Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Most Stressful Part of Weddings

Recently while reading some comments on one of the wedding forums I frequent, I was "surprised" to learn that many other fellow photographers find the drive to the wedding location the most stressful part of the wedding! I say "surprised" because I think so too!

During the wedding and the reception, I'm in control most of the time. I know what to do, what to expect and how to handle myself and my cameras. But the drive getting to the ceremony or the reception is totally dependent on other things beyond my control. Traffic problems, closed roads, limo drivers going the wrong way while I'm following the limo... it all adds up to lost time and sometimes even getting lost! I've had many limo drivers leave me behind a red light even after I had told them not to do that! I wonder if they do it on purpose sometimes!

That's why I invested in a GPS system for my car. It takes some of the stress out of getting lost. Often I find that alternative routes must be taken because traffic is not cooperating and when it's dark outside, you can't really rely on looking at a map. That GPS unit has saved me at several weddings last year.

I recall in the early years of photographing weddings that the ceremony itself was also a point of stress for me. Lighting conditions in churches can often be rather poor and unless you really know how to use your camera, you can count on poorly exposed images or images with a lot of camera shake going on. Luckily today, I've photographed so many weddings that this isn't really a problem for me any more.

Yes, traveling is the most stressful part of weddings for me and a lot of other photographers. Are you surprised?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Working Meez

Here I am working hard...

Question is... do I look like this shooting weddings or crime scenes? I especially like the one handed shooting style though! The fancy footwork takes practice!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

This is me. Or should I say Meez...

Too bad I'm not playing a Taylor guitar here. Looks more like a Martin guitar. It's a little weird in that the guitar looks like it's "cracking open" right below the pickguard every now and then. I bet a Taylor guitar wouldn't do that! lol

I'm a sucker when it comes to making stuff like this on-line. Try making one of yourself at

My daughter made one of herself...

2006 In Review

At weddings (especially wedding receptions) I often get to photograph people doing some rather unusual things. Take for example this balancing act. At a recent wedding reception, this young lady was determined to balance this spoon on her nose. I'm not sure if she ever succeeded or not since I didn't hang around long enough to find out (I had other photos to take...)

2006 was kind of like this for me as well... trying to keep things in balance.

A lot went on for me in 2006. My photography business continued to mature and I am very comfortable shooting strictly in digital. The last few years has seen huge growth in digital capture and the industry has embraced the new technology nicely. Clients no longer ask if I can shoot some images in film anymore. They have accepted that digital is the way to go.

Other things remained the same for 2006 as well. I remained the top referred wedding photographer for the Chicago area on (a referral service) and I saw consistent referrals coming to me from past clients. This year, I even booked a client who was referred to me from someone who was not a past client but simply because that person had heard about me from someone else. So "thank you" to whoever has been passing my name around! I don't know who you are, but I appreciate the kind words you have been saying about me to people you meet!

In 2006, I also purchased and sold a LOT of guitars in search of the right guitar to use for both performing and for recording. Ultimately, I ended up keeping a Taylor GS and a Taylor DDSM (Doyle Dykes Signature Model.) The GS will be used at church weekly and the DDSM will be used for special performances.

2006 was also the year in which I attended my 30th year reunion with my high school friends. I think that was the highlight of the year for me. I had wondered for many years what became of the people I went to school with and I was very happy to find out that many of them did very well for themselves over the years! In our graduating class, we had everything from dentists, doctors, attorneys, accountants, musicians, actors, gymnasts and even photographers!

What's in store for me in 2007? Stay tuned!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Floor Sander

Recently we removed the carpet in our living room / dining room and contracted a company to refinish the hardwood floor underneath. There was a section of the entranceway that was covered with a vinyl flooring that was glued directly over the hardwood floor. This extended from the entrance all the way to the kitchen.

Since our house was not new when we purchased it, one of the original owners must have had this done many years ago. The carpet covered over the rest of the floor so having the vinyl section made sense then... but it did not make sense if we were going to just use the hardwood floor by itself.

I wondered how the contractors would remove the glued-on vinyl floor and after they tried to peel it off (that didn't work well) they finally decided they would just SAND it off! The machine they used is the sanding machine they normally use just to sand the hardwood. In literally two strokes (one forward pass and then a reverse pass) that old vinyl floor was history! I could not believe how quickly that vinyl floor was removed!

These photos were taken with a Fuji F10 point & shoot camera with its built-in flash.

I suppose "The Karate Kid" would have loved to use this machine after Mr. Miyagi told him to "Sand The Floor!" And a Buffer would work great for "Wax On, Wax Off" too!


Monday, December 18, 2006

"The Boardroom"

"The Boardroom"
Russell Lowe Photography
1901 N. Roselle Road, Ste. 800
Schaumburg, IL 60195

When I meet clients, I have a couple of rooms I like to use at my office. But "The Boardroom" is my favorite. Usually, only the bride and groom come to see me, but I can accomodate others as well if they come too. Sometimes a bride will bring her bridesmaids or her parents. No matter. I have room!

I use this room to hold photography workshops as well. The "wedge-shaped" table always grabs attention!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is There Value In Older Cameras?

Nikon D100 / Nikon 28-70mm f 2.8

The latest and greatest cameras seem to be the desired items to have. I know I usually get the latest gear to use for my business.

But there is still value in the older digital cameras as well. On the used market, you can pick up some incredible deals on cameras that are only a couple of years old. Still plenty of life left in those cameras too if you buy the right ones!

For instance, last year I sold two Nikon D100 cameras on the used market. I had purchased them for around $1500 each (camera body only) and vertical grips for around $200 each and sold them for $650 each including the vertical grips. Not a bad deal last year for the purchasers.

So why did I recently buy another used D100? Because at $325, it beats any point and shoot camera out there for the price! I'll add a vertical grip to it which I can get on eBay for around $80... and that's for a new one too! Granted, I need to add a lens to the camera which will ultimately raise the price of the camera, but I already have a bunch of lenses.

Nikon's latest camera, the D40 comes in around $599 for a new one (without a vertical grip but includes a zoom lens) so the D100 on the used market has to come in well under that price in order to sell. At a selling price of $325 for a camera that is built extremely well, I think that's an incredible deal.

My advice? If you are looking for a DSLR camera but want to save some money, check out the deals on used cameras. There are lots of great cameras out there for incredible prices!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday Displays

Last week while driving in Arlington Heights, my daughter and I noticed a park with lots of holiday lights. We said to each other that we would come back the following week to take some time exposure shots of the displays. The next day, one of my past clients emailed to ask me to share some instructions on taking photos of her mom's holiday lights on her home. Coincidence?

So tonight, my daughter and I braved the slight mist of rain and went out and took a couple of shots.

As we were walking back to our car, I noticed the sign above the parking lot and decided to photograph that as well. I decided to leave the color balance as is because it gives a different "feel" to the image.

These images were taken with a time exposure setting between 1/4 second to 1 second shutter speeds with an aperture of f 4.0. ISO was set to 400. The camera was a Fuji S3 Pro and the lens was a Nikon 12-24mm f 4.0 DX. I did not use a flash and the camera was mounted on a tripod.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shootings In The Workplace

On Friday, there was a shooting in the workplace at a law office in downtown Chicago. Four people were killed (including the gunman) and one was injured. My "cousin-in-law" Dan had worked for this law firm in the past and knew some of the people who were killed.

This shooting reminds me of two cases I had worked on in the past when I was working at The San Diego District Attorney's Office. One involved a man who went to the workplace of his girlfriend and started shooting. The other was a case in which a gunman went into the emergency room of one of the San Diego hospitals and started shooting.

The worst case I can recall seeing in photos was the McDonald's Massacre in 1984 in San Ysidro California in which lone gunman James Huberty open fire on the patrons of a McDonalds after leaving a note for his wife that he was going to go "Hunting For Humans." He killed 21 people and injured another 20 before the police killed him. This was the worst mass murders I have ever seen in photos. My supervisor at the San Diego Police Department was an evidence technician at the time and he helped work the crime scene. This was a few years before I worked there. He had the photos from the crime scene and also the autopsy photos and so he shared that with me. It was unbelievable. I recall driving to that area while I was working for the DA's office and the site was pointed out to me by one of the DA investigators. The actual McDonalds building is no longer there as it was torn down.

It is unfortunate that our society has so many disturbed people who do things like these shootings. Because of all the things I have witnessed firsthand and from photos I've seen while working in law enforcement, I suppose I'm a little more cautious than many people when it comes to looking out for crime or danger. Often my own family thinks I'm too cautious and I know they get tired of hearing me tell them to be more careful wherever they go. But I think until you have experienced something yourself, it's hard to understand why some people are a little more "paranoid" about things than others.

All I have to say is be careful out there. We live in difficult times and it's always better to be on the side of caution than to overlook safety. It's been said that most people will be affected or connected someway with a crime over their lifetime. I know I've personally had a few already and of course hundreds as well because I had worked in law enforcement. I'll write more about these in the coming weeks on my blog. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Do You Really Need A Professional Wedding Photographer?

Recently, I met a woman who had gotten married a couple of years ago and she told me that she did not hire a professional wedding photographer but rather had some family friends shoot her wedding. As this was her second marriage, she just did not feel compelled to hire a professional.

She told me that after she got the photos back from everyone who took photos at her wedding, she noticed that there wasn't a single photo of her and her new husband together in the shots! Apparently everyone was taking photos of individuals at the wedding but nobody thought about taking a picture of the bride and groom together.

I suppose saving a few dollars is always on everyone's mind. But to save a few dollars and miss something as obvious as photographing the bride and groom together is unthinkable! Is this important in wedding photography? I'd say it is...

Today with the advent of low-priced digital cameras, I see a LOT of people taking photos at weddings. At some weddings I even see people who use cameras as nice as my cameras, although nobody seems to use the terrific lenses I use which often costs as much as the camera itself... sometimes more!

So why do you need a pro to shoot your wedding photos if you have access to so many amateur photographers who can shoot your wedding for free or perhaps at a low cost?

It's been often said that it's not the camera that makes the picture, but the photographer's vision that makes the picture. This is so true! The camera is just the tool that captures the image, but it's the vision of the photographer that composes the shot, determines the proper exposure to get the right effect, and the photographer's knowledge of what to shoot and when to shoot it that makes for a nice coverage of the day.

I have told many potential clients I meet that if you want someone to take your wedding photos for $500 or less, I'm sure you can find someone to do it. I have seen ads from a photographer out of town who advertises that he will shoot your wedding photos for free if you pay for his trip and hotel bill to your location. This photographer just wants to see the world, I guess.

I'm bothered by these types of photographers as it seems that their interest in this work is not in the best interest of their clients' needs. Anyone with a camera today can call themselves a "pro" photographer by charging just a few dollars to get a job taking photos. But it's the true professional photographer who spends lots of time learning and honing his/her craft by study and working at many weddings and improving his/her skills and offering better images at each wedding. Besides time investment, the working pro often continues to upgrade his/her equipment too to offer better images as well. It's a constant upgrade path.

I know I do this every year. Sure, my current cameras can continue to do the job. But often something new comes out to make a slight improvement in my images and I will sell last year's gear to buy this year's new models to improve my quality. I do this because I'm looking out for my client's best interest. I want them to have the best available and if that means spending a few dollars (ok, it's usually in the thousands, but who's counting) to get a better quality, I do it.

I attend seminars, read lots of books and magazines and visit countless webpages to learn to do a better job. I practice new techniques all the time too. Now I am going into my 17th year since I started shooting weddings, so why do I really need to do all this extra work? Again, there is always something new to learn that can improve my skills. And I like to put my clients interests first.

So do you really need to hire a professional wedding photographer to photograph your wedding? Only you can decide that. But if your wedding day is important to you, I'd say there's really no other way to go if you want excellent photos to document the day.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fuji S5 Pro shipping in February

The Fuji cameras are known to have one of the best image sensors around. Many professional wedding and portrait photographers rely on their cameras to get great skin tone color and high dynamic range. I like using the Fuji S3 pro camera for its ability to get great low-noise high ISO shots. This basically means I can get good images in low light conditions.

This new Fuji S5 Pro camera will be my next camera purchase. I am replacing one of my Nikon D200 cameras with this new Fuji. So for 2007, I will be shooting with two Fuji cameras (either an S3 and an S5 or perhaps two S5 cameras if I can sell my S3) and one Nikon camera.

Fuji cameras use Nikon lenses. In fact the new S5 camera is based on the Nikon D200 body. It adds Fuji's terrific image sensor and of its own software control.

So if this new camera is so great, why not just replace the final Nikon D200 with all Fuji S5 Pro cameras? Well, the D200 is actually going to be able to shoot faster than the S5. At least that's what the current specifications state. So there may be times where the D200's speed will come in handy.

The price between the D200 and S5 Pro is not really a factor either. The Fuji is only $200 more in retail price. That's really a major surprise to many photographers. Fuji's cameras are typically more expensive than Nikon's and many of us have been anticipating a higher cost. But Fuji surprised everyone when they announced the retail price of the camera body to be only $1895.

So as great as the photos were in 2006 with the new D200 cameras I shot with this year, 2007 promises to be even better! Every year adds a new dimension to my photography work!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Sixteen Track Recorder

Yamaha AW4416 Sixteen Track Workstation

Well, it's not really 100% "new" because it's really used... but it's "new" to me!

For years I have been recording on a Roland VS-880EX eight track workstation. Before that, it was a Tascam 38 open reel eight track recorder with a Tascam M520 20-channel mixer. Mixdown was done on an Otari MX-5050BII open reel two track recorder.

Times have changed. Whereas I needed a lot of space to house all the recorders and mixers to do music work, today I can do the same thing and more in just a small space on my desktop!

When I learned how to record music, I worked on an open reel recorder that was sixteen tracks and the tape was 2 inches wide! The recorder was made by Ampex. I was taught by studio owner / engineer Gary Hedden, who owned Hedden West Recording Studios in Schaumburg, IL. Gary has since gone on to become a very well known audio engineer having worked with many famous recording artists including: Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Gloria Estefan, Wynonna, Steve Winwood, Amy Grant, Tommy Sims, Raul Malo, Suzy Bogguss, Don Potter, Phil Keaggy and Chester Thompson. I was one of Gary's first students at his studio.

Today he does acoustical consultations. I was just in contact with him a few weeks ago after sending him an email message when I saw his name mentioned on one of the various guitar websites I frequent. I had not been in contact with Gary since around 1976... thirty years ago! Yes, I was just a teenager when I started learning how to be a recording engineer!! And isn't email and the internet wonderful? I can be in contact with just about anybody via email!

Anyway, this Yamaha recorder is only sixteen tracks. Today, you can get 24 tracks easily. But I decided that this older Yamaha unit will suit my purposes just fine. It cost me a lot less money since it's older and used; plus to me, sixteen tracks is going to be a luxary after having to work with only eight tracks all these years!

Yes, today's gear is all digital. That's the amazing thing about this technology. I can do so much more today than in the past. I recall selling all my old recording gear in San Diego just before moving back to the Chicago area and really being bummed out about it. But looking back, it was the best thing that I could have done. Today, I can do much more and it costs much less!

I hope to do some more recording this winter during my hiatus from weddings. This is going to be fun!

New Blog Name!!!

Check out the new name on my blog!

The Blog Formerly Known As "Russell Lowe Photography" is now called, "Russ Lowe's Photography, Music, Forensics & More."

Why the name change? Well, when I first started this blog, I talked mostly about photography and weddings. But over the year, I started to add more about music, guitars, forensics... really other topics I enjoy besides just photography.

The reaction has been generally favorable in that people seemed to like a variety of topics. And being realistic, during the winter months when the "wedding season" is essentially very slow for those of us in the Midwest USA, I need to post about more things other than just photography and / or weddings to keep this blog going!

So, I decided just using the name "Russell Lowe Photography" on the blog was really just a little too limiting and not really 100% accurate in what is discussed here. The new name really tells more about what this blog is all about.

Don't get me wrong, there will still be plenty of things to read about and to see concerning photography and / or weddings! I have not forgotten my roots! But I just thought it would be best to open up the blog to more things and to let the title describe it more accurately!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Photography Workshop Photo!

Photo by Andy Schneider

This image was taken at one of my recent photography workshops by Andy Schneider of Digital Take Video Production. Andy was among the workshop attendees and he sent this image to me yesterday.

We covered a lot of territory at this workshop which was geared towards photographers who are just starting out in their photography careers with digital SLR cameras. We touched on everything from basic photography concepts through using Photoshop for conversion of images shot in RAW (as opposed to shooting in JPG.)

The workshop was held in one of the conference rooms at my Schaumburg office. Although I can accomodate up to eight students at one time, I kept this particular workshop to only four students so that I could have more time answering specific questions from each student. Even with three solid non-stop hours that evening (nobody wanted to take a break!!!) we only had enough time to touch on some very basic concepts.

Feedback from each attendee indicated that they learned a lot and that they are already incorporating these new found techniques in their own photography work.

I'm glad to offer these workshops and hope to do more in the future. If you are interested in attending a future workshop, let me know. The hardest thing is finding people with similar interests or needs so that everyone can benefit equally.

I have a lot of fun teaching photography and hope to do more!