Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Grass Is Greener On The Other Side...

If I were not a professional photographer, what would I most like to be? Easy! A full-time musician! Well, maybe...

When I was younger, my dream was to be a full-time musician. I often thought it would be so cool to play my guitar and sing in front of thousands of people and make records (yes... those vinyl things that came out before CD's!) What a life that would be!

But over the years, I've come to realize it's not all that glamorous. After getting to know several professional musicians, I see how hard a life it really is. Most of them are on the road all the time and have little time with their families. They spend more time traveling than actually performing. That can't be much fun...

Smooth Jazz recording artist Peter White once said to me that I was more lucky than him. He said after one of his Chicago Theater concerts that he envied me because I had the ability to go home and sleep in my own bed. He had a lousy bed to look forward to on the tour bus as it headed off to the next town. Hmm.... that made me wonder what it would be like on the road.

Recently, guitarist Doyle Dykes told me that he had put on well over 80,000 miles on a vehicle that he had purchased around 2 years ago! He ended up selling the vehicle and bought another. I can't imagine driving that many miles in just two years! And, he not only drives, but flies a lot too! Plus, he rents vehicles too when he can't drive his own. How many miles does THAT add up to?

I am photographing Doyle's daughter's wedding this Saturday in Tennessee. Doyle and his other daughter Haley have gigs lined up all the way until the day before the wedding and they also have gigs the day after the wedding! So they only have the actual day of the wedding to spend with family and then they are gone again! That just blows me away! They don't even have enough time to themselves to enjoy the entire weekend with their family!

As much as I think it would be so cool to be a full-time musician, I wonder how much they actually give up to do that. They say the grass always seems greener on the other side...

Sure, musicians have moments that make it worthwhile, but most of the time, it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

Now take Photography... many people tell me that I have an interesting job. For the most part, I'd have to agree. Being a wedding photographer, I get to go to a party every Saturday! But like musicians, there are other parts of the job that people don't see or know about. Often they don't realize that as a wedding photographer, I am working the entire day, often never taking a break and standing on my feet for up to 12 hours or more without getting the chance to sit down! Plus I carry over 23 lbs of gear on my body all day long too! And during the weekdays, I'm on the computer all day working on the images shot over the weekend to make them look good... Not all that glamorous, huh?

So when it comes to wanting to do what others do, it is best to look at the job closer to see if it's all that you think it is. Often it isn't.

Rock on...

Monday, May 28, 2007

"What's The Best Point & Shoot Camera On The Market Today?"

Fuji F40fd


Fuji F31fd

Every now and then, I'll have someone ask me, "What's the best digital camera on the market today?" Well, as a professional photographer, I'm more inclined to use digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras as opposed to "point and shoot" compact cameras. But I realize that most consumers don't want the expense or weight of an SLR and would much rather have a camera to put in a purse or pocket.

I can't argue with the logic of owning a small camera. I think having a camera available with you immediately because it is small and portable is better than not having a camera with you at all. Why do you think there is such popularity with taking pictures with a cell phone? But beyond the cell phone camera craze, the small and affordable "point and shoot" camera catagory is your best bet if you want a good quality camera that's portable.

Before deciding on which camera is best for you, I believe you have to ask yourself, "Do I want convenience features or do I want the best image quality?" There are models on the market today that offer incredible features for the money but sacrifice image quality to get it. And conversely, there are models that offer incredible image quality but lack certain features.

As a pro, I often have to make this determination as well. When I chose my digital SLRs for use in my business this year, I had to decide whether I wanted the superior feature performance of the Nikon D200 camera over the superior image quality of the Fuji S5 Pro camera. The Fuji S5 camera body is the identical body to the Nikon D200 because Nikon makes the S5 for Fuji and uses the D200 body to do it. But Fuji put in their own image sensor and firmware to control the camera. In doing so, they came up with a camera that in my opinion offers a superior image quality, but lacks in some features such as burst rate speed (the ability to capture multiple images in rapid succession) due to its limited firmware (most likely.) In the end, I felt that image quality was more important for me and my clients and decided to sell off my two Nikon D200's and purchase two new Fuji S5 Pro cameras for my work. Yes, each Fuji S5 camera is about $550 more expensive than each Nikon D200.

For point and shoot cameras, I'd have to say choosing between image quality and features is a harder decision because you want as many features as you can get for the size and money, but you really don't want to lose image quality either. The whole point of a "point and shoot" camera is convenience really. So should someone make a purchase decision on features and convenience over image quality when buying a point and shoot camera?

In 2005 I sold a Canon A95 to purchase a Fuji F10 point and shoot camera for my wife (who never uses it at all but my daughter and I do.) We still have that Fuji camera and I have a hard time justifying a replacement in 2007. Why? Because it does a fantastic job! I can't fault it's image quality for a point and shoot camera at 6 MP. It can shoot in very low light without a flash (as high as ISO 1600 in sensitivity) and I shoot a lot of images without a flash. So for me, it does a great job.

So what is the best point and shoot camera on the market? Well, for performance vs. cost, I'd have to say it has to be either the Fuji F31fd or Fuji F40fd. These two camera are very similar to the older F10 but offer upgraded image quality. The new F40fd offers a slightly lower sensitivity capability over the F31fd (ISO 2000 instead of ISO 3200) and makes up for it with a slightly higher megapixel count, but also offers picture stabilization which can help in camera blur. That's a feature that might be worth having in a point and shoot camera. But I tend to favor the older F31fd because it offers Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority modes that the F40fd does not have and these are features I like a lot. My F10 doesn't have these modes and I wish it did. Plus the F31fd costs only $210 (after rebate) as opposed to the F40fd's cost of $265 (also not a bad price.) When you think about it, to get a quality digital image maker for well under $300 is absolutely amazing!

But these two cameras do not offer the highest Megapixel count and they do not have the most features compared to other point and shoot cameras. And, they are bigger and bulkier than other cameras too. So why do I favor these models today?

Well, I think it comes down to image quality for me as the most important feature when deciding on a camera. No matter how fancy a camera is and how many bells and whistles it offers, if it can't make a good image, I can't justify buying it or recommending it. From what I've seen from various reviews and having owned a Fuji F10 (the camera that the F31fd and F40fd was based), I'd have to say that these two Fuji models offer the best image quality in the Point and Shoot category.

You may think that I'm just a Fuji enthusiast. After all, today I own two Fuji S5 Pro's, I owned a Fuji S3 Pro last year and I own a Fuji F10 point and shoot camera. Well, the decision to own these came after a lot of research, "soul searching" and cost. I had to sell perfectly good cameras to afford these for my business and the decision to do so was very difficult for me. I have been a Nikon and Canon user for many years (although I favor the Nikon system over Canon in general for it's ease of use and familiarity) and so going to Fuji was relatively foreign to me. But I'd have to say that the image quality of Fuji's products (at least these cameras, not all Fuji cameras) impressed me enough to buy them and recommend them to others.

There is a great article on DP Review about high ISO (this gives the ability to capture images in low light) and I recommend you read this if you are looking at point and shoot cameras that will allow you to shoot without a flash in lower light: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/compactcamerahighiso/

If you would like to read a review of the excellent Fuji F31fd, check this out: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/fujifilmf31fd/

So are the Fuji F31fd and F40fd the best point and shoot cameras on the market today? For image quality at low light, I'd have to say... probably. Check out the review and look at the comparison images to determine this for yourself.

Do the two cameras offer the best features for the money? No. They are lacking in many features that make other models more attractive such as physical size, focus speed, zoom ratios, etc. But to me, the image quality is the determining factor over the features when I buy cameras. And, don't get fooled about the megapixel count either. You'll see in the review's comparision photos that even at only 6 megapixels, it outperforms others with higher megapixel counts. The megapixel race isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Don't buy a camera solely on this specification. And don't be fooled by the claims of "high ISO" from other manufacturers either. Check out the article on High ISO and you'll see why.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Awesome Leaves!


My daughter shot this image with a Fuji S5 pro and a Nikon 17-55mm f 2.8 lens today.

I like how the backlight shines through the leaves highlighting the big leaf in the middle. Normally such a massive amount of backlighting would ruin a shot. But she had the spot meter on and got a great exposure. Be sure to click on the image to get a closer look.

A budding photographer, huh? A chip off the ol' block? LOL

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ballet

You either love ballet or you don't.

Well, maybe that's not true. If I had to choose one or the other, I'd probably have to say I don't love it, but I don't hate it either. But there are times I do love it, and there are times I hate it. It's kind of like Opera... you either love it or hate it. Sort of... In other words, I can't make up my mind. I keep changing it.

Now take the case of these young dancers. How could you not love watching these talented kids perform? It takes a lot of hard work to be a ballet dancer and it's just awesome to see kids really doing something they like to do. The girls did a great job!

I photographed a portion of last Friday's dance recital rehersal and was able to get a couple of good shots of the dancers. I was as far back in the Barrington High School auditorium as you can be but I wasn't worried since I had my Fuji S5 pro camera with a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens on it. I set the camera to ISO 3200 with Aperture Priority set for f 3.2. The camera chose a shutter speed of 1/250 second. The lens was set at 170mm and handheld.

The image was post processed with Gary Fong's BullZEye 2 color correcting software and then sent through Neat Image software to help reduce any digital noise. Adobe Photoshop CS 2 was used to sharpen the image slightly with unsharp mask. The image was cropped for a pleasing composition and then downsized and saved for web presentation.

Overall, the image is quite good considering where I was situated. Be sure to click on it to see a larger version of it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wedding at the Hyatt Regency - O'Hare





This Saturday's wedding was really done up nicely! The wedding and reception was held in the same room which made it very easy on the guests! After the ceremony was done, the room was expanded and totally redecorated for the reception. It's amazing how quickly things can be converted over. I used a "fisheye" lens to show 180 degrees of the room.

My clients and their guests were all very nice as well. Very polite and courteous! I had to tell the guys to "loosen up" since they all seemed so polite and reserved! I suppose you can't ask for a better set of friends when each of them are so well behaved! To get them in the mood for things to come, I did a "Huddle" shot where I laid on the ground and had all the guys huddle around me. The huge dome above us really made the shot... check it out!

Big City Bride did a great job in coordinating the event and keeping everything on schedule. Kudos to Wedding Coordinator Rebecca Hart for organizing everything for my clients.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Doyle Dykes / Haley Dykes - Sam Ash Music - Lombard, IL






Last night, guitar legend Doyle Dykes and Howling Wood Records recording artist, Haley Dykes conducted a Taylor Guitars clinic at Sam Ash Music in Lombard, IL.

As usual, it was standing room only as Doyle "packed" the store with fans. He played flawlessly as everyone in the room was captivated by his playing. Haley won over many new fans too as she played her mandolin and sang so beautifully.

Doyle was proud to show a photo of his first grandson Drew (nicknamed "Whistle") to the crowd. Give him a few years and I'll bet Whistle will start learning the guitar!

After the show, my friends Doyle, Haley, Jerry, Pastor Steve and I went out for a bite to eat and we talked for a couple of hours. I'll be seeing Doyle and Haley again in a couple of weeks as we gather for Doyle's other daughter Holli's wedding in Tennessee. Haley's wedding isn't until late in 2007 and I'm looking forward to photographing that as well!

Be sure to visit Doyle and Haley's websites at www.doyledykes.com and www.haleymusic.net

Monday, May 14, 2007

Shooting With The Big Boys



At last Friday's Steel Drum gig, a couple of newspaper photographers were assigned to cover the event. Naturally, I had to take a few shots of them taking a few shots!

I love taking pictures of people taking pictures! Whether at a wedding reception or at something like this concert, I get a big kick seeing what other photographers are doing when I'm there shooting as well.

One guy had a Canon system and the other had a Nikon system. The Nikon photographer was using the same lens as I was that evening... a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens. I was shooting with the Fuji S5 pro... also a Nikon-based system.

I wonder if these guys were wondering who I was? After all, I wasn't one of the "Press" that evening. I was just some dumb dad taking pictures of his kid... Ok, I'm a professional photographer too, but they didn't know that! LOL
Although I did move around, I tried my best to stay out of the way of these guys and let them have the best angles first.

Steel Drum Band Makes a Big Comeback








Last Friday, my daughter participated in a reunion of her bandmates from her middle school steel drum band by playing at the Mount Prospect Library.

In 2004, this very same group played at the library and was seen on the Oprah Winfrey Show because their teacher, Steve Flowers was one of the teachers honored on the Oprah show. Besides having a featurette on the show, Mr. Flowers and several other teachers were given lots of gifts from Oprah as a "thank you" for being teachers and teaching kids! We were all very proud and happy to see one of our teachers being honored by Oprah! Click Here to see a video clip from the show.

Mr. Flowers has gathered the same kids every year to join in to play at various venues including the Mount Prospect Library. So going back to this venue had special significance for the group and Mr. Flowers. To see last year's performance, check out the May 1, 2006 post in the Archive section of my blog.

Besides photographing the group that evening, I had a great time photographing the people at the event as well. I love the shot of his daughter holding her ears as the group played! Only a teacher's kid can get away with that!

The conga line was a big hit as well. But I think the kids were wondering when it was going to end... LOL

A big thanks to Steve Flowers for continuing to work with our kids and being a great teacher!

Album Comparisons


I took a couple of my wedding album samples this weekend and took some shots of them.

This is a comparison of size between the huge 10x15 album and the 10x10 album from my Deluxe Leather albums option. You can see how much larger the 10x15 album is from this image. Be sure to click on the image to see a larger version.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Being In The Presence Of God


I love Jewish weddings! There are so many traditions in a typical Jewish wedding which really make these ceremonies so special. Not being Jewish, I don't get to photograph as many of these weddings as I would like to, but I enjoy it whenever I am able to. In this image, the groom is circling the bride. It's one of the traditions.

I photograph a lot more Christian weddings however. Clients often ask me if I get bored at some of the long Christian weddings I photograph, but I actually don't! I really enjoy being in church and spending time there, so long ceremonies aren't boring for me at all. I actually listen to every message that is given at each of my client's weddings. And, I really enjoy it when a good message is delivered.

I am often in church on Saturdays and then on Sundays as well. Sometimes, I get to be in church on Friday, Saturday and Sunday! No problem for me... I like being there.

I like being in Jewish Synagogues as well. Yeah, I guess you can say I just like being in the presence of God.

How many people do you know who actually look forward to going to work? Count me as one of them!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Destination Weddings


I'm going to be tied up tomorrow (Monday) so I thought I'd write in my blog today instead.

After reading about a couple of the destination weddings that I will be doing this year in Tennessee and in North Carolina, I was asked recently if it was expensive for someone out of state to hire me for their wedding compared to someone who lived in the Chicago area. After a little thought on the subject, I'd have to say it's a lot less expensive than you might think. Here's what it might cost extra:

First, there's the cost of round-trip air transportation from Chicago O'Hare airport to the final destination. That can vary, but I do not require anything but a non-stop flight with standard coach seating unless it's a flight over 5 hours in length in which case business class seating is required.

Second, there's the cost of a hotel room for two nights (typically Friday night and Saturday night if it's a Saturday wedding.) I require something decent but not extravagant.

Third, there's the cost of a rental car and gas money from Friday to Sunday.

And finally, there's the cost of meals and any incidentals required (such as cab fees from my home to the airport and then from the airport back to my home.)

How much does that add up to? Not as much as you might think. I'd estimate anywhere from $700 to $1000 on average and most of that is probably the cost of the airfare.

I do not request extra fees for coming in early on Friday or leaving on Sunday. Some photographers require this time to be paid as well as their photography fees because traveling ties them up for the entire weekend. I don't really mind and I do not charge extra for this.

I do however, require that my normal wedding photography fees be paid as with any other wedding and I do require an album to be part of the final package. Afterall, if you are going to book me for your wedding and pay extra for the travel expenses, I just can't see ordering a photography package without a nice album to showcase your wedding in anything except a custom wedding album!

So really, if you consider that for just the fees described above plus my normal photography fees, you can book me to photograph your wedding virtually anywhere in the world! But as for my actual photography fees, I don't charge any more than I would charge someone who lived in the Chicago area.

I look forward to destination weddings! It's an adventure for me and for the client as well. :)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Do We Feed The Photographer Or Not?"



A recent debate on one of the photography forums I frequent involves whether the photographer should eat dinner along with the guests at a wedding reception.

Some photographers feel they should and others feel they should not.

Personally, I don't really care one way or the other. It's ok with me if you sit me down at a table with your guests during dinner or if you have a sandwich ordered for me and put me in the back room to eat by myself... but yes... you need to feed me! LOL

Like all other people, I get hungry after working for many hours without a break. Plus, to do my job properly, it's not really convenient to run out to McDonalds to get a Big Mac for dinner and still be expected to be available to at a moment's notice to photograph something at your wedding!

Usually, I don't take photos of your guests eating their dinner, so it's really the best time for me to have my dinner as well. In all the years I have been photographing weddings, not one client has ever told me that they wanted photos of their guests with their mouths full of food. It just does not make for a good photo and the guests don't really appreciate it either. So, during dinner hour, I take a break. Besides, it's often the first and only break I get from working the entire day!

I've been lucky in that most of my clients have always been considerate enough to remember to order some food for me at the reception. Some have asked me to sit at a table with their guests and others have provided me with something basic and had a separate table in the back of the room where I and perhaps the other vendors can have a quick bite. That's perfectly fine and I have no problems with that whatsoever. Only one client in 17 years has not provided something and I was forced to drive to a local Burger King to get a quick sandwich. And yes, I did ask for permission to go and was told, "No problem." Hmmm.....

So, whatever you decide is right is ok by me. I just ask that something be provided to keep me alive and able to hold the camera up without shaking from hunger. LOL

All kidding aside, thanks to all who have been thoughful enough to provide for me. I appreciate it.
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Oh, one more thing... please ask the caterers to feed the photographer at the same time as the guests. Often the caterers will give the photographer food AFTER all the guests have eaten. I suppose they just feel that the photographer is also a vendor and should get served last. The problem with this is that while the photographer is finally able to try to eat, the guests have finished and are now ready to be photographed! So then, the photographer can't eat and has to do his job. Remember too that while the guests are eating, the photographer really isn't taking any photos. So not only is he/she waiting for something to eat, he's not doing anything anyway. And when he can finally eat, he can't because he's got to start working again! So PLEASE ask the caterers to serve the photographer at the same time as the guests. Thank you!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

2007 Spring Photo Expedition - June 10 at Brookfield Zoo




The first ever, "Russ Lowe Photo Expedition" is going to be Sunday, June 10 at the Brookfield Zoo!

Here's the tentative plan:

We will all meet at my Oakbrook Office at 10:00 AM to get details of the day along with photo goals. If you can't make it to my office by 10 AM, you can also meet us at the zoo at around 11:15 AM. We may be early or late to arrive there, so if you go there instead, call me at 847-840-4082 when you arrive so we know you are there. It is best if we all meet in Oakbrook first though...

After our briefing in Oakbrook, we'll all drive to the Zoo. It's about 7 miles from my office, so it's not too far. We can stay together as a group, or we can separate. My preference is that we all stay together because it will be more fun if we can all share our photo experience together, but you are welcome to go off on your own if you prefer.

We'll shoot what we can for a while and then stop for lunch while at the Zoo. You are welcome to bring your own sack lunch or purchase your own lunch at the zoo. As we are all undoubtedly going to be carrying a lot of gear with us, it might be easier to buy your lunch at the zoo.

We'll continue to walk and shoot after lunch. I expect we should conclude our shooting by 2:30 to 3:00 PM. That should give us about 3 hours of shooting time.

After the shoot, we'll all go back to my office in Oakbrook and upload our images to our own laptop computers to share what we shot with the others. If you do not have a laptop, you are welcome to upload to mine. We'll critique our shots until about 5 PM and then afterwards, we can head out for a nice dinner somewhere in the Oakbrook area.

My office is right next to the Oakbrook Mall, so there should be plenty of good places to eat nearby.

There is an entrance charge at the Zoo of $10 per person, seniors and children 3-11 is $6 per person. Parking is $8 per car/van so perhaps we can try to do a little carpooling to help save on this expense. If you ride with someone, please help pay your fair share of the parking. Lunch and dinner expenses are on your own as well.

If you would like to join us on this expedition, please email me at photos@russlowe.com to confirm your attendance.

More information will be coming soon, but that's the plan so far. I hope you can all come to enjoy the day and fun of shooting with a bunch of photographers! This should be fun!