Thursday, February 28, 2008

"We Are Not The Only Ones!"

After my group of photography friends had finished photographing the Field Museum last Sunday, we saw this guy down in the lobby area taking some shots, monopod and all!

Immediately, we all started taking photos of him... taking photos! What a laugh!

"We are not alone..."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"What Would You Do?"

ABC Primetime had a program on (actually, it's still on as I'm typing this) which asks, "What Would You Do?"

Topics included:

1. A Muslim woman is refused service at a restaurant and told she's a terrorist and asked to leave. Obviously, she is not a terrorist in this case, but if you saw this happening, what would you do?

2. A group of young girls are in a park and are "picking" on another girl, verbally abusing her. If you saw this happening, what would you do? Would you step in to help the girl or walk on by and do nothing?

3. The bestman of an upcoming wedding sees the bride-to-be getting "too friendly" with someone who is not the groom-to-be. If you were the bestman, what would you do? Would you tell the groom or hold your tongue?

4. The driver of a car parallel parks his car and bumps the car behind him and damages the other car's bumper. Then, he leaves the scene without care of the damage he's done. What would you do? Do you confront the driver, go find the owner of the damaged car, or do nothing?

I found myself getting upset by this program and getting very angry at the responses of some of the passerby's. Like some of the more involved passerby's, I really believe I would go up to each of these situations and fight for the right of the persons victimized. Would you? Would you have the courage to get involved and stand up for someone else and to stand up for what you believe is right? I understand that some people are afraid to get involved and may see the situations as "none of their business." But how can you feel good about yourself when you see such injustices going on and do nothing?

A person's character is put to the test in situations like this. Having the courage to do what's right isn't easy. But I would hope that there is good in everyone and that when situations like this occur in front of them, that they would "do the right thing."

Something to think about.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why Shoot With Ambient Light?

Although this photo doesn't say much in terms of subject matter, it speaks volumes when it comes to why I prefer to shoot many images with ambient light only. The Field Museum has relatively dark hallways and this is a good example of that. You can see that the light to the right of the railing is much brighter than this hallway light. This opens up to the main floor area downstairs.

Click on the image to take a close look at the how well you can see everything... from the foreground to the background, everything is well lit. Look down the hall and check out the lighting way off in the distance.

With a flash, only the areas in the foreground would be properly exposed. Everything in the background would be dark.

Often, I see people taking photos with their point and shoot cameras at places like the Field Museum and their flash is always on. In general if all you are interested in is to see the objects immediately in front of you, a flash is your best bet. The people won't blur (any motion from them will freeze because the light is on and then off so quickly and the digital sensor records the image in a split second) but all of the background will be dark. Maybe that's ok for some shots. But if you want to take a shot like this... down the entire hall and have everything lit up, the only way to do it is to shoot with the light that's already there.

The Fuji S5 Pro camera is great in this regard. You can make the sensor really sensitive to light and so that means a high ISO setting. By doing this, you can take a photo so that the shutter speed is faster than if you were to use a low ISO setting. This means less camera shake and people in the scene will be captured without (or with very little) motion blur from the camera. Opening up the aperture of the lens and letting a lot of light in helps too. And the dynamic range of the Fuji camera is quite evident here too. Dark areas of the scene are rendered just as clearly as brighter areas.

This image was shot with an ISO setting of 1600 and the aperture of the lens set at f 2.8. The camera chose a shutter speed of 1/45 second. Since the focal length was set to 18mm, handholding a camera with this wide angle means that very little camera shake is going to record on the image sensor. In theory, you should be able to handhold a camera at the reciprical of the focal length of your lens without camera shake. So at 18mm, I should be able to shoot a relatively shake-free image down to 1/18 second for a shutter speed but factoring in the 1.5 crop factor for the digital sensor in this camera, 1/18 second becomes 1/27 second. So this shot taken at 1/45 second is no problem at all to avoid camera shake. Of course at 1/45 second, should people in the scene move, they will blur. But at least it's not from the camera being shaken! You can see that the man in the foreground is blurred because he was walking. But the rest of the image that is stationary like the walls and displays are not blurred.

A rather boring photo in terms of subject matter, but a very telling photo in terms of touting the benefits of ambient light.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Field Trip To The Chicago Field Museum

A group of friends and I went to the Field Museum on Sunday to do a little photography. Our goal was to take photos of anything in the museum, as long as it was with the natural ambient light.

For me, I shot most everything at ISO 1600 with the lens wide open at f2.8. The Fuji S5 Pro is great for low noise while using a high ISO sensitivity.

We caught one museum-goer dosing off upstairs and we all started taking photos of him! His wife (or girlfriend, whatever the case may be...) found it funny that a bunch of photographers started photographing him instead of the exhibits!

Afterwards, we headed to Chinatown for some dinner. It was a fun time!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ovation - Legend Nylon-String / Super Shallow Bowl

This Ovation guitar has lasted longer than any other acoustic guitar that has come and gone from my home in the past several years.

It's a super shallow bowl Ovation so it's really easy to play when performing standing up. All Ovations are a little difficult to hold while seated, but it's not too bad when you use a strap even when seated.

The preamp that's built-in is the OP-X type which is extremely quiet. The battery lasts a long time as well.

My aunt and uncle gave me the money needed to buy this guitar, so it has sentimental value to me. They believed in me and my love for music and wanted me to be able to play the type of music I enjoyed playing. So I purchased a nylon string guitar with the funds.

This guitar sounds better than many other nylon-string guitars I've tried and it also plays a lot easier too. And plugged-in, well, it's hard to beat.

Not long after getting the Ovation, I was invited to sit-in with Kevin So at The House Of Blues in Chicago. Kevin is an up-and-coming musician whose music has had many great reviews. I had a great time playing with him and played lead guitar with this nylon-string guitar that evening. Plus it was very cool to be able to play at The House of Blues too! Rock on!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Total Eclipse of the Moon - February 20, 2008

This image of the Total Eclipse of a Full Moon was taken in the general Chicago area on February 20, 2008 at 9:41 PM.

You can read about how an eclipse happens by clicking here better than I can describe it.

Special thanks to one of my past brides, Gina Formella for reminding me about the event via email!

I shot this with a Nikon D300 camera at ISO 200. The lens was a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens set at f2.8 aperture. Aperture priority was used for exposure. The camera chose a shutter speed of 15 seconds. The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod via the lens' tripod mount and the shutter was triggered using a Nikon MC-30 remote shutter release cord. The image was shot in RAW format and processed with Adobe Bridge in Photoshop CS3 to create a JPG image.

The blurred, "non-circular" image of the moon is caused by the movement due to the rotation of the earth. If you look at the upper right edge of the first image, you can see one of the stars "streaking" because of this as well. You can see other stars streaking in the image as well if you click on the image to get a closer look. Be sure to click on each image to see a larger version. The second image is just a close crop of the moon. Cool!

John Hersey High School - Orchesis

Yesterday, John Hersey High School's Orchesis dance team had a dress rehersal and I was there to capture some of the fun with my camera.

The girls really impressed me with how well they danced. My daughter is part of the team so I have seen them dance before. But this is the first time I've seen them dance in a full production show with all the excitement of stage lighting and quality audio tracks.

The girls will be performing at Hersey from February 21-23. If you want to see some great dancing, come out and support them!

(Images were taken at the back of the auditorium with a Fuji S5 Pro camera at ISO 1600 and a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

First Wedding of 2008

My first wedding of the year was a Jewish wedding and it started early this year.

As many of you know, I don't often get weddings in the winter months and so this one was really special. This was a Jewish wedding and I really like those because of all the traditions that go on.

The bride and groom go into the Rabbi's office along with invited guests and family to sign the marriage contract called the Ketubah. It's often crowded in there, so I used my 10.5mm fisheye lens to get a 180 degree view of the activities.

Later at the ceremony itself, the bride and groom get married under the Chuppa which is set up on the Bima (the Altar.) Sometimes there are attendants who hold this "canopy" up with poles, but this Chuppa was being self supported.

And of course, no Jewish wedding would be complete without the breaking of a glass underfoot! (This one was inside a blue bag.) This tradition is intended to remind everyone of the sadness at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and also signifies that the couple is one with the spiritual and national destiny of the Jewish people. Then later, to celebrate the marriage, many of the couples do a dance called the Hora. Family and friends like lifting the couple up on chairs!

The next day, I went to the bride and groom's home to take some additional photos. Even though it was raining and in the midst of winter, we did not hesitate to go outside to get a few shots done! Yeah, we were cold and wet!

But taking a few shots inside by the fireplace is always nice too and we did both formal and informal photos.

I'm very lucky to have had the chance to work with a great couple to start out the new 2008 wedding season! Mazel Tov!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Film and Darkrooms - A Lost Art?

It seems that today, many of the photographers entering into the profession have little or no experience with film. That's really a shame because the basics of photography can be learned by just working with film.

With cameras today doing almost everything for you automatically, many photographers don't know how to solve difficult shooting situations. I've encountered many photographers like this over the past few years. If you ask them how they would photograph a scene with bright backlighting or how they would be able to photograph something with a high contrast situation, the answer is usually, "Oh, I'd just set the camera on Program mode and let the camera do it."

Well, sometimes Program mode will work and other times it won't. So how do you do it manually? Many photographers don't have a clue where to start!

When I learned photography, I had to take college classes in Black and White film photography and also Color film photography. Not only did this teach me how to photograph using these two film types, but I also had to learn how to develop both types of film and print my own images as well. I was taught not only how to use automated machines to do this work, but also how to do it totally manually! I learned by doing.

Today with digital, we get instant gratification. Just look at the back of the camera and see if the image looks good on the monitor screen. That's great! But it doesn't teach you how to solve problems with lighting.

If you are a new photographer and want to learn photography properly, enroll yourself in a film photography class. Learn how to shoot with film and also learn how to develop it and print it. It's the basis of photography that will pay off even with your work in digital. And if you plan to be a professional photographer someday, you'll appreciate knowing how to deal with any photography assignment because you have a full understanding of light and how it affects photography. Your clients will appreciate it too!

Kodak Brownies and Hasselblads

Last year while waiting in an airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee after photographing the wedding of guitarist Doyle Dykes' daughter Holli, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman there who turned out to be a former wedding photographer. As luck would have it, he was on another business trip here in Chicago and contacted me, so we had dinner together last night.

We were talking about how difficult it was photographing weddings back in the day when we were both still shooting with film. He remembered using his Hasselblad cameras and how it was the standard for wedding photography back then. I still have a Hasselblad camera system and remarked how it was just sitting around doing nothing. Medium Format film was and still is great... but with the advent of digital, very few labs still work with this film format.

After getting home from dinner, I thought about how old my Hasselblad system was. But then it reminded me that I have some even OLDER cameras! The cameras you see here are part of my collection. Talk about old! Besides the three Hasselblads I had above (I only have one system left), these Kodak cameras are still in my collection and are still in great shape too! Basically, film cameras are just a light proof box that hold film in them with a shutter to regulate the amount of light let in to expose the film. The lens is there to focus that light onto the film plane. Easy!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wedding Photography For $400 Complete?

Brides... please!

I can't even purchase a quality wedding album for $400 at wholesale! And, I'm supposed to photograph the wedding as well?

For many months now, one of the on-line wedding "planning" sites has been sending me brides who have been requesting photographers who can photograph their weddings for $400 or less. I've been turning them all down.

Can quality photography work be done at this price range? Well, yes... if the photographer is independently wealthy and is only photographing weddings for the fun of it. Plus, he'd have to want to pay the bride to photograph her wedding because the cost of the album will be more than the bride is paying him for his service.

I don't think there are too many professional photographers out there who fit in this catagory. But you can easily find amateur photographers who would jump at the chance to make $400 for the day. You may not get a wedding album for this price though. Well, I suppose if you are interested in the kind of album that you can buy at department stores, you can do it.

Sorry to be so cynical on this post, but I just can't help wondering what some brides are thinking when they are looking for a photographer in this price range. A wedding photographer can only really photograph up to three weddings per weekend if he is willing to work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And, this is if he is lucky enough to find three weddings in a row to fit those dates. Realistically, he's lucky to shoot one wedding per week and most likely, it's not every weekend that he's working either.

But let's say he gets paid $400 for his work, per day. Let's also suppose he can buy some lower quality albums for $200 each (impossible, but let's say he can.) That leaves him with a profit of $200 for the weekend. Let's also say he is lucky enough to do this for 52 weeks a year. That means he earns $10,400 per year. Don't forget he needs to pay taxes on this. And, even though he may spend 10-12 hours at your wedding, he's not done yet... because during the week, he has to work on the computer to Photoshop perhaps over 1000+ images he shot at the wedding. Oh, and he's got to design the album layouts as well. Then he has to get his album design approved by the bride and that could take several revisions. After that, he's got to send in the order to the album company for printing and pay for the shipping costs to get it.

He'll meet with the bride again to deliver the album and any loose prints ordered.

Can he survive as a professional photographer if he earns $10,400 gross (before taxes, gas money, rent, equipment costs, repairs and general maintenance, insurance, etc.)?

I don't think so.

Really, if you are looking to hire a professional wedding photographer to photograph this important day in your life, plan on spending on average about $3500 on your wedding photography. I know, some wedding guides say you can do it for about $2500. But really, if you want an experienced photographer and a quality album that has been custom designed, it's going to cost you at least $3500 to find a professional. Packages can vary of course, but really, most brides should budget at least $3500 today to secure a quality photographer and a quality album. Let's get real. What are my package prices? They vary, but on average, most brides hire me in the $3500 to $4000 range. Some more, some less.

$400 complete? Yeah... the photographer would be paying you for the privilege of photographing your wedding. Yet, I'm sure you'll find someone who will be willing to do it for $400. But this might be the first wedding he's ever shot. And you'll get an album that probably cost him $20 from a department store. Professional? No way. Can you find someone to do it? I'm sure you can if you look around.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Day Before The Judging - Snow Sculptures!

There is a "flury" of activity at Randhurst Mall. All of the snow sculptures are still in preliminary stages. It will be interesting to see the finished products tomorrow.

All the teams are working very hard to finish their sculptures by tomorrow's judging. They are fighting the elements though because with the current temperature, the snow is starting to melt! Hopefully the temperatures will go a little below freezing so that the finished sculptures will look fresh for the judging.

If you are going to around Mount Prospect, be sure to check out the sculptures tomorrow!

Snow Sculpting!

Last February, I reported on a snow sculpting competition that was being held at the Randhurst Shopping Mall in Mount Prospect, IL. Well, it's happening again!

From February 8-10, various teams will each be sculpting 2-1/2 tons of snow to make their works of art. If you have never seen a snow sculpture, you are in for a treat. This is not your average snowman!

I've posted a couple of sculptures from last year here. But when the teams are done, I'll be out there to take some photos of this year's offerings.

Admission is free (it's in the parking lot of the mall, near "Bed, Bath & Beyond") so be sure to drive by and take a look!

For more photos of last year's entries, see the February 2007 archive section of my blog. The competition is being sponsored by Snowvisions... check out their website!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy! - Happy Chinese New Year!

Today is Chinese New Year! It is the year of the Rat.

For Chinese, the New Year celebration is very important. It's a major holiday. Every year, Chinese New Year falls on a different date. That's because it is based on the Chinese Calandar.

When I was young, I recall going to Chinatown to watch the celebration. Often you'll see a dragon dance and other traditional dances.

Although I don't have a photo of the dragon during Chinese New Year, last year, I did have a wedding that had one. So this photo will have to suffice!

So Gung Hay Fat Choy to everyone! This is the traditional greeting for New Year's day. You are greeting people and wishing them good fortune. So say it to everyone you meet and they will think you know Chinese! :)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Gibson Advanced Jumbo

Photos courtesy of Jeff Mills

Here's what's coming soon!

I really liked the sound of the Epiphone AJ-500R and decided that I would try the "real deal" and get the Gibson Advanced Jumbo (AJ) to replace it.

This guitar is a re-issue of the 1936 Advanced Jumbo guitar. The original AJ guitars are very rare (about 300 were made) and those now sell for $25,000 - $35,000 or more!

I have never owned a sunburst-finished acoustic guitar, but I have owned a couple of Gibson Les Paul sunburst electric guitars. Gibson is famous for their sunburst guitars!

The AJ is known to be very loud with great clarity and depth in its tone. I will be installing yet another K&K Pure Western Mini pickup into this guitar. The K&K is one of the best sounding pickups on the market in my opinion.

Can't wait to play this guitar to see if it lives up to all the hype. If it's anything like the Epiphone AJ-500R I just sold, it should be incredible! Special thanks to Jeff Mills for the photos. He did an incredible job photographing the guitar!

First Wedding of the Year - February 16, 2008

I don't often photograph weddings in the winter. But this year, my first wedding will be February 16! It seems many weddings are shifting with less weddings in the Spring and more in the Fall and Winter months!

This one is a Jewish wedding (we can do this on a Saturday because it's after Sundown... so it's a new day!) I always enjoy Jewish weddings because of all the tradition in them. It really makes photographing them a lot of fun.

I'm sorry I don't have any photos to show you because the wedding hasn't happened yet! But I'll do my best to put something up after we are done.

The next wedding of the year isn't until March 2008. From there, it just keeps going!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Another Photography Field Trip - The Chicago Field Museum

The Chicago Field Museum is open FREE for the month of February! That's a $12 savings per adult! So it's time for a "Field Trip" once again!

Last year, a group of photography friends and I went to the Brookfield Zoo (ok, it's got the word "Field" in there too.) We took a lot of photos of the animals while there. But we had to pay for an admission to go.

This year, if we go to the Field Museum in February, it's free! But parking is $15 per vehicle.

So who wants to go?

The Field Museum will be a big challenge when it comes to photography. Photography is allowed in the museum, except at the King Tut exhibit. But a lot of the exhibits are under glass. So if you want a photo of the exhibit, you'll probably want to try using your polarizing filter to eliminate the glare.

Beyond just shooting exhibits, how about finding new ways to shoot the museum? Can you come up with new angles to shoot? Can you tell a story without just shooting the exhibit itself? Can you take photos of the visitors looking at the exhibit to tell a story? The opportunities are endless!

What about flash? Is that allowed? I'm not sure. But I think shooting with ambient light in the museum is the way to go anyway. I don't believe tripods or monopods are allowed in the museum, but I can check into that. So you are going to need to shoot at fast ISO speeds and you'll want the fastest lens you have! Often f2.8 or faster is needed.

For me, I plan to shoot with the Fuji S5 at ISO 1600 and bring my 17-55mm f2.8 lens. I will also bring my Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens as well... so if you have Nikon gear, you can try that lens out.

Nikon cameras (short of the new D3 and D300) often exhibit noise if you shoot at ISO 1600 or faster. I recommend around ISO 800 or ISO 1000 if you shoot with a D200. On a Nikon D70 or D70s, perhaps ISO 800 is as fast as you should go. But using a noise software like Noise Ninja or Neat Image can work wonders on your images that exhibit a little color noise. Can you brace yourself well enough to get a good stable shot without camera blur? Here's your opportunity to test that out!

Let me know if you are interested in going. I am currently planning to do this field trip on Sunday February 24. Are you up to the challenge? Send me an email if you want to join in the fun!