What’s In My Head!?

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“What’s In My Head” composite; Nikon D810, 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm f/4, 1/60sec, 4x speed lights, RRS tripod and ballhead

 

Wow…I received a lot of feedback about this image, thanks!!  Many of you have asked how it was made, so I’ll attempt to explain it here.  Before going into the nuts and bolts of how I made the image above, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of words about how I came up with the idea.  After a long period of constant left-brained activity (aka, my day job), I needed a few days reprieve to get back in touch with my inner creative. Unfortunately the more I tried to force it, the more frustrated I became and the further I seemed to retreat inside myself.  At one point it got so bad I felt as if I were mentally paralyzed!  Throughout the week I attempted to break out of this self-induced haze by looking for inspiration in some of my past work and other people’s work either in photography books, journals, magazines and websites like 500px.com.  The exercise produced little to no fruit and literally had nothing new in my little journal of ideas by the end of the week.

A spark of clarity occurred one night when I was fiddling around with one of my cameras, somehow thinking that the answer I was seeking lie inside the little black magic box in my hand.  Funny enough, that’s almost exactly what happened.  You see, I was going through the camera’s menu and double-checking my settings when the multiple-exposure option caught my attention.  Hmm….I haven’t done a real multiple exposure since my film days in college, I wonder how I much different it would be with digital? With that thought in mind, I went to bed.

The next morning while waiting for my coffee to brew, the thought of doing a multiple exposure still persisted but I was having a difficult time translating it to an actual image (in my head).  What could I use as a subject?  I was starting off into space (which so happened to be our living room) and out of nowhere it hit me like a ton of bricks…why not do an image that depicted the very issue I had been dealing with all week (my own subconscious impeding my creativity)?  Perfect!!

I immediately went into action.  I grabbed the stylus for the iPad and started to sketch out what I thought the image should look like.  Good coffee has a nice way to putting the creative juices into overdrive!  Since the living room provided my subconscious the extra kick it needed to get into action, it was really the only place in the house I could envision this image taking shape.  I sketched the layout of the room and furniture, and then walked around the room to decide the camera’s point of view.  Finally, I needed to divide the room into “seats” (or positions) and identify some of the big personality blocks that I had been dealing with all week.  I was starting to feel like a kid in a candy store…those creative juices were now starting to flow, and my God did it feel good!!

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Quick Drawing using Procreate iPad App. Note: My original idea had me standing with a bike behind the couch and me on the floor with Rinker (quality time). I did make the image with the bike but used an image of me in my motorcycle riding helmet and jacket…it was more pleasing asthetically.

The first ‘subject’ I wanted to photograph was pretty easy.  I was already sitting in the chair in my pajamas and hoodie, which is typical most mornings during my days off from work. The rest of my ‘subjects’ required a little more thought, but came to me fairly quickly since they were all competing for my time all week long.  It’s funny, I had to narrow it down to just five additional subjects due to the relatively small space of the living room, so I picked the top five of the week and continued with the plan.

Now that I had the overall layout and the subjects identified, I could focus on the technical details to make the image happen.  The first thing was to get the appropriate perspective.  I grabbed the camera and picked the lens that I thought would offer the best coverage for such a small space (relatively speaking).  I finally settled on the ultra-wide angle Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, which is a very specialized lens and can be tricky to deal with when photographing people.  Once I had all of that figured out I grabbed my tripod, mounted the camera and locked it all down.

A lot of times photographers have to work backwards to reach their intended destination…and this was no exception.  Since the room was fairly bright with the windows open and I knew that I had to make at least seven exposures, I quickly ruled out using the multiple exposure function of the camera.  Had I gone down the path of using the multiple-exposure function of the camera, the end result would’ve produced a room that was well-exposed however each of my subjects would’ve appeared somewhat transparent.  While this effect can produce some incredible and ethereal images, my intent was to make it look as my multiple personalities were present at the moment of capture. While there may be several different ways to make this happen, I made the conscious decision to blend the images together in post-production.

Gaffers tape used to prevent inadvertent changes to zoom and focus .

Gaffers tape used to prevent inadvertent changes to zoom and focus .

With all of that in mind, consistency is key when making multiple images of a subject with the intent of blending them together. To make it as consistent as possible, a spot near the middle of the coffee table was used to focus on (which when stopped down, would provide enough depth of field to keep the subjects on the couch and chair in focus), the lens and camera were switched from autofocus to manual and finally gaffers tape was applied to the zoom and focus rings on the lens to lock it all down.  As an aside, gaffers tape is worth its weight in gold to photographers; here I used it as a little extra insurance policy against Murphy sneaking in and ruining the day.  In order to get the exposure correct, I ensured that the camera was in the Manual mode, took a light reading and underexposed the room by a half a stop to prevent the window blinds from blowing out.  Finally, I double and triple checked the vantage point and marked the floor where the tripod was located using gaffers tape.

Gaffers tape used to mark the location of the tripod...just in case the klutzy side of yours truly appeared

Gaffers tape used to mark the location of the tripod…just in case the klutzy side of yours truly appeared

Click.  Way underexposed.  Hmm…the light outside was changing from minute to minute due to passing clouds outside; which meant that getting consistent results was going to be an issue from an exposure standpoint.  I thought about closing the drapes over the blinds to keep the ambient light tamed, however this was a very silly thought since I needed a fair amount of light to fill the living room.  While I don’t have big, powerful studio strobes, I do have a limited supply of small speedlights that could provide just enough volume of light to fill the room.  I set up a single speedlight with a diffuser on the television stand and tried that…it seemed to do a decent job of filling the room but the light was very harsh and spectral.   I happen to have a couple of Lastolight strip lights designed for small flash and pulled one out to see if that would soften and even the light enough while providing enough spread to cover the area where the subjects were going to be.  The results were better, but even at full power it wasn’t quite getting the job done.  I needed a bigger, softer light with more volume, but I space constraints and light-to-subject distance quickly became a concern.

Answer: white bed sheets.  By tacking up a couple of white bed sheets, I was able to turn the blue wall behind the camera into a giant softbox and reflector.  After a lot of trial and error, I ended up placing two speedlights, pointed up with diffusers, on the television stand behind where the bed sheets draped over the television to provide additional ‘volume’ of light.  I then took the strip light, mounted to a century stand and placed it high enough to bounce the light off of the bed sheets and back into the room.  For the most part, it worked like a charm and I was able to fill the room with enough light that it balanced well with the ambient light outside coming through the closed window blinds (note: the windows are facing west, causing me to increase the power on the flashes to keep the exposure consistent).

Bed sheets on the wall being lit by a strip light (top) and two speed lights astride the television lurking under the bed sheet. Had to use a Century Stand to enable the strip light placement (highly recommend these if you need to put things in obscure places)

Bed sheets on the wall being lit by a strip light (top) and two speed lights astride the television lurking under the bed sheet. Had to use a Century Stand to enable the strip light placement (highly recommend these if you need to put things in obscure places)

While the light was sufficient for the main subjects on the couch, due to the size of the room and where the subject placement was, the ‘lazy’ subject in the chair was uneven by a couple of stops.  I set up the second strip light and feathered the light such to lift the light level on the right side of the image enough to balance with the main light in the living room.  Whew!  Finally, the light was balanced across the entire room…now all I needed to do was to make the image happen (and time was of the essence).

Strip light placed just out of view to help light the 'lazy Bill' in the image and to provide an increase in overall volume of light in the living room (to compete with and even out the natural light coming in from the window)

Strip light placed just out of view to help light the ‘lazy Bill’ in the image and to provide an increase in overall volume of light in the living room (to compete with and even out the natural light coming in from the window)

Since I hadn’t shaved in a few days, I knew that the “lazy” image would be the first one out of the gate.  Already in my PJ’s, I grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and proceeded to go through a different set of poses in my mind (it was past noon at that point so it’s okay to drink…right!?).  I switched the camera to timer mode, which gave me a whopping ten seconds to push the button, run over to the chair and get ‘in position’ just as the shutter clicked.  Thankfully the distance between the chair and camera was pretty close, so this wasn’t too bad.  However, this quickly pointed out a limitation for the rest of the series.  I was either going to have to rethink my strategy, or figure out a way to trigger the camera without running back and forth.  At that point Andrée had gone out to run errands, so I couldn’t rely on her to be behind the camera to push the shutter.  Thankfully I remembered that I had a couple of cheap radio triggers in my camera case, which proved to be just the ticket!

After a series of ‘lazy’ images, content that I had a few that I could use in the final image I quickly showered, shaved and changed for the next series of poses.  Next, I did a series of poses as the ‘photographer,’ making sure to keep within a specific physical space which could’ve created all kinds of havoc during post-production.  Of note when doing a image like this, one has to keep in mind the old physics adage that two objects cannot occupy the same physical space.  Once I was done with the photographer series, it was followed by a change of clothes and then a series of me being confused…and so on and so on. After it was all said and done and I was content that I had a couple of workable images in each pose, it was time to deconstruct the makeshift studio and start putting the images together in post.

To be very frank, post-production is a self-identified ‘weak spot’ within my workflow and I knew that I was going to have to step out of my comfort zone and use a layering-based program to blend the images together.  To be honest, this is the first time I’ve used a layer-based program (Photoshop, On1 Layers, etc.) to enhance/create an image since college; generally my workflow involves just tweaking a few things here and there in Lightroom and/or On1 Effects and then calling it a day.

Knowing full well that I was diving into unknown (unpracticed) territory, I sucked it up and pressed forward.  For this image I figured that I would work backwards from how I took the images, thinking that blending in shadows, folds on the couch and whatnot would be easier if I handled the layers that had dominant features first.  The last image/pose I took was of me in my motorcycle jacket and helmet; I used this image as my base layer, all of the other subjects would be blended onto that one.  Using On1 Layers (I don’t own Photo-chop), I slowly added in the best representation of each ‘personality’ onto the base layer.  Besides trying to get comfortable with the different tools in the tool palate, the actual exercise of blending in the different personalities went rather quick.  The final result was saved as a master file and I made my usual tweaks to exposure, contrast, saturation, color temp and added a vignette in Lightroom.  The end result is the image at the top of the page.

Whew…that was a lot of work for one image, but I’m pretty happy with the result.  I think it tells the story that I was trying to tell.  One of my frustrations throughout the week was that I really didn’t want to go out and take “pretty pictures;” I really wanted to create images that were an expression of my inner voice, something I haven’t been able to translate in a long time.

So to recap how this image was made:

Camera: Manual Mode (set f-stop & shutter speed, then leave alone)

Lens: Find the focus point and tape down focus/zoom rings

Autofocus: Manual

Tripod: Mark location and don’t adjust/touch it!

Shutter Release: Use the camera’s timer function or remote (if you have one).  All else fails, have an assistant handy

Post Production: use a layers-based program (or equivalent) to blend the images together

…and most importantly, HAVE FUN!!

Until next time…

 

New Stablemate

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It’s no secret that I love cars, airplanes, motorcycles and bicycles. Actually, if it has wheels or wings then I’m pretty much a big fan! I think if I had another life, I would be a designer and specialize in high-end automobiles, motorcycles and airplanes. There’s just something that speaks to me about the lines and textures that transcends the void between the physical and emotional.

The newest addition to our preverbal stable is no exception. In October, Ducati announced the continuation of the 848 EVO series in their Superbike lineup. Along with the continuation of the basic 848, the up-spec’d Corse Special Edition received a new paint job to reflect the new Ducati Test Team colors along with an aluminum fuel tank. For the longest time I’ve wanted to own a Ducati, yet just like a piece of forbidden fruit, it always remained just outside of my reach.

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Knowing that the Corse SE would be sold in limited numbers, I figured that like most high-end vehicles they would be grabbed up by the well-to-do before their release to the public. Surprisingly when I stopped by the Santa Barbara Ducati dealership they had no deposits on the two Special Edition bikes they were allocated. Without blinking I put down a deposit…it was the first time I’ve been in the right place at the right time with the finances to get a limited-number anything, let alone an Italian exotic!

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The dealership said that they should receive their first of two bikes by mid-December. The standing deal I had made with my wife was that I would take delivery of the second of two bikes in April, to allow us some fiscal maneuvering room for our vacation to England in March. On 8 Jan I received a text message from Hans at the dealership showing the first Special Edition being removed from the shipping crate. I was in a real dilemma, the bike I’ve been lusting after for months had just arrived yet I was bound by my word to my wife…what was I going to do!? Thankfully my wife is very understanding, not to mention wonderful (and beautiful) and encouraged me to go ahead and take the first delivery!! Two days later, battling gale force winds for 62 miles, with a smile on my face stretching from ear to ear, I happily rode the first ’13 Special Edition on the Central Coast home!!

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After three months of ownership I can say that I am not disappointed at all with my choice. I love this bike and everything about it. When you swing your leg over her you know you’re astride something very special. From a design standpoint I think the lines are very sexy, aggressive yet feminine…much like an exotic supermodel. This beauty isn’t just all looks either, her sound is deep and primal, letting you know that she means business and the power delivery is smooth and exhilarating! Once I got the suspension set up for my body weight, the ride quality took on a whole other dimension. Italians are known for their passion and it certainly shows in this bike!

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After years of admiring, I now have my very own Italian exotic supermodel and couldn’t be happier!! Now, how do I explain to my wife about all of the time I’m spending in the garage admiring what has been termed ‘the new mistress?’ 😉

Until next time…

Tales From The Gym…

Arm Curls

Image of my friend Keith just after a body building competition.
Nikon D700; Nikon 24-70mm lens @ 58mm; 1/250 sec @ f/2.8; SB-800 through a 24″ Lastolite Softbox (overhead) mounted on a C Stand.

Okay…I’m going to admit it…I don’t care for shooting in gyms. I don’t know of many that actually care to…but I’m sure there are some photographers out there that enjoy a good challenge…or are a glutton for punishment. Recently a buddy of mine competed in a body building competition in San Diego and placed well in his class; naturally he wanted some images of himself ‘in-form’ so he asked me to take some images of him. I was totally on board even though I don’t really specialize in portraiture. How hard can this be…I mean a few quick images and a couple minutes on the computer tweaking a few things here and there and that would be that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The day prior to the shoot I went to the gym, excited to see what challenges I had to work through and how I could master this beast. Now, I frequent a gym on occasion (requirement for my day job) but for some reason I never really paid it that much attention as a potential place to do a photoshoot (yep, I just admidited that….rookie mistake). Well…now I have a whole new respect for those photographers that can do a photoshoot in a gym, and can do it well.

Here’s a quick list of the challenges that I noticed upon entering the gym: lighting (florecents (and not all the same temp and mixed with daylight), yellow and red walls, fairly limited space in and around the shiny workout equipment, many patrons and mirrors. Did I mention shiny equipment and mirrors? My God the place had a ton of equipment and mirrors!! Trying to hide myself and any of my photography equipment (especially the flashes) was going to be pretty tricky.

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Keith performing a side knee-up.
Nikon D700; Nikon 24-70mm @ 36mm; 1/125 sec @ f/3.5; single SB-800 shot through a Lastolite ‘Hotrod’ Striplight.

So armed with the pertiant information I needed to plan the shoot I set about getting my mind wrapped around some of the more apparent obstacles. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep the night before the shoot as my mind was racing trying to make sure I had all of the issues at bay (at least in my mind). The morning came…and within the first five minutes my plan for the shoot went out the window. Instead of setting up and shooting one area/pose at a time, my client wanted to knock out a formal portrait in a room on the opposite side of the gym. (…uh…formal portrait??) Okay…but can’t we just do it in here where I painstakingly setup for the first shot we discussed earlier? I knew better…the room I thought we would start in was going to be my biggest challenge of the day to pull off well. And so started my workout for the day…lugging all of my equipment all over the gym and quickly trying to get setup for the next shot. Did I mention I was a one-man-show that day?

Once I got the formal portrait done I was expecting to finally start into the nitty-gritty of why we were there…some poses/action images of my buddy doing what he does. Nope, not yet. Now we had to do some images for his sponsors…and a series of shots ensued of him in different shirts, products, locations, etc. Each of these sets required a recalibration of the camera due to the shift in lighting, not to mention a whole new lighting setup. At most I was anticipating 4-6 different poses/looks for the entire day…we surpassed that within the first two hours easy!

Product Shot

One of the many product shots we did during the shoot.
Nikon D700; Nikon 24-70mm @ 35mm; 1/60 sec @ f/4.0; SB-800 shot through a Lastolite ‘Hotrod’ Striplight

By the time we actually started the workout shots I was damn near dead on my feet…sweating my butt off trying to set up the equipment, calibrating the camera and lights and envisioning the best angles to take the shot without interfereing with the patrons (or worse, showing up in the mirrors)! I was beat, thirsty, hungry and not able to clearly focus on everything I needed to (and where a second person would’ve been a tremendous asset to have). In hindsight I should’ve put the brakes on and took 15 minutes between sets to clear my head…however I kept on pushing myself into the red zone.

After almost seven hours of non-stop shooting we walked away with about 6-8 images that I feel are going to help him, his personal training business and his sponsors. I learned a lot of lessons that day…mostly to expect the unexpected and that no matter how much you prepare for the shoot, things will change (or not go according to plan).

Until next time…

Cheers!

Enjoy Your Stay!

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Photo Credit: Monte Cristo Bed and Breakfast

A few years ago my wife turned me on to something I had never considered when traveling…bed and breakfasts. I had heard of them but honestly I never gave them a second thought (or a chance) as an option. Now having had my eyes opened as to the wonders of B&B’s, I’m a huge fan.

Last year we spent 10 days touring England and Scotland and opted to spend our nights in B&Bs along the route. Andrée planned out the itinerary and set everything up for us (and she did an amazing job considering all of her limited research was off of the internet and not knowing what neighborhoods these places resided, etc…). With one or two exceptions, we had a fantastic time and got to know many different travelers and B&B owners along the way.

Recently we attended the Google Plus Photographers Conference (I know, you’ve seen a blog post or two regarding this event already…sorry). Anyway, when I heard of the event and got the blessing to go, I picked up the tickets without checking out the local hotels beforehand. Almost immediately I had buyers remorse…hotels in the downtown area of San Francisco were way out of our league financially, especially since were down to a single income while Andrée starts up her painting business. The thought immediately turned to selling the tickets…something I had to do earlier in the year due to a conflict with work and an event in Los Angeles and I wasn’t looking forward to missing out (again) on a great opportunity.

Bless my wife…she’s the best; before I knew it she had reached out to a few friends and came up with the perfect answer to our plight, a B&B. And not just any B&B mind you, this one has an incredibly rich history as it originally built as a bordello and a saloon in 1875 (oh if the walls could only talk!). In 1906 it notably served as a homeless shelter as the great fire swept the city and then in the day’s of Prohibition it served as a speakeasy! Whew! Today, it proudly serves again, but this time as one of the top ten urban B&Bs in the country. I’ll go out on a limb and bet that the local Motel 6 or Holiday Inn doesn’t have such a rich and exciting history.

The experience was pleasant and the room was cozy and nice; it had a great patina to it and fit the bill very well for the both of us. The breakfasts were ‘normal’ for B&B’s and included a great mix of cereals, fruits, juices, breads and some hot items cooked up by a very sweet and charming lady.

The moral of the story is: If you are ever looking for an alternative to the standard hotel experience, give B&B’s a try, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you’ve been missing.

Until next time…

Cheers!

Memorial Day From A Service Member’s Perspective

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Photo credit: Dave Black

Today is a day that we take pause and remember those that have paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we cherish and enjoy. I’m willing to put money on the fact that every one of us, either knows of, or is related to someone that has made the ultimate sacrifice. Being a service member myself I have a unique outlook on this day as opposed to many of my civilian peers whom have never been within the ranks (and to those that have and made the transition back to civilian life, I applaud and thank you for your service to our great nation). The point here is not to overshadow the sacrifices of civilians in service of our nation, I’d like to believe that their memories are also included within the spirit and intent of this day; however the fact is that there are so few of the population whom are either willing to, or are physically/mentally able to handle the rigors of service, that most will never understand the level of commitment laid upon the altar. It is to these few that have stepped forward, that have risked it all and paid the ultimate price, that we pay tribute today. It’s in honor of that sacrifice and their memories that so many of us willingly sign the dotted line and continue to uphold the values, rights and freedoms that they died for.

Until next time…

Cheers!

Angel’s On Her Shoulders

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Photo Credit: pbo31

We’ve all been there at one point in our lives…where something happens that just cannot be explained. I had such an experience the other day while Andrée and I were in San Francisco attending the Google Plus Photographer’s Conference. The event was an all-day affair spanning two days (plus a photowalk the afternoon prior to the event); Andrée, being the good sport she is, attended the first day with me but had some reservations about day two and felt her time would be better spent seeing some of what San Francisco has to offer.

This left us in a quandary about what to do regarding transportation. Fortunately San Francisco offers some great public transportation options including the bus system, it’s inexpensive, reliable and most important, low stress…a perfect alternative to driving ourselves and paying a small fortune to park within the city. So, early morning arrived and we went our separate ways, each with our own adventure to be had.

The day seemed to drag a little without having Andrée with me and by noon I was ready to leave the conference and join in on her sight seeing adventure. Throughout the morning we kept texting each other and the feeling was mutual, her adventure was somewhat diminished without me being there to experience it with her (I know, go ahead and roll your eyes…we’re THAT couple). And so it was agreed, after one of the classes offered in the afternoon I would make an early escape from the conference and meet up with her at the Bed and Breakfast, go see some of the sites and maybe grab a nice dinner.

I said a quick good-bye to some folks and made my way to the bus stop a few city blocks up the road. To be perfectly honest, I’m not the most astute when it comes to using public transportation and it took a few minutes for me to realize that I was at the wrong location. It turned out that the bus stop I needed was across the street and up the road a little (thank goodness for modern-day technology…my iPhone really saved my bacon a few times this trip). Anyway, once I got my bearings I made my way back to the corner to cross at the crosswalk and although the light was green for me to cross, I decided that there wasn’t enough time remaining in the countdown to safely cross before the light changed. It’s a good thing I had waited, because that’s when things got interesting.

As I was standing there waiting to cross to the other side, a family of eight rounded the corner and proceeded to walk up the street towards the bus stop I had just returned from…everyone except the mother (I’m presuming) of the group. She broke from the group and stepped out into the lane right in front of me to take a picture of something. I really didn’t have the time to see what she was taking a picture of since at that moment a bus rounded the corner and I quickly ascertained that it was on-target straight for her! I reached out, put my arm around her shoulder and forcibly pulled her back onto the curb next to me; just as she stepped on the curb, the bus was occupying the very same space that she was just standing…it missed her by mere inches.

At first she was confused but quickly realized that I just saved her bacon; she gave me a small smile, nod of the head and took off to meet up with her family. It was all sublime and seemed to happen in slow-motion, kind of like what you see in the movies, however it all took place within the span of a few seconds. What struck me as odd, was that none of her family even noticed her absence or the fact that she was in imminent danger.

So I guess there is some validity to the old saying “…you never know, tomorrow you might get hit by a bus.” Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.

I do believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are forces out there that we just cannot explain. On that particular day something guided me to the wrong bus stop…and then suggested I wait again to cross the street to get to the correct bus stop. Had those events not taken place, I firmly believe that there would’ve had a very bad day on that street corner.
Until next time…

Cheers!

Nervous…Undecided…Scared

Okay, here goes nothing.  I always knew that eventually I’d have to write a blog post about something a little deeper than I’d normally discuss in a public forum (not that many read this blog…I appreciate those that do…thanks!).  The thing dominating my thoughts at the moment is the upcoming Google+ Photographers Conference being held in San Francisco between 22-23 May.  This event is the brainchild of photographer, author and media legend Scott Kelby and Google+’s own, Bradley Horowitz.

The event promises to be very exciting and judging from the schedule, two full days of non-stop activities, lectures, demonstrations and image/portfolio reviews (I’ll get to that last one in a minute).  When this was announced a few weeks ago, I was incredibly exicted…not only because it’s Google+ (dominated by the photographic community) and that some of my favorite photographers will be guest lecturers, but it just so happens to be a few hundred miles up the road in San Francisco.  I’ve never been to San Fran and it’s on the “list of places to see” while we’re stationed here at Vandenberg AFB.

So, how does the blog post title fit in with all of this and how is it ‘deeper’ than my other posts?  I’ll tell you…patience young Padawan (did I just give away my geekiness?).  I’ll first tackle Nervous.  I’m nervous because of the level of talent of the instructors, but within the audience as well.  The conference is limited to only 750 attendees (a very small number compared to a lot of the other conferences out there); if you do the math of number of instructors to attendees, it puts you in fairly close-quarters with those people in a way that most conferences/conventions can’t.  I suspect that due to the quality of this conference, the audience will be predominantly made up of pro-level photographers (since that’s who this event is geared towards).  It’s this group of folks that I’ll be interacting with the most and forging some kind of relationship(s) with (I hope).  That’s fine, the “networking” (I cringe every time I hear that word) opportunities are a big part of this conference and I really have to figure out my game, suck it up and put my best foot forward (something I’m really good at when I’m “in the zone”…it just takes me a little while to warm up).

Wall Beach, Vandenberg AFB

Wall Beach Overcast Sunset, Vandenberg AFB: Nikon D700, 14-24mm f/2.8 lens @34mm, 13″ @ f/1

Undecided.  Andrée saw that I was pining to go to this conference and suggested that I go ahead and pick up a ticket.  That was all the nudging I needed to make the jump…we could afford it even though we’re on a tighter budget than we were in FL.  I registered online and had to wait a couple of days for a response to see if I made it in time before they ran out of seats.  Lucky for me, I received an email from the fine folks at the Kelby Group with the ticket to the event attached…it’s official, I’m going (yea)!!!  Now that I have the ticket in hand, I started searching for nearby hotels and my heart immediately sank.  The event is being held in the downtown area, which means that hotels within walking distance are going to cost a premium.  Ouch!  Since we’re down to one steady income, it sure makes the wallet tighten up a bit and this unexpected turn of events tightens it that much more (especially when its added on top of taxes, parking, gas, food, etc..).  I think it’s just sticker shock…an unexpected slap in the face if you will…but I think once I get over it and look past the fiscal, I’ll be able to fully appreciate the opportunity and make the best of the situation.

Finally, the big one…Scared.  This conference has four blocks of time devoted for one-on-one portfolio reviews and I just signed up to have my work looked at (appointment pending).  As I mentioned above, this conference is targeting a more pro-level audience rather than serious and/or weekend hobbyists (though there will be many of those/us there).  That being said, I know my work isn’t in the same ballpark of what many will be showing…but we all must put our best foot forward and hope for the best right!?  When I look through my portfolio, I find myself struggling to come up with 10-20 images that I feel would ‘cut it’ at this level of review (at least within the same (or related) genres that folks conducting the review specialize in).  Looking at sites such as 500px and seeing the quality of images being displayed there (not only outstanding image quality, but quality of imagination, thought and execution) it really hits home that I need to get out there and keep plugging away and fine-tuning my craft…maybe one day I’ll be on the other side of the desk conducting reviews for those that are a mirror of me right now: nervous, scared and unsure.  One day…but there’s a lot of work to be done to get there.

Wish me luck guys!!

Until next time…

Cheers!

My Lucky Day

With all of the news coverage of the Space Shuttle Discovery being delivered to the Smithsonian recently, I was reminded on how these magnificent machines, symbols if you will, inspire and ignite the imagination in all of us:

Every once in a while we get lucky.  For me November 16, 2009 was one of those days.  I had the honor of being asked to view the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the coveted viewing area adjacent to the Saturn V Center located just across from the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) and up the road from the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).  The location is off-limits to the press and general public during a launch and is where many Distinguished Visitors and family members of the astronauts can view the launch without being in the public eye (a necessity given the nature of human space flight and as a result of the Challenger and Columbia disasters).  Needless to say, it was quite an honor and something I could not pass up.

I guess I should backtrack a little.  For those of you who do not know, the Air Force works hand-in-hand with NASA and other civil, commercial and national organizations in all things related to space…and I just happen to work for the Air Force.  The area surrounding Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is part of the Eastern Range; an area that is monitored and controlled by the Air Force to ensure public safety while granting assured access to space.  There are two main forces to every launch, a system of checks and balances if you will, a launch agency (NASA, Space-X, NRO, etc.) and the Range component.  The launch agency, and their mission partners, are responsible for the proper processing of the launch pad, booster, payload and for the flight of the system.  The Range is responsible for the area in which the flight will travel through, above and into; as well as provide communications, telemetry, radar and optical data to the launch agency, and ultimately to provide public safety (both before and during the launch) and to terminate the mission if something should go awry.

At the time I was assigned to the 1st Range Operations Squadron (1ROPS) as a Range Operations Commander (ROC), a job described to many as the on-console “quarterback of the range team” and whose primary responsibility is to maintain overall situational awareness of all of the range systems, ensure public safety requirements are met and to make the “Go/No-Go” call depending on the status.  It’s certainly not a job for the faint of heart or for those with weak convictions as a “No-Go” call could result in not only a missed launch opportunity, but could cost the launch agency millions of dollars.  I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time and give the real credit where it is due; the men and women that make up the entire team (military, government civilians and contractors) are world-class folks doing a very demanding job behind the scenes.  Essentially for every launch there are a million (at a minimum) things that need to be accomplished before the countdown begins…these men and women work tremendously long hours, days, months and even years to ensure all of those things are accomplished correctly and in a timely and professional manner.  My hat goes off to them and I’m tremendously honored to have been a part of their efforts.

Every time there is a Space Shuttle launch, all activity within the confines of Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and surrounding communities comes to a screeching halt.  For about five hours during a Space Shuttle launch, Brevard County essentially becomes the worlds largest parking lot as the locals, and tourists from all over the globe, arrive to catch a glimpse of this amazing feat.  In fact, you get the feeling that the whole state holds it’s breath from when the countdown commences until the Shuttle, along with it’s precious human cargo, are safely in orbit.

On this particular day I found myself in-between mission assignments and not having to perform some mundane additional duties for the launch (such as leading a tour of the Operations Center, or escorting DVs).  I don’t remember the exact circumstances that led up to me obtaining a pass to get on the DV bus, but I do remember being ecstatic about watching the launch from the Saturn V Center as it’s about as close as non-mission personnel can get to the launch without violating the established safety zone. We arrived around two hours before T-0, which left me plenty of time to check out possible vantage points for taking images and for a self-guided tour the Saturn Center (highly recommended if you get the opportunity to go).  Upon entering the Saturn Center, you’re confronted with the business end of a Saturn V rocket…quite the sight, not to mention very intimidating!  As you walk around the behemoth (and believe me, it is most certainly a behemoth) there are various displays (actual pieces) of equipment, capsules, suits and of course what I consider a black-eye of any attraction, the gift shop where the concession makes a small fortune selling cheap memorabilia (a blog post for another day maybe?).  Anyway, to be that close to a real Saturn V and to see it in all its glory is something very special.  It was, and still is, considered the most powerful rocket ever created…after seeing it up close and personal, I believe that statement.

At about T-10 minutes I made my way to an area I had scouted out earlier that was between a couple of trees along the river bank.  The launch was set for 2:28 p.m. and the sky was partly-cloudy…conditions I wasn’t too crazy about photographically, but oh well, it’s a Space Shuttle launch and you take what you can get!  I attached a 2x tele-extender to a 80-200 f/2.8 lens and D200 to give me as much reach as possible, however, in doing so I inadvertently lost the ability to use the camera’s capable auto-focus feature so I had to rely on my manual focus techniques (which were fairly limited at the time).  Since I had a few minutes to burn, I decided to not waste any and practice my manual focusing technique by attempting to track some of the abundant waterfowl that reside in the area (KSC is located on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge).  This proved to be just the thing I needed as the plane of focus for that lens with the tele extender is incredibly narrow and had I not practiced beforehand, could’ve been disastrous during the actual launch (not only for the images, but my pride as well).

Before I knew it, the voice over the PA system boomed “T-minus 10…9…8…” and the butterflies quickly grew (as they do for every launch…whether I’m on-console working the mission or just being an admirer on the ground).  A very quick double-check of my settings and I was good to go.  “…5…4…3…” the anticipation building, the crowd growing ever silent, the hopes, wishes, dreams and prayers of thousands, millions possibly, building into an unknown, yet palpable force directed into one foci as the count closed in on zero.  Just as the clock reached zero the crowd erupted in cheers and applause as the area surrounding the launch gantry bellowed with intense smoke and steam; slowly the Space Shuttle defied earth’s gravity one more time and began it’s trek to the heavens.

Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-129; Nikon D200, 80-200mm f/2.8 w/2x tele, 1/3200 @ f/4.5, ISO 200

I had the camera planted to my eye and was so amazed at what I witnessed in the viewfinder, it took what seemed like an eternity before my brain engaged and told my finger to start pressing the shutter button.  Slowly as the orbiter rose to the heavens I began my dance with the camera to maintain proper focus all the while trying to force myself to focus on composition and attempt to not bull’s-eye the shot.  Just seeing a launch is impressive, however, being close enough to one to hear it adds another dimension to the experience.  The launch pad was over three miles from where we were standing and it took a few seconds for the sound to travel the distance, and once it arrived…it arrived!  Oh boy did it ever arrive…those Solid Rocket Boosters providing over a million pounds of thrust provide one amazing audible experience, along with a gentle pounding of the chest.  I managed to click off a few images while the orbiter accelerated rapidly, only to become a mere speck in the heavens within a matter of seconds, leaving behind a trail of smoke from the solid rocket boosters.

And just like that, we were summoned back onto the bus to head back to Patrick Air Force Base.  As we drove back to the base I took stock of my surroundings and those on the bus with me…the noise was deafening as people talked about the launch and what they felt, thought, saw, imagined, etc.  It was very apparent that viewing the launch kindled a spark or ignited a flame inside of each of them; the spirit within the bus was jubilant and at that moment, you felt as if there is nothing within our imaginations we couldn’t accomplish…

Until next time…

Cheers!

The Eagle has landed

Viera, Florida

Bald Eagle, Viera Wetlands: shot with a Nikon D200, 80-200 f/2.8, 2x teleconverter at ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/5.6, hand-held

The image you see above was the very first Bald Eagle I have ever seen in the open.  I wish I were kidding!  Growing up in the plains of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, one doesn’t see too many “baldies” in the open.

I happened by this Bald Eagle one October morning as I was touring the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Viera, Florida (http://bit.ly/IhGWUz).  The land is adjacent to a water treatment facility and you’d never know that this small oasis for birders was in the backyard of such a heavily populated area.  Quite literally it’s a few hundred meters from a housing development; just drive through a small unsuspecting gate, make your way across the treatment plant parking lot and before you know it, you feel like you stepped into a whole other world.  Of course, when the winds were just right…it being a treatment plant and all…well…you get the picture (no pun intended).

Over the course of a couple of months, I tried to frequent the wetlands area as much as possible and capture images of herons, egrets, cormorants, cranes and occasionally a duck or two.  This particular morning the wetlands were fairly quiet and there weren’t many birds hanging around; I quickly figured out why.  As I came upon an intersection between the two main sections of the wetlands I spotted this eagle perched on a rotted out tree.  I had my trusty Nikon D200 fitted with an 80-200 f/2.8 lens and a 2x teleconverter (talk about narrow range of focus…ouch!!), what I wouldn’t have given to the lens Gods for a 600mm f/4 or a 200-400mm f/4 right then.  I figured that the eagle had a better chance of staying in place if I remained in my car and approached slowly…painfully so.  And that’s exactly what I did…it took me around ten minutes to cover the hundred meters to get into a location that was just close enough to permit me a good image yet not too close to unsettle him.

It was a very intense ten minutes…mostly because I was so anxious about getting a shot of a Bald Eagle that I kept muttering to myself “please don’t fly away…please don’t fly away…” as I crept closer.  When I finally reached a point that I thought was edging in on the Eagles comfort zone I stopped and using very subtle movements, made a feeble attempt to squeeze off a few images.  I can laugh about it now, but trying to look through a dark view finder crouched so low in my seat you’d think I was doing some sort of “auto-yoga” move or something all the while delicately trying to manually focus on his eye was not the most fun I’ve ever had in a car.  But I had to stay with it…not only was the bird magnificent and majestic…the early morning light peeking under the cloud deck was absolutely stunning.  I managed only a half dozen images before he had enough of me and flew off.  I immediately started reviewing the images and checking to see if any were in focus…to my dismay every single one of them was out of focus except for the one you see above.  It must’ve been my lucky day…as it’s the only image of of the series (albeit a very limited one) that he’s looking into the sunlight (in all of the others, he was fixated on me…not a good thing!).

More to come…

Cheers!