Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone a very Happy (and safe) New Year!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

To Flash or Not To Flash - Part Two

I took two photographs of a room at the Alhambra Palace... one has a flash and the other doesn't. Which do you prefer?

The image without the flash actually looks very close to what it really looked like in the room with the dim ambient lighting in there. But the image with the flash shows sharper details. So which is better? Which is more correct?

If you take a photograph of just the room (without any people in there), the image without the flash gives the truest representation of what your eye actually sees in that room. It's a very warm light in that room and while the image is definitely darker, it's a true representation. But the flash does fill in a lot of details that may be lost with just an ambient light image.

If you add people to the room, a "no flash" photo of them will make their skin very reddish-orange. Not flattering at all. Plus, they would be just as dark as the room. So pulling out the flash would yield nice photos of the people, but it would also make the room brighter as well.

What's the best solution?

The answer would be fill-flash set to match the light intensity of the room. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to do this and so I don't have an image to show you. But essentially, what you would get would be people lit to give natural skin tones, but the background would remain the same as you see in the "no flash" room. Yes, this is advance photography and requires a good working knowledge of how to use your camera in "manual mode." No "auto mode" or "program mode" for this kind of photography!

I promise to take a photo like this in the future to show you!

Pre-designed Albums Vs. Client "Designed"

A "pre-designed" album is an album in which the photographer picks the photos for you and designs the album layout as well. A "client-designed" album is one in which the client chooses the photos and the album layout is designed by the photographer. Which is better?

I can tell you that most clients who opt to pick out their own photos to include in their albums take a LOT LONGER than they thought it would take. During my consultation with my clients, I will tell them that if they pick out the photos for the album, it will take months before I will hear from them with their photo selections. Often, these brides will say, "Don't worry. I'll pick out the photos quickly because I want to get my album back as soon as possible!" I usually just smile and say, "No you won't." That usually gets their attention.

While everyone really does want to get their albums as soon as possible, often they find it very difficult to select which photos to go in the album. Why? Well, it's not impossible to get between 1000 to 1500 images from me at any given wedding. From that, I usually ask people to pick out somewhere between 40 to 60 images to put into the album which tells the story of the day. It's a lot harder than you might think.

This past year, virtually all of my brides have been late in picking out their photos. And a couple of the brides who opted for me to do a pre-design even had to wait a little because of the backlog created by clients who backed up the production cycle. Yeah, it's been a real challenge this year for albums!

If picking out the photos is so difficult, what are the advantages of letting the photographer do it? Well, consider that an album layout needs to tell a story and make sense from page to page. Most often that means the images must be selected so that they compliment each other on the page and also on the adjacent page. Often, it must also be in chronological order as well. Plus, some images may need to be larger than others to make the design look good.

When the photographer picks the images, he has the ability to mix and match as needed to get a nice looking design. But when he is stuck with whatever photos the client has chosen for him to use, some images may not make sense in telling the story, or perhaps that image cannot be used on the same page as another image so that creates a big "blank spot" in the design! There are lots of page designs that fall short because of wrong photo choices.

When I do my initial consultations with clients, I often show both pre-designed albums and also albums made where the clients chose the photos. I want my clients to see the difference. Although the photographer (that's me) still makes the designs, it's usually quite evident to people that the pre-designed albums look just a little better. Why? Well, you'll notice that there is less wasted space in the design and the 'flow' from picture to picture and page to page is better as well. That's because if a photo doesn't quite work on a page in the design, I have many other photos to pick from to take its place to make it work! Plus, I'll do custom cropping to fit the images nicely on the page. Often with client choices, I am not allowed to crop as needed.

When you make your first appointment to see me, be sure to ask to see the pre-designed albums vs. the client designed albums. I think you'll agree that pre-designs usually look better. And, with any luck, you'll get your albums back faster as well!

Leather & Acrylic Albums for 2009

A new album option for 2009 clients is Leather & Acrylic albums!

These albums really grab attention and I've ordered an 8x12 demo album made to showcase one of my 2008 weddings. I should be receiving it in about two weeks. When it arrives, I'll take a photo of it and post it on the blog so you can see what one of my weddings looks like in a rectangular format. Other album sizes are also available with the new acrylic cover including 10x15, 11x14, 12x12, 10x10...

When I attended the WPPI convention in Las Vegas in 2008, I saw a bunch of album companies who offered acrylic covers, but none compared to the one I'll be offering my clients. Where other brands of albums seemed to simply put a photo behind the acrylic, my albums look more integrated into the acrylic. It's hard to describe, but when you see it firsthand, you'll know what I mean. Plus, the glove leather black which extends through the spine and about 2 inches into the front of the cover adds a touch of distinction as well.

Like my other leather albums, an optional leather slipcover can be ordered to help protect the album as well. I'll have a sample on hand for my demo album.

While I have ordered my demo album with a standard print surface finish, the new "metalic" paper finish can also be ordered as an option as well for any of the leather and leather/acrylic albums I offer. This surface option is more prone to scratches however, so a protective lacquer is applied to keep scratches to a minimum.

Be sure to make an appointment to see the new album!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Family Portraits

As promised, here are some portraits taken with my new studio gear. What's cool about this session is the "Generations" portrait showing four generations within this family!

While it's always nice to have professional backdrops for portraits, it is even better to use the home itself for a backdrop. With a great fireplace behind the family, how can it be beat with a studio backdrop? It can't! As usual, it took longer to set up and tear down the equipment than it did to get the photos taken. But it pays off when the photos come out as nicely as these did. The studio lighting makes a huge difference in the quality even though the photo is taken at a home.

Friday, December 26, 2008

To Flash, Or Not To Flash

"To flash, or not to flash... that is the question..."

While many photos look fine one way or the other, sometimes having a flash is necessary to get a good exposure and to freeze the action to avoid blur. But there are times when using a flash is not appropriate.

For example, during a wedding ceremony... often the use of flash is distracting. But there are some churches where the lighting is so dark that without a flash, you'd never get a good shot. So do you use a flash in that instance?

I think if it's been cleared with the minister beforehand, the use of flash is ok. Recently at one of my weddings, I had to use a flash during the entire ceremony. Not only that, but I had to get a lot closer than I'm normally allowed to. But I had cleared it with the minister beforehand and he and I both agreed that the flash and my physical positioning was necessary. So in that case, it was fine.

What about at family parties? Is a flash welcomed there?

Yesterday, while at our annual family Christmas get together, I did not use a flash. Why? Well, when you take over 400 images throughout the day at a family gathering, eventually, the flash will become irritating to people. So in this case, it's not welcomed. Sure, some shots suffered due to the lack of quality light. But with the proper technique, most came out just fine.

So it's a judgment call. While I don't want to risk taking a bad photograph for something like a wedding, I'll take that chance for a "just for fun" event like a family party.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bridging The Gap - Doyle Dykes

It's been five years since Doyle Dykes has released a new CD and he's hit a home run with his latest, "Bridging The Gap."

This CD just rocks! You'll be surprised at the variety of music on this CD. He's got everyone helping out on it... his son Caleb Dykes, his brother Aubrey Dykes, and recording artists - Eric Johnson and Phil Keaggy too!

Each time at the last two Doyle concerts I went to, I asked, "Is the CD out yet?" But due to production delays in the CD printing, the answer was, "Not yet." Bummer...

So I figured I'd just have to wait a little while longer. Luckily, Doyle played a couple of the new songs at the concert, so I already had a good idea of what the CD was going to be like. And, Doyle even played me a couple of tracks in his rental vehicle for me to hear as well. A sneak preview! But recently, I called into WGN Radio in Chicago to the Steve and Johnnie show this past Wednesday to congratulate Doyle on the release and I was offered a free copy of the CD by the show's producer! Cool! (Steve and Johnnie are friends of Doyle's and they know me too.)

Easily, this is now my favorite Doyle Dykes CD! I especially like the tracks "All Be Done Dink," "Bridging The Gap," "Red Clay," "One Riot... One Guitar," and "Tennessee Stomp." There are other great tunes on this CD, but these stand out to me.

Pick up your copy of "Bridging The Gap" if you go to see Doyle in concert, or order it from his website. These songs are guaranteed to lift your spirits!

Alhambra Palace - Chicago IL

I photographed an office Christmas Party last night at the lavishly decorated Alhambra Palace in Chicago, IL on Randolph Street. This place is incredible to see!

I spoke with the owner of the restaurant and he told me that it took him 2 years to gather all the things you see at the restaurant and to put the place together! The Alhambra Palace has been open for about 1-1/2 years.

If you want to see some incredible decor from Egypt, Lebannon and Morroco, check out the Alhambra Palace. You really feel like you've been transported to another country when you walk in there!

The party I photographed was a lot of fun too! But since it's an office party, I'll not embarass anyone by putting their photo on the web! Just kidding... everyone was very well behaved and I know they all enjoyed the atmosphere of this restaurant. Be sure to click on each image to get a closer look.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Like... Um... You Know



"You know"

Which of these do you say most often?

Here's an example... "Like, this is the most impressive photo! It's like, unbelieveable!"

Or how about this, "Um, this is really good. It's, um, not bad!"

And don't forget this one, "Hey, this is the best photo, you know. It's something you should do all the time, you know..."

Habits are hard to break, that's for sure. I know people who constantly use one of these three. My daughter can't stop saying, "Like." I am often found saying, "um" or "you know."

Is it cultural? Generational? Who knows. All I know is, it's irritating. Like, um... you know?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Herrington - Geneva IL

Over the years, I've shot many weddings at The Herrington in Geneva, IL and each time, they've done a marvelous job in setting up the room.

This is a page spread in one of my client's album. The colors really pop in this one! Purple accent lights were used to match the table settings. Cool! Be sure to click on the image to take a closer look.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spongebob Squarepants

It seems whenever I go to take photos at the bride's home, I always find something interesting to photograph that has absolutely nothing to do with the wedding. This guy was on the bed. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Revision number 2 - Gary Fong's Parker Fly

Original Image by Gary Fong

Gary Fong says that my revision makes his Parker Fly look like a tea kettle! So I've modified it again by rounding off the squared edges of the other side of the upper bout. It's subtle, but perhaps that's all it needs. The other end doesn't stick out as much now, making it look less like a tea kettle! Both ends would require a wood router to round things off and then a new finish job.

Be sure to click on the images to take a closer look. And yes... this is all done in Photoshop!

Gary Fong's Modified Parker Fly Guitar

Original Image by Gary Fong

Famed photographer Gary Fong and I both like playing guitars. But he's not happy with the look of the Parker Fly. So he took the guitar and had it modified by having it professionally cut and finished as seen in the middle photo. Still, he wasn't happy, so now he's considering modifying it again like the photo on the far right.

Personally, I think having a small little "nub" on the upper bout looks better. So I "re-modified" the middle photo to what I thought might look good by rounding out the cut (see the image on the right in the second photograph.) Be sure to click on the images to take a closer look.

What do you think?

Monday, December 08, 2008

John Hersey High School Vs. Schaumburg High School

Mid-air introduction bump!

Another mid-air bump!

Hersey wins the toss!

Hersey drives for a point

I had the opportunity to take a few photos of the basketball game between the varsity teams of John Hersey High School and Schaumburg High School on Saturday, Dec. 6.

Both teams were energized, but the Schaumburg Saxons were doing great that night. They won 74-56 over the Hersey Huskies.

It's nearly impossible to get good color photos in the Hersey gym since the yellow sodium vapor lights along with the yellow floor, yellow walls and yellow bleachers just add up to a photographer's nightmare! A custom white balance is needed along with post production help on the computer.

There is plenty of light in the Hersey gym... just no white light... and that makes it tough. I was about 3/4 from the top of the bleachers shooting with the Nikon D3 and a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens. Be sure to click on each photo to see a larger version.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Testifying In Criminal Court

As an expert witness, it's often asked of me... "What's it like to testify in court?"

Well I can tell you, it's pretty easy (if you are not the defendant) and not like what you see on TV! You need to be very specific when you answer in court. On TV, I see so often how witnesses add information that they really shouldn't.

For instance, if the question is, "Mr. Lowe... Did you take a photograph of the victim on December 5, 1993 at 123 Main Street in San Diego California?" The answer should either be, "Yes" or "No" or "I don't recall." That's it.

But on TV, this is what I usually hear, "Yes, and it was done with the best camera I have too." Way too much information given!

Or how about this one, "Mr. Lowe, did you dust the gun for fingerprints?" The answer should be either, "Yes, I did" or "No, I did not" or "I don't recall." But on TV, this is what you'll hear, "Yes, I did and I used a special silver colored powder that works better on black surfaces of guns." Again, way too much information.

The tendency is to offer more information, but that's not the proper way to answer in court. As an expert witness, answering the question with only a Yes or No is better. Should the attorney want more information, he'll ask for it.

For example, "Mr. Lowe, did you dust the gun for fingerprints?" Answer... "Yes, I did." Attorney... "And Mr. Lowe, what type of powder did you use?" Answer... "I used a special silver colored powder designed to work better on black surfaces like guns."

Here's another type of answer that is not correct... Question... "Mr. Lowe, what time of the day did you take the photograph of the victim lying in the street?" Wrong answer, "You know, it was dark that day so it was hard to take a good photograph." This answer would most likely be objected to as being "non-responsive" because it never answers the original question! The attorney objecting would most likely motion for the answer to be "stricken from the record." The proper answer should be, "I took that photograph at 4:00 PM" or, "I do not recall."

Is it easy to testify in court? I think so. But you need to listen closely and only answer what is asked. No more, no less. If the attorney is doing his/her job properly, an additional question will be asked if needed to help clarify. Oh, and don't forget to address the judge as "Your Honor." That's always fun! :)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Focus Groups

Last night, I participated in a Focus Group for home improvement products.

I've done these before in the past, but it's probably been over 10 years since I've participated in one. Market researchers conduct focus group sessions to see what the average consumer thinks about a product or an idea. Typically, these are small groups of perhaps 8-10 people who sit around and share their thoughts on what the market researcher is offering for discussion.

Last night's discussion was about faucets and toilets. Yeah, not too interesting, right? Wrong! It was a lot of fun! The group last night consisted of six guys, some who have installed the products before and others who have not. All were home owners who had remodeled a bathroom or was in the process of doing so.

For me, I had remodeled two bathrooms, so I was an old pro at it. And yes, I did the installations. I've installed floors, sinks, countertops, faucets, toilets...

Anyway, a gentleman from a market research company called me and asked if I was available to attend a session and then qualified me on the phone. He wanted to know if I owned my home and if I had installed a toilet and faucet before and if I felt comfortable talking in a group... all the typical stuff you would expect. Surprisingly, I qualified for everything! I've been asked to join other focus groups in the past, but something always disqualified me. But not last night!

I had a lot of fun talking about the products and hearing the other people's experiences with installing the products as well. We also seemed to agree on many things about these products too.

For my participation, I was offered $85 for two hours of my time. Not bad for just talking with a bunch of guys! I've heard of people who have earned up to $200 for participating in focus groups! I've never been offered that before though...

Monday, December 01, 2008


One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was to have our dog Kaya euthanized this morning.

Kaya was a maltese dog who has been with our family for nine years. She was a great dog... very loving, never mean nor nasty... just about as nice of a dog as you would ever want for a pet.

In recent months however, she had developed an eye infection and that was painful for her. In addition, she had been having hip problems as well. Then recently, she got sick and refused to eat. She only drank water and that was the only thing sustaining her for an entire week. She shivered all the time this past week, but she refused to be covered with a blanket...

At the vet today we weighed her and found that within a week's time, she had dropped from 16 lbs to 11.6 lbs.

Kaya loved everyone. She always barked happily whenever anyone came to visit and barked sadly when they left as well. She didn't like people leaving... she always wanted them to stay. Other than those times, rarely would she ever bark. We never needed to use a leash on Kaya even if we were outside doing gardening work because she would never wander away farther than to the edge of our property. She'd always come back if we called to her. And, she would never bark at other dogs either. She would just look at them and sometimes hide behind us to protect her!

I was with her at the end. The doctor had a difficult time trying to find a vein that had not collapsed due to her weakened state. Finally after four attempts, he was able to inject her. Within less than a few seconds, she was gone. While I did not think I wanted to be in the room when she was put to sleep, at the last moment, I knew I needed to be there to give her the assurance that I did not abandon her.

After I got home, I could not help but to cry for the loss of our dog. Kaya was my constant companion. Since I am often home working on the images from weddings I have photographed, I saw her more than anyone in our family. I fed her, took her out when she needed to relieve herself and took her to any vet appointments she needed.

This year has been really difficult for me. In one year's time, I lost one uncle, two aunts and now my beloved dog.

Kaya was a great dog and I will never forget her. I love you Kaya...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How Honest Are You?

One of my first jobs ever was working for Radio Shack. I wasn't there long (couldn't stand the manager) but here's what I was put through...

I was about 19 years old and applied for a sales position at a local Radio Shack. I was required to go downtown to take a polygraph test before being hired. A Polygraph test is commonly known as a "Lie Detector" test. Basically, they ask you a bunch of questions before you take the test and get your response ahead of time. Then, they hook you up to the machine and ask you the same questions. Sometimes, they will ask the questions in such a way that you are purposely supposed to lie. This gives the examiner a baseline to measure so that when you do actually lie, they will know it. The machine checks your breathing, your pulse and how much you sweat (though the palm of your hand.)

I passed.

I worked at the store alongside the manager for a couple of days and then one day, the manager told me that he was going to leave the store early and wanted me to close the store by myself. Part of my responsibilities included counting all the money in the cash register to make sure it added up perfectly with the cash receipts.

While this should not be a big deal, I was a little nervous about being in the store at night by myself. Not that I could not handle the customers that came in, but I was more nervous about being held up in the store by robbery or some other catastrophy that could happen.

Any way, as the time approached to close the store, the manager called me and reminded me to count all the money, put the money in the safe and then set the alarm and go home. So I did as I was told and counted all the money and compared it to the receipts. I was short $5.00. Hmmm... I counted again. Still short $5.00. One more time... still short $5.00. I didn't know quite what to do. So I called my dad and told him I was going to be a little late coming home. I went back to the cash register, looked inside, looked all around it... I could not find the $5.00 that was missing.

Now I had a choice... either report the $5.00 as missing, put in $5.00 of my own money and say nothing, or don't report anything at all and don't put in any extra money.

I decided to call the manager to admit that $5.00 was missing and let him decide what he wanted me to do. Well, the manager said not to worry about it and to just go home and he would deal with it in the morning. All night long, I thought about that missing $5.00 and came up with a possible reason why the $5.00 was missing... perhaps the manager was testing me to see what I would do. Was I honest enough to report the loss, or would I cheat and just put in my own $5.00 to save myself? I don't know if the manager purposely took out $5.00 to test me or if something actually was missing. Was I set up purposely to see how trustworthy I was? I had my suspicions.

The next day, the manager just laughed it off and said $5.00 off wasn't too bad and not to worry about it. But something in the way he said that made me always suspect that he just wanted to see if I was trustworthy or not. Later as I continued on at the store, the manager would make me work a little longer here and there and even asked me to deliver some items to some customers but would not pay me for that time. I eventually quit. I just did not feel comfortable with the manager's methods.

So while I believe I did an honest day's work, I just didn't think the manager was being honest with me in return.

How honest are you? Would you have done what I did? Would you put in the $5.00 or would you have not reported it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alvarez AJ60SC/12 - 12-String Guitar

Recently, the Chicago area members of The Acoustic Guitar Forum had a jam session at one of our member's home where we had a wonderful time playing and sharing each other's company. While we were there, I received a phone call from my daughter telling me she had gotten accepted to the college of her choice. While I was very excited and happy for her, I also knew that it also meant that going forward, I'd have to be very careful on how I now spend my money...

As you may know, I've gone through a LOT of acoustic guitars in the past few years... buying and selling... hoping to find the right guitar. Well, I did and settled on a Taylor GS-MS (aka GS6). But one of the guitars I had in my possession before selling it was a Yamaha 12-string.

Well, our host was playing his great Taylor 12-string and I made a comment that one day, I would like to get another 12-string. But knowing that my daughter now needs that money for school more than I do for guitars, I sadly added that it probably wouldn't happen for me for a while now with college expenses to pay for. Besides, all the gear that I need to buy for my photography business to stay competive also consumes a lot of money as well.

Sitting next to me was my friend John, who always cheerfully comes to our Chicago gatherings whenever we have one. But John lives in Michigan! Yes, he drives the whole way and even gets a hotel sometimes rather than drive back the same night. Anyway, he heard this and said to me, "You know, I have two 12-strings and I don't use one much at all and have been thinking of getting rid of it."

It didn't sink in to me, that he was seriously thinking of GIVING IT AWAY... so I just said, "that's nice."

Later, John emails me again talking about getting rid of his other 12-string. I replied back, still not knowing he wanted to give it away. So he writes back once again, but this time saying, "I don't think you understand... I want to GIVE this 12-string to you!" I was floored! It didn't dawn on me that this is what he was thinking!

Well, on Sunday, John drove all the way from Michigan just to deliver to me a terrific Alvarez AJ60SC/12 guitar with case! And, it's in great condition as well!

I have a lot to be thankful for as we approach this year's Thanksgiving... and while I'm thankful for receiving a great new guitar, I'm even more thankful for great friends like John. :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Next Generation

This past Saturday, I photographed the wedding of the daughter of two of my best friends from high school!

I was the best man at her father and mother's wedding and Saturday, I was the photographer at her wedding. It was interesting to see the next generation getting married. It doesn't seem that long ago when I was at her parents wedding! Time does move quickly.

It's also fun when the family knows me at the wedding too. Rarely do grandparents know me, but her's did.

My brother and his family were there, my own family was there, some of my high school friends were there too!

Suddenly, I feel a bit old...

Friday, November 21, 2008

40 Years of Playing Guitar

It's hard to believe, but I've been playing guitar for almost 40 years now!

I first started out playing the piano. I'm not sure how old I was or how long I had piano lessons, but I'm going to guess it was perhaps 2 years of lessons. Yeah, I was probably only 8 years old when I started. But I didn't stick with it. My brother Rick was always way better than me (he's a full-time professional piano teacher today) and I just couldn't compete. So I quit.

Not long after I decided to quit piano, I told my parents I wanted to play guitar. "Are you sure you'll stick with it?" I recall my mom and dad asking me. "Yes! I'll stick with it!" I think they had their doubts.

Even though they didn't think I would play guitar for long, my dad signed me up for guitar lessons at the North Center Music store around Irving Park and Kedzie in Chicago. There I had a great teacher named Don Maro. Mr. Maro taught me for several weeks and then he left the music store! So one week, I went in for my lessons only to find some other guy as my new teacher! I couldn't believe it! I didn't want this new guy and so I told my parents that I was thinking of quitting. They just figured they were right... I didn't stick with it.

But later that week, I received a phone call from my old teacher, Mr. Maro. It turns out that he decided to go off on his own and so he was contacting all of his past students to see if they might want to continue learning from him privately! He asked to talk to my dad about it. I gave my dad the phone and told said, "Yes! Tell him yes!" So that next week, Mr. Maro came to my home and we started once again.

I was always surprised that Mr. Maro went from home to home to teach guitar. He only charged $4.00 per lesson back then and he didn't drive. That's right... he either took a bus, or he walked from one home to another! It amazed me that someone could walk so far and carry his guitar as well to go from home to home. Not only did he teach guitar, but also drums and trumpet, but he didn't carry those instruments with him.

Well, in a short time, Mr. Maro had taught me the fundamentals of guitar and then our family decided to move from Chicago to Morton Grove, a local suburb. So, I found that in less than perhaps 1-1/2 years, I had to quit guitar. Before we left, Mr. Maro confided in me that I was either his top student or second top student. He said he didn't want to tell me which so that I wouldn't get a big head over it. But still, for only having taken lessons for less than 1-1/2 years and becoming either number one or number two out of all his students, that was quite a compliment. And yes, I was only 11 years old.

Did I stick with the guitar? Yeah... too much, if you ask my wife! I've been a guitar fanatic for a long time now and I do play constantly too.

Just a few days ago, my friend Jerry and I went to see Doyle Dykes and Haley Dykes play in Rockford, IL. After the show, the owner of the store was giving away door prizes and as usual, I won one. It was a free set of Elixir Nanoweb Medium guitar strings. So after having my ticket stub number called, I went up... camera and all, to claim my prize. "Hey! The photographer won a set of strings! Do you even play guitar?" the owner asked... "Yeah... I do!" was my reply. Then a smile came over my face as I remembered when I first started. "I have been playing for forty years..."

Whenever I go to weddings to take photographs, clients and their wedding party always think I'm in my late thirties or perhaps early forties at best. But when I tell them that I'm almost fifty, they always say, "No Way!" Perhaps it's that Rock 'N Roll in me that keeps me young, huh? Or maybe, I just never knew any better to grow up! All I can say is, "Thanks Dad! Thanks Mom! And Thanks, Mr. Maro... I stuck with it. And it's kept me young too!" Rock on...

Journey - "Revelation"

Ever since the wedding from November 1, 2008 (see my post on November 3), I've been on this big Journey kick.

I was a fan of Journey back in the 80's, but after hearing my wedding client Tyler sing "Don't Stop Believin'" at the wedding reception, it just brought me back. Since then, I've scoured for Journey videos and I have to say, I am a fan once again!

The new lead singer, Arnel Pineda is incredible! While he does sound a lot like Steve Perry (the original lead singer of the group in the '80's) he adds a lot of his own as well. His rags-to-riches story is quite moving... having grown up in the Philippines and having to live on the streets at one point in his life... he now fronts one of Rock's most famous bands. To see the CBS News interview with the band about how Neal Schon found Arnel on the internet while searching, click here.

Lead guitarist Neal Schon is no stranger in guitar circles. His guitar riffs are well known to the Rock enthusiast and he hasn't lost any of his talent over the years. If anything, he's gotten better.

While on the road to Rockford, IL with my friend Jerry to go see Doyle Dykes and Haley Dykes in concert, we listened to Journey's new album, "Revelation." Turns out Jerry's a Journey fan as well. And while driving back home, we once again turned on Journey! We blasted the music so loud that I didn't hear my cell phone ring twice when Haley tried to call me! They were listening to the Acoustic Guitar Forum Volume 1 CD that I had given them... but that's another story.

The new album "Revelation" is quite good, and it's an incredible value as well. Sold only at Walmart for the measly price of $11.88, not only do you get the new CD, but a second CD with re-recorded Journey favorites sung by Arnel Pineda is also included! And wait, that's not all you get... you also get a DVD of live footage from a concert with the new band! Going directly to Walmart, they have cut out a lot of the middlemen needed to get a CD to market and so they have priced the CD/DVD to reflect that!

If you liked the old Journey, you'll love the new one. Go out and get yourself a copy of their new album, Revelation!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doyle Dykes and Haley Dykes - Randee's Music Center - Rockford, IL

Last night, my friend Jerry and I drove (ok, Jerry drove) to Rockford to see our friends Doyle and Haley play at Randee's Music Center in Rockford, IL. Yeah, we are now officially stalkers!

Doyle and Haley performed flawlessly as usual and we all got to hear several of the new songs that will be released on Doyle's upcoming new CD, "Bridging The Gap." Doyle will be back in Chicago next Monday and will be on WGN radio on the Steve and Johnnie Show sometime after 11 PM, so be sure to tune in to hear them live! It's found on 720 on your AM dial. You can also listen to them on the internet. Just click the Steve and Johnnie Show link above and find the "Listen Now!" link on the top of their page.

Anyway, I have a great story to share. Around 4:30 PM, on our way to Rockford, I called Haley on her cell phone to tell her that Jerry and I were headed to Rockford for the show. I also asked her if she and her dad might be up for a late night snack afterwards and they agreed. But since they had not eaten all day long, they were going to stop somewhere in Rockford for dinner before heading over to the music store to setup. I told her that Jerry and I were going to do the same thing, but we'd just all go out later.

As Jerry and I pulled up into Rockford, we start looking at all the restaurants available... Cracker Barrel, Wendy's, Burger King, KFC, local restaurants... you name it, it was there. I told Jerry to just drive up to whichever restaurant he would like to go and that's where we'll eat. With all these choices available, where do you suppose Jerry drives up to? A Chinese Buffet! Two Chinese guys headed to a Chinese Buffet! I couldn't believe it! Of all places to go, we drive all the way to Rockford to go to a Chinese Buffet?!

I just had to comment that this was SO stereotypical! Keep in mind that Doyle and Haley are from Tennessee, so they are "southern folk." I told Jerry, "The two of us going to a Chinese Buffet would be the equivalent of Doyle and Haley going to Cracker Barrel!" (Cracker Barrel is known for their southern cooking... )

After dinner, we headed over to the show and the first thing I had to ask Haley was, "So... where did you guys go for dinner?" Guess what her answer was? "Cracker Barrel!" Jerry and I just burst out laughing which prompted Haley to ask, "What??!" So we tell her the story of the two of us ending up at a Chinese Buffet and snickering that it could only be better if they ended up at Cracker Barrel! She couldn't stop laughing either. Later, we told the story to Doyle and he just had to laugh as well! He said he just wanted some good southern cooking and a good cup of coffee (he never did get that coffee) so they headed to Cracker Barrel! What a hoot!

Later that evening we all headed to a local Steak & Shake restaurant to wind down. It's always good to talk to Doyle and Haley. They are a couple of my favorite people and I'm glad to count them as my friends. Go see them in concert if you possibly can! Click Here to see more photos from last night on Doyle's Facebook "Group" site.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Maternity Session

I photographed a maternity session with one of my past wedding clients on Friday. We used the space you see on the previous post about Temporary Studio Space. The space is a rented room in one of the local park district buildings but it works out for the time being as I contemplate whether to open up an actual studio or just to continue to do studio work on-location.

While the client has allowed me to use her images for any promotional purposes I would like, I think it's probably best not to post them on the internet via my blog. However, I will show the images to anyone who cares to see them in person during an actual pre-session consultation. And don't forget, for all you brides out there... when it's your turn to go through this, don't forget to call me for your maternity session! I can easily do the same thing for you!

The session went very quickly. It actually took me more time to set up and to tear down the equipment than to do the session! Still, I learned from the experience that I should probably book about 2 to 2-1/2 hours time at the room just so that I won't be so tired out from rushing around! Most of that time is just for me to set up and strike the set afterwards.

I've also ordered a few additional items of equipment which will help in the quality of the portraits as well. For instance, a new strip-light softbox will be added for the hair light. While the current method of using a grid on the light works, the softbox will allow several people to be under that light overhead and still have proper hair lighting. I made it work for the maternity client on Friday (both mother and father were in those photos) using just the grid, but it was a bit of a struggle to do it. With the new softbox, it will be easy to get up to four people properly lit with hair lighting!

Please help spread the word that I have now expanded my services to include studio portrait work as well as weddings!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Temporary Studio Space

Here is a quick shot of the space I used this past Friday to shoot a maternity session with one of my past wedding clients.

The room is way larger than I could ever use, but it's better to have the space than not! To give you some reference, that large black backdrop is 10 feet wide.

Should you know someone looking for a nice studio portrait, send them my way!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fun At Receptions

I love shots like these!

Sometimes people get really embarassed when I take a quick candid shot of them... and other times, people who aren't supposed to be in the shot, just jump in and get their photo taken anyway. Of course, sometimes they do the silliest things!

While other photographers may get annoyed at having their shot "altered" by someone, I think it's great! It just makes the event a lot more fun.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Selective Depth of Field

(Image taken with a Fuji S5 Pro camera)

This is a good example of using selective depth of field to focus your attention. The headstock of my five-string Fender Jazz Bass is the main subject being photographed, but you can also see a guitarist in the background who is out of focus. This lets you know the context of the subject matter (musical instruments) but the headstock also seems to point you to the guitarist as well. "Artsy", huh? :)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Studio Gear

This evening, I decided to setup the portable studio equipment in preparation for creating studio-quality portraits for my clients.

With this lighting rig, I am able to adjust lighting ratios "on-the-fly" via a remote control. Very cool! The older lighting equipment I've used in the past could not do this. This new technology will allow me to create some interesting images... everything from the standard "headshot" to the dramatic lighting you see in some fashion magazines.

But this all comes at a price. As you can see, you need a lot of room and it tends to get a little messy with all the lights, stands and softboxes! By the way, the hair light is suspended by a huge boom stand so that the light can be overhead and directed as needed.

So if you or someone you know need some quality studio portraits... give me a call. I have a larger location than what's shown here which can accomodate us! I'll show more images of that in a later post. That space will allow me to pull out my large backdrops (10 feet x 20 feet) so we won't need to use small backdrops like the one shown here. But these smaller backdrops work just fine for headshots.


Over the years, TV shows come and go. But some shows stay on the air. Take the PBS show "Arthur" for example. I recall my daughter watching this show as a little kid in the mid 1990's... and it's still on today! The interesting thing is, she still watches it! It's probably her favorite show of all time. Shows like Arthur have an appeal to young kids and older kids alike.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Don't Stop Believin'!"

Saturday's wedding was a lot of fun! I can't get the song "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey - out of my head! (If you don't know the song, check out this video of Journey performing the song... Click Here)

The groom is the lead singer in an 80's tribute band and so we had a LOT of musicians in attendance. For those of you who know me, besides photography, music is right up there as my favorite thing! Well, we had a lot of that on Saturday. If you ever get a chance to watch me take photos during a wedding reception, you'll often see me singing along with the band while I shoot! Nobody hears me of course since the band just drowns me out. :)

If you count the bands who played at Saturday's wedding reception, I'd say we had at least four or five different band changes that evening! While the "hired" band took a break, the groom and his various guests jumped up to entertain the other guests! If you know 80's music, it would be easy to recognize the tunes these guys were playing! And I'm not talking average quality playing either... these were top notch performances! "Don't Stop Believin'" was one of the songs played that evening and wow... can the groom sing! Terrific! And the band was just as good! The only musician there who didn't play a guitar that evening was me! But I had a job to do...

Several times, I had to stop to think if I was photographing a wedding or a music concert! Guests lined up around the band to watch them play. We even had someone pull out a lighter to ask for an encore! That was great!

Besides the fun of the music performances, an interesting moment came when the groom was presented with a terrific looking "Star Wars" guitar as a gift! Darth Vader's image is on the body with the words "Star Wars" on the neck! Totally unique! And the case had the words "Star Wars" molded into it too. I wonder what kind of music you can play when you've got "The Force" behind you...

Taking a break from the music on the dance floor, we found a piano in the lounge, so the groom played a little tune on it while his beautiful bride jumped up and listened while on top of the piano. Classic!

This was one wedding that I won't easily forget. Neither will their guests! Rock On!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Studio work... on location

I'm excited to say that I'm all set up now for taking the "studio experience" on location!

While most of my clients know me as a "wedding photographer," many do not know that I also have several years of studio experience as well. That's right... while I love taking photos in the field using just the ambient light or perhaps at best a flash on the camera, I also get excited when I see images that only multiple studio lights can create. Setting up lighting ratios, making sure the backdrops or sets are done right, it's not as easy as you might think. Add in the variable of shooting this on location and you can imagine it's going to be tough!

Well, that's part of the fun!

Years ago, I photographed many health club instructors in the San Diego area. And, I even did glamour shots working in conjunction with a local beauty salon. The "before" and then "after" photos are amazing! While the photos were good, the artistry that a good hair and makeup person can do is equally amazing!

So, if you need a good studio portrait... give me a call. Let's see what we can create together!

One of the first (if not the first) to put the studio lights through its paces will be one of my past wedding clients! I shot their wedding just last year and they are expecting their first child at the end of November! So they contacted me via my facebook site and we are going to see if we can do a pregnancy session together!

This is so exciting! I'm so happy for them and also honored at the same time that they would think of me to document this stage of their life together. I just hope they will remember me when it is time to take photos of the baby too!

So spread the word. I'm doing studio work on location now along with my regular wedding duties! What kind of special images can we create together? Studio images will be posted as I build up this new portfolio.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Only Original Photography Equipment I'm Still Currently Using

Since I started shooting professionally in 1990, I've retired most of my older camera gear.

With new technology coming out every day (especially since digital), I find that I turn over camera gear quite fast. But the one item that I am still using today is my trusty Minolta Auto Meter IIIF light meter!

However recently, I found that my meter was not working! It was stuck with one reading only (showing an error) and I couldn't figure it out! I thought perhaps it was a low battery, so I went out and bought another 6 Volt battery to fix it (it's a special size.) It still registered wrong.

Disheartened, I started to look around for a replacement.

I was really upset... the cost of a new meter was over $250 but it was not that I could not afford a new one... I was not happy that my trusty old meter had died. So I decided I'd fix it the way I used to fix things at the San Diego District Attorney's Office (where I had worked in the past)... I "whacked it" on the palm of my hand! Whenever someone came to me to ask me to fix some piece of equipment at the DA's office, my standard answer was, "Whack it!" Often, it worked! So I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised when the Minolta meter came back to life after "whacking it!" Perhaps I jarred something inside or perhaps it unstuck the "measure lock" button or something, but it works again!

This meter is super accurate and I just could not let it go without giving it one last try. I'm glad I did and I'm glad it works again!

I use this meter for incident light readings and also to measure the output of my studio flashes. While it's 18 years old, it's as accurate as any of the current models out there. And, it's the only piece of camera gear I still use today since day one of shooting professionally.

The only other items I still use today since the early days are my studio backdrop stands and my light stands and one of my studio tripods. They are still around as well. But they are not as old as this meter!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Round Table Discussions - Number Four

I've scheduled another Round Table Discussions to be held at my office on December 9, 2008.

Up to nine other photographers and I will be discussing various topics which concern the wedding and photography industry. This will be the fourth session that I've hosted and moderated.

While we have social get togethers several times a year, these Round Table Discussions focus strictly on business. Open only to professional photographers who have been working in the industry for at least two years, we'll be doing some in-depth discussions on the future of professional photography.

If you are a professional wedding photographer and would like to join in this discussion group, please contact me at 847-840-4082 or at Only nine photographers besides myself will be admitted on a first reserved, first served basis.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bowling at Pinstripes

Tonight several fellow wedding photographers and I went to Pinstripes in South Barrington for a little bowling.

Several times a year, we try to get together to unwind and share stories of the various weddings we've shot during the year to learn from one another. It's always interesting to find out that you are not the only one out there dealing with similar issues in business.

We always have a great time! Thanks to Jay C for organizing this event!