Tuesday, November 27, 2012

San Francisco Auto Show & The City at Night

It has been a really long time since I have been to the San Francisco Auto Show. As a matter of fact, I don't think I have been to this show since I was a kid. But, this past Saturday, we decided to make a family day trip to the city to check out the show and have dinner downtown. I was armed with my Canon 5D Mark III camera and 24-105mm lens, while my son had a 5D Mark II and my wife and daughter had their iPhones.

The Auto Show is set up to show all the current models of cars available, but from a photographic perspective, I really liked the vintage cars which were on display.

Due to the mixed lighting and numerous distractions around each vehicle, I decided that tight shots would be the most pleasing. So, I spent most of my time getting down low, getting in close and looking for interesting details in these classic cars.

I really loved the color and lines of this Lincoln Zephyr. This is a shot taken of the front side of the hood of the vehicle.

This was my favorite image from the auto show. For this photo, I got close to the hood ornament and metered the camera to darken the exposure, thus emphasizing the chrome details. I did remove a couple of small light reflections on the hood of the vehicle, which were distracting.

On the show floor, they had a couple of auto designers showing how they draw up concepts. One guy was using a Wacom Cintiq while the other was drawing freehand. My wife saw this shot before I did and took a nice photo on her iPhone. I liked it enough to grab the same image. Good job Annette. :)

I think I will have a V8.

Very cool front end of a 1932 Stutz.

I photographed most of the cars from straight on, but then decided to frame things a little differently.

Such cool hood ornaments, from back in the day when people wouldn't steal them off the cars. :(

Now that is a grill.

This is one of the last shots that I took from the auto show. I framed this shot to highlight the hood ornament against the cherry red car in the background.

After the auto show, everyone was hungry, so we went for a late lunch / early dinner at Tony's Pizza Napoletana in the Italian district in SF. Awesome pizza to top off a fun day. I was hoping that we would get served quickly, because I knew that sunset was at 5pm, and since it was a rare clear day in the city, I really wanted to drive over to Treasure Island (located halfway across the Bay Bridge) and take photos of sunset over the city.

As luck would have it, we got out of the city just in time to catch the last of the sunset over San Francisco. So beautiful!

This is the last light of the day, with the Ferry building, the Embarcadero buildings, and the Transamerica pyramid in the foreground.

During the holidays, all of the Embarcadero buildings are lit, which makes the skyline even prettier.

After catching the amazing sunset, we headed for Union Square in SF and checked out the outside ice rink.

Even though I have been hearing holiday music in stores since Halloween, I can now start to accept that the holidays are upon us. All the decorations are up and everyone seemed to be in the spirit.

I think this is Macy's way of saying that they believe in holiday sales.

Right before leaving the city, as we waited to cross the street to the parking garage, I saw this Cable Car coming towards us. I quickly raised the camera, changed the settings to get a 1/2 sec exposure, and did a slow shutter motion pan along with the trolley.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photographing a party under water? Fun at the Aquarium at Pier 39 in San Francisco

Earlier this year, I booked a Bat Mitzvah for last weekend, and upon hearing the details, I was really excited and looking forward to photographing this event. Why? Because, for the evening party, this family was taking over the Aquarium of the Bay located at Pier 39 on the edge of downtown San Francisco. Now, there is nothing wrong with shooting a reception at a hotel banquet room, but I love shooting images somewhere new and unique.

The day started at the Temple with formal pictures of the Bat Mitzvah girl and her family.

Her little brother was a real crack up. He had a ton of energy and no shortage of personality. I had him hop up on this ledge and shot this photo of him "hanging out".

Using the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens, I shot this photo of the Bat Mitzvah girl reading from the Torah (with a very narrow depth of field).

Just before the service started, I was looking around at the people coming in, and I saw this one gentleman who sat down towards the front of the Temple. There he was, sitting right at the very spot where the sun was peaking in through a high window.  (Photographer's note: I stopped down 1/2 stop to accentuate the contrast, and shot this image. Afterwards, I adjusted the shadows and highlights in Photoshop, but purposely left enough light on the top of the seats so that you could see that he was sitting and waiting.)

When photographing events, my goal is to capture the story of the day. Not only the expected moments, but specifically looking for those unscripted moments which really show the personalities of the participants. This photo shows dad giving his speech to his daughter, at a moment where he broke into a rare and genuine smile, while mom looks on from the background.

During this same speech, dad was so taken with emotion that he fought off tears of joy. Without missing a beat, his daughter reached down and found the "hidden box of tissues" and presented that to her father. I love dad's reaction, but also the smirk on her face too.

And then after the service was over, it was time for me to head into San Francisco to prepare for photographing the party.

Since I had not photographed inside the aquarium before, and I wanted a chance to shoot images of the displays before the party started, I went to the venue hours early. On the drive into downtown SF, I saw this view of the Bay Bridge with the fire boat in the foreground and stopped to get this shot.

Since I grew up in SF and know the city well, I knew that the sea lions like to hang out by Pier 39. After getting settled in at the aquarium and waiting for good cloud coverage (to avoid harsh shadows caused by direct sunlight), I grabbed my Canon 1DX with a 100-400mm lens and headed towards their favorite hangout area. As I left the aquarium, the weather was turning quickly and it started raining. This was my favorite shot from the short visit to their pier.

Then it was time to head back into the aquarium to try and capture images of the sea creatures. (Photographer's note: Not only did I see this as a fun opportunity to photograph the animals, I also figured that many of these images could be used in the family's album. My wife, Annette, does all the album design and loves to have detail shots to use as background spreads, for which to overlay the family's images.)

The first display that I came to was the sardines. They have thousands of these little fish swimming in circles. My goal was to fill the frame with as many fish as possible, trying to show as little blank background space as possible. I saw this as a perfect blue background spread for the album.

Maybe not the best photo for an album, but still very cool. This sea eel posed for me. (Photographer's note: Obviously, you do not not want to shoot images while using a flash, since that light will reflect right off the glass and back at your lens. I find that the best images are taken when shooting at an angle to the glass and not directly into the glass. This will give you less reflections and a clearer shot of your subject behind the glass.)

Great colors!

This was one of my favorite shots from within the aquarium. I spent at least 15 minutes at this one particular display, looking for good shots. After taking time to shoot the more obvious fish, I looked at the bottom of the tank and saw this little guy hiding out.

Next I concentrated on the Pacific Sea Nettles (Jelly Fish).

They may not have any brains, bones or organs, but they sure are cool looking.

Amazing patterns and colors...

Another favorite photo from the day. Nature truly is amazing, isn't it?

The Aquarium of the Bay is known for their underwater tunnels. I have been to numerous aquariums, but never had the chance to photograph inside the underwater walkways. This was awesome. (Photographer's note: I went down to these walkways well before the event to determine proper camera settings. For this test image above, I shot with no flash at ISO 4000 on the Canon 1DX. There was enough ambient light, that a flash was not necessary. I was also concerned about using a flash and having too much light bouncing around the glass.)

Looking up through the glass...

And then the party started and I had 100 people roaming through the displays.

My first priority was to get some photos of the "star of the day" with all of her friends. For this shot, I waited a couple of seconds for some fish to swim above. As luck would have it, this shark came directly over, as if on command. (Photographer's note: I did end up using a diffused flash when the guests arrived. I determined that there was just not enough light on them, so I turned the flash to -1 stop and added just enough light to properly expose the subjects but still have a good exposure in the background.)

Mom and dad relaxing and enjoying the subterranean sites.

Most of my photos, in the underwater tunnels, were taken in portrait mode, so that I could show more of the fish overhead. But, for this shot, I turned the camera back to a landscape mode to give a different perspective. I saw that I had some schools of sardines cruising by, and the flash helped light them up as they swam by.

Some of the kids enjoying the touch pools where they could touch starfish, small sharks and rays.

After an hour or so, the kids moved into the party room to eat and celebrate.

And they had a great time!

At one point in the evening, Patrick (another amazing MC from Denon and Doyle) had the kids up on stage singing. This little guy (who my family is convinced is "Manny" from "Modern Family") belted out a Justin Bieber song.

As the evening wound down, I decided to grab my tripod and head outside in the rain. Good thing that the camera and lens are weather resistant! I really wanted to get a nice night shot from the upper balcony of the aquarium. Knowing that the wet streets would give me some nice reflections, and having Coit Tower and some other marquis buildings in the background, I knew that this would be a great ending shot for the night.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Minneapolis Reflections: A self assigned project in the twin city

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Minneapolis, MN to teach photography to all my good friends who purchase the photo equipment at Target. I spent a couple of hours with them at the Target HQ and then headed out to shoot some images of the city to share with all of you. I wasn't really sure what I would photograph, since it has been a couple of years since I was in Minneapolis.

As it turned out, the minute that I stepped out of the Target building, I looked up and saw this cool reflection of one building in another. I took this photo and then noticed that these reflections were all around me. It was at this point that I made my own self assignment for the day, I would concentrate on reflections. (Photographer's tip: For those of you who get into a rut and find yourself shooting the same old images day after day, try giving yourself an assignment to shoot something totally different. Even for a professional photographer, this helps free the mind and see new opportunities for future shoots.)

This reflection caught my attention since the angles of this particular building created two very different "subjects" in one shot, with one new building and one older building reflecting off the glass

This is a crop taken from the image above. I love the patterns and lines formed by the glass. 

Speaking of really cool patterns and lines, check out the amazing zebra patterns which I found in this building. 

Another crop of the previous image shows the complex patterns formed in the glass. As I photographed this, I wondered how many people pass this building everyday and never notice this. I am sure that a majority of the population is so busy getting from one place to another that they miss the beauty in what some might consider mundane. 

What attracted me to this reflection was the stair-stepping pattern of the opposing building. Something different, but equally appealing.

At first, you might think that this shot of the City Center (where I was staying) does not have a reflection at all. But if you look closely, you will see that the building on the left is actually reflecting the window pattern from the building on the right, as seen in the image below.

This is one of my favorite images from the day, with two very different buildings in one shot. I also moved to an angle to include the overhead walkway in the frame. I included the walkway for two reasons, once to add one more angle to the image and also to remind myself that so many of these exist in the city. (For those of you who do not know this area, it gets VERY cold in the winter in MN and these help people get from one building to another without going outside.)

As part of my 6 mile walk around Minneapolis, I decided to walk out of the downtown area and check out the sculpture garden with the this well-known piece. And, as luck would have it, I had clear skies and a nice reflection in the water.   

OK, so this is not exactly a reflection as much as a shadow, but I thought I would include this in the collection of images.

There is something really refreshing about walking around a city without any agenda or time limits. Using my iPhone to help me find my way around, I would just walk aimlessly and look for interesting photo opportunities. At one point, I came across this older church reflected in a modern building. 

About 4 miles into my walk, I saw this reflection, and almost passed it by. At first view, it didn't look that interesting. But then, after studying it a bit further, I started to see some very cool patterns in the details.

I zoomed in on the window panes and was amazed at the results. Heck, I think this image could hang in a modern art museum and fit in well. :)

This tight shot reminds me of a hand and thumb. 

What do you see in these reflections? 

For me, this photo tells a story. The tree, with the fall colors, helps to tell the viewer about the season and when the photo was shot. The two men appear to be office workers who are engrossed in conversation and not looking at their surroundings.

I was really intrigued by the wave patterns in this reflection.

The Foshay Building (modeled after the Washington Monument) reflected through the leaves of a nearby tree.

This building was my favorite "treasure trove" of reflections. I could have isolated hundreds of interesting images just from this one side of the building. 

This is one of those isolated images, and my favorite tight shot from the day. What makes this image so appealing to me (and I understand if you disagree since photography is subjective) is the cool reflection patterns in concert with the angled lines of the window edges. Notice how certain rows of windows create very different reflections than others.

After crossing downtown and heading towards the Mississippi River, I came across this very cool office building. I was excited to see such strong reflections from multiple buildings, coupled with the fall colors at the base of the building.

Another shot incorporating one of the walkways...

A reflection bending a nearby building.

These next two shots are up there on my favorite wide shots of the day. The image above works for me because of the varying angles and shadows.

This shot of the City Center building was taken as I returned to my hotel later in the afternoon.  As opposed to the shots I had taken earlier in the afternoon, this time I was much closer to the base of the building. I pointed the camera up and grabbed this photo, emphasizing the top of the building and the angle cutting into the cloudy skies.

This is another shot (similar to one of the earlier photos from the day) taken from a different angle. Using the design of the foreground building to my advantage, I moved to a location where the reflecting building would be "cut" into pieces by the cool design of this structure. 

As evening approached, I returned back to my hotel room on the 25th floor, and looked out the window to see if I could grab a different reflection shot. Thanks to the late day sunlight, I had a great shot of the Capella Tower being reflected back at me with golden tones.

Next time you are walking around a suburban area, maybe you will look around and see some cool reflections and be inspired to grab some of your own cool photos. I hope you do, and that you have as much fun as I did.