Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Need a new Point & Shoot Camera?

I predict this camera is going to sell like hotcakes! (photo copied from dpreview.com's website for your convenience)

This is the new Fujifilm F30 point & shoot digital camera. You can read all about it here: http://www.dpreview.com/news/0602/06021403fujif30.asp#images

This new camera has the ability to go to ISO 3200! What this means is that it will be able to take photos in existing ambient light even when the lighting is very low. You won't need a flash!

If you look at the two photos I shot of Gary Fong on this blog a couple of weeks ago, they were taken without a flash with the Fuji F10. The F30 is the new replacement model that is coming out soon. The Fuji cameras are known to have a terrific image sensor allowing for ultra-low light capabilities and also to help images look more natural with less "blow-out" of images when the light is too great. This is important when photographing brides with white dresses while outside. This is a main reason I shoot with the Fuji S3 Pro camera at weddings. It gives me the ability to get low light photos and also very bright light photos outside without fear of problems.

The F10 does this too and so will the new F30.

So if you are in the market for a new point and shoot camera, I'd suggest waiting just a little while longer and checking out this new F30. If you can't wait, I'd suggest getting an F10. Many professional photographers own the F10 as their point and shoot camera!

Monday, February 27, 2006

"Why Don't You Do Portraits?"

I only photograph weddings!

While other photographers shoot portraits during the week when they are not shooting weddings, I'm on the computer working on your wedding photos... enhancing them by doing color corrections, cropping, exposure corrections, etc.

Why is this important?

Years ago when photographers only shot film, the print lab would make a quick print called "proof prints" so that the client could see what was photographed. These were not corrected for color or exposure. So, often you would find dark images, excessively bright images, images with poor color, etc. But unless printed, you could not see what was shot.

Today, many (if not most) wedding photographers now shoot with digital cameras. With digital, we can see the image the moment it's taken. And, we can upload digital files on the web for you to see and make selections without even printing a single image.

But for me, many of my clients prefer to receive ALL the images shot at their weddings... and that means a LOT of computer work for me. So rather than just upload uncorrected images for you to choose from, to give all images to you, I actually start working on doing corrections on all your images starting right on Monday morning! Often this could mean working on anywhere from 700 to 1000 images per wedding! So no longer do I provide "proofs" like other photographers do (some digital photographers still do this). I provide my clients with "final prints" instead. This means the photograph that is printed is fully ready to put into an album... it's perfectly corrected for color, exposure and composition.

To receive hundreds of quality final prints that have a consistent look from image to image means that I have to work on each and every image individually. I do not "batch" or "automate" the process. I work on the images one by one. That takes time.

So while other photographers are already working on other projects during the week after having shot your wedding on Saturday, I'm still working on your wedding. Often it takes several weeks of work to finish everything. So in about 3-4 weeks, you have final prints of all the images taken at your wedding. I have heard of photographers who can take 6 or more months before you get your photos. That's just way too long in my opinion.

So why don't I do portraits during the week?

I'm too busy with your weddings!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Becoming a Forensics Expert

Besides being “court-qualified” as an expert in Forensic Photography and Forensic Videography, my first court qualification is actually in Forensic Audio.

To become a court expert in something, the expert being proffered is most likely required to go through a process called “Voir Dire.” This is really like a trial within a trial in which the judge must make a decision whether the opinion evidence being offered by the “expert in question” is allowed to be used in court.

The judge after hearing direct and cross examination of the qualifications of the expert must determine if the witness has enough expertise in the field to even testify. Once it is determined that the witness is “court-qualified,” the witness can then offer his opinion on the case.

Opinion evidence is strictly that… an opinion. Unlike other evidence which is substantiated by eye witnesses, this evidence is strictly the expert’s professional opinion. The jury then must decide if the evidence offered by the expert is worthy to be used to sway them to that way of thinking.

In my case, I had been working for the District Attorney’s Office in San Diego County and had been enhancing audio tapes for court for some time. Basically this meant removing noise on a recording and making the voices on a recording more intelligible. Well, a case came up in which one of our deputy DA’s wanted me to testify on an opinion regarding a sound on an audio tape which was being offered by the defense that appeared to be a gunshot.

Up to that point, I had never testified in court before as an expert witness, although I had testified at many trials describing how I did my work on photos and other documentary evidence. So to be able to testify as an expert to give professional opinions, I had to go through Voir Dire. For forty-five long grueling minutes, I was questioned on direct examination and then questioned on cross examination. Back and forth it went in which questions about my background in electronics, my background in audio engineering, my background in law enforcement and experience in working with courtroom evidence came into question.

After it was all done, the defense naturally objected to my being allowed to be a witness in the case stating that I was under-qualified to do so (that’s what they say about all witnesses that they don’t want to testify.) But in the end, the judge stated that in the opinion of the court that… “Mr. Lowe is well qualified to testify in this case as an expert witness in the area of Forensic Audio and that the court recognizes him to be an expert witness in this field.”

That’s all it took and from that point on, I was considered an expert in the field of Forensic Audio! Now at any trial, I can state that the Superior Court of the State of California had found me to be qualified to testify in Criminal cases in the area of Forensic Audio. Many other states will recognize this and skip the voir dire process again for their state (it just saves time by acknowledging it.)

Later, I was offered as an expert in the areas of Forensic Photography and Forensic Videography. But my reputation in San Diego courts had been well established by that time and so the defense just stipulated that they were well aware of my qualifications and accepted me to testify without questioning through Voir Dire for this area of expertise. So with that being said, I was an instant expert in Forensic Photography and Forensic Videography. The deputy DA told me that it was the fastest Court Qualification he had ever seen since working in criminal court. Instant expert witness qualification!

Today, because of my work in wedding photography, I have very little time to do work in the field of forensics, but I’m still court qualified to do it if I decide I want to work on a case. Most of the cases I had worked on in the past were criminal cases, but I did get a chance to work on some that were civil cases.

Oh... how did that trial turn out after I testified about the audio evidence? Well I basically helped discredit the defense's own audio expert witness (who then was seen storming off the stand and out of the courtroom frustrated and embarrased) and we won our case and sent the defendant to prison.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Why Do You Give Away All Your Secrets?"

Recently, I have been asked this question a lot by both friends and potential clients.

But then someone said to me, "You must be a pretty confident photographer." Now a comment like that can't go without the obligatory, "What makes you say that?"

"Well, only someone who is confident in his abilities can so openly share his trade secrets with everyone without fear of hurting his own business. You not only tell stories on your blog, but you even tell people how to duplicate your shots! You don't seem threatened at all if someone uses it and copies you!"

Well what a compliment!

Looking back on it, I suppose it's true in that I don't mind if other people improve their photos by copying me and learning from me. The way I look at it is that people can copy my technical skills, but they can't copy my heart and artistic eye... It's my vision and how I look at the world through my camera lens that's uniquely mine.

So no matter how much I help someone with improving their technical skills, my photos will still look unique because I may shoot something completely different from them even if we use the same technical settings. That comes from experience and vision.

Don't worry about me giving away any secrets. You can pick up any book on photography or wedding photography and duplicate many of the techniques given there. But you need to have your own vision to create a great photo.

"Keep on shooting!"

Friday, February 24, 2006

All Ready for 2006 Weddings!

Back in November, I reported that I was getting two new D200 cameras for 2006 weddings. Well, both have now arrived and I'm ready to go!

These cameras are currently selling at a phenomenal rate. It seems every camera is snatched up the moment they come in the door at the camera stores! I had to get mine from stores in Indiana and in Arkansas!

The first D200 arrived in December and I was one of the first US photographers to get one. Nikon gives preferential treatment to their NPS members (Nikon Professional Services). But I only ordered one just in case there was any problems with the initial first production run units. Luckily, no problems were found on my camera and so I then started to scramble to try to find another D200 before the first weddings in March. After a few months of searching, I finally found one at a store in Arkansas from a recommendation of another wedding photographer.

So as usual, I'll be able to shoot with three cameras at your weddings (two D200's and an S3 Pro.)

New cameras, new lenses and new techniques learned over the past few months... it's going to be a fun wedding season for me in 2006!

"Now I've Seen Everything!"

Do you know what these are?

Porta Potties!

At one of my outdoor weddings last year, I was surprised to see the attention to detail at the wedding. Not only did the outdoor tent get decorated, but so did the Porta Potties!

I don't think I've ever seen this before... so this is a first for me.

Think you've seen everything? Go to a wedding and get surprised!

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Never Date A Guy Who Drives A Red Car"

I once worked with a woman who told me that her rule for dating was, "Never date a guy who drives a red car." I'm not kidding.

I bet her dates never drove red cars like these! Maybe she would have changed her rules if they had...

Pictured above: Lexus, Ferrari & Porsche.

Yellow Cars and Fisheye Lenses

My first car was a yellow car.

Of course it wasn't as cool as the Honda S2000 that you see above, but it was still a Yellow Car. The yellow S2000 that you see here is the identical car that my friend's son just purchased recently. Only cool sports cars can get away with being yellow. I mean you don't really see too many bright yellow Rolls Royce's, do you?

And look what a fisheye lens can do to really make that car look cool...

I shot the top image of the headlamp assembly from about 8 to 12 inches away. It really gave it that "bowl" look which is just so weird that it makes it even cooler that it already is! I can focus on any object within 1 inch from the front of my 10.5 mm fisheye lens and still get everything in focus. That's the beauty of a fisheye lens!

And the second shot was taken vertically with the fisheye. From the angle I shot it, the lens really makes the hood look huge!

Now, don't you want to just run out and buy yourself a cool yellow car?

What was my yellow car back in 1977? A 1976 Chevrolet Chevette (no, not a Corvette... a Chevette... much smaller, cheaper, slower and geekier... but it was new and it WAS yellow!)


Edit Note: I forgot to mention that the 1976 Chevy Chevette caught fire one day and had to have the fire department hose it down! Believe it or not, the insurance company decided to fix the car rather than total it! The car ran another year or so and then was finally sold. I suspect that after I had a new muffler put into the car, they must have installed it incorrectly and the heat from the muffler caught something under the car on fire. The entire interior was torched! The water damage from the hoses of the fire department just added to the misery!

Edit Note: The more I look at that first shot of the headlamp assembly, the more I think it looks like the right eye of a yellow "Alien." Do you know what I mean? Anyone else think it looks like this too?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Chicago Auto Show

Wow, what a day!

We braved the cold temperatures and several of my friends and I went to the Chicago Auto Show! I have not been to an auto show since perhaps 1992 when I was still in San Diego. But I recall when I was very young, my dad and mom took our family to several auto shows and I was always amazed that there was so much to see. My brother and I would come home with a huge bag full of literature and we'd spend the next few days looking at all the cool cars in the brochures.

This time, I was just as excited to be at the show as I was when I was younger, but I did not take a single piece of literature. I was too busy taking photos! To see what I shot, go to http://www.printroom.com/ghome.asp?domain_name=evidencetech&group_id=4 and click on "Chicago Auto Show." The password to get into the photo gallery is Cars.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Is It TOO EARLY To Book A Photographer?

I get this question quite often.

No... it's not too early to book a photographer if your wedding is between one or one and a half years away. Believe it or not, this is actually more common than you think.

Usually the reception hall and/or church is contacted first. Once that's secured, the next in line is usually the wedding photographer. Why? Well, it seems most bridal couples feel that photography is one of the most important aspects of their wedding day because it preserves the memories of the day visually.

Many of the best wedding photographers book a year or two in advance! Now that's not to say you can't find a great wedding photographer just a month or two before your wedding. It's just that photographers often book just as quickly as reception halls (well, not as quick really) and if you want the best, you need to take action and book them.

I have had to tell brides whom I had met just a week earlier that I was already booked for their wedding dates when they called back to book me simply because someone else came in a day or two after they did asking for the same date and made a quick decision. That really hurts not only the disappointed bride, but me too! Often I spend a couple of hours in pre-wedding consultation with my potential clients in reviewing my albums and going over my policies and giving advice on their weddings. So when they go home to think about whether I am the right photographer for them and then someone else comes in and books the exact date before they make a decision, I feel bad for them and for me at the same time because of the investment of time and energies!

Time is of the essence when considering your wedding vendors. I always tell people that if it feels right and if the photographer is within your budget, make a decision and move on it. It will be to your advantage.

Recently, I had both a family friend and a relative ask me about having me photograph their weddings this year. But because of delays in getting together with me to discuss the details of their weddings, other clients had already booked me for those dates! So, while my own family is attending their weddings, I'll be working at the weddings of other clients!

Not only do potential clients miss out sometimes, but I do as well.

My advice? Book the photographer you feel most comfortable with and do it soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Coming Soon... Chicago Auto Show

Stay tuned... I'll be going to the Chicago Auto Show on Saturday!

I should be able to shoot this event photojournalistically because I don't think those cars pay any attention to the photographer, so I should be able to get some good candids.


I'll post some images on Sunday!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Getting a "Nuggie"

When is it ok to get a “nuggie?”

When you are at a wedding reception of course!

I got this “grab shot” while wandering around the reception of one of my weddings last year. Often during the evening, I’ll move through the crowd just to see what’s going on… away from the dance floor. As you can see, there’s just as much “fun” going on away from the dancing festivities and from the boy’s expression on his face, even getting a nuggie isn’t so bad. :)

I wonder who's having more fun, the guy giving the nuggie or the kid receiving it?!

Hey… who made up the term “nuggie” anyway?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Vintage Gear Update

Just an update on the sale of my Big Muff Pi distortion pedal... it sold for $251.50!

I originally bought this item around 1975 for somewhere between $39.95 and $49.95 (can't recall the actual price.)

If you look at the inside of the unit, it's made with very basic electronic parts and housed in a sheet metal case.

What makes this worth $251.50? Nostalgia!

Edit update: An original first generation version just sold on eBay for $405! Unbelieveable!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gary Fong's In Town Tonight!

Gary Fong is one of the most well known wedding photographers in the world and I'll be attending a seminar of his this evening at the Marriott O'Hare.

Gary was the guy who sold me the Fuji S3 Pro camera that I am currently using for my weddings because he had several and didn't need all of them (they were brand new.) He endorses Fuji and I have a feeling he may have gotten these directly from Fuji... but that's just my guess.

He's also the inventor of the Lightsphere light modifier that I use at all of my weddings. You can see a photo of it in use if you look at the picture of me at the top of this page. There's also one on the flash on the table Gary is moving on the 2nd image...)

And, Gary charges $120,000 to photograph a wedding.

I knew that would get your attention! :)

Actually, Gary doesn't shoot many weddings any more. He doesn't have to. He's a multi-millionaire now. But if someone wants him to shoot their wedding, they will just have to pay his price...

When he was shooting weddings regularly, he commanded a high price, but nowhere near $120,000. I believe his last posted price before his price increase was $20,000. That isn't unreasonable considering those who could afford him would be getting one of the best known wedding photographers in the world to shoot their wedding. Denis Reggie, who is known as the "father of wedding photojournalism" charges $50,000 per wedding I believe and I think he's booked every weekend too.

Wow... I've got to raise my prices! :)

Gary made millions from very smart real estate investments. He took the money he made shooting weddings (which already made him a millionaire) and saved it and then invested it. Now he doesn't really have to work, but he does continue to work with photographers by inventing and manufacturing things like light modifiers and developing software to make our lives a little easier. He also goes on tours and conducts seminars like the one I'll attend tonight.

(edit note: images were added on 2-10-06)

Monday, February 06, 2006

What's With "Vintage" Goods?

As you read in a recent post, I purchased some older Marantz receivers because it reminded me of my past working in our family's business years ago. I got these items on eBay.

So now, I'm hooked and I'm selling things on eBay!

I took several items that I have not used in a long time and put them on the web to sell and lo and behold, it appears some of these items are now considered "vintage" collector's items!

Two of my old guitar distortion pedals are considered "desirable items" and the price is moving up! As exciting as it is to see that people really want my old items, it's also kind of sad to think I'm giving up something that's considered a vintage collectors item...

Nostalgia is big... that's why people buy antiques and shows like "Antiques Road Show" is so popular.

I never gave it much thought until recently. I suppose sometimes high-tech is not always the most desirable!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chicago Rush - Arena Football

I went to my first indoor "Arena Football" game last night with several guys from my church. The Chicago Rush (Mike Ditka's team) played the New York Dragons at the Allstate Arena. It was really different!

The first thing I noticed was how small the playing field was. 50 yards! That's it! Then there were the two huge nets behind each end zone. And the goal post in between was so much narrower too! And the rules were slightly different as well...

And then after every play, we were bombarded with arena advertising announcements! And you can't discount the fan participation in contests for free money and other incentives after every few plays as well. It was almost like a three-ring circus with so much going on!

Another interesting thing was when they accidentally kick the ball into where the fans are sitting, the fans get to keep the ball! You don't have to throw the ball back. It reminded me of baseball with all the "foul balls" being hit into the fan area! They lost a lot of footballs to the crowd!

It was different for sure! But even with all this happening, I'd have to say it was a lot of FUN! You get to sit in an arena that's temperature controlled, so you're not freezing your rear-end off... and you're not being snowed on or rained on either! And, the players all look so CLEAN! Afterall, how dirty can you get when you roll around in Astro-Turf...

Photographing the game was interesting as well. We sat way up at the top of the arena, so we were pretty far from the playing field. But it wasn't too bad. I got to try out my new Nikon D200 camera using my long 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens. I shot it handheld, because monopods were not allowed in the arena. Well actually, I was a little nervous that I might not be able to bring in my camera and huge lens at all since signs by the entrance specifically prohibited cameras and other recording devices. But, I wasn't stopped at the turnstile, so I was happy. This was the first time I have taken photos at a football game. It was a lot of fun shooting continuous action at 5 frames per second!

If you ever get a chance to go to an Arena Football game, do it! After you get used to everything happening around you, I promise you'll have a great time!

By the way... we are the team in blue... and we lost on a controversial call.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Police Scanners

This is what started it all.

Well actually, not this particular model... but it was because of a police scanner that I got into forensic science.

When we had first moved to San Diego back in the mid-1980's, I decided to buy a police scanner just because I thought it would be cool to listen in on what was happening in San Diego. Afterall, you get first-hand news this way!

We had visited my uncle who lived in the Northern California area just before driving down to San Diego since we were passing by on our way. Well, he's a retired Navy guy and he had his police scanner tuned in to listen to all the activity there. Perhaps he was a little more fanatical about it than I was, but it still registered with me that this was a cool way to find out what was happening in your neighborhood.

Anyway, the scanner purchase was around November / December timeframe and just around January, I ended up signing up for school to learn to be an evidence technician. My wife had suggested I look into this because I was so interested in all the activity. She had found an ad in the paper for an evidence technician position with the San Diego Police Department. After a call to the PD, I found I needed to go back to school to get a degree in this. Well, the rest is history.

This particular scanner was one I recently bought on eBay. It seems I've turned into an eBay addict with all the purchases I've made during the past couple of months. My old scanner could only SCAN frequencies that were programmed into the unit. It did not have the ability to SEARCH for new frequencies. Because of this, I was missing a lot. Plus you could only program 10 frequencies into it, so that's all you could listen to.

This new one allows me to program 1000 channels and it covers a lot more frequency ranges as well. Plus you can search for new frequencies too. It's a "trunking" model which is what a lot of police agencies use to transmit quicker. Trunking allows you to use a series of frequencies to transmit rather than waiting for a single frequency to "free up" before you can talk. Much better method for emergency use. But to hear all the action, you need a scanner that can work with this technology. I also upgraded the standard antenna to an 800MHz antenna. This new antenna brings in signals almost twice as strong as the standard antenna.

It was time for me to upgrade after all these years. Scanner technology has definitely improved since my old 1980's unit! Even though my scanner was used and sold on eBay, this scanner model is still currently being sold at Radio Shack, but the manual dates back to 1999... so apparently not much has changed since the late 90's. I got mine at almost half the price of a new unit.

As for photography of this unit, I did the same technique that I used with the Marantz receiver from the last post... "dragging the shutter." The same settings were used on this shot... flash photo with the lens set for f 8 and the shutter dragged at 1 second so that the light from the display would register on the camera sensor. Works great!

The flash was modified with a Gary Fong Lightsphere II with the top dome on. This device diffuses the light so that shadows are reduced. I lowered the angle of the view by placing the camera on a tripod that was set really low. The tripod is necessary to eliminate camera shake when shooting at such a long shutter speed like 1 second.