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!