note: It is important at events like this, that you look for the "other stories". Sure, the kids are the main subject of the story, but this photo, even from the back of the 49ers, helps to show another angle of the evening.)

Sometimes the family members would jump in for a photo as well.

This was a special shot for me, since this is my daughter Ali and her good friend Jamie (on the left). Last year my daughter was in the hospital during the prom but not allowed to go, since she was too sick. It was heart wrenching last year, but equally exciting this year that she could go.

Ali being escorted into the dance by Dillon Farrell (center for the 49ers). I love the way his 6' 5" and 300 pound frame makes Ali look so small. And what a great smile on both of them!

After escorting all the kids into the dance, the players joined in on the fun.

The kids thought it was so cool to have all these big guys on the dance floor with them.

As you can imagine, there were many selfies being taken during this time.

One moment which really stood out for me, was when one of the athletes went over to a girl and asked her to dance. Not only did she light up, but her best friend was just as excited, saying "my best friend just got asked to dance with a 49er!" Way to go guys!

This is a photo of my daughter and her friend dancing with some of the other kids. I was shooting this photo as a photographer and a proud father.

It was great to see these kids who have faced so much adversity, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

At one point in the evening, I decided to break out the Sigma 15mm fish eye lens to get a different perspective of the evening. I asked the DJ if he could encourage all the kids to raise their hands in the air, and grabbed this shot.

Another shot of Ali with other patients.

After the event was over, people starting packing up. But since I wanted to tell the whole story with my photos, I asked all volunteers if they would join me for a group photo. I took this last shot to show how many people it took to make this happen (and many others were not available at this time). One key person was late for the photo, and added in later. Can you find that person?

Overall, it was another amazing night at the hospital and one that I will never forget. These patients are an inspiration to all of us. And I can not wait to do it again next year!

For those photographers out there wondering what equipment I used to shoot this event, here is my list:

* Canon 1DX with the Canon 24-70mm II lens
* Canon 5D Mark III with the Canon 16-35mm II lens and Sigma 15mm fish eye lens
* 3 Canon 600 EX-RT flash units (one diffused on each camera and one remote on a 12' Manfrotto light stand)


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.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why do I teach photography online for free?

People often ask me why I openly share my photography techniques and why I do not charge for the classes posted online. So I thought that for this weeks blog post, I would tell you all why I do this.

Many of you have seen the videos posted by B&H on their YouTube channel. These are free videos where photographers can share their work and help teach others the proper way to take photos. When I first saw their YouTube channel I was blown away. There are so many great photographers on the site, teaching everything from the beginner level photography to the most advanced techniques. All of this is available to the general public, worldwide (except for those countries that block YouTube), and at no charge.

Years ago when B&H asked me to record one of these classes, I was both honored and scared. I was excited to be included on the site along with so many other distinguished photographers, but also scared to death that people would look at my photos and my advice and think "this guy doesn't know what the heck he is talking about". But I took a risk and gave it a shot. As my wife said, "Who the heck is going to watch these videos anyways?" all did. The online classes have more than 2.4 million views. Crazy! And what I got in return was positive feedback from so many people who could relate to my "call it as it is" style and my way of trying to make something difficult in explain it in a simple way. And, this is exactly who I am. I have never been one of those super articulate people who uses big words. I am just a simple guy who loves photography.

The massive reach of B&H allows me to share all this passion with the world. And it is so cool to see comments and get feedback from viewers on every continent.

Sure, there are secondary benefits for me.

Having millions of people watching the videos has helped me gain sponsorships from my favorite companies. And even they appreciate the straight forward communications. I tell them, "if your product is not great, I will say so on the blog". And if you have read any of my recent reviews, you know that I am not afraid to point out the bad with the good on these new products.

Heck, many of you who are reading this now, have found the blog from watching the online videos. And this too helps me. The links from this blog refer back to their store and give me a small referral. This helps justify all the time I put into the classes and blogs. Not added cost to all of you, and a small bonus for me.

One of the greatest benefits of the everyone watching the videos and following this blog is that I get to "meet" so many of you. Sometimes it is in person, whether it is at one of the trade shows, classes or when people recognize me on the streets, and other times it is through email, Facebook or Instagram. I love that when I travel to another country, and I post this online, people will reach out and offer to show me around their hometown. I get to meet so many interesting people and share photographic stories. It is really great to hear how people watch the videos and learn from them. I have had countless emails from people telling me that they have been inspired by me. Really, I inspired others around the world??? That is awesome!

So...why do I continue to produce these videos with B&H? Because to me sharing the passion is even more important than making money.

To all of you who have written to me and given me feedback, I thank you for sharing your stories and for inspiring me to keep doing this.

Am I crazy? Do you have stories to share? Feel free to comment here on the blog. :)

(For those of you who read the blog and have not seen the videos, or those of you who want to find all the videos in one place, you can click on this link or image below to go to my web site for all the videos in one place. And you can subscribe to my own YouTube channel here.)


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.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sometimes it is the small things that make a big difference! Breaking down an image to learn more.

I recently posted a photo on my Facebook page showing a really nice scene of a father and daughter dancing at the girl's Bat Mitzvah. I had many people asking about my lighting setup, so I thought that I would write a blog to explain this to all of you.

First of all, here is the photo which I posted.

Let me break down this photo to explain why it works so well.

* The most important part of this photo are the subjects. It was that split second where they looked at each other and you can see the love they have for each other. As an event photographer, it is my job to capture these key moments. And for this, it is really important to anticipate moments, having the camera set correctly, and be ready to shoot at any second.

* You will notice the separation between my subjects and the background. This was achieved using the Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art lens. I was using the lens wide open at f/1.4 which gave me very narrow depth of field. This lens is crazy sharp and I absolutely love using this lens for these types of situations.

* The focus is right on their faces. As soon as the DJ announced the father/daughter dance, I quickly changed to the Sigma lens and moved the focus point of the Canon 1DX to the highest possible position (in portrait mode). This meant that the focus point would be on their faces and not in the middle of their bodies. For these types of dances, I will generally wait for them to slow down before hitting the shutter, In this case, I would wait for them to hit that point where they swayed from one side to another, and just before they sway the other direction, I fire off my shot. When shooting at f/1.4, you better be dead on with the focus or it will be a throw away image.

* I used two flashes to achieve the lighting that you see here. I had one Canon 600 EX-RT flash on my camera (set to TTL) with a diffuser to light the subjects from the front. But more importantly, I had a second 600EX-RT (stopped down -0.3) on a Manfrotto light stand, which was about 15 feet from them and at a 45 degree angle from my shooting position. (I should mention that this light stand is one of my favorite new accessories. I got the three pack and use these stands now at every event. They go to a height of 12 feet and are very sturdy.)

This photo shows the remote flash and stand behind the girls. I usually do not shoot directly towards the remote flash unless I have to.

Going back to the first photo...the remote flash is adding a whole bunch of dimension to the image. It is lighting the back of dad's head and jacket, helping to separate him from the background. The light is also hitting the daughter's face, helping to accentuate the big smile on her face. Lastly, the remote flash is creating the shadow, which is cast on the floor to their right. Trust me, this image would not be nearly as strong without the second flash.

(I am writing this blog while flying back from the NAB show in Las Vegas. I am sitting on a plane now and about 4 rows in front of me, a lady just held up a cute little baby with a big ole smile on its face. The baby's face was perfectly lit from the window light and I just thought "Oh man - that light is PERFECT for a photo!" I'll bet a lot of you have had moments like that. We just can't help ourselves.)

For all of you out there trying to improve your photography, remember that your control of light (or lack of it) is the key to a good photo. Practice controlling the power of your flash and the placement of your light sources to take your photography to a new level.

I hope this helps all of you.

Happy shooting!


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.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

DJI just announced the Phantom 3. After playing with this for a month, here is my review of this cool new toy...

Yeah...Yeah...I have been teasing you all on Facebook for the last month. I posted something about having a cool new toy, but could not talk about it. But now I can! Just now in New York (hence the real reason I am here in NYC), DJI announced the new Phantom 3 Advanced (HD) and Phantom 3 Professional (4K) aerial cameras.

I have had a pre-release version of the Phantom 3 Advanced (HD) for the last month and have had a blast with this new aerial camera (or what some people call "drone"). DJI got me the new toy and asked me to go out and capture some cool stills and video for their product launch. The good news is that it looks fairly similar to the Phantom 2 (P2), so whenever I would fly this in public and people would ask if it was a Phantom 2, I would just say "yes".

But in truth, this new Phantom 3 Advanced HD  (P3 HD) is really a vastly improved product from it's predecessor.

Here is a photo of my Phantom 3 HD by the Golden Gate Bridge. This was taken using a DJI Inspire flying behind me.

For those of you who are impatient (like I am) and want to know the big new features of the Phantom 3 HD before reading everything else, here they are:

* The camera is larger and captures MUCH better videos and stills than the Phantom 2
* The camera no longer has has the major fish eye distortion (that was prevalent in the P2) 
* The copter seems similar to previous models but the gimbal and camera seem to be better built
* There is a new controller (similar to Inspire) which makes flying much easier than before
* There is a new charger with 2 ports, to charge the batteries and remote at the same time
* New more powerful motors
* Ability to LiveStream directly from the Phantom to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram...

The new HD camera is the most important feature for me. Take a look at any of the videos or stills which I captured with the P3 HD and you will see what I am talking about. And with the new DJI Pilot software installed on my iPad or iPhone (they have the software for Android too), I have a ton of control over the camera. I am able to control all aspects of the camera including, choosing between 4x3 and 2x3 aspect ratio, exposure comp, JPG and or RAW, auto or manual modes, burst mode shooting, and so much more.

One of the things that drove me crazy with the P2 was the stair stepping of the exposure in video mode. When I flew over Niagara Falls, and moved from the darker river to the white water falls, you can see the exposure changing in obvious steps. The new camera on the P3 seems to have fixed that issue. Thank goodness!

Unlike the P2, I learned that I can fine tune the camera to be perfectly straight on the horizon, which I learned about after capturing the first couple of videos you will see here.

The controller that comes with the P3 HD is excellent. It is very similar to the controller which comes with DJI's higher-end Inspire model. Not only are the controls responsive and easy to figure out, but there are now added buttons and wheels (compared to the controller on the P2) for much easier panning and tilting of the camera and overall flying. DJI has added a button on the left of the controller to start and stop the video mode and a shutter button on the right side of the controller to take photos. This lets me shoot images and video without having to take my hands off the remote. I really like that. I also like that the new controller can accommodate something as small as my iPhone and as large as my full sized iPad Air. It is really cool to fly the P3 HD when looking at a large display. The new controller has a built in battery which can be recharged. And from my month of experience, this battery lasts a very long time. Both the Phantom's battery and the controller can be charged at the same time with the included A/C charger.

Check out this first video flying over the coastline of San Francisco with the new Phantom 3 Advanced (HD). I have added embedded text to explain some of the new features, and my thought process in testing the new device.

The size of the P3 is similar to that of the P2. Enough so that the P3 will fit into my hard travel case which I was previously using for the P2.

The batteries look exactly the same as those used in the P2, but they are not interchangeable. I am hoping that with the final shipping models, there will be something that differentiates the two. This can be a bit confusing to someone who might own both models. The good news is that the P3 battery will give you a full 20 minutes of flying time. This was critical for me since I was only given one battery for the month.

Here is a video flying over the new massive Apple Campus that is being built in Cupertino, CA. This is located only 10 minutes from where I live, but until now I had not seen what was going on behind the big green walls. This is the best thing about flying these cameras. I can capture stills and videos not possible to photograph any other way!

I had a ton of fun with the Phantom 2, but this new model takes that up a level. With the new sharper videos and stills I am once again looking for places to fly over.

This third video is really cool. I took the Phantom 3 over a local motocross track.

This last video shows some footage from the Phantom flying over some surfers in Santa Cruz, CA. I wish I had more than one battery with me for this. I was just getting good at tracking these guys when I ran low on battery power and had to bring the P3 back to me.

This last still photo was taken from high above Pinecrest Lake near Yosemite.

As you can see from the photo, the camera does a very nice job of capturing the details in the mountains and sky. I did darken the sky in Photoshop, but all the detail was there to work with.

I did not know the pricing information for the new Phantoms until I was just sitting in the launch event. Holy cow! DJI got REALLY aggressive with the pricing. The Phantom 3 Professional is only $1259 and the Phantom 3 Advanced is only $999. That is amazing! 

I think that DJI has done a great job of delivering the next generation of aerial camera, and raising the bar to stay ahead of their competition. And now it is up to all of us to use this new technology and deliver cool new videos and photos to the masses. I am ready!

I want to get ahold of the Phantom 3 Professional ASAP!


If you are interested in getting a Phantom 3 or 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.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A free trip to Africa to join me photographing a safari!

OK - the free part was an April Fools joke, but next January I will be teaching a photographic workshop in Africa and we still have a couple of spots open for you to join us. Just think, we can be cruising along the Serengeti, photographing some of the most amazing wildlife in the world. And that is no joke!

This tour is being coordinated by M&M Photo Tours, and this once-in-lifetime trip includes almost all costs.

You can find more information at:

And to my friends who have already signed up, I can't wait to share this experience with you!!