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...